Lincolnshire library cuts plans are ‘draconian and short-sighted’

Lincolnshire County Council’s plans to cut our public libraries from 47 to just 15 are draconian and short-sighted. It will damage the fabric of our communities and requires rethinking.

Almost £2.5 million items were borrowed from Lincolnshire libraries in 2011/12. The new Tory/Lib Dem coalition in County Hall have estimated that nearly 20% of Lincolnshire residents ‘actively’ use their library services, defining this as having borrowed an item in the last year.

This figure will be even higher if the use of public computers is taken into account, not to mention people who read books in libraries rather than borrowing them, plus those who intend to borrow but just haven’t done so within that 12 month period (a person about to retire for example, or a mum going on maternity leave).

Our libraries aren’t like they were 50 years ago – they’re not just about books. They allow those without home computers to apply for work, provide meeting spaces for community organisations, act as access points for the delivery of services (such as by the Police, Citizens Advice and adult education by Lincoln College), offer a safe, quiet space for children to do homework, inspire people to learn, assist parents on low incomes to get their children interested in books, improve literacy rates and other learning development, offer a more fulfilling life for older people, promote local identity and community pride – the list is endless.

Our public libraries are a public good. That’s exactly why all councils in our country have a legal duty “to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof.”

The planned closures involve community libraries (which incidentally is the opposite of the ‘localism’ the Tories and Liberal Democrats profess to support) – and well-used ones at that. For example, Birchwood issued 59,628 items in 2011/12, Ermine 58,378 and Boultham 39,824.

Many in Lincolnshire’s more rural communities will have to travel some distance to a library, indeed a quarter of ‘active borrowers’ won’t live within 30 minutes by public transport of their nearest static library. To be honest, we all know what public transport is like in Lincolnshire and it’s not much better for the remainder who are within a supposed half an hour.

Crucially, the number of public computers available will be slashed by 177. These computers aren’t a luxury extra, they’re vital for applying for work (via the government’s Universal Job Search programme) and for Universal Credit applications, as well as being a vital tool in tackling the ‘digital divide’ that exists between the computer literate who can access the internet and those that aren’t and can’t.

It’s clear that not only will these changes lead to a poorer and a less accessible library service, they’ll also disproportionally hit the most socially and economically disadvantaged – people seeking work, disabled people unable to travel, those who can’t afford the money for the train. Don’t take my word for it, the County Council report admits this.

The Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition say some libraries will be able to remain open if volunteers materialise to take on the duties of 170 sacked staff – I hope they do but we all remember the ‘Big Society’ and how well that went.

There appears to be a view that slashing our public libraries is somehow a ‘soft option’, one that can bear a disproportionate share of cuts. That’s wrong; these drastic proposals will damage our county immeasurably for years to come. That’s why I’m supporting the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign – I hope you do too.