Library Cuts: The Facts

In March last year, I wrote about the impending cuts to our library services and why it’s just so important to save these vital community resources from closure and ‘rationalisation’. Recently, I was interested to note that the Public Libraries News had put together a list of library closures – and of those libraries still under threat from government policy.

This threat is very real, as a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) explained to The Independent:

[W]e are seeing a reduction in opening hours, book stock spending and staff in many library services. Local communities, families and individuals are more than ever facing a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of library services they can expect to receive.

And good quality library services are a crucial aspect of any healthy community. I’m a regular user of my local library – and not just in order to borrow books, although I do that frequently. The libraries in my local area also offer everything from local history services and access to education information, newspapers and the internet, to storytime sessions for the little ones and book groups, family history tutorials and craft workshops for the grown ups.

All this means that a wide range of useful community services are available and accessible to everyone locally – and, most importantly, these services are widely used, as a recent local library consultation document points out:

We currently operate a comprehensive library service which includes 11 libraries, a school library service, a prison library service and a library at home service. Last year the service catered for in the region of 1.75 million visits and these visits were generated from over 50% of our local residents.

And that’s just one London borough. In some respects, this area has been lucky. Despite the library service being managed by a public-private partnership and there having been a reduction in book spending (from £570,000 to £330,000) across the borough – which could well be problematic over time – no libraries have yet been closed and opening hours have not been reduced here.

This is not the case elsewhere, however. According to The Independent, library spending has dropped by an average of 7.5% and opening times across the UK have been reduced by 150,000 hours. And more than 150 libraries nationwide have either been closed or transferred into the voluntary sector in order to save local authorities money:

Thirteen libraries have been shut in Leeds, five in Bolton and three in Liverpool. Nine have closed in London, including six in the borough of Brent. As well as ordering closures, councils are giving control of libraries to non-paid volunteers – a move which critics say will make their long-term survival more precarious.

Nine in Warwickshire, five in the Isle of Wight and three in Camden, north London, have been handed over in the past year to community groups – and other areas are known to be considering following suit.

The PLN data, as reported by The Independent, also shows that more than 200 libraries across the UK are still under threat:

More than half of the 13 libraries in Tameside could be shut and under one proposal just two could be left open in the Greater Manchester borough. Fourteen are under threat in Suffolk.

Obviously, this means that jobs are at risk too – and that’s on top of the estimated 2,000+ who have already lost their jobs in the library service around the UK. And at a time when jobs are scarce anyway, all this will do is increase the number of unemployed fighting for fewer and fewer positions across the board. False economy, anyone?

We cannot afford to lose any more libraries. They are an essential part of our lives and communities – particularly for those of limited mobility or ill health, or for those on low incomes, as senior librarian Ian Anstice (who compiled the PLN data) points out:

Libraries aren’t a luxury item – I have talked to many people who say they do not know what they would do without their library. Cuts in funding, opening hours and numbers of libraries seriously affects those people who don’t have the internet or don’t have a car to get to their nearest library.

This says it all, really. I’ve commented before that library cuts are really education cuts by the back door, but they actually go much deeper than that. With these library closures, yet again, we see government cuts that affect us all – but which have a disproportionately negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society; cuts which remove a lifeline to essential community services from the people who can least afford to lose them.

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