05:37PM, Tuesday 02 February 2021
Councillors and residents alike have launched a passionate plea for the Royal Borough to reconsider its proposal to close Boyn Grove Library.
The Royal Borough presented a report on its library transformation initiative in a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday – including plans to close four libraries and cut opening hours to several more.
While the Conservative administration was keen to highlight the virtues of its plan to expand its digital offering, critics were quick to lambast the number of proposed library closures.
At the meeting, resident Andrew Hill said he found it ‘astonishing’ that the Royal Borough was proposing Boyn Grove Library for closure.
He stressed the library’s close walking distance to multiple schools, its good parking provision and accessibility, its high levels of book borrowing and its value to people with dementia or learning difficulties.
According to Mr Hill, a petition to keep Boyn Grove Library open collected more than 170 signatures in 24 hours. The current number of signatures stands at more than 275.
“No one is going to change their mind when you put this out for consultation,” said Mr Hill. “Everyone hates the idea already, so why waste public money on this?”
Leader of the council Andrew Johnson responded by saying that these changes create ‘a fantastic opportunity’ to look for new partners to find a solution.
“It’s not always the case that just because the Royal Borough can no longer do something, that means the service has to cease in its entirety,” he said.
However, leader of the Liberal Democrats Simon Werner said the Royal Borough was spinning the information by calling its new initiative ‘agile’.
“It’s not ‘agile’, it’s devastating,” he said, warning that there was a danger that ‘transformation’ could become a council byword for cuts.
Councillor Werner and other naysayers questioned the timing of closing libraries at a time of increased home working, as not everyone is able to work effectively at home.
But Cllr Johnson dismissed Cllr Werner’s comments as ‘a tirade’ and ‘a tide of negativity’ and Cllr Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill) added that it was ‘lamentable that we keep hearing this nonsense.’
Cllr Carroll said that experts have been calling for exactly this kind of shift to a digital library model, to allow more access to people with agoraphobia, social phobias and other issues.
“Hardworking people, people with disabilities and people with mental health disorders have been crying out for this for a very long time,” he said.
Cllr Geoff Hill (The Borough First, Oldfield) raised concerns over an encroaching ‘digital by default’ model rather than ‘digital by choice’.
He felt that over reliance on technology failed to account for digital deprivation and those with a fear of technology.
“My worry is that we run a real risk of exclusion of the public rather than inclusion of the public,” he said.
To see the petition to save Boyn Grove Library, visit petitions.rbwm.gov.uk/saveboyngrove
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