The Hay-on-Wye Library Supporters meeting last night, in the Library, was for the people who wanted to start getting things organised into proper sub-committees.
First, the good news - funding for the Library has been retained for the coming year, thanks to a one off payment from Hay Festival to HOWLS (the money to be used as they see fit) and an agreement with Powys County Council.
But - this is only a stop gap measure. By the end of the year, HOWLS needs to have come up with a plan to keep the library on a more long term basis.
At the moment, Powys County Council is in "purdah", meaning that they will not deal with anything prior to the election on May 4th. After May 4th, the make up of the Council may have changed considerably - the Leader, Barry Thomas, is stepping down, and so is the holder of the finance portfolio. With new people in those positions, it will probably be worth approaching them to get them to re-consider the PCC policy on branch libraries. However, the fact remains, as Kirsty Williams pointed out, that the Council still has no money, and has to cut something to balance the books.
Some libraries have already come to a compromise agreement with the Council - as Kirsty Williams said, each community is different, and different solutions can work for them. Asked how this would affect a county wide policy on libraries, she said that she thought it could still work well, even with different ways of working in different libraries. Llanwrtyd Wells, for instance, has gone for a mostly volunteer model, with some professional help.
What Hay needs is a solution which works for Hay.
One problem is that it is very difficult to get firm figures from the Council showing exactly how much it costs to run the building. So far, they've given four different answers. Kirsty Williams said that she would look into it, and see if she could pin them down on a definitive answer. Without proper figures, it's very hard to work out a budget!
Another problem is that Hay Library serves surrounding communities as well as Hay residents - and as Hay is on the border, some of those communities are in Herefordshire, so they have no democratic say in what Powys does. However, on the Powys side of the border, HOWLS are encouraging people in Llanigon and Glasbury and other local villages to talk to their candidates about the importance of libraries.
At the moment, HOWLS are in the process of opening a bank account ("if you can find a bank that's still open" was the comment from the audience). One possibility here is that Nat West have been talking about having a community banker in Hay once a week when their branch closes down, and they need an office to work out of. It could be possible for them to work out of the library, which would give the library income from renting them the space.
Rev Charlesworth said that a great help in the fight to keep Gwernyfed School open was the existance of Estyn, the schools body, which was on the side of the campaigners. There is no equivalent for libraries, and though there is the Libraries Act and Welsh Assembly standards, it is difficult to hold County Councils to those standards.
One possibility is to make the argument that libraries are useful across other parts of the Council budget - as Jayne said, libraries are the secret social service. They provide a place for social interaction for people who are isolated, such as the elderly or parents with young children, for free. One argument to make could be that closing the Library would cost the Council more than keeping it open, because of these hidden benefits of social cohesion and helping with problems of isolation, as well as other advice that can be gained at the library. There's a good argument to be made for involving health visitors in local libraries, for instance. The first two years of a child's life are extremely important for the long term outcomes for the child, and the library is a good place to see toddlers as they are brought in for their first picture books. It was emphasised that this is not a case of poor people not knowing how to be good parents - professional women who have their first baby can find it's a culture shock as well (as my sister discovered when she had her first child).
Kirsty Williams pointed out the similarities with the Day Care Centres that she has been trying to keep open - the Council had not considered the cost of closing them due to people who were being supported by the Day Care Centres then needing residential care, or the impact on the carers who also needed their needs to be taken into account.
This weekend is the 40th Anniversary of Hay Independence Celebrations, and there was some discussion of HOWLS marching in the parade - though they have left it a little late to make a banner and wolf masks!
The meeting then broke up into different small groups, and I found myself with the Publicity sub-committee. We successfully devised a slogan for the on-going campaign: Giving Hay Library a Future, and decided that we would wait until after the Independence Celebrations to issue a press release about the library funding for the coming year.
And on the way home, still chatting, we thought of an event we could hold in the future. Ian Finlayson was planning to have a Soapbox for anyone to give speeches from for the Independence Celebrations (borrowing the Kilvert's Soapbox for the occasion) but decided against it, because so many other things will be going on (mostly Circus-related) in the square. However, the Soapbox would be very useful for a group of people to do readings from library books, and it would be very simple to organise....