Libraries are a really hard issue for me. I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to library users, staff and Gloucestershire people about libraries – and it is clear just how much they are valued… I don’t want to see libraries closed – I want them to continue to succeed. We know how important they are.
These are the words of Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne, writing in The Citizen newspaper on the day that swingeing cuts to our public library service were finalised.
But it seems, as we have long suspected, that Councillor Hawthorne does not understand how important libraries are at all.
Each year, the Women’s Institute (WI) presents a resolution to the Prime Minister on a topical issue. Seven resolutions are shortlisted, which are debated extensively within local groups before a final vote is taken about which will be taken forward as a national campaign issue and presented to central government.
One of this years shortlisted resolutions concerns the future of public library services;
“This meeting urges Her Majesty’s government to maintain support for local libraries, as an essential education and information resource”,
and we were stunned to learn that Councillor Hawthorne will be attending the WI’s Gloucestershire meeting next week to speak AGAINST this motion! Presumably then, he DOESN’T think that libraries are an essential educational and information resource, despite what library users in Gloucestershire have been telling him for months, and research to the contrary.
A representative of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries has also been invited to attend the meeting to speak in favour of the motion.
Councillor Hawthorne’s hypocrisy is also at play in a piece in today’s Gloucestershire Echo concerning the future of Hesters Way Library in Cheltenham.
Apparently the Hesters Way Partnership plan to run ‘a scaled down library service’ alongside youth service provision. Councillor Hawthorne is ‘really pleased’ about these plans – as one library user comments;
He is pleased they are moving forward with ripping out important services from a deprived community. He must be so proud!
Councillor Hawthorne also talks about these plans having ‘the support of communities’. We would be intrigued to hear how he knows that this plan has the community’s support, given that Hesters Way was one of four areas whose libraries were earmarked for ‘community transfer’ who were not offered a GCC consultation session.
It may also be worth treating this information with a healthy dose of scepticism. You may remember that we were told by GCC a few weeks ago that plans for a group to take on the planned ‘community library’ in Tuffley were going full steam ahead, when, in fact, this was what was really happening.
So, we find ourselves with a Council Leader willing to speak publicly AGAINST the importance of library services despise testimony from the electorate and compelling evidence to the contrary, and who continues to paint the dismantling of our public library service as an ‘opportunity’ when in reality it is nothing more than a brutal ultimatum for communities.
The future of Gloucestershire’s libraries is in dangerously unsafe hands.
Update: It now appears that Councillor Hawthorne has cancelled his appearance at the WI debate, as reported here. He says;
I had agreed to address the meeting as an opportunity to explain Gloucestershire’s proposals to support libraries into the future. Unfortunately I now have to be in London and can’t make the date.
As the motion addresses central government support for libraries, it seems a little odd that Councillor Hawthorne should try to use this opportunity to ‘sell’ his plans for swingeing cuts to the Gloucestershire Library service to WI members. Perhaps he should read his invites more carefully.