Published:

Recently there was a press release from the Shadow Culture Minister Dan Jarvis highlighting the number of library closures and blaming the Government. It got prominent space in The Independent.

However the attack by Mr Jarvis was misconceived on several levels. First of all he tried to conflate the number of libraries closing, and the number that are being kept open and run by volunteers. "157 libraries have been reported shut down or handed over to unpaid volunteers since April 2011," he says. Mr Jarvis does not reveal his source for this figure. However I have discovered it is Ian Anstice's blog Public Libraries News.

Why was Mr Jarvis so shy about acknowledging his source? I suspect the reason is that the more you look at the details assembled by Mr Anstice the more discreditable they are to the Labour Party.

For a start, the blog lists 46 libraries closed in the last financial year, and 13 since April 1st this year. So that's 59. To suggest that those libraries where volunteers are involved are in the same category as those being closed is insulting. Take this example in Bexley. It will be run by a charity but there will still be professional librarians as well as volunteers; the opening hours wil be longer; the number of books you will be allowed to borrow will increase. Would Mr Jarvis like to visit and tell them their efforts are worthless?

Does Mr Jarvis believe that Croxteth Library, run as a community library, might just as well be close? Book lending is 500% up compared to when it was run by Liverpool City Council.

The Community Knowledge Hub gives lots of examples, guidance, and success stories for community libraries.  Often when the community takes over a library from the council it not just saves money but does a better job. There is more innovation and the number of users rises. Often, as in Brent, the campaigners against library closure are also campaigners for being given the chance to run it as a community library.

There are over 4,000 libraries in the UK. Given that the 59 closures are offset by the opening of 40 new libraries (often very large) it is unreasonable to say that the service is being slashed. Sometimes new libraries are paid for with Section 106 money. Let's hear it for the property developers.

On the other hand there are certainly local variations. Which are the councils closing the 59 libraries?

Public Libraries News provides this useful list which Mr Jarvis failed to link to.

The following 41 are being closed by Labour councils:

  • Bolton Council – five libraries.
  • Bradford Council – one library.
  • Brent Council – six libraries.
  • Flintshire (minority Labour administration) – two libraries
  • Hartlepool Council – two libraries.
  • Lambeth Council – one library.
  • Leeds City Council – 13 libraries.
  • Lewisham Council – one library.
  • Liverpool City Council – three libraries
  • Manchester City Council – two libraries.
  • Wakefield Council – two libraries
  • Waltham Forest Council – two libraries.
  • Wigan Council – one library.

Of the remaining 19 there are two in Northern Ireland. Two are in Doncaster (which has an English Democrat Mayor and a majority of Labour councillors).One is Cumbria which has a Labour/Conservative/Independent coalition.

Then there are the following 14 being closed by Conservative councils:

  • Barnet Council – one library.
  • Dorset County Council – one library (being replaced with mobile library.)
  • North Somerset Council – two libraries.
  • Shropshire Council – one library
  • Warwickshire Council – six libraries.
  • Westminster City Council – one library.

The Conservative control 190 councils in Britain. Labour control 114. Yet the library closures are overwhelmingly taking place at the behest of Labour councils – while it is Conservative councils that are most enthusiastic about maintaining and improving libraries by embracing the Big Society.

Comments are closed.