More than 1,000 libraries in England could be closed by 2016 in areas where people need them most, campaigners warned yesterday. A quarter of all branches in England face “slaughter”, according to Laura Swaffield, chairwoman of the Library Campaign. The national group compiled the stark figures and criticised the “inaction” of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Ms Swaffield said library users had appealed “time and again” to the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, to intervene against mass closures “but he does nothing”. She added: “And he does nothing about libraries that stay open but now provide a far worse service.”
Last year, 201 library operations were shut down. So far this year, a further 336 are threatened with closure. At a recent conference held in London by the Library Campaign, the funding body Arts Council England said library services could face further cuts of 40 per cent by 2016. The government&’s recent Spending Review, which imposed 10 per cent cut in local authority budgets for 2015-16, has left critics fearing that libraries will be hit hard; they predict 400 more could be lost.
Campaigner Desmond Clarke said: “These numbers stack up with what we’re being told. Some senior librarians privately fear it could be even more than 1,000. This is a real wake-up call. Unless the DCMS and the Arts Council provide some leadership, these closures will happen.”
While many small libraries face closure, others have been “dumped on to local communities to run as best they can”, Ms Swaffield said. Others are buying fewer books, losing staff or being forced to reduce opening hours. In the north London borough of Brent two years ago, residents tried but failed to prevent the closure of six libraries under a £1m cost-cutting plan. The playwright Alan Bennett, one of the campaign&’s celebrity supporters, said the loss of Kensal Green Library was tantamount to “child abuse”. According to campaigners, libraries most at risk are in rural or deprived urban areas. They offer services that are, in some cases, a “lifeline” to those with no Internet access, and to those in education and older people.