Birmingham City Council’s library cuts: from world class city to mediocrity

This is an open letter from John Dolan, former Head of Libraries at Birmingham City Council, to Cllr. Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council and Cabinet Member, Culture, copied to Randal Brew Cabinet Member, Finance and Ian Ward, opposition member for Culture.

Dear Councillors Whitby and Mullaney,

The Birmingham Post sets out cuts planned for Birmingham Libraries .This comes out one day before the last Council public consultation meeting on its budget plans. There was no mention of libraries in list of cuts up for public consultation. In all the public papers (at; the words ‘library’ or ‘libraries’ are not used anywhere.

This is actually about dismantling the service through the back door while pretending to fix the front door. Birmingham has already dismissed most of the senior and middle management.

Previous cuts: What is the financial value of cuts and savings already made this financial year? Managers and staff? Bookfund? Other resources? The closed Children’s Mobile Library? The closed Schools Library Service? Maintenance budgets? Training budgets? Reduced hours? Libraries closed “for repair”?

Investment: What is being invested in library buildings, their maintenance, on re-opening libraries closed “for repair”? How many libraries already require repairs over say, £50,000? How much will be spent on self-service machines? What’s the timescale? Who will be charged with installing them and training staff?

People: Why does this report not say that, already, nearly all senior and middle management have been made redundant, that the majority of librarians are being made redundant? Why are you deliberately getting rid of librarian skills? How will you provide library services of any quality?

Volunteers: You talk of using volunteers. What skills will they need? What will be their responsibilities? Who will manage volunteers? How will they be trained? Will they be able to do information searches, tell stories to children, advise on reading, assist with homework, show people how to use the computer, plan and run summer reading/literacy programmes? Will they have access to my personal information?

Bookstart: Who will distribute the Government-funded ‘Bookstart’ books for babies as the ‘Bookstart’ librarian has been made redundant?

Income: Where’s the business plan for leasing rooms? How many rooms? Rooms are already ‘leased’ – so does this mean the end of reduced / free room use for voluntary community groups? What is the additional income forecast?-

Co-location: Which buildings are you planning to share with others? Aston has already moved to smaller premises; which others are to move?

Library of Birmingham: You have a chance to do something special to put Birmingham on the map. How much are the “savings being made on the £187 million Library of Birmingham”? Are you still planning for the LOB to be a “world class” library – in services as well as architecture?” How will the LOB work with and support local libraries in local communities? Do you have a revenue budget for the LOB? Will it be what was envisaged or will you downgrade the world class vision to the provincial ordinary

Community libraries: How do you envisage a community library will play an active part in community life if it’s only open “two days a week”?

Birmingham Library Services: This was an historic, outstanding and innovative public service. Will the library service be reunited as one service or remain divided across constituencies, duplicating and wasting resources? How much does each constituency have to save? What if some agree and others don’t? Or what has already been agreed out of public view?

Total savings: These savings were not in the list for consultation with the total savings target. Why were they omitted? Are they extra to those announced?

Public consultation: Why has there been no public information about these proposals? Why was this information deliberately omitted from the presentations at the public meetings? Why is there no public consultation about library service cuts? What does the council intend to do about that?

Would you accept that there is actually no strategic thinking here about public library services? There has been no meaningful consultation on library service cuts or its future. Isn’t your real intention to neglect and downgrade the service to be, at best, mediocre? How therefore, do you intend to meet your duties under library legislation? You must provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” to everyone who wishes to use it. How will you do that?

Finally, you need to be told that the budget consultation papers are in such complex language and layout as to completely shatter the Council’s own rules on plain language.

I await your comments and explanations.

John Dolan OBE

5 thoughts on “Birmingham City Council’s library cuts: from world class city to mediocrity

  1. John Kirriemuir

    There’s a large overlap – to the degree that it all blurs into one – between the social media, arts, photography, IT, informatics and librarian communities and networks of Birmingham. It’s part of what makes this city culturally rather startling.

    So it wasn’t a surprise to see this post being retweeted by Birmingham artists and social media people this evening. And there’s some overlap between what John has written and questioned, and Pete Ashton’s concerns (a bit sweary) regarding how Birmingham City Council treat the arts sector when it comes to actual funding.

    What makes John’s open letter all the more ironic is that today was the day that David Cameron – yes, the Prime Minister – was given a guided tour of the forthcoming new Birmingham Central Library, as modeled in Second Life, by another Birmingham company.

  2. Sibyl Ruth

    As a Birmingham resident I’d love some answers to this excellent letter.

    But our Council seems to prefer glossy press releases and spin, to clear answers. So I am not holding my breath..

  3. Adrian Johnson

    last February five former Birmingham Poet laureates stood up for public libraries on Library Day. Seems like 4 Feb 2012 will be going into the diary.

    Libraries are the only place on the high street where you can spend time and be a citizen. Everywhere else is increasingly privsatised and expensive.

    Let’s speak up and stand up for the best we have in the public sector: libraries, parks and swimming pools!

  4. Rowan Adams

    I thought things here were pretty bad, but it seems Birmingham, once renowned as a cultural centre, is now being run by even greater philistines than the councillors at the Isle of Wight.

    We were told 9 out of 11 libraries would be closed in a useless ‘consultation’ that had no environmental, social or economic impact assessments.
    Thanks to our campaigning we managed to get 6 out of 11 libraries kept open, though with reduced hours. Five libraries are now being ruin by ‘volunteers’, who only volunteered under duress because it was volunteer or lose the local library altogether.

    Surely what Birmingham is proposing would be in breach
    of the 1964 Act?

  5. mary worrall

    What a fantastic letter! Well done Mr Dolan, I will wait – probably for a very long time – to hear what Councillors Whitby and Mullaney have to say in reply…

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