Save the UK's libraries? It's beyond me, admits US guru

An American library firm that entered the UK market to great fanfare earlier this year has had to beat a retreat, admitting that the attempt has been tougher than expected.

A slug of judicial reviews and lack of tenders by local authorities, which are nervous of outsourcing their library services to independent providers, were among the reasons cited.

LSSI, based in Maryland, which runs more than 70 libraries in the US, had set itself targets of managing 15 per cent of public libraries within the next five years. The radical new model for libraries included books offered alongside coffee evenings, murder mystery nights, poetry performances and open mic sessions. But the company has conceded that entering the UK market at a time of such upheaval has been difficult. "It has not been easy and we're still waiting to see if the UK is ready yet for the idea of library privatisation," said its chief executive Brad King. The company is currently revising its targets for next year and intends to continue forging relationships with local authorities, but would not set a definitive target for next year.

It comes as the Culture, Media and Sport select committee has announced the launch of an inquiry into library closures. The inquiry will investigate whether planned closures across the UK are compatible with the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act. The committee chairman, John Whittingdale, is asking for submissions on what constitutes "a comprehensive and efficient library service", on the impact library closures have on local communities, and on the effectiveness of the secretary of state's powers of intervention.

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