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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

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Meeting with my local MP to discuss public libraries

July 1st, 2011

Following up on my blog post last January, today I met with my local Conservative MP, Anna Soubry, to discuss public libraries. While the library cuts in Nottinghamshire have long ago been enshrined in policy, I still felt it was worth meeting with her to discuss public libraries in general, and the wider national picture. Here’s some of what we discussed:

Our local situation
Nottinghamshire have cut opening hours at many branches, and generally we were in agreement that their approach to cuts were not particularly strategic, and their solutions not particularly imaginative; i.e. reducing opening hours and cutting book budgets, rather than thinking about how best to serve their communities and looking at alternative revenue sources. MPs can only make recommendations to councils, but it’s good that she would encourage ours to take a different tack.

Changes to library services
As a trained lawyer, Anna was keen that volunteers did not replace professionals, so we were generally on the same page here. I also made her aware of some of the issues around charging for library services, and the (profession-wide) suspicion that charging for internet access or non-paper books (both have happened in local authorities) set a dangerous precedent which might eventually lead to charging for e-books, if not traditional book loans.

The national situation
Anna was quite interested in The modernisation review of public libraries, which I’ve found immensely informative. She did offer to raise a question about what happened to this report in parliament, but as Ed Vaizey seems to have ruled out implementing any of the ideas in the report, I suspect that there’s little that can be done. It’s a shame, because many of the recommendations in the report are small, but only seem implementable at a national scale.

As the Nottinghamshire Public Libraries service is not one where intervention on the grounds of the statutory duty seems appropriate, there’s not a huge amount to be done at this stage (apparently MPs are expected to only raise questions about issues that affect their own constituency) but it’s good to have made contact and raised awareness of the issues we’re facing, and I’d encourage others to do the same with their MP. I’ve urged Anna to get in touch with me if she has any questions, or would like further information on libraries in general, so I’m hoping there’ll be some follow-up.

5 Responses to “Meeting with my local MP to discuss public libraries”

  1. Lauren says:

    I’m really glad you met with her, Katie! The more people do this kind of thing, the more MPs will understand what’s going on and why they need to do their bit to stop it.

  2. John Hughes says:

    This is a commendable approach,Katie.

    However, our experience in Gloucestershire is not only that local representatives are toothless but that the only way to halt the nationwide attacks on the public library service is to go on the offensive.

    There is currently an injunction preventing the local county council from implementing their “strategic” plans to close ten libraries and offer them up to local volunteer management, take five mobile libraries permanently off the road (including an EPH vehicle and one focused on vulnerable children and their families) and reduce opening hours.

    In addition to this, my understanding is that a “rump” (my definition) of 11 practising librarians and 2 senior managers will be left if the plans go through.

    The injunction hearing is on Thursday in Birmingham and if it is upheld further there will be a judicial review with lawyers representing a local resident convinced that the strategy will prove to be illegal and the whole process riddled with inconsistencies. If the lawyers are correct, other library authorities are waiting in the wings to continue this historic defence of our national public library network, once the envy of Europe.

  3. Katie says:

    Thanks Lauren, John.

    I’m very much aware of national picture. At a local level (within Nottinghamshire), I’m most concerned that the current cuts may be just the start of eroding our service, and I think it’s my role to highlight that. Nationally, I hope that keeping my local MP informed benefits us all.

    It’s worth saying that I think the steps you guys are taking are entirely appropriate to your local situation. In Gloucestershire, the local cuts are horrific, and I’m watching for the outcomes of today’s injunction with much interest.

  4. John Hughes says:

    Katie, as you may now know, the High Court hearing in Birmingham yesterday resulted in Judge Beatson supporting the need for a full judicial review at the end of September.

    Public Interest Lawyers, acting on behalf of a Gloucestershire resident upheld campaigners’ views that:

    1 the GCC strategy contravenes the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 on grounds of not delivering on either “comprehensive” or efficient” criteria.

    2 consultation was poorly managed

    3 impact studies in areas of social deprivation were ineffective

    This is in itself a major victory, quite unique in the history of the public library movement, a movement as relevant today as it was in the mid-nineteenth century.

  5. Katie says:

    Yes, fantastic news, I’m thrilled!

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