Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: library services

Updated 8 May 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-the-library-services-provided-by-local-authorities. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Library services, which are run by local authorities, provide free services that empower people with access to resources. Libraries still fulfil their traditional role of lending books, but also improve people’s lives through a whole range of activities and services.

The way people use libraries is changing. We want to make it easier for libraries to innovate and adapt, so they can meet the needs of their local communities.

We also want to make sure that the centuries-old ‘legal deposit’ system, which creates a national collection of all published material, continues to be fit for the modern age.


Libraries are run by local authorities, but central government provides some support and guidance, as well as overseeing their services.

We fund Arts Council England, which provides support to local library services, including:

  • helping libraries carry out central government initiatives, such as automatic enrolment for school children
  • giving local authorities access to special development funds and support for libraries

We also:

  • monitor and support local authorities to help improve library services
  • set the policy for the legal deposit system, which gives a legal duty to publishers to provide copies of published material to major libraries, creating a national collection for research
  • sponsor the British Library, one of the UK’s national deposit libraries
  • sponsor Public Lending Right (PLR), the organisation in charge of paying authors for copies of their books lent by public libraries


Local authorities are responsible for providing a comprehensive and efficient library service. Public library services are delivered by 151 library authorities in England, and the Culture Secretary has a legal duty to ‘superintend’ or oversee the library services they provide.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s speech to The Future of Library Services conference on 28 June 2012 explains the government’s plan to support libraries.

Since 2011, specialist guidance for archives has been provided by The National Archives, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice.

The legal deposit system can be traced back to the 17th century, and has helped to make sure we have a national collection of printed material. In 2003, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act gave the Culture Secretary the power to increase the scope of the legal deposit system to include digital materials.


The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 gives local authorities the duty to provide services and gives the Culture Secretary the duty to oversee the services they provide.

The The Public Lending Right Act 1979 gives authors the right to payment from a central fund when their books are borrowed from public libraries.

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 confirmed publishers’ legal duty to give one copy of every printed publication that is published in the UK to the British Library and, on request, to each of the five other legal deposit libraries.

The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non Print Works) Regulations 2013 extends the legal deposit system to non-print works, like websites, e-books and CD Roms.

Appendix 1: Arts Council funds and support for libraries

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Grants for the arts

To get more people involved in cultural activities, the Arts Council is providing an extra £6 million in ‘Grants for the Arts’ funding for libraries to support projects between libraries and artists or arts organisations.

Public libraries can apply for grants of between £1,000 and £100,000 covering activities lasting up to 3 years. The fund will run until March 2015.

Automatic library membership for children and young people

The Arts Council, supported by DCMS and the Department for Education, is currently running 22 projects to give automatic library membership to children and young people, to encourage them to use their local library.

Envisioning the library of the future

‘Envisioning the library of the future’ is a programme of research and debate to help develop a long-term vision for public libraries in England. It is due to be published in April 2013.

Libraries Development Initiative

The Libraries Development Initiative is run by the Arts Council with the Local Government Association. It is designed to try new ways of providing library services. The project looks at how libraries can work together with arts and other cultural organisations to improve the way people experience arts and culture.

Community managed and community supported libraries research

The Arts Council has published a report, ‘Community libraries - Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities’ about the different ways in which communities are involved in library service provision and management.

The research, carried out in July 2012, provides a summary of the various ways in which communities are involved in library provision in England. It also offers some guiding principles for local authorities on how community managed libraries can be run.

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Legal deposit is the system that gives publishers a legal duty to give to (or ‘deposit with’) the British Library a copy of every UK print publication.

There are five other legal deposit libraries which can request a print publication to be deposited with them:

Making sure the system is fit for the digital age

The legal deposit system has been in place since the 17th century, and has helped to create national collections of printed work. But the internet and other non-print formats have become more and more important as a record of national and world events, and the traditional print-based legal deposit rules meant that this ‘non-print material’ was not deposited in libraries.

We consulted people about how this problem could be solved practically in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2012, and people were generally in favour of our proposals.

The resulting rules (the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013) extend the scope of legal deposit, so that it also covers non-print works. ‘Non-print works’ can be published online (for example on the internet, or as an e-book or an electronic journal) or published offline (in a physical form other than print, like a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM or microfilm).

The new rules are designed to help:

  • maintain a national collection of non-print publications
  • create an efficient system in which material is archived and preserved in the legal deposit libraries
  • govern how the deposited copies may be used, balancing the needs of libraries and researchers with the interests of publishers and rights holders
  • make sure works are preserved for the long term, so that the material can be used for future research
  • create a viable system for the long term, by requiring both legal deposit libraries and publishers to share part of the responsibility for archiving without imposing an unreasonable burden on any institution

Guidance and further information

Appendix 3: government’s role in overseeing library services

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Central government’s role in overseeing library services is set out in the Public Museums and Libraries Act 1964.

Specialist library adviser

We have appointed a specialist library adviser to work with authorities where appropriate to assist with, monitor and assess their proposals.

Interventions by the Culture Secretary

If a local authority is not fulfilling its duties to provide services as specified under the Libraries Act 1964, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport may set up an investigation. Interventions by the Secretary of State will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis and an inquiry will only be started with very good reason.

Dialogue and engagement with a local authority is the starting point to understand how they intend to fulfill their statutory duties. The following areas may be relevant to any consideration of this issue by the Secretary of State:

  • the analysis of existing and projected local need for the public library service - this may include things like deprivation indices, rural/urban context, and consideration of vulnerable groups such as the unemployed, elderly, disabled, children and young people, and young families
  • any consultation process undertaken in the lead up to proposed library changes and the authority’s response to that consultation
  • the strategic plan for the library service, including innovative and creative ways of providing the service
  • any equality impact assessment and how any adverse impacts may be countered

Our current position on library closures

Various complaints have been made in relation to library closures concerning a number of local authorities in England.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) officials have met with council officers from the following local authorities in response to a raised level of feedback and correspondence on their proposed libraries provision:

  • Gloucestershire
  • Somerset
  • Isle of Wight
  • Lewisham
  • Brent
  • Doncaster
  • Bolton

We monitor proposed changes to all public library services in England on an ongoing basis.

The Secretary of State may intervene if there is clear evidence of a local authority failing to meet its statutory duties and all other avenues for resolution of any complaints are exhausted.

Letters to local authorities

On 14 February 2012, we wrote to solicitors representing campaigners in Brent, in response to pre-action correspondence to inform them that:

  • the Secretary of State has decided not to intervene by way of a local inquiry into Brent Council’s library plans
  • there was a further period to make additional representations on the decision.

On 3 September 2012, we sent decision letters to local authorities in Bolton, the Isle of Wight and Lewisham.

On 17 September 2012 the Secretary of State wrote to the Leader of Brent Council confirming the final decision not to direct a local inquiry into library services in Brent.

CIPFA Public Library Statistics

We’ve commissioned the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to provide statistics on the main trends in public libraries: CIPFA library profiles: English authorities.

e-Lending review

We’ve launched an independent review of e-book lending. The review will conclude early in 2013.

Appendix 4: sponsoring the Public Lending Right to pay authors when their work is borrowed from public libraries

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We sponsor the Public Lending Right (PLR). This organisation pays authors for copies of their books lent by public libraries in the UK. The PLR Funding Agreement sets out their priorities and how they will provide their service.

In October 2010, we announced that we intend to transfer the administration of the PLR fund to another existing body. Authors will still get paid when their books are borrowed from public libraries.

A public consultation about the proposed transfer of the PLR functions to another body was held in 2012, and we published a summary of responses. We will publish the government response to the consultation shortly.

You can find out more information about how the PLR applies, especially to community-supported libraries.