Public Libraries News has a rather negative take on North Yorkshire's success in getting grant money for artists in residence in their libraries. The criticism is echoed by various other campaigners. I think this is a very misguided approach.
Firstly, I don't agree with the view that the arts are a kind of nice add on that can be dispensed with when budgets tighten (Let us leave to one side whether budgets actually need to tighten or whether the whole eternal austerity agenda is just ideological). If you want to have arts activity at all, you need to sustain it. It cannot simply be switched on and off like an electric light. There needs to be a physical infrastructure and a skills base. If you do away with this base, it is enormously difficult to build it back up again; what I believe economists call hysteresis.
Secondly, the arts are a significant contributor to society as a whole. You can argue for this in economic terms, as I have with regard to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, the new Library Centre in Willesden, and the Civic Centre in Wembley. In each case, the arts events help draw people towards those Town Centres and get people spending on local businesses.
There are much wider social benefits as well. I think for instance of all the work that the Tricycle does with drama workshops. Some of these artists in residence may well contribute to the core business of libraries of promoting reading as Brent's poet laureate did.
Another possibility is that the artists in residence or other arts events help to attract audiences who perhaps have old fashioned views of libraries. Brent's artist in residence at Kilburn Library spent a significant amount of effort trying to reach out to people in South Kilburn. The ability to attract new users is certainly characteristic of Brent Dance Month, that brings many people into libraries who are not normally library users.
Above all, this kind of stuff is fun, and people do need some fun in libraries even (or perhaps especially) when the outlook for libraries and local government is so very bleak.