Libraries are a comparatively small service (compared, say, to education or social services).  They will probably be grouped with other services in a bigger department – e.g, arts, community, education, culture, customer services, heritage, environment, leisure…

The libraries boss may therefore be called anything from Chief Librarian to Head of Arts, Culture & Heritage.  He or she will almost certainly have to answer to one (or more) department heads, who probably won’t know much about libraries.

Within the elected council, there will be a ‘lead’ councillor in the cabinet who includes libraries in their portfolio – again, the name of the portfolio will vary.

Ward councillors should take an interest in their local library.  Many councillors know very little about libraries.

There is no specific funding ring-fenced for libraries.  They have to compete with all the other services in the council’s budget.



Councils, of course, have a chief executive and staff.  Council officers can be pretty powerful.  As (in theory) they are the ones with specialist knowledge in their area of responsibility, councillors may tend to defer to them.

The sovereign body of the council is the full council meeting.  All councillors can attend and vote on council business and major matters (eg, the constitution, the policy framework, the budget, the appointment of chief officers).

There are two main ways to structure councils:

1. an elected mayor with executive powers, often supported by a cabinet.

2. a leader and a cabinet with executive powers, selected by the full council.

This leaves power in the hands of the relatively few councillors who are in the cabinet.  The other councillors, often, have little access to decision-making or inside information.

They can pursue matters for you – but be aware that opposing council policies won’t make them popular with the cabinet.  Some will support you anyway.  Others won’t.  Some councils have a very repressive internal culture.

Opposition councillors can thus be very useful.  Libraries are so valuable that they will fit some part of the agenda of any political party.



Each council has different procedures, deadlines etc.  You can get the names/information you need from the library, the council’s website or its HQ (Town Hall, County Hall, City Hall).

There should be a department with a name like ‘Democratic Services’, who will explain how the machinery works.  The secretaries of the various committees are usually helpful too.  If possible, get a friendly councillor to advise you on how the system really works in this particular council.

The main democratic tools are:

1. Petitions

 – on paper or using the council’s online facility.  Some councils have policies that oblige them to acknowledge petitions with over a certain number of signatures, and possibly even debate them.  But councils are not legally obliged to take notice of petitions.  However, they are good publicity and demonstrate the strength of your support.  Be sure to count the signatures on any paper petition before you hand it over.

2. Full council meetings

– these are public (whether physical or online).  Get the dates from HQ (or the council website).  Agendas are published in advance.  Members of the public can arrange to speak at them, perhaps with a delegation in support, ask questions or present petitions.  A councillor can also ask questions for you, in advance and/or at the meeting.  The rules for all of these vary, so check the council website or ask Democratic Services. Don’t expect much of a platform.  Typically you will get just two or three minutes to speak.

You can’t just chip in from the public gallery – unless you feel you have no alternative but to disrupt the meeting, and perhaps get thrown out, to get publicity.  You could also hold a demonstration outside before the meeting, as councillors turn up.  Online meetings, of course, mean you will be confined to speaking by arrangement.

After the meeting, you are entitled to access to the minutes.  They will be published on the council website.  You may find they don’t fully reflect what happened at the meeting…

3. Cabinet meetings

As above.

4. Scrutiny

Once a decision is made, you can try the scrutiny process.  One or more councillors has to ‘call in’ the decision, which may or may not be accepted for scrutiny.  Every council has at least one scrutiny committee.  It is made up of councillors without portfolio.  They meet in public, with public participation much the same as for full council meetings.  They can refer the decision back for reconsideration, or seek to impose conditions.  All involved must act impartially and independently.  However, the composition of the committee reflects the political balance of the council…

5. Complaints

You are entitled to make a formal complaint to a councillor about a council service, or you can complain about a councillor.  HQ (or its website) must advise you and help you to do it.

6. Freedom of Information. Councils are public bodies that must respond to formal Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.  See HERE for more on this.


COMMUNICATE! Ultimately, sheer publicity and demonstrated support are your best chance of making the case for libraries.


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