Key advice on www.gov.uk about setting up community managed libraries is flawed and does not appear to have ministerial sign-off, the body representing professional librarians claimed this week. The allegation will fuel concerns about the future of local authority public libraries - a cornerstone of efforts to improve digital inclusion.
Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) revealed that the advice, to encourage volunteers to take over the running of local libraries, was approved by officials from the Department for Media, Culture and Sports (DCMS), the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Barbara Band, the institute's president, said: "It is hard to believe that the minister is happy that official government advice seems to suggest volunteer-run libraries are in any way a suitable alternative to a professionally managed service delivered by the local authority.
"Not only does it go against the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which clearly states local authorities have a duty to provide public libraries, it also dismisses the role of librarians and library staff. The fact that the 'advice' does not appear to have had ministerial sign-off and is not put in context is deeply worrying."
In October the institute expressed concern that gov.uk advice promoted volunteer-managed community libraries ahead of those delivered by local authorities, staffed by professionals, and sought clarification from the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, to explain why the government appears to be promoting volunteer-run libraries and if this a change of government policy.
It says that any change in government policy towards favouring volunteers over professionals needs to be held up to proper scrutiny.