Libraries – Lost at an alarming rate but will we ever get them back?

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save his local library in 2013.

Libraries have been lost at an alarming rate across the UK because of austerity which, I might add, was backed by all 3 major political parties in the 2010 General Election. So whichever party had won back then the consequences would have been as they turned out to be or even worse across most public services. Indeed, it has been argued that under Labour in the 2010 – 2015 Parliament the cuts would have been greater as they planned to make £1b more than the Coalition Government actually made. The Treasury/Institute of Fiscal Studies chart below illustrates my point:-

But for me one of the greatest losses in our communities has been the demise of libraries, indeed I put a great deal of effort into trying to save Sefton’s closing libraries along with many other community campaigners. The loss of Aintree Library caused me the most concern as until 2011 I had been a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Others of course will have felt just as keenly the loss of their local library be it in Churchtown, Ainsdale, Crosby (College Road), Birkdale, Litherland or Orrell as Sefton Borough lost 7 of its libraries to cost cutting by the Council.

All that, as they say, is history. However, my question is will we get any of the lost libraries (in a suitably modern form) back? Well we won’t be getting Birkdale or Aintree Libraries back in Sefton Borough as the sites both now have housing on them. Here are before and after shots of Aintree:-

Me outside the former Aintree Library

The same site in 2017 when the houses, now completed, were being erected.

Libraries are far more than places where books are kept and borrowed from and I say that as a hoarder of books. A library is a community meeting place, a hub for the community, a place where lonely and isolated people can meet others. Yes they provide IT access and they should all have coffee shops within them too, like at Liverpool Central Library. Their foundation was all about the joy of reading together with gaining knowledge and such worthy aims are still quite valid to my mind.

Readers of this blog-site will probably know that I found Sefton Council’s unwillingness to run libraries, that it could not afford to run, in innovative ways using volunteers most perplexing (and that’s being polite about it!); it was a though the Council saw volunteers as more trouble than they were worth. But other models of running libraries have been successfully established across the UK where councils did not use their dead hand to stop such innovation.

Such innovations have regularly gone though my mind as I’ve come across them and then recently on a visit to the north east I saw this in Tynemouth:-

What’s more it was directly opposite a flat we had rented for a week’s holiday. Wow I thought, that’s great a library to visit and explore. And then the cold light of reality struck me, it was a closed library although not obviously so until you got right up to it. As you can imagine my heart sank when I realised I’d witnessed another gone library. Then this appeared a couple of days later:-

North Tyneside Council mobile library

Well a mobile library is far better then no library at all but whilst any kind of library will make me smile there is a part of me which looks upon them in a similar way to a rail replacement bus, if you get my drift. And so I thought, well at least Tynemouth has a mobile library as some council’s have withdrawn them too and my mind, such as it is, wandered elsewhere.

Then almost by chance I saw a local newspaper in our flat called the News Guardian and in flicking through it and smiling at some of the local articles of the kind you only find in local newspapers:-

‘Man bites dog – dog to sue’
‘Council leader thinks new traffic island is fantastic’
‘MP has a cup of tea and a cake with with potholing club members’

(and yes I did make these headlines up for the avoidance of doubt)

my eyes fell upon this article:-

Well that’s innovation and a future for Tynemouth Library I thought and my spirits lifted until that is I thought back to the lack of library innovation back home in Sefton Borough of course!

Libraries are still worth saving and personally I’d like to see a new modern network of them being re-established….

Click on the photos and newspaper article to enlarge them

Closed Sefton Libraries – Why I was so angry over Labour’s ‘just close them’ approach

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/first-look-inside-waltons-revamped-11457683

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

I probably bored for England during my attempts to try to stop the straight closure of 7 of Sefton Borough’s libraries. And yes of course others did far more than I did to try to save their local libraries and the huge campaigns in Churchtown, Aintree, Crosby and Birkdale come to mind – all of which were sadly ultimately unsuccessful.

Fighting for Southport's Libraries

Fighting for Southport’s Libraries

What angered me was the lack of imagination and forward thinking in Sefton Council. The fact that under the dead hand of its Labour Leadership straight closure seemed to be the only possibility being seriously considered. Yet across the UK innovative ideas have been tried to re-purpose/reorganise community libraries to give them a viable future and I have commented on many of these ideas before.

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And here we have another one and it’s on Sefton’s doorstep in Walton! I am not saying that all 7 of Sefton’s closing libraries could have been saved like this but I am saying that with innovation maybe they could all have had a future in differing ways.

Oh for the dead hand of local political leaders!

Libraries – Their future being planned rather than simply axed as in Sefton?

Lib Dem campaigners fighting Labour's library axe in 2013

Lib Dem campaigners fighting Labour’s library axe in 2013

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/former-hillsborough-independent-panel-civil-9935953

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

Well this is a seemingly welcome initiative in Liverpool and it shines Sefton’s Labour rulers in a very poor light indeed as they simply shut libraries in the Borough despite calls for innovative volunteer alternatives to be taken on board.

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

To this day I can’t get my head around the stubborn refusal of Sefton’s Labour-run Council who just would not embrace and encourage volunteer-run alternatives to library closures.

Sefton under Labour – Why can Libraries not be run by volunteers?

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/five-liverpool-libraries-handed-over-9765609

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

The story of Liverpool City Council handing some of its libraries over to volunteers is on the Liverpool Echo web site – see link above.

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

Every time I see a Council handing over its libraries to volunteers to run I say why were Sefton Labour so determined not to allow volunteers to run its closing libraries? It is clearly not a Labour Party thing to keep volunteers at arms length nationally so why in Labour run Sefton?

Liverpool saves its libraries, so why did Sefton close its libraries?

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-29985668

The BBC has the story – see link above

Having worked with campaigners across the Borough of Sefton who were trying to stop the closure of many branch libraries I am left scratching my head. Why can Labour-run Liverpool City Council save its libraries from closure whilst in neighbouring Sefton Borough not only did the Labour-run Council close more than half of its libraries but it also stopped volunteers from running closed libraries too.

Sadly this placard could also read 'NO' to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

Sadly this placard could also read ‘NO’ to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

I realise that Liverpool Labour Mayor Joe Anderson was put under a great deal of pressure in Liverpool, not least by Liverpool Lib Dems and Liverpool residents, to back-off from his closure plans but that sort of pressure was also put on Sefton Council’s Labour rulers.

We all know that Council’s are short of money these days but if you can keep a strong and vibrant library network in Liverpool you can surely keep one in next door Sefton.

And for joyful reactions to the saving of Liverpool’s libraries see this link to the Liverpool Echo site:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/pictures-liverpool-users-react-news-8086020

Labour – There’s a lot to protest about in Sefton!

There have been a quite a number of public protests in recent years across the Borough of Sefton against things like:-

The Post Office closure programme pursued under the last Labour Government which saw Maghull and Lydiate having 4 Post Offices axed:- Below are Lib Dem protestors fighting for the former Coronation Road Post Road Post Office in Lydiate.

rsz_protesting_about_labours_post_office_closures_in_lydiate

Labour-run Sefton Council’s plan to close public toilets across the Borough. This fight was won by campaigners like those pictured below:-

rsz_toilet_campaign_02_13_lab

Labour’s £46 Green Bin tax for Sefton. This was fought off in the Summer of 2013 but the comrades are expected to try to bring it back once again having only deferred it:- Cllr. Bruce Hubbard is pictured below with his massive petition against the green bin tax which caused Labour to lose 2 council by-elections to the Lib Dems in Maghull.

rsz_bruce_green_bin_petition_pile

Building on Sefton’s Green Belt. Labour have got into big trouble over this by saying they would defend it whilst voting to build on it! Talk about being found out! Below are environment protestors lobbying a Sefton Council meeting at Maghull Town Hall. They were ignored!

rsz_green_belt_protestors_outside_maghull_th_06_06_13

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council.

A petition against building on Green Belt being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council.

Then there’s the hugely unpopular library closure programme pursued by Sefton Labour Party on the Council. 7 Libraries have been closed and Labour have even refused to let volunteer community groups run two of the closed libraries!

Sadly this placard could also read 'NO' to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

Sadly this placard could also read ‘NO’ to volunteers taking over Aintree Library!

rsz_protesting_about_library_closures_-_southport

The photo above was taken outside Southport Town hall as protestors tried to save 3 libraries in the Town from closure. Sadly, like the Green Belt protestors, they were ignored.

Lib Dem campaigners fighting Labour's library axe

Lib Dem campaigners fighting Labour’s library axe

Yes, there is a lot to protest about in the Bootle-dominated, Labour-run socialist republic of Sefton.