World Book Day:
The Great Brain Robbery
Schoolchildren dress as thieves and menaces in protest at their loss of library access, space and books
Barnet Council cuts have prevented and discouraged library use - Schools express concern about impact on literacy and attainment
Only 9% of library users have registered for a pin code to access unstaffed libraries
Over 60% of survey respondents say their children now visit the library less often
EAST FINCHLEY LIBRARY
3.45PM FOR 4PM
THURSDAY 1ST MARCH 2018
Prior to Barnet’s introduction of controversial library cuts, over 187,000 Barnet citizens -- of whom 55,000 are children – were users of the library service. Barnet’s Conservative councillors, who are campaigning for re-election in May, recently boasted that as many as 17,000 citizens have signed up for the new PIN Code system that is now required to access most libraries, after a 70% reduction in staffed opening hours. In fact, this represents a massive drop in library use.
Save Barnet Libraries recently submitted an update to its formal complaint, including detailed evidence from library users, schools and nurseries, including Archer Academy, Christ’s College, Hollickwood School, Holy Trinity C.E. Primary School and Old Barn Pre School. The complaint which cites the violation of the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964), as well as other legal violations under the Equalities Act and the Human Rights Act, is under consideration by the Department of Digital Cultural Media & Sport (DDCMS). Under the 1964 Act the Council has a duty to provide a service that meets the needs of all users, “encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service”.
As the SBL complaint shows, there are serious problems in the implementation of Barnet’s radical and expensive plans, which depend on “technology enabled opening” (“TEO”) with pin codes and CCTV in place of staff. The promised roll out of extended opening hasn’t happened: so far there are only 13 additional hours across the borough. The Council’s hasty decision to install security guards for all unstaffed hours calls into question both the safety of TEO and the likelihood of extended opening actually taking place. Concerns about TEO and its impact on library use are backed up by data from our survey which shows that 60% of respondents (almost all of whom have a library card) have not applied for a pin code, 21% have tried to obtain one, but failed, and 40% of those who have tried, have had difficulty using the unstaffed library.
The introduction of unstaffed opening, removal of space, books and computers not only affects children, but a range of people, especially the elderly and people with disabilities, who report serious obstacles to library use. The Council promised to provide volunteers to assist and “reassure” these users, as well as other measures, few of which have been implemented. Our survey shows over 70% of respondents now visit the library less often.
Urging the Minister for Culture to intervene, Save Barnet Libraries will be hosting its colourful and creative protest outside East Finchley Library on Thursday 1st March at which local children, who have been so central to demanding their rights, come together again to demand a restoration of the library service.