Libraries - a vital part of a strong community
Stephen Robinson (Liberal Democrat, Leader of Chelmsford City Council) was asked to write for the Essex Chronicle about why libraries are vital.
Libraries that evolve to meet changing needs are a vital part of a strong community. Libraries continue to be vital sources of information, and their staff retain a crucial role in helping everyone navigate the bewildering array of information sources. Unlike Google, libraries don't set out to make a profit out of you, and they are there to serve everyone.
Sadly, under pressure from the Government to cut spending, our local libraries have suffered more and more cuts. When spending on books gets cut, fewer people go to libraries, which encourages (Conservative-run) Essex County Council to cut opening hours, meaning fewer people go to libraries. Thus we we see a downward spiral.
But libraries are not just about books. Now that every child needs access to a computer to support learning, having free access to the internet in libraries helps those children who cannot easily access the internet - perhaps because they have to share a computer or study space with other family members. Libraries are a lifeline to modern learning.
Many councils around the country have turned their libraries into thriving community hubs - with a huge range of different events going on in the buildings, meaning they are open for more, not fewer, hours. Many, if not most, of these events are run by volunteers but libraries need a core of staff to keep the system of volunteers working.
We must start from the basis that libraries are at the heart of their community, not tucked away, and should evolve what they offer. If Essex County Council closes 44 libraries, as is possible, they estimate they could save £1.36 per resident of the county. A more creative approach could save money, generate income AND protect a vital service.