The written evidence for the inquiry into library closures has been published on the Parliament website. There were 130 submissions. Our submission, written and submitted by Maureen, is included at number 85:
Written evidence submitted by the Save Friern Barnet Library Group (LIB 085)
The Save Friern Barnet Library Group is a group of local residents in the London Borough of Barnet, representing 3,000 members of our community who signed our petition, formed to save our much loved and valued Friern Barnet Library from closure. Our objectives are to promote the continuing use of Friern Barnet Library, as a library for the local community and to promote the use of Friern Barnet Library for the local community.
We are a group with a cultural and community focus and have been working closely with, and with very strong support from, our two local residents’ associations, local primary and secondary schools and in conjunction with the Guides and AgeUK.
Summary of our Submission
The key piece of legislation pertaining to libraries in England and Wales is the 1964 Act which created provisions to ensure protection for “a comprehensive and efficient service”. It also laid down the duty for central government to ensure it “superintends and promotes the improvement of the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales”. The Wirral Report upheld the importance of a comprehensive service being maintained, pointing up deficiencies in the way the local authority had acted in relation to the elderly and vulnerable groups.
We do not believe that to date central government has complied with its duties – across England and Wales – in terms of the 1964 Act. Recent years have seen what amounts to cultural vandalism as council after council has shut down library services or forced local community groups to take on the task of running them.
Friern Barnet can be seen as an example of such inexcusable policy making. Rather than having a lesser need for its local library, the local residents of the area – facing unemployment, a growth in the population of the elderly and very young, an increase in levels of disability and a rise in numbers of residents with English as their mother tongue – are in greater need of their library. Councils seem to see libraries as merely physical spaces in which borrowers read books or obtain information, yet local libraries play a key socio-cultural role providing residents with a sense of community and cohesion. Let us not slip behind countries like Brazil which are forging ahead economically and opening neighbourhood libraries ,and let us take decisions in this Olympic Year which enable us to feel proud of our cultural heritage, which includes such luminaries as the social egalitarian Charles Dickens.
What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the Twenty-
1. A variety of libraries has existed over recent centuries in England. As our country achieved development, they played their role in helping to bring about a
flattening of the social pyramid by providing access to learning, and in so doing helped to create greater equality of opportunity.
2. Closures of libraries across the country (The Guardian reported in November that the future of 600 was in doubt) have been met by fierce opposition because they are highly prized by their local communities. Their value is closely linked to the myriad of activities which take place within them: from conversations among readers, to consulting the internet, reading newspapers, eliciting information from the librarians about where to go for help with different problems, doing homework. What the very many people we have spoken to have all emphasised is the importance of their location within neighbourhoods, giving ease of access to all. For example, Barnet Council’s own consultations with the local population discovered that “both users and non-users agreed that libraries should be at the heart of the community”. Sixty per cent were most likely to walk to their library. Because of these views, and based on our own experience, we strongly believe that the existence of neighbourhood libraries is the only way to “encourage both adults and children to make full use of the Library Service”, as laid down in the Libraries and Museums Act, 1964.
3. Local access to libraries is key because those in employment work long hours, making travel to libraries at a distance difficult. For reasons of safety, parents like their children to walk to the library, and of course the elderly, pregnant women, and those with disabilities are particularly disadvantaged if neighbourhood
libraries close. In terms of Friern Barnet Library, Barnet Council carried out consultations among the local population on the Strategic Library Review (which
seeks to shut down Friern Barnet Library and North Finchley Library and replace them, at an unspecified date in the future, with a ‘landmark ‘ library two miles
away at a very busy traffic junction (Tally Ho Corner in Finchley) and found that the local populations of both neighbourhoods (as well as that of similarly
affected Hampstead Garden Suburb) are quite opposed to the plans. Barnet Council, we discovered, shut down Totteridge Library a few years ago also
arguing that it would open a modern facility in its place – a promise that was never fulfilled.
4. In the Twenty-First Century citizens of this country expect to live in a democracy, meaning that their elected representatives listen to them. However Barnet
Council’s own statistics show that 60% of their residents feel that the Council does not do this.
5. Citizens of this country expect in the Twenty-First Century to live in a state which keeps up, to say the least, with other nations. It is noteworthy, particularly in this important Olympic year, that Brazil (which has recently become the sixth largest economy in the world) is vibrantly and intelligently opening neighbourhood libraries to feed the brains and meet the socio-cultural needs of its population.
6. The social function of libraries, we feel, has been much overlooked by policy makers. The ability of the elderly to drop into neighbourhood libraries (and the
same can be said for mothers and fathers staying at home looking after young infants) can be a key factor in breaking social isolation – not to mention enabling
those facing fuel poverty to access a warm space for which there is no charge.
7. Recent research has pointed up the importance of libraries as what are often the last remaining public buildings in neighbourhoods. This is born out in the case of Friern Barnet where residents complain ‘ the Council sold off Friern Barnet Town Hall (and converted it into flats) and then did the same with Princess Park Manor (the site of a mental health institution) and now they want to shut our only remaining building’. Such buildings have symbolic importance to their
communities, and are seen as representing the essence of the community itself.
8. A comprehensive and efficient library service for the Twenty-First Century also involves, in accordance with the 1964 Act, “the keeping of adequate stocks”.
We have recently found out that Barnet Council has only dedicated 1.5% of its library budget to purchasing new stock for Friern Barnet Library. The resultant
deterioration in the quality of the latter has not encouraged patronage. What is needed in our and other libraries across the country are adequate supplies of
good quality, up to date stock and adequate numbers of well maintained computers, photocopiers and scanners. Professional librarians and specialist
librarians too are an essential component of a successful service. A comprehensive and efficient library service to us means one that is provided
directly by public authorities.
9. A comprehensive and efficient library service means one with a suitable physical structure. In contrast to the current, excellent buildings, the site for the proposed ‘landmark library’ - a local theatre space - was declared unsuitable to convert into a library in 2002 when Barnet Council paid £100,000 to consultants to look into this.
10.Finally, we believe that a comprehensive and efficient library service is not necessarily one in which no changes can be instituted. But modifications must be
well thought out and must meet with the entire approval of the communities for which they are meant.
You can view the full details of it by clicking here : National Enquiry