Time is running out for so many public libraries. A plea to you who are members of SCL, ACE and DCMS!
The annual SCL Seminar is due to take place on 9 and 10 June 2016 and will include the annual behind closed doors speech by the Minister, Ed Vaizey.
No doubt those attending the seminar will be told that the public library service is in good health and that campaigners fail to recognise the efforts of the DCMS, the Taskforce, ACE and the SCL, including completing the roll out of Wi-Fi, the issuing of guidance for volunteer run libraries and yet another consultation exercise on libraries, entitled Ambition for Libraries.
No doubt all these bodies have been working hard but perhaps those invited to the seminar need to question how effective the efforts of the Taskforce and its partners have actually been?
Should we not be very concerned that the number of library visitors, according to Government sponsored research, has declined by 29.7% since 2005?
Should we be concerned that, according to BBC research, 343 libraries have closed in the past four years, that another 100 are earmarked for closure, and that 8,000 jobs have been lost?
Should we be concerned that there seems to be no sign after more than fifteen months of the Taskforce producing a plan to re-invigorate the library network? Is it really true that the sector is in good health as some would lead us to believe?
May I suggest that we should be sending a message to those attending the SCL seminar that they need to take an honest, hard look at the challenges faced by public libraries in England, and focus on solutions that benefit those for whom libraries exist to serve.
And I hope that the SCL leadership will recognise the frustration and anger across the country as thousands of people have found it necessary to campaign to save their local library. I say that with considerable feeling as my local authority has just confirmed its plans to close 29 of its 73 libraries.
This seminar, largely funded by public funds, should not be another opportunity to meet colleagues, to enjoy a good dinner and sit back and listen to the Minister and the Taskforce CE. It should be taken as a real opportunity to grasp the issues and find answers before the service is further damaged, more libraries are closed or transferred to volunteers, more jobs are cut and more library users walk away. There is a need for some very tough talking.