Background

Along with nine other areas across the country, Suffolk County Council has chosen to be one of the guinea pigs in a government project known as the Future Libraries Programme.

This is being sold by the government as “an ambitious change programme for libraries”. However, as librarians and library users are beginning to discover, the reality is that the Future Libraries Programme represents an opportunity for councils to reduce their own costs, divest essential resources and transfer responsibilities for provision onto local communities, charities and other volunteer groups.

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 is the legislation that imposes on local authorities the duty to provide a largely free, efficient and comprehensive library service (see specifically  Sections 7 and 8 of the Act).  Unfortunately, the Act does not begin to lay out exactly what might be meant by “efficient” and “comprehensive”.  Some campaign groups in other parts of the country have been encouraged by the vagueness of the 1964 Act to consider taking their local authority to court in an attempt to overturn the authority’s programme of library closures.

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