A UNISON meeting was held yesterday in Guildford, to discuss concerns about proposals for changes to Surrey Libraries. The proposals included the handing over of 11 libraries to volunteers and the removal of the mobile library service (more details can be found here). This was the second meeting that had taken place – the first also involved Alan Gibbons (author and national library campaigner) as a speaker. Alan’s passion for libraries had encouraged the holding of this second meeting.
There were about 15 people in attendance, with representatives from Unison, library users (including Friends of libraries groups) and library staff. The aim was to try to bring together the existing smaller library campaigns in Surrey (who were already concentrating on saving libraries in their own local area) in an attempt to create a larger unified campaign.
The meeting raised concerns about the validity of the consultation process and Surrey County Council’s plans in general for the library service. This included, for example:
- How valid was the data used to make decisions about changes to the library service?
- What exactly were Surrey County Council offering communities when they handed over libraries to them?
- Campaigners felt they were given an ultimatum about their library ie. You volunteer to run it, or you lose it (something we have seen in other local authorities).
- Those in attendance were aware of Chalfont St. Giles Library being cited as a successfully run volunteer library, but they were also aware that this success depended upon a management team of 10, 60+ volunteers and a steady high level of income through fundraising. The meeting agreed that this was not feasible everywhere.
- Were bus routes considered when proposing the removal of the mobile library service?
- Were the majority of the public in Surrey aware of the current proposals for changes to Surrey libraries? Did the suggestion of a community partnership make the public think libraries wouldn’t be closed?
- There was a positive feeling from library users about the importance of maintaining paid library staff including librarians.
- Are library staff able to campaign?
By the end of the meeting it was suggested that a positive way forward would be to:
- Co-ordinate the campaigning efforts of existing groups in Surrey into a larger force.
- Highlight the situation affecting Surrey Libraries to the broader community – both locally and nationally.
- Forge links with a number of local and national organisations as possible campaigning partners.
It was clear that those campaigners in attendance were passionate about fighting for their libraries and another meeting will be arranged soon to discuss the way forward.