Government sleepwalking into library crisis warns UNISON
UNISON, the UK's largest union, is warning the government that it is sleepwalking into a damaging library crisis that will rob future generations of the vital services that a vibrant local library can provide.
Through drastic cuts, a hollowing out of the service and now the looming threat of privatisation, the future of the UK's library service is in jeopardy. And with damaging consequences, the Tory-led coalition has so far failed to act to protect libraries. It has even closed down the body charged with advocating for libraries, passing responsibility on to another – Arts Council England - that has also been drastically cut*.
Fifty-five libraries have been withdrawn since April 2012. Between April 2011 and April 2012 more than one hundred were either closed down, turned over to be run by volunteers, or as a social enterprise.
Analysis by UNISON of council finance data shows that local authority library budgets have been cut by £122m between 2010/11 and 2012/13. The five largest cash reductions* took place in Essex, Kent, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire.
As part of the Speak up for Libraries coalition, UNISON, along with other organisations and campaigners, is holding an event in at the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals (CILIP) Headquarters in London on Saturday (10 November) to champion public library services and library staff, and discuss the best way to make sure that libraries are supported now and in the future.
Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:
"The government is sleepwalking into a library crisis. Cuts, closures and now the threat of privatisation are seriously threatening the future of our libraries. The government's failure to act, and the massive cuts it is inflicting on councils, are a recipe for disaster.
"Libraries have a long history of enriching people's lives. Since Victorian times they have been at the heart of vibrant communities. Now they are a vital resource for hard-pressed parents who struggle to afford books, for the elderly and for people looking for a job. But there is a real chance that the library service we hand over to the next generation will be a shadow of its former self.
"Not only has the government failed to act to protect libraries, it has closed down the body that used to advocate for the service, passing it on to another body that is struggling to cope with massive budget cuts. The government has to act before it is too late."
Philip Ardagh, children’s author, said: "Libraries have been and should remain at the heart of our communities. If they didn't exist, they'd be invented through necessity. In times of cutbacks libraries have become all the more important, not less so. And I'm talking about proper libraries run by professional librarians."
Alan Gibbons, children’s author, said: “Libraries are facing unprecedented challenges. The public library service is facing a 'perfect storm' of redundancies, opening hour reductions, book fund cuts and privatisation schemes. In my address I will be examining the state of the public library service and its prospects for the future.'
Bali Rai, author of young adults and children’s books, said: “Without libraries, both school and public, I would never have become a writer. Without them, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to fulfil my potential and to become the person I am today. After school, libraries are the single most important factor in my success, and I deplore the downgrading or removal of such a vital service from huge swathes of the UK population. Those who cannot afford to buy books need their libraries and we must defend them, for all of our sakes.”
**After shutting down the Museums and Libraries Archives Council, the government has instructed the Arts Council England (ACE) to advocate on behalf of libraries. ACE has been hit with massive cuts and has responded by saying that it is not responsible for reporting to Department for Culture, Media and Sport on library closures, leaving libraries hanging in the balance.
Earlier this week, a Culture Media and Sport Committee report called for various reports*** to be written on the state of libraries by the end of 2014. This will be too little too late warns the union – local communities are losing libraries and book funding now.
The union is also warning libraries not to look to the private sector as the answer to shrinking budgets – as five local councils are understood to be doing.
Wokingham council recently spent more than a year in discussions with private companies regarding taking over the running of the council's library service. After concluding that it would not provide enough benefits for our library users they ditched the plans.
**The top 5 cash reductions between April 202010/11 and 2012/13 – table is available to view in attached press release.
***The Select Committee report made recommendations for others to produce various reports; the Local Government Association, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England (ACE) by the end of next year.
The Secretary of State, through the course of the inquiry, promised a report by the end of 2014 on the cumulative effect on library services of the reduction in local-authority provision and the growth of alternatives such as community libraries.
It also called on ACE to disseminate the findings of their consultation on the future for libraries, which has been widely criticised by campaigners, as soon as it's published.
List of libraries closing down by local authority is available here - http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/about-public-libraries-news/news-topics