From the Open Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to Swindon Council Leader David Renard:
Councillor David Renard
Swindon Borough Council
Civic Offices, Euclid Street Swindon SN1 2JH
cc. Justin Tomlinson MP, Robert Buckland MP
8 July 2016
Dear Councillor Renard
I am writing on behalf of the Board and President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) following the announcement of your plans in relation to the future of Swindon’s library service and in response to today’s article in the Swindon Advertiser (‘Let’s create innovative library service, says David Renard’).
CILIP is the UK’s library association. We promote public benefit, learning and education through the development of library and information services of all types across the UK. We do this because it is our view that people have a right to learn and to discover the world around them and that thisis what ultimately produces strong communities, a cohesive society and a sustainable economy.
We are well aware of the constraints facing Local Authorities across the UK as you absorb the impact of huge cuts in centrally-distributed funds. As a member of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, I have been working with the Local Government Association to develop a vision for the future development of library services which speaks to your call for innovative and creative solutions in the face of today’s realities.
The people of Swindon deserve a great library service. As I am sure you are aware, libraries deliver low-cost services which meet all four of your key priorities:
Libraries help improve infrastructure and housing. A strong, accessible local library service makes people proud of the places they live and provide much-needed spaces for the community to meet and learn;
Libraries are the single most accessible, universal platform for formal and informal learning outside of schools. They amplify and extend local educational services, helping to reach marginalized communities and delivering the digital skills your communities will need to succeed in the future;
Libraries are central to improving public spaces and local culture. They are your most inclusive, free civic spaces, welcoming to all. They provide people with access to local information, local history and a sense of the value and heritage of the places they live;
Libraries exist to ‘help people to help themselves’. They are built on the values of accessibility and empowerment. At the same time, they provide a place of safety for your most at-risk children and adults.
As you know, the decision to remove a library service is far more than a spreadsheet exercise. We understand your need to find cost-savings but it is vital that you are clear about the social and economic cost both to your Authority and the people you serve. It is not only your community that deserves a great library service – the Council needs it too. As you look ahead to the remainder of this Parliament, you will of course be thinking how best to ensure that Swindon as a Unitary Authority is able to continue to meet the complex needs of your communities. I would urge you to consider the following points in your discussions next Wednesday (20 July):
Libraries make places that people want to live in – a library serves as the beating heart of a community, meeting local needs and giving your places their unique character. All evidence points to the fact that investing in local libraries improves the attractiveness of the local area, acts to reduce anti-social behavior and encourages people to live, work and pay Council Tax because they are proud of where they live;
Libraries make places that people want to work in – across the country, Local Authorities are working with their local libraries to support local businesses, startups and enterprise. The hugely successful pilot network of Business & IP Centres has shown how a library can stimulate innovative businesses in towns and rural areas, ultimately improving your prospects of generating increased Business Rates;
Libraries amplify the reach & cost-effectiveness of Council services – while the primary purpose of a library is as a place of learning and discovery, their position of trust means that they provide a unique platform for access to local services. As you look ahead to the need to protect adult social care and child protection, cutting your libraries means cutting a low-cost means for these services to reach more people.
We know that it can be tempting to look to ‘innovative’ solutions for the delivery of library services which effectively depend on reducing paid staffing and making increased use of technology to ‘fill the gap’. It is vitally important that you and your colleagues appreciate that all of the social and economic benefit of a local library comes from the skilled, committed and professional people who work there. Without them, a library is just a building. We urge you to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that simply maintaining opening hours through self-service systems will deliver the kind of library service which your community expects, needs and deserves.
We note with concern that the model being proposed for Swindon is more severe in its reduction of the statutory service than almost any other we have seen. Several Councillors in other Boroughs facing similar economic challenges have expressed sincere reservations about the scale of the reduction that you have proposed. In similar circumstances, others have found solutions and options which enable them to secure more of their library service on behalf of their electorate.
I very much hope that you will reconsider the extent of your proposals and find the means to maintain as much of the existing service within your statutory provision as possible. If it is genuinely not possible to retain more than the four libraries currently proposed, then we urge you to work with professional librarians to manage the transition to a new model of provision which ensures that library services aren’t simply ‘spun out’ in ways which the community cannot sustain.
There is a better way to secure the long-term interests of the people of Swindon and to ensure that they have the library service they deserve. I very much hope that you will take this opportunity to reconsider before you commit to a process that will cause long-term damage to the futures of the people you represent.
Yours sincerely, Nick Poole, Chief Executive Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)