Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Professor Robert Usherwood

A. Summary

1. Using research undertaken at the University of Sheffield and nearly 50 years of professional experience this submission deals with each of the four issues on which the Committee has requested views. In summary, I am of the opinion that:

A comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century must include all those materials and services indicated in the 1964 Act plus additional material and services that reflect changes in education, technology and society. It should be free at the point of use and staffed by professional librarians.

Many of the planned and implemented library closures are not compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964.

The available research suggests that library closures and other reductions in service have the greatest and most adverse impact on poorer communities, the elderly, children and other vulnerable people. Closures also have negative social and economic impacts.

The Secretary of State has sufficient powers of intervention under the 1964 Act and these can be effective. However, he or she must be willing to use them.

Brief summaries of the major research and articles referred to are provided at the end of this submission in Appendices 1–7.1

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

2. The original Act indicated that a comprehensive and efficient library service must contain “Books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children.” In addition, this organization was designed to serve, “All persons whose residence or place of work is within the library area of the authority or who are undergoing full-time education within that area.”

3. Given the social and technological changes that have taken place since 1964 the 21st century “comprehensive and efficient library” must increase its range of material to include digital and electronic forms of works of imagination and sources of information. It is no longer, indeed it never was, sensible to charge for one format and not another. (Why should there be a charge for the DVD of a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Hamlet when the book of the play may be borrowed free?) All material should be provided free at the point of use if a comprehensive service is also to be universal. A comprehensive service is not one where users suffer from postcode lottery. Putting some books in supermarkets or pubs, with a few volunteers, is not providing a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st or any other century. Volunteers may be of help in limited circumstances but, in order to maintain standards, should never be used as an alternative to professional staff. There need to be minimum standards for materials, professional staff, access et al. The Secretary of State must be willing to intervene when local authorities fail to comply with such standards.

C. The extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report

4. In most cases they are not. Francis Bennion (2011a) who was responsible for drafting the parliamentary Bill that became the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 is of the opinion that “any library authority which in 2012 and subsequently spends substantially less on its library service than it did in 2009 would be acting unlawfully”.

D. The impact library closures have on local communities

5. Research projects that evaluated the value and impact of public library services (see Linley & Usherwood, 1998, Toyne & Usherwood 2001, Usherwood et al 2005 ) indicate that public libraries fulfil a number of roles. These are:




The promotion of reading and literacy.

Developing a community identity and sense of ownership.

Helping to ensure equity in access to, and the distribution of, information and imagination services.

6. In addition, the data indicate that buildings, facilities, location, access, and aesthetics can have a significant effect on social impact.

7. The evidence on the impact of library closures (see Proctor et al 1996, 1998) supports these findings and shows that:

The library may be particularly missed as a community resource in communities where unemployment is high and access to other resources, including financial resources is limited.

Although libraries compete with other forms of leisure pursuit for the attention of non-library users, for regular library users there is no significant competition strong enough to persuade them to stop using the service.

None of the alternatives to library use are satisfactory or acceptable on a long-term basis.

The educational functions of the public library service are most missed in communities with limited access to higher and further education and where people have less access to other sources of educational materials.

Very high value is placed on the use of the library as a social resource, particularly in communities with a higher than average incidence of social and economic deprivation.

Children and young people, the elderly, and the unwaged are particularly vulnerable groups of users when a library closes and often have more difficulty gaining access to alternatives.

Reading is an essential and critical factor in the lives of library users. For the majority of respondents, it was not replaceable by another activity.

For many people library use is a key factor in determining the frequency of their visits to all local centres, urban and suburban. Nearly a quarter of respondents visited their local centre less often because of the library closure. The closure of a library can have a significant impact on local retailers and other businesses.

For the vast majority of users the public library is a service of inestimable value, enhancing quality of life, and, for many it fulfils an essential need that no other pursuit or activity satisfies.

Where libraries had been closed, they were highly valued and missed by the majority of users. It was reported that:

A mobile library was not an acceptable alternative to a local library. Scheduling, space, lack of information provision and shortcomings as a social environment were all key issues.

Distance, expense, and a feeling of not belonging were deterrents to the use of other libraries. A local library is regarded as a community focal point and has important information and social roles.

Users missed the library staff and familiar physical and static environment.

Problems with using alternative sources were often related to transport and/or financial difficulties.

8. The specific impacts of public library closures on young children and their families were reported as follows:

9. Just under a half of the children were not using a library since their local library closed and about a third were using the public library less and reading fewer books. Teachers and parents believed that the children had lost the opportunity to gain a wider range of skills and experiences than a school offers of its own accord. The library was seen as a place of social interaction.

10. Teachers, parents/carers, and library staff expressed concerns with regard to: loss of general educational support, loss of support for literacy, impeded access to a wider variety of materials, loss of the opportunity for children to gain independence and self-confidence by choosing their own books. They also expressed worries about the loss of the opportunity to improve social skills, the lack of local amenities for children, the loss of community focal points and pre-school support. In addition, respondents raised the possibility of future generations of adult non-users. It was felt that children who have no access to a local library are severely disadvantaged. Respondents were apprehensive about the future well-being of these children and the long-term effects of this deprivation.

11. Across the various studies, over three quarters of users still used a public library service point, but less than a fifth used a mobile service introduced since a library closure.

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

12. It is the duty of the Secretary of State to:

Superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales. (2) To secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities. (My emphasis).

13. It is difficult to see how extreme cuts in expenditure and the subsequent huge reduction in library services and the number of professional staff employed can be defined as an improvement. Bennion (2011) is of the opinion that:

“a severe reduction now in the public library facilities which were being provided by a particular library authority two or three years ago is likely to be unlawful. This is because there is a presumption that the earlier provision did not exceed what was required under the Act”.

14. At the very least, there is a case to be answered in those authorities that have reduced the quantity and quality of their library service. The present, like previous Secretary of States, has the power to investigate and to intervene in such cases but has chosen not to do so. The former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, did ask DCMS to carry out a local inquiry into the library service provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council. As a result, Wirral Council revoked their decision to close 11 library branches.

15. The Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the 1964 Act can be effective but they require him or her to be willing to use them. Just what a government can do is illustrated by South Korea where, at the same time as the UK is closing 600+ libraries that government has seen “W552 billion allocated for 180 new public libraries.” (Yoon-mi 2011).

January 2012

F. References

Bennion, F (2011) Public libraries are protected by law. The Times 16 August 2011–022-public-libraries.pdf.

Bennion, F (2011a) Drafting the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964–023-libraries.pdf.

Bryson, J, Usherwood, B, Streatfield, D (2002): Social impact audit. South West Museums, Archives & Libraries Council.

Linley, Rebecca; Usherwood, B (1998): New measures for the new library: a social audit of public libraries. London: British Library Board, (British Library Research and Innovation Centre Report ; 89).

Proctor, R, Usherwood, B & Sobczyk, G (1996) What do people do when their public library service closes down? an investigation into the impact of the Sheffield Libraries strike. British Library research and Development department. 1996. (British Library R&D Report 6224).

Proctor, R, Lee H, Reilly, R (1998) Access To Public Libraries The Impact Of Opening Hours Reductions And Closures 1986–1997 Centre for the Public Library In the Information Society. Department of Information Studies The University of Sheffield:

Toyne, J & Usherwood, B (2001) Checking the books. The value and impact of public library book & reading. Report of research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Centre for the public library and information In Society. Department of Information Studies. The University of Sheffield. 2001 (published as CD and in hard copy).

Usherwood, B, Wilson, K & Bryson, J (2004) relevant repositories of public knowledge? Perceptions of archives libraries and museums in modern Britain .The Centre For the Public Library and Information in Society, Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield: Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

Usherwood, B, Wilson, K, Bryson, J (2005) Relevant repositories of public knowledge. Libraries, museums and archives in “the information age”. In: Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 37 (2) pp.89–98.

Yoon-mi, K (2011) W552 billion allocated for 180 new public libraries The Korea Herald

1 Not printed.

Prepared 5th November 2012