Libraries, again: some questions

I can’t add a lot to these pages at the moment, but it seemed important to add a little more about libraries. Council leader James Alexander mentioned the ‘social enterprise’ plan (previously mentioned on these pages) in an interview this morning with Jonathan Cowap on BBC Radio York. The libraries are mentioned from around 9:10 in this clip (link takes you to

BBC Radio York – James Alexander in the Hotseat Pt 1 (25 Jan 2013)

I’ve listened to this clip a couple of times now, and still can’t work out quite what James Alexander is saying.

After discussion about how severe the funding cuts are, and how/where money can be saved, Jon Cowap asks about the council keeping the libraries.

James Alexander: ‘we’re trying to do our best to be able to keep them but if this social enterprise doesn’t work, then we’ll have to shut them down. I mean, that’s the situation that we’re in.’

JC: ‘So if people don’t come forward and agree to help you run the libraries -’

JA: ‘Partly, I mean a lot of our services it’s going to be use it or lose it. I just want to be upfront about that, because we can’t afford to provide services that people don’t use.’

Perhaps it was just me who found this short exchange rather odd and somewhat alarming. James Alexander kind of butts in with answers before Jonathan Cowap has finished his questions, and then doesn’t answer them, but does make a couple of rather strong statements which appear not to correlate much with what I’ve picked up so far.

Jonathan Cowap is asking if volunteers are important (all the evidence in recent surveys suggests that is the case). But James Alexander’s answer appears to refer to the ‘customers’/library users: use it or lose it.

We are using them though, aren’t we? Certainly there’s no tumbleweed blowing around the central library, York Explore. And Acomb seems quite busy too, according to my mum (who’s stopped using it because it’s too busy/noisy).

The headline here of course is the ‘if this doesn’t work then we’ll have to shut them down’. When I heard this the first time it sounded like a threat: Have the social enterprise model suggested or have no libraries. I think he meant, if we try it and it doesn’t work then we can’t afford to keep the libraries. Which of course means already ‘We can’t afford the libraries’.

I really didn’t want to keep writing about this, but I have to ask:

1) Why is it all being lumped together, when clearly the city centre library/archive is well-used, branch libraries perhaps aren’t.
2) And are we not actually talking about ‘libraries and archives’ together?
3) And as libraries are seen as one of the cornerstones of a civilized society, allowing everyone access to knowledge/learning, why is the council apparently so quick to want to shed its library-providing responsibility, when it wastes so much money on so much pointless guff? I’m not going to mention the furniture for West Offices, but we seem to find a lot of money for endless consultancy fees for endless largely unrealised/unrealisable ‘visions’. I also often wonder how much we spend on titivating the place with flowerbeds and hanging baskets so the city looks nice for tourists.

And visitors are of course increasingly important. Whereas libraries are for residents. They’re where many of us learned and explored and studied. They still are. A local authority should be proud to provide them? I got the impression James Alexander didn’t have the slightest interest in libraries, from that discussion this morning. Fair enough, he’s got a lot to deal with. But what about other councillors? Labour councillors? The ones I’ve always voted for? Do they just do what they’re told, or perhaps never use libraries so they don’t care either?

We all have a vague woolly good feeling about libraries, don’t we? – but only some of use them, and it seems very few of us care what happens to them. We seem to have our minds on lower things. The clip above, where residents raised various concerns with James Alexander, contained yet another discussion regarding possible charges for green bins, as if this was the end of the world.

If we’re fortunate enough to have a garden we can surely afford a small charge to have the convenience of someone taking away green waste for composting. Here, our house, we have a garden and have never had a green bin. Amazingly we’ve managed to survive without suffocating under heaps of green waste.

Personally I’m finding it really bizarre that this essentially petty issue of green bins inspires so much heated debate when the massive changes proposed to our library system have provoked so little visible concern.

Maybe it’s because everyone knows the decision has been made already?

I wonder what our 19th century ancestors would think. They fought hard to establish libraries. I’m not an expert on the history of libraries, but I get the impression that if they’re taken out of local authority control then that’s going back to the older model, a 19th century one perhaps?

Comments welcome. I just want us all to know what’s happening, I’m not claiming to know what’s best. Just at the moment it looks like few people know or care, and this is a bit concerning if the decision is to be made in June this year.

Less about the bins, more about the books, perhaps?

Tag(s): libraries

About Lisa @YorkStories

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  1. Thankyou for bringing the possible demise of the libraries in York to my attention.. Tbh, i’m shocked that this is even on the agenda.

    You’ve motivated to contact my Councillors about this, to register my thoughts, lets hope I can have some influence……

  2. YorkStories

    Press release from :

    “We need to be fast-paced and responsive, able to innovate at speed, focussing on our business objectives.”

    I’d stopped worrying so much about the future of libraries, but am now worrying about them again, having read the above. Good luck Mallory, but I fear protests will go unheard …

  3. baffling press release… i dont want an ‘innovative’ library, i just want a library full of, you know, books, and information, knowledge….

    “Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul” – inscription over the door at the Library at Thebes

    “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”. – Cicero

    somehow, we’ve forgotton this…

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