Proposed Library Cuts – Open Letter to Wolverhampton Council Chief Executive

Dear Mr Warren,

On Jan 8th Cabinet will meet to agree the latest budget proposals. These proposals will see Wolverhampton’s library service decimated. We are sending this letter to you in order to put on record for a second time our grave concerns in this matter. It is unsurprising, given the lack of scrutiny within Wolverhampton Council’s decision-making process, that there has been a failure to apply rigorous scrutiny to the potential impact of the proposed cuts on library services.

The proposed cuts constitute closure by stealth of one of our city’s most precious assets. We are especially concerned about the removal of services outside the core role of lending books, DVDs and audio; we refer you to the many roles carried out by our city’s librarians of which the following is not an exhaustive list:

  • Support with CV writing
  • Support with job searching
  • Support with form filling
  • Support regarding benefits
  • Support or assistance with IT and associated training
  • School holiday and Saturday activities
  • Outreach with schools
  • Outreach with community groups

Education

This is an area of gravest concern. Mr Warren, you recently made a personal pledge to turn around our city’s appalling primary schools results. What you fail to appreciate time and again, is the contribution made to education by our city’s libraries and librarians. Our previous report to Council cited numerous examples of libraries and access to books making a positive difference to children’s achievement.

Those of us who work with children know the difference books make to children’s lives. During the 2012 campaign to save our city’s library services, Wolverhampton Council repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss our concerns; at the time our group contained many education professionals including:

  • Two retired primary school head teachers
  • Two chairs of governors
  • Learning mentor
  • Retired librarians
  • Retired secondary school English teacher
  • Retired primary school teacher
  • Current secondary school teacher
  • Private Tutor
  • Retired further education lecturer

It is no co-incidence that our campaign group attracted so many education professionals. Those of us who work with our city’s children know the educational value of access to libraries and librarians. Despite what library management will tell you, the proposed cuts mean that it cannot be possible to continue the summer reading challenge at its current level (the order for the 2014 summer reading challenge materials bears this out as it is significantly depleted). These and so many other services carried out by our librarians will be significantly reduced or stop altogether.

If you wish to make good your pledge to improve standards of education for Wolverhampton’s children, then you need to acknowledge that education does not just happen in schools during school hours. Libraries and librarians are a distinct and trusted brand; they play a vital role in educating our city’s children – Wolverhampton Council has a clear role to play here. The proposed cuts to librarians and library opening times will remove learning opportunities, resources and aspiration. Children from lowest income families will be worst affected.

Education Library Service

School library provision varies in quality. Wolverhampton’s Education Library Service currently provides an excellent service which provides children in some of this country’s most disadvantaged areas with a wide range of up to date resources and books. The plans to make the ELS self-financing will mean increased costs to schools. There is a very real risk that some schools will withdraw from the service forcing it to collapse. Public libraries are then of special importance in supporting the development of children’s literacy and information skills , yet you propose to close them and cut librarians and book stock. The inter-school book quiz engages hundreds of children with an intensive reading programme – this ‘extra’ will stop under your plans.

Statutory duty to provide a full and comprehensive library service

Wolverhampton Council’s latest proposals take cuts to a new level and the council has rightly identified the legal risk it faces. We remind you of the Charteris Report and its statement that to provide library services on the basis of a cuts agenda is unacceptable. This government initiated inquiry (2009) found that Wirral Council, in proposing to cut its library service, took insufficient account of local needs including that of schools, the disabled, the unemployed and those who were unable to travel. Wirral Council was found to be in breach of its statutory duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.

Safeguarding

Wolverhampton’s scrutiny process has failed to flag up our group’s very real concerns regarding safeguarding. It is to be assumed that Wolverhampton Council will thoroughly vet, interview, take up references and CRB check all volunteers in libraries – we would like you to confirm this. Children and vulnerable adults are regular visitors to libraries and will come into contact with volunteers. What policies are in place with regard to this matter? Our city’s librarians currently carry out activities with all ages of young people from babies to teenagers. Unless volunteers are recruited to replace librarians, these activities will either be significantly reduced or stop. How will vulnerable people be protected whilst visiting libraries?  Children’s names and addresses can be accessed via the library computer system. Is it proposed that volunteers will have access to this system or not? If not, volunteers will be unable to issue and return books. Can you imagine any other organisation in Wolverhampton (for example, a school) allowing such dangerous practice?  These concerns regarding safeguarding need to be addressed before plans to cut librarians go ahead. If you do not respond in any other way to this letter, we urge you to investigate the safeguarding issue as a matter of urgency.

Opening Hours and Access

The Council has a legal obligation under the 1964 Libraries and museums Act to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’. This implies that the Council should not only provide sufficient libraries for Wolverhampton but provide them open and properly staffed. A library is more than a building with books in it.

The proposed cuts to library opening hours will make access for many people very difficult, if not impossible in some cases. This kind of service cannot be described as ‘efficient’ because it is not sufficient.

Job seeking

Wolverhampton contains a significant number of people who can afford neither a computer nor to pay for broadband to access the internet. Your proposals will increase our city’s digital divide. The council scrutiny process wonders vaguely whether an hour of free internet use will be enough to fill in the form for universal credit. What about job seeking? Jobseeking nowadays requires hours of searching for vacancies plus online applications. One free hour is insufficient. Actually, with libraries proposed to be open only a few hours each day, there will be much competition for computers. People will be lucky to get any time at all, let alone an hour. For many, there will be serious consequences.

IT support

Our city’s librarians offer support across the community with regard to access to the internet. Countless people (we believe the figure runs into hundreds if not thousands) have been introduced to IT via their local library and librarian. Retaining experienced librarians to provide this excellent service will be particularly beneficial to the least well off in our city and will support the council’s agenda of reablement and independent living amongst our city’s older population.

Stress and Health and Safety

The removal of staff has already seen Wolverhampton’s library staff and service put under pressure.

Lone working is a concern. The council’s claim that ‘community hubs’ will mean there will be no lone working does not take into account the physical layout of some of the buildings involved. There is a very real potential that staff will be working alone in an isolated part of the building on a dark night in a building freely open to the public.

Use of volunteers and loss of professional expertise

You propose to use volunteers in libraries and are indeed already doing so to help people ‘overcome’ their desire not to use a self-service machine. Volunteering is an excellent form of service to our city that many take up with admirable results. However, you are devaluing our librarians if you believe you will be able to use volunteers to replace their professionalism, commitment and expertise. Perhaps, Mr Warren, you will be sharing the pain of the cuts by recruiting yourself a volunteer PA. Maybe planning applications will in future be overseen by volunteers or perhaps our bins will be emptied by volunteers? If not, why devalue our city’s librarians by expecting them to be replaced by volunteers? Professional expertise will be lost. Volunteers from the job centre will not have a librarian’s extensive knowledge of books and local library preferences.

It is desperately sad that when, in 2012,  you had the opportunity to meet with a group of fully committed, experienced and passionate residents you repeatedly refused a meeting in the most counterproductive way. Reassurances given in respect of some branch libraries have proved worthless. You now wish to recruit volunteers to work in our city’s libraries. In 2012, there was much talk of ‘visions’ emanating from Wolverhampton Council. As a campaign group, we too have ‘vision’. Our vision is of a constituted group which can attract significant external funding for library services. Such a group could potentially mitigate some of the damage brought about by your proposals to cut library services. It is nothing short of tragic that in 2012 you refused repeatedly to meet with us. Without the support of Wolverhampton Council we cannot move forwards and are disempowered by your actions. That you can show such repeated and determined contempt for residents of Wolverhampton is despicable. It may be that the damage done to community empowerment and engagement regarding this issue by Wolverhampton Council is now irreversible; however, it may still be possible to salvage some of the goodwill that library users feel towards the service. The massive outpouring of support in 2012 for Wolverhampton’s library service is unprecedented in our city’s long history. The campaign to protect our city’s libraries was motivated not by political ends but by collective passion for a vital service.

We urge you to take positive action to work with service users with regard to creating a trail blazing ‘Friends of the Library’ and not a token group of volunteers.

Management

Our concerns regarding management of the city’s library service have been removed from the public domain. Previous posts under this heading were not intended to carry any slur on any individual but were an expression of concern over the functioning of the library service as a whole.

Despite all the rhetoric of ‘visions’ Wolverhampton still has no library manifesto or clear plan for service delivery – this is not acceptable.

Corporate Plan

Wolverhampton Council’s rhetoric continues to be ambitious nowhere less so than in the city’s corporate plan, the slogan of which is Serving Wolverhampton, Securing Prosperity, Delivering Value.

Your proposals to cut our city’s library services will disempower communities, drive down educational attainment, increase the gap between the ‘haves and have nots’ and increase social exclusion and isolation in some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. Your plans are indefensible and are based on a purely cuts agenda. The bold ambition of the corporate plan will not be fulfilled by the devastation your plans will bring about within Wolverhampton’s library service. Any claim that the residents of this city agreed to the proposed cuts via the budget consultation is preposterous and cannot be substantiated. You are neither serving Wolverhampton, securing prosperity nor delivering value.

To conclude

Wolverhampton’s librarians and library service has been singled out for disproportionate cuts that will have collateral damage across many sectors of our communities. The poorest and most vulnerable residents will be worst affected. The people of Wolverhampton and the remaining library staff will not be deceived into thinking that this will be the end of the cuts.

Mr Warren, you may think that this letter is harsh and critical. Unfortunately, we have learned that to approach Wolverhampton Council in a reasonable manner will not yield results. We have learned that an unprecedented campaign to protect one of our city’s most treasured assets will be ignored with those leading the campaign being subject to ridicule and vilification by senior council officers and councillors. You have failed to take up the opportunity to engage with us as residents of this city. You are the chief executive of Wolverhampton Council – the buck stops with you. Even at this late stage, you have the opportunity to rein back the worst of your proposed cuts to the city’s librarians and library service.  We urge you to address our concerns and respond in a positive manner.

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Devastating week ahead

On Monday 6th January our city’s librarians will attend a briefing meeting at which Wolverhampton Council’s latest proposals will be presented. On 8th January Cabinet will meet and rubber stamp the proposals which have passed through a vague and irrelevant scrutiny process. These proposals will see our city’s librarians cut by half and library opening hours cut. At a time of austerity and necessary cuts, Wolverhampton’s librarians and library service have been singled out for the harshest treatment. Wolverhampton Council’s proposals constitute a closure by stealth and a betrayal of pledges made in previous communications by Wolverhampton Council. In 2012 Wolverhampton Council told library campaigners that the plans to create ‘community hubs’ would be an improvement and transformation of the library service. The Council’s plans were thoroughly scrutinised by Save Wolverhampton Libraries Action Group who saw that the plans were a hollowing out of the service. At the time, those of us who campaigned to protect our city’s libraries and librarians were mocked and villified by some senior council officers and councillors. Our campaign group’s prescience saw that the 2012 plans were only the start of further cuts. However, even our worst predictions could not have seen ahead to the devastation that the council’s current proposals will bring about. Our group’s gravest concerns centre around the effect on education and the increase in the city’s digital divide. There are very serious questions to be asked regarding safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults which the council’s scrutiny process has failed to even raise as an issue. The poorest and most vulnerable of our city’s residents will be worst affected. A very dark week lies ahead.

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Our libraries are the hearts of our communities

Our libraries are the hearts of our communities…. how many times did we hear that said last year? It was often followed with, ‘And the librarians are the heart of the libraries.’

How sad that the Citywide Libraries Action Group and the 20 000 names on the citywide petitions did not convince the council of the true value of our marvellous librarians. The proposed cut of over 50% of our librarians comes on top of previous years cuts and will have long lasting, adverse affects on literacy levels, social mobility, elderly isolation etc etc etc. The Citywide Libraries Group has never turned its back on the fact that cuts have to be made. We understand the reality of the hard times facing Wolverhampton. However, past and present proposals to cut the library service have never recognised its true nature.  The poem below was written last year as a heartfelt tribute to one of our branch librarians who was ‘deleted’ (along with others) in the last round of cuts. All the comments below were made by library users who were absolutely devastated to see her go. Even today a library user commented, ‘I just cannot believe she’s gone. How can Wolverhampton council even think of removing such a valuable asset?’ The Citywide Action Group wishes all our librarians to know how much we appreciate their qualities.  The poem says it all….

Our Librarian

Friend, teacher, learning guide,

Opening the door of knowledge wide.

Riddler, quizzer, lover of jokes,

A smiling face for so many folks.

Question-answerer, health advisor, cheerer upper,

Listener, laugher, you-pick-me-upper.

Anti-depressant, friend to the old,

Her smile warms you up when you’re feeling cold.

Always on hand like a kindly thought,

She’s a game-player, a jolly good sort.

Giggler, smirker, smiler, carer,

Computer advisor, information-sharer.

The story-lady, magician, rhymester, singer,

Poet, reader, knowledge bringer.

Spellbinder, interpreter, entertainer,

Advocate, enlightener, true enabler.

She shows us how to surf the net,

She knows our names and doesn’t forget.

More than the sum of all her parts,

She’ll remain in our thoughts and in our hearts.

A rich legacy she leaves behind.

A love of books she has enshrined.

The heart of our library she’s known as round here,

For our librarian let’s raise a cheer.

For her years of service and dedication,

We humbly give this oration.

XXXXX this library book’s overdue,

It’s title…. ‘Many Thanks’ – just for you.

 

 

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Devastating News

The news released from Wolverhampton Council on Wednesday is a devastating blow to the city’s library service. Last year’s campaign to save and protect library services in our city was supported by thousands of residents and library users. The campaign group predicted that last year’s cuts were the ‘thin end of the wedge’. How correct we were.

We have received many e-mails from concerned library users. You can use the contacts page on this website to get in touch.

To put things in perspective: the proposed cuts to the library budget amount to 53% or the loss of 38 members of staff. Wolverhampton Council has identified several ‘risks’ associated with their proposals to cut library services. Top of the council’s list is the damage this will do to their communications strategy. This begs the question…. and what about standards of literacy, education and well-being  across Wolverhampton? Do the council see no risk there?

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Wolverhampton’s Libraries – a final tribute

The Citywide Libraries and Community Centres Action Group would like to thank all those who helped and contributed last year when such strenuous efforts were made in Wolverhampton to save our libraries and librarians.

Ultimately there were winners and losers. A minority saw themselves as winners, welcomed the council’s plans to create community hubs and celebrated when the council voted to go ahead with those plans. Sadly, the wonderful branch librarians who have contributed so much in so many ways over decades have been the biggest losers – and, of course, when we lose our librarians, we all lose out.

Although we will not be updating this website with further posts, it will remain live as a tribute to our librarians who in council-speak have now been ‘deleted’.

 

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Warstones Public Meeting Jan 11th

A public meeting about the future of Warstones Resource Centre will be held at 2pm on January 11th Committee Room 3 Wolverhampton Civic Centre. So far the opposition to the Council’s plans for Warstones has been massive. The public petition collected a massive 6000+ signatures in just 4 weeks. Petitioning is just about the only way of residents passing their views to the Council in a visible public way. Unfortunately the Council’s attitude to public petitions is that they ‘know how easy it is to get signatures on a petition’. This dismissive attitude on the Council’s part is a shame because it is an attempt to dismiss the very people who vote for councillors and pay the wages of council staff. The people who have signed petitions against the Council’s proposals have done so in an informed and responsible manner. It would be good to hear a response back from the Council which matched this.

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Older People’s Services – WARSTONES WORKS!

Wolverhampton Council’s plans to create ‘community hubs’ have met with overwhelming opposition across the city. This website has focussed on the effect of ‘hubs’ on libraries and community centres. However, other services are affected and we would like to continue to draw attention to the plight of Warstones Resource Centre. The petition to save Warstones Resource Centre has rapidly topped any of the library or community centre petitions. This alone speaks volumes for the value people place on this service. this proposals affects the South West of Wolverhampton  and the proposal to remove elderly care provision from this area has been heavily criticised due the the higher than average number of older people in SW Wolverhampton. Also criticised is the lack of consideration given to continuity of care – at present Warstones offers an all round service for rehabilitation, respite and dementia care. Couples can both make use of either service under one roof moving from one type of care to another as needed. Warstones also provides a number of other services all under one roof – in fact, it is a perfect example of a ‘hub’. The plan is to fragment this service provision and scatter it across a number of other centres.

Some things are quantifiable – they can be measured and ticked off in boxes – an example of this is bed allocation and spare capacity. Those arguing to retain Warstones will tell you that rates of dementia are increasing and that the increasing elderly population will need services provided not only for now but also in response to future need. What spare capacity will there be in the future? How will future needs be met?

Other things are not measurable – Warstones is a unique example of a building where there is a very special synergy between staff and service users. Whether you listen to the cook, the cleaner, the nurses or the volunteers WARSTONES WORKS. Fragmenting this level of excellence would be a travesty. Dispensing and dispersing such a dedicated team of highly professional caring staff will mean the end of a level of excellence which can quite frankly only be described as priceless.

Programme of Events

New dates for meetings (added 4th December 2012):

  • Tuesday 11th December, 1.30pm – 3pm, Woden Resource Centre, Vicarage Road, Wednesfield, WV11 1SF
  • Thursday 13th December 10.30 – 12.00, Warstones Resource Centre, Warstones Drive, WV4 4PQ
  • Tuesday 8th January 2013 10.30am – 1200, Bradley Resource Centre, Lord Street, Bradley, WV14 8SD
  • Tuesday 8th January 2013, 1.30 – 3.00pm, Bradley Day Centre, Wilkinson Avenue, Bradley, WV14 8PS
  • Friday 11th January 2013, 2.00 – 4.00pm Public Event: Committee Room 3, Third Floor Civic Centre, St Peters Square.

The council’s contact for this issue is:

Rose Powell – Participation Officer
Phone: (01902) 555494
Email: participation.team@wolverhampton.gov.uk
Post: Participation Team, Wolverhampton City Council,
1st Floor – Civic Centre, St. Peter’s Square, Wolverhampton, WV1 1RT

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Update

Members of Wolverhampton City Council’s Cabinet met on Wednesday December 5, 2012, and approved proposals to create a series of community hubs across the city.

The proposals were subsequently “called in” by the Conservative opposition , meaning they will be considered by members of the council’s Scrutiny Board on Tuesday December 18, 2012. Scrutiny Board can either “note” the report, meaning the proposals can be implemented as planned, or refer the matter back to Cabinet for further consideration. Unfortunately, in Wolverhampton ‘scrutiny’ is only a tokenistic term and means nothing. What will happen at scrutiny is that the opposition members will ask relevant questions about the hubs proposals and these questions will be ignored. You never know, a new precedent could be created and scrutiny could actually achieve something for a change.

Those who are celebrating the creation of hubs are celebrating the fact that the signatures of over two thousand people in Ashmore Park have not been successful in saving a dedicated library building. The campaign to try and save Spring Vale Library also saw over 1000 signatures on petitions to save that service. Warstones Library too is looking very likely to disappear into a ‘hub’ despite the wishes of the local community that it remain where it is. Collingwood Library is the worst hit of all. Our council congratulates themselves for having ‘vision’ and ‘improving’ our services.

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My Library

My Library by Varda One 

 It’s only a room with shelves and books, but it’s far more magical than it looks.

It’s a jet on which I soar to lands that exist no more.

Or a key with which I find answers to questions crowding my mind.

Building my habit of learning and growing, asking and researching till I reach knowing.

Here, I’ve been a mermaid and an elf I’ve even learned to be more myself.

I think that I shall never see a place that’s been more useful to me.

With encouraging kind friends with wit who tell me to dream big and never quit.

It’s only a room with shelves and books, but it’s far more magical than it looks.

© 1999 by Varda One

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Never doubt….

Never doubt that a thoughtful group of citizens can change the world.

Thank you to all who have supported us and inspired us as we have worked to protect our libraries and community centres. So happy for our ‘saved’ libraries and community centres and so desperately sad for those we are going to lose.

Still much work to be done. We will post a more detailed response once we have had time to thoroughly read and digest the news.

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