11th May 2012
The Future of Wootton Fields Public Library
A number of parents have contacted us with questions about the future of the public library and concerns about how this will affect school. I have provided some answers below:
Why is the public library closing?
The County Council has been keen to point out that it is not closing, but re-locating. Clearly a great deal depends on where the library re-locates to.
Why the need for change?
Because of cuts in public spending, the County Council needs to make considerable savings. They argue that the costs for this library (approximately £140,000 per year) far exceed the running costs of other libraries. This is partly because of the PFI contract. The contract ensures that the library is maintained, cleaned, decorated and furnished to a high standard over a 25 year period. The contract also pays for staffing costs and all services. However, the contract also makes it difficult for the Council to save money in any of these areas. North-amptonshire Libraries and Information Service feel that the location of the library is not helpful to their customers, particularly older library users, because of problems with parking, distance from housing and the closure to the public at lunchtimes. They feel a new location nearer to shops would be better in the longer term.
Is the library moving because the school has become an Academy?
No- rather the reverse in fact. When we were a County Council school we really had to go along with their decisions. The public library would probably have moved at an earlier stage. As an Academy we can offer a more independent view and we are better off financially so we have been in a position to support the library.
Has school been involved in the discussions?
The contract for the library is between Northamptonshire County Council and Kajima, the PFI contractor. Discussions about amending the contract apparently began in July 2010. However, school only found out by accident. We have not been included in the discussions – this is because the discussions are confidential to the two parties in the contract, the County Council and Kajima.
What has school done about this issue?
The School Governors and I have raised our concerns with the County Council and invited them to meetings to discuss their plans. We recognise that the Council needs to save money but we have offered a number of possible solutions to the Council that would enable a reduced public library service to continue here.
We also offered to host a community library staffed by volunteers. However, none of our proposals have been seen as acceptable.
Could the school take over the library contract?
We have offered to help out with electricity and gas bills while the Council sorts out this aspect of the contract. However, we could not, and should not, use the money allocated for educating our children to subsidise a public library. Certainly, we could not take on annual costs of £140,000. We have offered to run a reduced service here if the Council decide to keep the public library here after all. However, it would be a different sort of library
– with a much smaller range of books, shorter opening hours and in a smaller space. I think we would all feel it was an unsatisfactory solution.
Will the school suffer financially if the public library closes?
As the library is a joint school and public library, we will have to take on our own staff. We will also need to re-design a school library and that will require some expenditure. However, we think this can be incorporated into the school’s budget.
Will school gain the library space and if so what will they do with it?
School already pays for and uses the library area but we will gain extra space if all the public library books are taken away. All schools value additional space and we will certainly make use of it if the changes occur. However, we are not making any detailed plans at the moment because the consultation may result in the public library remaining here and we think it would be wrong to start any planning while colleagues whose work we value are still in post and hoping to keep their library here.
Will school offer a service for parents whose children use the library either before or after school?
There is a breakfast club and after-school club run by Bright Horizons and this will continue but it is a paid-for service. If the library does move, we will offer free after-school homework facilities up till 5pm but we will not be able to have a staffed and resourced area on the same scale as the public library.
What will happen to the children’s reading time in the library?
Primary phase use the library on a regular basis and this is one of the most successful features of the joint school-public library approach. This will be a loss for us and we will need to consider how to replace this activity. However, most of our reading and literacy work takes place within the primary area and we have recently added some very good new resources for phonics and guided reading.
Will the re-located library offer the same range of activities as the current library?
That will be for the Council to decide. Wootton Fields Library has been shortlisted for a national award and the ceremony for this takes place on 14th May in London. It is very pleasing that the library team’s efforts have been recognised in this way – clearly a reflection of the range of services they offer to families. We hope that the Council will want to keep these services going – but it will be for them to decide with a new management team.
Is school going to lead a campaign to keep the public library open?
The school Governors are responding to the consultation and will raise concerns with the County Council. The public library was a key part of the plan when our school was first designed 10 years ago and we want to continue to be a centre for everyone. We are happy to continue with the present arrangement. However, school is not making the decisions about all this and I think it would not be right for me and my senior colleagues to put our time into challenging the County Council over their decisions (we have enough battles with them over admissions issues!). I think we need to focus on our children, their learning, their well-being and their exam results. So I think this is a matter for the community to get involved in and help decide. If you would like to respond to the consultation, the web address is: http://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/en/councilservices/council/feedback
Mrs Grace Kempster (Customer & Library Services Manager) will be attending our library on Saturday 12th May to hold two drop in sessions from 10am – 12pm & 2pm – 4pm to discuss this matter. Library users are strongly encouraged to come along.