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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 13:23 GMT
Libraries 'in scandalous state'
Children reading in library
The committee said more money needed to be allocated to books
A "significant deterioration" in the quality of public library buildings is a "scandal", MPs have said.

A report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee called on the culture secretary to rectify the issue.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council said the potential cost of repairs had risen since a 1995 report identified a 650m backlog.

"The state of many library buildings is a key factor in deterring potential users," its chairman, Mark Wood, said.

"Some public libraries have had little more than a lick of paint in the last 30 years.

"It has been a problem of such magnitude that people have shied away from it," he said.

'Lack of planning'

In its report, the select committee criticised the lack of planning of library building maintenance.

"Whether the buildings in question are exemplars of architectural splendour or of more humble design, the library building stock needs to be safeguarded, and maintenance and refurbishment should have been planned, and provisions made, by its custodians before now," it said.

A significant deterioration in the public library estate... is a scandal that must be rectified
Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

Over half of public libraries are rated as below an acceptable standard by the Audit Commission.

MPs referred to comments made by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell in 2003 when she said "public buildings work well when they are uplifting to the spirit as well as fit for [their] purpose".

"The Secretary of State must back up her vision with action and resources," they said.

"A significant deterioration in the public library estate... is a scandal that must be rectified."

'Cutting Edge'

Their report added that the "very low" 9% of funding now allocated to books should be increased, and the quality, range and number stocked of books improved.

"It is vital that the DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] raises its game and acts far more effectively as a champion and advocate for libraries across government," it said.

MPs also criticised some libraries for charging for internet use.

The Society of Chief Librarians said the report's recommendations got "to the heart of what is needed to support local authorities in delivering a cutting edge library service."

Library consultant Tim Coates said the report was "a lifeline for a service in distress" which should be acted on "quickly and firmly".

Your comments

If you don't use libraries how can you expect to influence things and change how they're run?
P, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
I work in a village library in Suffolk. The standard here is pretty good. Reservations are free and if we don't have something in our branch we can order it for you. I'd be surprised if you couldn't do this in other counties. We have 5 terminals in our small branch that you can surf the internet on and there is always someone to help you. If you don't use libraries how can you expect to influence things and change how they're run? Come in and see. Question them, nag if you have to, to get things the way you want them. If you don't, things will only get worse. As the saying goes - don't ask, don't get.
JP, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

The people who researched this should visit the libraries in Blackpool! Some of the best libraries and most helpful, friendly staff you'll find probably anywhere. "Significant deterioration" - not where I live!
Jon, Blackpool

It is interesting to hear of these problems. Here in Germany there are similar problems, but funding is better. Indeed, anyone with a valid passport or personal ID (which does not exist in Britain of course) can obtain a user's ID card for the use of the local university library. In the case of Heidelberg this is the country's oldest, and this also gives users access to the entire library system in Germany - and even, up to a point, abroad. Does a similar system exist in Britain, and if not, is it being considered?
D Fear, Heidelberg, Germany

Libraries should be the centre of our city's and towns
Goldie Hambly, Emersons Green, Bristol
We have a brand new library built in to the centre of a new village and it is a joy to go in and borrow books, DVD's, PC Games,(not for myself). I also joined a reading group and we now meet in a different house each month and discuss the chosen book, libraries should be the centre of our city's and towns, maybe built into new shopping centres. Use them ,don't lose them.
Goldie Hambly, Emersons Green, Bristol

I'm a senior library manager who every day has to grapple with the issues raised in this report. I know that the building stock is not fit for purpose, what is required is a planned programme of renewal and rebuilding. What the public do not realise is that many other economies not only afford excellent libraries, but see them as strategic to government policy. Our aspirations in the UK are too low and are easily detracted by reports of spending too much on staff and administration rather than on books. Believe me librarians are not paid well (at any level) and there is no waste. The reality is that public libraries in the UK are under-funded. The public needs to ask their local councillor and MP (or candidate) their views on the future of this statutory service.
A Non Librarian, South Wales

One of the pleasures of living in California, apart from the weather, is the standard of the public libraries. My local library has CDs, video and DVDs free for up to a week at a time. The library is constantly restocked with newly published books, magazines and newspapers. It is open 7 days a week and raises additional funds through a used book store on site.
Chris Wheeler, Newport Beach, California

The Woodstock library has free internet access, just sign in. It also has a table with pre-read paperbacks for twenty five cents each. When I'm through reading them I usually return them to the library so they can sell them again. Locals bring in bags of books and set them on the floor just inside the door. They also have a shed in back where they sell redundant books, a book fair once a month. There is a large community of readers here and the utilization of the library is stronger in the town (4,500 people) than in the nearby city of Kingston (20k). We also recycle computers to the areas' shut-ins - about ninety people.
Joseph H Broyles, Woodstock, NY, USA

Extension of hours across all the UK's libraries would be excellent
L Perpetuo, London, UK
I live in Haringey, London, and am quite lucky in regards to the main library's opening times - these have just changed and the library is now opened on Sundays, which is great. It has a good selection of DVD's and videos but as far as books goes, it leaves a lot to be desired. Most books I want I have to order via the order service, which means long waiting times, etc. More books desperately needed. It is a little embarrassing to see such a shortage. Extension of hours across all the UK's libraries would be excellent.
L Perpetuo, London, UK

I used to take my daughter regularly to our small local library. This stopped when the library was closed down. Most of the small local area libraries were closed around the same time, despite there being numerous petitions, etc. The only library now available for us to use is the main one in town - but it's difficult to get to when you work full time, and it's virtually impossible to park at weekends when we could go to the library. The council said at the time that a 'mobile' library would be available instead - oh, yes... it stays in the vicinity for about an hour on a Wednesday afternoon, when most people are working. I can understand why so few young people these days read for pleasure!
K Atkinson, Tamworth, Staffs

If the libraries are not meeting the needs of the people, then they should take up the cause with their government officials
Shelia Bumgarner, Charlotte, USA
I am lucky. I work in one of the finest public libraries in America. I can honestly say that we would not be the finest if it were not for the overwhelming public support we receive. It influences our county commissioners and since 1986, every bond referendum for new libraries has passed. However, many public libraries across America suffer from many of the same problems in the UK. Public libraries are universities for the people. If the libraries are not meeting the needs of the people, then they should take up the cause with their government officials. I hope for brighter things for my colleagues in Britain.
Shelia Bumgarner, Charlotte, USA

I recently visited my local Library and was shocked at the shortage of books available. I'm greatly interested in mythology, and after speaking with the librarian found there were only two reference books stocked there on the subject. A similar situation was to be found for fiction - as a Hunter S. Thompson and Philip Pullman fan I was surprised to find that they only stocked one book from either author. I have a better selection at home! In the end I had to order my desired books from Amazon.
Lisa, Plymouth

I'm sure the picture must vary around the country. Our local library is very good. I take my two children there on a regular basis and they come away with a great range of books. Open seven days a week, reservations are free for children and the staff are great!
Liz, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Advances in technology and graphic design have had a dramatic effect on factual books in the last decade. Unfortunately, this has only served to highlight the tired state of the book collections in many of our libraries.
Chris, Dorking, Surrey

My local library has free internet access which gives the most disadvantaged people who haven't got a computer the chance to use the internet
Shajhan, London
While some libraries are of a poor standard there are some really good examples. My local library has free internet access which gives the most disadvantaged people who haven't got a computer the chance to use the internet. This free access is vital as the internet is a big resource for job hunting. Also the growing number of library vans is amazing and convenient.
Shajhan, London

Our local library is appalling. Not only is the building ugly but the stock is sparse and mostly out of date. My partner and I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy and it's barely even covered in this library. It took us but a few months to read the little they had in that genre and then we had to pay from them to be transferred within the county - which is 80p a time, and if anyone also reserves it after you may not get enough time to read it and have to wait and pay again to read the end! So in the end it is cheaper just to buy them. But to top it off the variety proportions are not equal, for example in the fiction section it is practically flooded with murder mysteries, which if is not your cup of tea can be more than a bit annoying. I love the idea of libraries but if you're not in a major town then you lose out.
Corrie, Devon, UK

One of the key problems with Public Libraries is that few have changed their modus operandi in the past 50 years. We need libraries opened seven days a week and until 10pm at night - it is scandalous that libraries are closed on Sundays. I use a private library and Sunday is the busiest day!
J.C. Lloyd, Hemel Hempstead

I have to share JC Lloyd's sentiments. To anyone working regular hours many libraries are useless as they are closed evenings and most of the weekend. Local libraries have become places for the old and unemployed to hang out during the day because its warm and the newspapers are available to read for free.
Charlie Windsor, London, England

Why the quality of public libraries is deteriorating

Library of the future opens doors
03 Mar 05 |  Southern Counties
Children read alongside parents
24 Feb 05 |  Hampshire
BELB votes to keep libraries open
01 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Library borrowing still declining
13 Jan 05 |  Scotland

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