Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post about how the MLA and Gloucestershire County Council do not consider library campaigners as ‘real people’. I also reported that the officer overseeing the library cuts, Cllr Noble, is now responding to any questions about the library plans with this:
“I’m afraid, as this issue is now the subject of potential legal proceedings, I’m not going to be making any further comment. I appreciate this is frustrating and, once the proceedings are resolved, I’ll be happy, once again substantively to reply to your e-mails and indeed to discuss issues with you further.”
I said that if this was the case we hoped that the library plans are being delayed until the legal proceedings are over also. There is no point answering questions in retrospect once the damage has been done.
Councillor Noble, who we have been trying to secure a meeting with since 14th January, also now refuses to meet with us due to “the issue being the subject of a potential legal challenge” despite our questions and the invite pre-dating the letter of legal intent, despite the fact we are not the claimants and despite the fact the questions we are asking have nothing to do with any legal challenge.
However, we now know that despite the refusal to engage with “real people” on account of the legal challenge, this has had no such impact on the councils intentions and the library cuts have not been delayed. Indeed, meetings are still being held where secret ‘partners’, Parish Councils and groups are still being told ‘take over your library or lose it’. This has been met with fury by Matson library users who were told that three church groups were going to be taking over the running of their library, a claim that was later dismissed by the Reverend of one of the churches.
One questions whether it is appropriate for religious groups, interest groups or businesses to be running public libraries. As Voices for the Library makes clear, public libraries must “promote equitable access for all members of society to public domain information of all kinds and in all formats” and librarians must “Consider the public good, both in general and as it refers to particular vulnerable groups….”. Furthermore, “The librarian is an active intermediary between users and resources. Professional and continuing education of the librarian is indispensable to ensure adequate services.” What guarantees will there be that these “community” libraries will provide an equitable, non-judgemental, unbiased service for all in the community who wish to use them? – these are the fundamental ethics of a public library service and trained library staff. The fact is that we have no reassurances, no guarantees and no plan B. We also have no answers and will get none as Cllr Noble will not answer our questions.
Today I was reading a blog post by Save Doncaster Libraries “Foul Play in Doncaster Council” and I was struck by how much of it rang true with our situation.
The speed at which these plans are being rushed through and the Councils refusal to listen to the public outcry and to carry out a proper review has led to the ” officers responsible pressuring communities to make quick decisions, manipulating them through threats” .. This suggests that the closures are at best a manifestation of council ineptitude, and at worst, ideologically driven and a symbol of the council’s refusal to serve its electorate.
What particularly strikes a cord with us is the refusal to engage with us whilst continuing to force through the plans.
As in Doncaster’s case
“These discussions are happening behind the backs of ward councillors, communities, unions and campaign groups….It is vital for the process to be transparent in order to ensure that everyone involved understands the implications of the decisions being made. Without the involvement of those who understand communities – the public and ward councillors – and those who understand library services – the public, library staff, – and those who understand the legal implications of staff redundancies – the unions – the discussions are meaningless and counterproductive. There is no point wasting time and effort by investigating impossible or impractical options. This continued lack of communication with the public demonstrates how incapable and unwilling the council are to work with [Gloucestershire] residents”
In an effort to try to convince “community groups” to take over the running of their libraries Gloucestershire County Council is randomly and arbitrarily throwing more and more magically appearing monies and resources their way, resources that could well be used by Gloucestershire County Council themselves to run, improve and maintain a joined up, effective, comprehensive public library service, as is their statutory duty. Instead, they are forcing through plans for private reading clubs run by interest groups and those with no understanding of how to run a library. These private reading clubs are being set up to have to compete for funding, rely on philanthropy and to ultimately fail as libraries.
Gloucestershire County Council have never made any pretence of listening to views that are inconvenient for them. Now their message is louder than ever “if you are not going to submit to ultimatums and accept our disproportionate, naive and legally unsound cuts then shut up, you are not coming in”