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

Crosby – What will become of that lovely old library

The now closed former College Road Library in Crosby is of course a Carnegie Library and it’s a building of some merit. So sad to see it stranding there empty. Out of the shot is a Sefton Council ‘To Let’ sign.

It’s not so long ago (2012) that a fierce community-based campaign was run to save the library from closure – I covered the campaign on this blog site – see link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2012/11/22/save-our-libraries-a-look-at-college-road-library-in-crosby-sign-our-e-petition-at-www-seftonsays-co-uk/

I really do hope that a useful purpose can be found for this listed building, a long slow decline with minimum maintenance would be a terrible end.

Library losses and a strange ‘volunteer’ thing happening in Sefton Borough

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35707956“>www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35707956

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

Fighting for Southport's Libraries

Fighting for Southport’s Libraries

If you type in ‘Sefton’ in the box on the BBC web site article to gain information about your own local authority the following comes up:-

In Sefton since 2010 seven libraries and/or mobile libraries have closed. In 2010 there were 137 paid staff in libraries, compared with 58 now. The council had 80 unpaid volunteers in 2010 and has 164 volunteers today.

rsz_al_collins_at_a_save_aintree_library_public_meeting_on_26th_october_12_2

Now then the interesting and probably astounding thing here (assuming the BBC information is correct) is that the number of volunteers working in Sefton’s remaining libraries has risen substantially over the past 6 years, indeed it has doubled! But why is this a surprise? Well back in the turmoil of Bootle Labour closing Sefton’s libraries 2 or 3 years ago they made it very clear that they did not want volunteers helping to run libraries! The link below is to pertinent blog posting of mine from back in 2014:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/23/we-simply-do-not-want-volunteers-to-run-council-services-what-other-conclusion-can-you-come-to/

rsz_orrell_library_5

So where does this leave us? The big questions are:-

* Has Labour-run Sefton ditched its opposition to library volunteers? If so when did they make this most welcome policy shift?

* If the volunteers wanting to take over the running of Aintree and College Road Libraries were unacceptable, why was this the case when the Council has seemingly gone on to recruit other volunteers?

* Why were Bootle Labour so opposed to the volunteers running closing libraries in the first place? Or is it more subtle than that in that some volunteers are deemed to be OK whilst others were deemed to be the opposite?

The murky world of Labour-run Sefton Council means we will probably not be getting any answers soon. And that is so sad.

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?

Sefton Libraries – With elections coming up its time for Labour-run Sefton to say why they stopped volunteers from running closing libraries

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-31208967

The article above on the BBC web site shows yet again why volunteers in Sefton should have been given the chance to run the libraries that our Labour-run council had decided to close. In the case above – accessible via the link – it is a Tory run Council but interestingly Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant is not condemning them for putting the libraries under the control of volunteers. So opposing volunteers running libraries is clearly not a national Labour policy.

Lib Dems fighting for Sefton's Libraries

Lib Dems fighting for Sefton’s Libraries

All we really know about Sefton Labour’s anti-volunteer vote is that they said they did not want volunteers to run the libraries. They have never made a coherent argument for adopting this stance but they did hide behind a Sefton Council-made process via which the volunteers allegedly did not pass go so to speak.

There were two very credible bids from volunteer groups to run Aintree and College Road (Crosby) Libraries; both were told to sling their hooks.

Come on Labour let’s hear from you saying clearly why you opposed giving volunteers a chance. Do you just oppose library volunteers or is your policy one of opposing volunteers helping to run council services generally? If its just that you have a problem with library volunteers why is that?