Libraries under siege ‘as never before’
16.07.10 | Benedicte Page and Lauren Hewitt

Islington, Richmond, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight are the latest councils confirmed as planning or currently undertaking reviews of their library services.

This follows last week’s news that Lewisham is proposing to close five libraries while Cambridgeshire has embarked on a major cost-cutting review.

Islington will review its strategy later this year, with a staff restructure set for spring 2011. Executive member for regeneration Paul Convery said the review would “consider how best to continue providing high quality and sustainable library services in the borough with inevitably reduced resources over the next few years”.

Cornwall Council said a working committee would look at the future and vision for its service, with a “detailed review” over the coming year, analysing who does and doesn’t use the service. Public sector union Unison has been asked to participate.

Ian Dodds, Richmond Council’s head of culture, said it was reviewing library finances. He said: “We recognise our libraries are highly valued by residents, but we won’t make any final funding decisions until the review is complete.”

Meanwhile, Hampshire councillor Margaret Snaith-Tempia told local newspaper Portsmouth Today she “could not rule out” closures among the county’s 54 libraries as the service looks to save £1.3m from a budget of £18m. “Two years ago, I would have said we will never close a library, but as things are now, we can’t rule out the closure of some of our smaller ones,” she said.

Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq told a meeting of the council that she could make “no promises” over keeping Belsize Park and Chalk Farm libraries open, according to a Camden New Journal report.

Also this week, librarians were set to stage a second day of action in Southampton over plans to replace staff with ­volunteers.

Penguin General m.d. Joanna Prior said libraries had “never been more under siege” and publishers “shouldn’t just leave it to the librarians to fight”, with any industry lobbying needing to include libraries. She said: “What I think needs protecting is the knowledge and expertise of librarians. Talk about volunteers alarms me. That may work in Kensington and Chelsea but are you going to get helpful volunteers in a deprived area? Great librarians are like great booksellers, they are fantastically important.” Prior also said she was worried about book stock levels.

The Reading Agency director Miranda McKearney said cuts were definitely going to happen, “so how things are cut is really, really important, and that the cuts are made carefully over a period of time and strategically so that things are reshaped in a sensible way”.

She said the work to look at how regions can combine backroom functions to make savings was “absolutely critical”. She added: “What we’re worried about is that entrepreneurial development staff—so important to the reader development movement and the successes of that—are potentially at risk.”

But Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin said: “I’m not confident the cuts will happen in the right place.” Referring to the ­latest Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy library statistics, which showed an overall spend of £1.2bn on the service, but just £96m on books and newspapers, he said: “Looking at the £1.2bn rather than the £0.1bn is what matters. But it’s always easier to cut a purchase than to cut a person.”

Library campaigner Tim Coates said an estimated cut of £30m in the book spend on libraries was “perfectly reasonable” to expect, “although obviously one hopes not”.

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