Bear with us, this post will be a long one.
Long-term, active campaigner Doug tabled the following question to the Mayor, which was answered at a full council meeting on Thursday 12th July, “I would appreciate a breakdown of all the current opening hours of Libraries currently operated by volunteers and the opening hours in the same libraries in February 2012 (say 13th February).”
The response (on behalf of the Mayor, author unknown) is below, with SDL comments within parentheses.
Details of the exact opening times, as they are now, and as they were in February, are available for public view [Where? How? Certainly not on the Council’s own website, hence the question]. It is clear that some community managed libraries have maintained opening times comparable with the libraries as they were in February. Other libraries are open for fewer hours, often in locations where more time is required to develop a larger volunteer base.
[In other words in areas where the infrastructure on the community is not such that it can support public services being run by volunteers. Areas with low levels of literacy, educational attainment, IT literacy, Information skills and high levels of unemployment (remember if you volunteer you are making yourself unavailable for work unless it is government sanctioned, and who wants service from someone NOT wanting to be there).]
Opening times are dependent upon and set by the number of volunteers involved in each library – and currently some have more volunteers than others. Either way, the fact that these libraries are being maintained with the opening times as they stand is testament to the significant contribution of local communities and the 330 volunteers currently playing their part in community managed libraries. In many cases opening hours are more conducive to the needs of the local communities.
[In 4 cases the hours have VASTLY increased, in 1 case they have remained static, and in 7 significantly decreased. Please remember this comparison also excludes the libraries of Denaby and Carcroft which were closed at the beginning of December 2011 and any changes made to other council run libraries (for example the children’s library hours have been cut, it no longer opens in a morning). The hours rely solely on the numbers of volunteers and say nothing of the changes of times when open, whether these have been matched to the community need, the actual service offered (as opposed to physical access to a building) or support from the Council.]
There are some libraries which are opening for fewer hours than before, which are at a point where they are able to begin considering opening for longer, as they now have more volunteers available. These libraries opened for 359 hours per week in February, and 287.25 hours per week as of now, and are only likely, with good intent from the volunteers involved, to increase.
[Semantics and also factually incorrect. Some implies just a few or not many, in fact over half are opening for much less time than before. Using the Council’s own data, from the physical answer provided to Doug, the original hours were 362 and the new hours are 289.25. What else are they getting wrong? This answer is imagined rhetoric with no sound basis in fact and emphasises the Councils intent to retain volunteers – the ideological basis of the destruction of the libraries for over 2 years now]
This is on top of the 558 hours per week for the Council-run Libraries and 55 hours per week achieved by our mobile services. Considered as a whole, the total opening hours for all libraries is 900.25 hours per week.
[Presumably this is also incorrect, based on the error identified above, but without the data we cannot accurately analyse this. And again, no actual service description is given. A library is not simply a building or a book-bus. It is interesting to note that whomever is answering Doug’s question is using it as an opportunity for spin and not just factual response.]
In addition to this, there is a full time service delivered to those of our residents who have difficulty visiting a library, and we must not forget the digital library service which is available 24/7 every day of the year.
[It is, but in a borough with over 30% who have no home access to the internet and therefore may have relied on their library to access digital opportunities, an online service is irrelevant. What does the full-time service to residents mean? Is this the homebound service? A very valuable service indeed and one which is vital to residents. Alarm bells ring at the inclusion of this as part of an answer to a question which did not ask this.]
I note Mr. ——, that you live in Cantley, about half a mile from one of our Council-run libraries open 43.5 hours per week, recently increased by 5 hours per week, and which has the potential to be refurbished in the near future.
[2-tier service in action. It seems one of the lucky 4 libraries to increase in opening hours, and situated in an affluent and high-attaining (on average) area is to have money spent on it that COULD have been used to properly staff and retain other, equally vital, libraries]
I also see you live not far away from Bessacarr, which has a community managed library, open 11 hours a week.
[A reduction from before, physically difficult to access, even find, and assumes those 11 hours being at convenient times. See detailed table below.]
The Council’s library service will continue to work closely with all community managed libraries and their volunteers, with training and support provide on an on-going basis. I understand that other local authorities around the country are currently reviewing their library services, including opening times and the transfer to community management, and it would be good to reach a point where Doncaster can be considered a front-runner in the way these libraries have developed. I applaud the contribution of volunteers in these libraries. It would be good to now think that if only those people who have committed their energies to campaigning against these necessary and innovative changes could now focus their energy on supporting and contributing to the cause of volunteers, these libraries would be able to achieve even more as a result.
[So many things wrong with this arrogant and patronising paragraph it is hard to know where to begin. The changes were NOT necessary and are NOT innovative, they are destructive and divisive. Campaigners may have paying jobs, have family commitments, have caring responsibilities and/or simply refuse to take on what should be a paid post. Volunteers, whether they like to believe it or not, have taken away peoples livelihoods. Rhetorical evidence from the non-public face of volunteer groups tells us support from the council is piecemeal, paid staffs are vastly overworked and that questions regarding managerial, accounting, legal and other such library-run matters takes weeks, if ever, to be answered.]
In fact no part of the answer is substantiated with detail and it depends on possibilities and a hope to improve. Clearly the Council has washed their hands of those libraries. The facts regarding the physical access to libraries is tabled below. The first table simply compares the weekly and overall figures and gives the 3 averages the hours have been sorted from lowest to highest. Averaging is by no means an exact science but this table clearly shows that a more equitable (mean) distribution of hours was achieved when the libraries were Council-run, and that the responders joy at the increase in opening times by some have come at the huge expense of others. The median proves that there are far more libraries now at the lower end of the accessibility range than previously there were. Directly below is a direct comparison table using the information provided to Doug. Red numbers indicate a reduction in hours between February and June, Green numbers an increase and Black no change.
*NB* headings in the above are in the wrong order, this will be amended today. Thank you for pointing it out.
The data speaks for itself (another SDL campaigner is visiting libraries to discover the truths of the service, report as soon as possible). Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley, has recently stated disgust (Jarvis accuses Government of Library incompetence) at the advantage Local Governments are taking for ripping apart their public services and placing the blame on Central Government; a situation all those with Ministerial or Government Departmental responsibility are endorsing through inaction. Certainly the cuts are swingeing and much blame is rightly placed there. But the priorities set are that of Local Authorities. It is Doncaster’s Mayor who decided to force over 50% of cuts to the Library Service despite an overall budget cut of 9%. It is the Mayor who has refused a very small increase that would have enabled the 12 libraries, plus Denaby and Carcroft, to at least have one paid staff member. It is the Mayor who has proven so intractable and deaf to advice and truth that he is being taken to a Judicial Review. A review we MUST win, or lose forever the majority of what was, only a short decade ago, a top mark 3 star Public Library Service.