A rally and lobby of Parliament will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 13 March) in Westminster to highlight the value of public libraries and the important role they play. The event aims to persuade MPs to take action to protect public library services during these times of public sector cuts. Anybody who supports public libraries is welcome to attend.
The rally will take place from 12 noon, at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm. Prior to the rally and lobby, Ed Vaizey’s evidence session for the Inquiry into library closures will be screened live from 10.30am in Central Hall Westminster.
The lobby has been organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition, an alliance of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff. Voices For The Library are part of this coalition.
Since forming Voices For The Library, we have constantly had to defend public libraries against those in power who do not seem to understand their value. We’ve seen local campaigns emerge throughout the country in response to these cuts – campaigners fighting for their own local libraries against authorities who do not understand the purpose of libraries, and do not understand how libraries and trained library staff benefit library users, the local community, local economy and the UK as a whole. Many of these campaigners have been put into a position where they are effectively acting as superintendent to their own library service, despite this being the responsibility of Jeremy Hunt & Ed Vaizey. Local authorities have not listened to local campaigners concerns. Neither have Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey or the DCMS. So now, as part of Speak Up For Libraries, we must take this to Parliament to ask MP’s to make a stand and help protect the future of the nation’s threatened public libraries.
We feel it’s important to attend tomorrow to show those who dismiss public libraries as irrelevant just how important they are and why they are essential. We would urge you to attend if you can – the more people there are there, the louder our voices will be and the clearer the message will be that we will continue to fight and Speak Up For Libraries. If you are coming please sign up on the Speak Up For Libraries site.
However, if you can’t attend, you can still show your support by doing the following:
- Email or write to your MP asking them to support libraries.
- Let others know about it.
- Distribute event flyers.
- Encourage your MP to sign the Early Day Motion in support of libraries .
- Follow Speak Up For Libraries on Facebook.
- Follow @SpeakUp4Libs on Twitter & tweet using the
#librarieslobby hashtag, especially during the rally and lobby.
The second evidence session for The Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures will take place on Tuesday 21 February (Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster).
The Committee will hear evidence from representatives of Arts Council England, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Isle of Wight Council, Leicestershire Library Services and the Local Government Association.
Further details of the session can be found here.
The session will be screened on the internet via Parliament.tv
The first session saw Abby Barker (Voices for The Library), Sue Charteris (author of the report on Wirral library closures), Andrew Coburn (The Library Campaign) and Miranda McKearney (The Reading Agency) give evidence.
Below are some of the comments and points raised during that session (paraphrased).
- Miranda McKearney: The passionate work of campaigners over the past 18 months has started to shift the debate about what libraries mean to us all.
- Abby Barker: A lot of people making these cuts don’t understand what a library is, or what it does, or what librarians can offer.
- Andrew Coburn: In local areas libraries offer a social place to build communities, based around services they provide.
- Abby Barker: Local libraries are important. Not all people can get to the central library branch. There is room for both large ‘destination’ libraries and small libraries to provide services. They complement each other.
- Abby Barker: The cuts are focused on books & buildings. Librarians aren’t just there to stamp books. Librarians are there to enhance your experience of the library.
- Andrew Coburn: A lot of what library staff do is about direction, mediation & assistance. The fewer library staff there are in the system the more difficult it is to get an answer from anywhere in that system.
- Miranda McKearney: Even though ‘you clearly have access to the things you need to live your life. Lots of people don’t’. (Response to MP about why libraries are needed)
- Abby Barker: If comprehensive & efficient could be more clearly defined, local authorities may be able to make better decisions.
- Abby Barker: Library consultations are being run from the top down and local authorities are not listening to or taking into account users needs.
- Andrew Coburn: What’s the point of the Secretary of State having powers of intervention if they aren’t used? He needs to “grasp the nettle.”
- Andrew Coburn: How will volunteer run libraries affect the statutory duties?
- Abby Barker: Volunteers can add value to a library service, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement service.
- Miranda McKearney: Partnership working on a national level with librarians is difficult because there aren’t enough of them.
- Miranda McKearney: There are some things you can only do nationally to improve library services – we need a national strategy!
- Sue Charteris: Local authorities need to look at equalities assessment of local needs.
- Sue Charteris: Isn’t keen on having more regulations, but feels local authorities need guidance from Secretary of State & Arts Council England.
- Sue Charteris: Library services need proper communications teams to sell their benefits.
- Sue Charteris: There has to be a prominent role for librarians in providing public library services. They are key.
- Sue Charteris: Volunteers are well-placed to do certain things in libraries, but a sound policy on volunteering by local authorities is key.
- Sue Charteris: The Secretary of State role needs to be more pro-active nationally.
- Sue Charteris: Current public library legislation needs to be looked at, because it is “cumbersome” and out-of-date.
- Sue Charteris: Believes that some kind of peer review would be useful to ensure library services are heading in the right direction.
An important Parliamentary lobby and rally organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition will take place on 13th March 2012.
The rally will take place from 11.30am at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm.
We urge everyone to find out more and sign up to attend via the Speak Up For Libraries website.
Speak Up For Libraries are a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future.
Today the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the written evidence it received for its Inquiry into Library closures.
There were 130 written responses in total from a wide range of individuals and organisations with an interest in libraries. These included:
- Library user and campaign groups
- Public library authorities, councils and councillors
- Library workers, librarians and representative organisations
- Publishers and booksellers
- National organisations such as Women’s Institute and UNISON who have been supportive of libraries
- Private companies
It is interesting to note the balance of responses from these different groups of respondents, especially from public library authorities. Only approximately 16 authorities or their representatives responded to the Inquiry. Considering that there are over 140 public library authorities in England this is a very low response rate. Compare this to 33 recognisable library user and campaign groups who responded, plus further individuals whose names we recognise as local campaigners.
We look forward to both reading these written responses to the Inquiry and following the oral evidence sessions which start tomorrow morning and can be viewed live here.
Almost a year ago Save Our Libraries Day was held in the UK. It was a day of action and protest to highlight public library cuts and also a day for library users to celebrate their local libraries.
Many library users and campaigners visited libraries and showed the Government and local authorities that libraries were still important and valued, despite the threat of cuts and closures. Campaigners organised read-ins, storytelling, author events and others just made sure they used their library on that day in some way. It gained national media coverage and was a great success at highlighting the situation our public libraries were facing.
This year, as a follow on, an official National Libraries Day is being held tomorrow and it’s being supported by a wide range of library based organisations.
Unlike Save Our Libraries Day, tomorrow is a celebration of all types of libraries throughout the UK, including public, academic, school, business and specialist libraries. Many organisations running these services have planned events to support the day and are listed on the National Libraries Day site.
Some local campaigners and library users are also organising their own events, not only to celebrate libraries, but also to highlight the fact that local authorities are continuing to cut library services – in fact, it seems as if the cuts situation is even worse than last year. The cuts and closures have not gone away and are likely to continue.
It really is a great opportunity tomorrow for library users to not only celebrate their libraries, but also highlight the fact that if we continue down this route with service reductions and budget cuts there won’t be many libraries left to celebrate!
So please show that you care about and value your library services and make sure you use them tomorrow.
As a representative from Voices For The Library I was fortunate to be part of that delegation, and along with Julia Donaldson, author and Campaign For The Book founder, Alan Gibbons, and Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner, John Holland, we met with Ed Vaizey – arranged through MP Jo Swinson (MP for Julia Donaldson’s constituency).
The four delegates were given an opportunity to present our views to Ed Vaizey with regard to the current situation in UK public libraries. We had just under 20 minutes for all of our presentations.
Julia Donaldson focused on the importance of public libraries for children and the benefits of having both librarians and good stock in providing a good library service.
Alan Gibbons highlighted the lack of intervention by the Government in local library closures decisions and asked what it would take for Ed Vaizey or Jeremy Hunt to intervene?
John Holland covered the situation in Gloucestershire Libraries and the lack of response by Ed Vaizey, The Secretary of State, and the DCMS to Gloucestershire campaigners requests and questions about the cuts and closures.
I focused on the national perspective and the fact that those deciding the fate of our libraries don’t appear to understand the value and importance of them.
Following on from this, we had between 25-30 minutes, in which Ed Vaizey responded to some of our concerns and discussed both national and local situations with us.
From my perspective, the key points in Ed Vaizey’s response/discussion were:
- He doesn’t agree that library services are being decimated.
- He has challenged library closures in the past, but has also supported closures of some libraries.
- He felt it was up to the local authority to run library services, not his department.
- The Government have no intention of removing statutory duties.
- Community/volunteer run libraries have a place in the provision of local library services.
- He acknowledged that some volunteer run libraries would be outside of a local authorities’ statutory service.
- Local authorities could provide “cut-price libraries” – every library in a local authority shouldn’t be all singing, all dancing.
- The comprehensive and efficient aspects of a local authorities duties should be focused on the way they were interpreted in the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act. “Comprehensive” equates to stock; “Efficient” equates to reduction of 400+ local library authorities. The 1964 Act did not focus on buildings.
- He felt that the situations that led to Judicial Review’s in Brent, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Surrey recently were not linked directly to the need for intervention by The Secretary of State in a local situation and, using his skills as a barrister, he argued a fine line in how these two situations do not overlap.
- There was no plan to re-introduce library standards. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that they were out of the question.
I should also mention that there wasn’t a single mention of the Future Libraries Programme… A flagship programme for libraries up until last year! How should we interpret this?
Following our submission of evidence earlier this month to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into library closures, we have been given permission to publish it on our website.
In summary we felt that:
- A comprehensive and efficient library service should be accessible, should be adequately resourced, should have a wide range of services and content, should have sufficiently skilled staff, and should be available to users at their point of need.
- The English public widely value libraries as a force for social good which should be provided free.
- Many planned library cuts and closures are incompatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964: removing qualified and trained library staff will result in a failure to provide adequate services under the terms of the Act and in many cases, councils are making decisions to close libraries based on misleading statistics, an inadequate definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’, and the outdated Act itself.
- There is strong evidence that communities value local public libraries and that closures would therefore have a negative impact in several ways: on children; on the physical, mental, and emotional health of communities; on lifelong learning; on community cohesion and inclusivity; and on local economies.
- The powers of intervention given to the Secretary of State are not deficient. The failure lies with the Secretary of State’s lack of willingness to exercise these powers, coupled with lack of guidance from senior ministers and appropriate Government departments.
Our full response to the Inquiry can be found here.
We have also been invited to give oral evidence to the Committee leading the Inquiry.
Ed Vaizey: Public library services provided across England are monitored by this Department’s officials who engage directly with library authorities. They also monitor correspondence sent to the Department, monitor websites and press articles, and engage in meaningful discussion with organisations that have current information about public library service provision. These include Arts Council England, the Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
In light of the current state of affairs regarding ongoing library cuts and closures throughout England we would be very interested to know:
- What engagement are DCMS officials having with local authorities?
- What advice are Ed Vaizey and the DCMS being given by these named organisations?
- What are the DCMS and Ed Vaizey doing with that advice?
UNISON, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign, Campaign for the Book and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have today announced they will hold a joint lobby of Parliament calling on politicians to protect vital library services.
During the lobby, on 13 March, the campaigning group will highlight the importance of libraries in providing access to learning and as a vital lifeline for many communities.
The lobby will take place at:
Tuesday 13 March
Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:
“Cutting libraries is not an easy solution for councils to save cash – it is a literacy time bomb for deprived communities.
“Community groups are being held to ransom by Government plans to force them to take over the running of services, or lose them. These groups don’t have the time, skills and resources to take over the jobs of experienced library staff.
“A shocking 30,000 children are leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or below and libraries are a vital lifeline for community groups. We need a national vision of a modern library service, as an investment in the future generation.”
Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI said:
“The NFWI is delighted to support the lobby of parliament. A threat to local library services is a threat to a community’s education and as champions of libraries for the past 96 years, WI members are gravely concerned that so many local authorities are riding roughshod over educational resources while the Government watches in silence. It is simply not good enough to assume that volunteers will step in to continue providing services previously supplied by professionals; the Government cannot rely on community-minded individuals to step into the breach to bridge the gaps, and the loss of professional expertise is irreplaceable.
“Local libraries are a fundamental information and education resource. Whilst in their essence, libraries facilitate access to books and resources, they play a much wider role in promoting shared knowledge and equality of opportunity, facilitating community cohesion, and enabling life-long learning and literacy from cradle to grave.”
Abby Barker, from Voices for the Library, said:
“Voices for the Library are urging anyone concerned for the future of the library service in the UK to get involved on March 13th. This is your chance to tell your MP how vital your local library service is, and to ask them to call the Secretary of State to task over his noticeable lack of involvement. The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act very clearly puts public libraries under the superintendence of the Secretary of State, however, Jeremy Hunt has yet to intervene on any level, even in the most extreme cases.”
Andrew Coburn, Secretary of The Library Campaign, said:
“Public libraries still have a wide-ranging role in encouraging literacy and education as well as providing literature for leisure and information. MPs need to know what a real 21st century library service can provide – so that they can join the thousands who are trying to prevent their branches being closed and services mutilated.”
Alan Gibbons, Author and Organiser of Campaign for the Book said:
“A reading child is a successful child. The National Literary Trust has found that a child who goes to a library is twice as likely to read well as one who doesn’t. The UK currently stands at 25th in the PISA International Reading ranking. Libraries are vital to improving this position. We have to fight for the defence and extension of public library services.”
Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP said:
“The professional skills and expertise of library staff are core to providing the public with a quality library service. Volunteers should supplement and enrich a professionally led service, not replace the knowledge and skills of staff. We are concerned that public library services in England are being damaged; the impact will be felt now and in the long term. We urge the Secretary of State to use his powers of intervention where there is clear evidence that the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) has been potentially breached. It is wrong to view public libraries solely as a cost; by providing opportunities for learning and literacy development libraries are an investment in communities, families and individuals.”
You can follow the lobby on Twitter using the #librarieslobby hashtag.