Your say / libraries

‘Libraries have a much larger role to play than the current remit’

By merche clark, Thursday Sep 20, 2018

News that all of the Bristol libraries faced with closure had been saved until at least 2020 met with relief in August.

But those campaigning to safeguard them in the long-term are all too aware that they need a plan to future-proof the service for generations to come. 

Friends of Redland Library have penned an open letter to Asher Craig, deputy mayor of Bristol and cabinet member for communities, events and equalities. Here it is in full:

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Dear Asher Craig,

Friends of Redland Library is keen to engage with the plans for the future of libraries in Bristol, now that the mayor has announced that all libraries will be supported through to 2020.

We understand that much work has been done by councillors Jo Sergeant and Estella Tincknell.

Friends of Redland Library fully supports the councillors’ efforts to develop a strategy for the next 50 years.

Friends of Redland Library believes that:

  • Libraries have a much larger role to play than the current remit. Libraries can be involved in delivering skills, outreach and interaction with council service.
  • Reading is beneficial in all aspects of life.  There are studies which show the improvement to life outcomes from access to fiction.
  • Libraries need to have professional staff.
  • Libraries need to have computing access and connection to other software, importantly Libraries West.
  • Better use of library buildings and/or shared spaces is key to making libraries vital community resources.

Friends of Redland Library believes that areas which need to be discussed are:

  • Should libraries join with museums and archives? (This is a model used in other areas, e.g. York).
  • Should libraries sit above the council directorates acting as a resource to all of them? (A one-stop-shop for information, resources and council services).
  • Establishing a community asset department.  At present, the department that looks after council properties has as its focus the commercialisation (including disposal) of council assets. A new department focussed on improving the value of assets to the community could look at, for example developing, a second floor at Redland Library and using the proceeds to improve the lending library below or dealing with shared resources (eg chairs) or extending library opening hours to allow new initiatives within the library to work.
  • Funding from different public pots alongside the current council budget is necessary going forward. Therefore, any new structure needs to access these funds and have staff whose job it is to find and go after such funding. In addition, some charitable trust structure (similar, perhaps, to that used by museums) would be required to receive donations.
  • How can the management of the library service best achieve this re-focused vision?
  • Is the Public Service Mutual with charitable status a suitable vehicle to achieve these objectives?

We trust that announcements made in October will focus on these important strategic areas. We would be very disappointed should October herald another weak consultation asking the public for their ideas on what they want of their local library.

We need to be presented with concrete, long term, viable plans.

Yours faithfully,

Merche Clark

For and on behalf of Friends of Redland Library

People packed into a public meeting in Redland Library to voice their dismay at the proposed cuts in the summer of 2017

In response, a Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “Back in July, the mayor and his cabinet took the decision to retain all 27 libraries across the city and remove the £1.4m budget saving target.

“An update on the development of the city’s library service will go before cabinet next month.

“There are many models of libraries and other departments working together nationally, these include museums, archives, children’s services and leisure services. While we have not ruled anything out, there are no current plans to pursue this approach within the current council structure.”

The Friends of Redland Library is a voluntary group set up to support Redland Library, helping to sustain and improve its service, and also connecting it with the local and wider community. 


Read more: ‘Libraries are the lifeblood of our communities’

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