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Background Public libraries began to appear in Britain in the mid-19th Century, in the aftermath of the Public Libraries Act 1850.The Free Library Movement was one of the many groups in the mid-Victorian period working for the "improvement of the public" through education.Controversies It is widely agreed, by library groups and by local government, that library services have been historically underfunded.Library services are funded out of Revenue Support Grant - that is, local authorities' main general funding stream.In order to get the Bill through Parliament, William Ewart was forced to make a number of compromises: only boroughs with populations of more than 10,000 would be allowed to open libraries; local referendums would be required, with the support of two thirds of ratepayers needed to approve plans; and local rates could be increased by no more than half a penny in the pound to pay for the service - and this money could not be used to buy books.The first free public library was opened in Campfield, Manchester in 1852, and the Act's scope was extended to Scotland and Ireland in 1853.This was provided in 2003-2004 by £7.4 million from the Government.

The rise of "friends of" library groups in recent years has largely been prompted by proposed closures.

The Public Libraries Act 1919 reformed the old system, taking responsibility for libraries away from the boroughs and giving it to county councils, which would now have the power to establish libraries without a referendum.

This, and the abolition of the penny rate under the Act paved the way for the library service to become a truly national service.

However, many fear that the library service is in decline.

Between 19, 203 libraries and 29 mobile libraries were closed, with a lack of local authority funding most frequently cited as the reason.

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