Library strategy discussed at Overview and Scrutiny

Last night, the Strategic Library Review was discussed by the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee having been called in by a Labour councillor.

When we first published the Strategic Library Review back in March, it received considerable cross-party support. In comparison to the plans put forward by many other London boroughs that face similar budget cuts, Barnet’s plan for local libraries is very positive. The council has made a commitment to focus on literacy, spend an extra £10k on books and increase library opening hours.

I take my responsibilities seriously, I care about the future of the Barnet’s library service and I’m proud of the strategy that has been developed.

While I can understand that political point scoring always plays a part in the democratic process, much of what was discussed last night centred on issues of trust.

You may have seen comments in the press last week that implied the council hadn’t had any meetings with the artsdepot about our plans to create a new landmark library at the North Finchley site. This is simply not true. Below is a statement from Tracey Cooper the Chief Executive of the artsdepot.

“artsdepot has been discussing with the council proposals for a joint artsdepot-library service in North Finchley for several months, including officer meetings with the artsdepot board. While the planning of detailed proposals are at an early stage, with a lot to cover before we can finalise an agreed model, our two organisations are jointly overseeing the project to confirm the detail of what will be offered and both are excited by the possibilities. Our initial project delivery meeting was positive and artsdepot looks forward to the detailed next stage of work.”

After yesterday’s meeting, libraries in Barnet have a clear future despite the financial pressures faced by the council.


Future Libraries

Last Friday, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the Local Government Group released a joint report on the future of libraries – ‘Future Libraries: Change, options and how to get there’. The report highlights some of the innovative ways that local authorities are modernising library services.

You may remember that the Museums Libraries and Archives Council have previously praised Barnet’s strategic library review, describing it as ‘impressive’. So it is no surprise that much of what is recommended in the joint report mirrors what we plan to do in Barnet.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • running library services with other council or community services
  • sharing back office costs with neighbouring boroughs
  • partnering with the private and third sectors
  • involving the local community with the running of local library services.

We plan to improve library based access to other council services and run two link libraries – Grahame Park and Child’s Hill – integrating library services within other public services.

We are in discussion with a neighbouring borough to share library support services and costs

During the public consultation the idea of providing library services from shops was discussed, and while this idea was ridiculed by some, it is now recommended by the report.

We have also given the community the opportunity to come up with ideas for running community library services in Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

You can read more about the joint report on the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s website.


Library strategy approved, community ideas welcome

Back on 26 July, Cabinet agreed our plans for the Library service.

The objectives of the new library strategy are to:

  • increase reading, literacy and learning opportunities for children
  • promote reading and learning opportunities for adults
  • engage with communities and offer improved community spaces, access and resources
  • provide easier access to wider world of knowledge and information.

The main highlights are –

  • spending an extra £10,000 per year on more books
  • offering longer opening hours
  • giving a better online service
  • setting up new schemes to reach those with low levels of literacy
  • making sure every building is accessible and fit for purpose
  • merging back offices with one of our neighbours.

The strategy aims to move Friern Barnet Library and North Finchley Library in to the artsdepot to create a new landmark library. Officers will now commence detailed negotiations with artsdepot trust. We also proposed working with the Garden Suburb Institute to move the Hampstead Garden Library into their premises, though we will also consider any community proposals which come forward.

Cabinet gave community groups until the 31 October to come forward with community ideas about how they can carry on running a community library facility in their areas. Libraries services wouldn’t have to be run from the same location but would need to be run at a low cost to the council.

We listened when the community said they wanted a library service based on literary and learning and we will listen to the community’s ideas for their local library services.

We will seriously consider the proposals we receive for running Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb libraries and welcome the contribution from local people. If you have a proposal please email Tom Pike, Head of Libraries. Tom is on leave for the next couple of weeks but will respond on his return.

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.

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.