Like many others, I welcome the fact that Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Culture, has joined campaigners in Lincolnshire in calling for a rethink on the Council’s threat of widespread closures or handing over libraries to volunteers. Such support for the library community is always welcome.
However, perhaps we need to view her words with a slightly jaundiced eye and healthy dose of realism. According to the press release:
“Labour is committed to avoiding a postcode lottery; maintaining a core professional service; and modernising and strengthening the role of libraries in the knowledge economy.”
Well, the obvious question becomes what exactly constitutes a ‘core professional service’? For many politicians a small group of professionally managed libraries overseeing or working in partnership with a wide circle of ‘volunteer libraries’ is considered a core service.
Is this what the Shadow Minister means? Perhaps she can elucidate.
Two other points to bear in mind:
- Labour’s policy document on libraries states (page 5) that: Community, volunteer run, libraries should be encouraged and supported where there is genuinely no other alternative to closure
Who decides when there is no other alternative? Many councils would argue that due to cuts in central government funding this is the situation they have reached already.
- During a campaigner meeting with the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group (20/11/13), Helen Goodman agreed that “…volunteers running libraries in “small villages” was acceptable.”
So does that mean the Shadow Minister agrees with the elements of Lincolnshire’s plan regarding volunteers running libraries in villages?
In principle there is no difference to volunteers running a library in a ‘small’ village and volunteers running a ‘small’ library in an urban area. The fact is both Labour policy and the Minister’s own views support the use of volunteers. (the section has been reworded from the original posting)
Lastly, Labour has already stated that it will keep to the current government’s spending cuts so don’t expect any increases in grants to councils, which in turn will see reduced funding to library services continue.