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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 04:04 GMT
New targets for libraries
Book stamp
Chris Smith remains opposed to book lending charges
Libraries are being given new standards to meet as part of a drive to improve services across England.

The benchmarks are being issued by the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, who said he hoped they would help "reverse the drift towards reduced opening hours".

Libraries will be given three years to implement the standards after they come into force in April.

They cover opening hours, internet and computer access, choice of books, staff training and other library services.

The three-year period should give authorities time to put new measures in place, Mr Smith said.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith: Power to intervene
Spending settlements for councils over that time were generous enough to allow some outlay on library services.

Mr Smith said the standards were based on the current performance of the top 25% of libraries and gave him a clear benchmark against which to judge service performances.

The culture secretary will retain the power to intervene where individual library services are seen to be failing.

Mr Smith said he was completely opposed to any suggestion of charging for borrowing books and did not think it would be helpful to use the standards to establish library league tables.

No 'shaming'

"We don't intend to do so at the moment and where we have intervened we have deliberately not named and shamed.

"We have not wanted to go down that route," he said.

"My hope is that the publication of these standards and the pressure they will bring to bear on library authorities will help to reverse the drift towards reduced opening hours."

He said the government would continue to publish library services' annual plans, which are graded as excellent, good or poor, but he did not want to go beyond that.

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22 May 00 | Scotland
Libraries open online chapter
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