Dear [Ms. Flint / Ms. Winterton / Mr. Miliband],
I am writing to express my concern about the proposed closure of 14 library branches in the Doncaster area as well as cuts to library staff, stock and facilities. Public library services are an incredibly important part of civilised society, offering vital access to information, culture and learning. In addition to the valuable service libraries offer in terms of book provision, they provide access to PCs and the internet, Rhymetime sessions for young children, homework support, a means of engaging with local democracy, job seeking services and other support that is not available anywhere else. Libraries are worth far more than the sum of their parts and are vital community resources in Doncaster. They provide advice, information, internet services, a community focus, services and venues for families and children.
The closure of library branches is not the only issue; for several years, Doncaster council has failed to provide an effective library service with qualified and trained staff, and as a result has seen falling numbers of users. This does not mean that people in Doncaster have no need for library services, but that they deserve and need better library services. Research demonstrates that investment in library services result in increased library use, improved levels of literacy in children and adults, improved well-being and community cohesion. Research also shows that in times of economic difficulty, libraries are an increasingly important resource and more people make use of them. It is a false economy to cut library provision; they cost the council relatively very little, and save the council and the government much more than they cost, through helping people find work, helping them to succeed in education and enabling them to be informed and engaged in society.
Many of the branches that the council is proposing the close are in areas that need them the most; areas where educational attainment is low and poverty levels and unemployment are high. Many are in areas that do not have alternative provision nearby. The nearest library to Rossington, for example, is almost 10 km away. People who rely on public transport or cannot afford buses will not be able to access a library easily at all. It will be more difficult for people to access library services, which means that library use will fall even more. This does not mean that people no longer need libraries, but that the council is failing to provide a service that people are able to or want to use.
In a recent interview for the Birmingham Post, Eric Pickles, Local Government secretary, said that councils should cut back office functions before libraries:
“Before we see libraries cut and all these kinds of things, I want to see councils merge their back office functions. I would like to see them sharing chief executives, their legal department, their accounts department, their payroll, their IT, their planning, their education support functions.
“And when they have done all that, if they feel they have to close libraries, they should talk to me again.”
As your constituent, I request that you oppose these closures and support library services both locally and nationally. I also ask that you urge Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, to conduct an inquiry into Doncaster libraries. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 states that local authorities have a statutory duty to provide “comprehensive and efficient” public library services. Such huge cuts to Doncaster’s library service would mean that the council is likely to break this law. Mobile libraries are not an appropriate replacement for library branches and spending money on these would also minimise the savings made by cuts to library services. A report by Annie Mauger, now CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, stated that Doncaster’s libraries are in no fit state to be run using models of alternative governance, so this is not a viable option either.
I look forward to your response and thank you in advance for your support in this important matter.