As I’ve watched the campaign against library cuts grow, I’ve been inspired by the passion of those involved. Community sit-ins in Barnet, high profile celebrity engagement online and varied use of social media. But yesterday, on a public libraries forum, a member of Westminster Libraries staff shared this open letter, written and published by colleagues addressed to their local councillors.
It is thought provoking and powerful and I hope staff working for charities in a similar position might be inspired by what they say.
To the Councillors of Westminster,
Westminster Libraries currently uses less than 1% of the council’s overall budget. We have 11 libraries, an archives service, a reference library, a music library, a home library service and the largest online database of any public library service in the UK.
We provide books, DVDs & CDs, internet access, CV building workshops, under 5s sessions, class visits, language and computer courses, community groups and workshops, and engage teenagers through projects like Fast Forward, which has taken over from the Connexions career services. We promote health, community and citizenship and provide a free space to work, socialise and study for residents and visitors.
We now have parking, council tax, Rescard, housing and OneStop services incorporated into our day-to-day duties with no additional funding as a service or as employees. In fact, we’ve provided all these services at this low cost while going through 5 years of cuts that have already closed libraries, reduced our budget and decimated our staff levels each and every year.
When employment goes down our workload goes up, and as homelessness increases and incomes plummet our footfall increases. Year-on-year we’ve risen to the challenge of providing all these services for that ever shrinking less than 1% of the council’s budget.
In 2011, Westminster Council hired two new department directors at the rate it cost to run St James’s library, which they were closing at the same time.
In that same year, Westminster councillors refused a 5% reduction to wages above £100,000 to save £3.5m because the saving would be too insignificant to justify; but library staff have been asked to bear double that cut for only 10% of that saving.
The solution to unemployment cannot be to fire people, and the solution to debt is not to cut income generating, job creating, and crime preventing services.
Not only is it a statutory requirement to provide this service, it is our moral obligation to do so. With new challenges, we need new ideas, not old mistakes; and any further cuts to our library service budget would be a drop in the ocean compared to almost any other department in a council that has often stood in the spotlight on the international stage.
We ask that this race to the bottom is brought to an end; and that Westminster council commits to investment rather than cuts so we can continue the good work that we do for the small budget we have.
The staff of Westminster Libraries