House of Commons Library

Public libraries

Published Friday, April 15, 2016

The purpose of this Commons Library paper is to give a brief overview of the statutory duties of library authorities in England and Wales, the role of the Secretary of State, the work of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, and concerns about library services and closures.

Jump to full report >>

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 requires local authorities in England and Wales to “provide a comprehensive and efficient library service”.

“Comprehensive and efficient” are not defined. It is the responsibility of each library authority to determine how to deliver public library services in the context of local need. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport can order an inquiry where there is concern that a local authority is not fulfilling its duties under the Act. This has not happened since 2009 when an inquiry looked at the library services provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

Concerns about the impact of funding cuts on library services are ongoing and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has launched a “My Library By Right” campaign. This is calling for the public’s “rights to libraries to be recognised and respected” and for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out its duties under the 1964 Act.

The issue of library closures has been contentious. The DCMS has said that it does not “commission specific information” on how many have closed. However, in a February 2016 parliamentary response, the DCMS estimated that 110 static public libraries closed in England between January 2010 and January 2016 while at least 77 new public libraries had opened.

CILIP has challenged the net reduction of 33 libraries implied by the DCMS response. CILIP points to figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) of a net reduction of 178 libraries in England between 2009-10 and 2014-15. CIPFA define a library as one which is open for at least 10 hours per week.






Commons Briefing papers SN05875

Authors: John Woodhouse; Noel Dempsey

Topic: Libraries

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.