No appetite for library cuts in Lincolnshire

People across Lincolnshire are appalled by the county council’s plans to cut public library services.

Save Lincolnshire Libraries is a group campaigning against library cuts across the whole county.

We’re disappointed that on the 2nd of July, the county council executive ignored the advice of its own scrutiny committee and continue with this misguided proposal.

In particular, we were appalled that not a single councillor in the meeting was prepared to stand up for statutory library provision – instead, councillors made ill-informed statements along the lines of “children don’t have a love for books any more” and began to discuss exactly how they plan to allocate funding to volunteer groups.

We can’t see how the council can remove all funding from 30 public libraries without breaking their legal obligation to maintain a “comprehensive” service.

We’ve received messages of support from hundreds of Lincolnshire people who are shocked at the destructiveness of the council’s proposal.

Of course, we want to reverse the declining trend in book borrowing. But cutting library hours or handing the building over to volunteers is not the way to achieve this.

Books are only part of the story, and the total number of “interactions” with Lincolnshire library services – including PC and Internet use, and people who visit libraries but do not borrow books – has increased over the past decade, according to the council’s own figures.

Paul Stainthorp, a spokesperson for the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign, said:

“It’s the market towns and villages that will be hit hardest by library cuts. You may be lucky enough to end up with “only” a half-hour bus ride to the nearest council-run library – the county council thinks this should be good enough for you. But for many people, the rising cost of travel means that a visit to the library will become an occasional luxury.”

Instead, volunteers will be invited to run libraries for a minimum of six hours a week. We know that people who give of their time and enthusiasm freely can be the lifeblood of local areas.

But ask existing library volunteers in Lincolnshire, and they’ll tell you they can only do what they do with the help of professional library staff working alongside them in the library building. Vague promises of “support” from 40 or 50 miles away in county hall aren’t the same thing at all.

Volunteers are no substitute for professional library staff who can answer complex questions, and who can be trusted to look after library users’ personal information and protect their privacy.

Save Lincolnshire Libraries will continue to make the case that Lincolnshire needs better libraries than the council seems to think it deserves.

Scrutiny committee reject Lincolnshire County Council proposal

On Wednesday, 26th June, the Community and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee, made up of 11 Lincolnshire county councillors, rejected the council’s proposal for changes to library provision in Lincolnshire.

Save Lincolnshire Libraries member Emily Evison, who is campaigning to save Nettleham Library, was at the scrutiny committee meeting:

This meeting focused on the report on consultation about the Library Service and considered recommendations to the Executive Committee.

The Committee voted against (5 to 3 with 8 abstaining) public consultations on proposals to put in place a new model of statutory library provision, including the use of volunteers to run some libraries at local level. They were explicit that they voted against the current document being tabled, not against the idea of public consultation. But, a final decision on whether to implement the proposals is reserved for the Executive Committee, which meets next week on 2nd July. They will have a formal debate and could decide to over-rule their councillors’ vote.

Cllr Worth, Executive Councillor for Libraries, Heritage and Culture, said this was not about library closures, but a genuine attempt at public consultation. If this is to be believed, we must make sure that our voices are heard.
Whatever else we do now, we must keep this in front of the public: sending in letters or emails to local and key members before next Tuesday’s meeting.

The same department responsible for these cuts has decided to spend £10 million on high speed broadband across the county. There are decisions on spending that make this £2 million cut to the libraries easy to solve, but it is not being treated as a priority.

Decisions on which libraries to keep open has been made based on a catchment area of 30 minutes travel to the nearest library by car or on public transport. Many councillors felt that this was not a useful measurement as many with the greatest need would be unable to regularly make the round trip to the library. They also referred to larger populated areas having their libraries in tier 2 (safe library but shorter hours funded), however one councillor cited three tier 2 communities that were smaller than the town he represented (his library was to be closed). The chair of the committee was councillor for one of these smaller communities with a safe library.

There was strong feeling that libraries needed to be saved as a public service, and that volunteer-run libraries might work in some communities but was not a sustainable model across the county.

Those in favour repeatedly cited that only 1/5 community used the library in a year. It would be interesting to see how different libraries compare, but that table was not included in the 100+page document I ploughed through.

Councillors from Boulton, Deepings, Grantham, and Branston were all outspoken against this proposal and really stood up for their communities rights to a library. More wanted to speak but hadn’t made formal requests, public speakers were not invited.

Although the vote was positive, we must not think that, because of today, this proposal will go away.

Emily Evison, Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign