Library campaigners accuse the government of "hiding" the scale of cuts which they predict will force the closure of a further 400 UK libraries by 2016, bringing the total of library closures since 2009 to more than 1,000.
IBNA: According to the Library Campaign, which has aggregated local newspaper reports to come up with national figures, a drop of almost a quarter since 2009 has been camouflaged by the piecemeal nature of the cuts, Guardian reported.
"Government is hiding behind the patchwork nature of local government spending cuts, which is covering the true extent of library closures," said library campaigner Desmond Clarke. "The problem is much bigger and more widespread than the picture at an individual local level suggests." The latest planned closures include 32 out of 45 libraries in Lincolnshire, and all but the central library in Herefordshire. Lincolnshire county council has banned campaigners from placing petitions against the cuts inside its library buildings, the Lincolnshire Echo reports.
Shirley Burnham of The Library Campaign, Swindon, said: "The minister, Ed Vaizey, was vociferous in defence of libraries when in opposition. But he has been frozen into inaction since coming into office. He and his officials are in denial, muttering 'What crisis?' as hundreds of libraries are closed, or the keys handed to volunteers, with no support."
Mass closures have already taken place across the country, from Newcastle to the Isle of Wight, with 3,000 professional librarians losing their jobs.
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, 349 libraries have closed since 2009, while the Library Campaign has collated reports of 340 planned closures in 2013. If the 10% cut in local government budgets in 2015/16 is applied across the board, then campaigners predict a further 400 closures, making an estimated total of over 1,000 closures during a five-year period. Rural and deprived urban areas are among those most at risk.
Responding to the campaign's latest figures, the DCMS said: "Libraries are – and should remain – very much a local service, and it is right that they are funded and run by local government, who have a duty to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' service. The government believes that it is crucial that local authorities understand what important resources library services are."
Bolton campaigner Geoffrey Dron said: "Bolton council did not believe volunteer-run libraries would be sustainable, and simply closed five libraries. Local campaigners and the Civic Trust asked Ed Vaizey to use his legal powers to intervene. First his officials lost part of our submission. Then they refused even to meet with us. The minister, from the comfort of his Whitehall office, has refused our request for an inquiry. He expresses no interest in the needs of the young, the elderly and the disadvantaged of Bolton for literacy, education and access to computers. He is not prepared even to talk to us."
Moves to hand over library administration to volunteer groups have met with success in some areas but, while Arts Council England has expressed a desire to provide a single point for help and advice for those wanting to run libraries, it has yet to unveil any concrete plan. Jim Brooks, who co-ordinates Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire, has set up a website in his spare time offering advice on how to run a library.
The Library Campaign argues that it is possible to protect or enhance services even in economically straitened times, pointing to the success of councils such as Lancashire and Southwark.
The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 makes it a legal duty for every council to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The Secretary of State at the DCMS has a legal duty to superintend and improve this service, and legal powers to intervene if council libraries are failing.
In November 2011, campaigners in Gloucestershire and Somerset won a high court ruling that council decisions to axe services were unlawful.
Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign said: "Libraries are the last refuge of a civilised society and cost next to nothing to run."