Yesterday, I posted a short video of the protests outside Hereford Shire Hall, to show what's happening with libraries on the English side of the border.
Here's what it looked like in Hay Library earlier on Monday evening:
I was sitting on the floor underneath the tree in the corner.
The meeting was called by Anita Wright, who felt strongly enough to do something when she heard about the plans of Powys County Council. She is now part of the steering group of the campaign to save the library (which may be called Friends of Hay Library, or possibly HOWL - I'm not sure yet). She'd invited a member of the Friends of Crickhowell Library to talk about what they'd been doing to save their library. They were set up well in advance of Powys County Council's plans, so they had time to plan what they could do about them. We have something like two weeks before the County Council intends to run a consultation on closing the library, one of eleven libraries around the county (which will leave Powys with six libraries).
Fiona Howard was at the meeting, from the Town Council, and she told the meeting how Hay had got together with eight other local councils to form a united opposition to the County Council. Previously, the County Council have been trying to pick the libraries off one by one.
Fiona Howard also said that the County Council want Hay Council to take over the running of the library, as they have already done with the toilets and the sports pavilion - but they need to find £18,000 a year to run it. In order to do that, Fiona said, they would have to raise the precept (Hay's portion of the Council Tax) by 44% - which is illegal.
At Crickhowell, they have been fund raising for small things for the library, and they've also been drumming up support for the library, and putting on events in the library. They've also been forging links with the local primary school and, most importantly, the secondary school, which is due to take over the running of Crickhowell library shortly, bearing 50% of the costs. They are also just about the only local library in the county which has produced a business plan, which has been accepted by the County Council.
There have been plans in Hay to move the library to the new school building - but building work hasn't started yet, and that solution to the problem is a long way off. In the meantime, it's important to keep the library open - once it closes, it's gone forever.
However, there is a legal requirement for county councils to provide a comprehensive library service, in the 1964 Public Libraries Act. However, the wording is vague, so it's open to interpretation just what a comprehensive service means in practice. In Wales, there is an extra layer of legislation on Library Standards, which can be found on the Welsh Assembly website under Libraries Making a Difference. They have plans for a library card that would work in every library in Wales, for instance, and to streamline the administration across Wales instead of duplicating effort in each county. Where library use is declining in England, in Wales library use is increasing.
But again, this is some way in the future, and consultations on the future of the libraries will begin on October 31st.
The feeling of the meeting was that a library is far more than just a room with books in it - it was emphasised that what is needed is a continuation of the library service, which means the retention of trained librarians like Jayne in Hay. It's not something that volunteers can duplicate. It was also the feeling of the meeting that cutting the hours that the library is open means that large sections of the public will be unable to access the library services - anyone who has a full time job, for instance, if the library no longer opens in the evenings. At the moment, Hay Library is well used, with over 20,000 books loaned last year.
Hay Library also has a unique connection to the Hay Festival, with the annual Library Lecture, and the Festival has raised money to support the library in the last couple of years. However, local fund raising will not be anything like enough to run the library.
For the future, the Friends of Hay Library need a vision of what the library can be - it's not enough just to defend what we have. So it would be good to have a new room built onto the library for meetings and consultations, and then local groups would be able to meet at the library (such as some of the groups who used to meet in the Swan until the new management decided they didn't want that to continue).
So the new campaigning group will be doing something like the group campaigning to save Gwernyfed School did - pointing out where the County Council are failing in their statutory duties to provide a library service, and where they are failing the Welsh Library Standards, as well as pointing out the negative effects that the closure of the library will have on the local residents - all those people who rely on the library to use a computer, for instance, as well as school children (I needed my local library as a child - there was no way my parents could have kept up with my reading habits without it). There is, in Powys, no schools library service, so Hay Library is the provision for school children in the area. And running a library with volunteers and no paid staff does not meet the Library Standards.
As Hay is on the border, some of the people who use Hay Library actually come from Herefordshire - Cusop and Clifford, for instance. About 30% of library users live in Hay, the other 70% being from surrounding villages - and those community councils need to be involved in the fight to keep the library open too.
The meeting ended with the formation of a steering group, and just about everybody at the meeting signing up to recieve emails about the progress of the campaign and what they can do to help.
The contact email is email@example.com
As soon as I know the details, I'll publicise the people in the County Council to write letters to, but Gareth Ratcliffe warned that the County Council will discount letters that are sent outside the formal consultation process, so people will think they have voiced their views, only to find they were not taken into account. He recommended keeping copies of letters and sending them again for the official consultations.