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 information contained in this document is provided to help guide local councils and others. 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.

We would like councils considering changing their library service to inform the DCMS Libraries team about their proposals before public engagement or consultation. Details about such proposals should be emailed to:

It sets out:

  • what the law says about the public library responsibilities of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), 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 1 April 2022 + show all updates
  1. Amended to reflect updated Government guidance on COVID-19

  2. Amended to reflex current Covid regulations and guidance.

  3. Updated in line with step 4 Covid roadmap

  4. Service Recovery Toolkit added

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

  6. 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.

  7. First published.