Books

Government launches £3.9 million library Innovation Fund – but is it a "sop"?

Thirty local authorities will receive money from the new fund - but campaigners call it a "smokescreen" to mask last year's £25 million in cuts to library services

Cash-strapped public library services across the UK are in dire need of financial support. It’s a drum The Big Issue has been beating for several weeks now as part of our literacy campaign.

This week, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England have announced that 30 council local authority library services will now receive £3.9 million from a new national fund to promote “innovation” in libraries.

A new soft-play area in Eltham does not make up for the closure of an entire library elsewhere

But leading library-campaigning authors have criticised the centralised funding stream as a “smokescreen” and a “whitewash” that fails to fill the black hole caused by £25 million in council cuts to library services last year, with an 8.4% fall in budgets for books.

The new fund – called “Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund” – will provide money for projects like an indoor soft play facility in Eltham Library in Greenwich, and a “Makerspace” in Hull Central Library, where people can access state-of-the-art digital and electronic equipment.

Many of the library campaigners more interested in core services remain skeptical.

“It is hard not to view this as a smokescreen – a sop – to those who have long fought the cause of libraries while their funding nationwide continues to be slashed,” said leading crime writer Mark Billingham.

“A new soft-play area in Eltham does not make up for the closure of an entire library elsewhere, and a little support for emergent readers in one area cannot possibly compensate for the cuts that have robbed entire communities of this opportunity,” he told The Guardian.

Francesca Simon, author of the bestselling series of Horrid Henry books for children, welcomed the new fund, but said it did not make up for the huge cuts to book services. “Libraries first and foremost need to be open, with professional librarians and well-stocked shelves.”

More than 400 libraries have been closed across the UK since 2010

More than 400 libraries have been closed across the UK since 2010. Around 14 million fewer books are available now than in 2010.

Libraries Minister Rob Wilson insisted the new fund would help libraries adapt and survive. “We want libraries to think differently about how they serve people in their local areas,” he said. “I have been impressed by the innovative projects put forward and I can’t wait to see them in action.”

The Big Issue’s campaign to keep libraries open and to champion greater literacy has engaged and galvanised, winning support from readers, authors, publishers and reading organisations.

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