UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Under-investment in libraries will lead to a spiral of decline‏

At face value a recent report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) suggests a worrying decline in usage of public libraries: ‘Only 12.8% of us made a monthly habit of visiting our local library last year, and just 40% of us went there at least once. The DCMS reckons that the number of weekly visitors to libraries has fallen by 32% in five years’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/24/libraries-need-investment-thrive

John Harris writing in the Guardian rightly identifies that the situation on the ground is far more complex than the news headlines which greeted the report of which he speculates ‘looks like a textbook case of softening up the public for yet another fall of the axe…. in lean times, libraries are among the first services to feel the pinch, and councils in Wirral, Swindon and Warwickshire have already been busy attacking their services. By contrast, recent figures show library use going up in the London borough of Hillingdon, and Cumbria – partly because of the recession, partly because the people in charge understand that decline often has as much to do with supply as demand.’

Heather Wakefield responding on behalf of UNISON, emphasised the same point:

“It is worrying to see library footfall going down, but many councils have been under-investing in this vital service for years. Spending on new books, and the total book stock has fallen by more than 15% over the last ten years. Libraries are set to be hit by massive cuts, following the Comprehensive Spending Review. Many councils are already drawing up plans to close libraries down, to replace trained staff with volunteers or to stop providing mobile library services altogether.

"Running local libraries into the ground will have a devastating impact on local communities. UNISON is reiterating its call for local people to get behind their library service. The union is also calling on the government to put a statutory duty onto local councils, setting out the library service they have to provide. Well trained librarians, as well as investment in books, is crucial to making libraries attractive places for people to visit.”