A report on the future of public libraries from the prestigious Carnegie Trust has been slammed as “over-optimistic”, amid calls for it to be withdrawn. Leading library campaigner Tim Coates has filed a formal complaint with the charity’s trustees, claiming that the report, published last month, “seriously avoids the truth” about the long-term decline of the sector and misrepresents data on library use.
In an open letter, Coates says that the report, called Shining a Light, omits key evidence about the impact of cuts and underfunding and “seriously avoids the truth of what is happening”. He adds that the report “fails to draw the right conclusions from data in the research it has carried out”.
The report recommended a five-point plan to save a sector that has been in the frontline of savage cuts imposed on local government over the past 10 years. Among the recommendations were that libraries make better use of data to improve their offer and provide better online services; focus more on demonstrating how they help deliver government policies; and provide innovation and leadership training for staff.
Coates writes that the report avoids key evidence about “the essential, continuous and destructive decline of use in public libraries in the UK”. The report draws conclusions without evidence and fails to highlight key findings from the research done on behalf of the trust by Ipsos Mori, claims the former managing director of Waterstones, adding that it failed to research the views of lapsed library users or to highlight the role of leadership in the sector’s rapid decline.
Data overlooked by the report, according to Coates, include figures collated annually by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) on library usage and expenditure. In December, the latest Cipfa survey revealed UK public libraries had taken a £25m hit to budgets and 15m drop in visitors as a result of swingeing cuts by local authorities faced with reduced grant from central government and the rising cost of social care.
“I wrote the complaint because we have had so many reports from the Libraries Task Force and other bodies and they all ignore the really serious reality of what is happening to our libraries,” Coates said. “The whole public library service is effectively closing down.” He added that although the Carnegie report highlighted a general appreciation of libraries among the public, it failed to tackle why visitor numbers were in rapid decline.
“What the report says is that everybody understands what a wonderful thing a library ought to be,” he said. “But the reality is that when they visit their local library they don’t find anything in there that is any use to them. That is the problem.”
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SOURCE: The Guardian