Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dunchurch Public Library Meeting - What Happened Last Night?

The Village from the Sky
Dunchurch has a population of 7,589 which is (nine times smaller than Rugby). More than 100 of them were gathered in a school hall to hear the fate of their library. 

This was Public Meeting 4 (of 23). Public Meeting 3 in Bulkington produced so many private emails raising questions to County - I couldn't post on this site for a week. That's over and now I'm back. I also attended the Wolston and Lillington Roadshows to gather information - it opened up more questions than answers.

At 7pm, Councillor Robin Hazelton opened the meeting and received a petition from the local people. Councillor Colin Hayfield then talked through a few slides including how Dunchurch Library had only 1% of all Warwickshire library visits. That's true, sounds terribly small doesn't it? This 1% is 25,452 visits a year or 20 visits an hour. 

At 7.22pm, it's questions from the audience. Jeremy Wright, the local  Member of Parliament addressed the room to clarify four areas of understanding:, Pro-active suggestions and advice (where WCC will work with the people), Building and lease issues, activities in Dunchurch that may compete with the library and Professional staff to assist volunteers. These were answered by Colin Hayfield (CH) in a positive way.

I'm providing a narrative and not blow by blow minutes of the meeting. Over the next hour, there were a minimum of thirty large questions. Each large Q was often broken into many smaller ones. Here are some highlights. 

Early questions were, This does not sound like a proposal - more like telling us our library will close.  Robin Aird spoke of the statistical data versus the value a library has in a community - you cannot measure that in numbers. He has a point. Rugby (as a town and as a library) was mentioned as many local people felt Dunchurch was being unfairly penalised as it is so close to Rugby.

A gentleman (who may have been the local Reverend) made a brilliant point that some libraries areas that are not closing should help level the pain that Dunchurch and others are feeling. Which means no closure equals no effort whereas a closure (there are 16 remember) means a community will be put under terrific strain to deliver a solution.  

CH reiterated, if a building is vacant, it will be sold at a the best possible price. A gentleman on the front row (who was full of many inspired ideas) suggested building flat above the Dunchurch library, rent it out - revenue goes straight back to fund the service. CH: We can certainly look into that - it may stack up.

The 1850 Public Libraries Act was also cited by a chap standing at the back saying any amount raised goes back to a land owner. I have no idea at all, but have provided a Wikipedia link for you to investigate. Apparently, Buckinghamshire has a £10 a year scheme? (This one in West Wycombe?)

Tricia Knowles from Dunchurch Parish Council asked CH why the Business Plan Template was still unavailable. Yes Tricia, I am still waiting to see one of those and it's now Day 20 (of 84) of the Libraries Consultation.

Ideas were now flowing. Q: So we need to find £34,000 a year in a population of 7,589? CH: Yes So, why not charge each person £4.52 a year, problem solved. Another Q: Arts and Culture are easy targets, you should examples of solutions. Q: If it is £34,000 - then for WCC Libraries, that is a small amount, why don't you just find it!?

It's 8.15pm, some people are drifting away - perhaps they've seen enough. Jeremy Wright goes back to the idea of a peppercorn rent and how that will help. He stressed to CH that County should make a policy decision to be made very clear before the consultation ends (9 June).

Colin Hayfield repeated the fund of £100,000 available to help local communities set up a library. So, if all 16 libraries applied for it, that would be £6,250 each. This can be used for anything. By the way, a self serve automated booth costs £2,000 (and then costs £600-800 a year to maintain). UPDATE: WCC have confirmed (in FAQs No 11) the kiosks will cost £11,000 plus £1,300 per year to maintain (exclusive of VAT).

The Kindle and iPads were mentioned along with the Print Book versus Virtual eBook debate. Cultures are changing where electronic devices are not considered as luxuries any more. WiFi is abundant and broadband is the norm - if County can do one thing right, it will be to research the future of libraries. And if you are not sure what that is - you're looking at it right now. Chances are you are reading these words on a screen and not on paper. 8.48pm Meeting Close. 

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