The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Inquiry into Library Closures starts tomorrow, Tuesday 7th February at 10.30am. Witnesses will be Miranda McKearney (Director, The Reading Agency), Abigail Barker (Voices for the Library), Andrew Coburn (Secretary, The Library Campaign) and Sue Charteris (author of the Charteris Report into the Wirral library cuts.  It will be televised here.
Six hundred pages of evidence from 130 different organisations/individuals have already been submitted by interested parties and it is available to read here.  Some of it is most depressing but interesting such as the LGA arguing that the 1964 Act is somehow a barrier to reform when the DCMS fails to act on any of it anyway.  Their submission also includes the gem line that a “closure of a library does not automatically mean a decrease in access to library services”.  Um, yes it does, LGA.  Other bits are highly predictable, such as the American private equity-owned libraries company LSSI arguing, amazingly, for the further privatisation of public libraries.  Most, however, is heartwarming and vociferous in its support for public libraries.  It is to be hope that the Committee takes the latter to heart.
407 libraries (317 buildings and 90 mobiles) are currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK.  The librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.

News

  • 1964 Act is “barrier to reform” claims LGA – BookSeller.  LGA argues that “A modern Libraries Act without the superintendent role of central government would give councillors the scope to re-design their library services to meet local people’s needs.” and includes the gem of a line “Closure of a library does not automatically mean a decrease in access to library services”.
“When an authority refuses to pay its library staff, and lays down the Sophie’s choice that either they work for free or the service is shut down, the real baddies of the piece are, of course, the authority. But knowing that doesn’t help us any. We still have to choose between descending into charity or watching as a community suffers. At least as things currently lie, I believe the only responsible action is the latter. I believe this in part because I suspect the voluntary model to be ultimately unsustainable, but principally because I believe we have a collective responsibility to our trade on a broader level. The communities we serve can only prosper if we can afford to serve them.”  Are you experienced? Volunteer now! – Succentorship Without Sneers.  

  • Big Society? Legal wrangles turn voluntarism into big headache – Guardian.  Surrey council’s legal battle over libraries shows how volunteer-led public services can fall at the first legal hurdle” … “Another problem is the procurement legislation that requires councils to ensure that various hoops are jumped through before any transfer of services can take place. Councils cannot close facilities by transfer of responsibilities (including libraries, as Surrey found out) without full consultation, and ensuring that a reasonable council service remains”
  • Community libraries in Spain: does this sound familiar? – Voices for the Library.  “Two weeks ago the Arts councillor from Madrid, Fernando Villalonga, announced that two new libraries in the city would be run partly by volunteers. To support his idea he said it is common in English speaking countries to have volunteer-run libraries. After some complaints from professional associations, Madrid’s Mayor Ana Botella the spouse of the former Spanish President, Jose María Aznar, backed the Arts councillor saying that not only should libraries be run by volunteers but also several other public services. She said that “We have to be able to give back to our society what society gives tous” (Does that sound familiar?). “I refuse to believe that a library won’t be opening because there aren’t volunteers to run it”, she added.”
  • Culture committee publishes inquiry evidence – BookSeller.  Six hundred pages of written submissions to the library inquiry being held this week by the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, including those from The Booksellers Association, The Publishers Association, The Reading Agency, and The Bookseller, have been published online.”
  • Culture, media and Sport Committee publish library inquiry responses – Voices for the Library.  “It is interesting to note the balance of responses from these different groups of respondents, especially from public library authorities. Only approximately 16 authorities or their representatives responded to the Inquiry. Considering that there are over 140 public library authorities in England this is a very low response rate. Compare this to 33 recognisable library user and campaign groups who responded, plus further individuals whose names we recognise as local campaigners.”
  • Culture minister visits library – Salisbury Journal.   “Ed Vaizey popped into Salisbury Library on Saturday. Mr Vaizey was in the area and wanted to visit a local library as it was National Libraries Day.”. 
  • Evidence published: CMS Select Committee investigation into library cuts – FoGL.  “We are very proud of the impact that Gloucestershire residents have had on the national dialogue regarding unprecedented, eye-watering library cuts. Let’s hope that, unlike GCC, the Select Committee listen to us. Thank you to everyone who made submissions and those who supported us with the JR.”
  • Unequal library campaigns – Spectator.   Compares Brent’s legal fortunes with that of Somerset and Gloucestershire.  “It only goes to show how integral bureaucratic equality regulations have become in the fabric of our national life. The West Country councils, having failed to show ‘due regard’, are having to reconfigure their plans. Whereas Brent council can now execute what Philip Pullman has described as its ‘philistine’ strategy.” [However, the article misses the key legal point that the situation was different in the two cases – Ed.]. 

Changes

Plymouth – New Plympton Library reopened after old building destroyed in fire in 2008. 

Local News

  • Barnet – Campaigners show support for Friern Barnet Library – Times series.  “Around 200 people joined a community walk from the old Town Hall site to the library, in Friern Barnet Road, where an event was held to raise awareness of its threatened closure. Young and old came out and braved the elements and held heart-shaped banners emblazoned with the message, “I Love My Local Library”.”
“Ken Livingstone has also sent a message to the group, in which he said: “It is always a tragedy when the heart of a local community is ripped out, and so I am delighted to send your campaign a message of support.””

  • Brent – The next stage: challenge the DCMS – Preston Library Campaign.  “Today, our legal team has sent a letter demanding action. The DCMS met with Brent Council last year, but has so far ignored thousands of complaints made by us.”
    • Library campaigners denied further closure challenges – Guardian.  “”We are definitely fighting on – the question of whether Brent is meeting its obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service isn’t a question for the courts – it’s a question for Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state, who has so far spent some nine months failing to answer our complaints,” said resident Philip Bromberg. “We will now be pressing him to reach a decision on those complaints.””
  • Dudley – Cradley and Long Lane libraries get self-service system – Halesowen News.  “The two libraries are the last in the borough to have the system installed, which is It is expected to be in place by the spring.”
  • Durham – Library plans “as bad as Beeching’s rail axe” – Teesdale Mercury.   “A former Children’s Laureate says plans to cut library services, axe staff and hand the buildings over to a charity are “short sighted” and “almost immoral”.Best-selling author Anne Fine, who lives in Barnard Castle, said council officials will be “vilified” in the way Lord Richard Beeching was following cuts to railway services in the 1960s.”
““It is said they are hoping to save £1m by doing this, which is a paltry sum considering the loss, because in a recession libraries become even more important. They are a haven for older people, a focus for families, and for unemployed people it’s a place where people can try to get their lives back on track. ”

  • Gloucestershire – Tuffley Library Support Group: we need your supportFoGL. “We want to make sure that Tuffley Library is kept as a local, easily accessible library. The draft “new” library strategy, currently out for consultation, is proposing a statutory library for Tuffley. It is to be branded as a “Partnership Library”. We have concerns about who the partners may be and how such an arrangement might work. We are also worried that Gloucestershire County Council might wish to re-locate the library to smaller accommodation in a remote location.” 
  • Northamptonshire – Library users hug to show their support – Evening Telegraph. 
    The events were special for many as last year eight libraries in the county were under threat of closure as part of Northamptonshire County Council’s budget cuts. Following tireless campaigning by residents, they were saved from the immediate axe but the authority is hoping to recruit an army of volunteers to run them to save funds.” … “The Friends of Irchester Library, which was among those earmarked for closure last year, physically hugged the building. The library also held a Nintendo DS Swap Shop and cake sale on the day.”
  • Plymouth – Wait for new library is over – This is Plymouth.  The town has waited three and a half years for a replacement after its old library burned down in the summer of 2008.” … “
    The library has been built next to Harewood House on the same site as its predecessor, which was destroyed by fire in 2008. At 458 square metres it is 50 per cent bigger than the old library.”
  • Suffolk – Future of Halesworth’s library is discussed – EDP.  About 30 people attended Dr Jones’s talk which focused on three main themes – the importance of the library to the town, how it will funded and the uncertain future of its staffing arrangements.”
  • Surrey – County Council disappointed by High Court library decision – Eagle Radio.   “”It was never our intention to close any of Surrey’s Libraries. Our Intention was to give some of those that account for only 7% of Surrey’s Library take up over to the community as a Community Run Libraries so we could have done what other counties have done and just closed them – but we didn’t want to do that.”
    • Library campaigners to have their day in court – Get Surrey.  
    • Library volunteers want campaigners to drop county council court battle – This is Surrey Today.  “The 12-strong volunteer committee already plans to open the library in Tattenham Crescent on six days as opposed to the current four, although some will be mornings only. Among the 80 volunteers, eight have formerly worked in libraries, including Mrs Sowry, 62, a retired librarian.” [This is an especially illuminating piece showing the difficulty lovers of libraries have in deciding what is best for libraries, and for themselves.  I refuse to condemn either side, although my heart is with those who seek to maintain a proper public service rather than replacing it with the unpaid.  I also greatly fear for the long-term.  Ed.]
  • Trafford – Council plans to run two libraries entirely with volunteers – Third Sector.   “All library services at the two libraries will then be run by volunteers. One paid member of staff will remain at each library to run a separate project that offers advice to local residents on council services including benefits claims, council tax and pothole reporting. However, the paid staff will not work on library services.”
“If the council’s logic were followed through, then every time a paid position became vacant, they could advertise for it to be filled by a volunteer instead of an employee, and then claim that this is not a breach of the Trafford Compact because they are not making anyone redundant. That is clearly absurd. That section of the Compact is about role replacement, not specific individuals.”

  • Wirral – Write for the movies with Marc Gee – Wirral Council (press release).  “On 16th February Leasowe library will host author and playwright Marc Gee who has previously run writing courses for the British Film Institute, BBC and Wirral Metropolitan College. The session runs between 10.00am and 12.00pm and is free and open to all members of the public.”