The DEMOCRAT

New library opening hours report is a con, says angry whistle-blower

Hatter's Castle libraryDumbarton Public Library in Strathleven Place where West Dunbartonshire Council plan to change the opening hours.

January 25, 2018

Councillors are set to consider a proposal to adapt library opening hours to meet current demand and fund a major investment in West Dunbartonshire’s branches.

But they are likely to be challenged by residents and users of the services plus staff members who are reluctant to embrace the new hours of work for them.

A new timetable which keeps all eight branches open and delivers 250 hours a week of service has been developed following feedback from 1,001 residents − one of the Council’s largest-ever consultations, but still pitifully small.

1,000 residents is about 1 per cent of the population of West Dunbartonshire and 70 per cent of that is just 700 out of a total of 90,000 people who are currently served by the eight libraries, which include the main ones at Dumbarton, Alexandria and Clydebank..

The council’s line on this is that “more than 70% of residents agreed the new timetable allowed them to visit their local branch at the usual time or at another suitable time. To respond to those residents who said they couldn’t or wouldn’t change their time, officers have added 13 opening hours across the branches each week, made evening openings 7pm at two branches, moved the late opening at Balloch to Monday, and opened until 1pm on Saturdays.”

A whistle-blower told The Democrat: “The council’s figures are flawed and misleading. They do not take into account the fact that while one five minute visit to Dalmuir Library to see a picture counts as one, a whole day’s studying or researching counts for exactly the same. It’s a case of statistics and damn lies. You can make statistics fit any scenario and make them mean what you want them to mean. This is just another SNP cut which they are trying to hide behind a flawed report.”

She added: “Our library services are among the most important services we provide in our area which has serious pockets of poverty and deprivation and one child in four is poor. Music lessons are also being targeted with the council talking about hikes in fees and hated means tests for the parents of the children participating.”

The proposals, set to be considered by the Corporate Services Committee next month, were developed to address higher than average costs for the service.  Currently employee costs in West Dunbartonshire’s library service are the second-highest in Scotland per head of population, and this is partly caused by branches being open at times when visitor numbers are low.

The new timetable would fully accommodate valued existing services such as Bookbug, employability sessions and Code Club.

The changes would also free up savings which could be invested back into the service with a major investment of £421k proposed in 2018/19 for improved children’s areas, better display areas, more welcoming help desks, and movable shelving enabling flexible use of space for activities and events. This should make the branches more welcoming and attractive environments and in turn improve visitor numbers.

In addition, to help protect front-line Library and Cultural services as much as possible, Councillors will also consider introducing means tested charges to the Council’s music tuition service. Currently most Councils in Scotland charge for music tuition or instrument hire with fees ranging from £83 to £378, with an average of £230.

Under the proposals to Committee, pupils studying for SQA exams and those in receipt of free school meals would continue to receive free hire. Others would be charged £85 per year for hire, service and repair − making it the second lowest charge in Scotland.

Malcolm Bennie, Strategic Lead for Communications, Culture and Communities, said: “These proposals would protect all eight branch libraries in West Dunbartonshire and match opening hours to when our residents use the service the most. It would also bring our running costs in line with the rest of Scotland and create the opportunity for much-needed investment in our libraries to make them even more attractive places to visit.

“The consultation on the timetable was one of the largest ever undertaken by the Council, and that demonstrates how highly our communities value this service. The main finding was that the revised timetable fits with when the majority of residents want to visit their library. We’ve also responded to the feedback by making adaptations to further accommodate as many other residents and groups as possible.

“In addition, introducing modest annual fees for the hire and maintenance of music instruments, some of which can cost as much as £900, would also allow us to protect front-line services in libraries and culture in West Dunbartonshire as much as possible.”

The proposals will be presented to the Council’s Corporate Services committee on Wednesday, February 7, for a decision.

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