The following reply was received from John Leech MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport.
Thank you for your email about public libraries.
Libraries are on the whole a DCLG responsibility but I will nevertheless do my best to answer your questions from a DCMS perspective.
Firstly, I can assure you that we support the principle of local authorities providing library access. Libraries are a vital resource in any community. Currently there is a worrying trend of local authorities shutting local libraries at the same time as spending money on other things that constituents might think are lower priority (i.e. things which are not front line services). I wish to see this trend reversed.
I do support creation of community volunteer managed libraries as a last resort in the event of the closure of a local authority funded library. This happened recently in Burnage, in my constituency, where the local council chose to close the local library against the wishes of local people, despite the fact that the annual cost was only £43000. I believe that a volunteer run library is better than no library at all, though I would not like to see this to become the norm. The expectation should be that local libraries are funding by local authorities and run by paid staff.
With regard to your question about the quality of volunteer staff, I believe that some volunteers will provide the same quality of service as paid staff while others will not. The level of training that volunteers receive is key to the service that they can offer.
My final thought on this is that local authorities ought to be protecting front line services including libraries if they truly wish to serve the needs of the local community.
John Leech MP
Member of Parliament for Manchester Withington