Posted on November 14, 2017
Moving Bristol Central Library
As you know, I’ve become a bit of an advocate for libraries in the last few years, and I’m very lucky that my local one is the beautiful Bristol Central Library. However, libraries are increasingly in danger thanks to funding cuts, and when I came across this article in the Bristol Post the other day, I was faced with a dilemma that I still haven’t solved.
The article says that several Bristol councillors have come up with a proposal to ‘save’ some of Bristol libraries which are currently chalked up for closure as part of the plans to cut the library budget by £1.4 million and close 17 out of the city’s 27 libraries. Bristol Central Library, which is not due to have its funding cut, is the most expensive library in the city to run, especially as it has to pay the running costs of the stunning Holden Building in which it is housed. These councillors have suggested moving Bristol Central Library from the Holden Building to a lower-cost, already staffed site, such as The Galleries or Colston Hall, or even breaking it up into several smaller “city centre branches”. The money saved by moving Bristol Central Library could then be used to keep open smaller libraries not located in the centre.
Obviously I don’t have all the data about the usage of the smaller libraries to know whether they are financially worth keeping open (although I would make the argument that, in an ideal world, if a library helps even one person it should stay open). However, there is a clear dilemma here. On one side of the scale we have small libraries that are probably used by people who can’t easily get into the centre, putting books and other resources right on their doorsteps. On the other side we have the beautiful Holden Building which has long housed Bristol Central Library, and the wonderfully inspiring atmosphere that probably draws in users who otherwise might not notice the library or be interested in it. Also, let’s not forget about librarians: moving to pre-staffed venues will involve cutting librarian jobs, and they provide an absolutely invaluable service. So, which is better: more libraries or better libraries?
I don’t have an answer to this question, although I think I lean more towards keeping as many libraries open as possible, even though it tears me apart to think about the disintegration of Bristol Central. It might hurt me to lose those high ceilings and wooden desks, but if times are moving on and libraries have to adapt to survive, then so be it (but, please, with as many professional librarians as possible!). However, this proposal is just that: a proposal. It is by no means set in stone. Besides, there may still be hope for Bristol Central (and for librarians). Another of the proposals put forward by the councillors is for the University of Bristol to help with the costs of running the public library, which is frequently used by students. The University could help to lower costs, keep Bristol Central where it is, and keep librarians in their jobs. I think that would be an excellent idea!
For now, the future of Bristol’s libraries remains uncertain (nothing new there!), but I will be watching the situation unfold with eager and nervous interest, and I’ll keep you updated too.
What do you think is better: more libraries or better libraries? Let me know with a comment down below!
Bristol Central Library (exterior) by Linda Bailey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bristol Central Library (interior) by Tanya Hart via Flickr under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License
Bristol Central Library (reading room) by Pedro Layant via Flickr under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License