Library Service – and now the truth

Rumours of library closures have been flying for some time. However the whole truth (or most of it), which the Leveller got hold of last week, has been formally published earlier today. The formal decision may have been taken today, but the truth is that the decision was all but inevitable and has been on the cards for nearly a month. It is disappointing therefore that official statements that we have carried from Somerset County Council have, it now transpires, been carefully worded to ensure the truth was hidden in plain site.

The clever bit, is that in the first instance SCC are not closing libraries down, merely withdrawing all the staff and resources and inviting communities to pay to run them themselves. Now SCC are not actually saying even this much right now, but you may want to take that prediction and see if it comes to pass.

As of now this is SCC will say:

“In summary, under the proposals, 15 of our 34 library buildings would be seeking community involvement to remain open. Where this is not possible, services would instead be provided either through outreach in community venues or through additional mobile library stops.

For 7 of our libraries, the County Council is consulting on two alternative options – either to seek community involvement to maintain library buildings or to keep existing library services as they currently are.”

We won’t be told which until the start of the consultation period.

This is not new. The editor of the Leveller was involved in a campaign to save ten rural libraries from a similar fate in Cambridgeshire in 2003.

Do not for a minute believe that a mobile library service can make up for the loss of your library. Even SCC do not believe this. The successful conversion of Glastonbury Library into a multi service unit with a fully functioning library shows what can be done. But the building is vital to the success of a library.

In Cambridgeshire the county council recommended people accept “book cafes” something that proved to be very unpopular and utterly unworkable. Neither a sensible place to borrow books, nor successful as cafes the idea proved to be deeply flawed. Those communities that opted for that route, lost their library.

It is possible to run a successful community library. 15 years later the one in Somersham is a shining example of what can be done.

But tax payers should remember this. It may not be the fault of SCC that they are out of cash (and it isn’t) but you will be paying twice under this scheme. The community will pay once for the costs of running a community library. Then in your council tax you will pay again to SCC so they can fail to provide the service they used to. It is colloquially known as “double taxation.”

In the meantime a public consultation will start on 29 January and run for 12 weeks (ending 22 April) and invite members of the public, businesses and organisations for their views. It is vital that communities that want a library, mobilise themselves and get maximum impact during the consultation period.

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