Libraries: beware of aggregation
20.05.08 | Desmond Clarke
Roy Clare, c.e.o. of the MLA in his recent Bookseller interview talks about the need for “aggregation” of public libraries to help improve the service.
He also appears unsympathetic to the concerns of local (and often rural) communities when their libraries are threatened with closure, even when these concerns are taken up by elected Members.
The public is often wary of bureaucrats promoting “aggregation” as a means to improve public services. We have heard similar arguments from NHS managers and the board of the Post Office as hospital services are re-structured and local post offices are closed. The public march and shout because they don’t believe aggregation actually leads to an improvement in service but is used as an excuse for cost cutting. Suggest aggregation to hard pressed councils and many will see an opportunity to reduce library budgets.
Roy Clare is fortunate to live in Essex, a county with a well managed service. However, any analysis of the annual CIPFA data, does show that there are marked differences in performance between individual authorities. Whether you assess individual authorities in terms of community usage, quality of resources or efficiency, the MLA’s own analysis points to a number of poor or under performing authorities. That should be unacceptable to anyone responsible for delivering a public service.
Roy Clare is correct to suggest that leadership is an issue, but to provide leadership you need a vision for public libraries in the 21st Century which is understood and supported by Government, local politicians, the profession and the public. That vision must recognise that libraries are a community resource to encourage reading, learning and the acquisition of information and knowledge.
Replacing local libraries with super libraries, two bus trips away, is not acceptable, even if you can persuade Councils officers not to grab the savings.
Unlike Roy, I live in a village with no mobile library service, a local library, three miles away, which is long overdue for improvement and a good library eight miles distant. We have also lost our post office and various hospital services are under threat.