HCC Library Service Consultation

Branch Secretary Carla Young reports on the ongoing Library Service public consultation

Many Hampshire residents are aware that Hampshire County Council anticipate a budget shortfall of £80 million by April 2021. The Library Service’s anticipated contribution to the overall savings target is £1.76 million.

While this contribution may appear to be very small in comparison to the total savings that need to be made, the effects that the cuts will have on staff as well as Hampshire residents and the communities in which they live will be huge. We need to ask ourselves: are these cuts a step too far?

Over the last ten years the library service has been decimated. Staffing levels have plunged dramatically and libraries are relying on volunteers to help with tasks that staff no longer have time to do. Working in a library was once considered to be a highly regarded and reasonably paid occupation with good career prospects, but librarians have long been replaced by library assistants and career progression is very limited.

The traditional use of a library has completely changed. Gone are the days where you would have to tiptoe in and out of the building, make absolutely no noise whatsoever and check your books out at a desk using your red and green library tickets. The internet has replaced the need for a lot of reference materials to be held and information that was once considered difficult to access and would have required the assistance of a librarian can be accessed without help and with the touch of a button. Libraries have had to evolve and keep up with the latest technological advances under the shadow of cut after cut, but despite this Hampshire libraries are one of the top performing and busiest library groups in Great Britain today.

Libraries are one of few remaining places that are free to access, and truly inclusive. Hampshire libraries are a vital part of local communities that are a safe space for all and have a huge role to play in combating social isolation for both young and old. Every library has its own unique charm, from Stubbington with its fabulous round building and cosy interior to Winchester Discovery Centre’s merging of old and new, which contains a vibrant café area, intimate galleries and big open spaces.

Pay a visit to your library and you will find books in a wide range of formats, computers that can be used for free, wi-fi, printing facilities, leisure and learning opportunities, a range of (mostly free) children’s activities and local information. For a lot of our elderly library members, a conversation with a library assistant is the only social contact they will have all day; and for families with new babies’, events such as rhyme time help then to interact with other local families and promote good mental wellbeing.  Many libraries regularly act as meeting points for local groups as well. The glue that holds every library together are its library assistants. They are a dedicated team who are passionate about their jobs and immensely proud of their libraries. They make all the amazing library magic happen, but now they face the threat of redundancy.

Dig a little deeper and you may be surprised to learn that many libraries are now hosting essential services such as day services for vulnerable adults. These are vital services that will struggle to operate efficiently with reduced opening times. As the rest of Hampshire County Councils cuts start to take effect the demand for these services, and for similar services to be launched within local libraries services will only grow.

So what does the future hold for Hampshire Libraries? Hampshire County Council have just launched a public consultation to help shape the future of libraries and achieve the required £1.7 million cuts. We are urging every Hampshire resident to complete this, and any other consultation that is launched regarding cuts to public services.

There are two main options in this proposal. The first is to close ten libraries and reduce opening hours in the remaining libraries by around 15% The second is to cut opening hours in all libraries by around 25%. Hampshire libraries are also hoping to plug the gap by withdrawing support from four community led libraries and exploring ways to generate income. While on the surface (and to keep all libraries open) there could be an appetite to go for “option two” but this could lead to many small libraries eventually closing as their opening hours will be reduced to the point where they will no longer be viable.

The impact on staff is expected to be that between 13-17% of staff will lose their jobs. Both options mean fewer hours available and staff who are not made redundant may face a cut to their hours, a change of work base and a change to their timetables. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for everyone, particularly staff from Chineham library which is earmarked for closure but just six months ago celebrated their 35th Birthday with glowing praise from Councillor Sean Woodward;

Hampshire County Council’s executive member for recreation and heritage, Councillor Seán Woodward, said: “Since arriving in the local community in 1984, Chineham Library has been loved by residents, both young and old and it’s fantastic to see it is just as popular now”.

“My congratulations to go all of Chineham’s staff and volunteers who have been a part of its success over the last three decades.”

(Basingstoke Gazette 3/7/19)

Austerity is over? Not in local Government! Unison believes that central Government need to wake up and start supporting local authorities with the funding that they desperately need. Our local services are being cut to the bone and this leaves us all at risk.