This blog seems to have become the repository for matters close to my heart and as is the way of these things sometimes you don’t realize how much something matters until it’s under threat. Not that cuts to libraries are anything unusual, but suddenly it’s our libraries and yes, they matter a great deal.
For anyone not in the know, here’s a summary of the present situation re South Glos libraries as provided by a representative of the council (my emphasis):
Initially a budget saving of £500k was required of the library service and proposals started to be drawn up before the last election to come into effect for 2017. These have now been revisited by the Council and following the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and the amount of money that the Council will get from central government the library saving is now a potential £650k.
Thus the Library Service Review report which was passed by the Communities Committee on January 20th, considered three options and three savings targets.
- To save £500k by closing high/cost/low use libraries namely Chipping Sodbury and the Mobile and reducing opening hours of the 12 remaining libraries by 19%.
- To save £650k by closing Chipping Sodbury Library and the mobile, concentrating library services in the busiest or potentially busiest libraries based on future population growth, that is Bradley Stoke, Kingswood, Thornbury, Yate and Patchway. With the remaining 7 libraries acting as satellites open for 18 hours.
- To save £1 million by keeping just the five main libraries only.
The Council’s preferred option is £650k to meet the savings target, which was confirmed by the Council’s budget meeting on 17th February.
The council has now launched a consultation exercise to which people can respond online or in hard copy from now until May 13th. The resulting publicity has brought a flurry of protest registered at everything from World Book Day events to Facebook groups and many voices can now be heard defending their local library service and asking for the proposed cuts not to go ahead.
But is this reaction too little too late? The budget decision has been made (with, we hear, minimal discussion) and the consultation is only on how best to implement it. This was reflected at an open meeting of my local library user group where the audience was asked ‘if push came to shove’ whether they would prefer fewer opening hours with staff on duty, or longer opening hours without paid staff on site. Not much of a choice, IMO. Reading the consultation document, Option 2 (which reduces 7 libraries, including all three in Downend Staple Hill and Emersons Green) to ‘satellite’ status comes over very much as a done deal.
In fact what annoys me most about this proposal is what looks like the arbitrary designation of hub and satellite libraries based on the size of existing premises rather than the needs of local people. It immediately discriminates against everyone in our area (3 fairly small libraries, all built or refurbished recently) and expects us to travel between four and six miles for whatever a ‘hub’ will have to offer. Staggering the opening hours of ‘satellite’ libraries sounds to me more of an inconvenience than a help and unless a way can be found of keeping these libraries open for longer (step up all those volunteers we keep hearing about, and please organize yourselves!) those with restricted opening hours will fall below the critical mass required for a meaningful service and simply spiral into decline.
I’m not offering any answers but a couple of things have occurred to me. According to our local library staff it’s thought likely to be more productive to campaign for an individual library rather than mount a campaign on behalf of South Glos as a whole. I suppose that’s true looked at from the individual library perspective, but I feel bad about signing a petition for one and not another. Who am I to say that Downend (where I used to live) is less necessary than Emersons Green? Who can judge if my love for my library is less or more than the love of the people of Winterbourne for theirs? (I’ve been there and it’s great.) This also seems to put one library in open competition with another which hardly makes sense.
There are suggestions extra money could be found by the council. I’ve signed a(nother) petition to divert proposed savings on the green bin charge (£230k) to libraries. Bins or books? No contest.
On Thursday I also attended a meeting of Emersons Green Town Council who do appear to have some money to dispense, although they were reluctant to commit themselves before knowing ‘all the facts.’ (A bit worrying since these are not hard to find!) The town council are required to respond to the consultation as a body, so hopefully some fact-finding is about to commence.
While I want to put my heart on my sleeve and fight to the death for all our local libraries I sense that something’s got to give. Should we be looking at which library services are most important in a particular area ( not just books remember but children’s sessions, IT facilities and other socially cohesive activities) . Or do we concede that three professionally staffed libraries in a radius of around four miles is no longer a sustainable model? If so let’s acknowledge that and build on it in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition. Let’s take a view which is closer to the grassroots than the council seem able to get but without scrapping amongst ourselves.
One positive aspect is that nothing will happen in staffing terms until next year’s budget (autumn 2017?) so there is some time to put a plan in place. Let’s hope it’s one that works for the people round here. (Like, find some money and give us a hub!)