Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Lechlade & District Civic Society

Introduction

This submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is on behalf of the Lechlade & District Civic Society and is intended to contribute to the inquiry into library closures. It addresses two questions “what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century” and “the impact library closures have on local communities”.

The comments are based on the experience gained from Lechlade library being designated for closure by Gloucestershire County Council (GCC).

Matters concerning the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 will be left to others who have the appropriate legal expertise.

Executive Summary

Given that savings must be made to County Council Budgets, they must not be achieved by closing libraries.

Library closures amount to social and intellectual vandalism, the effects of which are irreversible.

Expenditure on libraries can be minimised by employing best practices and entrepreneurial thinking and making use of imaginative collaborations.

It is fatuous to assume that voluntary groups in local communities can do anything more than assist a proper professional core of librarians.

Closures in rural communities are particularly devastating as libraries provide the focal point for vital community activities embracing the educational and social well-being of all age groups, genders, physical abilities, and income levels.

What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service?

1. Libraries should not just be places for lending books or accessing computers. Laudable as these roles are, libraries should be about the broadest possible concept of knowledge—its storage, retrieval, dissemination and, most important of all, its use.

2. Libraries should be in the forefront of understanding and ideas. To suggest that an effective library service could be offered to a local community, if its existing library is closed down, and its patrons be invited to travel to a nearby facility in the name of cost cutting, is disingenuous and completely misses the point of what a library service should provide.

3. There are, however, many possibilities for combining facilities, sharing management, maintenance and running costs and, most importantly, adding value to the services provided. Current GCC policy is totally negative in thinking that libraries are cost centres and therefore can be reduced or eliminated.

4. An efficient library service for the 21st century requires a mind-set that recognises that the service is an indispensable part of the community and must be embedded in that community.

5. There are many examples of best practice in the UK and these should be emulated. Every opportunity should be taken to generate income and share costs. Ideas are many and varies so the fundamental point to be made for the 21st century is that closures are short sighted and not the answer. Every opportunity, which each individual situation offers, must be grasped to mitigate and share costs.

6. It is also completely unrealistic to expect voluntary groups to take over the running of libraries in the 21st century. The implementation of the library service, which meets the revised mind-set outlined above, requires expert professionalism at its heart, encompassing business and entrepreneurial expertise with fundamental librarianship. Voluntary groups in local communities could assist with the latter but libraries in the 21st century will require dedicated and visionary professionals.

The impact library closures have on local communities

7. In a local rural community, such as Lechlade, the library provides an essential resource that is crucial to the vitality of the area. The library provides tangible services such as books, large print books, audio books, DVDs, access to the internet, photocopying, and local maps and information. It also provides “books on prescription” which are self-help publications on sensitive issues such as alcoholism and obesity which are recommended to patients by the town’s medical practice.

8. Situated in the heart of the town it also acts as a local meeting place, as an information centre for local people and visitors and keeps people up-to-date on events in the community such as planning notices and licence applications. The Town Diary, which contains all of the key events in the community, is held in the library. Posters are displayed in the windows promoting events and information of relevance to the community. Additionally, the library hosts numerous group activities. Events for children are run on a weekly basis and informal social networking provides a venue for interaction between all generations in the town. Practical workshops are held which include local crafts, local history, and church groups.

9. Library closure in Lechlade would remove all of the above activities from the life of the town and the impact would be to tear the heart out of the community as well as remove the only tangible symbol of the benefits of a literary activity.

10. Older people are especially dependent on the library as the town is poorly served by public transport which could provide access to library facilities elsewhere. Similarly, school children are dependent on the library for access to books which are crucial in developing and maintaining their literacy levels. The Summer Reading Programme is hugely popular with local school children and parents alike. The success of the scheme has been cited by OFSTED as “a positive stimulus to maintaining reading levels” in their report on the local primary school.

11. Were the library in Lechlade to be closed, all the above attributes would be irreplaceable and lost to the local community. The impact would fall most heavily on the young and old.

12. Whilst the above relates specifically to Lechlade, it also illustrates the impact that library closures would have on local communities in general.

December 2011

Prepared 5th November 2012