Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Hereford Library Users’ Group

1.0 Summary

This submission to the committee is made by the Hereford Library Users’ Group (HLUG). The background and experience of the Group is explained followed by our comments, views and recommendations on each of the four issues to be considered by the Committee. These can be summarised as:

1.1HLUG believes that the future needs of our children and grandchildren, who have no vote, must be safeguarded by those such as members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee who can influence democratic decision making.

1.2It is clear from our studies of library developments across the UK that many local councils have difficulty in recognising the vital contribution that libraries make to their locality and the benefits they can bring.

1.3The Committee should visit a range of libraries, large and small, old and new, to see the wide range of essential services that can be provided by a modern library and the difficulties that many libraries are meeting, as inadequate facilities and closures prevent them from giving an adequate service that matches good modern practice.

1.4Libraries appear to be regarded as an easy target for financial cuts and proposals are being put forward by local authorities without adequate consultation or appreciation of the likely results.

1.5Regarding the alternative methods of managing libraries that many Councils are considering it is difficult to see what benefit there is in separating library, archive and similar services from direct Council control. Indeed, it must be questionable if Councils can meet their statutory requirements under the 1964 Act if they hive off these services.

1.6With the present concentration by the government on raising the standards of education and training, it is our view that now is not the time for libraries to be closed or services reduced; on the contrary there needs to be more recognition of the vital contribution that libraries make in this area and every effort should be made to develop the role of the library rather than diminish it.

1.7We would propose that some form of Library Audit should be established by DCMS that is charged with the regular and comprehensive review of library services being provided by local authorities. This should not just be the receipt of reports but supplemented by actual inspection with subsequent sanctions being imposed where it can be shown that they are not compliant with the Act.

2.0 Introduction

2.1HLUG has been in existence since 2001 and its aims are to represent library users in Hereford and:

to assist library staff and managers to achieve and maintain top quality library and information services in the Hereford city library which is the main library centre for the county.

to maintain a high profile for the library and information services among all county residents.

to work towards the planning and building of a new headquarters for library, information and other public services in Hereford.

2.2HLUG members have wide experience and a lively interest in the world about them. Their experience ranges from education, engineering, medicine, publishing and agriculture, to library and local authority staff. They have links with a wide variety of local and national organisations, with interests which include heritage and environment, arts and lifelong learning. Family contacts ensure that that the interests of young people are well appreciated, in particular their extensive use of electronic media for both education and leisure.

2.3They feel that the future needs of our children and grandchildren, who have no vote, must be safeguarded by those such as members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee who can influence democratic decision making. HLUG represents all library users in Hereford, whether their interests are reading for pleasure, browsing the internet, or family and local history.

3.0 Issues

3.1The Group notes the issues on which the Committee wishes to receive views and would submit the following statements that give the Group’s opinions on the issues before the committee.

3.2What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?

3.2.1HLUG believes that an efficient and modern library needs to serve the public in the following areas:

Education for all ages from infants to pensioners by providing good access to both the written and electronic media.

Provide a good reference and research section with both book and electronic search facilities and staff expertise.

Keep and update a good library stock housed in modern and well lit shelving.

Servicing and improving the public’s leisure experience

Provision of advice and assistance by suitably qualified staff.

Linking with other information services from local and national government sources, links to police and health authorities, job centres, tourism and other public services to provide a common interface with the public.

Supplying data, resources and information to assist with economic development.

Provide access and expertise in relation to archives, local history, archaeology and family history.

Have adequate spaces for users to sit, browse and obtain refreshments and have access to toilet facilities.

3.2.2In summary “Libraries help people improve their health and well-being, learn to read and acquire new skills, find a job, and improve and enrich their lives” Society of Chief Librarians.

3.2.3Such services can only be provided by flexible, modern or updated buildings. The benefits of such buildings can be judged by the considerable effect modern libraries as at Cardiff, Bournemouth and Brighton have had on increased usage of library services in these areas. Here in Hereford HLUG has been campaigning continually but with no success for the construction of a new library and information facility (The Herefordshire Centre) to replace the present old and inadequate 1875 central library. It is felt that such a centre would produce very large benefits and improvements in the economic, cultural development and regeneration of the city. It is clear from our studies of library developments across the UK that many local councils have difficulty in recognising the vital contribution that libraries make to their locality and the benefits they can bring—as was the case at The Wirral, the subject of the Charteris Report.

3.2.4While in the present economic situation funding of new buildings is difficult many of the more progressive Councils have recognised the benefits available and prioritised the building of new libraries – Birmingham is a prime example. There are also some excellent examples of older library buildings being extensively up-graded such as at Blackpool, Hillingdon and Southwark.

3.2.5A further point is that cuts are not only expressed in terms of closures. Much more insidious is the steady downward movement of library stock purchases as revealed by data published by CIPFA. Herefordshire has suffered more than most in this respect as is shown by it being well down the bottom quartile. This has represented a real decline in library user choice, exacerbated by the significantly above RPI rise in the RRP price of books. Recent increases in the access price of electronic material, which is, apart what is freely available in the public domain, creating an expensive market in academic data, important for research

3.2.6HLUG recommend to the Committee that they visit a range of library facilities, large and small, old and new, to see the wide range of essential services that can be provided by a modern library and the difficulties that many libraries are meeting as inadequate facilities prevent them from giving an adequate service that matches good modern practice.

3.3The extent to which planned library closure are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries and Museum Act 1964 and the Charteris report.

3.3.1Hereford and Herefordshire have not suffered from library closures other than the withdrawal of the full mobile library service. However HLUG has followed with interest the difficulties that have been evident in such places as Gloucestershire and Somerset where such closures have been proposed. We support fully the considerable efforts of the objectors to these closures and welcome the judicial rulings that such proposed closures are unlawful and do not meet the requirements of the 1964 Act.

3.3.2We believe that many of the present proposals by a number of local councils are the result of seeing libraries as an area where budget savings can be readily made and while the need for economies to be made in the present economic situation is acknowledged, libraries appear to be regarded as an easy target and proposals are being put forward without adequate consultation or appreciation of the likely results. The Charteris report resulted in a major rethink of the Wirral Council’s ill thought out proposals and it seems to us that if DCMS had applied the same principles to other Councils many would be found to be in breach of their statutory requirements and the long, difficult and stressful procedure of having to take objections though the Courts could have been avoided.

3.3.3There are also other factors that need to be considered. Many Councils, including Herefordshire, are studying alternative scenarios for the future operation and management of their library and other cultural services. These include alternatives such as the formation of charitable trusts, the involvement of private companies, social enterprises, joint venture companies etc.

3.3.4For libraries a major problem in such proposals is that as distinct from some services such as theatres, swimming pools and leisure facilities, libraries have few sources of income apart from fines, photocopying and reservation fees. The result is that any such trusts or other arrangements will still rely on contributions from Council funds to support the majority of their operations.

3.3.5This being the case it is difficult to see what benefit there is in separating libraries, archive and similar services from direct Council control. Indeed, it must be questionable if Councils can meet their statutory requirements under the 1964 Act if they hive off these services.

3.4The impact library closures have on local communities.

3.4.1It will already be clear to the committee from the nationwide protests and objections raised to the closure of libraries how much local communities value the services that libraries provide even where that service does not meet modern standards. A largely unrecognised way in which libraries benefit whole communities is that of providing a safe, inclusive environment for all. Free and unrestricted access welcomes everyone, from young children and the elderly, to people of all social backgrounds and all racial and ethnic groups. Everyone benefits from the same unbiased and friendly service.

3.4.2The main impacts of closure and service reductions are:-

The loss of local educational and leisure resources and the use of the library as a learning centre for all ages.

The effect on children and young people particularly at the early reading stage where standards are already poor.

A deterioration in the life of the many older people who depend on the library for the reading matter that maintains their quality of life.

Reduced access to the web and all electronic media – an area where the government and other organisations are relying more and more on this method of providing information and engaging with the public. Likely delays in the introduction of access to ebooks, social networks and the vast amount of information now available on-line.

Cuts in the number of qualified staff available for advice particularly where library staff are increasingly being seen as part of a general information service rather than an expert source of knowledge.

Poor access to archive and local history material when there has been such a large increase in the level of usage coming from growing interest in genealogy and local studies.

Closures also result in staff cuts and reductions in stock purchases both of which have a major and adverse effect on the service available.

3.4.3With the present concentration by the government on raising the standards of education and training, it is our view that now is not the time for libraries to be closed or services reduced; on the contrary there needs to be more recognition of the vital contribution that libraries make in this area and every effort should be made to develop the role of the library rather than diminish it.

3.5The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

3.5.1Our view on this is that, in general, the powers available to the Secretary of State are adequate; the problem as we see it is that there is a reluctance on the part of DCMS to use these powers to ensure that the statutory requirements of the Act are being complied with. While we recognise there is an understandable reluctance to interfere with Local Authorities operations it is clear that some Authorities are not complying with the Act and are not providing “a comprehensive and efficient library service”.

3.5.2We propose that some form of Library Audit should be established by DCMS that is charged with the regular and comprehensive review of library services being provided by local authorities. This should not just be the receipt of reports but should be supplemented by actual inspection with subsequent sanctions being imposed where it can be shown that some local authorities are not compliant with the Act.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012