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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Brent Libraries Strategy

The end of the legal challenge means that it is easier for me to comment on the Libraries Transformation Project than it has been previously, so I will probably be doing a lot more posts on the subject.

Essentially, the huge scale of the government cuts _ more than £100 million over four years _ meant that we had to examine all areas of Council expenditure.  It was never realistic to imagine that the library service would not be affected, and there are also positive things that we wanted to do with the service.  The options available to local authorities were basically two.

One is the route that we took.  We decided to concentrate on library services from a smaller number of high quality buildings.  We decided that "high quality" meant in High Street locations with good public transport access and preferably co-located with other partners.  Harlesden Library, where the upper part is shared with BACES, is a good example.  This means that Brent Library service concentrates on improving the quality of its provision _ taking advantage of technological advances, working better with partners in outreach, marketing the service to non-users more effectively, organising more events in libraries.  By having all our libraries open seven days a week, we also have a more uniform standard across the Borough, allowing users a more comprehensive service.

The alternative, which many other authorities have chosen, is one of further decline.  Politically, this would be much easier.  Closing a building is much more obvious than cutting opening, not buying bookstock, not holding events, not having an outreach service and so on.  This basically means reducing quality of service for the sake of maintaining a shell of libraries without much in them.  What you might call Potemkin libraries.  Ultimately, I believe this would lead to lower and lower usage, and declining public support for the principle of a library service and the public sector in general (quitte possibly what the Tory government wants).

The test will be how Brent's library services will look in 2014/15.  Will I be proved right in expecting Brent's libraries to have more visiters and more book loans by then?


Anonymous said...

There is more than one alternative, and this is where the council has not been very imaginative. You could have been more cooperative in engaging with residents. No one is unaware of the drastic effects of Tory/Lib Dem cuts, but we do expect the Labour Party to do what it can to protect us and our services not simply do the bidding of the coalition. The plan by Kensal Rise campaigners to keep the library as a community run resource should be looked at sympathetically, like other organisations set up by communities in times of great need. There is a great tradiiton in England of communities getting together to service their own needs. This is not the same as the cynical 'Big Society' hoodwinking of people running their own services so that the state can absolve itself of the responsibility. Some of us strongly believe that there should exist a healthy strong public service providing services that people pay their taxes for. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, accept the help that is being offered to you by the campaigners of Kensal Rise/Kensal Green. Despite the destruction that is wrought throughout England by the coalition work with us to preserve our services when we have offered our commitment and energy. It is not too late.

Ossian said...

How is it that in the last century twelve local libraries were affordable and now they are not? How is it that in the last century local police stations were affordable and now they are not? Local post offices, ditto. A car park was affordable. Not now. You afford what you want to afford and you simply do not care about what people want, all you care about and all you understand is money and compliance. You are the collaborating prison guards, enforcing destruction on your own communities.

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