Revealed: Government advice promoting volunteer-run libraries had no Ministerial sign-off

Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals have revealed that key advice on the Government’s gov.uk website about setting up community managed libraries does not appear to have Ministerial sign-off.

A series of Freedom of Information requests to the Department for Media, Culture and Sports (DCMS), The Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) revealed that the advice was approved following discussions between officials from the three departments. 

Barbara Band, CILIP President, said: “The website gives the impression that the government is trying to encourage volunteers to take over the running of their local libraries. It is hard to believe that the Minister is happy that official Government advice seems to suggest volunteer-run libraries are in any way a suitable alternative to a professionally managed service delivered by the local authority.

“Not only does it go against the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which clearly states local authorities have a duty to provide public libraries, it also dismisses the role of librarians and library staff. The fact that the ‘advice’ does not appear to have had Ministerial sign-off and is not put in context is deeply worrying.”

In October CILIP expressed concern that gov.uk advice promoted volunteer-managed community libraries ahead of those delivered by local authorities, staffed by professionals, and sought clarification from the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, to explain why the Government appears to be promoting volunteer-run libraries and if this a change of Government policy. 

Morale amongst public librarians is suffering, a recent survey by CILIP reveals. 43% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they’re worried that their job will be replaced by volunteers in the future.78% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I’m just really glad I’ve got a job at the moment.” 

Barbara said: “We asked for clarification on this in October and have had to resort to using FOI requests to get some of the answers we were looking for. But we still want to know whether it is official Government policy to encourage communities to run their own library service using volunteers and when that decision was taken. Even though the UK economy is showing signs of recovery, local authority budgets continue to come under severe pressure as the Government’s austerity programme continues. Now more than ever we need a clear Ministerial commitment to professionally run library services that meet their statutory obligations and we need the Minister to take responsibility for influential government advice.” 

Any change in Government policy towards favouring volunteers over professionals needs to be held up to proper scrutiny – which means having Ministerial approval. 

However, responses from DCMS and DCLG say that the original advice, which came from the former No 10 website was commissioned by a member of the Cabinet Office’s staff. They go on to say that the advice was ‘revised following consultation with and contributions from officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, before being approved by officials from the three departments’. In their response to the FOI request the Cabinet Office state that they do not hold information about how the page was created and responsibility for the page lies with DCMS. At no point was there any Ministerial input, according to the FOI responses. 
 
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Media contact:

Mark Taylor, Director of External Relations, CILIP
mark.taylor@cilip.org.uk
Tel: 020 7255 0654
Mobile: 07792 635 305

Notes to Editors:

1. ‘Create a community library’ can be found on gov.uk.
 
2. Freedom of Information responses from DCMS, the Cabinet Office and DCLG.

3. The CILIP survey of public librarians was carried out with CILIP’s Public and Mobile Libraries (PMLG) Special Interest Group in December 2013. The survey was sent to PMLG members. When asked to rank their agreement with the statement ‘I’m just really glad I’ve got a job at the moment’ 78% agreed/strongly agreed, 20% neither agreed or disagreed and 2% disagreed (198 people responded to the question). When asked to rank their agreement with statement “I’m worried that in the future my job may be replaced by volunteers” 43% agreed/strongly agreed, 35% disagreed/strongly disagreed and 22% neither agreed or disagreed. (201 people responded to the question). 328 people in total responded to the survey. The full findings from the survey will be published in February 2014. 

4. CILIP briefing on the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act.
 
5. CILIP press release, 17 October 2013, expressing concern that gov.uk advice promoted volunteer-managed community libraries ahead of those delivered by local authorities, staffed by professionals. 

6. CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers. CILIP’s vision is a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. CILIP is a registered charity, no. 313014. Visit www.cilip.org.uk for more information.

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