Being employed by the publicly-funded Science Museum, I've been interested in the stories about the British Library that have been published in the newspapers over the last couple of days. British Library to start charging was the headline in the Independent, whilst the Guardian ran its story under the slightly more-accurate Cuts threaten services at British Library.
The main bit of news is that the government's upcoming Public Sector Spending Review looks likely, according to whoever the 'sources' are that journalists use, to cut funding for the 'cultural sector' by around 5% - 7%. The British Library seem to be launching a pre-emptive media strike by suggesting that the cuts could mean: closing all their public exhibitions, charging a fee for access to the reading rooms, reducing opening hours, losing up to 15% of their collections, shutting down the Colindale newspaper collection and abandoning a 'digital library' project. Pretty bad then.
Of course, I imagine that the newspapers are hyping this up slightly more than is called for. There's no press release about the cuts on their website, so no way of validating the information from a primary source, but a statement linked to from the homepage acknowledges the news stories about the introduction of charges, and doesn't deny the possibility. Instead, it issues a subtle and polite call to action ("you probably want to know how best to support us at this point"), suggesting people write in with letters of support, to be included in their campaign to the Treasury.
There have been a few similar concerns about the possible 'squeezing' of Government funding within our museum, but nothing like the response that's come out of the British Library. Perhaps, as a more mainstream visitor attraction, we're in a better position to attract commercial sponsorship. Still, it's interesting to see the British Library go on the offensive like this, and you have to admire their fighting spirit.
Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I can't see the national museums going back to their charging days any time soon - the free entrance policy has been too much of a big, and successful, plank in the New Labour manifesto for that. But the DCMS have pointed at '10 years of huge increases in funding' as a way of justifying the possible cuts. This may be true, but the yoyo-ing of financial support is never helpful. Just look at what's happening over at the BBC right now...
Best of luck to the British Library (and others) anyhow. And do remember to check out their excellent, and free, exhibition on London maps.