Campaigners in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, have been told that their local library and one other marked for closure will now be saved, although with reduced opening hours. County councillors confirmed the news on Saturday morning, as locals gathered at the library to read children’s stories.
Yet local people still pledged their support for a legal challenge and are calling for a national Public Library Service Inquiry as part of their support of Save Somerset Libraries. This coalition of local campaigns across the county wants to see all 20 libraries threatened with closure reprieved.
Campaigner Kay Hoskins, from Friends of Wiveliscombe Library, explains, “It’s the unfairness of it. Twenty communities would be carrying the burden of disproportionate cuts that would only achieve small savings for Somerset.”
Richard Chisnall, of the Friends of Glastonbury Library, said, “Whilst we welcome the report that Wivelscombe will stay open, there is no reason to lose any library in the County.”
The Somerset campaigns have widespread support from the general public, from celebrities, authors, and organisations such as the Royal Society of Literature and the Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals.
The call for a national inquiry has drawn press interest from as far away as Brazil. “People all around the world are listening to what people in the UK are saying,” said library campaigner, Steve Ross “but local councillors and the Minister Ed Vaizey were not”.
Last week, on BBC Radio 4, the Minister said that he could not intervene because these “were local issues for local people about local services”.
“This is a real problem when local elected decision makers seem intent on making the wrong decisions despite widespread local protest,” says Steve Ross. “Library campaigners across the UK make the same complaint. Nationally the consultation process is at best flawed, and the impact on communities has been inadequately assessed as local councillors rush cuts forward. Consultation is being used to justify decisions not inform them.”
Richard Chisnall notes, “We took the County’s too-brief consultation seriously, obtained expert advice, and presented the County Council with a carefully thought out and costed proposal that can preserve the whole of Somerset’s library infrastructure – whilst still making the required savings in operating costs. We hope they listen.”
According to national campaigner Desmond Clarke, “To provide a library service which is socially and economically sustainable, local authorities have to be much more imaginative in how they structure and operate their service and use funds to the optimum benefit of the millions of people who rely upon our libraries.”
In Somerset, Holly Berkley from the Friends of Shepton Mallet Library agrees. “Taking the axe to library services without looking closely at their corporate structure and systems is crazy. They are being totally unimaginative, making decisions without regard to the impact on children, the elderly and disabled people.”
People all around the UK believe that a fairer solution should be found for all UK libraries.
Though the need for cuts and cost savings is understood, library campaigners want to ask the hard questions needed to ensure that every avenue has been explored to protect the UK’s cultural heritage and the knowledge foundations of the future.
As Charlotte Wood, a year 6 pupil at Wiveliscombe Primary School, wrote to Somerset County Council, “The library will help me with every step I take with my life.”
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