5 April 2012

Friern Barnet library - why?

The mystery is why anyone voted for Robert Rams.
Last night Mr Mustard sat through a Cabinet meeting at 7pm and a Cabinet Resources Committee which was scheduled to start at 8pm or as soon as the 7pm meeting had finished, as many of the same councillors, whom borough residents had sadly elected and hopefully won't again, sit on both committees. It is unusual for both meetings to be on the same evening and councillors probably hoped that they could gallop though the agenda without any great hindrance from members of the public, whom, in theory, they represent.

The public had tabled 76 questions for public question time, but democracy is time limited in Barnet so a maximum of 30 minutes is allowed and what with getting to the chair and back and working out the microphone system ( Barnet Council don't as a matter of course, help any questioner, who may be speaking for the first time in public, to get comfortable ) there was never any prospect of every question being answered.

Some of the best questions came from children ( is that right that their names get published by the council on the council website - are there not any data protection issues here? ) and Mr Mustard was rather hoping that one of the well read children would just sit there repeating the question that every parent fears, Why? Cllr Cornelius was in the chair and he had to answer the children's supplementary questions. He hadn't answered their first question of course and at least one child took him to task for that. These children are the leaders of tomorrow and Mr Mustard would rather have any of those who spoke yesterday than the current leader to run the council now.

Here are some of the questions and answers that were given, both by children and by adults putting themselves into children's shoes (names given for adults only):

7. I find it hard to understand the cuts to the library service so could I have them as if I was a six year old? ( by Francis Briers )

Response to Q7: Mr Mustard has just noticed that you get a "response" not an "answer".

The Council has to make savings of £46 million, and the libraries service must make £1.4 million savings as a contribution to that. The Strategy will make sure that the limited resources we have are focused on supporting literacy and reading – libraries’ core purpose. We are investing in new, state of the art facilities where the greatest number of people can reach them. The alternative, as some other authorities have done, would be to make cuts to all libraries, which would have led to fewer people using them over time as opening hours reduced and fewer books were available 

Mr Mustard thinks that many of the above words would be too hard for a 6 year old.

8. Hopefully I may understand the cut now so can you explain how putting a library in the Artsdepot will help in the long term as if I was six year old? (Francis Briers)

By creating a new, high quality facility at artsdepot, we will create a space which attracts high numbers of users, and makes better use of our limited resources (by merging 2 libraries together). 

Mr Mustard would like to merge the 63 councillors together and have 32 to make better use of our limited resources.

44. This an opportunity for me to express my sincere gratitude to Barnet Council because me, my sisters and brothers have been able to study coming from abroad thanks to local schools and Friern Barnet Library. Now I am preparing my GCSE. Friern Barnet Library helped me to do my homework, improve my English' socialise and learn English every single day all year along. Now my question: Why my so much needed Library has to be closed, meaning I will no long be able to do my homework, print, make photocopies, whereas my classmates and friends who live near North Finchley Library will still use it until the Artsdepot is available? (ZR)

We are glad you have enjoyed using Friern Barnet library. Unfortunately we have to make savings in our libraries budget. The artsdepot is very well located, and the Friern Barnet area is served by a number of libraries within 1 – 1.5 miles.

The distance quoted will the shortest possible one that can be quoted measured from the opposite edge of Friern Barnet to where your house is.

45. Thank you for what you can do to save our local and very much needed Friern Barnet Library. I live in Friern Barnet with my five children. Friern Barnet Library means a lot for me as a single parent. Would you tell me how it will be possible for a pregnant woman with a baby buggy or a disabled person with children to wait at least 10 minutes to get into a crowded bus from Friern Barnet to North Finchley, cross 4 traffic lights, confront drug users who hang around there, just to spend only one hour in Artdepot and then do the same trajectory back to Friern Barnet?
Artsdepot is very well connected to many local buses, which makes it a good location for a library. Improvements are also being made to the streets around the building with Outer London Fund money, and this will make it easier to find the building, and make the area around it more attractive.

Cornelius was again invited in the supplementary question to try this journey with 5 children in tow and declined the generous offer. If he tried it, even with one 5 year old, he might change his mind. 

54. Last time I asked a question at the cabinet meeting, I explained that if you close Friern Barnet Library, I would have nowhere to meet up with my friends after school. You said that I would make many new friends at the Arts Depot (even though I had already said that I wasn't allowed to go there on my own). Recently I discovered that you and your colleagues have done NOTHING about the Arts Depot project since last July! You have only talked about it and have broken promises to young children. Why is this the case? Why have you done nothing? (HA)

Until the Council adopted the libraries strategy in July 2011, officers were not in a position to commence detailed discussions with artsdepot. At that time, Cabinet agreed that a process should commence to see if a community library could be achieved in Friern Barnet. Resources were then diverted into this process. This, along with some staffing changes, did lead to a delay in progressing the work on the Arts Depot library. However, we are pleased to say do now have a way forward in terms of temporary provision and are progressing the longer term development of the landmark library. A project team is in place, and we’ve gained £1m for the area via the Outer London Fund.Quotations are currently being sought from architects to complete a feasibility study for the redevelopment of the artsdepot to create a landmark library. We anticipate that the study will be completed by end of June 2012. We trust this demonstrates that this is a very real intention.

The question has been ducked.

66. Throughout my entire life, I have been a member of Friern Barnet Library. At times I have felt that I actually live there! I am a voracious reader and have now read all of the books in the children's section and am moving on to the teenage section. The only reason that I and others have been able to the children's section and am moving on to the teenage section. The only reason that I and others have been able to visit Friern Barnet Library so frequently is that it is so near to our houses and is safe to walk to. I don't understand why you think that a library in North Finchley would be better than the one we have now - it won't. Crossing 18 different roads on the journey to the Arts Depot is not quite so safe or near. A library in the Arts Depot, however wonderful it may be, would not be easily accessible to children under 11. Are you truly willing to close Friern Barnet Library when this will obliterate other children's chances to have what I have had? Please will you acknowledge that by going ahead with your plan, you are saying that the children of North Finchley deserve better than the children of Friern Barnet? (OA)

We are glad you have enjoyed Friern Barnet library so much.There are buses you can get to artsdepot which mean that you won’t need to cross lots of roads, and we would expect that children under 11 would be going to the library accompanied by a parent or carer. Many children in the rest of the borough travel a similar distance to their local library as will those living in Friern Barnet.

The answer completely ignores the fact that children's freedom starts being granted by allowing them to walk along local streets before they make the jump to using public transport alone once older and safe to do so.

And now Mr Mustard's favourite question of the evening.

73. Hi my name is M*** and I am 8 years old. I'm very sad about the Library closing and I'm sure everyone is too. If you moved the Library to North Finchley in the Arts Depot my mum would never drive me there, so I'd never be able to borrow any books again. That would be a real shame because I really like books (especially Rainbow Magic because I have read 52 of them).
So please please PLEASE don't shut down our library because you will spread misery across Friern Barnet. Please will you change your mind about our library? (MQ)

Thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel about the library. There are other libraries in the area, such as South Friern or Osidge, which might be easier for your mum to take you to, or perhaps she will be able to take you there on the bus. We’re sorry if you are disappointed by a decision to close the library.

But we are going to close it anyway as even faced with an 8 year old we have no heart.
The library will be closed today, officially at 3pm. Get down there today and borrow some books while you still can (bet you can't though).
Mr Mustard has been wondering about what will happen if you have books and can't get to one of the other libraries to return them because you can't walk far, can't use public transport, are not allowed out on your own as you are too young and now young master Mustard, Maxwell aged 8½, has decided to email Councillor Rams asking about the arrangements for returning the book he has out on loan.
Dear Mister Rams

My name is Maxwell Mustard and I live with mummy & daddy in Friern Barnet. I am 8and a half. Mummy and daddy say you are going to close the library and this makes me very sad. It is too far for me to go to another library and mummy and daddy have to work very hard and are too busy or too tired to drive me to another library.

I have a book that I got from the library. It is Five have a mystery to solve by Enid Blyton (daddy says he is one of the famous five but I think he is fibbing) and I have to give it back but I can't.

Please can you speak to mummy or daddy and come and get your book back. You will be able to tell me why you closed my library and if we are good mummy and daddy will give us orange squash and cake.

Thank you

Maxwell Mustard
Aged 8½
Have you got a book out of Friern Barnet library?
Write your own letter to Robert. Send Mr Mustard a copy and if it is funny or a devastating critique of the policy it will be posted up on the blog.

The library did not have to close. The annual budge is £900m although much of it is reserved for certain expenses, like schools, and that leaves about £200m for the council to allocate to their chosen spending. They have simply made wrong choices.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

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