Library closures are a 'cultural catastrophe' - peer

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Labour peer and broadcaster Baroness Bakewell has called the closure of libraries around the UK a "cultural catastrophe".

She pointed to "disproportionately heavy cuts" to council funding in the north of England, and said "bad news is coming in torrents" on the subject of libraries, during questions on 11 February 2013.

Events were held around the UK on 9 February to mark National Libraries Day, including an authors' "takeover" of 10 libraries earmarked for closure in Newcastle.

According to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, 212 public libraries closed last year, and half of all local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are looking at alternative ways to run their libraries.

Culture, Media and Sport spokesman Lord Gardiner of Kimble told peers that local authorities invested £820m in library services in the financial year 2011-12.

He added: "The closure of a library does not necessarily signify a breach of an authority's statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service".

Lib Dem Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Dorner cited the example of a group of volunteers in Barnet who had been prevented from taking on responsibility for the local library, asking: "Isn't that against the spirit of the statute?"

Crossbencher Lord Elystan-Morgan echoed her concern. He wanted to know, "bearing in mind the scale" of closures, when local authorities would be found to have committed "a clear breach" of their duties under the statute.

Opposition spokesman Lord Collins of Highbury argued that a library "is about more than simply the supply of books; it's about encouraging the joy of reading" and that new reconfigurations of services "don't meet the standard let alone the number required".

But Lord Gardiner replied that libraries are "adapting to changing needs" and that "there is a long list of success stories".

He was backed up by the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend John Inge, who spoke about a partnership between academic and public libraries in his diocese which he described as "a win-win approach" and "a model" for other areas.

Lord Gardiner also told the House that the government was appointing a specialist libraries adviser to help councils assess local needs.

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