The current trend for reducing council spending on arts and heritage has spread to the world of libraries. Two local authorities are currently seeking to contract out their entire library services, while others seek new ways of funding and managing their offering to residents. Museum [Insider] looks at the options which now face councils and the sector that provides them.

It can’t be much fun trying to balance the books of a local authority at the moment. Cuts in spending at national, regional and local levels have been well-reported over the last 18 months since the coalition Government took power and embarked on a deficit-reducing decrease in public expenditure. Councils all over the country are having to make difficult decisions about which services to keep, which to scrap and which to scale back.

We’ve already seen a handful of council-run museums and heritage services be reduced dramatically or even closed down. And you might be forgiven for thinking that local libraries are set to be the next buildings to close down. But local authorities find themselves bound (fortunately) by the statute book, which directs that libraries are a mandatory part of their provision for the public and a statutory requirement, just like schools, social care or refuse collection.

That’s not stopped some councils from radically re-thinking their library provision. The library service in North Yorkshire has reported that they are about to transfer staffing of all but one of their libraries to community groups and volunteers and that only one in five staff members will be retained.

Replacing manpower
Despite this generally dispiriting news, there are some potential gaps in this emerging market that suppliers to the heritage sector should be aware of.

Museum [Insider] recently reported that two local authorities were seeking to acquire new piece of hardware for their libraries. - - - This page can be viewed by Subscribers only.

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Steve Slack is a writer and researcher working in the museum and cultural heritage sector.