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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Alternative to Hollowing Out Libraries

I see that Derbyshire County Council have made the opposite choice to Brent in deciding to "hollow out" their services as an alternative to closure.  This will be much easier for them politically, but lead to a long term decline, as I have argued before.

For a while they can get along with cutting opening hours and book stock, as they are currently doing. They can also reduce wider services, for example lower grade computers, fewer electronic materials and higher charges for discretionary things like ebook lending.  They can also increase fines for late books, and safeguard their revenue by making those books harder to renew (for example, by not allowing online or telephone renewals).  All these are short term measures that can keep them going for a bit, but they all erode the quality of the library experience for the user.  They also create a new baseline of lower expectation.  In the pattern of savage cuts to Council funding, it will be difficult for any future administration in Derbyshire to restore book buying to the previous level; lower book stock will simply become the new norm.  Indeed I believe Gloucestershire had already cut back it's book buying dramatically. I suspect that they then decided to start closing branches because they could no longer obtain savings from the book budget.  In other words, this pattern of across the board cuts in services may well simply delay branch closures rather than prevent them.

At the same time, the technological changes that the book industry and society are going through are as dramatic as the rise of printing itself.  If libraries don't engage with the ongoing spread of digital information in every walk of life, they will simply become irrelevant. Libraries without up to date technology will not be able to help people into the job market or to help people with educational requirements because they simply won't have the technology that education and increasing numbers of companies need.

All this brings me back to the Brent answer to these problems.  Instead of salami slicing across the service we are concentrating our increasingly limited resources on a smaller number of buildings.  Each of these buildings will be in a transport node, preferably co-located with other services, and with an excellent range of library services available for as many hours as possible.  We will also use an outreach service and other means to try to draw in as many users as possible to make maximum use of library resources, and (incidentally) maintain public support for the service.


Comments below seem to be on a different subject to the post.  I was interested that Derbyshire, and earlier Southampton, both framed the problem in the same way as me independently.  The real choice facing authorities bearing the brunt of Eric Pickles brutal attack on local government is should their library services absorb the pressure through cuts in staff and services (as Derbyshire and Southampton have chosen to do), or by prioritising services at the expense of buildings?


Anonymous said...

No comment at all on the CIPFA report just out then?
Are you not capable of listening to anyone?

Even the point about 'not engaging with communities'?

Anonymous said...

Instead of comparing Brent to Derbyshire how about comparing it to 15 other London boroughs like the independent CIPFA report did? I don't suppose you will since the report found that Brent was in the bottom quartile for both level of book stock and expenditure on libraries per per 1,000 of its population, had the second lowest no. of visits per 1,000 of population, the 3rd lowest no. of active borrowers per 1,000 of population and the lowest no. of service points per 1,000 population. More damningly the number of library visits has dropped by over 11% since the closure of 6 libraries.
People wanting more info on this report can download it here, since Powney and his colleagues are clearly censoring it.

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