If anyone is in doubt about the determination of small communities to support proper library services, they need look no further than Aldbourne (population 1,800), Wiltshire.
They were faced with their library losing its library manager, Trish Rushen, who was to be replaced by volunteers under their county council’s cost-cutting plans.
They have voted nearly three to one to raise their council tax by about £7 year to retain the services of Ms Rushen. Only just over a quarter of the electorate voted in a referendum, but the result shows that only 102 people balloted against.
Here in Debenham, Suffolk, where I live (just a little bigger than Aldbourne) there is a similar determination to retain a proper library, in the face of our county council’s plans to hand libraries over to communities.
Aldbourne now faces double taxation, paying a parish precept for a service which others in Wiltshire get through the county’s share of their council tax. It is an unfair solution but it demonstrates the value people place on their libraries.
Hundreds of people marched through Ipswich on Saturday, April 2, to demand that the threat to Suffolk libraries be removed.
It seems that Suffolk library users are the guinea pigs in an experiment. Library staff in the county have been asking their senior management questions about the plans to divest libraries to communities and getting answers.
This Q&A from earlier this month is from about 60 closely typed pages which have been released as a result of a Freedom of Information request:
Can you tell us of any examples in other industries or government where this rather fragmented model of service delivery runs successfully?
(reply 14/3/11) This is a novel approach, developed in Suffolk. Other library services have put libraries into community control, but have not attempted to retain them in a network of service points.
This is the penultimate response in the documents (it is less confusing to read them from the bottom) which contain a lot of information which is likely to be useful to any group making an expression of interest in running a library.
The PDF documents can be downloaded here. Q&As July-Nov 2010 and Q&As December 2010- March 2011. They are also available at Wikisuffolk. I will be reading them carefully and posting other extrcacts in the next few days.
Bungay poet, Luke Wright, was supporting the campaign to save his local library on Saturday. You can read his thoughts on Suffolk County Council’s library proposals and the full text of his poem An Ash of Dewey Decimals on his website.
I will be adding a further video from Bungay later.
The Save Doncaster Libraries campaign has obtained the checklist below through a Freedom of Information request to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It comes from a presentation made by the MLA to the Donacaster council but their advice to other councils is likely to be very similar.
The statutory requirement of the Public Libraries Act to deliver a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. This requires understanding of:
- The council’s local priorities and financial constraints
- The profile and needs of different local communities
- Delivery models and best practice from elsewhere
- Comparative impact of alternative approaches to delivering the service
What resources are available and how does this match the needs?
- Have you analysed and considered need and demand?
specific needs of adults and young people?; all ages? (and what contribution are communities able and willing to make?)
- What are the needs of those living and working and studying in the area?
- How accessible will the service be- transport / physical access?
- Have the communities been consulted? How?
- What are the views of users / what do we know re views of non users?
- Have you done an Equality Impact Assessment?
- What implications are there for other strategies – info from other partners?
- Are there other partnerships that can be tapped into?
- Will the service be adequate – how can it be better used?
How efficient is the current service?
- Are the buildings fit for purpose in terms of access, condition etc?
- Can the facilities be used more flexibly?
- What other delivery partnerships could be formed inside and outside Doncaster? (Y&H/other similar authorities)
- Who else is serving the needs of the target communities?
- Is the current mode of delivery both meeting the demand and cost efficient?
- Is a physical presence needed?
- What is being done to encourage use (and maximise income?)
- What scope is there for combining services?
You can see the full FoI request and response at Save Doncaster Libraries.
A report in today’s East Anglian Daily Times demonstrates the confusion that is resulting from Suffolk County Council’s failure to make a public statement about changes in the basis of its consultation on the future of libraries.
The morning paper reports on events at Debenham, where a 28 hour read-in was held and a protest in defence of Stowmarket library.
In the consultation documents libraries are in two groups. The first is county libraries, which everyone belived were safe. Stowmarket is one of those.
The second group is community libraries, smaller ones including Debenham, which would only remain open if the community came forward with plans to take them over.
Nearly a month ago the council told campainers for libraries that the categorisation had not worked and was being abandoned. Instead they talked about three core libraries, Ipswich County, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
Since then there has been silence from Endeavour House. They have made no formal announcement of the change but have not denied what they said at the meeting with campaigners, nor clarified it. They refused to make any changes in the consultation.
This leaves people in places like Stowmarket in a surreal limbo.
Town councillor Duncan MacPherson, who helped organise the demonstration, told theEADT:
It went very well and there was a lot of people of all ages, including a good number of children.
The crucial thing is that we don’t want the library classification to change. At the moment we hope it will stay open – but we don’t know what will happen to staff and services.
It is totally unfair to leave communities in doubt. It makes it look as if the county council itself does not know what it is doing. The situation needs to be clarified urgently.
Users of Debenham library were asked why they value the library during a 28-hour read-in to support continuence of a library in the Suffolk village in the face of county council spending cuts.
James Hargrave from Stradbroke has an extensive story about the read-in, with photos and video, at his blog. I will be posting my reflections later today.
Until this week I had never got around to finding out more about the house called the “Old Library” near where I live. It turns out it was once the home of the Debenham Mechanics Institute library and reading room.
But a little online research found mention that in the 1860s it found an early home in the Market Cross, the best known building in the village. Originally believed to be a market building it became a school in the 17th century and then lay empty in the mid-19th century after a new school had been built.
Debenham institute was one of many around England formed by people who believed that eduction was hugely important and access to books and papers was an essential part of that.
So, I found myself in Ipswich Institute, the only library of its kind remaining in Suffolk. And on the shelves John Glyde’s Suffolk in the 19th Century, had much to day about libraries. It is based on data from the 1851 census and it is no wonder Glyde was passionate about libraries: he had left school at the age of nine. It would be fascinating to know more about him.
This is how the chapter on Literary and Scientific Institutions starts:
WE have seen that Agricultural Suffolk is celebrated for Schools of inferior quality, and, as may be expected, institutions for carrying on the means of instruction among adults are neither numerous nor flourishing in this county. Newspapers and cheap publications have but a small circulation in Suffolk. The educative influence arising from the contact of mind with mind is denied to a scattered population, and the agricultural mind in this district lags in the rear of a large portion of England.
In 1851 Suffolk was a very different place, but in that last quoted sentence he echoes concern we have at present. The closing of rural libraries would deprive many of that “contact of mind”.
When he wrote there were 20 libraries in Suffolk: Beccles, Bures, Bury (2) Clare, Framlingham, Haverhill, Ipswich (4), Leiston, Lowestoft, Melford, Needham, Stowmarket, Sudbury, Woodbridge and Yoxford.
At Debenham, he writes that an attempt had been made to form an institute, but Bungay, “to its disgrace, has no library for the people”.
Suffolk was not well provided and Glyde tells us:
By the Census Educational Report, we find in the West Riding of York, one Literary Institute to every 867 persons: in Suffolk there is one to every 22,481 persons.
These institute libraries were small and had very few women members. They required subscriptions and generally reached the already educated tradesmen and middle classes.
The chapter is fascinating with much detail including the numbers of members and books for each library as well as the subscription rates. I have scanned it and it can be downloaded here.
Suffolk which is talking to an American library services company rejected suggestions of a management buy-out by county library staff on the grounds that it was “not local enough”.
Several sources tell similar stories. In one, the idea of a management buy-out was floated in a staff meeting to be rejected on the “not local enough” grounds.
In another, the idea of staff forming a Library Trust was suggested. The answer was “No” because libraries which might be divested needed to be taken over an run on an individual community basis.
It appears that a high-level decision had been taken within the County Council that no librarian-run county-wide solution would meet the New Strategic Direction policy of divesting the running of county services.
As a result, there was no further investigation or development of management buy-out/trust ideas. Now there is anger among library staff that the county council, after refusing to take their ideas seriously, is discussing the future with an American for-profit business.
Quite what the County Council is now considering as a solution for library services is unknown. This confusion follows the abandonment of the county and community libraries classification (counsultations documents), which suggested 15 “county libraries” were safe while 29 “community libraries” would have to be run by communities or be closed.
There is now talk of three core libraries at Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
LSSI, an American library services outsourcing company, has been in talks with Suffolk County Council.
A comment from LSSI suggests they are interested in taking over small libraries as well as the larger ones. Stuart Fitzgerald of LSSI, told the East Anglian Daily Times:
We want to ensure that the libraries become real community hubs – some of the smaller libraries only open about 20 hours a week. We would ensure they are open when people want to use them and can be used for meetings or other community events.
Footnote: Neil Clark in the Guardian writes a comment article under the heading “Don’t privatise our libraries” while Jame Hargrave blogs on the local situation saying, “Now it looks like all of the libraries could potentially be privatised.”