Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the We Care Foundation

Brent Library Campaign do not speak for the whole of Brent and libraries in general.

Libraries have to be re-invented.

How do we transform libraries and what models should be adopted?

Technological change is forcing libraries to change.

1964 Museum and Libraries Act is a hindrance in respect to alternative sources of funding.

Local Authorities by rationalizing library provision could potentially provide a better service, particularly when opening hours are extended to include Sundays and or increased evening opening hours.

Real-Estate building stock of libraries is nationally in very poor state of repair and has faced under-investment for many years.

Current library buildings could be converted to satisfy higher priority community needs, such as education placement provision.

This document in response to the Culture Media and Sports Select Committee is being submitted by “We Care Foundation Ltd”, an Academy Trust, that is currently seeking to transform the closed Barham Park Library in Brent into a Special needs school for children with Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia and on behalf of the organization we submit the following Statement to the Select Committee as follows.

While it is true to say that Libraries are a part of the fabric of communities, given the large scale opposition and emotional reaction to the closure of libraries across the UK, particularly in Brent, it would be wrong to conclude that Libraries should remain as libraries. The library campaign in Brent does not speak for the whole of Brent, nor represents all the views of Brent, nor has considered that there are other vulnerable and marginalized groups in the community who are not able to access other more important services such as education in the Borough Brent. An example, as in the case of Brent where typically a high % of children with Autism have to attend Out of Borough provision due to a current shortage of suitable placements. Furthermore the remaining 6 libraries in Brent will be open longer hours with extended opening on Sunday, that will benefit many residents who may want a place to read or study on Sunday, as traditional libraries have remained closed on Sunday.

The accepted formal definition of a Library:

1. li-brar-ies

(a)A place in which literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes, are kept for reading, reference, or lending.

(b)A collection of such materials, especially when systematically arranged.

(c)A room in a private home for such a collection.

(d)An institution or foundation maintaining such a collection.

2. A commercial establishment that lends books for a fee.

3. A series or set of books issued by a publisher.

4. A collection of recorded data or tapes arranged for ease of use.

5. A set of things similar to a library in appearance, function, or organization: a library of computer programs.

Libraries in their current form “ARE NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE” and need to be transformed into relevant “Learning Environments for the Benefit of the Community.” This means a shift away from the traditional definition of a library to a more broad-based centre of learning and Knowledge.

It certainly would be a tragedy if the buildings themselves of current libraries being closed by Brent and other Local Authorities across the country were simply turned over to build flats, offices or “NON learning environments” or simply lay dormant. A prosperous economy maximizes resources efficiently. A library in its current form is not efficient as recent rapid Technological advances have permanently altered the way the majority of people use a library and the original intended purpose of a library, that being a store of printed material. It is acknowledged that there will be some people who may not have access to current technology and or “Not every book or article published is viewable on the internet.” Or a proportion of consumers will want to pick up a physical book when on a sandy beach, by the pool or other leisure times, when it might feel more appropriate to read hard printed material rather than reading material digitally. There will therefore be a place for old style printed material, just like old style LP’s have made a recent renaissance. However, it has to be accepted and acknowledged by both Library campaigners and the Select Committee that a technological revolution has occurred and there is “NO NEED” for such vast Storage buildings that we commonly refer to as Libraries. It is not for 1 minute suggesting that Books are irrelevant to modern society, more that the space in a current library has to be used differently. Rather than being used to physically Store books, the space needs to be adapted to provide a learning environment for the local community. This could be in the form of Evening Classes, Yoga sessions, Life style and art classes, money and finance education and so forth or it could be in the form of space for Homework clubs, after-school clubs, Hot desking for homeworkers seeking a place to work. Or as in the case with the proposal that “We Care Foundation” are seeking to develop is transforming the current space into a School for children with Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia together with Out of Hours Homework clubs and after school, weekend and holiday educational provision. Funding for the proposed provision would be via alternative budgets.

Each current library that is being closed, should be required to submit an “Alternative Use Report and Plan” that seeks to transform the provision into a vibrant community space that meets the needs of the local population. For some libraries being closed this may mean that the local population may want to staff it with local volunteers to meet the needs of those residents and continue as a community library. There will not be a single solution for each library building and the best use of the building, but the local population should have an input into how best to use the local resource.

Furthermore commercial businesses are also having to adapt quickly to the monumental changes that are occurring right before our eyes. Some of these commercial businesses such as “Borders Books” have already gone out of business. Barnes and Noble is now trying to refocus and playing catch up, as it missed an early opportunity to be a leader in digital publishing and sales. KODAK missed an early opportunity to be a leader in digital publishing of pictures and is also playing catch-up as people now prefer to store pictures and photos digitally, rather than in printed form. Traditional Encyclopaedia’s, the Grand Daddy of a library are now gathering dust ,as more and more people, simply, at the click of a mouse, access practically any information they wish to search and want to know about on the internet. Newspaper publishing has seen rapid decline in readership of daily printed papers and are having to adapt to an increasingly online readership. The advent of Social Media is playing its part in re-shaping the way people read and view news and information. We can’t escape the realization that “Libraries have to be Re-invented.” In some respects, libraries have moved on offering Internet access, short educational courses, meeting places for local groups, homework clubs, children’s reading groups and such like plus. To many people it is the other services such as Homework clubs, short educational courses, that are now more meaningful to users of the library buildings. However the funding streams for these “Extra Services” typically come from different budgets and Not the Library budget.

The “Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964” could not possibly have envisaged the technological changes that have occurred in only 40 years and the need for libraries buildings themselves to become more than storage places for printed material. While it is accepted some Library users would like “Libraries to stay as Libraries,” the school classroom and methods of teaching have changed dramatically for children growing up in the digital age. It is these children who in planning Community resources, we should be mindful of their needs. The statistics clearly demonstrate that while children are young, pre-teenage, their parents may typically take them to a library. As children mature, apart from a quiet place to study, the use of a library becomes irrelevant as Homework is now frequently required to be done on the internet and assignments are done searching the internet and typed up using a computer and either saved on the schools Intranet for a teacher to simply review or printed when required. It is very seldom that a teacher will require homework to be completed without accessing the internet. It is suggested that a possible model for some library buildings to become “Teenage Homework cafes” with appropriate power supplies for charging laptops, staffed trained in providing guidance on schoolwork and a place for teenagers to go rather than home if their parents are not normally home before 6 pm.

The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 is a major barrier in terms of potential funding for libraries as generally external funders such as the Big Lottery and other such organizations will not fund Statutory Services, unless expressed as part of the funding conditions. While the 1964 Act provides protection for a library it actually has acted as a Noose in terms of attracting potential funding. Even as some libraries are now being converted to “Community Libraries,” the organizations running as merely a library may find it extremely difficult to access funding if they attempt to submit an application to a potential funder simply on the basis that they require funding to run and operate a library provision. Funders have strict criteria that they do not fund requests when there is a statutory obligation for the Local Authority to do so and many organizations might naively be disappointed to think that the 1964 Act may not be a golden ticket to funding their “Community Library” when funders turn down their funding request.

The Real-estate stock of library buildings has been evidence to be nationally in exceptionally poor state of repair and given the traditional nature of a library building being a Store of Books and printed material, many of these buildings have exceptionally large floor spaces and therefore inherently large roof areas and high ceilings with large wall areas. Many libraries may already be closed for a substantial period of the week and this was before the budget reductions, resulting in buildings becoming damp and cold together with typically substandard heating, that is both expensive and inefficient. Interior decorations of many of these buildings remains old, tired and uninviting to many people.

Summary

In summary it would be a costly mistake to simply accept the rally calls from the Library Campaign that libraries are needed and should not be closed, no matter what. The question that needs to be raised and addressed by each local Authority considering library closures is “What better use could be made of the buildings that would benefit the majority of the local community living within the area of the resource being closed and what type of funding arrangements could realistically be accessed to staff and resource any proposed provision, whether it be a community library run by volunteers, a school, a homework café or a multitude of possibilities that a library building could be transformed into for the educational benefit of the local community?

It is suggested and proposed that each Local Authority proposing to close a library submits an “Alternative Use Report and Plan” to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Culture Media and Sport for their review and approval prior to any further library closures. This would allow for all interested parties to consider the most appropriate use of a local resource and reduce the potential expenditure and time delay on legal Judicial Reviews and so forth.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012