Ed Vaizey, Libraries, You and Yours

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I listened to Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP and Minister for Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries ) being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 “You & Yours” (19/01/2011) about libraries.

During the interview he said “We (Conservatives) have never said – and it’s a gross misrepresentation of what we have said – that somehow volunteers should replace professional librarians.”

“No-one is suggesting that volunteers should take over the role of professional librarians…. Nobody is saying that there’s a strategy to replace  professional librarians with volunteers.”

Lauren Smith (Save Doncaster Libraries and fellow Voices For The Library campaigner) pointed out that there are libraries being run up and down the country solely with volunteers and without librarians.

To this, Mr Vaizey responded with “That’s the point… Currently run without professional librarians. So those libraries are already open.”

What did his response mean? Was he suggesting that because there are libraries already being run by volunteers that this proves they can be run successfully without professional librarians?

Lauren continued with the statement that these volunteer libraries are not fulfilling the role of what a library should and could be.

Anyway, the Government’s Future Libraries & Big Society programme is advocating the use of volunteers, but it’s not specifically saying to what extent. In the context of libraries it’s not saying, “Don’t get rid of librarians and trained staff.” It’s as woolly as the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964… open to interpretation and gives councils an opportunity just to dump local library services if they feel like it… and some are planning just that. Take a look at Gloucestershire Libraries.

Mr Vaizey also made the comment, “I’m constantly telling people what the role of libraries is, but I can’t tell every single person in the country.”

Really? I can’t see how the Minister responsible for libraries in England, who can easily get the ear of anyone he wanted to via the media, is unable to spell out the importance of libraries! I have witnessed lots of campaigns springing up over the past few months that are very effective at spelling out why libraries are important. If they are capable of it, why isn’t Mr Vaizey?

He also went on to say, “You have to elect councillors who believe in libraries and you have to campaign in your local area to get councils to back their libraries.”

I’d question why we should have to persuade local councillors of the importance of a local library service? We don’t vote in councillors with the thought of “Hmm! I wonder if they’ll support libraries?” You’d expect them to support and fight for any statutory service the council was responsible for, as part of their job, wouldn’t you? I would.

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