Saturday 4th February is National Libraries Day. Set up last year in response to threat to libraries around the UK, it aims to be a nationwide celebration of libraries, librarians and library staff across all sectors. If you’d like to take part, you can click on the link above to find out about events near you. Or you can buy or borrow, The Library Book, published especially for National Libraries Day, in which twenty-three writers, from Alan Bennett to Zadie Smith, describe libraries real or imagined, why they matter and to whom.
More Libraries in Upheaval
The situation for libraries in the UK is changing so fast that the Library Cat column in the February edition of Words with Jam was out of date almost before the final proofs had gone to the printers. So here is a flying update.
Celebrations in Gloucestershire, when a judicial review ruled in favour of the protestors are starting to look as if they might have been premature. The council has published new plans, emphasising concern for equality. (The grounds given for ruling the original closures unlawful were that the council had failed to give due regard to issues of equality.) Seven libraries and five mobiles under threat compared to ten and six last year, but the library budget is to be halved over two years.
Thirty-one library authorities now have at least one library run by volunteers, without a professional librarian on the staff. We have also now had the first ‘community’ library to propose charging for membership. Bexley Village Library in London has been taken over by the charity Greener Bexley, who are offering additional benefits to those users who are prepared to pay for privilege.
Suffolk is going ahead with the idea of setting up a charitable trust to run its libraries. Several others are considering following suit, among them Ealing, Durham, Warrington and Greenwich. But there seem to be hints that the tax relief for such trusts will soon be lost.
One such not-for-profit group looking to move library provision is GLL, which currently operates leisure centres in the south-east and may be poised to take over libraries in Greenwich, Croydon and Wandsworth. But the prospect of libraries in the UK being outsourced to private profit-making companies may have receded. The American company LSSI, which had stated that it wanted to take over 15% of UK libraries within five years, has backed off, telling the Independent, “we're still waiting to see if the UK is ready yet for the idea of library privatisation.”
Essex and Kent councils are employing an American debt collection company, Unique Management Services, to collect unpaid fines for library books. Kent estimates that is has £100k in unpaid fines, and Essex £650k. But the individual amounts recovered are likely to be tiny: the largest fine incurred in Kent last year was £25.
The Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport finished collecting written evidence for its enquiry into Library Closures on 12th January, and we are now waiting to hear who will be called to give verbal evidence before the committee.
Meanwhile, the response from Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt and Minister Ed Vaisey remains a deafening silence.
On Tuesday 13th March, library campaigners from around the UK are due to lobby Parliament to protest at cuts to services around the country and the continuing uncertainty over the government’s role in defending them. They are calling on everyone who loves libraries to join them at Central Hall, Westminster (1 Wimpole Street) at 12 noon.