We are still waiting for a response to our demand for an inquiry. Please read our complaint and add your voice by emailing  karen.bradley.mp@parliament.uk and quoting reference: 296263

Save Barnet Libraries
 

10 December 2016

 

The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Department for Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

 

 

Dear Minister,

 
We are writing to you about the plan for the future provision of library services in the London Borough of Barnet which was adopted by Barnet Council at a council meeting on 4 April 2016 (“the Barnet library plan”).

 
Please treat this as a complaint under s.10(1)(a) of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (“the Act”) that Barnet Council, if it proceeds with the Barnet library plan, will not be complying with its legal duty under s.7(1) of the Act to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service to all persons desiring to make use thereof.

 
Our complaint is based on serious, well-founded concerns and therefore requires you under s.10(1) of the Act to hold a local enquiry into the matter. We ask you to hold an enquiry in the exercise of your duty, under s.1(1) of the Act, to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of their functions under the Act.

 
Summary of the Barnet library plan


 
At present, Barnet Council operates 14 libraries across the borough. They are staffed by professional staff for a total of 634.5 hours a week (the libraries with the lowest staffed hours are staffed for 35 hours a week, the highest for 56.5 hours a week).

 

The 14 libraries have existing floor space totalling 92,214 square feet (of which the council estimates 75,700 square feet is allocated to public use).

 

Under the new Barnet library plan, the number of staffed hours will be reduced drastically, from 634.5 to only 188, a reduction of 70%. Four “core plus” libraries will be staffed for 23.5 hours a week, while six “core” libraries will be staffed for only 15 or 16 hours a week.

 

In addition, it is planned that four “partnership” libraries will be run by unidentified local community groups. Each will be staffed for 15 hours a week: the staff will not be professional librarians but they will have support from professionally trained staff at the “core” and “core plus” libraries. (If one adds these planned 60 hours to the total staffed opening hours, the reduction, from 634.5 to 248 hours, is about 60%).

 

The floor space will also be significantly reduced. Under the Barnet library plan, “core plus” libraries are to have a minimum of 5,300 square feet, while “core” will have a minimum of 2,100 square feet and “partnership” 1,900. The total estimated floor space under the new plan will be 46,715 square feet, a reduction of about 50%. Most libraries will be less than half their present size. The book stock for each type of library will be differentiated and in most cases reduced.

 

To replace the staffed opening hours, Barnet Council proposes the introduction, across all libraries, of “technology-enabled opening”, or in other words, unstaffed libraries, with automated entry via library card and PIN and automated access to library services, supervised by CCTV monitored from one central location.

 

In short, most libraries will be staffed by librarians for only a few hours per day, on four or five days per week. For the rest of the time they will be unstaffed and automated. To alleviate this, Barnet Council hopes to recruit 100 volunteers and allocate 6 hours of volunteer time per week to each “core” and “core plus” library.

 

Because of safety concerns, children below school year 11 (aged 15 or 16) will not be allowed to enter unstaffed libraries unless accompanied by an adult card-holder. Children from year 11 and up will only be issued with a card for unaccompanied entry if backed by a parental approval and confirmation from their school.

 

During the unstaffed periods, the toilets will be closed on the basis that they cannot be monitored via CCTV.

 

This imposition of unstaffed, automated spaces in place of professionally-staffed libraries is the most extreme introduction of technology-enabled opening attempted by any library authority under your supervision.

 

As we set out in more detail below, it will have drastic impacts falling disproportionately on the young and vulnerable:

on young people aged 10-15 who will no longer be allowed to enter the library without an adult who has a library membership and PIN number;
on those with physical disabilities who require assistance from librarians, including wheelchair users who cannot reach higher shelves, or who have need of accessible toilet facilities nearby;
on those with learning disabilities who require reassurance and assistance from staff to access the library facilities and who can no longer see the library as a “safe space” under the Safe Spaces scheme which currently operates in Barnet libraries;
on older people who do not feel confident using the access technology and/or require toilet facilities nearby or who do not feel safe in unstaffed libraries;
pregnant women and families with young children who require access to toilet facilities nearby.

(There may also be unforeseen negative impacts on groups who may feel vulnerable accessing an unstaffed library, for example, lone women when the library is relatively isolated and empty).

 

We have collated case studies and personal statements from a sample of library users in the borough, based around East Finchley and N2. We attach these statements at Annex 1 to this letter, and we offer them as a sample representative of users across Barnet.

 

We will also include quotations from some of the personal statements in the text of this letter, where relevant.

 

 

Our complaint

 

Our complaint is that, if it carries out the Barnet library plan, Barnet Council will be in breach of its duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons who want to use it, for the following reasons:

 

The library service described above cannot answer to the description of a comprehensive and efficient library service under s.7 of the Act.

 

The drastic reduction in professionally staffed hours is wholly at odds with the factors expressed in s.7 of the Act and in your Department’s own guidance, which emphasise the importance of advice, encouragement, and support.

 

The wholesale introduction of automated, unstaffed spaces appears to be contrary to best practice and to the policy of your Department, which recommend the use of technology-enabled opening to improve access over and above staffed opening hours, not to replace them, and emphasise the importance of providing enough staffed opening hours to allow children to use libraries unaccompanied.

 

On Barnet Council’s own assessment, the Barnet library plan will substantially reduce access for the young, the elderly, people with disabilities both physical and learning, and the vulnerable and will not meet the needs described in consultation by people from those groups.

 

Barnet Council has not properly justified the Barnet library plan: it has not shown how the needs of library users will be met by this plan; it has not considered other options having said it would; it has failed to take proper account of the risks of technology-enabled opening; and it has set out a flimsy financial justification based on optimistic assumptions.

 

 

A comprehensive and efficient library service for all

 

Libraries which are (except for a few hours a week) unstaffed and automated spaces do not answer to the statutory description of a comprehensive and efficient library service for people who wish to use it.

 

We say so because a library service is not limited to the provision of books and digital information, but also entails the provision of advice, encouragement and support.

 

This is made clear by s.7(2)(b) of the Act which sets out factors to which a library authority must have regard, emphasises the desirability “…of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service…” and “…of providing advice as to its use and of making available such ... information as may be required by persons using it”. This encouragement, advice and information is surely to be provided by professional staff.

 

The guidance provided by your Department agrees. The “Libraries shaping the future: good practice toolkit” (“the Guidance”) updated on 5 April 2016 begins as follows:
“Libraries are trusted spaces, free to enter and open to all. In them, people explore and share reading, information, knowledge and culture. We know that people value the range of books, digital and other resources as well as the trained staff who help them.” [Our emphasis].
 
The Guidance goes on to identify many important roles for the library service which depend on the availability of a professional staff. For example:
-       At paragraph 1.1: the role of libraries in providing training and learning support for children and adults is important, as is the valued, safe and neutral environment.
-       At paragraph 2: libraries should support and deliver the local authority priority of developing and sustaining communities to look after the most vulnerable, including children’s safeguarding.
-       At paragraph 2.1: libraries should support people with dementia and mental health issues.
-       At paragraph 2.2: libraries should offer support and training to jobseekers, and to small businesses.
-       At paragraph 2.4: libraries should offer help to get people online and access government services; trained staff help provide information about local and council services.
-       At paragraph 2.5: libraries help children and adults improve their literacy and reading skills, through sessions run by library staff.
 
The Barnet library plan, which would reduce the time professional staff are available to the public by 70%, raises a serious doubt over the performance of these roles. And it appears to disregard the importance of a professional staff to provide encouragement, advice and information, contrary to the guidance of s.7(2) of the Act. During technology enabled opening, the library buildings would no longer be “open to all” as pre-registration into the scheme would be required.
 
The drastic reduction in floor space, by 50%, is another serious reason to doubt that the Barnet library plan would discharge Barnet Council’s duty under s.7 of the Act. Libraries are not just facilities for picking up and returning books, or for online access, but places of book study and group learning (and see the Guidance again for many other examples of uses considered important by your Department).
 
They are also intended to offer shelves of books for reference, and to enable users to consult books sorted by subject matter. Reference collections are by their nature likely to be different from and larger than borrowing collections. S.7(2)(a) of the Act emphasises the desirability of a library service that offers facilities for “reference to” (as well as the borrowing of) books sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the requirements of users. The reference services offered by Barnet’s libraries, and all the other services that require space, are likely to be threatened by the reduction in floor space.
 
Guidance on technology-enabled opening
 
The Guidance also expresses a clear view about the use of technology-enabled opening.
 
At paragraph 4.4, under “Improved Access”, the Guidance envisages the use of technology-enabled opening “… to improve access over and above staffed hours…”. What appears to be envisaged (as in other countries where the technology has been introduced in a small proportion of libraries), is the use of technology to complement staffed support and extend opening times beyond staffed hours, and not in substitution for staffed opening.
 
Further, the same paragraph goes on to give an express warning about the needs of children, given that they are likely to be excluded from access in unstaffed hours:
“With reference to safeguarding, some authorities using these systems do not allow under 16s to use the library unless accompanied by an adult. This does not reflect a limitation of the technology, but rather the risk management strategy of the local authority. Given this implementation by some local authorities, it is important that staffed hours meet the requirements of children and young adults who wish to visit the library unaccompanied.” [Our emphasis].

 

Many people will not have their needs met under the Barnet library plan

 

It appears very likely that the replacement of staffed opening hours by unstaffed, automated opening will restrict access to libraries for many people, in particular the elderly, the young and disabled, and the library service will not meet their likely needs. Indeed, that is Barnet Council’s own analysis of the effect of the Barnet library plan.

 

The elderly

 

With respect to elderly users, Barnet Council’s equalities impact assessment noted that its consultation had received a disproportionately high response from people aged over 65, which “… demonstrates the importance [of the library service] to this cohort.”  

 

The Council’s needs assessment noted (para 17.1) that older people “…were particularly unsupportive of plans to use technology to replace staff…”.

 

As to the impact on them of the reduction in staffed hours, the equalities assessment said as follows:

“As older people are more likely to be concerned about reductions in staffing levels, a reduction in staffed hours of 70% will potentially have a negative impact on this group. It is most likely this will have a more significant impact on those over 75, as this group is general less technologically adept and is also more likely to be isolated.”

 

Further:

“The lack of public toilets in the libraries during unstaffed periods may impact older people more so than others. Careful consideration has been given to the restriction of toilet use during unstaffed opening. However, with no possible CCTV coverage in the toilets, it is considered that the risks relating to safeguarding; identifying injury or illness, antisocial behaviour; health and safety; and property damage mean that it is not reasonably practicable to keep the facilities open whilst still ensuring the wellbeing of the public using the site during unstaffed periods.”

 

In short, consultation and assessment indicate that older people do not want the unstaffed, automated spaces intended by the Barnet library plan, and are more likely to find them inaccessible and alienating. We would suggest this is a far cry from the ideal of trusted, supportive places accessible to all, which lies at the heart of the Guidance issued by your Department.

 

People with physical or learning disabilities


 

Some similar considerations apply, with greater force, to disabled users. Barnet Council’s consultation found that “…respondents who had mental health issues or learning disabilities describe libraries as welcoming, inclusive spaces, and as community resources which reduce social isolation.”

 

People with disabilities and parents of disabled children report heavy library use. They stressed the importance of toilet facilities. And access was seen as an important issue. A high proportion of disabled respondents strongly disagreed with the plans to reduce staffed hours and replace staff with technology-enabled opening.

 

As for Barnet Council’s impact assessment, it noted that:

People with learning difficulties or sensory impairments may find it more difficult to navigate technology-enabled opening hours.
The reduction in staffed hours may impact on people with mental health issues who require assistance or reassurance to use library services.
The lack of available toilets during unstaffed periods may impact disabled users more than others.
Reduced space may impact on people with learning disabilities who reported that they valued the space libraries offered.
As a general conclusion, people with disabilities and learning difficulties will be less able to use the library during technology-enabled sessions and there will be a negative impact on them with the reduction in staffed hours.

 

We offer here by way of example, a personal statement from the husband of a disabled library user in East Finchley (emphasis in bold is added):

“Liz usually visits the library on Saturday or weekday mornings around 11.00. Occasionally we use the car (if weather bad) but more often I help her wheel her chair from home to East Finchley Library. We live in Chandos Road so it’s not far. She uses the library independently for up to an hour or so while I do any shopping required in the High Road. She needs help to access the higher shelves and there is adequate space around the shelves for a self-propelled wheelchair. She does not use the computers. An accessible toilet would be desirable but not essential as we live so near.

 

We have had no incidents to cause any concern but she would not use an unstaffed library.

 

Our reading interests are very wide and range far beyond the more popular titles – history, travel, biography, poetry and classic literature etc. We doubt that a mobile library would hold much interest for us even if it was wheelchair accessible.

 

East Finchley Library is very important to Liz as it is one of the few facilities outside our home that she can use completely independently of me. We have not tried other libraries but as far as I can see none are readily accessible without a special trip in the car.” [Emphasis in bold added].

 

We also offer these extracts from the personal statement of the mother of an autistic child:

“The library has also played a crucial role for my son, who was diagnosed with autism when he was only 3 years old. There are very few public spaces that he can tolerate due to noise and being around strangers; this began when he was very young and still, today, he prefers known and familiar places to visit. However, he liked the library and it was one of the places where I could take him, to get out of the house and enable us to have a change of scene.



The librarians were a fabulous help on sourcing information to help my child, even ordering in books on Autism to help me help my child access the world.



If the library provision stays the same, the hope is for him to visit independently which will meet his expectations and we have always promised that this will be the first place he will visit on his own.  Our son now asks for help if he needs it and knowing that staff are there to support him has always reinforced our wish for him to visit on his own.

 

However, with the proposed changes I can’t see him wanting or being able to visit when he is 15, let alone us feeling that it is safe for him to do so.  Children, young people, even adults with disabilities, need to have full time staff to assist them. 

 

This is not just about choosing a book, this is about safety and that these individuals need the reassurance of those in charge to make them feel comfortable.”

 

Children

 

The effect of the Barnet Library plan is that children will see a large reduction in the times when they can access the library unaccompanied.

 

Barnet Council’s impact assessment noted that it is estimated that the majority of children under 10 years old access libraries accompanied by an adult and that therefore the impact will predominantly felt by 10-15 year olds who access the library unaccompanied.

 

The assessment pointed to the availability of digital services and of some after-hours facilities in local schools but concluded that the reduction in hours will have a significant impact on the 10-15 year old cohort who visit libraries unaccompanied. It did not provide any estimates of the level of unaccompanied use by children, which we contend is a serious failing in the assessment.

 

We would suggest that in this regard the Barnet library plan flies in the face of the recommendations in the Guidance, which says that “… it is important that staffed hours meet the requirements of children and young adults who wish to visit the library unaccompanied.”

 

In addition, the impact assessment notes that the reduction in footprint may also have an impact on the number of activities offered to children and young people. There appears to be no measure offered in mitigation of this impact. This again appears to run counter to the important role given to libraries (according to the Guidance) by local and national policy in supporting learning, literacy and reading skills.

 

We offer here by way of example, a personal statement from a young library user:

“Hello my name is Heval. I am 12 years old and I attend Fortismere secondary school. We are privileged enough to have a library [East Finchley library] so close to our home.  However, if you reduce this gift - then where will children have a place to study?  Not all children can take a bus to Finchley central or North Finchley. Children under the age 11 or 10 cannot take the bus by themselves they have to go with an adult. They have no place to study or take a book out.  And if I say adults can be very busy!  Added to that my mother has recently let me take my 8-year-old sister Seve to the library by myself and she and I rely on staff to help us find a book. If your plans proceed to cut staff, we cannot go to the library and due to this we can’t take out books and is that really what you want?”

 

And these are extracts from other personal statements:

“I’m 11 and my parents are working full time and I would like to use the library by myself. Who would want to wait until 15?” [Year 7 student]

 

“The reason I would like the library to keep open is that when I am at work my 13 year old can continue to use the library without my supervision” [Mother of 3, working full time]

 

“I frequently see my own GCSE students studying there. It’s used, it’s loved, it’s essential” [Teacher]

 

“I want to go to the library to do my homework – 9/10 times I use the library for my homework” [Primary school student]

 

“My son studied for his exams in the library and without their support he wouldn’t have achieved his goal of being a doctor” [Parent]

 

Other users of library staff and space

 

Similar considerations as above apply to other uses of library space and other users dependent on the support of library staff, who are not addressed by Barnet Council’s equalities impact assessment, such as unemployed people seeking support in job-seeking or digital training, local citizens wishing to access council services, and adult readers seeking trained support to improve their reading.

 

Staggered opening hours, travel times

 

Barnet Council has said that it will mitigate the loss of staffed opening hours by timetabling staffed hours at different times in nearby libraries, so that there is a staffed opening period every day in each of three localities; and by publishing the timetable of and mapping routes to other libraries so that users can reach other libraries in their locality.

 

However, the Council has done no analysis of how travel to alternative libraries would impact on average travel times. In the justification of its decision, the Council has treated it as important that the maintenance of 14 sites means that 99% of users can reach a library within 30 minutes. But this standard of accessibility has little meaning when the Council’s own assessment is that some libraries will provide inadequate services for some users, and that all users who need the support of staff will either have the support restricted to a few hours or will have to travel further afield to find it. There is no assessment of how long users will now have travel on average for a full library service.

 

Further, those users who particularly need the support of staff will by definition be predominantly more vulnerable users for whom travel is itself likely to be more difficult. The failure is particularly stark in relation to unaccompanied children who will not even be able to enter a library building when it is unstaffed; and who will be limited to one or two afternoons a week after school at their local library.

 

The risks of unstaffed opening hours


 

There are many added risks attendant upon a large rise in unstaffed opening hours. (For a summary, we refer you to Barnet Council’s risk register, which was appendix K to the Council’s decision paper, and which is attached to this letter at Annex 2).

 

Barnet Council appears to believe that most risks can be mitigated to an acceptable level by the use of live CCTV, operated from a remote central location. The CCTV operator will be able to communicate with libraries by an audible link, and in an emergency will be able to call on an emergency response within 30 minutes.

 

Even with this apparent confidence, Barnet Council still classes some risks as remaining relatively high (e.g.: inability of emergency services to access a library building during unstaffed hours; failure to follow evacuation procedures in an emergency during unstaffed hours; safeguarding of children and young adults is compromised; unauthorised users can gain entry by ‘tailgating’ a card-holder).

 

We do not share the confidence of Barnet Council that live CCTV is an adequate answer, and we do not believe that the council has made an adequate assessment.

 

For example, librarians tell us that they are frequently called upon to calm disputes between library users, or to deal with people who are taken ill, or to resolve other unexpected incidents. We understand that library staff keep a log of such incidents, but are not able to disclose this to the public. But we do not see an analysis of the likely rate of occurrence of such incidents under technology-enabled opening, or how the role of librarians can be replaced by a CCTV operator at a remote location.

 

Further, the pilot study of technology-enabled opening, upon which Barnet Council relies, did not replicate the conditions that will exist under the planned implementation of the service, and therefore, in important respects, it cannot be treated as a reliable source of information. That is because during the pilot study at Edgware library, Barnet Council deployed security staff at the library, and told users it was doing so.  User behaviour is likely to be different under such conditions than under unstaffed opening monitored by remote CCTV. Further, the pilot did not replace the core library opening hours, but rather was used to extend them.

 

Barnet Council has failed to justify its plan

 

For the reasons given above, we say that Barnet Council has failed properly to justify the Barnet library plan and failed to show that it would provide a comprehensive and efficient library service which meets the needs of users, as required by s.7 of the Act.

 

We say also for the further reasons that: 1) it has failed to consider other alternatives, and 2) has failed even to make out a convincing financial case for its drastic experiment.

 

In previous consultations, Barnet Council has put forward co-location (i.e. the sharing of space by libraries and other council services) as a way of saving money while maintaining or improving the service offered. Under the Barnet library plan, co-location appears to have been rejected as an option, for most sites, without any adequate assessment and without any reason being given, despite the fact that it was raised as a possible alternative by many consultees.

 

As for the financial justification, the changes are projected to help reduce Barnet Council’s library budget by £1.6m by 2019/2020 (envisaging operational savings of about £5m in total by the end of that year). It is also said that the floor space taken away from libraries could earn about £0.5m per annum in rent from community groups, but this is based on a long list of optimistic and untested assumptions. For example, despite the plans for the library service being approved in March 2016, there is still no tenant identified for the space released in East Finchley library, which is a listed building.

 

To make these savings, projected to save in total about £6.5m by the end of 2019/2020, Barnet Council is budgeting for one-off costs of about £6m in redundancies, reconfiguration of buildings and introduction of the necessary technology, and has already spent about £750,000 on consultations and pilots.

 

In other words, even if all of Barnet Council’s optimistic assumptions are proved correct (and some of these are treated as highly risky by its own risk assessment), it will take more than 4 years to recover its upfront expenditure (in pursuit of a long-term saving, on its most optimistic estimate, of 0.2 per cent of its total budget).

 

Every change in the plan will add further costs. For example, Barnet Council has already raised the possibility of re-siting the downsized libraries. There is a suggestion in Council paperwork relating to the planned Tarling Road community hub that East Finchley library could be moved there. The upfront costs of reconfiguring buildings and introducing the technology for CCTV and unstaffed opening would then be lost.

 

Taskforce report: “Libraries Deliver”

 

Just before the sending of this letter, your Department’s Libraries Taskforce published its “Libraries Deliver” report. For the reasons, set out above, we believe that the Barnet library plan falls short on delivering the outcomes said by that report to be important.

 

For example, Outcome 1 expects libraries to be the location for cultural and creative activities and a gateway to culture for the disadvantaged. How is this outcome to be delivered when floorspace is reduced by 50% and staffed hours by 70%?

 

Outcome 2 expects libraries to deliver increased reading and literacy by offering supported reading activities and by encouraging reading. The report says:

“Reading can also be a springboard for communal activities, through reading-based events and reading groups. These heighten enjoyment in reading and also bring people together into a mutually supportive group, stimulating their interest in literature and also social interaction. We’d like to see support for and participation in these increasing.” [Bold added].

 

And it goes on to say:

“Libraries provide vital support to families in developing children’s language and reading skills and confidence from early years onwards. Libraries can also support and develop children as independent readers. The DCMS Taking Part survey showed adults who live with children were significantly more likely to have used public library services than those who don’t. In addition, adults who went to the library themselves when they were growing up were also more likely to go to the library as adults. We want to see active membership growing for both children and adults, particularly in areas of deprivation.” [Bold added].

 

This ambition needs the help of professional staff, not a reduction in staffed hours of 70%. And it expects children to be encouraged to use libraries, not excluded from them.

 

Outcome 3 expects libraries to support people in developing their digital skills and online access – in particular through training and the provision of information. We would suggest that training and encouragement depends on the personal presence of skilled staff; it is not served by a drastic reduction in staffed hours or by the loss of dedicated computer rooms and equipment.

 

Outcome 4 expects libraries to help people achieve their potential, through supporting school education and lifelong learning. This is what the report says about Outcome 4:

“Libraries support lifelong learning, self-improvement and social mobility. They play an important role supplementing formal learning through activities like book groups, homework and code clubs, discussion groups and events for children and families. Libraries are places where communities and individuals can develop, share ideas and learn together. We’d like to see these learning activities increased in number and rated highly by their users.

 

They also offer spaces for study and reflection - either quiet study areas or areas suitable for group learning - that people may not have at home. We’d like to see these facilities increased and promoted.” [Bold added].

 

These ambitions are inconsistent with a reduction in space of 50% and a reduction in staffed hours of 70%.


 

The aim of Outcome 5 is healthier and happier lives. The report quotes the chair of Mersey Care NHS Trust:

“Many of our service users experience extreme and debilitating levels of social isolation and exclusion. In this context libraries become places of warmth, welcome, safety, access to information and support, and crucially gateways to much needed human interaction.”

 

The report goes on to say:

“There are also health benefits to be derived from having a free, supportive and accessible community space to spend time in; for example, increased opportunities for interaction with other users helps reduce social isolation, a major and growing concern for health professionals. Schemes such as library-created community toy libraries can encourage and stimulate early years and special needs children, young people, and vulnerable adults in early learning, development and adaptive play.”

 

This cannot happen in unstaffed libraries or those with insufficient floor space to meet a variety of needs simultaneously.

 

Outcome 6 expects libraries to offer high quality advice and support to people starting up businesses and careers support for those looking for jobs.

 

Barnet Council cannot be taking this ambition seriously if it is reducing staffed hours by 70% and reducing dedicated computer rooms and access to equipment.

 

Outcome 7 expects libraries to help develop stronger communities, by being the centre of a community, and a space for all citizens. They are meant to deliver an enhanced sense of place and to reduce social exclusion.

 

The report wants libraries to be “acknowledged and celebrated as a vital part of community life”. It goes on to say that “Libraries also provide an inclusive, free and safe space for all, both physical and virtual, making local people equally welcome irrespective of their age or background.”

 

We believe that the Barnet library plan for unstaffed libraries, monitored remotely by CCTV, could hardly be further from that vision. During unstaffed periods, people who are not pre-registered with the scheme will not even be able to enter the building.

 

Conclusion

 

The Barnet library plan reduces the personal presence of professional librarians in Barnet’s libraries by 70%. It will take away the staff who are meant to provide the encouragement, advice and information recommended by s.7 of the Act. This will have a significant and disproportionate impact on the people who rely on personal advice and support, or who need help in accessing library services. In other words, it will impact on the use of the library service by those people who need it the most – children in need of help with reading and learning, or just study space; vulnerable adults and people with learning difficulties; the disabled; the elderly; the unemployed. The library’s role in helping those people is treated as highly important by your Department’s Guidance.

 

Instead of following the aims of the Guidance, which describe libraries as trusted, welcoming spaces, with trained staff on hand to support those who need the most help, Barnet Council’s plan would have those people find other means of accessing library services. It would disable the library service from performing many of the roles envisaged by national and local policy.

 

Further, Barnet Council appears to have carried out an inadequate needs assessment. It has reported on current use of the libraries. And it has identified, as we set out above, ways in which its plan will have a significant negative impact on the vulnerable people and groups we have listed. But it has given precious little assessment of how the needs of such people will or should be met in the future; nor any convincing account of how they will be met under its plan.

 

Finally, we refer to the report recently published by the Libraries Taskforce. The Taskforce has set out your Department’s ambitions for library services, and published a 5 year action plan, which envisages that the Taskforce will work with local governments towards those ambitions. Just as this action plan is beginning, Barnet Council is on the verge of taking steps (for example, closing libraries and making staff redundant) which would commit it to a path at odds with your Department’s own policy. We believe that it would be destructive and wrongheaded for Barnet to proceed in this way, and we ask you to give your urgent consideration to intervening to stay implementation of the Barnet library plan.

 

In summary, we urge you to hold an enquiry into the Barnet library plan, because Barnet Council is not discharging its duty under s.7 of the Act.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Emily Burnham                                                        Robert Strang

 

(On behalf of Saving Barnet Libraries)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEX 1


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEX 2