Shropshire Council is being rather quiet about National Libraries Day. It issued a low profile press release two weeks ago and there are just four events running. It is perhaps not surprising that the council seems to be keeping its head below the parapet.
Shropshire Council is predicting that library budgets will be reduced by a million pounds, with a one third cut from April 2017. Hours at the six largest hub libraries will be reduced and they may be run by new providers (the hub libraries are about to be reviewed). Some of the sixteen smaller libraries are at risk of closure. It is unlikely that the mobile libraries service will survive. The workforce is to be “redesigned” – a cruel phrase probably means redundancy.
Shropshire Council’s planned budget for county libraries
Even in our digital age, reading is among the most essential skills. Yet, a recent OECD study showed that England’s young people have the lowest literacy levels of 23 countries in the developed world.
Libraries offer wide choice of reading. They support literacy and learning. They are a public statement that reading matters. They are also a social venue, a community hub and a place to access services.
We could do more with our library and the Museum Resource Centre. But we are constrained by council officers squatting in the building, taking over space that could be used for exhibitions and the community.
The problem as always is that decisions are made remotely in Shirehall by a council that doesn’t have any ambition for the future of our cultural services. Of course the spending cuts are fierce. But if you don’t have ambition, you will never realise it.
We need a council that says, “Can do, will do” when it comes to cultural services. Not the “Can’t do, won’t do” regime we have at present.