Library closures

Written evidence submitted by the Save Preston Library Campaign (LIB 031)

Summary:

· Preston Library, located in the London Borough of Brent, is a vital resource for the local community, and its closure is an acute loss;

· The effects of the closure provide a typical case study of the effects experience in an urban community, particularly a multi-ethnic one such as Preston, in Brent.

· The library loss has serious detrimental effects upon children, from nursery age, through primary to secondary school and sixth form;

· Many residents of all ages used the library to assist them with learning English and developing their education;

· Members of the community who have health problems and disabilities which are substantial, but not severe enough to qualify for the housebound library service, are severely affected and will not travel to other libraries; This includes local people who use wheelchairs;

· The theoretical ability to travel to another library in the borough is much more difficult in practice than would be assumed without detailed examination;

· Whatever enhancements are made to other libraries in the borough, people will not wish to make the expedition, whereas previously they could drop into their local library on the way home from work, school or shopping, so that library usage will fall.

· Brent Council made the decision to close six libraries without proper consideration of the effects upon the community, and without any effective plan to mitigate those effects;

· We would like the Secretary of State to intervene, to hold an urgent public enquiry to examine whether the 1964 Libraries Act is being complied with in Brent, before irrevocable action is taken.

Evidence:

1. Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence concerning libraries. We are a group of people who are concerned about the library service in our area [The London Borough of Brent], and the effect of the permanent closure of half of the libraries, leaving our area very poorly served.

2. Our Preston Library is in Carlton Avenue East, HA9. We will concentrate here on the effect of this closure upon our local community. Although the Select committee is looking at libraries nationally, we feel our library serves as a good case study of the issues surrounding library closures in urban areas.

Preston Library

3. Preston library was purpose built in 1964 following demand from the local community. It is level access throughout, well lit and well located for the community it serves. Within 150 yards are two supermarkets, banks, doctors, a post office and a wide variety of retail outlets. It is five minutes walk from a primary school and a secondary school is in the same street. It was internally refurbished around two years ago and the building is in good condition. It is served by three bus routes and two tube stations.

4. Preston library is efficient, as it has the highest issues per visit of any Brent library, has the highest ratio of books issued to stock and it is the second most cost-effective by cost per issue.  

Library users:

5. As well as the normal range of users, librarians reported that Preston library was used regularly by five local primary schools. Parents also brought their children there directly after school or nursery, on the way home. The library is also used by secondary school-children, particularly on Saturdays and at exam times, as a quiet place to read, study and revise.

6. Local residents also use the library to search online for jobs, to read books and newspapers and to find community information, there being no local CAB or other information service. Elderly people congregate there to read and meet each other. This includes a range of people with mild to major disabilities, who do not feel able to travel far.

7. Preston is a multi-ethnic community, the second most ethnically diverse in the country, and many report that they use the library to assist with learning English. Children in the nearest primary school speak around 46 languages, and 88% do not have English as their first language.

8. There is little else in the way of community facilities and no other library in the vicinity. Car ownership is the sixth lowest in London, and way below the national average.

9. Deprivation has increased since the 2001 census, with more properties in private rental or being used as temporary accommodation. Brent’s borough profile states: "New pockets of deprivation have appeared in the north of the Borough in historically affluent areas of Preston, Kenton and Queensbury have all become more deprived." Brent is the 35th most deprived borough in England.

10. Loss of Preston Library: When closure was threatened, many local school-children wrote to the council to ask that it be kept open. Their words speak for themselves:

"The most important thing for me is to borrow as many books as possible to improve my English because my mum does not speak English to me...Also, I really enjoy visiting the library with my whole class because we learn together in a different way."

  

‘I go to the library every Monday to research on the Tudors.  It has all the books I need such as Henry VIII and his wives.  I need to research for our rap-and-play script. Please do not close Preston Library.’

 

"When I need help for my history homework I used the library and if my internet’s not working I use the computer."

 

"I love reading the football books such as Football academy and soccer squad... I like helping to carry the books and watching DVDs.  Me and my brother like reading the encyclopaedia and Guinness world records.  My mum gets books for my baby brother and he learns new words."

  

"I like the library because we can print something out and you can help me with my homework"

 

"This library is important to me because it has all types of books that are interesting and the school will have to take the coach to get to other libraries but for the Preston library it’s only a five minute walk.  Please don’t close it down."

  

"Many people don’t have enough money to buy another book after they finish one. If this facility is gone then people will no longer have access to free books. The library is also a quiet place, students can take advantage of this;

  

"Closing our library would be closing our community.  The library is the centre of our community. ".

 

"When I was young, I didn’t read books. Nothing helped except the library."

 

"I am writing to you to not close down the library.  It is important to me because of the summer reading challenge which encourages children to read. It is the only library my parents can take me to easily.   I can go there after school. Save Preston Library!"

 

"The library is my favourite place.  Last summer I did the space hop. I got a medal and I read 6 books."

 

"I am 7 years old.  Recently I found out that Preston library is going to be closing down.  This makes me feel depressed because I like going there to read all the delighted books."

 

"My whole family needs to go to this library: my little brother needs to learn English, my sister needs an Atlas to find countries, I need to go there to read science books, my mum needs to get a cook book and my dad needs sometimes to read dictionaries."

 

"I enjoy going to the library because it is a peaceful place."

11. Over 6,000 people signed a petition for the library to be kept open, and since its closure large numbers have also written to the DCMS concerning the effects it has had. Over 80% of respondents to the Council’s consultation did not want the libraries to close.

12. People who tried to visit the library after it closed [including children] have described what they came there to do [in their own words]:

· To get books for my father & information on audio reading/tap books. Also take my mum because they train on how to use the computer. Mum looks forward to it.

· to read daily newspapers and get and renew books

· I am a student. I regularly come to borrow books and study as it was a great atmosphere for this.

· To look at reference section for my job, & to use computer & borrow books and DVDs.

· Take children to choose books, rhyme time, holiday activities & crafts.

· I am at school. I go to Preston library to read interesting books & do some research.

· Went at story time at 2.15 to encourage reading for my children

· Introducing my 14month old to our local library & all the wonderful facilities that libraries offer

· Doing my school work and assessment with my friends

· Photocopying & internet

· To read newspapers in my lunch hour

· Finding books on Peru and thrillers & reading papers on a Saturday

· A level course work

· Reading, use of computer with my niece & grandparents

13. The library is a vital resource for many families and groups within the community; uses include :

· Mothers & toddlers groups / knitting group/ Under-5s story-time

· Schoolchildren – homework research/ Chatterbooks, Extreme reading group for 11-14 year olds/Reading Challenge and other summer schemes/ tutoring space/ Reading Support with volunteers. The community location encourages young people to develop a library use habit that will continue into adulthood.

· Adult education support

· English language study – large number of local families where English is not the first language have a strong need for easy access to books;

· Computer-access, DVD loan, photocopying services are in strong demand among low-income groups;

· Residents with mobility or sight problems have a particular need for a local library with easy access and a good selection of large-print books. Preston library is fully accessible, with the entrance and all parts completely level.

14. Residents who came to the library after it closed gave the following reasons for not going to other libraries:

· They are further to get to and will require me to take my car, whereby parking becomes an issue, due to cost and availability.

· I am a care person and this is my local library. I am unable to go too far as I have to do other work in the house. My father is very disappointed. He is 82.

· I work long hours. Preston library is walking distance and I can go there straight from work then walk home. I can’t get buses to all the other libraries, they may be closed by the time I get there.

· I used to get wonderful books. I cannot go out without an adult.

· My parents don’t have time to take me, and my mum is mostly sick

· I am 70 years old and this is difficult

· It is too far, no parking. I had a friendly personal service here. I could get my study books for university very quickly.

· I am currently unemployed and cannot afford the transport costs

· I am a carer to my disabled nan. I don’t have time to travel this far away.

· I have no time for that because I have four children to take care of and I need my local library. It is so important for all my family.

· What is going to happen to my classes on the computer & to my embroidery classes? I am disabled and it is not easy to go by bus, I cannot walk a long distance

· My school library is noisy. I can’t study elsewhere because they are too far away.

· I have to plan ahead the day. I will go there with my 3 children, 6 years & under. It will be very expensive to pay the bus. It will be very hard work especially when it is cold.

· I am on DLA due to bad health. I walk with a stick

· Too far. My daughter is in a wheelchair. It is impossible.

15. Local geography illustrates why it is difficult for young families to travel to other libraries after school. Locally there are six secondary schools, with around 9,300 pupils on the way home at the end of the school day,

16. The former DCMS guidance on library standards suggests one mile is the maximum distance that it should be necessary to travel to a library in urban areas. Many Preston area residents now have to travel much further than this, often well over two miles.

17. At school closing time, pavements and bus stops throng with excited 11-18-year-olds; buses are mostly standing-room-only, (if you are able to get on one); local public transport at that time is ‘a scrum’! Getting on with a pushchair and young children is a daunting prospect, yet will be the only way for many of getting to a library with Preston closed. In this situation, even the permissible 1.5 miles to a library can be too much.

18. The Council proposes to put a new £3m library into its new Civic Centre, two bus-rides away. This will undoubtedly benefit Council staff, but for the public, access will be inhibited by its extreme proximity to Wembley Stadium and Arena. These have some 150 events each year, with attendance of up to 90,000. Buses are diverted and up to 37,500 passengers per hour can pour out of the nearby station. It would be a great challenge for a parent with children in tow to get there at these times, or for a pensioner to negotiate the crowds. There is no apparent evidence that people will want to travel to this new library in these conditions, however smart the building is.

19. The Council operates a book delivery service for housebound users. However many of Preston’s users, who have difficulty travelling due to disabilities, are unlikely to be disabled enough to qualify for this service. Those who just managed to walk to the local library have lost the service altogether, and will be increasingly isolated, due to loss of the social contact which library used involved. The ability to browse the shelves is also lost.

20. Schools: Preston Park Primary School lost its own library years ago, to accommodate extra children. It has 800+ pupils aged 3-11. Normal practice was to walk a class of children to Preston library each week. The children loved the extra books, and many of them joined the library.

21. It simply would not be practical to take them to another library by bus, and the school says the cost of a weekly coach would be prohibitive. Visiting an alternative library would take a huge amount of curriculum time compared with a quick walk up the road, and would require risk assessments etc.

22. The school asked the Council if alternative provision was available for its children, but was told that there is no school outreach service, despite the Council website, which says there is.

23. Due to a rising child population, local schools are expanding providing a potentially greater demand on library services. Preston Manor High School, in the same road as Preston Library, is currently building a new primary school which will have 60 extra pupils each year.

24 Teenagers commonly use Preston library for revision at exam time. At the town hall library, they are so numerous that they spill out into the rest of the building. The vast reduction in library local library space means there is nowhere to revise at weekends or after school. Even where school libraries open for a while after school, this is often impractical. Many travel a distance to school, and do not want to come home in the dark. It is much easier, out of school hours, to just walk to their local library, where they can sit quietly with their friends away from the bustle at home.

25. The Council reports that it is looking for extra study space for teenagers who currently use Willesden Library when that too closes, but no corresponding effort is being made for Preston residents. The whole process seems arbitrary.

26. Library hours and usage: The Council has increased the hours in some libraries. The reality of the Brent Library Transformation Project is: -

· 50% of Brent libraries have closed.

· Only 3 of the remaining 6 libraries have actually increased their hours.

· There are 23 hours of additional library opening times compared to the terrible loss of 218 hours from closed libraries.

27. Little in the way of alternatives to closure has properly been considered by the council. Brent should have properly assessed the consequences of closure, including the effect of closing Willesden, its biggest library, for two years, plus the lease expiry of Kingsbury library in 2013.

28. The Council assumed that following closure, users would just go to the other libraries, but this is clearly not the case. Since the closures, library usage in the borough has fallen considerably, with year on year reductions borough wide showing an 18% fall in visits and a massive 35% in book issues.

29. All this highlights the need for the reinstatement of a set of standards by which a library service should be judged. The previous standards are not adhered to in Brent, so there needs to be some system of monitoring or enforcement.

30. Local shops, businesses and services have supported the campaign to keep the library, because it helps support the Preston Road commercial centre. Many combine a trip to the library with a visit to our small but vital shopping centre, or the doctor, post office etc.

31. In justifying library closures the Council has made much of extra services to be offered from the ones that remain open. This includes the ‘ability to book a computer online’. That anyone able to book online must already have access to a computer, but that those without access will be unable to book, seems to have escaped them. However, booking is pointless if you cannot manage the journey to the library. The point also applies to the ebooks service, which is not enough for those who have no home computer, these residents need to go to a local library to borrow a real book.

32. The DCMS has been asked to intervene by a large number of residents who have sent letters over a period of months, but it has not done so. The DCMS has all the letters, plus copies of the children’s letters, and presumably will make them available to the Select Committee.

33. In conclusion, above is example of how libraries are used in an urban area. People are less likely to have cars and, so any public transport difficulties are particularly important. However for those that do have cars, Preston library was valued because, unlike some of the other libraries, it has parking spaces.

34. If library usage has to become an expedition, rather than an activity done on the way home, many will give up altogether. The loss of one of the last community facilities in the Preston area will irreparably damage the existing community cohesion which we need to sustain in the hard economic times ahead. The removal of our local library is an acute loss to this community. It is urgent that the DCMS intervene before the Council disposes of the buildings and makes reopening impossible for ever.

January 2012

Prepared 6th February 2012