Reading between the lines: local authorities and libraries

Local authorities have a statutory duty to ‘provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof’, generally free of charge.  Budget cuts have made this duty increasingly difficult to fulfil, and so local authorities are increasingly using innovative methods of delivering library services, including transferring libraries to community ownership.

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is responsible for ensuring local authorities properly discharge their library functions, and where it finds an authority has failed to carry out its duty the DCMS can take over that authority’s library provision for a time. This would only happen in an extreme case, although the DCMS has in recent years met with council officers from authorities that were considering library closures, such as Gloucestershire and Brent.

The DCMS has appointed the Arts Council to support and develop the libraries sector, although the Arts Council does not provide or fund libraries: it is still the responsibility of local authorities to do this. Last year the Arts Council undertook a major research project, Envisioning the library of the future, which showed there was still a compelling and continuing need for a publicly funded library service…

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