Cambridge and how to stitch up a public consultation…..

Be
wary of library consultations…..

I guess this is going to be common place over the coming months, councils using dubious surveys to back up their arguments for handing over
libraries to local communities who are ill-equipped to provide the comprehensive service that is required. Take this news from Cambridge:

Plans to use self-service technology and volunteer labour to limit library
closures have won some support. More than two-thirds of survey
respondents – around 3,900 out of 5,600 – said they thought
adopting new working methods and reducing the number of paid staff was a good idea if it stopped branches from being shut. The analysis is based on a consultation which took place in
Cambridgeshire in the second half of last year, the results of
which have just been released. Nearly half the respondents – 48 per cent – said they would volunteer in libraries and 1,800 have
already registered their interest in helping out.

Well, reading that it certainly seems to suggest that libraries run by volunteers has a lot of support, but does it really? Well, no. The key phrase in this report is, of course, ‘adopting new working methods and reducing the number of paid staff was a good idea if it stopped branches from being shut‘. In other words, they aren’t supportive of volunteers running libraries as such, only if it prevents library closure ie if all other avenues have been
explored. It seems like Cambridge haven’t really provided their local community with an option. Essentially, it boils down to ‘we are either going to close your libraries or let groups of volunteers operate them’. What a choice! Well, I’d rather have small woodland animals run my library than have no library at all, but that doesn’t mean I want small woodland
animals running my library. Upon reading the consultationreport with the questionnaire that they used to get the views of library users, it is fairly obvious what their aim
was….so much so it seems little point even bothering to consult.
Take these two questions for example:

12. Thinking about library services in 5-10 years time, which of the following scenarios most appeal to you? (Please tick all that apply)

  • Fewer, bigger better libraries
  • Library services mostly digital – e.g. downloadable e-books
  • Library services mostly digital – e.g. downloadable e-audio books
  • Library services mostly digital – e.g. more information online
  • Library buildings also used as community meeting places – for community groups, exhibitions and other activities
  • Other public services sharing library building

How about improving existing libraries? Oh, of course, that won’t be an option as they have already decided to close some and don’t want people to oppose the closures. And then we have this question:
Q13. We are proposing to put self-service machines into all our libraries, reducing the number of paid staff, and recruiting volunteers to help deliver the service. This way of working has the potential to save money without closing any libraries. Do you think:

  • This is a good idea if it prevents library closure
  • You would rather see fewer libraries but fully run by paid staff
  • Didn’t answer /couldn’t commit to one or the other

Again, what options are provided here? It seems that the suggestion is you either have volunteers or less libraries. No middle way, no third option. Either prevent library closure by taking on more volunteers or accept library closures and have paid staff. These are not
options. They simply ensure that however people respond, the council gets the answer it wants (ever was it thus): fewer staff or fewer buildings. Either way, the library (and by extension the community) suffers. Library users and community groups up and down the country need to take very great care when engaging in the consultations. If they aren’t making acceptable suggestions, complain about it. Write to your council and demand they conduct a proper consultation rather than some flim-flam that’ll give them the results that they want. This is about what you want not them. They are elected to represent you, they are not elected to tell you what is best for you. The Cambridge consultation is just the start…more manipulation from other councils is sure to come.

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4 thoughts on “Cambridge and how to stitch up a public consultation…..

  1. Pingback: Kent Library – what is going on?? | thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian…

  2. Pingback: Kent Libraries – what’s going on?? | thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian…

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