Birmingham has a new, impressive public library, the Library of Birmingham, opened in September by schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. Yet, at the same time, branch libraries around the city are being run down. A survey of their fabric estimated that repairs totalling £4 million were needed; the council allocated £236,000. Meanwhile, PFI capital charges for the new library will cost the people of Birmingham £7 million a year for the next forty years.
This situation is repeated around the country: in Newcastle, Liverpool, Brighton and many other cities, councils find themselves able to borrow for new projects, so that the government can claim that all is well, while the network of branch and community libraries is run down.
According to the authoritative Public Libraries News website, 366 libraries (323 buildings and 43 mobiles) are under threat or have been closed or handed over to volunteers since April this year. In 2012-2013 we lost 201, and 130 in the year 2011-2012.
At the end of September members of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals voted decisively in favour of a motion of no-confidence in the minister responsible for libraries, Ed Vaizey – its first ever – and pledged to work with unions and campaign groups against cuts and closures. ■