Public versus an Independent Library Service

Public versus an Independent Library Service

The modern public library service stems from the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

This act requires every local authority to make a provision for a 'comprehensive and efficient' public library service and that the basic lending and reference services should be free at the point of use.  Refer to the featured legal note for further information and details.

The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP) published “What Makes a Good Library Service?” which states that, in order for local councils to meet the requirements of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, and other key legal requirements, a local public library service must:

  • Serve both adults and children.
  • Be available to everyone and meet any special needs required by members of the local community.
  • Encourage participation and full use of the service.
  • Provide materials in sufficient number, range and quality to meet general and specific requirements of those in the community.
  • Provide value for money, working in partnership with other authorities and agencies.

An Independent Community Library Service is one that fulfils a very similar function as a public library but is not run, or sponsored, by a local authority and as such is not operating under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. 

As a result any independent library body may make decisions regarding its service provision entirely at its own discretion.  Such services should be considered as an addition to public provision rather than a replacement as the local authority is still obligated by the act to provide its library service.

An important consideration is how the arrangement affects public lending rights. Care needs to be taken to avoid breach of copyright for intelectual property.

Many Library Authorities believe that they can fulfil their statutory obligations through a greatly reduced network of branch libraries. There are also discussions around the role of volunteers and community organisations in alternative provisions to assist with meeting statutory obligations. This is a rapidly developing and changeable political and legislative environment.   Many closures and, by association, proposed new provisions, are currently being challenged in various legal forms.  With this in mind the remainder of this guide will only discuss good practice in a community-based library rather than what may or may not fulfil the statutory requirements of a public library.

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