Dear Clyde, Geraldine and Keith,
(cc – all LBWF councillors, Waltham Forest Guardian, Neil Gerrard MP, Stella Creasy (prospective MP)
We are aware the budget for next year is being finalised and will shortly be voted on, and we would ask you to give the following suggestion serious consideration. It’s not too late!
According the council’s own figures (drawn from last years budget and an earlier Best Value report) re-opening St James St library would cost in the region of £100k all in – (£70k running costs and £30k to get it spruced up). On the issue of disability access – please note this is not a barrier to re-opening, as it was already fully accessible (to today’s standards) in the public areas. On this, we have been advised by the expert who conducted the original disability access assessment in 1999. In fact, the council has also admitted that it failed to meet its legal obligation to carry out a pre-closure disability impact asssement, which would in fact have shown barriers to closure (eg the loss of the only disabled toilet in the area), not barriers to keeping open/re-opening.
We know that Waltham Forest voters are shocked by the linked issues of the sudden closure of St James, the overall mismanagement of libraries and the refurbishment programme in recent years, and the scandalous and politically resonant destruction / loss of nearly a quarter of a million books (60% of the borough’s book stock). It simply makes no sense, that the council pleads poverty and yet can be so utterly careless and destructive of the precious resources we have paid for, and that it can waste such huge sums of money on ineffective and overpriced managers, consultants, computer systems, and ‘refurbishments’ of libraries. Until we get our desperately needed, much loved library back, the St James Library Campaign will have no choice but to make sure library issues remain at the forefront of local concerns. There is more support & suggestions coming to the Campaign all the time. People are beginning to ask serious questions about how the library debacle links to wider questions about the council’s overall financial and democratic efficiency, accountability and probity.
All the major parties, and all who voted for last year’s budget, are currently identified as being behind the library cuts, culls and closures, and we are losing count of the number of people & groups that are talking about coming together to put up independent candidates in forthcoming elections. Something quite dramatic (like re-opening St James St library!!) is needed to begin to turn around this deficit of trust in the current administration.
Councillors have told us that at last year’s budget votes, they were told that the decision to close St James St library “had already been taken”. The Campaign has been told this, too, but we believe it is untrue, and it contradicts statements the council has made elsewhere, including to the local MP. We have both asked the Leader of the Council for a copy of such a minuted decision, and trawled the minutes ourselves back to 2002, and no such minuted decision has been found. The only time it was properly discussed, the minutes merely stated ‘difficult decisions remained to be taken’.
We are also disappointed that the council had neglected to calculate that, on value for money per visit/issue, St James Library performed extremely well (in the top half on both measures) compared to other libraries. (We are happy to provide this information if it is useful). Clearly, this bodes extremely ill for other local libraries, unless St James is re-opened.
In the past all political parties defended the network of public libraries. We hope all LBWF councillors will want to be remembered as defenders of our precious library heritage that was built up over generations, and not the converse. People need libraries, and libraries need books (and trained librarians). This is particularly critical for the academic success of children growing up in low income families, who need the quiet space and wide range of books that St James St provided (and Central simply does not). As the piece in “The Independent” (1/12/07), highlighting the LBWF library situation, points out, this issue is closely related to the growing debate about declining educational standards. Computers in libraries are great, but no replacement for books – there is plenty of academic evidence that people take in information 20% better or more, off a printed page, than off a computer screen. We believe the level of outcry shows the love that people have for books and libraries and we hope that our councillors understand and share this feeling.
It is not good enough for the council to say, as it has done, ‘the situation is just as bad in other boroughs’. Even if this were true, it cuts little ice with people who pay our taxes, use services, live and vote in this one! The St James St Library Campaign has now collected over 2000 signatures, and on our website you can see the many quotes on how people feel about the library closure and the overall library situation. We continue to hold a growing programme of extremely well attended public meetings and events, as well as currently considering a wide range of other options for redress, publicity and scrutiny open to us.
The St James St Library Campaign looks forward to the day when we can re-form as a ‘friends’ group and develop a productive and fruitful working relationship with the council, supporting a rich programme of activities at St James St library. But this can only come about once revenue funding for it’s reopening is allocated in the council’s budget.
Therefore, we urge the you, the councillors to take a bold and courageous decision to re-open St James St library, and show the people of this borough that our voices, aspirations and needs, are, sometimes, listened to by their councillors!
Yours in hope,
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