Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Roger Backhouse

1. Library Closures

1.1 There are, however, issues that go beyond the closure of library buildings but which have a damaging effect on services. I hope your committee will consider these. These aspects are specialist services, stock reductions and deprofessionalisation.

2. Specialist Services

2.1 One of the most important parts of any library service is the Local Studies Library. This has responsibilities for the preservation, indexing, accessibility, development and promotion of written and printed items related to local history. It overlaps with archive functions and, to a lesser extent, with museum services.

2.2 These services are popular with local historians, are often visited by school groups and increasingly attract family historians. Some family historians travel considerable distances to use libraries, an aspect of tourism that is not fully appreciated and one that is capable of further development.

2.3 Local Studies services need to develop. They constantly acquire collections of material from donors and, if they have resources, try to collect material reflecting the contemporary life of an area.

2.4 There is a great deal of specialist knowledge held by librarians of these collections which takes years to build up. Unfortunately it is easily dissipated by unthinking policies. With many library departments now ultimately managed by sports professionals, who have their own skills, there is little or no senior knowledge of these services which leads to them being targetted for cuts.

2.5 Here in the London Borough of Redbridge the Council proposed two years ago making the Local Studies Librarian and other posts redundant with serious loss of local knowledge. Following a public outcry the Council rescinded these proposals and though there will be a reduction in staff in the year ahead the service reduction will be less.

2.6 In Ashford, Kent, a railway town the excellent specialist railway collection was downgraded and lost dedicated staff with a reduction in quality.

2.7 Standards should be set for minimum staffing and resourcing for local studies collections.

3 Book and Stock Funds

3.1 It is noticeable how book stocks have deteriorated nationally due to the hidden cuts in book funds. The result is that fewer people find libraries attractive places to borrow and read books.

3.2 Good quality book stocks are particularly important to children’s services.

3.3 Additional book funds would be a boost for the UK publishing industry at a time of economic recession.

3.4 Standards should be set for minimum stock funds for books, and other media.

4. Specialist Services and Cohesion

4.1 Library services in general bring people together, as do local post offices. Their diminution reduces social cohesion.

4.2 Specialist services like local studies also bring people together, often those with the deepest interest in the local area, contributing to the cohesion of the neighbourhoods.

4.3 Cutting local studies, as some London Boroughs have done, reduces the resources available to the people who can help build up a sense of cohesion, of history and heritage. Furthermore, an area’s heritage builds up even daily. Reducing resources damages this development.

4.4 Standards should specify minimum resourcing, though it is a notably different area and some areas, eg Westminster and York, have disproportionately well developed heritage and documentary collections.

5. Deprofessionalisation and Effects on Services

5.1 Though not always seen as a cut the reduction in the number of professional staff worsens services. Unfortunately the work of professional librarians is rarely understood by those in other professionals, such as sports, placed in charge.

5.2 On the positive side Redbridge actually opened 3 part time libraries in recent years, responding to public demand and population growth, a welcome development but resources did not, it seems increase much to cope.

5.3 In London Borough of Redbridge we have recently seen eight out of 15 professional grade staff threatened with redundancy. This can only adversely effect the quality of service provided.

5.4 Minimum staffing standards developed in consultation with CILIP are becoming essential.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012