Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Saleem Yousaf

The Committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on the following issues:

what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century;

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

the impact library closures have on local communities; and

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

My response is as follows:

(1)A comprehensive library service should attempt to provide access to books in order to meet every individual’s need for self-improvement, and in so doing help them benefit the communities in which they live and work. In the future, a library service should, in addition to its existing service, be an exchange forum for ideas between adults in a community to gain access to new technical information, in say science and engineering, or exploiting new ideas for collaborative efforts in business and commerce—a library is an ideal place for such interactions between people. Such a change needn’t be expensive, and would in many cases pay for itself.

Also, we have a need to improve our conversational foreign language skills, again a library would be an ideal place for this, perhaps as after-hours conversational language clubs; this could be charged.

The efficiency of library services can always be boosted by proper use of IT.

(2)The Libraries and Museums Act 1964 appears to make provision for volunteer organisations and charities to take over the running of libraries where a local authority is unable or unwilling to discharge its duty to do so. Also, when a local authority is unwilling to co-operate with a charity/volunteer organisation ( in regard to it taking over provision of library services from the local authority) there appears to be provision in the 1964 Act for the Secretary of State to “superintend”. In the case of the closure of six libraries by Brent Council, NW London, there has been a failure by the Secretary of State to intervene and “superintend”.

(3)The impact of library closures on ethnically diverse areas such as Brent in North West London will be huge over the next few years. Youngsters will be affected by the lack of study places and fewer places to borrow books of course. The elderly, unemployed and those seeking fresh opportunities in work will be even more disadvantaged by lack of computer use and books.

Libraries are, and should be, secular, neutral places—such places matter more in areas which are as ethnically diverse as Brent to aid the understanding of different peoples to each other and to help integrate new people into a community.

(4)The Secretary of State’s powers of intervention appear to be very strong (under section 10 of the Act). I request that the Secretary of State intervene in the case of Brent Council closing Kensal Rise library and listen to what the Friends of Kensal Rise library (“Friends”) have to say on the matter, Brent Council is effectively throwing away the use of land and premises of Kensal Rise and Cricklewood libraries from the local communities they serve under the protest of those communities [the premises in these cases will revert to the ownership of the landlord, All Soul’s College charity, unless they are continued to be used as libraries]; Brent Council is failing in its fiduciary duty (as effective trustees over those libraries) to preserve those premises as functioning libraries by refusing to consider seriously, or co-operating with, proposals from organisations like the Friends to take over Kensal Rise and Cricklewood libraries.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012