Saturday, 1 March 2014

Let's reclaim 'community'!

You’ll hear the word ‘community’ used a lot in public library circles, it is of course used correctly when we talk of ‘working with our community’ or being a ‘focal point in the community’ but worryingly it’s also being used as smokescreen for cuts.

‘Community Libraries’ instead of meaning ‘a local public library based in the community’ now means ‘a volunteer-led library’ where because of closure local people have been forced to take on the running of the service.
Another example is ‘Community Hub’ which now means an existent library or new build being used as a one stop shop for a host of other council/NHS (even post offices!) services, this can often lead to the core library service being diminished and library staff taking on other tasks, roles and responsibilities but at the same time having their terms and conditions cut.

This collocated/shared services approach is often sold as ‘innovative’ when in the majority of cases it’s due to cuts in other departments and can often lead to a potentially unsympathetic merger of services. Take Northamptonshire as an example where due to cuts in children’s centres, there are proposals to move some of the advisors in with libraries, which has raised safeguarding and other concerns;

“concerns that "libraries aren't the right environment for young family activities (including safeguarding concerns relating to full public access and confidentiality issues)", and some raised worries about accessibility and location”
“The report adds that people in Corby were "happy with the current provision and did not wish to see a significant change".

So not only are there concerns but the people don’t want it, democratic accountability?

There are other proposals in other authorities to move police officers and health services etc. in with libraries.

There is very often nothing innovative about this, it’s nearly always cuts based.

So let’s reclaim the word ‘community’ and use it positively not as a smokescreen for cuts.


  1. Shirley Burnham1 March 2014 at 09:06

    I won't use it; as a word its meaning has been debased. Like toxic treacle it falls from the tongues of politicians - look at Question 3 in the Sieghart Review, to find a typical example. Danger is that our "using it positively" will be deliberately misinterpreted by those who seek to mislead, allowing them to say we are endorsing their vile policies.

  2. Elizabeth (@ElizCro)2 March 2014 at 10:32

    Thanks for raising this issue in a post, Alan, and I totally agree with Shirley.

    The term community is not only being twisted but watered down to apply to various models - from the traditional library serving a community, to the library run solely by volunteers 'from the community' - even if not actually from the community - and everything in between. And all to make the new models more palatable.