The revised Libraries Strategy accepted by Cabinet on 13 July makes no mention of the Mobile Library Service. When I asked what was to become of it I got the following reply:
"In the proposed strategy the mobile library would be discontinued and resource would be provided to support the expansion of the home library service if appropriate.
The large majority of mobile library users come from the urban areas of town and will fall within the 2 mile radius of one of the 4 libraries in the core service. During the consultation we will be specifically targeting the mobile library users in the more rural areas by running specific consultation events and speaking to the local parish councils. The potential result of the proposed strategy does not necessarily mean that communities served by the mobile library will be left without any library provision. Communities will be encouraged to look at what local provision they may want and there will be a ‘menu’ of different options that the council could provide to local communities along with support and funding. We would like to work closely with ward councillors to develop these potential solutions."
Swindon Borough Council has a statutory duty “to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof”. All persons, not just those who live in town and are able to access a library two miles away. In Old Town the mobile library stops at Woodspring Court, Blackman Gardens, Henrietta Court and Beatty Court. The elderly residents are unlikely to be car drivers and many could not get to a bus stop, or wait there in the cold, or negotiate the road crossings down in town, but they still have a right to a library service. The Libraries Strategy is hugely discriminatory.
People living in the villages are also entitled to a library service. The mobile library gives users access to all Swindon libraries' stock, via the computerised catalogue and the request service. Ever since Chiseldon lost its library in 2004, the mobile library has been stopping there twice a week. Since 2014 Chiseldon has also had a “library collection”, housed in the parish office, which you can visit on Monday afternoons and Wednesdays. In other words, it already has the sort of “local provision” which the Conservative administration has in mind as a replacement for our professional library service. As SBC has so far continued to send the mobile library to Chiseldon, I assume that SBC realises that the “library collection” does not form part of the statutory obligation and is no substitute for the mobile library.
The bus also stops in Bishopstone, where I found it parked outside the village hall one day in July. The doors of the village hall were open and people were making tea inside. An elderly lady was making her way to the bus to change her books. She said “really it’s the only thing in the village now for people of our age group”.
A word about the Home Library Service. This is a voluntary service which delivers books to the housebound. It is a charity which relies on the magical pool of volunteers who are supposed to keep society going in future. It is no substitute for the mobile library service and of course cannot contribute to the statutory library service.
The elderly and the disabled are easy targets for cuts to services. Some areas (Highworth and Chiseldon, for example) are facing a reduced bus service, the future of Dial-a-Ride is uncertain, and now the mobile library service is set to close. The result of these short-sighted policies will be increasing isolation for many people and more work for the health and social services.
There is to be a public consultation on the libraries strategy in August and September so please make your views known. Visit your local library or swindon.gov.uk/librariesfuture to find out about the consultation.