Jeremy Corbyn has said that he can guarantee he will protect public libraries if Labour gets into power.
Speaking at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London on Sunday, the Labour leader attacked the Conservatives’ policy on libraries, saying that the party knows “the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
“They’ve closed hundreds of libraries because they don’t recognise, and don’t want to recognise, the lifeline that libraries provide as a free service open to all regardless of wealth,” said Corbyn in an interview with Penguin Books published on Wednesday.
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa), there were 3,618 public libraries open in Britain in 2018, compared with 4,482 in 2009/2010, the last financial year the Labour government was in power.
“The loss of libraries is terrible and the cuts in opening hours are equally bad. The handing over of libraries to voluntary groups to run them is an abdication of public responsibility,” said Corbyn.
The latest figures from Cipfa found that volunteers in libraries increased last year by 3,000, to 51,394.
The Labour leader, asked if he could promise his pledge to protect libraries would be honoured should Labour win the general election, told Penguin: “I can absolutely give you this guarantee.”
He said that libraries gave him “a fantastic start in life and I want that for everybody”.
“I grew up in a small town in Shropshire. My mum and dad loved books. I became a volunteer librarian at school. I learned the Dewey Decimal system, which I still remember,” he said. “We also had a branch library across the road and I’d go there after school and look at the great big atlases and it was my way of looking at the world, understanding it.”
The Labour party’s manifesto makes more pledges on libraries than the other parties, promising a £1bn cultural capital fund “to transform libraries, museums and galleries across the country”. “We will ensure libraries are preserved for future generations and updated with wifi and computers. We will reintroduce library standards so that government can assess and guide councils in delivering the best possible service,” it says.
The website Public Libraries News said that “all of the party manifestos largely treat libraries as an afterthought”, with the Conservatives promising £250m for libraries and museums.
“That sounds nice but this amount is over five years and the amount for libraries will be far less per year than recent cuts overseen by the same party,” writes librarian Ian Anstice. “So, not much joy there then, but more than with the Liberal Democrats who mention libraries only as a location for the collection of free sanitary products.”