Writers Philip Pullman, Kate Mosse and Will Self have criticised government cuts that could see up to a quarter of librarians lose their jobs over the next year. Widespread library closures are expected as councils cut their services and look to volunteers in an attempt to balance budgets hit by the coalition's spending review.
Mosse said 'frontline support for literacy' was being cut, while Pullman declared that the librarian 'is not simply a checkout clerk', and Self condemned the 'crude calculus of cost-benefit analysis' involved.
North Yorkshire is considering reducing its 42 libraries to 18 over four years, while Leeds is proposing to axe 20 smaller libraries. Cornwall, Brent, Lewisham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond, Barnsley and Warrington are also planning closures.
In Buckinghamshire, 14 libraries could become volunteer-run; in Gloucestershire, 12 will be closed if volunteers do not step forward. Camden, Westminster, Oldham, Southampton and Cambridgeshire are among the councils whose plans include greater use of volunteer staff.
Recent statistics from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy showed a drop of nearly 1,000 in the number of paid library staff in the 12 months to March 2010, a 3.4% fall to a total of just under 25,000. Over the same period the total number of volunteers in UK public libraries rose 7.7% to 17,111.
Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said, 'The librarian is not simply a checkout clerk whose simple task could be done by anyone and need not be paid for,' he said. 'Those who think that every expert can be replaced by a cheerful volunteer who can step in and do a complex task for nothing but a cup of tea are those who fundamentally want to see every single public service sold off, closed down, abolished.'
School libraries have suffered greatly in recent years, Pullman said. 'Of course these things have to be paid for, which means putting taxes up; and the delusion that has gripped every politician in the western world for 30 years or so now is that when you lower taxes, the commercial world will take care of everything. The destruction of the library service is part of a wider malaise.'
Kate Mosse, author of current bestseller The Winter Ghost, said: 'I do not understand how the government can talk on the one hand about the disgrace of adults whose reading is not at an appropriate level for their age, yet consider cutting this frontline support for literacy.'
Writer Will Self said: 'Libraries are a cultural resource of universal benefit that shouldn't be subjected to the crude calculus of cost-benefit analysis. What they should do is provide access to as many books as possible for as many people as possible.'
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the use of volunteers was one of the 'radical efficiency options' local authorities should be considering. 'Local authorities have a legal duty to provide a public library service to their communities, who should feel empowered to comment on what they want from their local service and get involved.'
Read the full article on the Guardian here: Library cuts and job losses condemned by leading authors: