This evening (Monday 29 July 2013) the Executive of Luton Borough Council will consider the results of the recent public consultation on the future of the town’s library service and make some decisions on what shape it will take in the future.
How libraries are provided in Luton is a little bit complicated, although I believe the system works well. Luton Borough Council has a statutory obligation to provide a library service for the town and so will take a lead in determining its shape and have led on the public consultation. The majority of the funding for the libraries comes from donations provided by London Luton Airport Limited. This is of course owned by the Council — so the amount of money available is a part of the overall pot of money available to fund public services in the town. The libraries themselves are run by Luton Culture, a charity of which I am a trustee.
The Council have chosen to reduce the amount of funds they expect to be available to the library service and so all three organisations have been working out how to continue to provide that service with less. A hugely important part of that has been consulting with the public. I wrote about that consultation back in March. It was extensive and I have to say that they’ve done this very well. Sometimes “consultations” are nothing of the sort but in this case it has been a genuine public consultation with the views of the people of the town having a significant impact on the shape of the proposals.
These proposals have changed a lot since the initial discussions. But what is being recommended for approval by the Council’s Labour administration is the preferred “least worst” option of Luton Culture’s Board. I hesitate to say we support it — none of us want to support a reduction in the service we provide — but it does represent near the best we could get given the overall reduction in funding. That said some parts of the town are going to lose out, library users are going to lose some services that they value, and Luton Culture is going to have to go through the very painful process of losing staff.
I had been concerned throughout this process that, for political reasons, some bad decisions could have been made. Thankfully this doesn’t appear to have happened. Indeed, looking at the cuts to libraries in other parts of the country, I have a sense of relief that things are not worse.
The bad news is that it is proposed that Wigmore library and Sundon Park library should be closed along with ending the mobile library service. There would also be a reduction in the service provided at Lewsey library and some changes to opening hours for the other libraries across the town.
The service provided by the Central library and the home library service would be unchanged.
The future of Bury Park library is still a little uncertain as the proposal is to retain it but the Council’s Executive will be looking at the option of getting further savings by closing that also.
In an attempt to try and offset the loss of service to parts of the town it is proposed that some “library access points” are created in various community facilities. These are not libraries but they would let the public access some library services electronically and collect books that they have ordered. This is an interesting and innovative idea, but we will have to wait and see how it works out in practice.
You can read the report that is going to the Council’s Executive below and more details are on the Council’s website.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.