Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Bill Welland

Executive Summary

This memorandum proposes the transfer of responsibility for funding library buildings and associated staff from the Library Authority to the local council.

The recommended change would enable each community to decide for itself whether it required a bricks-and-mortar library, and they alone would pay for its existence. If they were prepared to travel to another community to visit a library building they would no longer need to contribute as much for the service as would those living beside the building.

1.0 Brief Introduction to the Submitter

1.1 My name is Bill Welland. I am a retired scientist and engineer, and have no direct involvement with library provision, but my wife was a librarian when I married her and she subsequently became an author, and therefore benefits from Public Lending Right.

1.2 My interest in the present issue arose when my County Council proposed to close the library in my town. I noted that the most strident of the protesters lived within walking distance of the library. Unlike them, our County Councillor and our MP live in villages without a library building, so would suffer little extra inconvenience if our library closed, yet their Council Tax is no lower—even though they cannot walk to a library.

2.0 Factual Information

2.1 On 7 February 2011 the Daily Telegraph published a letter from me under the heading “Open and shut library law” which quoted the opening words from 1(1) of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. My letter concluded “A lot of the time and effort being expended by library closure protesters and by library authorities might be saved if we were told how the Secretary of State interprets this duty”.

2.2 On 8 February 2011 Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) submitted written question 39944 for answer on 11 February “To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, what steps he is taking to comply with section 1(1) of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to promote the improvement of the public library service”.

2.3 lists a “[holding answer 11 February 2011]” response from Mr Vaizey. It begins “We continue to drive the improvement and development of public library services through the Future Libraries Programme (FLP)”. I have been unable to locate any subsequent answer, and so conclude that this “holding answer” is his only response.

3.0 Recommendations for Action

3.1 Separate the duty to provide a library service from the duty to provide a library building.

3.2 Leave the duty to provide a library service with the current Library Authorities, so that purchase of hard copies of books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, internet connections and online subscriptions, along with provision of an Authority-wide Mobile Library facility, continues to be undertaken centrally. Include in this the duty to provide one main library building within each Authority’s area.

3.2.1 Although provision of Mobile Library facilities would be a Library Authority responsibility under this recommendation, any requirement for the mobile library to move from its base would be funded by those demanding its services.

3.3 Transfer the responsibility for providing funding for satellite library buildings and staff to the town or parish in which the buildings stand, to be funded through the Parish Precept part of an individual’s Council Tax rather than the County Council’s portion.

3.3.1 If the responsibility for funding the physical presence of a library lay with the local council it would empower each community to decide for themselves whether they wanted a library building, or merely online access to library services.

3.3.2 If funding came from the local council, any decision on closure would be taken by people who were themselves users of an existing library, or were known personally to such users and exposed to community feelings on the matter.

3.3.3 If funding came from the local council, any community would be free to build and staff a suitable building, and could demand a proportionate share of the Library Authority’s books and other bulk purchases and provisions.

3.3.4 If funding came from the local council, those without libraries would be free to petition their planning authority for Section 106 funding for a library as part of any agreement to significant increases in the size of their community.

3.3.5 If the community chose a visiting Mobile Library in preference to a physical library building, their precept should instead fund the cost of visits by that Mobile Library.

3.3.6 There should be no requirement for the main library building in each Authority to be in an expensive central location in a town or city, so particular community would automatically benefit from having a “free” library, and Authorities could use brown-field sites to meet this provision requirement.

3.3.7 Many people now reserve books online for collection at a library. Our Library Authority levies a charge for this, which I take to be a delivery charge. Libraries in community-funded buildings under my proposal will need the freedom to add charges for collection, and the option to levy them only on collectors who do not live within the community which has paid for that library.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012