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Breakthrough in libraries campaign

11 July 2011

It looks as if the campaign against closing libraries in the UK has just scored a significant victory. Since the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, has failed to intervene to assert the statutory right to a library service, campaigners all over the country have rallied to challenge the closures being put in place by local authorities. Up to 500 libraries in the UK are at risk as a result of the UK government's current austerity drive.

Campaigners argue that the policy will hurt poor people the most and breach the statutory duty of authorities to provide libraries. Now a judge has said that they could be right - and ordered a review into the closures of ten libraries in Gloucestershire in September. In the meantime he has granted an injunction ordering that they stay open.

This legal action comes after more than 15,000 Gloucestershire residents failed to convince council leaders to reconsider the plans which they say will leave the most vulnerable residents without a vital public service. Lawyers will argue that the council's planned cuts would mean it no longer met its statutory duty to provide "comprehensive and efficient" library services for all residents. The council will also have to prove that it did properly consult local people and that disadvantaged communities would not be disproportionately affected.

Campaigners in local authorities across the country are now expected attempt to follow suit.

Desmond Clarke, campaigner on behalf of the libraries, said the ruling was "fantastic news" which would "embarrass" Ed Vaizey.

Leading authors such as Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith and Alan Bennett, along with music stars such as Nick Cave and the Pet Shop Boys, have all become involved in the fight. Philip Pullman said: 'Leave the libraries alone, they are too precious to destroy. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult.'

The latest developments follow almost 10 months of campaigning. In February, there was a national day of protest - called Save Our Libraries Day - with more than 80 demonstrations and events against proposed government spending cuts that at that time put more than 400 libraries under threat of closure.

The decision in Gloucestershire could provide a precedent for other campaigns across the country.

The news came on the same day that Brent residents, fighting six closures, heard that their case will be heard in the High Court on 19 and 20 July. The Isle of Wight action is also on track after a resident was granted legal aid to fight five closures.

What has particularly annoyed people about the library cuts is that the libraries should be at the centre of the 'Big Society' the government is proposing, but once they are closed and the professional library staff gone it would be very hard to resuscitate these local institutions which are key to literacy, education, social mobility and access to information.