Sheffield libraries latest on the block in UK library cull
September 18, 2013 | 1:52 pm
Libraries in Sheffield in northern England are the latest to face the ax under the local council’s library review, as local authorities across the UK continue to cut into their library services. According to Sheffield City Council: “We cannot afford to provide the same level of financial support for Libraries as we have in the past. We need to make a saving in the library budget of £1.669 million [$2.66 million] for 2014/15 and 2015/16.”
One common factor in these nationwide service cuts is that the councils usually do not explain why they cannot afford to provide the same level of financial support. If funding is being cut, it must be the result of policy decisions further up or elsewhere: What are they and what motivates them? Also, notice the wording here: “financial support.” Is it just me, or is there an inference here that libraries are somehow something external to the local council services that can be funded independently, rather than part of their core responsibilities to their citizens?
Sheffield residents clearly think so. According to local newspaper The Star, “more than 13,000 signatures have now been collected on a petition against library closures.” One opposition councilor quoted in the newspaper attributes the scale of the targeted library closures to office revamps and “other pet projects” of the Labour-dominated council. The paper also claims that Sheffield City Council has refused to disclose exactly which libraries in the city are targeted for closure, or to reveal which volunteer and other groups it has been in talks with, for fear of prejudicing negotiations.
As has been noted in other similar cases across the UK, the central government is sliding between the gaps in the regulations covering British library services, using their locally funded structure as a fig-leaf to hide its failure to honor formal obligations to provide proper libraries nationwide. Furthermore, as even Sheffield City Council admits: “The way people use library services in Sheffield is changing. The introduction of new technology has brought in new customers and a demand for new services, whilst at the same time we are experiencing a decline in book borrowing.” This surely requires investment for the future, not cutbacks.
With some British librarians campaigning for a vote of no confidence in their ultimate overlord, Ed Vaizey, I doubt there’s much chance of improvement at the central government level for now.