Public meeting called in Northampton to save the future of library services

Graham Croucher speaking in front of St James Public Meeting.
Graham Croucher speaking in front of St James Public Meeting.

Library-goers are rallying together to campaign against the closure of book-lending services in Northamptonshire, claiming some people's well being will be at risk if cuts are made to their only point of contact.

The chair of St James Residents' Association, Graham Croucher is now leading the way to push for funding for libraries in Northamptonshire, following the news that 21 smaller book-lending services - including St James - could shut as a result of cash-strapped council chiefs trying to save the authority £9.6 million.

Volunteers of St James Library, Zoe Barton-Whitley with Neil Barton-Whitley.

Volunteers of St James Library, Zoe Barton-Whitley with Neil Barton-Whitley.

In the face of austerity, on Saturday (November 4), campaigners from all over Northamptonshire joined forces at a public meeting in St James Community Centre to voice their concerns about cuts to educational resources, children's groups, free internet access and a point of contact for the elderly.

Speakers urged campaigners to opt to keep libraries properly funded - as part as Option 4 - in permanent public ownership, with professionally trained staff.

'Libraries have become a multi-functional asset, they offer debt councilling, community centres and community funds'

Graham Croucher said: "Lives will be at risk because libraries have become a social service. People's lives depend on that library for many reasons.

Campaigners, Katherine Blumenthal with three-year-old, Hemming.

Campaigners, Katherine Blumenthal with three-year-old, Hemming.

"The library service will change forever, it will go forever if we let them get away with it."

'They know the price of everything and the value of nothing'

Councillor Gareth Eales, (Lab, Spencer) said: "This authority is not only bankrupt but it is morally bankrupt. This is an authority in recent times, which has spent £50 million on a glass monstrosity of a building, moving hundreds of thousands of workers from around the county into that building - meaning they have an increase in cost to travel, there is no adequate parking provision, they have frozen their pay. And this week they are proposing a day of unpaid leave on them.

"Are these people for real? They know the price for everything and the value of nothing."

Right: Author Sue Bentley spoke in support of keeping libraries open.

Right: Author Sue Bentley spoke in support of keeping libraries open.

'Libraries are the most democratic services'

Opposition leader, Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) said: "If you read what's going on in the national news now, in Northampton, over the last five years, we have had more than 10,000 children going to bed hungry because they are living in poverty.

"If you look at the national statistics, it's telling us that that number is set to double because of universal credit. Library services are our most democratic of all services because we all use them, you don't have to be a certain age, you don't have to be a certain gender, you don't have to be anything.

"All of us use our libraries and our children are going to need them more than they have ever needed them before. We have absolutely got to fight for all of us but absolutely for our children."

Speakers at the public meeting urged campaigners to donate about 3p - as it costs 3.3p per week, per person, (based on Census 2011 figures) to keep Northamptonshire library services going.

Speakers at the public meeting urged campaigners to donate about 3p - as it costs 3.3p per week, per person, (based on Census 2011 figures) to keep Northamptonshire library services going.

'An important resource for children who don't go to nursery'

Mum-of-one Katherine Blumenthal is originally from New York. She has lived in St James for eight years with her husband and more recently with her three-year-old son, Hemming.

She said: "We use it [the library] a lot for the Rhymetime and children things - since they closed the Sure Start centres a few years ago a lot of services were taken over here. Ever since my son was born we have used these activities.

"It's very important because its a great source for the mums and the kids because the mums or dads get to be around other adults. If you're taking time off work to look after children it's really great to be around other adults. But it's really great for the kids too because they meet each other and learn news songs and rhymes, which perhaps they wouldn't."

Katherine has met non-native English speakers through library activities and says it's a good resource for children.

"For example if they speak a different language at home it can be really good preparation for them to be around other kids speaking English and learning songs and reading books in English - it helps them when they start at school. I'm actually a French citizen and I'm bi-lingual, let's say if I had moved here just speaking French it would be an invaluable resource to be able to go to a library.

"When he was little I would go at least once a week sometimes twice, now it's less because he's in nursery but there are lots of kids who aren't in nursery before entering school and this is their main access to stories and reading and also interacting in a group.

"I would miss it very much, it's such an important resource for people who are retired and people who don't have internet or a computer in their house, they would come to the library to use it. They could get assistance and go online to fill in paperwork for different things and if you're not computer savvy you can't do this on your own."

'The library helps my mental health'

Ex-soldier Neil Barton-Whitley volunteers with his wife, Zoe at St James Library and has made new friends as a result of the book-lending service after living in the area for four years.

Neil, who helps people discover their family tree in St James library needs to use Central Library in Abington Street to access their archives.

"If they close this library down, I'll be stuck at home, it will not only affect the library but it will affect people because they will cut them off."

While volunteering at St James Library he has helped to run healthy eating groups as well as kids clubs over the school holidays.

He added: "I suffer from mental health problems and coming to places like this helps me concentrate on other things and takes my mind off of things. After the traumatic things we have seen [in the armed forces] we need places this."

'One Angel Square will save £51 million in the next 30 years'

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “Due to the authority’s significant funding pressures, we have no option but to consult on a proposed review of the current model for Northamptonshire libraries.

“We are committed to maintaining a library service that continues to serve the most people who borrow items and those who use the library for other services, such as computer workshops, registration services and access to borough and district council services.

“The proposals have been drawn up to take into account geographical location, deprivation indicators, patterns of usage, book borrowing and visitor numbers.

“We encourage community groups and other interested organisations to consider whether their local library is a facility they would like to take on and develop as a community space, and we will be holding two workshops later this month where groups can find out more about how a community-managed library might work in more detail.”

The spokesman added: “Our new headquarters One Angel Square is an important part of our work to meet the financial challenge and it has significantly reduced our running costs. These savings will total £51 million over the next 30 years.

“The decision to implement unpaid leave for staff excluding those on the lowest pay grades has been made reluctantly, alongside further controls on spending such as a stop on all colour printing and non-essential travel, in order to deliver a balanced budget against unprecedented demand for our services and reduced government funding.”