March For The Alternative : Libraries

Love Not War

I went to the March For The Alternative last Saturday. It was a protest march through London… a protest march against cuts the Government are forcing onto local authorities, including libraries. A few hundred thousand people turned up. I can’t be sure of the exact numbers, as indications in the media vary so much.

My girlfriend had helped me with my placard, which I’d built from an empty box of toilet paper… it seemed appropriate!

Billy BraggI didn’t know what the march was going to be like. It was my first, but for many reasons I felt it was important that I was there. I was hoping to meet up with other library campaigners, especially those involved in Voices For The Library. 

However, due to the crowds, I didn’t manage it. It didn’t matter though – I may not have known the people around me, but we were all there for the same reason.

I got to Waterloo Station by 10.30am and started the march at about 11.30am. The only celebrity marcher I saw on route was Billy Bragg. Nice to see him, especially as he has been a keen supporter of libraries. 

Starting from Embankment, the march went along the Thames and past various political landmarks, including The Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus.

View From Waterloo Bridge 2

The people who came along were from right across the social spectrum and age ranges. They were all there to make the point that these cuts are ridiculous.

Books Not Bonuses

I had intended to tweet highlights along the way, along with photographs, but I had real problems with my phone. I only managed to get a signal for about 5 minutes along the whole route, so that plan failed! The photos I took are available on Flickr. It was good to catch up with tweets and photographs later in the day that other campaigners had sent out.

Whitehall 2Despite the fact that we were all there for a downbeat reason, it was an upbeat day, with music accompanying us on our route and people making their voices heard.

No to cats/cuts

I eventually got to the Hyde Park rally at about 3.15pm. I listened to a few speakers talking about cuts to NHS, care and services supplied to immigrants.  It was interesting to hear about other areas of public services, as I’ve been concentrating on cuts to public libraries. However, by about 3.45pm I was getting a bit fed up by the fact that I’d not met anyone I knew and may not do, as I didn’t know where anyone was and the battery on my phone was about to go kaput!

Jo Bo Anderson and Family

But then I got a phone call from Mick telling me which pub a few of them were in. Hurrah! So, I headed off in the right direction and as I was crossing the road at Hyde Park I bumped into  original Voices For The Library founder and Friends Of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner Jo Bo Anderson with her family! What are the chances of bumping into them amongst a few hundred thousand protesters and what a nice bit of serendipity. 🙂 So, I got the chance to catch up with Jo and then meet Mick, Anne, Simon, Gareth in the pub. A great way to top off what was, on the whole, a positive and successful march… and I haven’t thrown my placard away… just in case I need it again soon. I hope I don’t, but that would be too good to be true.

Surrey Libraries Review Goes With Original Decision

On March 1st 2011 Surrey County Council Cabinet debated “Safer and Stronger Communities Committee” request for Cabinet to rethink the decision to turn eleven libraries into “community partnered libraries” (increased use of volunteers) and remove the mobile library service. The original decision was upheld by Cabinet and the full webcast of the meeting can be viewed here (15:56 – 1:11:38).

The decision to remove mobile libraries remains open for consultation until the end of March 2011 and the “community partnered libraries” until June 2011.

Dr Andrew Povey suggested that at the end of the day service provision for all libraries may mean “Eleven different solutions will be the case.” depending upon the community partnership proposal.

There is no definite indication as to what will happen to the 11 libraries if community partnerships are not put in place.

(Apologies: This blog post failed to be published as originally scheduled. Typical!)

Councils Burying Library Facts

Since following a number of campaigns against library cuts over the past year (as part of Voices For The Library) I have seen occasions where local authority councils have announced that libraries are safe and, accordingly, local people breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, in some cases, the councils either went back on their original decisions, or revealed/expanded on information that was previously hidden away. Original council statements about cuts and closures can be written in a manner that allows people to interpret the statement in a number of different ways… ways that implies services are safer than they really are, but gives councils a get-out clause and the opportunity to exclaim to anyone who questions their actions, “But, we told you that originally!”, or “You never asked us!”

For example:

Wiltshire – Mere Library hours

Users of Mere Library were originally informed in November 2010 that the service would remain as it is, however they subsequently discovered that “Mere’s service could be reduced from 45 hours a week to just 14“. (Salisbury Journal, 20th January 2011) “Wiltshire Council later relented and said the service would operate for 31 hours a week, but residents’ celebrations were cut short when they were told this would consist of 17 hours of library staffing and 14 hours of volunteer staffing. They were also warned this is likely to be reduced in the longer term…” (Salisbury Journal, 24th February 2011)

How could this be interpreted as Mere Library remaining as it is?

Southampton – Librarian posts

Last year concerns were raised about the future of Millbrook and Thornhill Libraries by library staff and users. John Hannides (Libraries councillor) “said the council was working with the community in Thornhill to create a local volunteer library service. Housing boss Cllr Peter Baillie added he “expected” a library to return in Millbrook in one of the retail units earmarked for Cumbrian Way.” (Southern Daily Echo, 16th September 2010)

However, a petition was submitted against the proposals and Southampton City Council replied (29th October 2010) as follows. “It is important to stress that there will be no redundancies or loss of librarian posts as a result of the proposal to introduce more volunteers.”

Even if Southampton did keep the same number of librarian posts city-wide, just by creating a local volunteer library in Thornhill, it means that librarian posts or trained library staff would be lost from that location.

How is this not “loss of librarian posts”?

NB: These Southampton libraries have now been reprieved, but the point I’m making still stands.

Doncaster – Timescale for changes

In February 2010 Doncaster County Council stated “The budget proposals that will be considered on Monday contain provisions that: The budget required to maintain library provision at the 14 sites across the borough will be re-instated as a 2011/12 reserve for up to a year.” However, within a couple of weeks it was discovered that some local communities had only been given up until June 2010 to suggest alternative ways to keep their local public library, otherwise it would be closed.

How can three months be classed as “up to a year”?

More details of the Doncaster campaign can be found on the Save Doncaster Libraries site.

Gloucestershire – Number of libraries affected

It was suggested that only 11 Gloucestershire libraries would be affected by changes by the County Council, as they would no longer be funded by the County Council. However, it turned out that as well as this, proposals included the creation of 7 Library Link libraries, which would only have to be open a minimum of 3 hours per week! The Council’s own report stated “For Library Link to be affordable, we need a number of partners to either move into a library building or for the library to share a building owned by a partner.” ie The Council would only be able to keep libraries open if other organisations came forward to help. It was also announced that all 5 mobile libraries were to be closed.

How could the council say the service in these libraries would be unaffected?

More details can be found on the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries site, here and here.

Gloucestershire – Freedom of Information requests

Gloucestershire were also involved partnership discussions with the local Police Authority. When a Freedom of Information request by Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries was made about these discussions/agreements between the two organisations, Gloucestershire County Council responded as follows:

“we do not hold any information relating to this request as Gloucestershire County Council does not have an agreement with the Police regarding libraries. We have only entered into discussions at this stage so there is no documentation”

Gloucestershire Police Authority responded as follows:

“Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 s1, I can confirm that Gloucestershire Police Authority holds some relevant information. No formal agreements exist, although proposals around potential opportunities to share accommodation are being explored. Documentation relating to this is currently exempt by virtue of paragraphs 3 and 4 of part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, and therefore closed to Freedom of Information requests.”

So, as Gloucestershire Police Authority were able to provide confirmation that information existed, could Gloucestershire County Council response be taken as understanding what was required from the request, but deciding to deliberately interpret it in a way that meant they did not provide any information? Wouldn’t it have been better (in the eyes of the voting public) if they’d shown themselves to be open and transparent and more willing to pass on some useful information. This has also happened on another occasion with a Freedom of Information request submitted to Gloucestershire.

More information can be found on the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries site.

There’s a lack of clarity in all of these, which seems as if some Councils are trying to deliberately bury the bad news and hide the truth. It’s almost as if they are standing there looking innocent, and when questioned about what they originally said, pull tongues and shout “Ha! Ha! It doesn’t count! I had my fingers crossed behind my back when I said it!”

It’s no wonder people have trouble believing politicians. If councils gave the public the information they wanted and needed in the first place, it would be a step towards them regaining our trust in them… if that’s possible.