Objection to proposed changes at Dover Library

Dover Discovery Centre  Market Square within which is the Dover Public Library. Alan Sencicle

Dover Discovery Centre Market Square within which is the Dover Public Library. Alan Sencicle

Over the last decade, we have seen the Dover library service, situated in the Dover Discovery Centre –  Market Square,  run down with the closure of the separate Children’s library, the demise of the Reference library and the reduction of books and materials available in the Local Studies library. Now we are being asked to condone a further reduction in the library services in Dover and District (hereafter referred to as Dover) by accepting Kent County Council’s (KCC)  preferred frugality measure of putting Dover Library services in the hands of a Charitable Trust. This, we are told, will be supported for an undisclosed time period with a token grant from KCC. In other words, the Consultative Document is asking the Dover Council taxpayers to accept the slow privatisation of the Dover Library Services by the Voluntary sector.

For the reasons stated below, the Dover Society find the proposal, as outlined in the Consultative Document: www.kent.gov.uk/lraconsultation, totally unacceptable.

1. One of the authors of this submission is a qualified economist with many years of teaching the subject at the University of Kent. She points out that notwithstanding that the Library Service is a Statutory obligation on KCC, the proposal put forward is totally inefficient within the definition of Efficiency. It is evident from reading the KCC document that its authors are familiar with the term, as they use it liberally. However, for clarification purposes, the Economic definition of Pareto Efficiency on which Social Capitalism is based, is the situation ‘where it is impossible to make one set of people better off without making another set worse off’.

TThe new £12 million Maidstone Library and Archive Centre approximately 45miles from Dover. Kent County Council

The new £12 million Maidstone Library and Archive Centre approximately 45miles from Dover. Kent County Council

2. If the remit of the Consultative Document is accepted, then by the above definition it is totally inefficient. KCC have made the people of Maidstone and District better off by providing them, to quote the Consultative Document, with integrated ‘library, registration and archive services, the introduction of self-service technology, and combining the Maidstone Library with the County Archive Centre to create the Kent History & Library Centre.’ While making the folk of Dover and District worse off by asking us to accept a service that is far worse than the service Dover ratepayers provided for ourselves prior to KCC taking over in 1974!

3. The new Library and Archive Centre in Maidstone opened on 23 April 2012 and cost the council taxpayers of all of Kent, including those of Dover, £12 million to build, not counting fittings. Not only have the hard working folk of Dover paid for this facility, which is not easy to access from Dover (see paragraph 12 below), but also within the 40,000 books plus other material housed there, are books and documents specifically appertaining to Dover. Further, much of this material was, not long ago, housed within Dover library and therefore accessible by locals. Therefore, on the point of ‘efficiency‘ the Consultative Document proposal fails to have credence.

4. The Consultative Document also lacks transparency. In other words, it fails to give the full facts, first by not explaining KCC responsibilities within the law and second by totally ignoring the Government’s Sieghart Report of December 2014.

5. Legally, the Consultative Document is obliged to make reference to the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964, and does, but then goes on to say that the preferred option is that an independent charitable trust is set up to run Kents Library, Registration and Archive service.’ The Law states that Councils have to abide by the Act as it makes the Public Library services a statutory duty for Local Authorities.

To comply with the Act, KCC must:

  • Provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for ALL persons in the area that want to make use of it.
  • Lend books and other printed material free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area.

The Government superintends KCC’s role in its duty to oversee and promote the public library service. Thus, the Government and/or we council taxpayers can take legal action where a local authority fails to perform its duties. The KCC Consultative Document, if accepted, will be taking the second step in circumventing those Statutory duties.

6. At Maidstone, the County town and headquarters of KCC, the present Library, according to the Council’s website: ‘houses around 14 kilometres of historic material relating to Kent dating back to 699 AD and is the place to come for anyone interested in local history.’ The main library for the Maidstone area is also within the same building and offers:

  • access to Kent’s archives and local history under one roof
  • a state-of-the-art public search room for consulting original documents, older books and local studies material
  • superb photocopying and photography facilities
  • free access to history websites – including Ancestry and Find my Past
  • a bookable meeting room
  • a multi-use space used for history workshops, talks and exhibitions
  • advice from experts in reading old handwriting (palaeography), Latin, locating sources, research topics, conserving books and documents
  • courses on reading old handwriting, family and local history – ask staff for details
  • Exciting programmes of exhibitions and talks.

The children’s library hosts regular story time, baby bounce and rhyme sessions.

The present Dover Library children's section

The present Dover Library children’s section

7. Dover is the most populous town within Dover District Council’s area and five of Dover’s wards are in the bottom 20% of most income-deprived areas in the county. Out of the list above (paragraph 6), Dover’s main library contains:

  • one photocopy machine
  • Approximately twelve computers – all to be booked in advance due to demand and mainly used by the unemployed and those people who have recently arrived in the UK looking for work etc.
  • a children’s library with a cursory nod to the extras
  • a token amount of Dover’s archives and local history that is constantly being reduced and sent to Maidstone

Hardly a comprehensive and efficient library service for ALL the persons in Dover that want to make use of it.

Purpose built Junior Library opened in 1963 put on the market and sold in 2003. Dover Library

Purpose built Junior Library opened in 1963 put on the market and sold in 2003. Dover Library

8. It is recognised that because of attempts by Authorities, such as KCC, in trying to find ways of circumventing their Statutory obligations, the library services are on the brink of disaster due a combination of funding cuts and local policies of pulling the ladder away from those who need libraries most. For these, and other, reasons the present Government commissioned the Independent Library Report for England that was published 18 December 2014. Of note, this was before the KCC released its Consultative Document – yet there is no mention within it!

9. The Commission was Chaired by Lord Graham Tope and the panel members were the report’s author – William Sieghart, author – Joanna Trollope, Faber publisher -Stephen Page, chief executive of the British Library – Roly Keating, library expert – Sue Charteris, entrepreneur – Luke Johnson, Wandsworth Council CEO – Paul Martin and Suffolk Libraries General Manager – Alison Wheeler. The Paper is generally referred to as the Sieghart Report and as the author said, libraries are facing a ‘Beeching moment’, referencing the huge closure of railway branch lines in the 1960s.

Dover Library present books and CD collection.

Dover Library present books and CD collection.

10. The Sieghart report states that across England 35 per cent of people use a library regularly and ‘among the poorest it’s closer to 50 per cent. It’s a vital lifeline for a lot of people.’ Dover district has 5 of the poorest wards in the County so statistically, the library will be used by 15% more than a library in the more affluent towns in the County. Yet Dover is to have this important facility farmed out to a Charitable Trust with a token financial backing by the Statutory Authority – KCC. Of note, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has publicly stated many times that ‘everyone should have the opportunity to get on in life,’ but evidently, if the KCC Consultative Document is accepted, this does not apply to Dover residents.

Dover Library part of the book collection c1993.  Dover Library

Dover Library part of the book collection c1993. Dover Library

11. The Sieghart Report points out that people rely on their public library service as it provides a valuable and highly treasured public service:

  • For the children needing extra support developing their literacy skills, libraries help them to realise their potential and give them hope of a better future.
  • For the lonely and those on low incomes libraries provides access to a wider world
  • For the elderly who find themselves lacking the skills and ability to get online, libraries help them connect with their families and learn valuable new skills.
  • For the unemployed, demonised by the government and told to ‘get a job’ using online services they often do not have access to, they offer the glimmer of hope that they can get a job that offers them dignity and security.
  • For those interested in the community they live in and its history, libraries provide access to a wide range of information.

The above are just a few of the examples cited.

12. The Siegart Report has been hailed as the last chance to halt a period of decline in which 324 libraries have closed throughout the country since 2011. As part of hitting localities where library services are needed most, the Report points out that reasons given for libraries to close is that bigger and better library facilities have been made available elsewhere in the Authority’s jurisdiction. As discussed at length above, the prime library facility in Kent is at Maidstone – this is some 45miles from Dover!

According to KCC’s own figures:

  • 26% of households in the Dover area do not have a motorised vehicle (Kent average 21.6%);
  • 44.9% have one such vehicle – which, in all probability, will be used by the household provider (Kent average 53.8%)
  • 29.1% (Kent average 34.7%) have two or more motorised vehicles.

13. Regarding public transport, for a Dover resident to travel to Maidstone to view Archives and Local History appertaining to Dover:

  • By train, travelling to Maidstone East, they require changing at Ashford and the journey takes at least 1¼hours and costs £19.20 for an off-peak day return.
  • By bus, the journey from Dover requires to change at Folkestone and board a bus to Ashford. From Ashford it is another bus to Maidstone and the journey takes 2½-3hrs not counting waiting time. For those who hold bus passes the journey is free. Because the journey requires two bus changes, the cost is not available.
  • In either of the travel options above, a further hike is required to reach the Maidstone Library and County Archive Centre.
Mobile Library van introduced in 1968, six years before Dover library services came under KCC. Dover Library

Mobile Library van introduced in 1968, six years before Dover library services came under KCC. Dover Library

14. For all of the above and more, the Sieghart Report makes a number of recommendations to achieve ‘reinvigoration of the library network’. This includes:

Library taskforce. One of the key recommendations is the creation of a library taskforce to offer ‘the necessary leadership‘ and ensure the report is implemented. The group, provisionally called Leadership for Libraries, will lobby for libraries and be supported by organisations including Arts Council England, the BBC and the British Library and will report jointly to local and central Government.

Professional development The taskforce will be given the job of recruiting new staff as well as encouraging and developing current staff. The report pointed to the TeachFirst programme, which ‘has helped raise the profile of the teaching profession’.

15. Another key recommendation is to bring members of the community into the management of libraries, which the report compared, to bringing parents on to school governing bodies. However, the Report makes it clear that, ‘This does not mean just handing libraries over to volunteers. It would continue with all the Statutory responsibility but add the community’s resources.’ The Report rightly states that ‘Locals will not put up with council management, overcharging or poor opening hours; they demand higher standards.’

16. At the time the 1972 Local Government Act was implemented and Dover Public Library Service came under KCC (1974), the Library facilities and services were consistent with the provisions described in the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964:

  • Lending, reference/information, children’s section, meeting rooms, collections of periodicals, recorded media, technical and commercial literature, international documents, a full and documented range of archive and local history materials.
  • Dover Library supported branch libraries by providing a basic lending reference/information service at the neighbourhood level.
  • Dover Library provided a supply of books to the aged and housebound, to hospitals, persons and others that are unable to reach the Library.
  • Dover Library undertook such activities as lectures, exhibitions and displays that helped to advertise the services to a wider public. It was also a thriving local studies and cultural centre.
  • Dover Library worked closely with local schools and colleges, industry and other institutions such as the then Young Offenders Institute. Locals with specialist knowledge, such as local history, were encouraged to participate to widen the interest.
  • Dover Library provided technical information services and special collections for the use of groups, such as dramatic societies, workers educational associations and local history enthusiasts.

Now, 2015, the few staff that remain work so hard to provide a basic service that they could not even consider providing most of the above of what was free at the point of delivery back in 1974. To reduce the service even more in the hope to discouraging usage and justify closure, KCC recommends that Dover’s library be managed by a Charitable Trust. The Dover Society does NOT condone such action.

  • Presented:
  • 24 February 2014

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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