Today I spoke at Windows on the World: Keeping Them Open – The prospects for public service broadcasting, libraries and arts. Below is the script which I tried to stick to! I had 10-15 minutes to speak and an awful lot to cram in, so I followed the advice of the wise daveyp and aimed for about 20 points that got a minute or two each. Hopefully I was factually accurate and vaguely informative…
Hello! For your viewing pleasure (for the next week), here I am with my best Deer in the Headlights Face, doing a bad job of constructing sentences in a grammatically correct or coherent manner.
(Caption competition…click to link through to video)
Inevitably I didn’t manage to mention any of the stuff I’d swatted up on or talk about how volunteer-run libraries would struggle to be sustainable and meet the needs of communities, eventually closing anyway because the council looks to be set to charge community groups an awful lot of money for the privilege of struggling away with minimal council support for a few months to a year or so, resulting in reduced footfall and issue figures so the council can justify closing the branches with less attention from ever-more-disenfranchised communities and the media. Next time eh.
An emerging way in which local authorities are trying to keep libraries going are through allocations of one-off capital funds. For example, Warwickshire County Council has set aside £100,000 for people to set up community-run libraries. whatsinKenilworth”>The offer includes:
- Warwickshire County Council is setting aside a one-off capital fund of £100,000 to support communities in the setting up their community library
- Where the Council accepts a community library business case, and the library building is owned by the Council, it is prepared in principle to lease the premises to a Community Group at a peppercorn rent for an initial period of one year
- After that, subject to annual review of the services being provided, the lease may continue at a peppercorn rent, or at less than market value, for a period of up to 5 years in total.
- At the end of the 5 year period, a full market rent will be payable
- The tenant will be responsible for all repairs from the outset
- Buildings offered at a peppercorn rent for the first year and then reviewed every year for the first 5 years after which the building would have to be paid for at the market rate.
- Current book stock will be available
You can listen to me talking about whether this is a good idea, here. My main points were:
- We need to be critical about the offer. It’s not necessarily a good compromise
- It’s important for councils to meet their statutory obligations and they need to provide a comprehensive and efficient service. Giving communities £100,000 doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing that
- The system and funding needs to be sustainable – communities need to know where the money will come from in future
- Libraries are complex systems – local and national government don’t seem to appreciate this. It requires more management skills to run libraries than community groups who’ve done it already first anticipated.
- Libraries are about more than books – they’re about getting right information to right people
- Not all good information is on the internet, and not all information on the internet is good
- There is a need to keep expertise in the library, but this comes at a cost – councils have been charging communities for professional support
- We live in an information society – we need libraries more than ever. Councils should be investing in libraries to help citizens find and negotiate information
- Statistics about a decline in library use aren’t accurate
- The majority of children use libraries and this has a demonstrable impact on literacy levels
- People need libraries more than ever – for education, employment and information. We need professionals who can help us with this
- The government can’t shirk its legal responsibilities
What I didn’t mention is that £100,000 really isn’t a lot when you divide it up between the 16 libraries under threat (£6,250 each). I don’t know how much it costs to keep each branch library in Warwickshire running at the moment, but I can give a rough and ready example for Doncaster. Bessacarr Library costs £22,000 a year to run as it is currently. This is our very smallest and cheapest library, in a portacabin. Even if you took out the cost of staff and ran the place with volunteers, took out the rates and charged peppercorn rent, took out the costs of transport (which includes stock deliveries and receiving stock from other branches) – it would still cost about £6,140 per year to run (so that’s the generous council gift of £6,250 pretty much blown). More, if the council refuses to provide access to the council ICT network, and that’s realistically going to be the case because of information security issues. If you want to put in a self-issue machine it may cost £2,000 and then £600-800 a year to maintain. Where’s the rest of the money coming from? Communities? Because I tell you now, people can’t afford it, especially under the coming nightmare situation that’s being inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people. Even setting aside all the issues of equitable access to free, impartial, reputable sources of information provided by trained, professional staff - it’s just not a sustainable model.
I keep coming back to the thought – £18 a year in council tax is more than worth it for the service provided to society through the public library service. 25% of electors in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, even voted for an increase in council tax in order to keep their library running as it is now.
I was interviewed by BBC Radio York this afternoon, about the closure of more than half of North Yorkshire’s libraries.
Listen here, if you fancy. 7 mins 5 seconds in.
Carl Clayton from SINTO gives a breakdown of it on Sintoblog. Thanks for being gentle Carl!