If you are involved in talking to the Council about taking over the running of the library, make sure you are well informed. Take the time to check out some of the implications that may not be immediately apparent from the official documents. Don’t be misled!
- 25% saving neans 60% loss of service.
- “We should use a wide range of data to help us shape the savings proposal”: note it says should it doesn’t say they have!
- Self-service technology allows us to reduce costs and make the available money go further: therefore we propose to close Dulverton Library which is currently co-located and and is the only library to open un-staffed on a Sunday as a result of self-service technology. This will force local residents to make a return journey of almost 50 miles to reach their next nearest library in Minehead!
- Co-locating:e.g. inviting displaced Council staff from the closure of other offices to take up space in a public library, reducing the public space available & introducing a self-service machine (Langport).
- An increase in the annual amount of money within the libraries budget has been allocated for new books: This money will need to be identified from existing resources in addition to the 25% savings and is still likely to only reach 40% of the amount an authority the size of Somerset requires. Somerset’s population is currently estimated to be 523,500. With a bookfund of £400,000, this provides 76p per resident for books. (Currently expenditure is an appalling 38p per resident).
- Community Libraries generally have higher costs per visit and lower performance overall: Community libraries are rural, part-time and based in smaller communities. Hence the ‘lower performance overall’. You basically get what you pay for. This doesn’t make them any less valuable to local communities where access to amenities will already be less than other larger places. 1 in 5 of Somerset’s residents are aged 65+. This figure is set to grow whilst those of working age is not. This together with reduced public transport links makes access to local services via a community library essential.
- Community run model: this means NO County Council funding.
- Community-supported model: this means Parish Councils have the option to increase their precept to raise money to cover costs, so these residents would be required to pay twice for the service. So who saves what? And, as these communities are smaller, the cost per resident is proportionately higher. Costings provided also fail to identify the indirect costs that the service provides by managing its resources flexibly. If an unpaid volunteer isn’t able to work one day, does the library fail to open?
These are not one-off costs or short-term. A library will only remain open for as long as the local community feels able to fund it. Once this stops, the library is lost for good.The timescale for putting all this in place is tight. The Council are front-loading the majority of their savings within the next 12 months.
- The Library Service might be able to support some IT costs: i.e. the line maintenance costs, not the hardware, software or technical support. Somerset County Council will still have to cover the line costs regardless of whether the library stays open or closes. Not such a generous ‘gift’.
- Savings arising from the reduction in numbers of fully funded libraries would be matched by significant savings in support, management and professional staffing costs: Somerset currently employs the equivalent of 7 professionally qualified librarians. This is half the number that were employed 4 years ago. The County Council appear to believe that a qualified Chartered Librarian can be replaced by an unpaid volunteer. This is not just a huge insult to the Library & Information profession but demonstrates a complete failure to understand the nature of the business and the contribution of a professionally supported and managed library service.
Somerset Libraries’ support costs are one of the most cost efficient within the country. See the latest LibrariesWest annual report to find out how the service is able to manage its business efficiently and with minimal cost.
If Somerset’s contribution to the Consortium is reduced, costs will immediately increase.
The status of the Library service has been gradually but relentlessly undermined in recent years. The management structure of the County Council means that the most senior librarian in the Library Service is now at a 4th tier level. The County Librarian used to be a 1st tier officer, reporting directly to the Chief Executive of the County Council. Reduce the service’s management any further and real capacity issues will develop, seriously putting at risk the quality of the service delivered – making it even easier to cut.
The savings proposals do not allow for the provision of an equal or accessible service. The choices are random, uninformed and disproportionate. The Leader of the Council frequency draws comparison between the closure of a library and the care of vulnerable children. This simply illustrates the complete lack of a methodology that ensures savings are measured, accountable and mindful of the longer term. All services have a part to play, and pitching a library service against the care of vulnerable children is grossly over simplistic.