As Derby City Council moves toward a plan to move ten of their 15 libraries to being run by community volunteers we are looking at the role of public libraries beyond as a lending service and how to measure their value in more than the number of books they hold, across the course of Storge Libraries Week. To start the week we’re looking at the current offer in the city and plans for developing a future library service.
“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future”, said Ray Bradbury, author of dystopian future classic Farenheit 451 among other novels, no stranger to thinking about the importance of books, the written word, and libraries. A future without libraries is one which has seemed to come ever closer over the last few years where austerity measures have slashed local authority budgets and ‘non-essential’ services such as libraries, arts and culture have born the brunt of efficiency savings.
Derby City Council is currently hoping to save £648,000 (of £50 million they must save due to Government cuts) by changing the way library services are delivered including a preferred plan to reduce the number of council-run libraries from the current 15 down to five, offering the other ten out to community volunteer groups to maintain. Part of that plan includes closing Central Library and replacing it with a smaller city centre library in the Council House, and the loss of around 40 library service jobs.
Consultation began back in 2015 with the city council introducing the discussion, saying they were looking at how to provide a ‘library service which is flexible, modern and relevant to today’s and future customers’. They said, “Derby City Council runs 15 libraries across the city including the Central Library, Derby Local Studies and Family History Library and 13 neighbourhood libraries. Last year there were over 783,000 visits to these libraries, and over 750,000 books and audio books were borrowed. As well as borrowing books, at the libraries people can access the internet and Wi-Fi for free, attend a job club, find out about the history of their family or the local area and take part in a range of events and activities. Many people also visit the libraries online, downloading e-Books and accessing subscription websites from the comfort of their own homes.”
While figures during consultation suggested people were in favour of this plan opposition is still popping up, including in a petition with more than 3000 signatures opposing the shutting of Central Library. But councillors in support of the plan say the move to the Council House will provide better access despite being around half the floor space with some of the current collection going into stores. The plans are now underway and from tomorrow those interested in volunteering being asked to make applications before October and decisions on the future of the library service decided by the end of this year.
Whether the reduction in council-run library services in favour of handing to supporting volunteers is a good or bad things, remains to be seen – Derby isn’t the first to try the plan and we’ll be looking deeper at the evidence for volunteer-led libraries tomorrow. And across Libraries Week we’ll be asking, what do people now think of when they think of public libraries? Is it a storage room for books which most seldom visit but want to keep the option of? Is it an access point for online reading and the internet? Is it a community hub open for quiet and independent research or finding company and likeminds? Is it a gateway to the past and the exploration of the future? Issues of class, health, democracy and community all rise from public library provision making it all of these and more.
While we aren’t covering the wider county offer during Libraries Week you can find out more about the plan for public library provision in Derbyshire county on the county council website here.