Online and on paper there are some references today to renown local author Peter James’ views on the mobile library. What isn’t explained in reports is how he acknowledged the Green administration’s arguments. Last week Peter wrote to Cllr Geoffrey Bowden, chair of the Economic Development & Culture Committee, on the subject of the mobile library. Geoffrey is responsible for the library service amongst many other things. With his permission, and Peter’s too, I publish below their email conversation which speaks for itself…
On 14/02/2013 05:49, Peter James wrote:
Dear Mr Bowden
I understand that there will be a debate about the Mobile Library today.
Both as a local author and in my capacity as Chair of the Crime Writer Association, I write to you to implore you, from the bottom of my heart, to please look favourably on saving this valuable part of our library network.
If it had not been for the libraries, when I was a child growning up in Brighton, I don’t think I would ever have become a writer, for was in those that I discovered my love of books.
In today’s harsh economic times, fewer and fewer people are able to afford book, and libraries are their lifeline. The mobile serves so many people, including the elderly and equally importantly youngsters with decreasing access to books, as more and more high street bookstores close.
I think that a city like ours really must support literature in every possible way. I know resources are stretched, but the cost of this service is very small in the overall scheme of things, and what it brings to the community is something quite priceless.
All my best
Peter James (Hons) D.Litt
On 14 Feb 2013, at 09:32, Geoffrey Bowden wrote:
Many thanks for taking the trouble to write to me. Like you I am a great fan of mobile libraries, but there are some rather steep costs involved in keeping one on the road. We have been exploring all kinds of ways to achieve this but, in the end, have been forced to concede that it is simply not possible.
Here are some facts which will provide you with some of the background to the reluctant decision to end the service.
- the current vehicle is coming to the end of its natural life and is getting more and more expensive to maintain
- a new vehicle will cost £125,000 to purchase
- the annual running costs exceed £80,000
- Less than 800 people are currently registered to use the mobile library
- 78% of the current users are also registered at and also use one of the static libraries near to their homes
- 98% of the population live within a mile and a half of one of our static libraries, which are well served by buses and contain far more books
- one of the possible options we examined to keeping the mobile on the road was to find a partner with whom to run it. No one in the voluntary sector or other public services (police, NHS or fire services) were interested or had the funds available either
- at one point capital was identified to purchase a new vehicle, but with running costs taken into account, it would only have been possible to run a reduced service for three days a week stopping off at only the most popular locations. This would not have passed any independent value-for-money test (a test required for such expenditure) so was therefore voted down by the Policy & Resources committee which has ultimate sanction of expenditure over the £50,000 level
- the mobile is therefore being replaced by a home delivery service, which has been particularly welcomed by the truly housebound, who are currently excluded even from visiting the mobile library. 500 people have already been identified for this service and they will now be given access to up to 500,000 books (instead of the very limited number held on the mobile) via laptops and tablets taken to their homes by volunteers and a dedicated member of staff, who will guide them through the online book ordering process. The books will then be delivered and taken away once read
We live in extremely difficult financial circumstances and if the Government was not stripping out £30 million from the council’s grant and restricting us raising money via the Council Tax to pay for all vital services, we would be able to contemplate purchasing a new vehicle and keeping it on the road six days a week. Sadly that isn’t the economic situation in which we find ourselves.
The upside of this otherwise sad tale is that, unlike Labour and Conservative run councils throughout the country who are closing down libraries wholesale, having long abandoned their mobiles, the Green administration has managed for a second year running to keep all its static libraries open. In fact we are about to build a new one in Woodingdean (replacing a 50 year old temporary Nissen hut with a state of the art library and medical centre).
I am sorry this is not the answer you hoped for, but sometimes we are forced into making tough decisions and this, sadly, is one of them.
With best wishes
Cllr Geoffrey Bowden
Green Party Councillor Queen’s Park Ward
Chair, Economic Development and Culture Committee
On 14/02/2013 10:44, Peter James wrote:
I really appreciate your taking the time and trouble to respond in such detail, thank you very much.
Certainly your points and argument here make sense, and it is at least encouraging to know about the home delivery service.
Meantime on a very positive note, you do all have to be congratulated on keeping the static libraries open, and it is extremely good news to hear about Woodingdean.
All my best and again, thank you for such a reasoned and thorough explanation.
Peter James (Hons) D.Litt