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?