Libraries

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who are unhappy with issues about the way the council is administering its library services and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I think there is something wrong in the way the council is providing the library service in my area. Can the Ombudsman help me? 

Yes, in certain circumstances. Your local council is responsible for providing a comprehensive and efficient library service for all people wanting to make use of it. Government standards suggest that public libraries should be located to provide convenient access for users, adequate opening hours, choice in books and materials, and access to electronic information resources. 

We may consider complaints about faults in how the service is being run, if the faults have caused you difficulties. But it is up to each council to decide the level of funding it puts into its library service and we are unlikely to investigate complaints about cuts in services or inadequate resources. Councils also have the power to make charges for many library facilities. 

The council has banned me from the local library for the way I have behaved, which I think is unreasonable. Can the Ombudsman help me?  

Possibly, if it appears that the council has not acted in line with any byelaws or written policy on this. But we would not uphold a complaint if the council has properly followed its procedures when excluding you from the library. 

Councils can make byelaws regulating the use of library facilities and the conduct of library visitors and these must be displayed in the library. The reason for any ban should be made clear, as well as the length of time the ban is in place for.  

How do I complain? 

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us. 

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for? 

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about administering the library service which has caused you problems. Some of the faults we might find are that the council:

  • unreasonably refused to display written material in the local library or has been inconsistent in its approach to such material
  • failed to operate a clear and fair procedure for allocating internet sessions to users of the computers in the library
  • failed to enable residents to make use of library materials, for example by placing some resources in parts of the library which some people cannot access and then not making alternative arrangements 
  • failed to have written policies on key aspects of its service, or
  • failed to reply to a query or complaint.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault? 

Where it has been at fault and you have suffered as a result of that fault, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. Depending on what the complaint is about, we may ask the council to: 

  • decide if and what action is warranted and take that action within a reasonable time
  • pay compensation in a few cases; the amount we suggest would depend on how much you have been affected by what the council has done wrong, or 
  • improve procedures so that the same problems do not occur again. For example, we have asked councils to review their policy on excluding people from a public library. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr S complained that his council closed his local library, which he used often, and that its consultation about the proposed layout of the new and smaller library (on a different site) was too rushed to be meaningful. The Ombudsman did not find maladministration in the council’s decision to close the library, but did conclude that the council allowed insufficient time for the public to comment on the layout of the new library. For its first year of operation the spacing between the shelving was too narrow and was less than the space advised in the relevant Design Bulletin. Work was later done to widen the spacing. The council paid Mr S £250 for his inconvenience and the time and trouble he spent in making his complaint.
Mr H complained that a council unreasonably refused to display some printed material in its public libraries about a campaign and a fund raising event for the benefit of workers involved in an industrial dispute with their employer. The council had a share in the private limited company, which provided care services, and also helped administer the trust which held the other shares. It said it maintained a neutral position. However, the Ombudsman found that a leaflet jointly issued by the council and the company, disputing the case put forward by the Trade Union representing the workers involved, had been displayed in one of its libraries. We concluded that the council had failed to maintain its expressed neutrality and asked the council to be guided by our comments in the future. We regarded this and the publication of the Ombudsman’s report as a sufficient remedy to the complaint.

Other sources of information

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-culture-media-sport have issued a policy on Supporting the library services provided by local authorities and making sure there is a national collection of published material. See www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-the-library-services-provided-by-local-authorities

There is other material on the Arts Council England website: www.artscouncil.org.uk/

Your local council’s website may provide some information about its library service and may have information on the policies relating to it.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

April 2013 

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