Welcome to January’s newsletter!
We begin January’s newsletter with a save the date call: MARCH 25th 2023, which is when we will be holding our AGM – and it will be an in-person event as well! We will be delighted if you can make it. Full details will be announced in next month’s newsletter. There will be the facility to participate online but we’d like to see as many people as possible in London. The venue will be the UNISON Centre on Euston Road – a short walk from Euston, Kings Cross and St Pancras stations and several tube / bus stops. We will combine the AGM with an open meeting (i.e. you don’t need to be a Campaign member to attend) on a topic of current interest in public libraries – quite possibly the Sanderson review of Public Library Strategy -see below. We are planning to invite a guest speaker with insight into whatever topic we choose.
Hendon, in the north London borough of Barnet, is an example of a growing trend – where a library is not threatened directly to save money or “modernise the service” (ha ha), but is collateral damage carelessly caused by some awful mega-development.
So the battle may be about planning law, not library law. It’s new territory. Save Hendon has been showing the way since 2021. An early focus of its excellent campaign against a massive “Hendon hub” was the listed library. This was to be gutted, turned into a business centre for Middlesex University and replaced by an obscure glass box dwarfed by student housing blocks.
Save Hendon harnessed public support for the library and 100% opposition to all the hub’s planning applications. Meanwhile, a local resident started a judicial review (JR) process challenging the legal status of the whole plan. The underlying issue was the council’s determination to proceed with minimal scrutiny or consultation.
While the JR churned on through 2022, local elections changed Barnet council from Tory to Labour. The new council asked to pause the JR, then withdrew the planning document altogether. So, no JR but a point won. That story can only now be told, as the legal costs have finally been settled (Barnet has to pay most of them).
The chance was lost to test the hub concept in court. But all the delays have saved the library (so far). The overall fight continues, with Save Hendon still playing its part.
Croydon’s dire financial state is well known, with new horrors still being discovered. No surprise, then, that its much-contested previous plan to prevent library closures by inviting in “the community” has been replaced by a grim statement from the Mayor that even that can’t be guaranteed.
Now a survey is asking locals to rank nine services in order of their importance: support for elderly and vulnerable adults; services for children, young people and families, and education; rubbish and recycling collection; keeping streets safe and clean; housing services and homelessness prevention; libraries and culture; parks and open spaces; leisure and sports facilities; economic growth, job creation
and regeneration. Tricky point for library supporters: libraries, of course, make a solid contribution to almost all these areas!
Wholesale closures are not currently on the menu in Cardiff – probably because the council reminders the huge row in 2015 that forced it to reverse plans to close seven libraries. Instead, it’s offering a choice of savings to affect all libraries: fewer staff and more volunteers; closing on Saturday afternoons; closing one day a week;
finding savings “elsewhere”.
A strong campaign is arguing that these seemingly limited cuts could lead directly to complete closures in future. Cardiff People’s Assembly argues: “Cardiff Council proposals to slash library opening times and recruit more unpaid volunteers is a classic technique. Opening hours are cut, the service is run down, use falls as residents find their local library is not open when they want and does not have
what they want, this is then used as an excuse to close libraries.”
Baroness Sanderson
Last month we said we had received a helpful reply from Baroness Sanderson. A few days after this newsletter goes out we shall be meeting her in person. More news next time!
Laura Swaffield, Chair of TLC and our magazine editor, in the press
Helping the press is all part of the day’s work for TLC. Sometimes it’s worth it. Before Christmas, TalkTalk published a survey showing increased use of library workspaces by small businesses. Would we comment? Of course: “It's great to see TalkTalk adding to the mass of evidence that libraries are well-used, and very much needed. From business people using the workspaces to those who can’t access internet at home, libraries are still hugely valued as physical spaces, and are a lifeline to all kinds of people. So at a time of difficult spending decisions – with a cost of just 1 percent of local authority budgets –libraries remain an essential investment.”Then the PR agency asked would we be willing to be filmed if any broadcast media took the bait? Sure. Then – could we arrange for the filming to be in a library?Probably tomorrow?Cue a mad afternoon contacting Lambeth’s head of service, Lambeth’s publicity department and the head librarian at Brixton library. All said yes, bless them – they have a good story to tell. Tomorrow dawned. The PR agency said THREE broadcasters had shown interest – but all had cried off. So it was all in vain. The quote did appear, however, in one local paper, HR Review and, rather pleasingly,the Daily Mail. Libraries Connected was so pleased with it that they emailed congratulations.An easier success came via writer Kate Thompson, whose library stories havef eatured in our magazine twice. She had got the Daily Express interested in the story of library benefactor Andrew Carnegie. We briefed her on some details – notably the fight by the Friends of Carnegie Library in Lambeth to save their library (twice).Result – a full two pages in a major national newspaper.
Way back in 2019, SOLE (Save Our Libraries Essex) formed to fight an awful plan that could have closed all but 30 of the county’s 74 libraries. They had to cover a huge area, a lot of libraries – and carry on through lockdown. But public support was demonstrated everywhere, including by a march of almost 1,000 or more people.
The council wisely gave in. It promised to keep all 74 branches open – but hoped to get as many as possible run by “the community”. SOLE said this was no solution. It produced a paper explaining why (still very useful – find it in TLC’s magazine no 98). As plans and councillors came and went, it produced its own list of basic requirements.
Now, finally, real progress! On 14 January, SOLE asked the council’s deputy leader a clear question: “Are you currently seeking, or will you accept, offers from voluntary groups to take over and run our currently professionally run libraries?” The answer: no. SOLE comments: “This is the reassurance we have been seeking for some time.
A closure by stealth plan cancelled!” But it will go on watching.
Some campaigns work rather faster… Late last November, Bristol floated the possibility of moving the Central Library out of its iconic, splendidly sited, Grade I building. By mid-December, there were over 4,000 signatures on petitions and all-party furious opposition. By 11 January, the idea was “off the table”. Coincidentally, there is soon to be a by-election in the ward where the library is sited…
Last month’s newsletter reported on the libraries of Hackney, where strikes were due to take place in response to proposed cuts that included the threat of up to 44 job losses. These strikes, due to take place on 20th January, were called off as a “gesture of goodwill” following talks between trade union Unison and management. Watch this space however, as members of Unite have proposed strikes on 1st, 2nd and 3rd February depending on how discussions progress. According to The Hackney Gazette, management’s proposals could include a much reduced service with 425k less in funding for Hackney’s libraries. We will follow the events in Hackney closely to see how the proposed disruptions to services will have hopefully paid off and will keep you posted. Hackney Unison are updating their twitter with a special focus on library services at the moment which can be viewed here
Nottingham updates
It’s been rather a cliff-hanger, but at last it’s official – Nottingham will not close three libraries to save money. TLC sent evidence to the original consultation. We have to thank Save Nottingham Libraries, who united authors and public in a strong
campaign. We also thank the library management, who arranged a (Zoom) meeting where we outlined our concerns – and made changes that reduced the required saving from the closures from £233,000 to just £79,000. Too ridiculous to accept. We have yet to evaluate the “staff restructure” that achieved this…
Wirral is another cliffhanger. Its library has the distinction of being the only one ever to be subject to a full enquiry under the 1964 Act, in 2009 when Andy Burnham was DCMS Secretary of State. Its drastic closure plans were held to be in breach of the law – and hastily withdrawn. The case is still cited by the DCMS as guidance to
follow (it’s all explained on our website: https://librarycampaign.com/beyond-the-council).
Yet last year the council announced similar drastic cuts. The only real difference was that it hoped to turn over many libraries to – you’ve guessed it – “the community”. It is not going well. Only two groups managed to produce a viable business case. Nine others closed late last year. The council went on trying to find takers for them, with a new deadline of 9 December. This came and went, with no news. The whole mess was due to be discussed at a council meeting on 25 January. Now that’s been postponed! What’s going on?
One thing that’s going on is continuing public opposition, notably by the very active Friends of Wallasey Central Library.
and finally…
A reminder to follow us on our various social media channels and recommend friends and colleagues who may be interested, to sign up to our newsletter in order to keep up with the latest developments regarding UK public libraries and the progress of The Library Campaign. Many thanks! Until next month…
Copyright (C) *2022* *The Library Campaign*. * Registered Charity No: 1102634 * All rights reserved.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email