Now that Ed Vaizey is back at the Department of Culture Media and Sport as Culture Minister after the election, I have renewed my call for a public debate on the future of libraries:
With Ed Vaizey back in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and protests continuing at the Library of Birmingham, the writer and campaigner Alan Gibbons has re-issued his challenge to the culture secretary for a public debate on “library closures and the future of the service”.
Vaizey said earlier this month he would “happily debate” Gibbons in public, arguing that “fewer than 100 libraries closed in England since 2010” and the “vast majority” of libraries in England “have been closed by Labour councils”.
Gibbons begins his letter by congratulating the minister on his reappointment at the DCMS, before noting the minister “agreed in response to … comments in the Guardian recently to publicly debate the issues around the number of library closures and the future of the service”.
“I do hope you still feel inclined to hold such a public debate,” Gibbons writes.
“The Library Campaign has indicated that it would be happy to take over the arrangements for such a discussion,” Gibbons continues. “If your office could contact me, I can set the wheels rolling to arrange a venue and date.”
The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy reported last year that the number of libraries in the UK had fallen to 4,145 – a loss of 337, or 8%, since the Conservative-led coalition took over in 2010. With the number of professional librarians down 22% over the same period and opening hours reduced across the country, library visits and book-borrowing have also declined, with reductions of 12% and 20% respectively.
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The pressure on libraries continues, with cuts to mobile libraries in Hertfordshire and the closure of Roath library in Cardiff announced since the general election on 7 May, alongside a combination of cuts and new facilities in Harrow.
Speaking to the Guardian via email, Gibbons said he “would like to see a much more supportive attitude to libraries and a readiness to intervene to secure the continuing health of the service” over the next five years.
“I believe the debate should be public and accessible to all those interested in the future of libraries,” he said. “It should review the DCMS’s record and prospects for the future.”
Key points he would like to raise in the debate include strategic vision, closures, volunteers, stocks and opening hours.
With protests ongoing in the capital and Britain’s “second city”, London or Birmingham seem obvious venues, Gibbons continued, and with “working librarians and library users” key to the discussion, “maybe a weekend”.
Vaizey did not respond to a request to confirm he would attend, but the author was confident the minister would turn up.
“Ed has confirmed he wishes to have this discussion,” Gibbons said. “I don’t expect a change of mind. It would look evasive.”