Last week the final consultation report about library access in South Gloucestershire was released. Its results were nothing short of jaw-dropping. Rather that addressing the concerns of the thousands of people who made their feelings known against library cuts, it doubled down on staff cuts by extending them to so-far “safe” libraries, going beyond the council-preferred “Option 2”.
To muddy the water, the report proposed introducing the Open+ card system, which would allow people 16 years and over to access the library outside of (now reduced) core hours after an induction process. This system has somehow been painted in press releases as “improving service out of hours”, and as a backing-down. It is nothing of the sort.
Open+ is a trojan horse, a mechanism that gives the illusion of addressing concerns, but with a nasty surprise. At an implementation cost quoted at £400,000, the only way this project could conceivably be approved by a council intent on cost-cutting is by providing a mechanism for further cuts down the line, and an excuse for disengaging with resident – after all “the library is open” (if you set aside safety, access and quality of service concerns).
Open+ is an enabler of further cuts, year on year, until all we have is an unstaffed room with some books and a card scanner. This scenario was completely rejected in consultation responses.
We were mortified, and yet not surprised, when the Conservative block of the council’s ECS Committee, led by Hanham Councilor Heather Goddard, voted this through this week.
This issue is not going to disappear. In Hanham, the 3,000 people who actively pushed for continued library access are not going to move out of the area. They are not going to forget that their children cannot get into the library by themselves, and that they cannot readily access librarians.
We will continue to fight for a properly staffed library service, no matter how long it takes. It took 32 years for Hanham to get a library, and we are not going to let it slip away that easily.