In Parliament today, the House of Lords discussed the impact of the closure of local libraries in England. Over the last year alone, nearly 130 static and mobile libraries have closed, bringing the total number of closures to an estimated 800 since the coalition government 2010. Here in Bristol, we understand how much people care about their libraries and took this into consideration last July, when my Cabinet and I decided to keep all 27 libraries open, pledging to work with community groups to explore sustainable options for the future.
“Libraries change lives for the better, including in tackling social isolation” it was noted today, as peers referenced the findings of a recent libraries taskforce, and this is certainly something I would agree with.
With the council’s footprint reducing and with many libraries needing investment, it’s particularly important therefore that we adapt to ensure we have a sustainable library service that people across the city can enjoy. Our library team is currently working alongside residents and organisations to come up with solutions for extending the service and the use of the buildings, while also looking at the wider needs of the local community.
Last month on this blog, my Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities, Asher Craig, highlighted a series of community events being held to bring together local people to consider opportunities for the future of their local library. We want to use this period to explore how we can work with communities to make these spaces more appealing and tailor them to fit the needs of the local area – there is certainly no one-size fits all approach.
Through discussions held so far, our team have received a wide range of new ideas and suggestions for collaboration, whilst our upcoming library strategy will build on this work by presenting a vision for the future of services in the city, plans on how to make each one financially sustainable and the best location for them to be placed.
There’s no denying that public libraries can be beacons for knowledge and for communities across the city, particularly because they are trusted places that welcome everyone. Their services will play an important role in supporting future generations, something reflected in our One City Plan that looks to see Bristol become a ‘Reading City’ by 2020, building on international projects that encourage reading to and with children from early in life.
We have the opportunity for us and local communities to pilot new approaches and explore new partnerships as we work together to find the best possible options for the future and I hope you’ll get involved in this conversation. To find out more about the community events or take part in the survey, please visit: www.bristol.gov.uk/libraryideas.