We <3 Libraries evidence to Herts CC

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Following the opening introductions, this is the full presentation made to Hertfordshire County Council's libraries transformation topic group on December 14 2012, on the impact of cuts to library opening hours.

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We <3 Libraries evidence to Herts CC

  1. 1. Following the opening introductions, this is the full presentation made to Hertfordshire CountyCouncils libraries transformation topic group on December 14 2012, on the impact of cuts tolibrary opening hours.1. What We <3 Libraries is:Quick facts about We Heart Libraries: • Founded in February 2011 following the realisation that no groups were advocating locally for library services and nothing had been planned in North Herts or Stevenage for that years National Libraries Day. • Mission is to be a critical friend of Hertfordshire Library Service, to champion the North Herts and Stevenage libraries among the public and decision makers, and to remain independent of any political party. • Engaged around 300 people in National Libraries Day events held in Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock in February 2012. Has a mailing list of around 60 people, and around 300 followers on social media sites. • Has organised several successful events including a talk by romance novelist Freya North for the Letchworth Festival in 2012, a World Book Night giveaway in Hitchin and the above- mentioned NLD12 events • Submitted evidence the the Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Media and Sports recent inquiry into library closures. Has campaigned on issues including the Herts Schools Library Service closure, library opening hours and the use of volunteers to replace paid staff in libraries.2. How we know what were talking aboutOur evidence is compiled from a number of sources: • Feedback gathered during National Libraries Day earlier this year • Personal experience and contacts with other library users and stakeholders • Direct appeals for user opinions via a number of channels – social media, our email list, the local press and outreach to interested groups3. The numbersWe have heard lots of voices, and will go onto what they say shortly – but before I do there is onestatistic from the figures put before this meeting that bears a closer look. The number of activeborrowers is down more than 11 per cent. That is, quite literally, a decimation of the active userbase. Libraries are, of course, about more than just borrowing books – they are information hubsand centres of knowledge in many forms. But the figures for visits to libraries are worse, down bymore than 20 per cent.4. The researchThis fall is particularly worrying when research shows that, if all else was equal, library use would
  2. 2. likely be climbing. A recent academic study* tested the so-called James Axiom which argued thatlibrary usage increased during times of economic difficulty – and found it to be true.The key findings were: • more people use libraries during the recession, particularly for job-seeking activities, advice and training • Difficult economic times provide libraries with an opportunity to promote their free and low-cost activities, as well as develop new services to respond to the information needs of library users in a recession* Reetu Child, Anne Goulding, (2012) "Public libraries in the recession: the librarians axiom",Library Review, Vol. 61 Iss: 8/9, pp.641 - 663Although in some parts of the country library cuts seem to be partly motivated by ideology, for themost part they are intended to save money. But further research shows this is a false economy – aflourishing library service is a net economic benefit to its community. In one case study conductedin Bolton, it was found that for every £10 spent on the museums, archives and library service, £16worth of value was generated.5. The commentsIn fact, the response we have received suggest many library users understand the need for theservice to play its part in a general reduction of council spending – but they are keenly aware ofwhat is at risk, or feel the savings are not being applied successfully.Relevant comments include:Though I was not very happy to see the library opening hours reduced I can understand the need.However, I think it would be most foolhardy to reduce the opening hours even more or God forbid,close one or more libraries.andI understand the need for cuts and money saving but I think the opening hours could have beenmuch more user friendly. For example I’m sure more people would like it to be open in the day andmore people use it more in the day.6. Problem with your video evidenceThe project to gather video evidence from library users is interesting and of some use, but it hasone major flaw. By speaking to people in libraries it misses hearing the voices of the people whoused to be regular library users, and now cannot visit because of the reduction in hours. Our hopewas that we could ensure they had a say at this meeting – and many have contacted us.Here is a selection of their comments: • “Ive hardly used my local library in Harpenden since the new opening hours were introduced as it is no longer open on a Tuesday or Friday morning. I tend to go into town in the morning on my days off work, and Im not likely to come back into town specially to visit the library at 2pm as I like to be at home when children get in from school. Im lucky
  3. 3. enough to have access to libraries outside Hertfordshire and so have just quietly given up on Herts Libraries, which makes me sad, as they do carry very good stock and I enjoyed using Harpenden Library particularly.” (This user also notes seeing other people trying to visit the library at a time when it is now closed, including a nursery class.) • “My local Library is in Letchworth of which I am a resident. My only free time during the week to go to the Library is between 9-11.30am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On both days Letchworth Library is closed at these times. My husbands free time to access the Library is Sunday yet again the Letchworth Library is closed. This means that neither of us can borrow books or magazines for ourselves or our 2 children.” • “I find the library opening hours very restrictive - the fact that they do not open until 2pm on some days is just ridiculous. I used to use the library during my lunch hour at work (12 till 2pm) as did some of my colleagues, now we cannot do that, it is the same if I want to use it before work.” • “I am repeatedly inconvenienced by the closure of Stevenage Central Library on Tuesday & Thursday mornings. I still forget sometimes and invariably find other people at the doors who have also forgotten. Often, elderly people are there, complaining bitterly that it doesnt suit bus timetables from villages, especially on Thursdays.” • “I go to the library at least once each week and read anywhere between 1 and 3 books per week. I have been doing this for nigh on 50 years. I am frequently frustrated by the changing opening hours of Old Town and Central Library as I, like most people, prefer routine.” • “Since the change of hours, I have visited Hitchin library twice - and found it closed each time. I do have a copy of the new hours somewhere but I have called on the off-chance. Disappointing.” • “As I go to an Art Group in Baldock on a Friday I used to often call into the Library at lunch time. As I do not drive and live in Ashwell ,which has an infrequent bus service to Baldock, this was convenient. However since the Friday closure I have never visited the Library.” • Via Twitter, hence the phrasing: @whlibraries re piece on #advertiser libraries nr me r open only >2pm, I live in village & go 2 library whn shopping/if closed AM I cant goNeedless to say, none of these former users will have been able to comment on video in a branch.7. A letter to membersWhile we dont endorse the idea of borrowing fees (which would be in contravention of the PublicLibraries and Museums Act 1964 for printed materials anyway) we felt this letter to committeemembers that we received was worth quoting in fullTo all the Committee MembersThough I was not very happy to see the library opening hours reduced I can understand the need.However, I think it would be most foolhardy to reduce the opening hours even more or God forbid,close one or more libraries. A library is an essential commodity which in the past has helped manyto self educate and extend their knowledge. Even in present day times where books may notappear to be as popular, due to the TV and electronic equipment such as E-books, the real book
  4. 4. where one can turn pages should not die a death because of monetary reasons. That would beshameful.People should have easy access to libraries, in walking distance of their homes, not having to relyon public transport and not every one has a car. When one gets older, a good book, whatever one’staste, is a great comfort and should continue so.So, please, Committee members, do not let just finances be important. I for one would be quitehappy to pay a charge for borrowing a book, if it came to that, though others may not be able toafford to.Keep our libraries open!!Roberte Swain, Hitchin8. Council objectivesThe County Council has identified seven priorities for action, listed on the remit document for thismeeting. As the research quoted earlier suggests, the reduction in library provision risks seriouslyimpairing its ability to deliver many of them: • Libraries assist job-seekers, the self employed and people whose first language is not English achieve economic well-being and offer the elderly opportunities to live a fulfilling independent life • Libraries are essential to childrens education – particularly from low income families – and help ensure a positive childhood from Baby Rhyme Time to GCSE homework • Libraries build culture, community and cohesion, contributing in this way to safe neighbourhoods – famously, in the 2011 Clapham riots the Waterstones branch was the only shop not looted, after which its manager said shed have happily handed out books to the rioters if it got them off the streets and reading. A community that values books is a safer community.9. National Libraries Day feedbackOur activities on National Libraries Day (summarised in a report supplied to members) were notaimed specifically at getting comments from users – however, many were offered.A typical example was a man who had previously used the library on a particular day when heworked from home. He would take his laptop in for the WiFi, finding it less isolating to be able toget out of the house and into town. After July 2011 the library was no longer open when heneeded it so he could no longer do this.Points repeatedly made included: • Relief that Hertfordshire had experienced no branch closures and hope that this would remain the case in future. Many users expressed their long-term loyalty to their branch. • Dismay over the hours cuts and, in some cases, hope that they could be reversed in future. • A strong feeling of ownership of and engagement with the library service, and of having a personal stake in its future (a large number of users).One user said she had to point out that visiting her branch cost her money: having borrowed a
  5. 5. good book, she very often went out and bought it.10. Personal observations • Morning closures cause problems for those users, including job-seekers and pensioners, who relied on being able to access morning newspapers at the start of the day. Conversely, closing branches at 7pm instead of 8pm does not seem to have caused such severe problems. • Access to IT facilities has now become more difficult, with it now much harder to simply drop in and use them. IT is a crucial part of modern library provision as it moves from its historic book-borrowing model to one of knowledge management and the curation of information in a digital economy. • These two factors together create enormous pressure on resources when branches open in the early afternoon, as many of the people who wanted to use them in the morning flood in. Other potential users, of course, are lost. • There is now a great deal of frustration among users that they cannot simply come and use their library – that they now have to navigate a complex set of opening times that stand between them and a service they have a strong natural loyalty to. While the plural of “anecdote” is not “evidence”, there are countless stories of users – including a whole nursery class – bouncing off locked library doors as they try to visit.11. Our viewLibraries are hugely valued by Hertfordshires population, a great advert for council services, oftenin prime town-centre locations, and crucial in ensuring corporate values are met as well aspromoting qualities such as self-help, enterprise and strong communities.In Hertfordshire and nationwide there is clear evidence that limiting opening hours is having a verydetrimental effect on usage. The annual audit just carried out by the Chartered Institute of PublicFinance and Accountancy (CIPFA) has shown 200 closed libraries (including mobiles) in the last year– around five per cent of the national total, and budgets and book funds also down by around fiveper cent. Staff numbers have dropped by eight per cent while volunteers have increased by nearlynine per cent. Unsurprisingly, visits are down 2.5 per cent with fewer fiction, non-fiction andaudio-visual loans, although there is a slight increase in children’s fiction borrowing. Andexpenditure was expected to be down by nearly five per cent in 2012. Hertfordshires own figuresare even starker. It is impossible to deny that limiting access is causing measurable damage to theservice.We emphatically do not accept that unstaffed opening or the use of volunteers and communitygroups is a viable method of restoring this lost access. There are many, many problems with thisincluding security, public perceptions of the service being run down and compliance withlegislation including health and safety and data protection. But the biggest of all is that a library ismore than a building plus books. The knowledge, expertise and customer service skills of the staffare a crucial part of the package and without them libraries are a mere shadow of their properselves.We appreciate the financial situation that Hertfordshire finds itself in, and that the cuts to libraryopening hours were part of a much wider programme of transformation. But we ask you to please
  6. 6. look at libraries not just in terms of their cost but in terms of their value. It is arguable thatsomeone seeking, for example, social care for a relative who can visit a library, get early supportand information and deal with their problem effectively will cost the council far less than staging alater, urgent intervention. With business support such as Business Link being cut back, would-beentrepreneurs use libraries for information on business skills, computer access or printing andcopying services. Libraries play a huge part in supporting health, well-being and learning for peopleof all ages and all backgrounds. We think restricting access to them may be a false economy thatends up costing the council more hard cash in the long run - as it has to sort out social andeducational outcomes that might not otherwise have been so severe.12. Conclusions • The reductions in opening hours have had a significant and damaging effect in library usage, demonstrated by both statistical evidence and user comment • The voices of former users who now cannot visit libraries are in danger of being overlooked by feedback methods that are purely branch-based • The loss of library hours is not only about the loss of access to books. Modern libraries are hubs for all forms of information, staffed by trained professionals who can help guide users through an increasingly-complex knowledge economy Image: Daniel Solis

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