The following letter was sent by Mrs. Carolyn Carter, a Somerset library user, to her local Councillor in response to the Library Service consultation. Mrs Carter has kindly given us permission to publish this letter.
“8th January 2011
Dear Ms. Lawrence,
SCC Libraries’ Consultation
I am writing to voice my views and great disquiet about the proposed decimation of the Somerset Library Service. Please note: I neither work for Somerset Libraries or SCC nor have any family or friends who do; my comments are those of a library user and someone who values their worth to all in society.
I have completed the questionnaire but, like so many, it does not ask the right questions and frequently skews many of the answers. For example,
Q.2: Which library do you use the most? (select one only)
To this question I answered ‘Yeovil’ and hence nicely bolstered the Consultation Document’s statistic, that Yeovil is one of the libraries “currently account[ing] for about 80% of all library visits, 78% of issues and 78% of active members.”
However, had I been asked why I use Yeovil, my answer would have been illuminating, viz: ‘because I and my family have long, long ago exhausted our local library service and stock at Castle Cary and, more recently, especially since the cuts in staffing, at Wincanton too’- a very different slant on the former question, I’m sure you will agree? Consequently, since we cannot possibly be alone in this behaviour, using the 80%/78% statistic as a basis for cuts is both misplaced and actually disingenuous. Furthermore, just because we have experienced a poor local library service in the past does not mean we now deserve to have it even more curtailed in the future! This is particularly important for all those users and potential users who do not have the funds, physical mobility or the transport to travel to a library much further away: I have all three, which enables me to undertake the far longer journey to Yeovil library, many do not. Travel – and its costs – is a genuine concern in such a rural county and, where buses exist, cuts to routes and their frequency have already been announced.
The library service is always a very easy target for cuts and, no doubt, appears attractive as a candidate for ‘giving communities more powers’ etc., as wished for in the government’s Big Society. However, reneging on statutory duties to provide: “a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,” does not mean removing funding from a considerable proportion of Somerset residents – residents, I reiterate, who would have made more use of the service had it not been drastically cut in the past. Giving communities more power, does not mean dumping a problem on them.
Already, Somerset Library Service has far too few qualified librarians: getting professional help is already difficult in the larger libraries and virtually or actually impossible in the smaller branches. Since professional input is also needed for tasks such as stock selection and indexing, the lack of relevant and updated stock in the proposed community libraries can only drastically worsen.
Consequently, the assertion that: “Savings arising from the reduction in numbers of fully-funded libraries would be matched by significant savings in support, management and professional staffing costs,” simply beggars belief and at a time when more professional help and expertise in the acquisition, indexing, finding, dissemination and utilisation of information will be needed, as unemployment increases and young people drop out of FE from a lack of EMA.
I think it highly likely you will get willing volunteers to run the proposed community libraries, but these will become little more than aging fiction book-swap clubs, being run and used mainly by middle-class, middle-aged, white women (just like me). These unqualified volunteers will not be able to offer any outreach services, to encourage and cater for young people, offer expertise with information finding and use, keep-up indexes and catalogues to aid searching, assist with ICT and other media (if they still exist!), know what and how to buy new materials – and buy them, etc. etc. etc.
Furthermore, once the Council goes down this road and loses its staff’s expertise and skill base, the service will decline further (which will, no doubt, lead to a reduction in people using the services and the Council saying there isn’t a need for the services because no-one is using them – and so the self-fulfilling downward spiral will continue). Such dumbed-down, out of date book clubs, with probably very restricted opening hours, will not only be an affront in a civilized society but also will not actually cater for, nor engender, the Big Society: a great many potential users (particularly the young and ethnic minorities) will be put off entering such parochial places, thereby negating one of the most important roles of public libraries, that of being socially inclusive by providing a non-threatening, non judgemental space, with a range of resources freely available to all.
These proposals are a backward step per se, would appear to contravene the Council’s statutory duties and their timing is both retrograde and a wasted opportunity in the current climate: more people will have less money and increased (albeit enforced) free time and hence will actually need greater access to local services and the skilled help necessary to find and utilise up to date information and leisure resources. Having a mere 14 funded libraries in a county the size of Somerset is nothing less than a shaming scandal.
Carolyn Carter (Mrs)”
Following on from this letter, Mrs. Carter also posted an email to a discussion list, with another key point about her local library.
“Castle Cary library is not small, it is tiny and hence the stock and lack of/access to qualified staff means it cannot offer a full service (NB. this is not a criticism of the CC staff). Ever since living in the area we have been promised a new libary but this has not happened (in fairness, latterly due to local councillors’ location concerns). It is well documented that improved library services raise use and hence increase the all-important usage statistics. Consequently, had CC had a new library before these cuts there is every likelihood that it would have entered the ranks of being worthy of continued funding.”