Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Lynne Coppendale

Below please find my submission for the current inquiry into library closures. Please note I use my local public library service to illustrate more general points.

A comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century is one which does not mix the format of the content with actual access to content. In summary access to all manner for reading and information material (comprehensive coverage) in conjunction with professional, experienced and knowledgeable staff (efficient) to enable people to access the information.

The creators of information would range from numerous editors of an encyclopaedic work, to a local resident produced poster about a local fete. All such information has its place in a library service.

Past trends in information provision can be used to guide theoretical projection but overall room needs to be given for change regarding both format and social enjoyment of information and reading materials. A library service needs to be proactive not reactive and at present the harsh cuts, coming on top of 6–7 years of continual financial cuts and 8–10 years of structural reorganisation have permitted Doncaster Libraries to be minimally proactive and forcibly reactive. Strong leadership, with the ability to fund and train for the future, and given time to network links locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to remain current and involved in information world developments is vital in good library services.

A Library service cannot be totally customer-driven. A prime factor in information provision is that the customer cannot know what is already available to them, how to use different formats of what is available and even if they are asking the right questions to get the answer they may not even know they are looking for. All personnel in such a service require training to appropriate levels to assist their customers; in addition the same information should be reliably accessible in differing formats to suit the customer’s ability and needs. Such personal service cannot be provided online as the nuances of tone, body language and time for consideration during a discussion are lost without face-to-face contact. Thus is would be a mistake to lose the physical space of a Library as the latest format is excitedly jumped upon. This is not to say nothing changes, the physical space provision could change, but the availability of that space should not.

In short it is not possible to say what the Library Service will look like in 10, let alone 80 years time. But it is possible to say whom such a service should serve and to allow for equal access to such a service.

In Doncaster the impact of library closures on local communities has been all but ignored. From the start of the process inadequate consideration has been given to which areas may lose their libraries, which may be forced to take upon the onerous task of running them as a “community-run” resource and which retain their service fully funded. Mention has been made of developing the provision left (12 Libraries) but with the Cultural Quarter excluding a new Central Library and no plans being available regarding alternatives let alone plans, this is unknown. When a questionnaire was finally sent to residents (after two call-ins to Overview and Scrutiny) the council decided which dwellings should be included (this was not comprehensive or met the requirements of those mentioned in the 1964 Act as persons working or educated in the 14 threatened libraries were not included, nor was the questionnaire offered in anything but high literacy level, English, paper format) and a covering letter from the Mayor, Peter Davies, insinuated that any non-returned questionnaires would be assumed to mean the people receiving said questionnaire did not want a library, and within the questionnaire the only options were those already decided upon prior to consultation.

In a borough where the NEET percentage runs at 25 and redundancies in both public and private sector areas are on-going, this means a lack of access to the one equitable, non-judgmental and supportive place where people can apply for jobs, self-improve or access/continue with educational and/or self-improvement courses, widen their social awareness and community-participation or just relax quietly with a good book! Local communities will be separated, excluded, abandoned and ignored. Access to local democratic engagement, for example in such as Doncaster’s recent Mayoral referendum, will become a costly paper exercise for which little or no guidance will be given, vital as Doncaster also has over 30% adults with low literacy levels.

Doncaster’s Cabinet and those responsible for the programme of change in out libraries make continual mention of Equalities Impact Assessment within their literature, but seem to have not actually been considered, rhetoric but no substance.

The planned and happening library closures make a mockery of the Libraries and Museums Act 1964, relying across the board as they all seem to that as long as they say a service is available and use the rhetoric of the Act, the substance of what is on offer is irrelevant. Whilst the Act appears deliberately vague to ensure room for growth and change in the provision of the services which the Act made Statutory, this does not mean such interpretation should result in the bare minimal being offered and the fault for non-take-up being that of the customer. The customer cannot be blamed for non-use if this non-use is due to inaccessibility of venue and/or resource and/or assistance. At present it seems the Charteris report is being ignored in its clear warnings of local responsibility and the Act is being interpreted as loosely as possible.

The effectiveness off the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under this Act have been called upon continually during the last 12–18 months, and have thus far been untested. The Secretary of State can force local governments to abide by the Act more honourably, to tighten the provisions of the Act and ensure required consultations are complete and that populations are not adversely affected by change plans. The Secretary of State can ensure provisions remain equitable to all residents and workers, but thus far the Secretary of State seems to have washed his hands of this responsibility and made no attempt to listen to the vast majority of people who have protested in numerous ways the decimation of the Library Service in the UK. In conclusion there has been no action of which to test the Secretary of State’s effectiveness so comment on this point is impossible.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012