Closing the libraries? Well no, we’re not going to

Update 10th November, ‘no Liverpool Libraries to close’

After several months of consultation with us all, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson announced this morning that no Liverpool Libraries will now close. Some will shorten their hours and it seems that seven out of the threatened eleven will now be run by ‘partners’ (still to be announced who these are). So very good news or a positive spin being put on a situation of continuing uncertainty and financial fragility?

Well obviously we’ll all be watching very carefully. But for now, well a limited library is still a library, can still expand back to full services one day. Whereas closed libraries would be gone forever.

Here’s what Joe Anderson said.

So, well done so far City of Liverpool. By which I mean everyone. Parents, children, protestors, potential partners, politicians and particularly the City Libraries staff who have been running most of the consultations and so borne the brunt of our concerns. Well done all. Now let’s sort out the details.

Update, 15th August, Eleven Liverpool City Libraries set to close

The Proposal outlined below was approved at the City Council Cabinet meeting this morning. There will now be a period of further consultation to see what might be possible by working with community groups and other potential partners for the eleven of Liverpool’s libraries now threatened with closure.

Unless these efforts can be successful, as things stand there will be no public libraries in the North of Liverpool between Central Library and Norris Green. As you’ll see below this gives me particular concern. The loss of any libraries is deeply injurious to the City, but to have such a vast area with no local service gives me great concern for the futures of all children, claimants and the less mobile in Kensington, Breckfield, Everton, Vauxhall, Walton, Kirkdale, Anfield, Fazakerley and West Derby. Surely as a City we can sort something out here?

I’ve heard from a City Councillor that there is to be a special meeting about the issue on 10th September but don’t yet have an agenda for this. Will update as soon as I have but suspect it may be the meeting of the Cultural Select Committee called for by the Green Party and the Lib Dems, as reported by the Liverpool Echo.

Full Liverpool Echo report including a statement by Mayor Joe Anderson here.

Well the news is in and the news isn’t good. On 15th August a proposal will go to the meeting of Liverpool City Council in the Town Hall to close eleven of our nineteen libraries.

Liverpool Central Library

Liverpool Central Library

Before I list those threatened and those to stay, a bit of context from when I attended one of the public consultation events back in May. I wrote then:

“Liverpool gets 76% of its funding from Central Government. And they’re going to cut this by half by 2016/17.

Therefore the City Council has been forced to decide to cut its mandatory services, including libraries, by 25%. And its discretionary services, like sports and culture, by 50%. In the case of libraries this will mean an annual budget of £10m being reduced by £2.5m.

The Council has been running a survey (which I’ve written about before) to gather facts and opinions about what might be done. And have run five open meetings around the libraries, of which this is the last. They tell us they’ve had 3,500 surveys completed and have also been gathering thoughts and ideas from these meetings.

Later in the year the council will decide what to do.

And I found the meeting almost unbearably sad. We talked all the way around the kind of things that could happen. About not automatically closing the less well used libraries in less well off areas. I even brought up the possibility of a bit of philanthropic help to see us through until we can elect a better government. But it was pointed out that though philanthropic money can still sometimes be found to build things, it never pays the costs of running them.

I talked particularly about the children as I did on my post about the survey, as did others. And the fact that no one in the room wanted to see a ‘Big Society’ approach where volunteers take over the jobs of paid staff. We didn’t come up with any easy answers, nor did I feel this was all empty talk about decisions already taken. I felt I was in a discussion with people who are as passionate about libraries as I am.”

Those people have now analysed all the facts and surveys, completed their work and produced a detailed proposal which will now go to the full Council (And do read the proposal, it seems to me to have been carefully done, given the brutality of the national political environment they’re operating in). But here is the news. The closure of the following libraries will now be considered:

  • Breck Road
  • Dovecot
  • Fazakerley
  • Kensington
  • Lee Valley
  • Old Swan
  • Sefton Park
  • Spellow Lane
  • Walton
  • Wavertree
  • West Derby
Kensington Library

Kensington Library, to close.

For each of them careful reasoning is listed. For example, for Kensington:

  • Low number of users compared to other libraries.
    Use is predominately for I.T with alternative localcommunity IT provison being explored by ward councillors.
  • Low book issues.
  • 32.35% of ward catchment area use Central Library.
  • Extended IT facilities available at Central Library.
  • Central Library is approximately 1 mile away.
  • Good transport corridors to city centre from area.
  • Building is owned by LCC.
  • Library has ongoing maintenance issues with the roof.
  • City of Liverpool College has community learning provision based here and this facility is at risk following a city wide review of provision. This will result in a loss of rental income from the City of Liverpool College and add to the cost of running the Library for LCC.
Inside Kensington Library.

Inside Kensington Library.

Spellow Library

Spellow Library, to close.

Wavertree Library

Wavertree Library, to close.

And the proposal isn’t quite saying they will be closed immediately. But that the above list ‘will form the basis of public and stakeholder consultation on which Liverpool City Council will seek alternative proposals and ideas over and above the comprehensive and efficient library service.’

The Picton Reading Room, inside Liverpool Central Library.

The Picton Reading Room, inside Liverpool Central Library.

And the shape of the proposed ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’?

From these libraries and services:

  • Central Library
  • Allerton Road
  • Norris Green
  • Childwall
  • Croxteth
  • Parklands
  • Garston
  • Toxteth
  • Home library delivery service
  • RNIB talking books service
  • 24/7 Read Liverpool online & telephone services

Again, careful reasoning is given. For example, for Norris Green:

  • Retained as a high performing north of city library and one of the consistent top five performers.
  • Serves an area of high deprivation.
  • Building is owned by Liverpool City Council.
  • Ample space for partner services to reduce costs.
  • Potential for Broadway One Stop Shop relocation.
  • Mitigation for potential library closures in north of city.
  • Good location in terms of public transport and shops.
Norris Green Library

Norris Green Library

Nevertheless, this is a shockingly painful proposal and means that between Central Library and Norris Green/Croxteth there could be no other libraries in the north of the city.

This morning I asked the Liverpool Greens, now the official opposition in Liverpool if they had any thoughts on an alternative to what is proposed. And they sent me this from their proposed amendments to the Council’s budget proposals earlier in the year:

“There are two revenue lines allocated for direction by councillors and by the Mayor for optional, discretionary projects – Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund £1.24m and Leader’s Fund £1m. Those funds should be reduced to £404k and £202k, representing a reduction to approximately one third and one fifth of their budgets, respectively. Those levels should be maintained for 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The consequent saving of £1.634m should be used to stop any library closures in Liverpool.”

They told me ‘All budget amendments have to be checked by the council’s City Treasurer to make sure they are financially sound and this would have worked if Labour had supported it.’

So, what should we do? What can we do?

Well we could all have a great time falling out with each other over relatively tiny amounts of money. About what the Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund and Leader’s Fund are actually being spent on and whether they should. We could say public libraries are more important that other City Mandatory Services. And none of it, none of it would get us anywhere. Because the cause of all of this is not local, it’s not even simply national. It is one result of all of the major players in the global economy deciding that the bailing out of their corrupt banking system will be achieved by foisting ‘austerity’ on the people of their nations.

Childwall Library

Childwall Library

Here in Liverpool the people have voted in a Council that is almost entirely Labour and I’m sure they will say that they and their officers are doing their best to preserve anything municipal at all out of the miserably unfair hand they’ve been given . So this proposal, or something very like it, will almost definitely go through. Therefore, within a service of roughly the shape set out my concerns and thoughts are:

  • Please let’s have a serious think about North Liverpool. That’s far too big an area to leave without a library. If the existing ones aren’t ok could we maybe find a creative way to build a new one as part of the redevelopment of Anfield? And keep Spellow Lane or Walton open for now?
  • Can we introduce special and regular bus services to the remaining libraries?
  • Can we make sure the remaining libraries are open evenings and weekends to provide maximum access for all?
  • And for the libraries that close, can we care for them and their books until we can turn a political corner?

Well they’re my immediate thoughts anyway. I want to think more about everywhere on the ‘closed’ list and what could happen. But for now I’m too sad to write much more.

This is a bad day for Liverpool and I don’t blame anyone in Liverpool for it. As I said at the end of my previous public libraries post:

“Hours later, typing this at home, I realise that I have spent this afternoon on the front line of the class war. Not something you expect to happen in a meeting room in a library. But we were all only there because the Government of our country has decided to use austerity as a political weapon. Training it unfairly on the cities where, as it happens, its opponents live.”

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this. For now I just wanted to play my part in getting the news out.

Books. Where we store what we've learned, so we can decide where we're going.

Books. Where we store what we’ve learned, so we can decide where we’re going.

 

18 thoughts on “Closing the libraries? Well no, we’re not going to

  1. Alan Creevy

    Well done again, Ronnie. It’s not easy to see the woods for the trees when it comes to stuff like spending cuts, but you’ve hit the nail on the head with this ‘bigger picture’ piece. The tragedy is we might never get these services and facilities back.

    Reply
  2. Gerry

    Excellent post, Ronnie, that sets everything out clearly. Nevertheless, it is a dire prospect. A big problem now with defending libraries, I find (even talking to my well-read friends) is the assumption that they aren’t that important any more, given the declining numbers borrowing books from them, the shift (particularly in younger age groups – and especially among the ‘millennium children’) away from print to screens: http://bit.ly/1sjtoOr.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Gerry. Welcome news for me from the Council research and proposal is actually how well used many of the libraries are. Screens, little and big, are always going to have their places in our lives and our libraries from now on, but books are special. You can’t search on them, you engage with them, you live with them, you think slowly about what you find. For thousands of years now ‘philistines’ have been trying to run libraries down and destroy them. But they survive because, I think, they’re one of the main places where human civilisation lives.

      Reply
  3. Cathy Alderson

    The above points are all true and well made.
    There is also this to consider: what about the child or student who lives in a situation that makes private study nearly impossible.
    Children from large families who have to share bedrooms and compete with the TV etc for peace in the living room or kitchen.
    Libraries are a haven. Peaceful, quiet, warm and containing books and PCs that help with homework or studying.
    Having one near where you live makes them easily useable. Getting a bus to one won’t be an option.
    It will be a sorry day for Liverpool.

    Reply
  4. Helen Devries

    A sad day….nomatter how well argued the case for each library’s fate the background is as you say, that public services must pay for the extravagant support of failed banks
    Cathy is right…what about the children who need these havens?
    My home was not ovecrowded, I could do my homework there in peace…but I spent a great deal of my spare time in the local library, devouring everything in a path gently guided by librarians.

    Reply
  5. Gerry

    Further to this, I see from the Echo website today that Pete Wylie has pulled out of the Liverpool International Festival in protest at the closure of 11 of Liverpool’s 19 libraries: ‘As a musician and artist I absolutely condemn the proposed closures of 11 of Liverpool’s 18 libraries. This is a move that is in direct opposition to the ethos of a creative festival, and I cannot subscribe to the utter hypocrisy that all is well and thriving in a city that sees fit to destroy the essential educational, social and cultural service that the libraries provide.’

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Pete. Though not sure how pulling out of a music festival will steer the government away from its beloved austerity politics. Cameron? ‘Shit! Pete Wylie’s pulled out of the LIMF. Get those libraries back open and send everyone in Liverpool my heartfelt apologies.’

      Reply
  6. Sebastian Melmoth

    National Museums Liverpool are about to drastically reduce the opening times of their archive and library without any public consultation at all. Maritime city my @rse!

    Reply
  7. ljbentley27

    This genuinely saddens me. As a child I was read to every night and I have always associated reading with feelings of love – cheesy though that may sound. My memories of going to the library, getting my first library card and inevitably my first library fines are one that I cherish. Even now as an adult I still love going to the library, trawling through the bookshelves and finding a book that I normally wouldn’t have thought to read. Going to the library is a tangible experience and the closure of so many libraries is denying others the chance to have that experience.

    Rather than close them down completely could the council just reduce working hours rather than full closure? That way people can still go?

    for the council it all seems to be about money but what about the forgotten pensioner who is so lonely and the only interaction he/she has is when they visit the local library. Or the child who comes from a low income family who can’t afford to buy books? Or the young mum who struggles daily because her only interaction is with a toddler until she goes to one of the groups that are held at the local library. This is why libraries are so very important.

    Let us not forget that only a few months ago education league tables showed that the UK had some of the poorest literacy skills. How are we expected to see an improvement in this if libraries are continually seen as expendable?

    I am so saddened about this and extremely passionate in trying to save local libraries. Please tell me there is something that we can do?

    Lisa

    Reply
    1. Alex Ferguson

      “for the council it all seems to be about money” Actually they are missing half the argument about the money. I saw no calculation of how much these closures would cost residents in terms of the value of the service to them.

      You mention loneliness among pensioners, denial of education and so on. These things and more have an economic cost that can be calculated. See http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/reasons-for/reasons-for-libraries-false-economy for why library cuts are a false economy.

      Reply
  8. lindsay53

    Echo all comments above. Particularly echo your words, Ronnie, about being at the forefront of the class war. Yet another example of the banks messing up and subsequent belt tightening & austerity measures being handed on to the blameless to deal with. Great example of pass the poison chalice until it reaches us lot who have no-one else to pass it on to. Like your approach Ronnie, positive, intelligent & practical. Keep at it until common sense & reason sees the light of day.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Lindsay, I’m thinking more about this now and what we might practically do to keep the libraries open in some way. Now the Council’s shown us all it can do with the money the government’s left it with, I think it’s up to the rest of us to look at all other options now. So, apart from earning a living, that’s this week’s work.

      Reply
  9. RubyMalvolio (@RubyMalvolio)

    The council admits it cannot provide a statutory service, the act says “It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof”. The minister has a duty to super intend and intervene if the act isn’t adhered to. Perhaps the council should write to the DCMS and say they’re in breach of the act because of their lack of funding and call the bluff of the libraries minister?

    Reply

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