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. If you consider a council makes any general changes to its library services which make it no longer "comprehensive or efficient" you can complain to the Secretary of State under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. 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.
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
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.