Libraries as a statutory service

This guidance is intended to help councils in England and others in considering library service provision as a statutory service.



This document provides guidance on councils’ duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will currently interpret compliance with this duty in light of the applicable legislation and the government guidelines published on 15 May (and subsequently updated) covering the reopening of other businesses and public places (including libraries). The Government announced that libraries may reopen their doors from 4 July, subject to following Covid-secure guidelines.

The Libraries Connected Service Recovery Toolkit, originally published on 29 June and updated regularly after that, provides a set of resources to support Heads of Service and their teams in planning for service recovery as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. It is designed to be used alongside other government guidance in England. We recognise that restoration of services will take place in a phased way, varying according to local needs and circumstances. This interpretation will apply until such time as the government announces further relaxation of social distancing and other restrictions affecting access to library locations and library services.

This guidance document is intended to help councils in England and others in considering library service provision as a statutory service. This text should not in any way be taken as formal legal advice or be used as the basis for formal council decisions. All councils should seek their own legal advice on any proposed changes they wish to make to their library service.

It sets out:

  • what the law says about the public library responsibilities of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), and councils
  • how to make representations about whether the council is meeting its statutory duties
  • the process DCMS will follow to consider formal complaints

This guidance accompanies the Strategic planning: longer-term, evidence-based sustainable planning toolkit produced by the Libraries Taskforce.

Published 16 December 2015
Last updated 30 June 2020 + show all updates
  1. Service Recovery Toolkit added

  2. New Coronavirus lines following government announcement to close public libraries on Monday 23 March 2020.

  3. This revision aims to clarify the duties and the processes we follow to councils and people wishing to make representations about a library service to DCMS. As part of the rewrite we have sought to clarify the superintendence process (to councils and the public) and our requirements about evidence we want people to provide if they’re making a representation about a library service (the public). We have also moved detail which impeded the flow of the document into annexes and included an annex of sector bodies who can provide guidance or support to councils that ask them for help or advice about reviewing their public library services and strategies.

  4. First published.