'Save our libraries' groups start to fear athe worst

March 26 2018
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Concern is growing about the future of Bristol’s library service despite an independent review by consultants Mutual Ventures, tasked with assessing whether the service can be run more efficiently through private companies or trusts.

Concern is growing about the future of Bristol’s library service despite an independent review by consultants Mutual Ventures, tasked with assessing whether the service can be run more efficiently through private companies or trusts.

Back in November Mayor Marvin Rees agreed to consider an alternative to proposed cuts. This was put forward by Cotham Councillor Anthony Negus and several members of the council scrutiny committee and  included keeping the majority of libraries open for two years while implementing a recovery plan before taking another look at the finances.

However the report, due to be delivered to councillors at the beginning of April, is to consider only the ten libraries contained in ‘option one’ of last summer’s ‘Your Neighbourhood’ consultation and maybe the three with extended card access These include Bishopston, Henleaze and the Central Library but not those in ‘options two and three’ such as Redland and Clifton, which are still very much in danger of being closed.

The council announced plans to slash £1.4 million from the library budget last year and reduce the service from 27 libraries to ten. The whole process has been criticised for the lack of information and transparency, as Councillor Negus revealed at the inaugural meeting of the Bishopston, Cotham and Redland Community Partnership Committee (BCR CP) held at Bishopston Library on 22 February: 

“The brief for this study has not been made public and I had to submit a Freedom of Information request as chair of the Scrutiny Commission to see the brief. A redacted version was provided, and the chair was only allowed to read this under officer supervision!

“It is clear that the study will only affect the Core Libraries - I think that demonstrates a lack of thought and interest in the community and individual; the opportunity value for networked libraries for the future.” he said.

The mutualisation process will see the use of resources spread over a larger number of libraries, using volunteers and other funding pots, eking out input from paid staff. Some buildings would be ‘extended access’ by card entry, not manned. 

If a Community Asset Transfer model is chosen, the community will have to sustain the buildings and Redland Library, with its Victorian building, would be too expensive to fund.

Since the meeting Councillor Negus has become aware that the Music Lending Service, which loans musical scores and CDs to local performing groups and individuals, had been due to be given away to North Somerset. Following his intervention, the Bristol Music Trust which runs the Colston Hall has offered to store this resource, keeping the music available within Bristol, rather than outside the city, but there is more work to be done. 

Several passionate groups have formed to protest against cuts to the library service, including Friends of Redland Library who have an epetition on the council website Save Redland Library open for signing until the end of April. It has more than 4,500 signatures to date.

Pictured right: Cllr Anthony Negus