The news that staff at Birmingham’s libraries are proposing a new community library cooperative as an alternative to closures or handing over libraries to volunteers indicates that librarians are increasingly recognising that the only way to protect services is to take on responsibility for them.
As I continuously advocate not for profit trusts are a sensible and pragmatic way forward in the current harsh financial climate so I applaud the staff for taking this approach.
The great pity is that the building and continued funding of the new Birmingham Central Library has exacerbated the situation for the community libraries and drawn funding away from them. A similar situation also appears to be developing in Liverpool. However, it would be unfair to consider these new builds as white elephants. The fact is they are a source of great civic pride for the cities as well as providing wonderful and innovative library facilities.
The future challenge therefore seems to be to separate funding for such projects from normal library budgets so that it doesn’t create a drag on resources elsewhere within the service. Although it would be unusual to run separate funding streams for facilities within the one service – effectively creating a ‘Chinese wall’ between the two – I have no doubt it’s not beyond the creativity or imagination of chief financial offers to find a solution. After all it is not just libraries that are required to show innovation in service delivery.
I certainly admire the resolve of the library staff in making such a bold move to establish a cooperative and the Council’s apparent willingness to listen and engage with them over the scheme. Most of all I wish the staff the very best of luck in making it a reality.