Friends of Ventnor Library have submitted a response to The Sport, Media and Culture Committee’s Inquiry into the Closure of Libraries, following Cllr David Pugh’s appearance before it. In their own words. Ed
We should like to comment on Mr Pugh’s appearance before the Inquiry and to comment generally.
Firstly, Mr Pugh gave the impression that on the Isle of Wight volunteers were happy and willing to step forward to run Community libraries. In fact there was a great reluctance to step into this role; people felt forced to volunteer or lose a treasured local resource, as it was made clear that the IoW CC would close the facility.
“Fatigue and resentment”
There are on-going concerns about volunteer fatigue and resentment that this policy has been enforced in rural areas.
Although Mr Pugh repeatedly referred to himself as a volunteer at his community library, we gather that his volunteering thus far has been of very limited extent.
In addition, he suggested that library staff were very happy to train volunteers. In fact library staff all around the island were very unhappy to be training volunteers to replace their own roles while decisions were pending as to which staff would be sacked or retained. They were unable to protest, but nevertheless did a professional job of training volunteers.
No trained staff at Community libraries
As Mr Pugh admitted, Community run libraries have no access to trained staff, an issue of particular concern in relation to promoting and supporting children and needy members of the public in their reading.
The funding of community libraries is particularly problematic. As was made clear to the Inquiry, the parish councils where these community libraries are located have had to increase the local precept to make a contribution towards running the libraries””in effect double taxation.
“Huge financial burden”
However, this still leaves the local community with a huge burden of fundraising, which is particularly difficult in areas of low family income and high rates of unemployment.
These libraries have no security in long term planning. If for any reason these community run libraries were to close the remaining council run libraries would have to serve those communities despite the reduction in opening hours that they have incurred.
Pugh rejects Public Libraries and Museums Act
We note that Mr Pugh urged that the Public Libraries and Museums Act with its reference to a comprehensive and efficient service was no longer necessary and that the Localism Bill would allow local planning suited to the needs of the area.
However, with no agreed definition of a comprehensive service this leaves rural communities and socially deprived communities at particular risk.
It also means that wealthy areas of the country (such as Kensington which stands to be a net recipient upon the return of local business rates to the local level) will be able to afford a superior service paid for from taxation, whereas poor and particularly rural areas will be left with – if anything -second rate facilities that they have to fund themselves.
Fear of only two libraries in future
We are particularly concerned that if the Public Libraries and Museum’s Act is repealed, that here on the Isle of Wight there will be nothing to prevent Mr Pugh from returning to his original plan of closing all but two of the public libraries.
We note that it was only in the face of huge public opposition and the recourse to judicial review that led to the saving of six of eleven libraries, albeit with considerably reduced opening hours.
Sue Morgan (Secretary)
On behalf of Friends of Ventnor Library Committee