Dan Jarvis MP, Labour’s Shadow Culture Minster, today accused the Government of ‘incompetence’ for failing to provide clear and timely guidance to councils on setting up community libraries, after confusion over concerns that volunteer branches may be breaking the law by lending books without making payments to authors.
Dan Jarvis said:
"This out of touch Government encouraged councils to shuffle libraries off to community groups, without thinking through the implications or potential pitfalls of doing so.
"Dozens of volunteer libraries have already been set up, but there has been real confusion over whether they could be found in breach of copyright legislation. DCMS now say volunteer libraries can lend but it is still unclear whether, and how, they will pay anything to authors. It’s a shambles and symptomatic of a lack of interest in the future of the service that threatens to undermine library provision even more than it already has been."
In response to inquiries from campaign groups in Lewisham and Gloucestershire the Public Lending Right (PLR) Registrar, the office which administers the system of payments which lets libraries lend books without breaching copyright, has stated that volunteer libraries outside a council’s statutory provision would not pay the PLR. The Society of Authors has also raised the alarm on the issue.
Dan Jarvis said:
"This is only one of a number of issues around volunteer libraries, which also face questions about everything from training to data protection. We strongly welcome community engagement in libraries, but it needs to be handled carefully and cannot dilute the responsibility of local authorities, or the Government, to provide a decent and accessible service. But there has been very little advice or oversight from DCMS as councils rush to increase the use of volunteers.
"Ministers need to do their job and provide some clear guidance and leadership on this issue as a matter of urgency – it is astounding they have not done so already. They claim to believe that libraries matter, but when it comes to their duty to oversee the service, they are making it up as they go along.
"Ministers have a track record of leaving it up to under-funded campaigners to challenge councils in the courts. That is simply not good enough. I want Ed Vaizey to assure us that he will get on and act."