Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Reynolds Family

This is a response to the DCMS inquiry into library closures from The Reynolds family. My wife and I are American but have indefinite leave to remain in the UK. We live in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, a town of approximately 2,500 people which serves as a hub for the surrounding 10 Parishes; rural communities whose total population is about equal to that of Wiveliscombe. I have a 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage who has duel citizenship and splits her time between my home and her mother’s located four miles away in a small hamlet with no amenities. The library in Wiveliscombe was threatened with closure but Somerset County Council rescinded this attempt in the face of overwhelming opposition from the community. My daughter and I visit the library almost every day it is open and my wife is an active member of the Friends of Wiveliscombe Library group that was created in response to the threat of the library’s closure. These are our views.

Definition of comprehensive service.

Definition of efficient service.

Ideas for structural reorganization.

1. Comprehensive

“Complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something.”

The library system, to be comprehensive, should include the following:

Libraries should be open to the public seven days a week, excluding holidays. This would allow members of the public who work to visit it.

They should be open some evenings.

They should not charge for books. Nor should they charge for reserving books, computer use, DVD or CD loan. All usage and services should be free, except copying and paper charges.

They should have public toilets.

They should have night book depositories for public convenience.

They should include a main library and satellite libraries.

Meeting and group areas belonging to the library should be easily accessible and open to the public; there should be no charge for reservation of these areas.

Late fees/fines should be minimal and fair. An honest library service does not use late fees as an income stream. They are merely there to convince patrons to return books and items in a timely fashion.

They should have a wide selection of national and regional magazines and newspapers. Also a selection of topical magazines and periodicals. By “wide” I do not mean six or seven. I mean 20 or 30 at each library.

They should have a rich and varied book stock. This stock should be replenished with new books as they come out, and should not suffer from the stagnation we currently see in branch libraries around Somerset. Here is something that never happens: I see a book in the books pages of a newspaper or magazine, I walk over to the library, find it in the stack, and check it out. The branch libraries should have stock of recently reviewed books and bestsellers, not just sagas from yesteryear, potted local histories, and the leftovers from the main library. The goal of the system should be “access”, not “let’s see if we can make people pay money to reserve books by not having any book stock at the branch libraries”.

The main library should be open all days and nights and weekends. The satellite libraries should be open some evenings and weekend hours. A typical US library, even satellite branches, operates from Monday—Thursday 9 am–8 pm, Friday and Saturday to 6 pm, and a few hours on Sunday. The main library is only closed on national holidays. For the most part the satellite libraries in the US are comprehensive in their own right. American libraries do not charge for reservations, or for DVDs/CDs, or for computer use. The late fees are not prohibitive. If, by comprehensive, you refer to the definition above, then American libraries are certainly more comprehensive than English libraries. Therefore, English libraries, to approach “comprehensive” would have to at least match the services and hours of the American libraries. Currently that is not the case.

2. Efficient

“Achieving maximum productivity with minimum effort or expense.”

The library system, to be more efficient, should attempt the following:

Night deposit boxes. This is a simple and straightforward system that has been in place in the US for over 40 years, without any trouble. See above.

No return line. This would improve productivity. You do not need librarians checking in books. This is a waste of librarians’ and patrons’ time. They have not “checked in” books in my lifetime in the US. Patrons drop them either at the returns desk or in the deposit boxes. This frees up librarians to check out books. There has never been any complaint or difficulty in the history of the American library system with this arrangement. I do not understand why the English libraries are so insistent about “checking in” books. I have never received an intelligent or satisfactory answer. The only answer is that an elimination of a queue would just make your heads explode. We do not need to stand and wait in line to return our books. See definition of “efficient”. I really don’t know how you can argue against it when it has been working in the US, without a hitch or even a murmur of objection, for decades. Libraries across the nation are moving towards self check out systems, yet we still have to wait in line for a human librarian to check books back in?

Book ordering. If there is a book that is not in the system, the librarian should be able to order it immediately. The individual librarians should have a modest budget to order books that patrons inquire about. In the US the librarian at the information desk can order the book immediately from Amazon. When there is no librarian at the information desk the patron fills out a simple book order form and drops it at the desk. (Just in a little box; please, please, don’t infer that this might be a spiffing new way to assemble another queue.) This service, again, is free of charge. There are not multiple layers of book-buying bureaucracy.

A paid person should run it. This does not necessarily mean every employee should hold a degree in library science. But it does mean someone who has been trained and knows the system. Volunteers are a bad idea. It would be okay to have a volunteer as an intern on some occasions, but this should not be the model we are looking to for actually running the service. This would make the library less efficient.

It should abandon the rental of premier DVDs. There are online services that are cheaper and easier and more efficient to use. You have pretty much priced yourselves out of the market now. What is the point?

3. Ideas for Structural Reorganisation

A Friends of the Library” is needed. This support group will develop and maintain ways of generating funds through charitable exercises such as book sales. Note the Friends of the Library mission from North Andover, Massachusetts:

“Friends of the Library”—Who The Friends Are. We promote and support the Stevens Memorial Library as a delightful, user-friendly community asset by furnishing items beyond the library budget. We also bring opportunities for cultural enrichment to North Andover residents both young and young at heart.

A Board of Trustees is necessary to represent public interests. Currently there is no representation of the public when it comes to management of the library system. Note the mission of the board of trustees at Stevens Memorial Library, in North Andover, Massachusetts:

The Trustees of the Stevens Memorial Library are a seven-member, self-perpetuating Board dedicated to governing the Public Library in North Andover for the benefit of the entire community. The board fulfils its ethical, legal and fiduciary responsibilities by:

Establishing service-oriented library policies, which uphold the principles of equal access to information and the free exchange of ideas.

Guiding the management and maintenance of library facilities and assets and expending financial resources judiciously.

Working to secure an appropriate municipal funding level for facilities, technology, hours of operation, collections and staff.

Developing fund raising strategies that enhance the Library programs, services and collections.

Managing and growing trusts, endowments and gifts.

Knowing and observing applicable municipal, state and federal laws and regulations.

Working with the community to identify information needs and to develop and implement a written plan for the maintenance and improvement of library services.

Advocating for the Library on behalf of the patrons and the residents.

A countywide library foundation is needed. Please note the mission of the Fairfax County library foundation in Virginia:

About Us

The Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that exists to raise supplementary funds for the Fairfax County Public Library and is committed to its mission statement of seeking financial gifts from individuals, organizations, foundations, businesses and corporations who have a vested interest in the quality of life of Fairfax County while encouraging continued and increased public tax-based support for the library.

A quick look through the Foundation’s member support network notes charitable gifts from large corporations and also other foundations, endowments and charities. Fairfax County, Virginia has only a slightly larger population than Somerset. The Fairfax County Library Foundation raised $696,313 for the library in 2010. How much did the Somerset County Libraries raise? If the library service is to approach “comprehensive” and “efficient” it needs to raise more money through the solicitation of gifts and donations.

It is obvious that to re-energize and reconstruct the Somerset County Library system, to make it more comprehensive and efficient, the first step should be to institute the ability for each community to appoint a Board of Trustees. This board could define what the needs of the public are and make decisions on management. The board could submit grant proposals for national funds but once the monies have been approved, the board could then have the final say on all library policy, interpreting national and local regulations and administration, and eliminating layers and layers of oversight. Instead of a maze of bureaucrats, the county council could address all their concerns to the trustees, the library administration could address their needs to the trustees, charitable organizations and “friends” groups could meet the trustees, and members of the public could attend open trustee meetings to inquire about funding and propose policies. Most importantly, the Board of Trustees would seek out grants, endowments and extra funding for the libraries, while also publicly advocating library usage. (Please see mission of Board of Trustees of North Andover, Massachusetts)

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012