CULTURE Minister Ed Vaizey yesterday told MPs there was no libraries crisis.
The Wantage MP spoke out as campaigners celebrated the 40th anniversary of a library in his constituency.
Grove Library marked the milestone after surviving the threat of Oxfordshire County Councils cuts in 1998 and again in November 2010.
The library is one of five in Oxfordshire – along with Chinnor, Faringdon, Wheatley and Woodstock – that will now see volunteers making up a third of the staff after the council scaled back planned budget cuts.
A timescale for the changes has not been decided yet.
Mr Vaizey was invited to yesterday’s celebrations in Grove but could not attend as he was giving evidence to the House of Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee.
He told MPs there was “no crisis” in the library service and said it was vital to be realistic about changes in provision.
He said: “If you said we’re not going to have every library as a bells and whistles library staffed by professional librarians, you could have more libraries.”
Libraries run by volunteers could open longer and provide books that are “more in tune” with local communities, he added.
Mr Vaizey said: “I think libraries are very resilient. I don’t think the library service is in crisis, which is what some people would like to give the impression of.”
He spoke as new campaigning alliance Speak up for Libraries called on the Government to give libraries its backing, warning they faced a bleak future due to spending cuts, underfunding and the lack of a clear vision for their future.
The group called on Mr Vaizey to take urgent action.
Eoin Garland, chairman of the Friends of Grove Library group, said: “The library shouldn’t really be here if you take the original county council plans into account. So it’s a celebration of survival.”
He added: “In these austere times we have to accept the council has a finite budget, but it doesn’t seem fair to me to ask smaller communities to have to have a bigger draw on volunteers.”
The village used to have a fortnightly visit from a mobile library until the building opened in Millbrook in 1972.
Former librarian Joy Greg-ory, 68, of Mayfield Avenue, said: “It’s fantastic and I hope it lasts another 40 years in some shape or form. It’s part of the community. It’s a lovely place, and reading is an essential part of anyone’s education we just can’t do without.”
Mrs Gregory, who retired a year ago, said the threat of cuts had been tough for the library.
She added: “It was absolutely horrendous. Libraries do have an important part in people’s lives and I feel that’s sometimes not fully appreciated.”
The Friends group was formed 15 years ago when the library was first threatened.
Zoe Patrick, Grove’s county councillor, said: “There’s a real community spirit in Grove Library and it’s partly because we have been through a lot together.”