Somerset’s public libraries are at risk

On the 15th December 2010, Somerset County Council announced proposals that would result in the closure of 20 public libraries across the county. According to the plans:

  • The public library service in Somerset will face budget cuts of 25%.
  • 20 libraries will have funding removed – more than half of the current number.
  • The fleet of mobile libraries will be reduced from 6 to 2.
  • Remaining libraries will have opening hours reduced.

Somerset County Council have announced a consultation period in order to allow communities around the county to respond to the plans. This is our opportunity to have our say.

44 Responses to Somerset’s public libraries are at risk

  1. Sue Purkiss says:

    I am horrified that the council is considering closing 20 out of Somerset’s 34 libraries; I think this is cultural vandalism. Communities will need their libraries more than ever in these difficult times – particularly the young and the elderly, but also lots of people in between. There are few spaces nowadays where people can come together: libraries are one of these. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea that it’s difficult to know where to start!

  2. Jean Bevis says:

    The closure of so many focal points in the cultural life of our towns and villages will be a great loss to community well being. This is a short sighted and negative attitude by the County Council and will be very detrimental to those who are not able to purchase books , magazines and computers.

  3. Bob Pickering says:

    I know that the County Council have to find savings from somewhere and I know that wherever they try to save, there will be criticism but I would like to make the point that
    like “puppies & Christmas”, libraries are not just for going into once a month and changing a book, in Cheddar it is a place to meet your neighbours that you haven’t seen borrow a DVD for weeks, somewhere to use the computers, somewhere to slip into on a rainy day and look up some information on gardening, genealogy, cooking or a whole host of other things useful to the whole community ~ so please think again CC and find your savings elsewhere!

  4. Liz Pike says:

    Closure, whether it is a neighbourhood Post Office or village store, cuts deeply into a close-knit community. Whoever is making the decisions in these hard times, please leave us the libraries.
    How do you describe a library? It is a treasure house of interest, knowledge and entertainment for all ages. There are no barriers in a Library, and the written word is by no means dead, in fact, an interest in books is thriving and will continue to in these hard-up times. These meeting places to discuss, enjoy and research diverse subjects must be conserved, remember that a book is always a conversation piece, it maybe the start of friendships that can only develop through a love of books. To loan a book for however long it takes to read it, is not a luxury, it is a necessary part of our lives.
    Our old headmaster told us to always have a book with us for those ‘golden moments’, the unexpected time when only a book can fill the void of waiting. They were the truest words I’ve heard.

  5. Anonymous says:

    How much money has the Council spent on trying to decide these cuts? And the money that they claim they will save, they plan to spend on self-service machines anyway, all of which will cost money to maintain and repair. Surely the focus should be on using the current library network more efficiently- increasing footfall will increase the money that the library does make through hires of DVDs, CDs and Audiobooks, and overdue charges.
    NB. The 3 million visits- does this include the users of the library service that cannot physically visit but still use the service? The housebound service allows people to have books delivered to them through volunteers, and retirement homes receive loans of hundreds of books.

  6. Martyn G Smith says:

    I appreciate that the SCC has to save money, but to embark on such a hair-brained scheme to save the (in SCC terms) trivial amount of £1 million leaves me speechless!
    There must be better ways than this – for instance why do SCC publish documents in foreign languages – this is England (and has been for many years!). They also talk of “efficiency savings” – so they’ve been inefficient in the past?
    Why not increase the charges for services slightly – it’s currently 55 or 60 p to reserve a book – increase it to £1. Increase slightly the charge to borrow a musical or video item – specialist shops do! Why not introduce a small charge to use computers?
    Here in Somerton, SCC is considering closing the library, whilst SSDC is talking of hundreds of extra homes in the next 15 years. Words like “left-hand”and “right-hand” spring to mind. Why can’t these two councils amalgamate and share some of the administration costs?
    There must be better ways of saving money than reducing such an essential service!

    • What the County councillors are trying to conceal… is that this library service has one of the lowest staff costs of all Counties in the country, and one of the highest revenues per head of population across all counties.

      I pay council tax and general taxation for good public services, not to bail out banks.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Food for thought: ‘Bookrunner’ movingly shared a summary (Guardian Dec 10th, ‘How will the cuts affect our libraries’) of what trained staff and librarians are all about (not Somerset, I don’t think, as we don’t yet know how many librarians’ jobs will go – but the proposals are 60% of libraries…..), but the same applies:

    “We cater to our public from birth to death. We go out to ante-natal and post-natal groups to sign up the youngest in our population, thus trying to help those families who do not read or use their libraries. We offer free sessions to under 5s, know all about school curriculums and how best to work with schools. We know our local police, our looked-after-children, our troubled teens, our users who suffer from mental health issues, in short- our communities. We know how to help with homework, teach internet skills to all ages, help unskilled people find jobs. Older people come in every day and when they die, we notice. On more than one occasion our Homes Library Service has found an elderly person either unconsious or dead, and if it were not for our contact, those people would have died much lonelier and less enriched by being able to obtain books and audio. Our shelves are not just full of bestsellers and if they are, it is because the service has been hit by the cuts. People compare us to Amazon, but we need out books bought at discount and we are part of consortiums that provide our books catalogued and shelf-ready. Many books go through hundreds of hands because they are prepared to last.
    Last year saw 750,000 children aged 4-11 take part in the Summer Reading Challenge. We embraced using volunteers but can they run our libraries withour us? No. And in my authority they are losing around 60% of Librarians. We also write reports, reviews, write strategies, work evenings and weekends for the love of the job”.

  8. Nigel Cooper says:

    I agree Martyn. East Devon are now to share senior management with South Somerset, which seems a strange step, but an imaginative one in the right direction in minimising head office expenditure. I do wonder however why more head office duties are not centralised back in Taunton where they once were located with only essential facilities retained at District level.
    In these days with greater internet access the need for such local access to council staff must surely decline. Today we have the internet. For people who don’t have internet at home then free access at libraries is essential, and furthermore I think free local internet should be extended for people to use in schools, possibly after hours, where no libraries exist.
    With the proposed reduction of libraries and the obliteration of the Arts fund the conclusion that Somerset CC and SSDC is more concerned with lopping off services at the periphery is inescapable. It is on the periphery, in the smaller towns, the villages and remote rural settlements however where communities exist and where the need for information is the greatest. It is in these peripheral areas which form the greatest area of Somerset where the job opportunities are the fewest, where some schools are being withdrawn and the established pattern of community is threatened.

    Libraries are not luxuries, they are essential.
    Library closure is a short sighted and penny pinching policy which will be to the undoubted detriment of many communities.

    I think it is absolutely essential the library closure proposals are firmly resisted.

  9. Barrie Smith says:

    Cheddar Library is one of the few services that remain in this area – in comparison with Taunton and Bridgewater we receive little for our contribution. It is a very modest library but it does a terrific job serving a wide area with a high throughput and at low cost. We have three large schools and a large and active U3A, which provides a number of reading groups. The suggested alternatives at Wells or Burnham (16 & 24 miles round trips) would generate huge total mileages annually by those who could travel. Those without transport could not get to Burnham and the cost to Wells would be prohibitive for those on low pay.
    Cheddar needs and must keep its library and we must be able to see the costings to see the supposed justifications. Could we not have some very large savings by sharing the very highly paid top earners, and reducing their number to reasonable levels to justify such earnings.
    When I see the boast on the SCC Library website that Taunton is about to have Blu-Ray disks I despair at the priorities.

  10. Michael Hooper says:

    I do not accept that SCC has considered all of it’s options and correctly prioritised its funding. This proposal must be revisted and savings achived in back-office functions to protect our libraries.

  11. Anthony Pither says:

    I know we are in a new world in which books can arrive next morning from Amazon or similar organisations, but for anyone brought up on visiting local libraries, being without ours in Ilminster is unthinkable – an example of the greed of others resulting in the depletion of services for all, and especially those on a limited budget.

    I know the coalition government is on our backs, but where is the real Liberal Party, which stands for freedom to chose, not a limited party which leaves us with fewer options. Please save our libraies in Somerset.

  12. Michael Fry-Foley says:

    Culture – literature, visual and performing arts – is not an optional extra in a civilised society, it is an essential element of it. It is the duty of our civic leaders to provide us with services that promote a healthy, educated and cultivated society. Access to a free library is an indication that the society aspires to something greater than just work and mere survival. Wholesale slashing of the cultural budget is short-sighted and will make our society poorer in every way. These reductions must be resisted.

  13. Candy Bowman says:

    Libraries are essential. This is false economy and a stab to the heart of a civilised commmunity.

  14. Oliver says:

    Closing 60% of libraries to save just over £1 million is madness (given how little money is involved). If the cuts HAVE to be made they should be distributed evenly instead of only affecting rural communities. Remember urban communities already have easier access to more and better council funded services than their rural counterparts even though people living in small towns pay the same taxes as those living in Taunton.

    Rather than rural communities having to find 100% of the costs of running their library while urban communities get to keep theirs for free, ALL communities should be asked to find 25% of the running costs of their library (if the community doesn’t want its library enough to find this money then their library should be closed irrespective of its size or location). At least this would be fair…

    As an alternative to making these cuts how about looking for ways to raise the small amount of money involved? If there are 3 million visits (in Somerset) to libraries a year, charging 50p a time would raise more then enough. Ask all library users if they would be willing to pay a 50p “service charge” to borrow their books and I think most would accept it. Alternatively a charge of 10p per book (excluding children’s, large print, and non-fiction) would be another way to achieve the same result (people pay to borrow DVDs for entertainment so why shouldn’t they be willing to pay a token amount to borrow fiction for entertainment?). If this would be too hard to administer why not charge £15 a year to have a library card?

    If the council were interested in a true ‘Public Consultation’ then there would be various options on the table. They are presenting these cuts as a fait accompli – what is the point of having a consultation if there is nothing to discuss?

    The suggestion that local communities can take over their library has not been thought through. If they chose to be independent of the library service they would not be able to rotate books with other libraries, would not be able to request books, people would not be able to borrow books from one library and return them to another… these independent libraries would gradually fade away and eventually be closed. If they choose to remain part of the council library service the community can pay for 100% of the staffing costs, 100% of the rent, 100% of the rates, 100% of the utility bills, make a contribution to the new book fund, AND pay the council for access to their IT systems. However the council would provide some advice free of charge, which I am sure will be a great help! Given that the council won’t allow volunteers access to the full IT systems required to run a modern library, the least they could do would be to pay for the provision of one permanent member of staff for each community supported library as a good will gesture.

    Assuming that a community does manage to keep their library open, when economic conditions improve (say in 5 years), what happens if the library service gets given back the money that they are now cutting? Will this money go back into funding the rural libraries (taking the financial burden off the community) or will it be spent on more services for the few large urban libraries? This is a question which needs to be addressed if communities are thinking of finding the money to keep their library open…

    If these cuts are allowed to go through then my generation will look back on this in the same way that the previous generation look back on the Beeching rail cuts of the 60’s

  15. Eleanor Wylie says:

    Reducing or in some cases removing access to our local libraries will have a greater impact than the short sighted people at the top can see. My children enjoy visiting the library and choosing their books and interacting with human beings!!!. How on earth do the council see our childrens future development in a world already full of computers/ no eye contact online games etc.
    This is the last straw and reducing libraries should not be an option.

  16. Maria Barton says:

    So how much money exactly will these closures save? We all need our Libraries,I would have been lost without them, my children are excellent readers now because of Frome Library and I couldn’t have home schooled my eldest (now incidentally at University) without it!! Save our Libraries!

  17. Matt Gwynne says:

    Look, I really don’t want to see the libraries cut back, they are undoubtably a vitally important part of local life for a great many people. On the other hand, i have yet to see on this website a viable alternative place where these funds could be raised, just several claims that there must be one.

    Now, I don’t object to petitioning in an attempt to save libraries, I’ve signed one myself, I just feel that this is targetted at the wrong place. The real travesty of justice that has taken place here is the insane and dangerous cuts to local government in general. The petition I signed was to the government attempting to stop the cuts at source.

    Wherever the cuts are made locally there is going to be a horrendous impact. As such, the correct response is to tell the coalition to abandon this desperate plan to cripple ourselves out of financial trouble.

    I think, i may be wrong. Can anyone think anything local government could cut that would save similar amounts of money without damaging the community more than cutting libraries?

    • Nigel Cooper says:

      How about restoration of the unitary system of local government so savings can be made at HQ by down sizing the district offices to absolute minimum?
      Council spending could then be transferred to the community to where services are needed.
      District Councils were well and good when money seemed no object but now those days have gone we need radical re think, no?
      Nigel C

  18. Patricia Young says:

    Libraries give local communities a centre which is accessible for whole communities and must be accessible on a local basis. Transport in Somerset is dire and expensive and if only hub libaries are available in a few urban centres vast numbers of people will be deprived of access for books , music, advise, IT facilities and all that offers for learning exploartion of job opportunities etc. Libraries offer whole communities a warm and communal space open to all. Surely it is possible to explore ways in which existing buildings and facilities could be enhanced rather reduced, to offer even more to our rural communities and efforts should first be made to exlore the possibility of bringing in some revenue before depriving communities of this valuable resource.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Just a few things to bear in mind when swallowing the county council’s spin about the cuts:
    The council’s local grant settlement from central government was no where near as bad as it had anticipated, or budgeted for.
    Staff routinely get laid off by one department and taken on the next day in another – having had a nice healthy pay-off in the process.
    Retired workers are re-employed meaning taxpayers are not only covering their wages but also their pension costs.
    The authority’s various departments still routinely have award ceremonies for all manner of things, both in-house and county-wide, in private-hire function rooms, complete with refreshments/buffet etc.
    Why do staff still have parking permits – how much could be saved from axing that alone?
    Take a look at Mendip District Council to see what county council leader Ken Maddock did to it.
    And the woman in charge of libraries, councillor Christine Lawrence, was in charge of West Somerset District Council, which is now virtually bankrupt.
    It’s all extremely worrying.

  20. Nigel Cooper says:

    At the Glastonbury ‘closure event’ on 7 Jan it was suggested to me the consultation process SCC has gone through is insufficient and may not meet their statutory requirements laid down by law, and thus expose the closure process to a legal challenge.
    Anyone know more about this?
    Nigel C

  21. Lori Toms says:

    It’s a crying shame to see the silver spooned politicians cutting vital public needs while they line their pockets.

  22. Graeme says:

    Last year the Council’s income was about £862M, of which about £422 , ie 49% was from grants (central government). Central Government have imposed a 28% cut so assuming that other figures stay in roughly the same proportion as last year’s the shortfall that the council needs to make up is 14% of its total budget. (If you look at it another way and exclude the fees & charges income (£143M) the shortfall is 16.5% of total incomes from taxes.)
    So why is it looking for a 25% cut in the library service?, especially if this results in a closure of 59% of the service outlets and a 67% cut in the mobile service. Even in terms of numbers of user visits this is likely to result in a cut of about 20%.
    It is all completely DISPROPORTIONATE, and applied to one of the most efficient (in terms of cost per borrowing etc.) library services in the UK: indeed in management-speak Somerset’s service is very lean – some might say it is already showing signs of emaciation, even before these cuts.
    Bear in mind that the basic library assistants earn at the same rate as the very lowest grade of the people in County Hall (they’d be much better off as receptionists there) and that they are just about everyone you’ll ever see in a Somerset library – librarians don’t work in public positions and it is not uncommon for a hub library to have 1 or 2 senior assistants in charge of the whole show on a Saturday, typically the busiest day of the week. There is no fat anywhere. (By the way, to reply to one of Barrie Smith’s comments, DVD and now Blu-ray disc lending is a revenue spinner and helps the funds, that’s why they are doing it – you can’t, by law, charge for lending books, but other things can be run on a commercial basis.)
    Many items in school curricula require children to go and use library resources: doesn’t this proposal means the education of children in rural areas has a new element of deprivation? A kind of postcode lottery.
    These cuts seem almost spiteful, and certainly demonstrate that communal facilities and the educational value of libraries are not appreciated by the Cabinet.

  23. Elisabeth Balfour says:

    How I agree with virtually every comment above. Libraries are a vital part of a civilised society, and just because we in Somerset live mainly in small country towns or little villages it does not mean that we are hayseeds with no interest in cultural matters. Literacy is essential to the human condition, and libraries foster it by encouraging the habit of reading. Please, councillors who wield the power to cut the library service, think again.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I think many of us have not fully understood the wider issues impacting on libraries and other local services.
    Cuts to libraries, culture, youth clubs, leisure services, are not being driven by an economic necessity. This is entirely to do with the Government’s ambitions to reduce the size of the public sector. This is achieved not just by making savings but by transferring services away from local government responsibility to an array of charitable and voluntary organisations – anybody willing to take over the running of a local service for themselves.
    Unfunded libraries will have no professional supervsion or support. Quality and standards of service will not be monitored.
    For the County Council to say that this is entirely down to cuts to their budget is misleading at best and irresponsible at worst.
    I’m sure libraries are realistic enough to know that some savings will be inevitable but the current proposals damage an already cost-efficient service that provides very good value for money.
    It will be very difficult to persuade a fundamental Tory Cabinet to adopt a different attitude when the momentum to this is so centrally driven. Very little time is available to work out alternative ideas, and that’s what we need to push for, not just here in Somerset, but Nationally. Before we get consumed by the Big Society, we need a Big Debate!!

  25. Val Saunders says:

    Back on 11th January, Nigel wrote about reverting to the proposed unitary system of local government. I cannot remember exactly what the good reasons were for not becoming a unitary authority/authorities, unlike all our county neighbours. The closure of our libraries is, for me, now highlighting the nonsense. In the last financial year we spent over £903,000 on our County Councillors, many of who also represent District/Borough Councils. If we didn’t have this duplication there would be enough funding to not only spare our libraries from closure but also extend opening hours – and thereby increase usage.
    Another thought is to give the libraries to the District Councils and Taunton Deane. They would have more ‘ownership’ of the service, understanding of the needs of their communities and be able to use the premises for other community services like community development, learning centres, tourism and housing information. And I am sure it would still meet statutory requirments. Any thoughts?

    • Andrew says:

      The problem will be one of transfer of budget. We pay our council tax to one place and then all sorts of public sector bodies argue over it. They also charge each other for services so the scrapping of a tier of council will not only save councillor costs but also salaries of pen-pushers (but please note that makes people unemployed with effects from that. They may push pens but they are people)

  26. When researching my last book, Literary Somerset, I found a vast number of literary connections in Somerset. The written word was held in very high regard in the county for well over a thousand years and these connections stretch right back to Anglo-Saxon times and included such venerable writers as John Locke, Henry Fielding, Wordsworth and Coleridge. Even Virginia Woolf started writing her first novel in Wells. They all would be appalled at the proposed closure of so many libraries.
    The idea that petty bureaucrats and local politicians can shelve, I use the word advisedly, 20 libraries out of 34, is I think remarkably short sighted. Schools and children need local libraries as part of broadening their education. The Internet and e books are not the answer to everything. Think again.. Why not turn down the central heating in county hall a few notches for a few months and let a little fresh air in ? Like the recent axing of the art budget these are ‘philistine’ measures.

  27. Andrew says:

    In Shepton we are trying to emulate Fenny Stanton in Buckinghamshire. They have staged a mass withdrawal of books from thier library resulting in empty shelves and brilliant press coverage AS WELL as sending out a message to the council. We are trying to achieve this by Saturday 22nd Jan. So, if you are near Shepton come and take out your allowance of 20 books. (You can also band together and do this at your local library if it is under threat). Please also circulate as many people as possible to make this work.


  28. I think the national campaign is gaining momentum and I really believe that all local authorities had no idea of the impending protests and the fiercness of response from the public. The British public has experienced corruption in business, banking, pensions and now mis-management by our local authorities. It seems to me that we are finally awaking from our slumber and doing something about it. Libraries will not be quashed but people holding positions of power in the local authorities might well be forced to do a U turn.

  29. Juan says:

    Las bibliotecas hacen llegar a la gente humilde mas lejos de lo que ellos mismos podrian llegar a pensar.

  30. José Luiz Bednarski says:

    I read about it in a brazilian newspaper and I and my literature friends (we have an academy in town – Jacareí, SP State) support you. We even made a debate about this issue. It would be a great loss not only for brits, but for Humankind. Wish you the best and good luck! Thank you.

  31. Geraldine Houlihan says:

    Support from Wales. The loss of libraries to a community are a shameful and devastating lack of understanding by bureauxcrats on inclusion and social policy.

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