Department for Culture Media and Sport

public libraries

The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 (the 1964 Act) sets out the statutory duty for all local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, set in the context of local need: that is, specifically of those who live, work and study in the local area.

Our legal responsibility

The 1964 Act imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to oversee and promote the public library service and to secure discharge of the statutory duties of local authorities as well as providing certain powers to take action where a local authority is in breach of its own duty.

Library closures

The closure of library branches is not necessarily a breach of the 1964 Act. Sometimes a local authority will close a library to ensure a better, more efficient service across its whole area. We judge such cases on the basis of the authority’s overall provision.

We would be concerned if libraries were closed, or their services disproportionately reduced, just to save money.

Interventions

If a Local Authority is not fulfilling its duties under the Act the Secretary of State may establish an inquiry to investigate the matter. Any intervention by the Secretary of State will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis and an inquiry will only be commenced with very good reason. Dialogue and engagement with a local authority is the starting point to understand how they intend to fulfill their statutory duties. The following matters may be relevant to any consideration of this issue by the Secretary of State:

  • The analysis of existing and projected local need for the public library service; this may include matters such as deprivation indices, rural/urban context, and consideration of vulnerable groups such as the unemployed, elderly, disabled, children and young people, young families
  • Any consultation process undertaken in the lead up to proposed library changes and the Authority’s response to that consultation
  • The strategic plan for the library service – including innovative and creative ways of delivering the service;
  • Any Equality Impact Assessment and how any adverse impacts may be mitigated

Current position

Various complaints have been made in relation to library closures concerning a number of local authorities in England. Our officials have met with council officers from Gloucestershire, Somerset, Isle of Wight, Lewisham, Brent, Doncaster and Bolton local authorities in response to a raised level of feedback and correspondence on their proposed libraries provision; and we monitor on an on-going basis proposed changes to all public library services in England.

The Secretary of State may intervene if there is clear evidence of a local authority failing to meet its statutory duties and all other avenues for resolution of any complaints are exhausted.

On 14 February 2012, we wrote to solicitors representing campaigners in Brent, in response to pre-action correspondence, to inform them that the Secretary of State is not minded to intervene by way of a local inquiry into Brent Council’s library plans., but that there was a further period to make additional period to make additional representations on the “minded to” decision. 

Read the letter from DCMS legal advisers about library closures in the London Borough of Brent (PDF 694kb)

On 3 September 2012, ‘minded to’ letters were sent  to local authorities in Bolton (PDF 232kb), the Isle of Wight (PDF 235kb), and Lewisham (PDF 272kb).  Further representations from any interested parties on the 'minded to' decision was sought for a period up to 17 September 2012. The deadline has now been extended until 5pm, 31 October 2012 for submissions relating to the Isle of Wight and Lewisham, and until 5pm, 30 November 2012 for submissions relating to Bolton.

On 17 September 2012 a letter was sent from the Secretary of State to the Leader of Brent Council (PDF 480kb) confirming the final decision not to direct a local inquiry into library services in Brent.