We attended a workshop at the rather beautiful Yardley Wood Library last week about cuts to library services in this district. The year after the opening of a fantastic all singing all dancing Library of Birmingham, local libraries are being affected – in a major way – by further cuts.
The district has to make savings of £95,000 (£50,000 from main budget & £45,000 from the Book Fund) in this financial year & another £50k for next financial year (out of a total controllable net budget of £484,000 & book fund of £65,000). A total of £145,000 cut over two years.
As Karen Cheney, Head of the District said it is no longer a case of “tinkering at the edges” in making small changes, these kind of cuts are big & will be felt through reduction in staffing, reduction in opening hours, reducing the book fund & potentially through introducing self service machines, more volunteers, co locating services and finding ways of maximising income streams. This is your opportunity as local residents to comment on the cuts being made & although the cuts are here to stay and have to be made it is an opportunity to comment and potentially affect how they are implemented. However, Karen Cheney says “we need to step beyond ‘please do not shut our libraries’ and give feedback and ideas” about the future of our community libraries.
Ideas that were mooted at the meeting included a controversial idea of charging to be members of the library, charging to borrow ‘new books’, reintroducing reservation charges, maximising income through sharing library spaces & using them (where space is available) as conference facilities.
There was also the possibility of local libraries becoming a mutual or a community trust & the service being taken over & led by staff, becoming independent of BCC and therefore being free of having to do things a certain way e.g. having to use Service Birmingham but also having the opportunity to bring in other income through becoming charities. This proposal is being developed at the moment.
As an arts forum we have worked in partnership with local libraries to present exhibitions, workshops & performances.
They are an important part of our cultural landscape, often libraries feel very ‘owned’ by local residents – people feel comfortable in them in a way that they may not in other cultural spaces for e.g. theatres. They therefore opportunity for us to reach residents that we may otherwise struggle to engage with arts & cultural activity – for example we recently programmed Katrice Horsley, an award winning storyteller at Yardley Wood Library. Her stories were from around the world & her audience reflected the great diversity that makes Birmingham the thriving multicultural city that it is.
We would urge any local residents with views & thoughts about how these cuts can be implemented to comment through their local library or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org