Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Guest Post by Emma Balch - Hay Library

This is the first guest post I've ever had - and Emma is far more coherent in her thoughts about the plans for the Library than I am!

Some thoughts following the public consultation about Hay Library last week.

It was a good meeting, although I thought it was disappointing that various key people and groups in Hay were not represented. Perhaps they sent apologies. A lot of sense was spoken by those who did attend, and I hope the Powys CC representatives can take those views and ideas on board, given that they are asking the community to practically and financially support the library service.

In no particular order:

* I'm not sure about a 'friends' group, or at least one called that. One of the unique things about a library is that it is for everyone and as soon as there is a group who are the 'friends', what does it say about everyone else? They're not a friend of the library because they're not on the committee, or they don't give money, or they don't agree with having to pay to put up a poster in the public library etc. I would argue that if a group is formed it is not called the 'friends'.

* There are of course many people who believe public services should not be funded by the community or private enterprise. As I said in the meeting, I think there would be resistance to putting Powys' pocket, especially when they're threatening to close the local high school. (I appreciate the funds come from different pots, but there is a general perception that Powys can't be trusted because of the situation with schools and failure to deliver on promises.)

* It struck me there were two key issues raised at the meeting:

1) publicity/awareness of what the library offers/could offer (to the local community and to tourists)

2) costcutting/fundraising

* In light of the previous point, I do think it is fair to ask the local community and library users to help with publicity and awareness-raising. There is a lot of goodwill on this point and so many of us are grateful for the role that libraries played in our childhood and today. There are services on offer that many people don't know about, and opportunities that people in the community would grab and run with if they knew they were there. The local government services can't be expected to do everything, and if we value a service - private or public - we should support it and encourage others to do the same. There are changes that people would like to see, and those voices should be heard, and perhaps there are simple ways to make them happen. So I think as a community we could certainly get together to give more profile to the library, its services and resources and the brilliant staff at Hay Library. Jayne and her team are unofficial social workers, supporter the community in whole range of ways in addition to lending books.

* The costcutting/fundraising side of it is more tricky. As a relative newcomer to Hay (arrived 2011) I am amazed at how many times the community is asked to give to a whole range of groups, causes and public services - and how political and tribal these groups become. There is something wonderful about the library that is outside of that. By stepping in the library you are not aligning yourself with specific people or a group within Hay - anyone can go there. Nobody expects you to donate or pay for your time there, you can stay for a minute or as long as it is open, you can be loud or quiet, nobody 'owns' it more than you do. Jayne and her team treat everyone equally and they're the ones who are in each day, so they know everyone's name.
I think as soon as their is a group assigned to fundraising it creates another tier and it would be so sad to create those divisions in a space that is so blissfully free of it.

* So, the Hay Festival funding is great [for the last couple of years they have generously given £7k to Hay Library which supports one of the staff posts]. The Hay Festival receives plenty of grants and public funding, so that makes sense, to support the library in their own community.
Are there other organisations like Hay Festival who could support the library e.g. by paying for staff time for say one day a week to run events, or drop-ins, or a workshop in part of the library, with the library staff time and opening/running costs during that time covered as part of the funding, but offering a specific new service, with the rest of the library open to the general public. In this case it would be an independent project that is using the library as a venue, but in doing so pays for the library to be open to the community at that time.

* It would be useful to see a breakdown of the costs for running Hay Library and the list of things that will be cut if the £18k is not found. What if £14k is raised - what will be saved, what will be kept? I think there is great value in community fundraising efforts, because it brings people on board and make it a joint effort to support OUR library, but there are big costs that perhaps could be funded by other ways that not only provide finances but really contribute to the service that libraries provide. (I felt that was lost a little in the meeting - the value and purpose of libraries and why they are important.)

* Last Thursday I was in Ledbury and I had a good look around the Master's House. This beautiful heritage building houses the council offices and the library services. The renovation was lottery funded and it is an interesting, tasteful and welcoming public space. Could the plans at Hay Castle be adapted to accommodate the Powys CC library service within the castle grounds? I have no idea if it is possible, but it would certainly be a wonderful way to meet a genuine community need AND bring together books+libraries+castles as places of refuge in a physical space in the centre of Hay.

* I agree with the point that Oliver [Balch] made at the library consultation meeting that Hay is in a unique position that could definitely be drawn upon. It is the library in the town of books. It is great for PR, for marketing as part of the town of books. The library could be the hub for potential projects, for providing a cross-generational, public space where anyone is welcome to be part of the town of books and make it their own. You don't need to own a bookshop, or a castle, or even a book to be part of the town of books - you can borrow one from our fabulous library free of charge!

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