Gloucestershire cuts adrift county’s most isolated communities from its mobile library service

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/

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
http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/article/112287/Official-launch-of-countys-new-mobile-library-service

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Gloucestershire County Council tell mobile library user to travel 40miles to use a static library

We recently raised concerns regarding Gloucestershire County Council’s mobile library service cuts and the shambolic way in which it was being handled.

https://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/gcc-mobile-library-service-shambles-what-is-going-on/

It was bought to FoGLs attention that the residents of at least three villages in the North Cotswolds had received no contact at all from Gloucestershire County Council about the changes to the service and how it would affect them. GCC withdrew the former service in October 2012 without providing any information regarding the specifics of the new service to library users. The only information provided was a small paper sign on the mobile library, during the last trip out, informing people just that the library service was being stopped. Those who had not visited the mobile library on its last trip out received no information at all. Indeed, we heard of four children who waited for half an hour in the rain for the mobile library to arrive and it never did.  The new service was not implemented until over a month later in December 2012. This left people with library books issued to them but with no idea as to whether or not the library bus would ever return. Gloucestershire County Council are adamant that they contacted and consulted everyone but we know for a fact this is not true.

GCCs new mobile library strategy sends the mobile library bus to a few of the larger towns and villages in Gloucestershire. where it will sit for 2 hours at each stop, and will miss out the smaller, more isolated communities. Having lived in rural Gloucestershire for many years, to me this makes little sense. The strategy almost turns the mobile library into a static one, forcing rurally isolated people to go to it, rather than it go to them. This rather seems to defeat the point. In isolated areas, with very limited public transport, getting to a mobile library is going to be as difficult for many as getting to an existing static library is.  The people in the few bigger towns and villages it will be visiting will have two hours of the library whilst others will have none as they can’t get to it.  This could result in just a handful of people visiting the mobile library in a two hour slot with the bus just sitting there when it could be serving many towns, villages and hamlets.

We were contacted by one mobile library user who is unable to use a static library and has had her mobile library access stopped by GCC to tell us that, although the mobile library is driving past her village, GCC will not allow it to stop there and advised her to go on a 40 mile round trip to a static library that is open on a Sunday (the only day she can access transport) instead. This is not only nonsensical and bad for the environment but is cruel.  What is even worse is that we also heard today that GCC are now refusing to communicate with her further on the matter. A rurally isolated avid reader has been cut off.

FoGL have been trying to establish exactly how people have been consulted and informed about the cuts because what GCC says happened and what we are hearing on the ground are two different things. Sadly, GCC sent us an email today saying

we will no longer reply to further enquiries on this subject

We will persist in our efforts to get the information we require via FOI and will be involving the Information Commissioner where necessary.

GCC have cut this important lifeline down to a skeleton service that is not fit for purpose. we are worried that this will result  in a drop in usage figures which will then provide GCC with justification to make further cuts.

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GCC mobile library service shambles : what is going on?

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries received a rather worrying email about a partially sighted elderly gentleman who was in tears because the mobile library has been stopped to his village.  The email came from his concerned neighbour and friend. We are told that the only notice given of the halted service was a notice on the library bus on its last visit to the village. The people who did not visit the bus that day would have missed the notice. When the people who did see the notice asked the librarian what was happening to the service in the future, and what alternatives there would be available, the librarian said she did not know.

The lady emailed us about her neighbour because she received no response from Gloucestershire County Council when she asked them for information. We have asked GCC to tell us what the plans are for the mobile library service but they are yet to respond

In an attempt to establish the extent of the problem we emailed our members and asked

– has anyone else had received information about the mobile library service?
– Do you use it and has it stopped in your area?
– What information and notice were you given and were you offered an alternative?

One of the responses we received said

I’m sure you have seen   http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/article/111012/Changes-to-the-mobile-library-servicewhich is all the information we have and which has not changed since October.
Our last visit was 30th October. The books were taken out/renewed until 22-1-13 but the librarian did not know what would happen. She did point out a white notice on a door which was similar to the changes notice. She also said that ‘our’ van, not long ago refurbished, was one that would be modified for the ‘new’ service. Whether we would have it call, she did not know. She did say there were more people at our stop than she had seen elsewhere! we had quite a few young children..We regularly have a non driving grandmother bring a 2yr. old who without the Mobile Library, will not be having books. Like us.)

In any event we wait to see if we are on the visiting list and what it is. Surely someone must know!
 The above changes notice says current mobile customers have been contacted. One lady here who has been regular user for 45 years has not been contacted neither have I, a user for a mere 40 years. Another village has a user for 54 years  according to the librarian. Are THEY asking views from the right people?

We were hoping the first email we received was because of a small oversight by GCC but it seems like the problem is widespread.

On their website , last updated on 16th October, Gloucestershire County Council say

We have contacted our current mobile customers about the changes and many have told us they will use static libraries or the new mobile stops.  For people who have told us that they have more specific needs, alternative arrangements are being made which are more suited to their individual circumstances

It would seem that this is NOT the case. We have contacted the named librarian mentioned on the website for further information but have received no response. The website claims that “many people” have said they can use a static library or a new stop but how can this be the case if no one knows where or when the new stops are, particularly if they have not even been contacted in the first place?

For many rurally isolated people the mobile service is a lifeline, particularly for the elderly and very young children, and it is very unsettling to have this lifeline cut, with no indication as to whether it will return.

We are extremely worried about the situation. In November 2011, Gloucestershire County Council lost a High Court judicial review and their original library cuts plans had to be scrapped as it was ruled to be guilty of “bad government” and a “substantive breach of the law” because it failed to analyse and meet the needs of local people, particularly the vulnerable, when drawing up its library cuts plans. They really should be at pains to show they are not doing the same again.

We fear that in the drive to get the “community libraries” up and running mobile library users have been overlooked. Are Gloucestershire’s few remaining librarians so busy training volunteers for “community run libraries” that the rest of the service is being abandoned?

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Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries respond to CMS Parliamentary report on library cuts

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries welcomes the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Report which presents the findings of a national Parliamentary inquiry into library cuts.

The report opens with the statement,

“The provision of a library service is a statutory duty, but a number of councils have drawn up plans that fail to comply with the requirement to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service.”

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries firmly believe that Gloucestershire County Council is one such authority and has been publically stating this since November 2010 when the council’s cuts package was announced. This cuts package would have seen 11 libraries handed to communities to run, all mobile libraries taken off the road and book funding and opening hours reduced significantly.

In November 2011, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries won a High Court Judicial Review against Gloucestershire County Council. The council’s plans had to be scrapped as it was ruled to be guilty of “bad government” and a “substantive breach of the law” because it failed to analyse and meet the needs of local people when drawing up its library cuts plans. We believe that in its reworking of the cuts plans in spring 2012, which still sees 7 libraries handed to volunteers to run, all but two mobile libraries axed, and the book fund reduced to a minimum, it still falls far short of its duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service.

Johanna Anderson, speaking on behalf of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, said

“The Committee’s report provides us with little comfort regarding the future of our libraries. It repeatedly raises concerns about the wholesale handover of libraries to communities without adequate support from the authority, which is exactly what we are seeing happen in Gloucestershire”

In stating that

“the financial costs may be high, even if buildings are made available at a nominal rent. It is not clear how sustainable some of these community libraries may be, nor what impact the change will have on some of the outreach work conducted by libraries, particularly in relation to children and reading,”

the report echoes concerns which Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have raised repeatedly with Gloucestershire County Council. The report goes on to say that these libraries “may wither on the vine and therefore be viewed as closures by stealth.”

Johanna Anderson also said that

“Gloucestershire County Council has adopted a model that remains a risky experiment with our important library service. Examples of best practice are referred to in the report where savings had been made without impacting on front-line services, yet Gloucestershire County Council has shown no evidence that it considered these models.”

The Secretary of State has pledged to release a report on the effect of budget cuts and the trend for volunteer managed libraries by the end of 2014.  This is too late for our libraries and will not measure the true impact on the library service once the initial enthusiasm from volunteers and resources has dwindled in the face of the enormity of the challenge of running what should be a professional service.

The report concludes

“It would be very helpful to councils to receive some guidance from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on best practice in the provision of support” for community run libraries.

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are extremely concerned that, according to the report, the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who reports to the Secretary of State responsible for superintending the provision of library services, is of the opinion that

“the wholesale transfer of library branches to volunteer groups is unlikely to meet the statutory criterion of providing a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service”.

Yet both the Minister and the Secretary of State have stood idly by whilst Gloucestershire County Council has done just that.

Note : The full CMS report can be accessed here

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmcumeds/81/81i.pdf

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Update : Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries Media Statement

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 31/07/12

In November 2010 Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) announced plans to close eleven public libraries, to reduce opening times to three hours per week at seven, and to axe the entire mobile library service. As a direct result of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries’ (FoGL) campaign and the determination of local residents to fight for their service, four public libraries in the most deprived areas of Gloucestershire and two mobile libraries remain open. The 7 libraries with opening hours to be reduced to 3 per week now have a minimum of 12 hours. This follows a November 2011 ruling by the High Court, initiated by FoGL, that GCC had acted unlawfully in neglecting its equalities obligations. The Judge stated that GCC was guilty of ‘bad government’ and a ‘substantial breach of the law’, and quashed the plans entirely, forcing the council to go back to the drawing board.

However, seven public libraries are still closing, including in deprived areas and in areas where library usage is high. We have strong doubts as to whether the equalities impacts of these library closures and service reductions have been adequately considered and addressed. These plans are now being implemented and there remains a real danger that some of our county’s most vulnerable residents will lose out on access to this important and cost effective public service, which pre-cuts, cost GCC just 1% of its annual budget.

Over the last two years, FoGL and local communities have faced an uphill struggle in getting their voices heard by the administration and senior officers. GCC’s actions have made a mockery of local democratic procedures. The valid concerns of local residents about the feasibility of volunteers running and funding libraries themselves have been disregarded, and sensible and cost effective proposals from local communities, such as Lechlade, to save their library service have been dismissed out of hand. We are heartened to see that in communities such as Minchinhampton, local residents continue to campaign for the survival of their service, and residents in Hesters Way, Matson and Tuffley remain vigilant to future plans by GCC to cut the service they have fought so hard to keep. FoGL has taken the difficult decision not to pursue further legal action on a county-wide basis. We have been informed by Public Interest Lawyers, the firm who successfully represented Gloucestershire library users in the High Court, that there remain serious concerns around GCC’s revised strategy, but that these are better addressed by the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministers with responsibility to superintend library services, Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey. We will continue to keep DCMS informed of developments in Gloucestershire and encourage other local communities to do the same, and are pursuing this matter through the Parliamentary Ombudsmen.

We are very proud of what FoGL has achieved over the past two years. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the FoGL campaign, both from within Gloucestershire and across the UK who have shown that people use, love and value their public libraries, and will not lose them without a fight.

ENDS

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FoGL welcomes Shadow Minister’s call for urgent action and leadership

Over the last two years, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have repeatedly called on the Department of Culture Media and Sport and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to superintend Gloucestershire County Council in it’s review of our public library services. We have been consistently ignored. We were vindicated in November 2011 when Gloucestershire County Council lost a court case in which their library plans were ruled to be unlawful, yet DCMS still did nothing. To our dismay, over the last fortnight we have found ourselves once again having to take on the duties of the DCMS and superintend GCC
Therefore, we welcome the following statement from Dan Jarvis MP, Shadow Culture Minister. Prompted by our experience, he has called on Ed Vaizey and DCMS to act and show some urgently needed leadership. His full statement can be read below

————————————-
Dan Jarvis Accuses Government of Incompetence on Library Lending

Dan Jarvis MP, Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister, today accused the Government of ‘incompetence’ for failing to provide clear and timely guidance to councils on setting up community libraries, after confusion over concerns that volunteer branches may be breaking the law by lending books without making payments to authors.

Dan Jarvis said:

“This out of touch Government encouraged councils to shuffle libraries off to community groups, without thinking through the implications or potential pitfalls of doing so.

“Dozens of volunteer libraries have already been set up, but there has been real confusion over whether they could be found in breach of copyright legislation. DCMS now say volunteer libraries can lend but it is still unclear whether, and how, they will pay anything to authors. It’s a shambles and symptomatic of a lack of interest in the future of the service that threatens to undermine library provision even more than it already has been.”

In response to inquiries from campaign groups in Lewisham and Gloucestershire the Public Lending Right (PLR) Registrar, the office which administers the system of payments which lets libraries lend books without breaching copyright, has stated that volunteer libraries outside a council’s statutory provision would not pay the PLR. The Society of Authors has also raised the alarm on the issue.

Dan Jarvis said:

“This is only one of a number of issues around volunteer libraries, which also face questions about everything from training to data protection. We strongly welcome community engagement in libraries, but it needs to be handled carefully and cannot dilute the responsibility of local authorities, or the Government, to provide a decent and accessible service. But there has been very little advice or oversight from DCMS as councils rush to increase the use of volunteers.

“Ministers need to do their job and provide some clear guidance and leadership on this issue as a matter of urgency – it is astounding they have not done so already. They claim to believe that libraries matter, but when it comes to their duty to oversee the service, they are making it up as they go along.

“Ministers have a track record of leaving it up to under-funded campaigners to challenge councils in the courts. That is simply not good enough. I want Ed Vaizey to assure us that he will get on and act.”

Ends


Editors
 Notes

For details, see:
http://www.societyofauthors.org/soa-news/plr-and-volunteer-run-libraries
and: https://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/plr-registrar-confirms-gcc-community-libraries-not-covered-by-public-authority-lending-scheme/

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PLR Registrar confirms GCC community libraries not covered by public authority lending scheme

I have just had a very interesting conversation with the PLR Registrar Jim Parker. He confirmed that Gloucestershire County Council has NOT approached him for clarification over the PLR issues they face but he is happy to discuss this matter with them if they would like to.

Please note : Mr Parker stated that the information he was giving me had been clarified as correct by the DCMS before he spoke to me. Therefore, we would assume that if GCC had sought clarification from DCMS then they would have received the same information.

Gloucestershire County Council has been misinforming us and communities in Gloucestershire. This is serious cause for concern.

What follows is a report of my conversation with Mr Parker.

Gloucestershire County Council made it clear in their library strategy that the community run libraries would fall outside of the statutory provision. Libraries outside of the statutory provision are not covered by PLR. However, when questioned on the PLR issues , Sue Laurence (Head of Libraries) and Jo Grills (the Officer who is responsible for libraries). (Incidentally, County Councilors who have libraries in their portfolio seem to be invisible currently) said,

“We carefully considered the implications of the Public Lending Right when we developed our proposals for community libraries and we are satisfied that our plans are not in breach of this.  Community libraries, whilst not part of the core statutory service, are still part of the Gloucestershire library family. This means that they share the same library management system and library membership cards as council-run libraries and all book stock will be on the Gloucestershire Library catalogue.  As such, books will be available for loan to people in the county and we consider this to be under the umbrella of the local authority lending scheme”  (email to FoGL Chair)

This was repeated by GCC spokespeople  to the press

Mr Parker said this was in fact incorrect.

He said that if the authority is not legally responsible for the community libraries then they are not part of the statutory provision, are not covered by the 1964 Public Libraries Act and will not be covered by PLR.  PLR is part of the copyright act and allows book lending by public authorities.  Mr Parker confirmed that regardless of the “family” label Ms Grills and Ms Laurence have decided to give the community libraries, and regardless of the fact that they have access to the library management system, the community libraries fall outside the PLR umbrella.

In fact, and this is of some concern, Mr Parker told me that they would have to “disentangle” the community library issue statistics from the county statistics, which will be a logistical problem. He also said that this situation can only change if the government changes the PLR licence conditions and the Public Libraries Act 1964.

So, this is entirely contradictory to what GCC have told us and the communities.  It would seem that GCC are being loose cannons and are making it up as they go along.

We are very open about the source of our clarification – the PLR and DCMS who are responsible for PLR administration. GCC are refusing to tell us or give us sight of the source of their information.

Prescribed Library – a ray of hope for communities?

Mr Parker said that if the community libraries are not what are called “prescribed libraries” then they will need permission from authors to lend their books. When I asked him what prescribed libraries are he said it is unclear but in theory any library set up “for the public good” such as the British Library and education establishments. When asked if this applies to our community libraries he said he did not know the answer and that clarification from the government is also needed on this issue.

In conclusion

GCC have provided misinformation and have misled us. GCC appear to have not done their research.

Ms Grills told us, in response to our request to see sight of the advice they had received,

“Sue Laurence has made Gloucestershire’s position in relation to the PLR scheme clear, and if you have further queries on the operation of the scheme these should be addressed to the UK PLR Registrar or to the DCMS”

I would argue that it would be wise for her to take her own advice, especially given the fact that it is her and Ms Laurence’s job, not  ours, to ensure they are acting lawfully and giving out the right information.  Once again we find ourselves doing the job of Ed Vaizey and the DCMS in having to superintend GCC!

If only GCC had kept the community libraries as part of the statutory provision as we begged.

Mr Parker said that DCMS are aware of the PLR issues and are looking into it but this is a new situation and in order to change it legislation will need changing.

Until these issues have been resolved GCC should not be pushing ahead with these plans, should retract their inaccurate statements, and should ensure that communities are given the correct information. We ask again, what else have they overlooked?

We have been told that the legal handover of these libraries will be happening in November 2012.

UPDATE 16/07/2012

Today we received an update from the PLR Registrar telling us that according to the DCMS the “community libraries” may be treated as “prescribed” libraries, as mentioned in the post above.  He did not share any details of the practicalities with us so we have asked him to answer the following important questions;

  • how are authors recompensed for the lending done by these libraries. Will DCMS be paying PLR now for private libraries?
  • If authors are NOT recompensed by prescribed libraries, how will this impact on the income of authors as this model of library becomes more widespread? also, why should public bodies pay if private libraries do not have to?
  • How would PLR in Gloucestershire be administered? The loaning of the community libraries here will be tangled up with the loaning statistics of the public libraries as they use the same system. Would they need “disentangling” as was said during our last communication?
  • do the libraries have to register as ‘prescribed libraries’?

The above questions are really those that Gloucestershire County Council should be asking but, given the fact they have not sought guidance from the DCMS or the Public Lending Rights Registrar on this matter, and given the fact that DCMS seem to have no intention of making sure authorities are properly informed, we are once again taking it upon ourselves.

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