Libraries are in the relegation zone

jeff dowson one fight at a time
Yes it’s true, libraries don’t earn money. They don’t make anything. They
have nothing to sell. They are a loss leader. Libraries cost money. It is a given.
They will always be expensive. All social, recreational, and learning facilities
are. And down the years, responsible, intelligent and creative national and local
authorities have got the point.

But now, these services, if not at the bottom of the league table, are in the
relegation zone.

I remember like it was yesterday… back in the mists of time, an over-excited
7 year old going to bed early every second Wednesday night because there was just
one more sleep to ‘library day’. And I remember the next morning at 10 o’clock, a
crocodile of mixed infants trailing the 400 yards from school to spend two hours in a
huge mahogany furnished room, surrounded by books.

Of course, libraries are no longer the places they were – the stuff of comedy
legend. Deadly silent, presided over by a severe matron in bat-wing spectacles,
people daring to talk in whispers, pensioners with nothing to do all day who arrived
to read the morning papers then quietly dozed off at a corner table, readers rationed
to a maximum of two books for fourteen days.

These days libraries are exciting, vibrant, interactive places. With coffee
areas, noisy children’s spaces, all sorts of learning tools, computers, internet access,
CDs and DVDs and downloads.

And they are more important than ever. People who like books but can’t
afford to buy paperbacks at £8.99 from book stores or online, can borrow a dozen
from the local library to read for three weeks. For absolutely nothing. There’s no fee
to join a library, no membership requirements other than to take care of the books
while they are on loan.

I am a screenwriter and crime novelist. I write the Jack Shepherd private eye
thrillers set in Bristol. Paperback editions of my books are in Bristol, Bath and
Somerset libraries and in large print and audio all over the country. Through the
Public Lending Right I earn the princely sum of 8 point something pence every time
a book is borrowed.

There’s no denying some writers are extremely rich. Selling books by the
million, earning vast amounts in royalties and picking up eye-watering sums for TV
and film rights. This writer earns his corn, working office hours five days a week. I
got lucky with my first commission and writing has always been my day job. It has
paid for my house and the things I am able to enjoy. In that I am truly fortunate.
But no matter how much – or how little – an author earns, the cheques are
not the be all and end all.

Authors don’t just want to sell books. THEY WANT PEOPLE TO READ BOOKS. That, in a nutshell, is why writers will always support libraries – places truly important for our growing up, our leisure, and our learning.

Jeff Dowson’s book One Fight at a Time is out now. 


The last ones standing [now until 2020]

The last libraries to be funded by Bristol City Council [through whichever delivery means it chooses] were to be 13 in number but Mayor Marvin Rees has announced another delay to a decision.

This is seemingly good news but there are some caveats. One, the decision has only been delayed until the next mayoral election, which is in 2020; two, I have been told that the funding is coming out of reserves; and three, one of the problems with the libraries’ service is that the putting off of a decision since 2014 has led to it being weakened and with an inability to plan and create a strategy (p.7). Putting off a decision for another two years is not exactly the great success or support many campaigners will have been hoping for.

So let’s continue because I suspect that we will still need to know what to encounter in 2020.

14 libraries were going to be left to fend for themselves while the following ones in this map were the only ones going to be supported.


The 10 core libraries and three extended access ones. The difference in heat map features is a reflection of the hours they will be open. The hours are listed in the table below that was given to Mutual Ventures for their terms of reference.

Core plus three

The current libraries are shown in the map below.

27 libraries map

The map is available at the following link.

The struggle to get to this point has not been an easy one for councillors like Anthony Negus who has been fighting the council the whole way, and for campaigners such as SaveRedlandLibrary, LoveBristolLibraries, [on Twitter] and Oliver Fortune who goes to council meetings to ask about funding for libraries and others like him.

This seems to me to be a stay of execution, nothing more.


Library campaigners and local heroes

In the week that the Bristol Central Library first shut on a Wednesday, school children sat outside the padlocked gates and, I presume, waited for whoever was scheduled to pick them up at closing time. Opening hours reduced to six days a week but when the cuts get pushed through and most libraries only open for three days a week, our library will get extra hours. Ours is the only library in the city that will benefit. Those Wednesday children will be able to adjust their schedule again and wait at the café chairs or sofas for their parents.

We will get to play on the half-hull of the ss Bristol-combination-bookcase, which is the section of the children’s library that looks like a ship. Steering wheel and all. Ahoy! Don’t let your children climb, says the sign and unlike me, many parents are far less worried about whatever danger children might pose to the furniture. It is not their furniture after all.

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It is their library, though, but keeping it open hasn’t been heroic. It would have stayed open regardless. The number of visitors and usage might even go up because within weeks or months two-thirds of Bristol’s libraries will be defunded.

Other Wednesday Children at places like Knowle and St Paul’s will forget there ever were libraries in their areas. They will start to think the café/gymnasium/music practicing centre is where people pick up books from the three shelves behind all the ‘community hub’ activities. And the volunteers keeping this place going can’t be the local heroes either because they can’t afford to buy more books, or stock what people need or provide advice about legal publications for impending court cases or access to a medical journal so you can see if your son’s leukaemia has any other alternative therapies listed because you can’t afford to move to a different NHS Trust in order to get the right prescription.

But the people haven’t complained, some will say. The people were too busy worrying about the 5% increase in council tax for social care that the council now has to provide with less money. People have lost children, such as the woman who lost her daughter to suicide and a lack of mental health support so she shot off a flare in a council meeting.

Will she care about libraries now?

About the council cutting £1.4m (29% of the budget) from the libraries?

The cuts will go deeper than a third since the remaining ten libraries might be mutualised, which is what happened with some NHS PCTs. What was the consequence to these PCTs? It’s hard to tell because unlike NHS Trusts, they don’t have to answer Freedom of Information requests, nor have board meetings in public or publish minutes.

“But clues are leaking out,” wrote Caroline Molloy. “The organisations are cast adrift from the NHS, strapped for cash, forced to cut corners. Staff training has been cut. Demoralised staff have left and not been replaced.”

Some libraries will stay open but for how long? Community libraries are often short-lived and with diminished stock, services, and fewer safe spaces they give less and less. And there’s the exhaustion of volunteers.

We pick our fights and we stick to them and for many and to ourselves, we won’t be local heroes.  But over the next few weeks, our library services’ futures will be determined and many will say there are better causes when all around us people are suffering.

What would make it worth it? What would make us heroes? We lost hope long ago but those Wednesday children, and those without homes and without jobs and without the internet need libraries and maybe we can see the need to speak out where others can’t.

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Joanna Booth




The last days of Bristol’s libraries

A year from now, Mayor Marvin Rees will begin campaigning for his next term of office and the number of libraries open in Bristol will be down by 63%. Most libraries will only open for three days a week.

There are now 27 funded by the Bristol City Council but after the horrific Conservative austerity cuts to local funding, piled on top of extra responsibilities for social care, there is less money to go around.

The budget for libraries has been cut from £4.6m to £3.25m and this 29% cut is the incentive for the destruction of the publicly owned library system in our city.
The first cuts come with defunding and 17 libraries have been targeted for that.

Some placating responses to these eventual closures have included community groups taking over the running of the services. The fate of community libraries is often short-lived and with diminished stock, services, and safe spaces. See the fate of Barnet libraries , South Wigston Library , Manchester Library , and not to trivialise the exhaustion of volunteers 

Our volunteer board is exhausted – the responsibility and physical demands of delivery, combined with pressure for transparency and inclusion have taken their toll.

Note that volunteer numbers have increased by 43% since 2012.

The second destruction comes from the idea of mutualising our public service, which effectively means handing over control to groups who end up cutting staff, stock and resources while paying executives an ever-increasing amount and putting money into buildings.

On 3 July, the library services’ future may be determined by our Labour council. Until then and following on with the changes, I will be posting as much as I can about what these changes mean and what is taking place.

These may be the last few days of a publicly controlled library service that includes 27 libraries in Bristol. This is the last chance to save our libraries.