The UK has 206 local authorities that are together responsible for 4517 library buildings and mobile libraries. The Public Library Service employs the equivalent of 25,000 people – many employees are in part time roles
In Somerset, for example, the County Council initially intended to close 20 out of 34 libraries and 4 of 6 mobile libraries. The only alternative offered to closure in 14 towns is for the community to operate and fund the library themselves. Now in the face of public outcry it appears that some libraries have been ‘saved’ but opening hours around the county are being cut and charges introduced. In Doncaster 14 out of 26 libraries are to be closed.
Similar actions are proposed by councils all over the country.
To help local councils adapt to the current economic challenge, on 1 July 2010 the Minister launched The Future Libraries Programme – an expert support programme that aims to help library authorities maximise the impact of available library budgets. As it develops, learning from it’s 10 pilot projects will be shared widely to support authorities that aren’t taking part to deliver their service more efficiently too. Some of the authorities taking part in this programme are cutting their libraries.
Campaigners consider this to be equivalent to Nero holding a fiddling initiative while Rome burns. The programme lacks credibility. There is no public representation; the programme is being led mainly by non library professionals. Alternatively, if the programme is as valuable as Government proposes, why are local consultations taking place and cuts likely to be made while Future Libraries are apparently defining the future?