A new page? The public library in austerity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract

Public library services have been radically transformed during the last decade of prolonged austerity in Britain. Cuts to local government budgets have resulted in many libraries operating on limited opening hours, depleted stocks, reduced staff, a growing reliance on volunteers, and in some cases closure. Fiscal austerity, and the simultaneous choking of public services, have been narrated by Westminster government as unavoidable. Yet evidence clearly demonstrates that cuts to services are patterned differently across Britain, raising questions about how local circumstances shape how councils cope with spending cuts and, in turn, how they are experienced.

Using national statistics on library provision and qualitative interview data, this chapter explores the dynamics between national and local understandings of austerity, and the consequences for the public library service in Britain. Like cuts to public services overall, it is shown that that impact of cuts to public libraries are concentrated on the most marginalised people and the most marginalised places. While public libraries are utilising a range of approaches to navigate austerity, resilience to reductions in public expenditure has its limits, both in terms of staff morale and service capacity. It is concluded that while choking public spending has enacted new, and in some cases improved, organisational practices, sustained ‘chipping away’ will have a deleterious effect on the most vulnerable communities. At a community level these effects are multiplied when budgetary cuts are extended to other universal services, whether it be youth services, leisure or refuse collection. This patterns will perpetuate inequalities that already exist in disadvantaged areas, while more affluent areas will continue to use their own resources to navigate service cuts, or successfully campaign against them.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Policy Review
Subtitle of host publicationAnalysis and Debate in Social Policy, 2020
EditorsJames Rees, Marco Pomati, Elke Heins
PublisherPolicy Press
Volume32
ISBN (Print)9781447341666
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

Publication series

NameSocial Policy Review
Volume32
ISSN (Print)1750-2227

Keywords

  • public libraries
  • austerity
  • territorial injustice
  • local government
  • austerity localism

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