Response to open letter from John Dolan OBE

By on 09/12/2011 in Blog, Factsheets, Rebuttals

Cllr Martin Mullaney wrote: The letter from John Dolan, OBE, regarding library services in Birmingham (Birmingham Post 17th November) contained a series of questions on the future of the Birmingham library service and I felt compelled to provide detailed answers to them.

However, before answering those questions, I hope you will allow me the opportunity to comment on the overall tone of Mr Dolan's letter. It was quite clear from the letter that he believes Birmingham City Council is abandoning its library service. I would argue that the case is the complete opposite, which I will try to illustrate below.

Since 2004, the City Council's present administration has invested £4.3million in improving the fabric of its community libraries. Many of our community libraries operate from within aging buildings that have been poorly maintained over the last 20 years. Since 2004, we have been correcting the impact of that poor maintenance.

In addition to this £4.3million, a further £1.1million is being invested in our libraries in this financial year. Kings Heath, Selly Oak and Hall Green Libraries will have new roofs by April 2012.

Further, we are investing £188.8m in a new Library of Birmingham, to replace the Central Library. This will be a world-class facility, with world-class resources and a re-energised vision for the library in the twenty-first century.

I hope your readers will accept that these are challenging times for our libraries: not only are libraries up and down the country having to absorb the impact of the national financial crisis, but technological advancements such as the internet are questioning the future role of the public library.

In Birmingham we recognise that there is still the need for community libraries in: up-skilling our citizens; improving literacy, especially in communities where English is the second language; and in reducing the digital divide.

It is for this reason that no community library in Birmingham will close under the present administration's proposals. Subject to approval from the Constituency Committees, 16 out of our 39 community libraries will remain open five days a week, as now. The remaining 23 libraries will open four days a week, instead of the present five.

While other cities are closing down community libraries, I think what Birmingham is doing is highly commendable and deserves praise. New operating models will need to be considered, but these are tough times and we need to maximize every penny spent on our library service.

I think it would also be helpful if I outlined where the responsibilities lie with regard to Birmingham's Library Service. As the Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture I have the responsibility to set the strategic direction and policy for our libraries, I do not however have the responsibility for community library budgets or their management, this rests with the relevant Constituency Committee.

Having said that however I will seek to address the questions raised by Mr Dolan, I have included his original questions for ease of reference.

Answers to John Dolan’s open letter

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