Tuesday, 3 March 2009

News from the front line

Those of you who follow Tim Coates blog, or library news in general won't have failed to notice the debate about library closures whihc has been rumbling on for a good few years now.

Recently it's come to a head with Wirral's proposals to close half it's libraries. Under pressure from a growing campaign, CILIP stepped into the ring by asking the culture minister, Andy Burnham to intervene using his statutory powers. Here's the latest:

CILIP slams government's inaction

Local people to suffer as government inaction exposes libraries to cutsCILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals has slammed Andy Burnham's decision to neither intervene nor investigate the controversial closures of libraries and cultural facilities agreed by Wirral Council. Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, has a statutory responsibility to safeguard the provision of public libraries in England, but is failing to do so.Bob McKee, Chief Executive of CILIP commented, "As the recession bites and people need their local libraries more than ever, this government has effectively given local authorities complete freedom to close their libraries. Exactly when local authorities are looking to make reductions to meet budget targets for the new financial year, Andy Burnham has made local libraries an even softer target for cuts."The cuts in Wirral library services are looking increasingly like the tip of the iceberg, as more local authorities including Swindon, Nottingham and Warwickshire announce plans to review or cut services. CILIP calls on everyone who cares about libraries, learning, reading, or their community to contact their local authority or Andy Burnham to voice their concern.Andy Burnham's response comes after the Leader of CILIP Council and CILIP’s Chief Executive both formally asked the Secretary of State to review Wirral Council's plans to close almost half its public libraries. CILIP has now been advised that the Secretary of State had considered this case in light of his powers of investigation and "is not minded at this stage to investigate further or intervene."This inaction flies in the face of statistics from local authorities who have seen a surge in library use. An extra 4,989 people joined Cumbrian libraries between September and December 2008, up 39% on the previous year. The Bookseller recently reported that London Borough of Westminster have seen visits increase by 10.5% (634,600) over the three months to the end of January 2009, compared to the same period in the previous year. The Birmingham Mail reported that membership numbers increased by nearly 4,500 towards the end of 2008, taking the number of people who use Birmingham’s libraries on a regular basis to 175,000.
Caroline Moss-Gibbons, Leader of the CILIP Council, points out the inconsistency of this inaction with recent government initiatives, "The Department of Culture, Media and Sport should be embarrassed that while 2008 was the government-backed National Year of Reading, 2009 looks like the year they do nothing while increasing numbers of libraries close."

Bob McKee keenly looks forward to working with the DCMS on the review of England's public library services, “There's an opportunity for the government to provide clear leadership on expected standards of library services. This is necessary so local authorities know what standard of library service they need to deliver, and local people are clear what they are entitled to receive.”

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