I read in the recent edition of the village magazine that a 'mandate' is required from villagers before any plans to safeguard the future of Shepley Library can be taken forward.
This is not exactly the case and the confusion needs clearing up. The power to decide the future of the library building rests with Kirklees Council, not the local community. So, Shepley residents do not have any legal or mandate powers in this respect. But, a community-based initiative to save the library does need to demonstrate to Kirklees Council that the business plan (1) is sustainable; (2) has the interests of the community at the core, and (3) has general support across the local community before an asset transfer can take place.
And therein lies the problem. What can Shepley do with its library building? It's clear that library services alone won't sustain the building's future under the current government's austerity spending.
And this is not likely to change after the General Election in May next year, according to Kirklees Council. Since 2011, cuts in national spending have led to the closure of 324 libraries, the handing over of 400 more to volunteers, and the loss of 6,000 staff jobs. If the fallout figures quoted in today's article in the Guardian are correct, we ought to be applauding the Council for keeping the libraries open for so long - until 2017, in fact!
Independent Library Report
Last week the government published its Independent Library Report into the future of England's libraries. The Report made 3 key recommendations
- 1. The provision of a national digital resource for libraries, to be delivered in partnership with local authorities;
- 2. The setting up of a task and finish force, led by local government, in partnership with other bodies involved in the library sector, to provide a strategic framework for England, and to help in implementing the following;
- 3. The task force, to work with local authorities, to help them improve, revitalise and if necessary, change their local library service, while encouraging, appropriate to each library, increased community involvement.
Despite the growth in digital technologies, the report makes it clear that there is still a clear need and demand within communities for modern, safe, non-judgemental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free, supported by the help and knowledge of the library workforce. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in society who need support and guidance and to children and young people who benefit from engagement with libraries outside of the formal classroom environment.
All inclusive, secular community hub
The library does more than simply loan books. It underpins every community. It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life, learning and inclusion, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading.Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist.
And I'm particularly eager to develop the 'digital' opportunities the library building can bring to the local community and economy.
If it's not sustainable, it's not sustainable...
But, the cold fact is that the Shepley Library building will have to make money to remain in community hands. And that means diversifying its use. If the community cannot come up with an innovative business plan to safeguard the building's future, it will close.
The new 'Friends of Shepley Library Steering Group' will have to make a calculated business decision over the next few months on whether the library building can be put to good community use, or not!
Fact, if it's not sustainable, it's not sustainable...
But, I am encouraged by the emails I have received in the past fortnight from residents who have welcomed the initiative to safeguard the future of the library "on behalf of the silent majority across the community." The Parish Council's full support of any sustainable and community-based initiative to take over the building helps enormously.
And I trust that when the steering group finally meets in early January 2015 we'll have much to discuss. But, we also need more people to come forward and give this fantastic opportunity to preserve the library building for community use and enjoyment a fair crack of the whip!