Library users in Matson, Hesters Way and Tuffley have been celebrating the news that under GCC’s revised proposals, they will retain a public library service in their community.
Under GCC’s original proposals (ruled unlawful in November 2011), all three of these areas, which are among the poorest in the county, were set to lose their public library service completely. The only option on the table was for communities to fund and run a ‘library’ facility themselves, cut off from the council’s library network, staffed and managed entirely by volunteers and with no ‘plan-B’ if this experiment failed.
While there remain serious concerns around GCC’s revised plans, it is gratifying to see an improved deal for these three deprived communities. Without library users’ campaigning and the judicial review, the doors to these public libraries would have shut for good last year.
Below, Revd. Dr. Keith Hebden from Matson, and the newly formed Supporters of Hesters Way Library explain what this news means for them:
Matson: Partnership means Respecting and Listening
News of Matson library not being closed was received with cautious optimism by those who attended our first public meeting after the event. Optimism because this time last year we were looking at the possibility of a closed library. Caution because we are still looking at an uncertain future.
Hester’s Way, Matson, and Tuffley have been ear-marked as ‘Partnership Libraries’. There is no clear lead as to what this means. This could be because the definition is flexible and responsive to the three different contexts. Or it could be that the detail is where the devil is.
One thing is clear is that partnership requires two parties. If a second party, a community group or local charity, is going to partner the council in delivering library services it is going to need to be on terms that are agreeable to both parties. More importantly the terms need to reflect a broad community consensus.
Consultation is a notorious difficult process. Who is in which conversation, when, and with who else? How do conversations take place? Who is asking the questions and what are the right questions to ask?
We know that two independent bodies are going to be involved: the equalities commission and an independent consultancy firm. These are two hopeful signs of a healthy process. But in parallel to that there will be conversations between the council through Mark Parker and Jo Grills. How these conversations are handled, the pace at which they move, and the ways the reflect the formal consultation are critical to a happy outcome.
Meanwhile we all have a responsibility to make our diverse views heard and to vote with our library cards. In Matson we are getting more organised with a ‘Friends of Matson Library’ so that what ever the short-term solution we have some longer-term resilience to our library service. We want to make sure our library is never under threat again.
For more on the Friends of Matson Library and to get involved, visit http://friendsofmatsonlibrary.blogspot.com/
Hesters Way: Service Users’ Voices Must be Heard.
For those of us who have been fighting hard to retain a public library service in Hesters Way (also serving communities in St Marks, Springbank and Fiddler’s Green), this is a step in the right direction. It was always madness to completely close public libraries in the poorest areas of the county – what a shame it took a High Court judgement to convince GCC of this!
Last time round Hesters Way Library users were never given a chance to be involved in decision-making over the future of their library. No consultation meeting was arranged in the area by GCC despite many requests, and residents were not allowed to access any detailed information about the future of their service until very late in the process, when the plans were presented as a done deal.
The same mistakes must not be made again. Service users must be properly consulted, and councillors and officers must remain open-minded to changes and refinement of the proposals in response to consultation data.
Any negotiations with potential partners must not take place behind closed doors, and service users must have a real and tangible stake in decision-making. The council must be ready to answer questions about the detail and practicalities of partnership plans and how this will impact on services for all library users, in particular those in the vulnerable groups covered by equalities legislation.
Supporters of Hesters Way Library has been formed to hopefully assist in this process. We want to secure the best deal possible for all library users, and recognise that effective partnership work can also mean services being provided for other residents who have lost out on their services through county council cuts, such as youth service users.
We will be encouraging all residents and service users to take part in the forthcoming consultation process, and demanding that this time our voices are heard.
To get involved in Supporters of Hesters Way Library contact firstname.lastname@example.org