Big name writers join fight for legal right to libraries as campaign petitioning Government tops 7,000 signatures

Ali Smith Social card_CILIP
  • Ali Smith, Joanna Trollope and Sir Andrew Motion warn of cuts damage
  • Neil Gaiman supports Twitter campaign
  • Society of Authors endorse the campaign
  • Over 7,400 sign petition including Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz, currently protesting against cuts in Walsall

The authors Ali Smith, Neil Gaiman and Joanna Trollope- and former Poet Laureate and the last chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Sir Andrew Motion-have led a swell of high profile support for CILIP’s My Library By Right campaign.

The campaign champions the public’s rights to quality library services and holds to Government to account to fulfil their statutory responsibilities to taxpayers.

Ali Smith, whose latest book Public library and other stories directly references the current threats to public libraries said: “The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act affirmed the Public Libraries Act of 1850 and neither act has been rescinded – the closures are against the law!  

“Democracy of reading, democracy of space: that's our library tradition, it was incredibly hard won for us by the generations before us, and we should be protecting it not just for ourselves but in the name of every generation after us.”

CILIP’s campaign cites specific legal duties of Government under the 1964 Public Libraries Act, including the stewardship and improvement of public libraries in England and the provision of clear statutory guidance for Local Authorities. A petition to Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale, calling on HM Government to act to protect people’s statutory right to a quality library service has exceeded 5,000 signatures.

Sir Andrew Motion said: “A healthy library service means a healthy society: this Government and its predecessor have systematically undermined or ignored such a notion, and the present campaign by CILIP profoundly welcome.”

Joanna Trollope commented: “The UK - ranked near the bottom in the OECD’s recent survey of literacy levels in the world’s most developed countries - is in absolutely no position to dare to close one single public library. Especially when that library service costs so very little to run and is so crucial to the nation’s well being, and future.”

Nick Poole, CILIP Chief Executive said: “There has been tremendous support for the campaign because so many people care about what is happening to library services in this country. Public libraries across the country are doing fantastic work, and these cuts are a false economy – they may or may not deliver limited short-term savings but in reality they do lasting damage to local people, communities and businesses. “We are very clearly asking Government to take action, to meet its duties under English law and to comply with people’s right to quality library services enshrined in three important acts of law.”

Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, who are supporting CILIP’s campaign said: “The Society of Authors values libraries not just as repositories of books; but also as community hubs.

Library closures have a devastating, long-lasting and irreparable effect on local communities as well as on the wider community and the nation. The Government is failing in its statutory obligations to prevent these devastating closures and must act now to avoid irreparable damage.”

Over 100 libraries closed in England, Wales and Scotland last year and the UK has lost at least 441 libraries in the past five years, according to the official figures published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting (CIPFA).

CILIP argues that the public’s rights and Government’s responsibilities with regard to libraries are not widely understood and that the statutory nature of library services has been ignored, allowing the withdrawal of financial and political support for public libraries in England. 

CILIP, campaign supporters and the library community are now getting ready for the annual nationwide celebration of libraries for National Libraries Day on Saturday 6 February, and the campaign will take its concerns to Parliament on Tuesday 9 February in a parliamentary lobby led by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition.

The campaign is based on legal advice from celebrated Human Rights Barrister Eric Metcalfe of Monckton Chambers. The advice also recognises relevant rights and duties under the Human Rights and Equality Acts which intersect with those of the Public Libraries and Museums Act.


Press contacts

Cat Cooper
Communications and Campaigns Manager, CILIP
Tel: 020 7255 0653

Mobile: 07867 455070

Mark Taylor
Director of External Relations, CILIP
Tel: 020 7255 0654
Mobile: 07792 635 305

Notes for editors

High res photos available on request:

Ali Smith
Neil Gaiman
Joanna Trollope
Sir Andrew Motion
Available for comment or interview on request:

Ali Smith (by email)
Nick Poole (by phone or email)

1. Key legislation

Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964)

Governs public library services in England and Wales. Local authorities have a duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service, to promote the service and lend books and other printed material free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary of State has a duty to superintend Councils’ role providing library services and promote the improvement of the public library service.

Equality Act (2010)

Protects the rights of individuals and advances equality of opportunity for all. It brought together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act. Under Section 149 it establishes a public sector equality duty for all public bodies, including public library authorities.

Human Rights Act (1998)

Sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that individuals in the UK have access to. It codifies the protections in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The most relevant sections for the provision of public library services are Respect for private and family life (article 8), Freedom of expression (article 10) and Prohibition of discrimination (article 14).

2. CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers. CILIP’s vision is a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. CILIP is a registered charity, no. 313014. Visit for more information.

3. Figures from CIPFA show that more than 100 libraries closed from 2013-14 to 2014-15, bringing the total number of public libraries to 3,917 - down 2.6%, on last year and a reduction of 14% since 2010. Wales has seen the biggest impact, losing 11% of its libraries since last year. Visits to libraries across England, Wales and Scotland fell by 3.9%, last year, down from 276 million in 2013/141 to 265 million in 2014/15, equating to nearly 14% fewer visits over a five year period. 

2014-15: CIPFA Annual Public Library Figures, 2014-15, 

2013-14: CIPFA Annual Public Library Figures, 2013-14:

4. National Libraries Day
National Libraries Day is the annual UK celebration of libraries. It rounds off a week of special celebrations held in libraries up and down the country. It is led by the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, The Reading Agency, the Society of Chief Librarians and the School Library Association and supported by a coalition of organisations and campaigners. It was originally called for by Alan Gibbons, children’s author and campaigner.

5. Speak Up For Libraries

Speak Up For Libraries is a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future. Its members are Campaign for the Book, CILIP, The Library Campaign, Unison and Voices for the Library. 

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