Anne Marie Morris MP highlights changing role of Libraries

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I will be brief, because I am sure that you will want to start the winding-up speeches fairly soon, Mr Turner. This has been a valuable and interesting debate. We all feel passionately about the future of the library service in all its different guises. The situation that we are discussing is as much an opportunity as a threat. We could debate for hours why we are in the economic climate in which we find ourselves, but the reality is that we are where we are, and we need to find a way forward.

We need to recognise that how people use libraries has begun to change and consider what we can do to respond. A sensible way forward is to try to identify those buildings, including the library, that are used for a number of community purposes. Such an approach would mean that we are more likely to keep library facilities than lose them. If we simply looked at the status quo, libraries would close day in and day out.

However, another challenge that the Minister might like to consider is that of e-books, which have been briefly mentioned. The trend towards the use of e-books is increasing. Amazon says-admittedly, we are talking about buying rather than borrowing-that it sells twice as many e-books as hard copy books. What are the implications of that for the library service? What innovative ideas can it come up with that will enable people to access those sorts of books? If we think about the matter, it is a no-brainer. There are 1 million free books on Kindle, which we ought to try to make available to local people. Kindle has another 500,000 books available to buy. The cost of a Kindle book is usually 50% or two thirds less than the hard copy. The issue is a challenge that we must face head on.

I am pleased that Devon county council has been chosen as one of the pilot areas for the future libraries programme, and it is healthy to start looking at what we should be doing on that. We need to draw a distinction between what we do in our towns and what we do in our villages. In Newton Abbot, I am lucky that £2.8 million has been spent on a state-of-the-art library. However, it is not only a library, because it will also provide adult learning and an opportunity for adults who want to know how to spend their care budgets to talk to a professional about how they can do that. Such an approach will provide an opportunity for children to link together and for individuals to take what looking at books is about to an educational level rather than them simply having an informative role. That is where the opportunity is.

As I have said, I will not make a long contribution. First, we need to look at the better use of buildings, which I am pleased to see we are doing. In rural communities, having one or two buildings rather than five or six-if an area is lucky enough to have that number-is the right way forward. Secondly, we need to consider how to move libraries from being knowledge based, which was where they started, to being education and community based. Thirdly, we need to consider the challenge of technology and how libraries can address that.

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Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that although the professional librarian is clearly a very important part of the make-up of the library service, the volunteer also plays a considerable part? As a result of reading the transcript of the debate, I would not want volunteers to feel undervalued because, at the end of the day, there are 17,000 people across the library service who give their free time and spend 500,000 million hours every year working in the service. Without them, some of the smaller rural libraries in particular would not survive. In Ipplepen in my part of the world, the old library has been closed and, without those volunteers, we would not be considering moving back to a new library resource in the local village hall.

Alison McGovern: Of course, volunteers are important. In fact, last Friday in my constituency, I met a volunteer archivist from Bromborough who does an amazing job. However, if she were here, she would say that, without a library service underpinning that work, it is impossible for volunteers to get the platform on which they need to stand to do the job they want to do. It is chutzpah to imagine that we can substitute volunteers for professionals rather than seeing them as an addition, as the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) has said. That is what most volunteers themselves think that they ought to be. For example, the charity Volunteer Reading Help makes great play of the fact that it provides additional services to schools.

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