News

Authors protest at 'appalling' cull of Newcastle libraries

Authors Philip Pullman, childrens laureate Julia Donaldson, Malorie Blackman and Meg Rosoff are among those protesting about the news that the bulk of Newcastle's 18 libraries are to be closed or handed to community groups.

It has emerged in local reports that the majority of branch libraries facing closure, with the exact number to be confirmed this week but only the newly rebuilt city centre library safe from the axe.

Council leaders are expected to say that those libraries not already part of a customer service centre or shared with another council will go as it looks to save £7m from its library budget.

Library services director Tony Durcan said: "We are in this position because frankly we cannot go on as we were before. We face significant spending cuts and that will have a substantial impact on our budget."

Author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons has co-ordinated an open letter to Newcastle's councillors calling on them to think again. Pullman, Donaldson, Blackman and Rosoff have all signed the letter, along with former childrens laureate Anne Fine, Beverley Naidoo and many others.

"We are authors, many of whom have attended the Northern Children’s Book Festival and other events in the region over many years," the letter states. "We have enjoyed the tremendous warmth and hospitality of young book lovers in the North East and the librarians and teachers who introduce them to the joy of reading.

"We are therefore appalled to hear that council leaders are planning draconian cuts to the city’s libraries. The UK is 25th in the PISA international reading rankings. This is no time to cut libraries. It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts.

"It is not the role of a Labour council to act as a conduit for the coalition government’s 'austerity’ cuts which disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable. We call on Newcastle’s councillors to reconsider this wrong and immoral course."

 

Editor's blog: Libraries on the brink

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This news is especially galling after Newcastle agreed a PFI contract worth £40.2 million which included the 24 million build costs for the Central library and £1 million for High Heaton.
It is also astonishing that the chief officer responsible for Newcastle's libraries should now question whether libraries are affordable in a time of austerity.

A typical response to this news may be found here:
http://questioneverythingtheytellyou.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/toon-barmy.html
Similar angry reactions are all over Twitter today and Dan Jarvis has been asked that *Labour* respond.

Something which startles is that this 'chief officer' has a home in CILIP. Whilst Mr D is not making statements on behalf of CILIP, one cannot but wonder what its members think of his words and actions.

Is it is truly possible for either Dan Jarvis, the *Labour* Shadow Minister - or even CILIP - to avoid guilt by association ? No doubt they will comment, too. Or, of course, they could have a quiet word with Mr D about the PFI contract that is at the bottom of this (see Mr Clarke's comment) and that pleading "austerity" just does not wash.

In almost every case that a council has built a 'Flagship' library ('Idea Store', 'Discovery Centre' etc), there has been a total failure to appraise the effect on the operating budget of the rest of the library service in the years to come. Naturally the running cost of these buildings is far higher than what was there before and therefore, without stringent efficiencies and unless the budget for the whole service is to rise disproportionately, it will be hard to find the 'revenue' budget for the smaller libraries.

Instead of being a considered part of the overall library service these expensive developments came to appear as if they were grand publicity exercises for the council involved. Birmingham's expenditure of £200m is the worst case - but Newcastle at £40m was always going to be a serious problem; (and one thinks of Brighton and several other similar nightmares ) - that was obvious from the day it was announced.

If the money that has been wasted on a mere handful of stupid library projects like Birmingham and Newcastle had been spent wisely across the whole service we would have an estate of library buildings in a modern and workable condition with operating costs that we could afford.

The management of the public library service for the past 10-20 years has been an unmitigated disgrace and a disaster and the story in Newcastle is just another awful chapter.

Highly paid people remain in posts for which they were never capable.

This is the worst yet. For years, library campaigners have been treated with scorn for supporting the retention of small, local, cheap-to-run branches. We were old-fashioned, out of touch with modern developments.
Now we see the worst that can happen when vast sums are diverted to glamorous town centre mega-libes.
Scariest of all, perhaps, is that the library services director is quoted in the local press as saying that 'the council had to ask were libraries and leisure affordable in an age of austerity?'.
The DCMS won't help. Cut-to-ribbons ACE can't help. If the library profession can't even articulate the strong case for libraries as a cost-effective aid during austerity, the situation is hopeless.
Luckily, we out-of-touch library users are still here. And will be fighting harder than ever.

Tragic developments, but I'd like to think that it's also time to stand up and defend our libraries and what they mean to us.

I'm shooting a film on the topic at the moment and I'd love to have some of you contribute to my piece, either on or off camera. That would be invaluable.

Please email us on hello@vetofilms.com for more info about our film, or if you think you can help in any ways including ideas and / or collaboration.

This news is especially galling after Newcastle agreed a PFI contract worth £40.2 million which included the 24 million build costs for the Central library and £1 million for High Heaton.
It is also astonishing that the chief officer responsible for Newcastle's libraries should now question whether libraries are affordable in a time of austerity.

A typical response to this news may be found here:
http://questioneverythingtheytellyou.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/toon-barmy.html
Similar angry reactions are all over Twitter today and Dan Jarvis has been asked that *Labour* respond.

Something which startles is that this 'chief officer' has a home in CILIP. Whilst Mr D is not making statements on behalf of CILIP, one cannot but wonder what its members think of his words and actions.

Is it is truly possible for either Dan Jarvis, the *Labour* Shadow Minister - or even CILIP - to avoid guilt by association ? No doubt they will comment, too. Or, of course, they could have a quiet word with Mr D about the PFI contract that is at the bottom of this (see Mr Clarke's comment) and that pleading "austerity" just does not wash.

In almost every case that a council has built a 'Flagship' library ('Idea Store', 'Discovery Centre' etc), there has been a total failure to appraise the effect on the operating budget of the rest of the library service in the years to come. Naturally the running cost of these buildings is far higher than what was there before and therefore, without stringent efficiencies and unless the budget for the whole service is to rise disproportionately, it will be hard to find the 'revenue' budget for the smaller libraries.

Instead of being a considered part of the overall library service these expensive developments came to appear as if they were grand publicity exercises for the council involved. Birmingham's expenditure of £200m is the worst case - but Newcastle at £40m was always going to be a serious problem; (and one thinks of Brighton and several other similar nightmares ) - that was obvious from the day it was announced.

If the money that has been wasted on a mere handful of stupid library projects like Birmingham and Newcastle had been spent wisely across the whole service we would have an estate of library buildings in a modern and workable condition with operating costs that we could afford.

The management of the public library service for the past 10-20 years has been an unmitigated disgrace and a disaster and the story in Newcastle is just another awful chapter.

Highly paid people remain in posts for which they were never capable.

This is the worst yet. For years, library campaigners have been treated with scorn for supporting the retention of small, local, cheap-to-run branches. We were old-fashioned, out of touch with modern developments.
Now we see the worst that can happen when vast sums are diverted to glamorous town centre mega-libes.
Scariest of all, perhaps, is that the library services director is quoted in the local press as saying that 'the council had to ask were libraries and leisure affordable in an age of austerity?'.
The DCMS won't help. Cut-to-ribbons ACE can't help. If the library profession can't even articulate the strong case for libraries as a cost-effective aid during austerity, the situation is hopeless.
Luckily, we out-of-touch library users are still here. And will be fighting harder than ever.

Tragic developments, but I'd like to think that it's also time to stand up and defend our libraries and what they mean to us.

I'm shooting a film on the topic at the moment and I'd love to have some of you contribute to my piece, either on or off camera. That would be invaluable.

Please email us on hello@vetofilms.com for more info about our film, or if you think you can help in any ways including ideas and / or collaboration.