Saturday, 8 November 2014

An open letter by Ruth Gedalovitch of Havering Libraries Campaign to local councillors.

An open letter sent to local Councillors by Ruth Gedalovitch of Havering Libraries Campaign outlining the proposed savage cuts to the library service including cuts to the Reader Development Team which could lead to the scrapping of the Summer Reading Challenge in the Borough.
Dear Councillor
I wanted to write to you to ask you to reconsider the proposed cuts to libraries. I understand that cuts are required to ensure that the council meets its own requirements for savings. However, I believe that the cuts are grossly disproportionate.
Please would you take the time to look at the job cuts in libraries compared with other departments? It seems clear to me that libraries have made many efficiencies over the years - to the point that they now have the lowest "cost per visit" out of all London Libraries - clearly they are operating at very good value to the council. It is also clear that there is nothing else to cut in libraries, hence the massive job loss (50 out of 94 jobs will go!). It would seem that other departments have been able to make efficiencies to achieve savings without job losses - thereby libraries are not only being asked to save a disproportionate amount of money, they are also being punished for being so efficient (there is no "fat on the beast" to cut away!).
Please also consider that libraries are the "jewel in the crown" for Havering. Ten years ago Havering Libraries were either scoffed at or pitied! They were never considered by top authors, they never received any additional funding and were never asked to work in partnership with national organisations or government departments. In the last ten years, Havering has seen all its libraries make great strides - they have been nominated for awards, they have been asked to apply for a number of pilots - two with the Department of Education, some with the Arts Council - they were even invited to Downing Street for the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge last year. This WILL be completely reversed if library staff are cut so radically. There will be no spare capacity to do any of this work. Havering will once again be scoffed at!
One of the factors considered for making the cuts was to ensure that the vulnerable people in our community are protected. Within this outline, libraries were considered to be a purely "universal" service and therefore "cuttable". Library staff work directly with more organisations and groups than any other council department - they work with RNIB, RNIB, HAVCO, HASWA, HAD, Age Concern, Alzheimers organisations, Rose Programme (8 employed Rose people will lose their jobs under these cuts), they have worked with Autistic groups (offering internships at two libraries to young people with autism), job-seekers, adults and children with literacy issues, local Special Educational Needs Schools, First Steps (Special Needs playgroup)....I could go on, but I hope you get the gist. Libraries work in both universal and targeted ways with our whole community. This WILL all go - the Reader Development Team is scheduled to be cut and these are the groups they work with directly to ensure that they can all access not only libraries, but other services.
The Reader Development Team also visits every preschool and primary school in the borough - not to just promote libraries but also literacy - a whole generation of children will not be introduced to books or reading via their local library! An argument could be made that either children don't read or they read on devices - neither of these are justifiable in the case of Havering libraries. Havering Libraries continue to have high visits and high book loans. In addition, Havering Libraries have invested in ebooks, emagazines, online resources, online courses etc. All of these services are free to library members - but children and young people are notorious for not accessing anything unless it is introduced to them personally - that needs someone to go out and talk in the schools. It also needs staff to bring classes into their local libraries so that they are comfortable and realise that this fantastic community resource is there for them to use. For some children, a visit to the library with their school is the first time they will come inside their library.
I was truly shocked when I saw that the Housebound Library Service would be cut! This is a great example of the library service working with our most vulnerable. The criteria for receiving a visit from the Housebound Library Service is that the person is unable to visit themselves and have no one who can collect books on their behalf. For some of these people, the library service is a valuable lifeline - an opportunity to chat (however briefly) with someone, to break up their day alone. If you read yourself, can you imagine sitting around all day without a book and no way of getting one? No, neither can I - so why on earth would the council cut such a service - it really is very inexpensive in the grand scheme of things - it just seems cruel. Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will hear from these people (or many others) until after the consultation is finished, if at all!
Some of the most popular events and activities in Havering Libraries are the preschool activities - these will go! Even if volunteers were to run these sessions, it is not possible to get 60 parents and children out of the library with one volunteer and two staff in the event of a fire. Staff have evacuation trials to ensure that everyone can leave safely. With fewer staff (and this has been discussed and agreed) there will be no way to ensure the safety of these events - therefore they will be cut.
I know that there are a number of arguments for making the cuts....that volunteers will take over the services, that we are at least keeping libraries open.
Havering Libraries already work with over 300 volunteers! They are considered to be experts at working with volunteers and have been nominated for various awards because of this. They have shared their expertise, policies and guidance within the Council with other departments (including HR who are leading on volunteers within the council!), they have also guided other boroughs and are a lead borough across London - contributing to a "Mayor of London" piece of work to share best practice. Romford Library now hosts the front face of HAVCO (our local volunteer bureau). In short, they know about volunteers!
Staff, at all levels, have said that this plan will not work! There will be insufficient staff left to run the existing volunteer programme (many of these staff are within the Reader Development Team as well as within the branches) which will lead to a demise of the existing opportunities which libraries run with volunteers - these include our Summer Reading Challenge (Havering have the highest completion rate in London!), Reading Buddies (support for struggling readers - both adults and children), Computer experts and various group leaders for Reading Groups, Knitting Groups etc.
Whilst the existing volunteers are fabulous, they ARE volunteers - recently, Romford had 4 scheduled to come in and help children but only one arrived! Volunteers can, and do, choose to do other things sometimes, they are not obliged to come in, but greatly appreciated when they do.
How could it possibly be proposed that volunteers could replace paid (experienced, trained and qualified) staff. Just because you watch Casualty (hospital programme) does not mean you could go and operate on someone - there is a lot more to running a library than giving out books!
Do you think that we would have many volunteers willing to stand there and be abused by members of the public? We have a security guard in Romford because of the drug dealing issues and staff (library and council staff in the offices) have all been concerned on health and safety grounds - in particular personal safety.
Even the Women's Institute have said that they don't want to run libraries!
The other argument that "at least libraries will remain" is also a little spurious. What happens to a service which is run down to the point of collapse? Do the council have the legal right to get rid of libraries altogether? No - they are a statutory service! However, they do have the right to run the service into the ground, deprive their local community of the service and thereby preside over its decline - THEN there will be justification to close libraries which are not being used well!
I know this is a very long email and I really appreciate that you have got to the end of it! I would really appreciate a response, I am hopeful that it will be a positive one, but even if it is negative then I would welcome an explanation as to why you will still be voting through the cuts to libraries (other than the standard " the council has to make cuts").

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