10 Dec 2010

Death blow to Glos library service

The proposed cuts to Gloucestershire's library service are damaging and disproportionate. I have written a letter to the local press below and then made additional comments on this blog before including at the end how you can have your say in the two County consultations.

Photo: Words on the side of the County's mobile service! Below postcard bought in Stroud.

Letter to local press (SNJ version)

I welcome the letter to the SNJ urging a rethink of cuts to the library service (8.12.10). Cuts are inevitable with the Con Dem slashing of Council funding, but a 43% cut to libraries is disproportionate and hugely damaging to communities. Libraries represent only 1.45% of County Council budget, but are used by 250,000 people each month. They will be needed more than ever as other budgets are cut.

Eleven libraries, including Minch and the mobile services are to be closed. Many busy libraries, like Quedgeley despite being in an area of growth, face massive cuts. Seven other libraries including Nailsworth, Wotton and Stonehouse are to be cut to 3 hours staffing a week. If 'partners' are not found we will lose these as well. The professional skills of librarians cannot be replaced by volunteers. Many people will be significantly further away from a library. The County cannot argue that this will be a comprehensive library service that they must provide by law.

Cuts will impact on the quality of life and increase social isolation of many. Community activities and storytelling will be lost. The cuts will be doubly hard as day services to older people and people with learning disabilities along with bus services are also cut. Where can people go? Even the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey says, "A strong library service, based around the needs of local people, can play a key role in our ambitions to build the Big Society by providing safe and inclusive spaces for people to read, learn and access a range of community services."

We are moving towards an 'e-society' yet these cuts remove the ability of those least able to participate. Everything is internet-based: job hunting, homework, registering for housing and even the libraries consultation. Libraries play a vital role in improving access and assisting people to input highly sensitive information. Cuts will also impact on literacy. A child can lose 18 months reading skills in the six week period of the summer holidays if they don't regularly read. How can parents afford books to improve reading skills and knowledge?

Both the library and the Corporate Strategy consultation are at best confusing. If the aim is to hear what people feel about their libraries and how we can make savings then they fail bitterly. These cuts will directly hit the most vulnerable members of our communities. A rethink is urgently needed if we are not to do permanent damage.

Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward (Green Party)

I should note that Greens don't accept cuts are necessary - see other measures we could take here. But the County gets money from Government and that is being cut short so cuts are necessary. Will Tory and Lib Dem councillors publicly oppose these cuts? It seems not.
"What is more important in a library than anything else - than everything else - is the fact that it exists." Archibald MacLeish, "The Premise of Meaning," American Scholar, 5 June 1972

Already librarian posts have been cut and book spending cut. Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries who have launched opposition to the depth of these cuts can be found at: http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/. They say: "I know of no precedent in the UK for a council ceasing to fund libraries serving towns with catchment populations of over 10,000 people, eg Nailsworth, Cinderford, Churchdown, and Stonehouse. These communities support and actively use their local libraries....Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, the county council is required by law to provide "a comprehensive and efficient library service". If these cuts go ahead the county council may be acting outside the law. It is possible to make reasonable savings from the service, but the proposals go too far."

Meanwhile the suggestion that 50% of people supported cuts to libraries in the consultation of less than 1% of the population is just plain wrong. This is a fantasy figure which groups together opinions relating to cuts in Archives and Lifelong Learning as well as Libraries. I am waiting information requested by others about how this figure has been arrived at - is this another example of the County manipulating its statistics (see my article here about that shocking example). There are also voices that say the Meeting the Challenge consultation didn't take into consideration socio-economic data of 5000 respondents and due to the small number might not be big enough to base wideranging change on it.

Ex-librarians have also branded the consultation as a 'complete sham' - see Citizen here.
"Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest." Lady Bird Johnson
Nationally there has been lots of concern about the future of libraries. See the Voices for the Library website blog at:
http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/

New consultations

The new consultation, this time specifically about libraries, is now online and in paper form is a very thin version of the full details, which could be misleading. Similarly teh Corporate Strategy is a slim paper with virtually no info but nevertheless it is a place to voice our concerns.

"The medicine chest of the soul". Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Before I get to the two links you might want help collecting signatures of the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries - see here - which will also become an e-petition once GCC goes live with it. The aim is to collect more than 5000 to ask for a review of the proposal.

First up is the Corporate Strategy at:
http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/mtc/CorporateStrategy
We could also urge many people to say invest in renewables and energy efficiency as fuel prices can only rise and lead to greater problems later. It is vital we borrow now to invest in our future. It would also be good to seek a review of the libraries and of course seek measures to lessen impact of cuts on the most vulnerable.

Second is the Library consultation at:
http://ww5.gloucestershire.gov.uk/surveys/Library_Service_Consultation/

2 comments:

Andrew said...

Certainly in my county, Somerset, 'consultations' have been a complete sham. Carefully selected invitees, with the huge majority of library members and communities ignored.

Anonymous said...

GCC have just announced further 'drop-in' consultation sessions - some at libraries other than those 'safe' from closure opening hour cuts (Churchdown, Minchinhampton, Cinderford and Wotton). The revised list of dates and times is as follows:

Cheltenham Library: 15th December, 2pm-5pm

Gloucester Library: 17th December, 10am-1pm

Stroud Library: 20th December, 2pm-5pm

Coleford Library: 12th January, 2pm-5pm

Cirencester Library: 13th January, 10am-1pm

Tewkesbury Library: 14th January, 10am-1pm

Churchdown Library: 19th January, 6.30pm-8.30pm

Minchinhampton Library: 20th January, 2pm-5pm

Cinderford Library: 21st January, 10am-1pm

Wotton Library: 25th January, 2pm-5pm

Unfortunately most of these sessions are conveniently timed for when many people are at work, but please try to go along to one if you can. These consultation sessions are what the Council will use to decide how their proposals have been received by communities, so it's an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns face to face where it will be harder for them to ignore you or fob you off.

If you haven’t done so already, please also remember to complete both of the County Council’s online consultation exercises; the library survey and the overall budget survey. While we believe that both surveys are deeply flawed, the results will be used by the Council to judge community responses to the cuts proposals, so it is essential that we make our voices heard.