Get the facts

Here are some commonly asked questions about the public library service in Somerset, and the council’s plans. Click on the links for more information:

  1. Why are public libraries important to our society nowadays?
  2. What do Somerset’s public libraries provide for us?
  3. But I thought no-one used libraries any more?
  4. The council needs to save money so cuts to library services are inevitable, right?
  5. What about the ‘big society’? Can’t communities take over the running of libraries?

Why are public libraries important to our society nowadays?

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (  offer this message:

Public libraries are much more than just a room with books and computers. They:

  • Provide public access to the knowledge and information of the world
  • Promote reading and literature to all ages and the whole of society
  • Enable learning and literacy from cradle to grave
  • Serve local people as a community hub to deliver essential services and activities:-
    • By providing information for everyday living
    • As a gateway to local events and organisations
    • As a local meeting space and resource centre
    • Through exhibitions, author events and other activities
    • Help users find and interpret information through their skilled staff
  • Act as a cost-saver for society by combating ignorance, alienation, isolation, division and the lack of aspiration

Not only do libraries make a valuable contribution to our society, they stand for important values in our society including intellectual freedom, equality of opportunity, engaged citizenship, informed democracy, and a society in which people have the chance to achieve their potential.

What do Somerset’s public libraries provide for us?

34 X access to a combined stock of 3 million books, talking books, cds, Dvds across the LibrariesWest Consortium.
34 X thousands of hours of reading each week.
34 X scores of people coming in to read the papers and see what’s on.
34 X number of terminals and internet sessions used by the public for job searches; learning; e-mailing friends and relatives around the world; online banking and shopping; research and study.
34 X innumerable questions for staff on all manner of subjects.
34 X 4 weeks of Summer Reading Challenge plus a wide range of other    weekend and holiday children’s reading activities.
34 X visits by groups from local schools and nurseries.
34 X social and cultural events that take place in libraries throughout the year.
34 X several bitesize ICT intro sessions for older people wanting to email grandchildren and grocery orders.
34 X sessions of stories, rhyming and wordplay for children.

But I thought no-one used libraries any more?

Last year Somerset’s libraries received 3 million visits. This is not a failing service.
Over 100,000 people in Somerset are active library members.
Research has demonstrated that people use libraries at significant periods in their lives – as young children; as students; as parents; at times of unemployment; during retirement.
We also know that during times of economic austerity, libraries are a very important resource for everyone.

The council needs to save money so cuts to library services are inevitable, right?

The proposed budget savings currently required of the library service total £1.35 milllion, out of a net budget of £5.4 million. Somerset is a rural County and many libraries are small, part time and based in key communities.

The result of these proposals reduces the number of libraries by 60%. The impact is completely disproportionate.

These are not the only cuts the library service has had to absorb. Efficiency savings have halved the number of professional librarians; a bookfund has been reduced from £700,000 to £200,000. (For a County the size of Somerset, the bookfund should be nearer £1,000,000). Senior Management posts within the service have been reduced from 5 to 2 during the last 4 years. Front line staff earn less than their colleagues in neighbouring authorities.

The proposed savings will further reduce the support, management and professional staffing.

Somerset County Council have taken enough.
Somerset County Council does have a choice.
What about the ‘big society’? Can’t communities take over the running of libraries?

Local communities do have a part to play in their local library. There are many ways in which people can be involved. These range from helping to provide a Home Library Service, to supporting people’s use of ICT; helping to run storytimes and holiday activities; promoting the service at local events and to community groups across the County.

However, politicians are now suggesting that local communities could pay for and run their local library, as they are no longer willing to do so.

To keep a library within the public library network is beyond the means of most parish councils. If a library is not kept within the existing network, people will no longer:

  • Have a professionally maintained collection of books, talking books, DVDs etc
  • Have access to the Inter-Library Loan system that enables libraries to search for and provide information and resources regionally, Nationally or Internationally.
  • Be able to use their local library membership card in any other library or return items to any other library.
  • Have access to the Internet.
  • Be able to participate in the numerous initiatives and activities currently provided by a team of trained, professional librarians who work in partnership with a wide range of organisations to support literacy, and the health and well-being of local communities.

Without this level of provision, communities will not have a library. They will have a room of second hand books.

CILIP offer this guidance:

Only paid professionals in public libraries:

  • Guarantee quality levels and consistency of service delivery
  • Use their specialist skills to:-
    • Help others find and interpret information
    • Assist others to develop information handling skills, i.e. information literacy
    • Provide knowledge and access to all available resources
    • Work with children, those with literacy problems, and other disadvantaged groups
    • Guide libraries towards the provision of new digital information services
    • Work with local partners including schools, health trusts and the police to benefit the whole community e.g. promoting health and wellbeing within the local community
  • Work with national partners to develop initiatives which enhance and extend the library service:  e.g. The Summer Reading Challenge, Peoples Network, BIG Lottery, a partnership with the BBC encouraging adult literacy, a partnership with the NHS providing access to health information.

A fair and economically prosperous society is underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge.

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