Whilst campaigns have been going on up and down the country, it has been a little quiet in Kent over the past few weeks. However, this does not mean that there is nothing going on. On the contrary, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in regard to public libraries across the county. A consultation will be launched this year on the future for libraries across the county, perhaps as soon as March. Of course, this is going to take place after there has been a customer satisfaction survey made available in all static libraries (this is going to take place next week by the way so make sure you get to your local library, fill one in and state why the council should protect the library service not dismantle it). So, what is going on behind the scenes?
Mike Hill, councillor for libraries, recently wrote:
Our vision is for a core of first-class modern libraries supplemented by smaller branch libraries where there is a proven need, and by a comprehensive mobile service to make sure there is widespread access to library services.
We will also explore and encourage the establishment of volunteer run libraries in line with the Big Society concept. Our detailed plans are still being developed and we will be consulting widely with the public this year before any firm decisions are taken.
Hmmm. So, the ‘Big Society’ is at the heart of the council’s and libraries will be assessed according to ‘proven need’, whatever that might mean. So, what of Kent’s ‘Big Society’ concept, what does it mean for taxpayers in the county?
The council is even raising some areas of spending, like IT, and a £5 million Big Society Fund is being created for town and village groups to tap into.
£5 million pounds for Big Society projects across the county. Snip off £1 million of that and you get to have your project plus ensure that the libraries that are being considered for closure (and mark my words, they already know which ones they are going to close) remain open serving their communities as part of their real ‘Big Society’ (as opposed to the fake one imposed on them). It is also worth pointing out that Kent County Council is taking part in the government’s Future Libraries programme. According to the DCMS website, Kent is linked with Oxfordshire as part of this programme. Oxfordshire plan to close 20 of the county’s 43 libraries.
Of course, the consultation is bound to be a sham. As was revealed in Cambridgeshire, the consultation will merely act as a way for the council to get the changes it wants. No doubt there will be a choice between a library closure or a volunteer run library, which is effectively no choice at all. For most people, a volunteer run library is better than no library at all, but it is only marginally so. Residents should be given the full range of options if it is to be a full and effective consultation.
So what now? Well, first of all, make sure you get to your local library next week and complete a survey making clear what your views are on potential closures are reductions in service quality. Make sure you make positive noises about the service as it is now, whilst also expressing your alarm and concern about the council’s intentions. Secondly, if you want to set up a campaign group to pressure the council, please contact Voices for the Library at contact[at]voicesforthelibrary.org.uk. We can help promote your campaign, send people in your direction and link you up with other campaigns to share experiences and ensure as effective a campaign as possible. Furthermore, if you want advice or support in launching a campaign, you can also contact me (my details are via the contact tab at the top of the page). Whilst I am unable to run a local campaign, I am more than willing to act as a liaison between a Kent campaign and Voices for the Library, as well as help establish a presence online.