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The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 requires local authorities in England and Wales to “provide a comprehensive and efficient library service”.

“Comprehensive and efficient” are not defined. It is the responsibility of each local authority to determine how to deliver public library services in the context of local need.

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport can order an inquiry where there is concern that a local authority is not fulfilling its duties under the Act. This has not happened since 2009 when an inquiry looked at the library services provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

There have been concerns about the future of library services. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has an ongoing  “My Library By Right” campaign. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to new concerns that financial pressures on local authorities could mean cuts and reductions to library services.

The main body of the Paper focuses on public libraries in England. For information on libraries in Wales, see the Welsh Government website: Libraries and archives.

An Appendix gives statistics on library visits, book loans, service points, internet access, expenditure, and the number of employees and volunteers working in libraries. These have been compiled from CIPFA statistics for Great Britain.


In Scotland, local authorities have a statutory duty, under s163(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, to “secure the provision of adequate library facilities for all persons resident in their area”. For further information see:

Northern Ireland

The public library service is administered by the Northern Ireland Library Authority, known as Libraries NI. The functions of Libraries NI are set out in the Libraries Act (Northern Ireland) 2008. For further information see the Northern Ireland Executive website.

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