Marksbury library: cuts a grave mistake, say Friends

Published on: 28 Jul 2017

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Statement from the Friends of Marksbury Road Library

in response to council consultation on library and other neighbourhood cuts, which closes on September 5

The Friends of Marksbury Road Library are extremely disappointed about the proposed scale of the cuts to the city’s library service. It is our opinion that retaining only 10 libraries out of 27 in a city that prides itself on providing access to education and culture to everyone would be a grave mistake.

We would like to express the concerns of users of our own library about the consultation itself. You have given us three options for future library provision in the city. As Marksbury Road Library is to close in all three options, it is very difficult for people here to see the point of engaging with the consultation and filling in the form.

We therefore reject all 3 options. We would like you to understand that closing Marksbury Road Library would have a detrimental effect on the educational, cultural and social wellbeing of our community. The area is one with few amenities and increasing numbers of new houses and flats, and it includes pockets of high deprivation. The library is a greatly valued resource in the area for people who want to read books and newspapers, study, use the IT facilities, meet other people, and take part in community activities. The library building was gifted to the community in 1933 by a local benefactor, and it remains today a friendly, welcoming place that is open to all sections of the community. Closing it would be damaging to efforts to improve local engagement and would increase social exclusion. Walking to other libraries would not be a viable option for many regular library users (particularly elderly people, young children, and the classes of schoolchildren from local primary schools). Its closure would therefore particularly impact children, the elderly, and the more vulnerable.

We would therefore like to see Marksbury Road Library remain open as a Council-run, properly-staffed, properly-resourced library service. We believe that trained, professional staff are essential for a library service: skilled information professionals are invaluable in being able to signpost people to the information that they need. A service staffed by volunteers does not provide a sustainable long-term solution, and the creation of a mutual, social enterprise, or a service for which additional subscriptions would be charged are not appropriate ways to provide public services.

However, given the lack of amenities and scarcity of retail in the local area, increasing the offer at Marksbury Road to create a more multi-purpose offering could perhaps have a regenerative effect on the neighbourhood. Could the Council for example provide other services at the library, or is there potential to encourage local schools/GPs/children’s centres/community groups/housing associations to make greater use of the library (without detracting from its core offering as a library or cutting its opening hours any further)? If the building itself is expensive to maintain, has the Council considered renovation or alternative sites? We would be happy to discuss with the Council any genuine improvements to the library service in this area, as long as these are clearly defined, will definitely happen and are acceptable to the community.

The Council’s Corporate Strategy 2017-2022 contained many areas in which strategic promotion and usage of the city’s local libraries could be used to deliver the stated aims. For example, the strategy contains many positive ambitions around improving children’s literacy and access to adult education and skills, reducing inequality, reducing car usage, creating resilient, well-connected and well-informed communities, and increasing access to culture and history.

We would ask that local libraries be seen as a vehicle for delivering these objectives rather than an additional burden. Research finds that young people who use their public library are nearly twice as likely to be above-average readers than peers who don’t visit their library (National Literacy Trust - February 2011). There is a significant proportion of the population who do not have an internet connection at home, and there is therefore a need for library provision of computers and internet access (including to access Council and government services). Furthermore, there are few public buildings that anybody can access freely. We would ask the Council to reconsider whether they are prepared to sacrifice such a valuable public resource for a short-term budget saving.

Finally, it is our view that Bristol should take pride in having more libraries per head than most other cities. If you close libraries, make staff redundant, and sell off the buildings and land to developers, you have to consider how this sits with your duty to provide public services to the people that you serve - now and in the future. We would also question whether this is the most opportune time to make decisions with such severe long-term consequences. Given the increasingly tarnished reputation of the politics of austerity nationally, does the Council really need to accept the budget savings that it is being asked to make? A public library service, once closed, would be very difficult to re-instate.

We would therefore like to challenge Bristol City Council not only to keep the city's libraries open and maintain their current excellent service, but also to improve them still further to make them even more accessible to their communities and constructive in the delivery of the Council's aims for the future of the city. 

Sarah Murch, Secretary of Friends of Marksbury Road Library 

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