Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Newnham Library Support Group

LIBRARY CLOSURE—NEWNHAM ON SEVERN, GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Newnham on Severn Library is one of the 10 libraries in Gloucestershire, which were threatened with county library withdrawal from the library service. Newnham supported the Public Interest Lawyers in the challenge they successfully made to the Gloucestershire County Council proposals.

Background

Newnham is a village set in a rural part of the Forest of Dean district of Gloucestershire. It has a population of 1,037 according to the last census. 23.4% are children which is larger than the Gloucestershire average of 18.6%. 23.4% are people who have reached pensionable age. Again this is higher than the Gloucestershire average of 21.1%. 15% of households in Newnham have no car or van. Gloucester is 11 miles to the north and Lydney, the nearest town on the bus route, is nearly eight miles to the south.

1. Newnham library is well supported. Gloucester County Council figures show that in 2009–10 the library had 7,740 visits and issued 11,225 books. These figures place it in third position in the county ratings in relation to size of population.

2. Older people make good use of the library for books and large-print books. For this group access to the Internet, with help provided to use it, is often only available at the library. This is important at a time when many services are increasingly only available on the Internet.

3. School children without computers at home make use of the library computers and the help they receive there. Newnham’s summer reading programmes are aimed at school children and have been important in maintaining the literacy levels of children during the long summer holidays. The programmes keep interest in reading alive during these months.

4. Those on low incomes also make use of the library computers. Job-hunting, looking for accommodation and looking for transport are all becoming more difficult without Internet access.

5. As well as books and Internet access, the library also has photocopying facilities—indeed the only facility in Newnham to offer A3 photocopying which those working from home find invaluable.

6. The library has a good collection of local books—historical as well as those dealing with Newnham and the Forest today. These are of interest to resident and visitor alike. The Forest of Dean does attract many visitors and the library is an important information point.

7. Newnham library is also an important meeting place. For example, the local youth drama group meets there—important in an area where there is little provided for young people. It is a more informal meeting place for young mothers and the old.

8. The library is an important asset to the commercial success of the village giving added value to the High Street and a reason for surrounding villages to visit Newnham.

9. The Grange, a Steiner community situated on the edge of the village, is home to a large number of disabled people who make full use of the facilities in Newnham and who are a much valued part of the Newnham community.

10. The responses of the Newnham community to the Newnham Parish Plan, to our own library survey and to our public meeting all produced a high level of support for maintaining Newnham library. We feel it is vital it remains part of the statutory Gloucestershire library system, especially for those library tasks which are more cost-efficient when implemented centrally and so that it can be managed by a professionally qualified librarian. If required there is sufficient support for some sort of community involvement. The Judicial Review supported our view that a community run library is not a suitable replacement for a professionally managed service.

11. There is also the question as to what happens to that portion of the residents’ council tax which goes directly to fund the library if in fact residents are forced to run the library themselves. Are we expected to pay twice? We are aware that our County Council has reduced its annual book stock fund from just over £1.2 million four years ago to just over £330,00 last year.

12. We appreciate that since the passing of the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 much has changed. The role of libraries in educating and providing information for the population, was much more critical before the days of the Internet. We would argue that the role of libraries in providing a link to the digital world for the old, for the young and for the disadvantaged in the community is also critical. Books and the Internet complement each other and those skills learnt in handling information in book form are essential for efficient and discerning use of the Internet.

Summary

The proposed closure of Newnham library will hit all in our community and especially our groups of young, old and disadvantaged. With the emphasis on the “big society” libraries are ideally placed to play a major role. They already provide an information point and a meeting place for a wide cross-section of residents. We hope a future can be secured for libraries in rural areas where they play such a key role in their communities.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012