Concern for future of county's 'linchpin': David Lister reports on local government reorganisation plans which could threaten free services and the cultural and academic life of many counties

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC libraries are likely to charge for many of their services when local government reorganisation comes in, the Library Association warned yesterday.

A detailed survey of local authorities by the association shows that services for schools will be badly hit, as will mobile libraries. And many amateur dramatic and music societies will in future have to pay for copies of play scripts and music scores.

In addition, it looks certain that libraries will reintroduce annual subscriptions for readers who live or work outside the area - a practice that was largely abandoned at the last local government reorganisation in 1974.

Ross Shimmon, chief executive of the Library Association, said: 'We don't think library users realise how serious local government reorganisation will be for the health of the library service.

'Our research shows that people will end up paying more for a much poorer

service if the Local Government Commission does not address the issue of lib-

raries seriously,' he said.

The Government has set up the Local Government Commission to review the administrative structure of the counties of England. The Government would prefer a system of unitary or all-purpose authorities rather than the current two-tier structure of county and district councils.

If this reform is implemented, the library service will be run by much smaller authorities.

The Library Association questioned chief librarians in 38 affected counties and found that there could be up to four times as many library authorities replacing the existing ones, and most of the new authorities would be unable to offer the present range of services.

One third of the counties said that under the new system they would have to charge for some services which they currently offer free, including information services, loans of play scripts and music scores and access to local studies collections.

Five authorities said they would have to close libraries if the proposed reorganisation goes ahead, and many chief librarians said that they were worried about the survival of school library services under the proposed new structure. County-run library services can at present plan and co-ordinate teacher packs containing national curriculum material for all their schools.

Twenty-two authorities said that they expected their mobile library services to be badly affected.

Giving a practical example, Roger Stoakley, chairman of the south-west region library service, said that at present a van dropped off books in 10 local authorites which under the new system could become 43 local authorities. The likelihood of getting the same co-operation between 43 authorities was remote, he said.

Mr Shimmon added that readers who lived or worked in one area but, for example, shopped in another and used the library there would be charged for use of the service under a system of smaller

authorities.

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