Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Friends of Goring Library

We have just been through a rather unsatisfactory consultation on the Oxfordshire County Council Library Service. The brief points and questions noted below are based on this experience.

Comprehensive: means covering completely or broadly; inclusive, wide ranging.

Efficient: means productive of desired effects, esp with minimum waste.

These terms are somewhat in conflict when considering libraries.

It is essential to consider the whole service rather than just activities associated with the library and the issue and return of books, a situation we are experiencing with the consultation in Oxfordshire.

It is essential to consider users and their needs rather than concentrate on just numbers which can be a consequence of concentrating on efficiency.

Care must be taken to ensure that particular groups or section of the community are not unduly disadvantaged and that comprehensive does mean completely or broadly.

In situations where it is proposed that volunteers replace paid staff in order to make cost savings can a volunteer provide, or assist in providing, a comprehensive service in all or any libraries?

What would be a sensible maximum ratio of volunteer to trained staff?

The DCMS web site stated that the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 sets out the statutory duty for all local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, set in the context of local needs: that is specifically of those who live, work and study in the local area.

This immediately introduces difficulties with definitions eg what is meant by local needs and what is meant by local area. In the case of Oxfordshire, those who live, work shop and study in the local area has meant an estimate of footfall within a half mile radius of a library without any proven connection between this estimate of footfall and local library need.

Local area means within a half mile radius of the library which removes it totally from the rural/urban context.

The dictionary definition of local gives:

characteristic of or belonging to a particular place; not general or widespread; and

primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district.

What is meant by needs and how can this be measured? The present demand on a library is the satisfaction of present need. Changes to this need will generally be slow and brought about by demographic features (changes in schools’ populations, housing estates etc) and technological changes (e-books, changes in transient populations and their demands for internet access). Estimates can be made of these factors and applied the present demand.

Is the library serving a rural community more or less valuable than one serving an urban community?

Can urban libraries be treated differently from rural libraries?

Perhaps we need a description of what we could expect a library to provide in both the urban and rural environments.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012