Dear Library Lovers
On Wednesday night the Tory councillors on the CELS committee recommended their changes to our library system to be accepted, subject to a vote in full council on 4 April. The plan promises disaster for our libraries and, therefore, for us. Dan Thomas, almost bouncing in his seat as he brayed about how wonderful the new plan is, did not question its substance or its many omissions; he simply asked for one element – which is explained repeatedly in the document and had just minutes before been reiterated by Val White, the officer in charge – to be repeated. Why? Had he not read any of the 600+ pages beyond the one on which his name appears or had he not listened to Ms White’s summary, or both? Or was he just electioneering? Whatever the answer, it’s deplorable.
The sad fact is that it is likely all the Tory councillors in full council will blindly follow his example: don’t read, don’t question, just vote to destroy the library service. The report on which our libraries depend is full of holes where information should be to underpin the claims about how the system will work, and ambiguities and contradictions where clarity is essential. Looming in the shadows is the disaster of the massive IT failure that corrupted and wiped data, rendering the ‘technology-enabled’ staffless pilot at Edgware Library and online renewals, reservations and catalogue searches unusable. The council won’t say how much money has been, and will continue to be, lost as a result or how they’ll be compensated.
Here are a few points to consider. The council’s main plan for saving money is to cut the jobs of librarians, allowing them to work only 23 hours a week in the four biggest libraries, and 15 hours a week in the six next-size down category. Volunteers will, they hope, provide a presence for three hours twice a week when there is no staff. Hours and hours of no help available. And no toilets. – they won’t be available when there are no staff or volunteers in the building.
The partnership libraries will, if the council can find enough volunteers to take responsibility for managing them and more volunteers to work in them, be open for 15 hours a week. Hours and hours of no access. At least volunteers will be offered 12 training course, but what they will be and when they will be hasn’t been planned; so far all that is certain is that first aid won’t be included.
The population of Barnet is increasing but all the libraries will be made smaller. The new sizes seem arbitrary. We know that book stock will be reduced by 12% across the borough but not how that affects each of the 14 libraries. We know that the ‘study space’ which seems to be potentially any space not occupied by shelves of machinery, will be reduced but not how many fewer people can be accommodated. The officers are so good at picking numbers out of a hat, you think they could have provided an estimate for this.
Therefore, you see, the new library ‘service’, which the council claims should ‘be fit for the 21st century’, will have fewer staff, fewer books, and less space.
To defeat this proposal, we need to get Tory councillors to vote against it or abstain. That’s not an easy task when people always vote their party line. We need to make them understand they have something to lose, in addition to the benefits of the library service. Do you want to tell your Tory councillor(s) that if they vote for the proposal, you’ll vote against them in the next election? Do you want to tell Dan Thomas how his stance will influence your vote for candidates for the London Assembly of 5 May? Please, please do so now: the crunch is only a week away.