The Isle of Wight is the setting for some of my crime novels and the council's 'community libraries' plans on the IOW concern me greatly
IOW council said libraries in Bembridge, Brighstone, East Cowes, Niton and Shanklin will be run from buildings leased by the council at preferential rates, with free access to the council's library book stock and with broadband technology. Who is going to make decisions on which new books and other reference material to buy and when? Is this going to be centralised? Who is going to manage the library budget? Are the volunteers actually going to be given one? Who is going to monitor the demands from the public and adapt and provide the services they require? Who is going to be in charge of the community libraries? Is there going to be one paid professional running it and the rest are volunteers? Who is going to organise author visits and other community events? And who is going to manage them? Volunteers? That's a pretty tall order.
The council said the new arrangements will save around £500,000 a year. Ian Anderson, the council's director for community wellbeing and social care, said: "We are delighted that residents will still be able to access local libraries across the island, but at a lesser cost to the council taxpayers. These new libraries will be able to represent their local communities and will offer residents opportunities to use the sites in exciting new ways." Anderson praised the "tremendous enthusiasm and dedication" displayed by communities across the island. Yes, they are desperate not to lose their libraries, Mr Anderson.
However local cuts campaigner Mike Starke said: "My personal view is that if the libraries are to be staffed with volunteers, it's a cut by any other name. There are many other things that the council could cut, such as exorbitant wages for senior officials and consultants, long before anyone thinks of cutting vital services like libraries."
Starke added that it "seems to be the most vulnerable people who are suffering", and pointed to the irony of handing Niton library over to volunteers, when it was just "a stone's throw" from the burial place of Edward Edwards, a 19th-century pioneer of the public library service. How ironic!