Bob Usherwood: our professional duty to support the motion

Bob Usherwood, Professor Emeritus of the Information Department at the University of Sheffield, has written the piece below, which we are delighted to reproduce. Do comment; we welcome other contributions, too, if you would like to write a guest post

There can be few larger gaps between the rhetoric of a politician in opposition and his or her actions in government than that displayed by The Right Honourable Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, in dealing with his responsibilities for libraries.  His actions, or rather inactions, have been set to music by the by children’s author John Dougherty in a You Tube video in which he asks , “Can anybody tell me what is wrong with Ed Vaizey?  It is well worth a look, at and it is to be hoped that someone will provide a live link at CILIP’s |AGM on September 21st.  It would form a suitable introduction to the excellent motion proposed by Jo Richardson and seconded by Tom Roper which reads:

In view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of CILIP has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services.

Proxy voters currently considering what is item 9 on the Agenda may wish to use the link before committing their vote.

It is difficult to see how anybody could vote against the motion. Indeed, it is my understanding that a least three professional groupings were considering proposing something similar. Moreover, such a statement will help support library campaigners throughout the nation. To quote one of the most active, Shirley Burnham;

Campaigners and library users across the country have become increasingly dismayed by Mr. Vaizey’s indifference to the evidence they have put before him. Since taking office, Mr. Vaizey has written just 3 generic letters to council leaders reminding them of their statutory duties, but has failed to follow them up. All he has done, he says in his latest written answer to a Parliamentary Question, is to re-circulate the same letters this year

A no confidence vote from our professional body will help those who use, work in and care about libraries “draw the line”. It is the most serious expression of opposition that we can make.

There may be a few who suggest that we should not rock the political boat, that it will make things worse and more difficult for Chief Officers in their dealings with policy makers. But how much worse can things get? The public library service is being brought to its knees by an ideologically driven and unnecessary government policy. It is time to identify those who are responsible; Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries,  his government and its cuts. This was the route taken by the respected British Medical Association when it passed a motion of no confidence in Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this year. The words used by Dr Jacky Davis who proposed the BMA motion could equally be applied to our own situation. She said,

You may hear people saying not to tie our hands by passing a vote of no confidence. We heard this endlessly … and obeyed, and where did it get us? The government didn’t just tie our hands; it trussed us like a turkey. …How much longer are we going to put up with this – with the government treating [us] like a car-boot sale and blaming the staff for the resulting mess?

It all sounds rather familiar. The DCMS seems to think that a few books at the back of a room in a pub constitute a library. Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, describes those who show concern over library closures as “luvvies” while the Minister who is supposed to be responsible for the service continues to tell audiences at various conferences that the public library service is not in crisis.

As it happens one of those speeches, to the “The Future of Library Services” conference, was read by Francis Bennion a distinguished constitutional lawyer and the person who drafted the 1964 Act. His comments on it, which he has given me permission to quote, make interesting reading. He writes:

Public libraries administered by local authorities are governed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (the 1964 Act), of which I was the draftsman. By virtue of section 1 of the Act the Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport (currently Ed Vaizey MP) has the statutory duty ‘to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales’. The Long Title to the Act says its main purpose is to make new provision for regulating and improving that service. So there should have been a continuous improvement since 1964. Instead there has been a marked falling off in recent years. In para 24 of his speech Mr Vaizey says: ‘A figure of 600 library closures is regularly quoted in the media – but it is very wide of the mark. A truer picture of building closures would be about a tenth of that’. This is disgracefully sloppy considering that it is Mr Vaizey’s statutory duty to supervise library authorities. It does not mention the period to which it relates. He should be closely monitoring library closures, and be able to give precise figures and indications of the periods to which those figures relate.

 Members of CILIP have a duty to themselves and the people they serve to express a vote of no confidence in this “disgracefully sloppy” Under Secretary of State who has so demonstrably failed to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.


Bob Usherwood

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3 Responses to Bob Usherwood: our professional duty to support the motion

  1. Pingback: Round up | Alan Gibbons' Diary

  2. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 10th September 2013 | The Library Campaign

  3. Christopher Pipe (@cplrc) says:

    Of course this should be a unanimous vote of no confidence – such a vote should have been passed long ago. But it is the Secretary of State who has the statutory responsibility for libraries and Mr Vaizey is a mere pawn. Should our vote be of no confidence in the SofS ? Or indeed of no confidence in their DCMS advisers, of the Treasury or of the Cabinet Office? Someone, somewhere, is deliberately blocking use of the Act and we don’t know who it is.

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