Library friends deliver powerful message to council
Rose Hickman, age 9, told a packed Southampton City Council chamber on Wednesday (Nov 19) that over 37% of books taken out at Cobbett Road Library are taken out by kids. The statistic was part of a powerful presentation made by friends of the library, which has been earmarked for “disposal” or "community run initiatives".
“Literacy holds the key to life chances, and local libraries not only provide a safe and welcoming place to do homework, but also enjoyment, discovery, social activities and learning,” said retired teacher and current Cobbett Road volunteer Anneliese Walker during the address.
“When the life and magic of books are embedded in early childhood, we know it can make a real difference.”
‘No’ to undermining professionals
She said while she supported her library by volunteering on a regular basis, she had no intention of “undermining professionals” and taking the place of library staff who lose their jobs due to cutbacks, and of taking responsibility for what is an essential public service.
“I don’t possess the skills, training or qualifications,” she said.
‘Yes’ to co-operation
But she said the group was willing to co-operate with the council to find creative, effective ways of working in partnership with other groups and services.
“The choice does not have to be ‘volunteer run’ or ‘closure’”.
Friends of Cobbett Road Library Chair Kevin Lancashire
Friends of Cobbett Road Library Chair Kevin Lancashire emphasised the library's unique strategic position, which he said became a “community hub” before the term was invented, and which straddles parts of Bitterne, Peartree, Midanbury, Bitterne Park, St Denys, and “the much overlooked Bitterne Manor”.
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He said the library is especially good value for money: it’s used by people of all ages, the separate children’s library helps promote good reading practice for life, and computers provide a vital need for children. He also emphasised the value of the social contact Cobbett offers for the elderly, mentally vulnerable, families and to young and old.
More than two choices
Waiting to address the council: Kevin Lancashire, Chair Friends of Cobbett Road Library (FOCRL), Rose Hickman who’s a keen library user, and Anneliese Walker who volunteers at the library
“We have given our time, energy and commitment freely, each doing what they can and what they are comfortable with,” he said of the Friends group. “The jump from that to being a community enterprise with all that entails – basically full-time jobs for volunteers – is a quantum leap, a bridge too far, a choice but no choice.”
He called for more imaginative thinking, perhaps building partnerships with other organisations.
“This much loved library must survive! It works. You are the custodians of these assets for future generations…. As my late mum said to me: ‘there is no such word as “can’t”: where there is a will, there’s a way!’”
Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews, Cabinet Member for Resources and Leisure (Labour), said he welcomed the deputation, and that there were no plans to make any cuts in 2015/16.
Cllr Peter Baillie (Conservative, Bitterne Park ward) sought assurances that the council would pro-actively try to find creative ways to work with other partners, and take on board the value of all the activities that take place in the library, and the wellbeing that it engenders.
Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews said the council “had an open mind”, and had strengthened its resolve to work with a whole range of bodies. He said it’s publishing a questionnaire next week on its website to help assess the added value libraries bring to the city.
“I’m prepared to listen” he said.