North Yorkshire County Council is planning to close 22 out of 42 public libraries in the county. Their consultation document says, “The proposed future service would be delivered through 18 core libraries, geographically spread across the County and two super-mobiles, supplemented by the home library and information service; and a network of community libraries run by local communities with professional support from the County Council.”
In light of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the council seeks to cut 28% from the library budget. The easiest way to do this is to close 52% of the libraries:
Ayton, Barlby, Bedale, Bentham, Bilton, Boroughbridge, Colburn, Easingwold, Eastfield, Embsay, Gargrave, Great Ayton, Helmsley, Hunmanby, Ingleton, Kirkbymoorside, Leyburn, Masham, Pateley Bridge, Scalby, Starbeck and Tadcaster.
The Friends of Easingwold Library campaign recently received the results of an FOI request into visits to North Yorkshire’s libraries over the past ten years and the council’s data shows that the proposed cuts do not make sense.
Many of the libraries listed above receive low amounts of visits (with the exception of Scalby and Starbeck which are among the top 16 most-visited libraries). However number of visits is not necessarily an indicator of a library’s success.
From 2009-2010, 17 libraries had an increase in visits: 8 of these (47%) are now marked for closure. 25 libraries had a decrease in visits: 12 of these (67%) are part of the council’s 18 ‘core libraries’.
Kirkbymoorside experienced a 40% increase in visits (+9470 visits)
Helmsley – the Council’s Library of the Year 2010 – experienced a 13% increase (+5136 visits)
Pateley Bridge – 12% (+2871 visits)
Barlby – 9% (+1283 visits)
Ingleton – 5% (+1200 visits)
Bedale – 5% (+2049 visits)
Easingwold – 2% (+1102 visits)
Gargrave – 2% (+609 visits)
Over the full ten years of the data, 30 out of the 42 libraries saw an increase in visits. Of these 30, 18 (60%) are marked for closure. 8 out of the 12 libraries with decreased visits are ‘core libraries’.
This graph shows the total number of library visits across North Yorkshire over the ten years of data provided. As it shows, library usage has not experienced any major decline over the ten years and has in fact increased since 2003-2005. Despite the fact that North Yorkshire has expanded its online presence with ebook lending, online catalogues, and online renewal / reservation systems, the libraries have overall experienced no decline in physical visits. Combine this with the fact that the library service will have experienced an increase in digital visits and it means that usage of North Yorkshire libraries has very likely increased over the past ten years.
Combining the council’s data with demographic information indicates the proposed closures will affect many of the most vulnerable. 19 of the libraries slated for closure have a higher percentage of people aged 65 and over than the North Yorkshire average (12.8%). Seven of the libraries slated for closure have a figure ten percent or higher than the North Yorkshire average, including Helmsley (25%), Kirkbymoorside (24%) and Easingwold (23.7%). Similarly to Gloucestershire, this indicates libraries are particularly well-valued and well-visited by the over 65s, and closing these libraries would cut off a valuable link to books and community. It is important to note these statistics are drawn from the 2001 Census, and the actual proportion of over 65s in North Yorkshire is likely to be much higher given that the latest Subnational Population Projection estimates 27% of North Yorkshire’s population will be aged 65 or over by 2021.
The only factor the council is using in its closure decisions is total number of physical visits. However this figure does not indicate a library’s success. Libraries in built-up areas such as Harrogate andScarborough are obviously going to have more visits than those in isolated rural areas. As shown, many of these isolated libraries have seen an increased in percentage usage year-on-year. The council is planning to cut a successful library service and close successful branch libraries based on their physical location: these kinds of cuts do not make sense.
This is not the first time that libraries have been proposed for closure on spurious grounds. The battle against closures in Wirral was fought and won on the following grounds:
- Stated intention for large numbers of closures
- Driven by asset-review, not social outcomes
- Ineffective consultation with public (and staff)
- Potential of library services not well recognised
- No workable strategy for service improvement
- ‘Good Practice’ elsewhere not being considered
The evidence above suggests that these grounds are relevant to North Yorkshire’s proposals. Library campaigners and library users in North Yorkshire can ask the DCMS to conduct a review of the council’s proposals on these grounds. The proposed closures do not make sense and we should press the council to rethink their plans for North Yorkshire’s libraries.