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`Guarantee' good libraries

Children should be guaranteed access to properly-stocked public libraries open after school hours with specially trained staff and space to do homework, according to a report published today.

The independent report, published by the Department of National Heritage, is set to embarrass ministers with its depiction of under-funded public libraries and the problems caused by local management of schools.

Public libraries do not have enough money to make up for the deficiencies of educational institutions that cannot, or will not, provide sufficient books for their pupils, concludes the report by a working group headed by David Leabeater from the National Consumer Council on behalf of the Library and Information Services Council.

It says non-statutory school library services, which are run by education authorities, are "in a not only complex, but volatile situation" after the introduction of local management. "There is a view that LMS, by its fragmentation of responsibility for library expenditure among individual schools, runs counter to attempts to define coherent service objectives and standards for school libraries."

Ideally, the Department for Education should earmark funds for schools to buy back into school library services and monitor spending. But the working party said: "We do not see this as a realistic scenario," adding that the DFE should at least guide schools on proper investment in libraries.

Spending by schools on both class and library books was inadequate overall, but there were huge disparities in spending, resources and staffing between schools and authorities.

The working group was also concerned about the "very wide range of standards" in children's services in public libraries, and said that spending on books was "disturbingly low".

The report, Investing in children, calls for: * a charter setting out children's rights of access to an adequately-stocked public library after school, help from specialist staff, and homework space; * integrated strategies to be published by education authorities for delivering appropriate library and information services which involve schools, colleges and training and enterprise councils; * a readers' charter and standards drawn up by the Department of National Heritage in consultation with the Library Association; * guidance from the DFE on how books and other sources of information can help deliver the national curriculum * one senior staff member responsible for children's services in every public library.

The report coincides with the Library Association's campaign focusing on children's rights to decent libraries.

Chief executive, Ross Shimmon, welcomed the report as a sign that the Government was addressing the "hugely neglected role of schools and public libraries in delivering the national curriculum".

Birmingham's Centre for the Child, Children's book Extra, page 1 Investing in children, Library Information Series No. 22, HMSO, Pounds 10.95.

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