Official figures show that funding for the country's library service has fallen into sharp decline. As we report in these four pages, both opening hours and book-buying have been greatly reduced.
A survey carried out for The TES by Lancaster University shows the British public remains loyal to its libraries, however. Three in four have visited their library in the past year, more than half in the past month. But our survey also shows that more than one in four would use their libraries more if opening hours were more convenient.
We welcome the Government's recently declared aim of setting national minimum standards for local library provision. We believe these should include: * the central library in each local authority to stay open at least 60 hours a week, at hours suited to modern living.
* other public libraries to stay open at least 45 hours a week.
* minimum standards for book-buying to be set at pound;2.26 per head per year - the level of a decade ago - at a cost of pound;44 million.
Today, the writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg writes in support of our campaign (see page 15). Next week, Culture Secretary Chris Smith responds. Over the summer, a series of distinguished figures, starting today with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, will write about themselves and their libraries. We shall also focus on libraries of the future.