Despite a report earlier this week predicting that public libraries could disappear by the end of the decade, the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, has hailed the "thriving library service that we have in England" as he announced a series of initiatives at Thursday's Future of Library Services conference.
Unveiling plans to boost cultural activities in libraries, automatically enrol primary school pupils in their local libraries and an ambition to put Wi-Fi in libraries across England by 2015, Vaizey claimed that the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals' prediction of 600 library closures "regularly quoted in the media ... is very wide of the mark".
"A truer picture of building closures would be about a tenth of that," he said. "I remain resolutely optimistic about library services. I have never, even in opposition, depicted the library service as being in crisis." He added that "even while there have been closures, sometimes services merge or move to community management, and it's important that we are able to have an intelligent debate about this. And it's also important to remember that many libraries are also opening."
Library campaigner and award-winning children's author Alan Gibbons rejected Vaizey's positivity, calling it "a masterpiece of Life of Brian optimism, the massaging of reality and evasion".
"The reason this nightmarish scenario [of 600 library closures] has not occurred has been because local communities have mounted commendable resistance, reducing councils' room to manoeuvre. This has included legal actions, pickets, protests, read-ins and a lobby of parliament. None of this agitation is reflected in this blandest of speeches."