Union says plans to close library have been forced by £4 million budget deficit following recent government cuts
Trade union members at the Imperial War Museum in London say plans have been drawn up to close the site’s in-demand library, calling upon the public to oppose measures which could result in up to 80 jobs being lost.
Prospect has warned that the “unique” library could close and dispose of the majority of its collection under proposals aimed at reducing the museum’s £4 million annual deficit, imposed by government cuts.
Andy Bye, the negotiator for the union, said the Prime Minister’s claim that the museum would be a “fitting centrepiece” for the First World War centenary year, made when the museum reopened in July following a £40 million refurbishment, was at odds with the potential move.
“Closing IWM’s library is not a fitting way to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War,” he said.
“IWM aspires to be a highly respected authority on its subject matter, but this will be impossible without a library.”
Ninety-seven years after the library acquired its first item, an online petition, aiming for 7,500 signatures and addressed to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has attracted more than 5,500 signatures.
One of them, Dr Alan Borg, oversaw the institution between 1982 and 1995. “As a former Director General of the museum I am horrified by the suggestion that the library might be closed and dispersed,” he wrote last week.
Former librarian Jane Haward, from Cornwall, spoke of the library’s significance.
“I cannot believe these important services can even be considered for budget cuts,” she said.
“This is such an important resource base. I cannot emphasise enough its value for future generations.”
According to Prospect, the museum engaged 433,000 learners last year, with 256,000 children taking part in its on and off-site educational programmes. The library was visited by 55,000 people.
“Once the library and its professional staff are gone, the damage will be done,” said Bye.
“It will be impossible to replace this unique collection of primary and secondary printed materials and the dedicated people who care for them and make them available to the public, remotely or in person.
“School educational visits to the paying branches at Duxford, HMS Belfast and Churchill War Rooms, with on-site teaching sessions led by museum and education professionals, are under threat.
“The museum is justifying the cuts at these original historic sites because of changes to the national curriculum and their ‘narrower exhibition focus’.
“IWM is successful in generating its own revenue - less than 50 per cent of its funding comes from the Westminster government, but that income is vital to the organisation's future.
“Prospect fears that this is only the start and that further damaging cuts are likely unless there is widespread public support to maintain adequate levels of funding.”
The museum’s Explore History facility could also close, while the Research Room in London would operate at a reduced level, the union said.
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