Libraries by Law, not just "nice to have"
CILIP is committed to championing the value of a high-quality universal public library service, properly stocked, well-located, open at times to suit local needs and staffed by professional librarians. Our definition of what constitutes a quality library service is set out in our ’10 key principles’.
The provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service is a statutory responsibility on national and local Government under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. CILIP regularly briefs the press and media to ensure that they are aware of the statutory nature of public library services.
We were therefore disappointed to see a reference to public libraries as ‘discretionary’ in a recent opinion piece published on the Guardian website. Our CEO, Nick Poole, wrote to the Guardian Editor (see below) and we are pleased to confirm that following this letter the Guardian has now corrected the reference.
Letter to Guardian Letters Editor:
Blair McPherson in Setting council budgets is a messy series of unattractive compromises (14 February), is plain wrong to describe libraries as “discretionary”.
Local authorities in England and Wales under the Public Libraries and Museums Act have a statutory duty to provide “comprehensive and efficient” public library services.
Under the same Act the Secretary of State with responsibility for Libraries, Matt Hancock MP, has a legal duty to superintend and promote the improvement of public library services and can order an investigation into a public library service that is seen as failing.
In the article Blair McPherson is also wrong to say that “Local authorities run the risk of community protest if they propose, say, closing libraries”. In reality local authorities run the risk of intervention by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; of a formal inquiry by the Secretary of State with powers to issue an improvement order or transfer the responsibility of providing public library services; of judicial review; and of community protest.
With over 200 million visits a year, half the population owning a library card and used by 15-24 year olds more than anyone else, our public libraries provide essential, statutory services that improve literacy skills and provide opportunities for all.
We recognise the unprecedented financial challenges that local authorities face. Which is why we are lobbying central Government to provide a fair financial settlement for local authorities and calling on candidates in the upcoming elections to champion the importance of libraries to local communities.
CILIP, the library and information association
The Guardian article has now been amended to reflect the concerns raised
Headline image, BIPC Northamptonshire in Northampton Central Library photographed by Julia Chandler from Libraries Taskforce Flickr feed, Cropped and re-sized. CC BY-NC 2.0