Councillors Hawthorne and Noble have frequently rebuffed criticism of their devastating plans to hack up our public library service with claims that they have to do it to protect vulnerable members of the community. Independent research conducted by GOPA (Gloucestershire Older Persons’ Association) highlights why cutting library services is doing the complete opposite. When will Gloucestershire County Council listen?
We (GOPA) have watched the coverage by the Gloucestershire Echo of the County Council’s decision to drastically reduce Gloucestershire’s library services in order to save money with interest. In the autumn, before the extent of the proposed cuts in library services was widely known, Gloucestershire Older Persons’ Association conducted a survey of older people across the county.
During the analysis of the responses to GOPA’s survey, we were surprised by the number that chose to highlight libraries, which were not specifically mentioned anywhere in the questionnaire, as amongst the top three things that affected their Quality of Life, Health, Choice and Control over their own lives and Participation in Society.
Your readers may be interested to read just a selection of unsolicited comments about the importance of libraries to older people that were included in the responses:
“Public libraries are important to maintaining a healthy life.”
“A full time library service would improve my quality of life.”
“Use of a library is important in maintaining choice and control in my life.”
“I receive no help with my (full time) caring other than the library activities my wife attends which give me a break.”
“My one outside activity is the library club, but they say they are closing the library.”
“I love the housebound library club that meets at my local library. I can choose audio-books (I am blind) and talk to staff and friends.”
“The continuance of library services would help me as I love to read and do not have access to the internet.”
“An opportunity to listen to speakers at the Library Club whether it be to advise or as a means of stimulus is important to my quality of life.”
“The only time I get out and meet people is at the housebound library club. I dread it ending. If my daughter moves away and the library closes, I will have nothing.”
“Public libraries help me to cope with my health better”.
“One of the top three things that helps me to participate in my community is Library Clubs for housebound readers.
“To maintain our Quality of Life “Keep our library open.”
In the Council’s online consultation on ‘Meeting the Challenge’, we understand that 91% of those who responded to the ‘Meeting the Challenge’ consultation on the County Council’s budget said that priority should be given to services for vulnerable people, particularly children and older people. The above comments reflect how important libraries are to the lives of many older people. What may not have been recognised is that for many families with young children, older people and carers in particular, libraries are a ‘front-line service’.
I think that older people and parents of younger children, probably make much more use of libraries than many of the people who responded to the online ‘Meeting the Challenge’ survey – Age UK recently reported that 64% of older people don’t have easy access to the internet, or the skills to use it. This is probably why there has been such an unprecedented outcry over the proposed changes to the library services since the disproportionately large cuts were announced.
There is a real risk that the closure of some libraries and the reduced hours in others will have a disproportionate, adverse effect on older people and carers. It could deprive many of them of one of the only easy and affordable means of getting out of their home and is likely to increase isolation, anxiety and stress. This could, in turn, result in even greater demands on other public care services, that the council is trying to protect. The costs of running the libraries should not be seen in isolation, but in the wider context of the provision of ‘front-line’ services for vulnerable people that the citizens of Gloucestershire have overwhelmingly indicated that they want the Council to protect.
Chief Executive Officer
Promoting Dignity, Care,
Health and Independent Living