Today Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) announced the ‘launch’ of its new mobile library service. Whilst Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries welcome the continuation of some form of provision at least, the new service is an attempt to fob off isolated individuals and communities with a diminished and altogether inadequate mobile library service.
On behalf of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, Johanna Anderson says: “We are pleased that Gloucestershire County Council has not pursued its former plans to axe the mobile library service, which was ruled as unlawful by a high court judge in November 2011. However, we have grave concerns about the new service, and about the failure of Gloucestershire County Council to properly consult service users and inform them of the changes before they withdrew the old service.”
Despite Gloucestershire County Council’s claims to have undertaken “extensive consultation” at the replanning stage, a number of users told Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries that they received no communication about any change to the service until several weeks after the Council withdrew the service and put together details of the new service, seemingly on the basis of insufficient consultation. This has caused much anxiety among vulnerable service users, many of whom were left with borrowed books, not knowing if they would ever be able to return them to the library.
When Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries submitted a Freedom of Information Request1 to Gloucestershire County Council in response to these concerns, the Council finally revealed that they had only consulted and informed people on their “registered user contact list” prior to withdrawing the old service. Having spoken to mobile library users who had been left out of the dialogue by the Council, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have established that many who considered themselves regular mobile library users were unaware they needed to register to be added to this contact list in order to participate in the consultation. When we asked Gloucestershire County Council, via email, how they expected people to know that they needed to register for this “contact list”, their response surprised us:
“Users of the service would become aware of the list by regularly using the service and talking to mobile library staff.”
Such a patchy and amateurish approach to public consultation left many people with no say about the future a service they depended on. Nor were they informed of the service changes themselves until early December, a whole month after the Council had withdrawn the service. We are justified in arguing, then, that Gloucestershire County Council’s “extensive consultation” was anything but, and that many isolated people have been cut off from their library network as a result. There is no excuse for this, as the Council could have obtained all the details they needed about which service users to consult quite easily from their own library system in a timely manner.
We are particularly concerned about GCC’s strategy to make longer stops at bigger towns and villages and to miss out smaller ones altogether. This misguided decision leaves those very users most in need of mobile services with no library access at all. GCC justifies this change by stating that:
“The average length of the stops has been increased to enable a wide range of people to have the opportunity to visit.”
Whilst this is of benefit to those people within reach of the planned stops, it only serves to isolate further the residents of smaller hamlets and villages, inadequately served by public transport. It rather defeats the point of a mobile library service.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries note with interest that Cllr Hawthorne has stated in GCC’s press release:
“Libraries are often seen as the front door to other council services and those of our partner agencies in Gloucestershire, and this important function should not be forgotten. The value of these mobile libraries has already been made clear to us”
Johanna Anderson responds:
“This is disingenuous of a Council Leader who was determined to slash our public libraries by 43%, has cut seven of our communities libraries from the public library network, and who wanted to axe all of the mobile libraries entirely.
“Had he and his administration taken the time to listen to people, they might have seen the importance of our libraries more than two years ago, before leading the county into a court case that has so far cost the tax payer £238,000, because Gloucestershire County Council failed to take into account how the closures would affect vulnerable groups.”
Notes to Editors :
Briefing on Gloucestershire County Council Libraries case https://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/briefing-note-from-public-interest-lawyers-gloucestershire-libraries-ruling/
Mobile Libraries Freedom of Information Request http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/non_registered_mobile_library_us#incoming-354006
Gloucestershire council spent £238,000 on library closure case http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-21040951
Gloucestershire County Council launch mobile library service