More about libraries

As I said recently in the Barnet Times, the Library Review was never going to be universally popular. This is despite the extra £10,000 per year we will spend on books, the longer opening hours our libraries will have, the new libraries we are building, the commitment to sign up every school child to the library service, the modernisation of all our libraries, and our pledge to put literacy at the heart of everything we do.

In the last couple of weeks there have been a couple of protests outside the Friern Barnet library.

So no one is any doubt, I thought it would be helpful to outline our plans for this library. Under our strategy, Friern Barnet library will move, and merge with the North Finchley library. All the services currently provided at the Friern Barnet site will be provided at the artsdepot. The library at the artsdepot will be one of our largest; it will be a landmark library that specialises in the arts. It will hold more stock, have longer opening hours, will open on Sundays, and have extra study space and facilities.

Sadly, no change is not an option but I believe the strategy is a step in the right direction that will provide benefits for the whole of Barnet.

The second stage of the Library Strategy Consultation closes on 13 June, so there is still time to have your voice heard.

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Have your say on the future of Barnet’s libraries

There is still time to have your say on the future of Barnet’s libraries. A detailed consultation took place at the end of last year and the comments we received helped to shape the development of our new library strategy.

A second consultation is now underway and we want to know what you think about the proposals we’ve made for the future of the library service. We think we’ve got the strategy about right but we want feedback from Barnet citizens, both regular library users and those who rarely borrow a book.

The library strategy is a good example of ‘One Barnet’ principles in action. Although the library service faces significant budget cuts, the strategy explains how we plan to do more with less and build a stronger relationship with library customers.

The consultation closes on 13 June, so there’s still plenty of time to have your opinion heard.

Kindle library lending

As mentioned previously, the strategic library review was approved by Cabinet on 29 March and is currently going through a second public consultation. As you can imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about libraries recently, so I was particularly interested in this media release from Amazon.

The gist of the release is that later this year US Kindle users will be about to borrow e-books from 11,000 American libraries. If something similar were to happen in the UK, what would it mean for our libraries? Would it encourage library use? Would it boost literacy? What do you think?

Library strategy agreed by cabinet

Last night, the strategic library review was agreed by Cabinet. You can read the Cabinet papers on the Barnet website.

The strategy is a good example of the council’s One Barnet objectives. It shows a commitment to sharing opportunities in the borough and it shows that a reduction in budget doesn’t just mean less of the same. The principles underpinning this strategy would be the principles of a new library strategy if we had twice the budget.

The strategy also represents a commitment by the council to support the literacy of Barnet residents – young and old. Extensive consultation made it clear that residents want a service that promotes literacy. We can do this best, by making reading for pleasure second nature for every Barnet child, and supporting people for whom full time education was not a success.

The strategy proposes that every primary school child receives membership of their local library. We all know that a child’s education continues outside of school hours and I want to our library service to support that.

During our consultation, parents asked that we have libraries open earlier so that they can bring pre-school children to the service after they have dropped older siblings off at school. We will be doing just that. Under this strategy every building will open at 9.30 at the latest.

Our commitment to literacy extends beyond children. In the 21st Century literacy, and almost as important, information literacy, is the key to successful employment. Our corporate plan makes it clear that this is a council that supports sharing opportunities and sharing responsibilities. Literacy has to be at the heart of all of that.

We will be piloting a new service with The Reader Organisation working with people who have a low level of literacy. This is an agency that has used literature and literacy to open the minds and raise the ambitions of many people – from those with learning difficulties to ex-offenders. I hope this pilot will turn into a lasting relationship.

It is gratifying that there has been widespread support for the strategy in the media. I believe we have delivered the best possible library strategy for the current and future readers of Barnet.

The strategy plans will now go through a second public consultation.

Barnet’s library review is published

After 1,600 responses to our consultation and over 50 public events I am proud that we have published the findings of our library service review. You can read the report on the Barnet Council website. It is available a little earlier in the evening than I wanted – and there are a few minor changes to the final version, like a graph out of place, but these will be updated in the morning.

Like much of the council, the library service is facing significant budget cuts – a £1.4m reduction to a budget of £6m. To take account of this, we need to reduce back-office costs, make efficiency savings, and find new ways of working to deliver a modernised library service for Barnet.

Our consultation has guided us in our strategy going forward. Respondents made clear we should increase reading, literacy and learning opportunities for children, and should promote reading and learning opportunities for adults. Respondents told us to engage with communities and offer improved community spaces, access and resources and to provide easy access to a wider world of knowledge and information. 

Our approach has been praised by the Museums Libraries and Archives council who said that our strategic review is ‘impressive’ and will help to set future library strategy.

Across London, councils are shutting libraries left, right and centre. Brent and Lewisham will close almost half of their libraries (6 of 13 in Brent and 5 of 11 in Lewisham) and Hounslow plan to shut almost three quarters of theirs (8 of 11). Those who campaigned against our library consultation were campaigning, I believe, in wrongful anticipation that there was going to be likewise en masse closure of Barnet’s libraries.

In contrast to other councils’ wholesale cuts to library services, Barnet is planning more positive changes.  We will:

  • spend an extra £10k to buy more books;
  • increase library opening hours by opening at 9.30am;
  • provide better access for children by making all primary school pupils library members;
  • ensure that the mobile and housebound library services are targeted effectively at those with the greatest needs.
  • use technology to reduce costs and improve service by offering more WIFI services;
  • improve online services (including e-books);
  • increase self-service and self-issue;
  • provide better library-based access to council services;
  • provide IT training and support to volunteers to run sessions at libraries;
  • explore a paid-for book delivery scheme;
  • and, most importantly in respect of efficiency savings, we plan to share back office systems with a neighbouring borough.

Under our proposals, Barnet will have three ‘Landmark Libraries’ in Hendon, Chipping Barnet, and at a new site in Finchley, nine ‘Leading Libraries’, and two ‘Link Libraries’ in Grahame Park and Child’s Hill, which will be integrated within other public services. These link libraries will have the same level of investment and same level of books but will bring other services into them. I have been describing them to others as a mini-Burnt Oak Library.

The North Finchley and Friern Barnet Libraries will merge and move to one site. We have had very good initial talks with the Artsdepot about this new Landmark library sharing their site, and I look forward to these talks going forward. We are looking to redevelop Finchley Church End Library, which has a huge maintenance back log.  This redevelopment will potentially be on the same site, though we will have to sale off some of the land. The Institute in Hampstead Garden Suburbs has shown interest in re-providing stock from the Hampstead Garden Suburb Library at its East Finchley site as we propose to remove this site. We will provide them with a self-service terminal to run the library – a fine example of a big society library in action!

In Barnet, we are modernising our libraries and keeping them relevant and popular. We’ve listened to the ideas put forward in the consultation with library users, and this is the result. These plans will now go forward to a second consultation if approved by Cabinet on the 29th March.