Last week saw the first signs of a possible trend we all dread…
1. Leeds City Council announced a financial hole “as severe as it
gets”. If there is no relief the council must “pare our spending right
back” – and close all its cultural institutions.
There is a legal duty to provide libraries, but the idea of an
online-only service is being floated.
2. Peterborough’s Vivacity leisure trust collapsed, dragging its
libraries down with the rest of its services. It has been handed back
to the cash-strapped council.
This adds to the strong body of evidence that shows government bright
ideas to make public services run like businesses don’t work.
The Library Campaign says these danger signs must lead to action.
The COVID-19 lockdown has proved yet again that public libraries are
flexible, quick to adapt – and very, very cheap to run.
Despite the closure of all buildings, service use has rocketed – often
by 600%. Library staff have devised countless new free services, on
top of their already massive online offer. All on a shoe-string
budget. Meanwhile, library users are making it clear they miss their
local physical branches.
Libraries are more needed than ever as the lockdown loosens and people
need trusted help in rebuilding their lives.
The Library Campaign says:
1. Government must protect libraries. It would cost only a tiny
fraction of the multi-billions it is spending on lockdown support.
The entire network for the whole UK costs just £750m a year. This buys
over 3,000 uniquely trusted, free drop-in centres – plus strong online
provision. The service covers everyone from toddlers to academics
seeking research papers.
2. The DCMS (Department for Culture, Media & Sport) must rule that
online-only services do not fulfil councils’ duty to provide a
“comprehensive and efficient service available to all”.
THE LIBRARY CAMPAIGN HAS SENT EVIDENCE TO THE DCMS SELECT COMMITTEE ON COVID-19.
A special concern is that the DCMS working group on libraries
re-opening gives almost no representation to local council libraries,
while being packed with representatives of volunteers and trusts.
These provide only a tiny proportion of library services and (as
Peterborough proves yet again) are not a proven model.
Ironically, librarians’ professional bodies* already have a re-opening
toolkit ready to use. It has been ready forth weeks, waiting for
* led by Libraries Connected, which represents council library heads