Council Meeting : Libraries Petition : 23rd September 2010


Shirley addresses the Council re. the Petition : 23rd September 2010


2,155 signatories to this petition to : "Save Swindon’s Community Libraries" and "Opposing the Replacement of Paid Staff with Volunteers", urge councillors to recognise that our community libraries have a vital role, different from that of the central library, a role which makes a difference to society and warrants public funding.

The Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, said on July 1st that community libraries "have a home at the heart of the Big Society".  Justin Tomlinson MP also delivered a strong defence of community libraries in his debate in Westminster Hall on September 7th.

However … very soon the government will announce swingeing cuts to grants which will impact heavily on councils. In anticipation of these cuts and the lack of any transition planning 600 to 1,000 public libraries are under threat of closure, heralding the collapse of a great national institution.

A staggering 40 of Birmingham’s community libraries are currently under threat and their book fund has been cut.  It is Conservative councillors in Birmingham who are protesting vociferously about these cuts, describing this kind of economising as "short-sighted and destined to make even fewer people use the library system" (Councillor Philip Parkin).

Yet you should know  that there are a couple of English local authorities that are excelling  --  without closing libraries, without privatising the service and without removing paid frontline staff.  These surely must be your focus for a way forward.

Each of Swindon’s community Libraries provides families with babies and preschool children with a vital, local resource.   They all have an essential role to play in enriching the home learning environment of many families through story-times and free access to books.  They also provide school-aged children with a wide choice of books, resources and a space, locally, where they can learn to love reading.

Every year Swindon’s library service promotes the Reading Agency’s 'Summer Reading Challenge',  a national initiative to encourage over 325,000 children, aged between 4 and 11 years of age, to enjoy reading in the long summer break when their reading skills can decline.  Throughout the Borough of Swindon, experienced frontline library staff help young readers of all levels of ability to join in.

Even Swindon  library is still hugely popular with residents  --   all the arguments put forward in February 2009 to save that library are as valid today as they were then.  The library service runs story-times in all the neighbourhood libraries, even those which open for just a few hours a week because, to their great credit, officers recognise how important these sessions are to introducing young families to the enjoyment of reading.

Moredon & Rodbourne Cheney Library has a very successful, popular story-and-sing-time on Friday mornings. Pinehurst  hosts theirs on Monday mornings.   Is this library moving ?  We don’t know.   Old Town  and  
North Swindon
 libraries run story-times on Tuesdays;  Covingham  runs another and enjoys close links with two local schools - Covingham Juniors and Colebrook Infants and Juniors.  Each and every community reaps the benefits of its library’s story–time.  But these benefits are not exclusive only to that neighbourhood  --  Swindon as a whole benefits from its children being given this excellent start in life in their local library.

These community libraries not only make a real difference to the young who have the fewest books at home and where parental engagement might otherwise be weak, their accessibility also underlines the commitment of this Council to the needs of the elderly and infirm who absolutely rely on their local library.

The local library offers a chance for adults with low literacy skills to re-engage with learning.  The key driver for social mobility is independent reading.
Swindon’s library service promotes the Reading Agency’s 'Six Book Challenge', an initiative to encourage adult literacy.  Frontline library staff, across the Borough, help readers of all levels of ability to join in.  Penhill  Library,
for instance, is a particularly fine example of one that supports adult learning and adult literacy.  It shares the building with the ‘Learning Centre’.  This library offers a first step for many on the path back into learning.  Many Penhill residents have signed this petition.

Swindon’s community libraries also run dozens of home library routes, a lifeline to the hundreds of local people who cannot go out.  The libraries also run reading groups throughout the Borough.  Wroughton  and Upper Stratton  libraries are two examples which have well-established groups.  In Highworth  there are three reading groups for adults  –  as well as one for children.   One group established in West Swindon  library has thrived for six years -- It became full, so a second was created;  that one is now almost full, too.  Covingham’s  ‘Between the Lines’ book group is much enjoyed by residents.  Covingham  Library’s "Friends" group, led by Sue Tucker, raises money and supports the library in a variety of ways.  The new Old Town  Library in the Arts Centre, also supported by "Friends", is to host its first reading group in October.

Liden  has a reading group that is currently closed to new members, because of its popularity !  Park  Library staff run another, very successful group.  Evidence of that community’s delight in this new library can be seen in the issue of 56,071 books in 2009/10 !

Community volunteers, who have replaced paid staff, assist customers in Walcot  library which shares its premises with a community shop.  Some signatories to this petition are concerned about the sustainability of the scheme.

North Swindon  library is a very, very busy one.  It, too, runs a reading group that is currently closed to new members because of its popularity.  They run homework clubs for 8 - 16 year olds.  They stage lots of exciting one-off events, like a forthcoming horror-writing workshop for 11-17 year-olds.

Without exception each community library contributes to a fairer society in Swindon :  through learning, creating literacy and offering local access to knowledge and reading for pleasure.  Each also benefits the Council by being a key point of contact with residents and a useful outlet for information.  Their paid staff are essential to providing a professional, quality service.

o    That’s why libraries merit state funding.

o    That is why in the government’s Spending Review they warrant support.

o    And that’s why signatories to this petition urge elected Members to recognise that cuts to any branch library or
      its experienced staff would be a retrograde step for Swindon as a whole.

By means of this petition, we ask the Council not to contemplate closing community libraries nor to cut paid frontline staff, but to make a concerted effort to seek the very best outcomes for the public library service in Swindon.