It has been reported in the local press that library usage has declined in Gloucestershire.
This comes as no surprise to us given that there was a 40% cut in the book budget in 2010 and a cut of 30% in the library budget overall. The county council administration is running down our libraries and using the subsequent decline in usage to justify yet more cuts.
It is disappointing, yet unsurprising given her evident lack of understanding of the role of public libraries, that libraries portfolio holder Councillor Antonia Noble dismisses this decline with the claim that;
“People have more access to books and they are much cheaper to buy.”
Councillor Noble goes on to champion an eBook service that does not even exist yet, and when it does, is not going to be compatible with the use of Kindles.
Rather than dismiss the decline with unsubstantiated claims that people have adequate alternatives, it is Cllr Noble’s responsibility to ask serious questions about why this is happening and how the library service can encourage usage. In so doing she will likely see that, as John Holland says in the article, running down the service over the last two years has led to a “self fulfilling prophecy” in declining usage.
We want to take this opportunity to remind Cllr Noble, once again, that 40% of the population of this county do not have access to the internet on which to purchase books from the likes of Amazon, let alone expensive gadgets such Kindles and Ipads as is suggested in the article, and that with increasing redundancies and rising costs of living these luxuries are going to be even further out of the reach of many people. She, and other supporters of these library cuts, perhaps also need reminding that not all schools have well-stocked libraries – another claim that has been used to justify the closure of public libraries. Similarly, while it has been pointed out that Gloucestershire has many charity shops selling books at knock-down prices, this isn’t much use if you are seeking a specific text for advice or study, or if you are an elderly or disabled person, a child, or person without transport who relies on the mobile library service (also planned for closure by GCC) to bring your books to you.
An adequate book stock is still very much needed in order to provide a thriving and well used library service. Gloucestershire are failing to provide this.
The courts heard in September that Gloucestershire Library Service has not undertaken a user needs analysis assessment since 2006. This is astonishing and is more likely to be the real reason, along with the budget cuts, for the decline in usage. How can GCC provide a service if they have no idea what people need? How can Cllr Noble claim that users’ needs are being met elsewhere when she had not even bothered to ask the questions in the few years she has had responsibility for our libraries? GCC based their plans for brutal cuts on a needs analysis dating from 5 years ago.
When the severity of the book budget cuts were first reported back in 2010 in the Gloucestershire Echo, editor Kevan Blackadder quite rightly warned;
“this one-off saving at a difficult time should not be the start of our library service being undermined”.
This saving was not a “one off” and our library service is “being undermined”. Gloucestershire Library Service was one of the lowest spending library authorities in the country and that was even BEFORE these drastic cuts.