Libraries: Let’s look at some new ideas

Published on: 28 Nov 2017

Loud cheers were heard at a packed meeting held at the Council Chamber on November 14 to discuss ways to save Bristol’s libraries. A motion, developed by the cross-party scrutiny committee to reconsider proposals to save £1.4 million and protect the future of Bristol’s libraries, was passed by just one vote.

Petitions were presented by three library groups, who raised 12,958 signatures between them, protesting at proposals to cut the city’s library provision from 27 to 10. 

Jill Kempshall, of Westbury-on-Trym, presented a petition on behalf of Love Bristol Libraries, the city wide campaign group. She spoke about a flawed public consultation where the highest response was to write “none of the above” in the options to keep designated libraries open. 

Reflecting on the meeting, Jill said: "It would be wonderful if the level of passionate and well argued support for all Bristol libraries which was shown by both campaigners and councillors at the Council meeting were enough to persuade the Mayor that there are alternatives to summarily closing 17 libraries or to relying on local communities somehow to provide a library service on their own. 

“He surely can't be in any doubt by now about the irreversible damage which such swinging cuts could cause to an essential service."

Organiser of ‘Save Redland Library’ petition, Merche Clark said: “The proposals are drastic, far reaching and the consultation clipped the wings of many possible solutions.

“We need to make sure libraries are maintained to still give everyone the possibility to wonder, learn and imagine.”

Stoke Bishop councillor John Goulandris made the quip of the night, raising laughs when he said that the Mayor would go down in history as the “book butcher of Bristol” if he goes ahead with the cuts.

An impassioned plea from councillor Anthony Negus, chair of the cross party community scrutiny group, to his Labour colleagues, recommended the authority implement the plan for at least two years and keep ownership of the buildings before making any decisions on the city’s library provision.

After the motion was narrowly passed Councillor Negus said: “The scrutiny group that I chaired showed there was a way of reorganising an all-Bristol library service. Despite this solution working successfully in other councils, Bristol’s administration did not grasp this opportunity. We have shown how this can work and how we can keep going during the two-year transition period necessary to put the new public organisation in place.”

“There were two common themes in the debates about the library service,” said Councillor Geoff Gollop:

“The lack of imagination in the proposals, and the flawed nature of the consultation. 

“Backbench councillors have submitted a proposal to help maintain a library presence rather than close 17 branches, recognising how important all libraries are across the whole of the city. The proposal had the support of all three Westbury and Henleaze councillors, and whilst Labour councillors were instructed to vote against, not all of them did as they were told!"

“Given the strength of feeling from councillors, and the many thousands of residents signing the petitions, I hope the Mayor will take note and reconsider.”

Westbury-on-Trym Library has been earmarked for closure under all options selected by the Council’s Consultation. There is hope however, that investment in the recently fitted extended access system may help to keep it open.

Councillor Clare Campion-Smith added: “Government funding to local authorities is being steadily reduced until it almost disappears in 2020. It is difficult balancing priorities to keep local services going and many people are concerned that if libraries are closed and buildings sold, they will never come back. Learning, enjoyment of reading, searching for information will always be with us and we need to have a service that serves the whole city, is imaginative and responsive to changing needs and channels of communication and is quick and nimble in exploiting other funding streams.  

“I genuinely hope the Mayor listens to residents and councillors, uses short term measure of volunteers supporting paid staff and provides a proper long term future.  Libraries, parks are the soft infrastructure of a city and very important. It is interesting to note that some primary schools are converting computer rooms back to libraries. Technology changes and books still hold a fascination.”

Bristol City Council Cabinet makes a final decision on December 4 about any changes to the library service. 

Deputy Mayor Asher Craig said: “Barring the end of austerity, some libraries will have to adapt. I have been quite surprised at the extent and range of proposals from councillors and individuals. No decisions have yet been made.”

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