Our response to the Library Consultation Report

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).

Source: @tryangulation on Flickr

Open+; Source: @tryangulation on Flickr

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.

When are our libraries used?

To help inform the second part of the library consultation, we have generated a series of heatmaps around library usage in South Gloucestershire to identify ebbs and flows in book borrowing. The aim of this was to add to the discussion around the question “if cuts were made, are there any times where that would cause minimal disruption?”.

The heatmaps are based on book borrowing data from the period of March 2015 – March 2016, and are broken down into two types:

  • usage by hour – the total books borrowed over the course of the year are mapped to the day of the week and hour. Colours range from yellow to blue by the number of books borrowed.
  • usage by day – the books borrowed are mapped to the day of the year, allowing general month-by-month trends to be visible. Colours range from yellow to red by quantile – “considering usage across days, which 10% of the distribution did this day fit into?”

In addition, we have added these charts to the library pages, so that readers can examine their specific library, such as that for Hanham.

What we found through this was that in general, library usage is pretty constant throughout the year, with very heavy use during the summer holidays. There is not much in the way of scope for cutbacks without a considerable service interruption.

Looking at the service through this lens of book borrowing runs the risk of distorting the value of low periods:

  • people may come into the library at quieter times to study
  • librarians may use quieter times to prepare for school groups etc.

Optimising a service to run at maximum capacity, reduces its ability to adapt to changing demands. Consider the analogy of a busy airport that has to cancel flights at the first sign of snow because 5 minute delays cause backlog in the entire flight schedule for the day. A bit of slack is good.

Mapping South Glos Library Impact

As part of our response to the South Gloucestershire Library Consultation we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council to get access to the previous 12 months’ worth of book borrowing data, in order to perform our own analysis and see whether we could see any trends that might help to inform the conversation. From this information we were able to generate maps of how the libraries in South Gloucershire are used that allowed us to visually display the impact of the proposed cuts to the library service.

This information that we requested contained one record for every time a book was borrowed:

  • the library
  • the date and time
  • the postcode associated with the card that borrowed the book

This information was deliberately selected to avoid identifying any individual users. We were well aware that the numbers only showed a percentage of actual library usage, as they only focused on book borrowing as opposed to the various activities, internet use and outreach activities that our libraries provide. What we were interested in however, was general trends, and felt that the borrowing data would provide us with an adequate “proxy” value for usage.

We cross-referenced this information against a publicly available web service to obtain GPS coordinates, as well as the associated parishes, wards, and constituencies.

What we found was that libraries are an extremely local service. On average 50% of the users of any individual library traveled no more than 2.4km or 1.5 miles. Beyond this, library usage thins out considerably. This applied regardless of whether or not there were alternatives available. This makes intuitive sense – the further people have to travel to use a service, the less likely they are to use it.

Where there were no libraries in the immediate area, the mobile library filled the gaps. This facility services rural areas as well as a small minority of postcodes within reach of another library – we can only guess that the people who used a mobile library in preference did so because of reduced mobility.

We were then able to turn the data on its head in order to work out how individual areas were affected. As applies to Hanham Library, we found that both Hanham Parish, and Hanham Abbots Parish would be massively affected – with 94% and 86% of library users in those areas respectively using Hanham Library, and being outside of the 50% distance to the next-closest “safe library”, Kingswood. We presented this information to both Parish councils at their meetings last week, and were told that both would be rejecting the options as proposed, and working as interested parties with South Gloucestershire council to work out a 4th option that would ensure a conituity of the service at a decent level.

In terms of areas most affected, we found the following parishes made up the top 20 that would be most disadvantaged by the proposed changes as presented by the 3 options presented in the consultation document:

Parish Library % Used
Hanham Hanham 93.7
Filton Filton 86.7
Hanham Abbots Hanham 85.7
Mangotsfield Rural Emersons Green 73.5
Downend and Bromley Heath Downend 65.8
Winterbourne Winterbourne 64.4
Oldland Cadbury Heath 53.9
Marshfield Mobile 45.8
Tortworth Mobile 44.1
Bitton Cadbury Heath 42.5
Dyrham and Hinton Emersons Green 42.4
Acton Turville Mobile 41.9
Pucklechurch Emersons Green 41.6
Cromhall Mobile 41.1
Sodbury Chipping Sodbury 40.2
Doynton Mobile 39
Pilning and Severn Beach Mobile 36.3
Badminton Mobile 32.5
Doynton Emersons Green 31.6
Siston Emersons Green 30.1

This makes intuitive sense when you look at the mapping of the plans. The areas in South Gloucestershire that stand to lose out the most lie within the ring road (A4174), or are rural areas.

The full set of maps are available on this site by going to the top-level menu, and selecting Library Usage. Maps are accessible via the drop-down for all of the libraries in South Gloucestershire.

We will be continuing our analysis of the data to determine trends in usage over time for all libraries, in the hope that we can show ebbs and flows for each library over the course of the year, and for each week. Our initial impressions are that this might be a promising way forward, and hope to feed this into the next phase of the consultation.

A picture tells a thousand words

Today is the first day of our project mapping the impact of library closures in South Gloucestershire. The aim of this is to clearly highlight the impact of the proposed cuts in a way that consultation documents full of tables cannot.

Over the next weeks we will be releasing a fully interactive set of maps based on a full year of library borrowing data requested under Freedom of Information to highlight the impact of library cuts at the level of wards, constituencies and parishes. We hope that this will lead to a clear conversation with our elected representatives at all levels of government during the consultation.

To whet your appetites, here is a non-interactive view of the libraries that are currently under threat of full or partial closure, excluding the Mobile Library.

Libraries under threat marked in yellow.

Libraries under threat marked in yellow.

As can be seen clearly, a huge area of central South Gloucestershire is going to be severely disadvantaged. We are looking forward to releasing the full set of maps with our analysis in the coming weeks.

World Book Day Party

On Saturday the 5th of March we ran a World Book Day / Save Hanham Library party at the Hanham Community Center. Over 200 people of all ages turned up to show their support and join in the fun with a bake sale, face painting, high wire walking, and balloons. It was a brilliant event, and a strong showing of solidarity behind saving our library.

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Initial thoughts on Library Consultation

A lot of people have begun to respond to the South Gloucestershire Council Consultation on Libraries. As a community group that is external both to the libraries themselves as well as the council, we wanted to write down some of our thoughts on, and interpretation of the consultation document. This will be the first of our articles on the situation, breaking the situation down on point-by-point basis.

The headline cost of cuts to the South Gloucestershire libraries is £650,000 out of a budget of £2,600,000. That’s a reduction of around 20% by October 2017. This may be the complete set of cuts, but it is impossible to say anything about the following years, so it may merely be the first wave in “ongoing savings”.

The document defines a set of “Delivery Models” that a cut-down library service could operate under. We will break these down in the near future.

The Council has taken a look at all of these models, and come up with 3 Options. These were intended as ideas only, and not a case of “pick one of these”.

  1. “Close high-cost services / low use services and those close to existing main libraries and reduce other opening hours with a local opportunity to reduce impact” – Mobile library and Chipping Sodbury close, cut hours in remaining libraries, money spent on materials (books, newspapers, etc.) down 20%, start using volunteers – £500,000
  2. “As per option 1 with the provision of minimum staffing in satellite libraries with an opportunity to reduce the impact through external funding and the use of volunteers.” Satellite libraries staffed and operated by the Council for 18 hours per week, local groups to operate part of libraries – £630,000
  3. “Close all libraries except identified main libraries” – only Kingswood, Yate, Patchway, Thornbury and Bradley Stoke left; self-explanatory – £1,000,000

The Council have already expressed that Option 2 is their preference; i.e. what they want to run with. This is not a surprise, since Option 1 undershoots the budget, and Option 3 overshoots it. So really, there is only one Option on offer. This Option is widely unpopular, as it relegates Hanham to a “2nd Division” library that would not be able to provide many of the events and services it currently offers.

To put this Option in perspective – 18 hours would mean that the library would only be run professionally for 2 days a week, as opposed to 5 days at present. The talk of volunteers glosses over the difficulties of finding people to regularly step in to support employees without some form of compensation.

The cost of staffing Hanham Library for longer periods are later calculated in supporting documentation as £2,835 for each additional hour over the course of a year. Given an Option 2 scenario, the shortfall in annual funding required to keep Hanham Library open for the current 41.5 hours is £66,622.50, and as such Hanham Library cuts only make up 0.3% of the total amount to be saved each year by South Gloucestershire council to meet its current £22,000,000 per annum target.

The current population of the Hanham electoral ward, comprising Hanham Parish and Hanham Abbots Parish was 10,311 at the 2011 census. So the headline cost of keeping the library open for local residents is £6.50 per person per annum.

It is our understanding that Hanham Parish Council and Hanham Abbots Parish Council are voting on which of these Options to endorse at meetings today (1 March 2016) and tomorrow (2 March 2016). We think this is premature, given that the consultation only began last week and runs until 13 May. We are currently working through the remaining documentation to break down the other models proposed, with a view to presenting a viable Option 4. We hope that all 3 councils will work with us towards this in good faith.

Why we are fighting for our library

Our library is far more than just a place to borrow a book. Here’s what just a few of us are saying.

Want to help us? Post a 7 second video on Vine completing the sentence “I love Hanham Library because…”, and add the hashtags #loveMyLibrary and #hanhamLibrary. Be sure to let us know via our Twitter account – @saveHanhamLib!

Hanham Library; 32 years to build

Thanks to the Hanham Local History Society we have been able to access original source documents about the construction of Hanham Library. The initial push for the set up of a library in Hanham happened soon after the Second World War, in 1948. However, it was not until 1976, after many setbacks, that Avon Council agreed to spend £280,000 (£2,122,400 in 2016 money; source) to build a library and youth centre – an outcome that was, at the time, called a “momentous achievement”. In doing so it replaced the old Samuel White’s Primary School buildings which were a dangerous, derelict eyesore.

One of the main drivers at the time was from elderly groups who complained of not having a freely available place to socialise; the Hanham Folk Centre (now Hanham Community Centre) had been around for many years but the structured, fee paying and limited nature of the activities precluded it as an option for the majority. It was not until 1980 that the library and youth centre complex opened.

Now in 2016, only 36 years later, we find ourselves facing a situation where a meeting place for the elderly, new mums, young children, teenagers and people with learning difficulties; a job searching resource for the unemployed; a place for reading and occasional work is facing the prospect of closing. If not prevented, it will likely meet the same fate as the youth centre next door – handed off to volunteers with council support, and then having that same support removed in the next round of budget contractions – its future uncertain. The worst case scenario is that we are left with the same situation as in 1976, a complex of empty buildings on the high street, acting not only as an eyesore but a deterrent to the development of the area; and the alienation of a large number of people who see it as more than merely a place to access a book, but a place where they can fully participate in the community.

This is why we must not let Hanham Library slowly get whittled away from us, in the interest of short-sighted savings. Once gone, it is highly unlikely that we will ever get it back.

Council consultation process

On Monday, South Gloucestershire Council opened their community consultation process around the reduction in funding of the local library services. The initial consultation period runs until 13 May 2016, when a dialogue with communities and groups on options will start. We encourage you to go through the initial Consultation Document, which at 8 pages is a fairly quick read.

As a group, we intend to work on multiple fronts around the libraries issue, of which this consultation is only one part – not just for the sake of Hanham Library, but for all affected services in South Gloucestershire. Library funding cannot be a zero-sum game, with funds gravitating towards the largest areas at the expense of rural districts. It is our intent to work out a strategy involving parish and county council, as well as our local MP, Mr Chris Skidmore, all of whom we intend to be in regular contact with.

South Gloucestershire Council; Libraries, Green Bins and Gruffalos

Last Wednesday, the 17th of February, our group headed off to the soon-to-be-closed Kingswood Civic Centre to voice our disapproval to the planned £640,000 in cuts to South Gloucestershire library services. Hanham Library is one of three major services in the area in line for “scaling back” – library services at Chipping Sodbury as well as the Mobile Library are planned to be closed altogether.

Cold people in good spirits.

Cold people in good spirits.

Spirits were as high as they could be outside on a wet, freezing evening when we would rather have been inside not worried about our library services, but as we were joined by a Gruffalo and a TV crew from Made In Bristol things were not all bad.

Who doesn't like a Gruffalo?

Who doesn’t like a Gruffalo?

The meeting was scheduled to discuss the budget for the next year, and although the library cuts were not on the agenda, we wanted to ensure that our concerns were heard prior to the start of the consultation process that has now started. Joe Unwin had an opportunity to speak before the council as did Robin Champion.

Later on in the meeting Staple Hill Councillor Ian Boulton presented a motion for a proposed discount of £6 per-household per-year (50p a month) to garden waste bins to be redirected towards protecting library services. The net cost of this measure to the Council budget is £230,000 and is funded from a Local Government Finance Settlement. The proposal was voted down by a group of Councillors including all three Hanham representatives – Heather Goddard, John Goddard, and June Bamford.

We are disappointed that on this occasion Councillors made the choice to act against the interests of the community they were elected to represent, and to close libraries so as to save each household with a green bin 50p per month.

We are especially disappointed at the token nature of this, in light of Council voting at the same meeting to increase rates for every household by 3.99% – an increase of £50 per year for a Band D property.

Members of our group got in touch with the Hanham Councillors individually, for a clarification of their decision to oppose a redirection of the proposed green bin discount towards library budgets. We received in response the same form letters (emphasis ours):

Thank you for your e mail about our budget, For the record we have not spent £1.8 million on taking £6 off the Green bin charge [our mistake].
The measure cost £230K and formed part of the Conservative manifesto last year. We were elected by a large number of our electorate who disagreed with the charge, and as such addressing the charge is part of our democratic mandate.

The bulk of the “extra money” given to us in the improved financial settlement has been put towards reducing our future deficit making our frontline services more sustainable for the future. Last night the other parties did not put forward any long term sustainable plan for safeguarding those services, they simply took the surplus in our budget for the next two years and frittered it, which I do not feel is the right move and is why I did not support them last evening.

However, Thank you for your views.

I understand that you wish to know how to access our consultation on Libraries which starts on Monday [22 February 2016]. Go to South Gloucestershire Council website and press “Tell us what you think” which will take you to a box entitled Consultations. The library consultation[link added] will not appear before Monday but will be open for 12 weeks, or if you prefer hard copies will be available in the Library. Please do take the time to express your views and comments.

We hope that Councillors appreciate the irony of directing us towards the library to access consultation documents about the partial closing of the same library.

While sticking by your pre-election promises is an attribute that is to be applauded in any democratic representative, far more valuable is flexiblity in the face of changing priorities within your electorate. Especially when they concern the protection of services that that same electorate considers indispensable.