Friday, November 24, 2006


Library cuts "threaten literacy"

Earlier this month I mentioned the threat to local library services. Yesterday's Hampshire Chronicle confirmed these fears. According to the Chronicle's front page story, the Conservative-run county council is looking at cutting around one-third of 80 professional librarian posts in branches and the Library Service HQ in North Walls, Winchester. As if that was not enough, the book fund could also lose £250,000 from its £2m budget.

LibDem County Cllr Peter Chegwyn, spokesman for Recreation & Heritage, said "This means fewer books and fewer qualified people to advise the public. Many librarians have given years of service to Hampshire and now, at a stroke, we will lose that expertise and knowledge. Hampshire already spends the least per head of population of any local authority in England on new library books and saw the biggest decline in book borrowing (9%) of any county last year".

I find this all very disturbing. Huge amounts of money are being spent around the county converting libraries into "Discovery Centres" and it's becoming clearer and clearer that this development is at the expense of providing the core library service. In the same week that the county council gave itself planning permission to spend £40m refurbishing its headquarters it seems content to throw to the wolves an important public service that promotes reading and literacy. I am not impressed.
I'm very concerned about what's happening to our libraries. Apparently, when the Winchester "Discovery Centre" opens we won't actually be able to telephone it directly because Hampshire Council is setting up a call centre that is costing £5 million initially, plus millions each year to run. They are also spending £40 million on tarting up the offices at the Castle for 750 employees (that's around £60,000 each!) and spending hundreds of thousands on landscaping and refurbishing the county councillors'restaurant. This is at the same time as cutting spending on books and sacking librarians.
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