From Community Library to Community Hubs and the small matter of £12m cuts
Birmingham City Council published its Budget for 2016-17 yesterday and brought forward proposals to make £90m worth of cuts and savings next year. This is part of an overall cut of £250m over the next 4 years and is on top of the £500m reduction made to the Council Budget since 2010. What does this mean for the future of Birmingham’s Community Libraries?
The buzz-words are redesign, one-front door, local partnerships and community hubs. But the bottom line is the intention to cut the costs of local neighbourhood services, including community libraries, by £12m over the next four years, on top of the £500m reduction made to the council budget since 2010.
What does this mean for the future of Birmingham’s community libraries?
The political blogger News in Brum has published a figure of 10 community libraries to close with the loss of a further 60 library staff. Cllr Penny Holbrook, Cabinet member with responsibility for the library service, denied this, stating on Twitter that no Libraries are currently planned for closure and the aim was locally designed solutions, with a focus on services not buildings.
No final decision has been made, but the News in Brum forecast could still be right.
In a torrent of management-speak the Council is badging its proposals for closing community services as ‘Open for learning’. This programme will ‘redesign and rationalise local assets to deliver service focus not asset-focused approach.’ Double-plus ungood. This involves closing ‘unfit for purpose’ buildings and selling council-owned buildings. Because ‘libraries, adult education and early years services in the future will need fewer separate buildings.’
This has to mean the closure of community libraries, with the council claiming that its approach is about delivering services not maintaining assets. But, how can ‘service delivery’ of public libraries be maintained by cutting access to buildings? Not with IT, which supplements books and libraries, and does not replace them.
The supposed synergies of ‘local partnerships promoting learning’ and the council’s ‘cultural offer’ mean co-locating learning services in ‘community hubs’. These community hubs will be increasingly focused on promoting learning and skills. Public libraries will also be working with local businesses to ensure free internet access for everyone. This implies a narrowing and utilitarian conception of public libraries from their present manifold public and community uses.
‘Co-location’ and ‘hubs’ are just new ways of saying ‘cuts’.
Another soundbyte in this brave new world is the ‘need to think differently about our workforce’, i.e. reduce it. This will involve the further downgrading of a professionally led and provided library service as workers multi-task in these reduced community hubs with an increased use of self-service technology.
These advocates for ‘Open for Learning’ tell us these new rationalised community hubs are to be co-designed and co-produced around the needs of communities and are not about preserving existing services. But the bottom line is always the bottom line, and a £12m cut over 4 years means that public and community needs that are currently met through the network of community libraries will be neglected in future.
These proposals will degrade the identity and purpose of public libraries, as well as diminish their size and scope to a point which will be beyond repair by the time we realise what we have lost.
The survival of the network of community libraries serving our local neighbourhoods hangs in the balance. Over the last five years, every time a community library has been faced with closure, campaigns by local people have compelled the council to keep them open. West Heath, Aston and Spring Hill Libraries remain open due to community action. This type of response is going to be required over and over again.
Now more than ever is the time to stand up for your community library!
The consultation on the city council budget proposals 2016+ runs from 9th December 2015 to 8th January 2016. Information about the consultation meetings and details of the Budget can be found here: