Questions & Answers with Trustees
1. Who are you and what is your background?
I am Biddy Fisher, and I live in Denby Dale. I worked in mainly academic libraries for the 40 years of my career as a Chartered Librarian. I was President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in 2010 and was awarded the OBE for services to libraries in January 2012.
2. When did you first hear that Denby Dale Library was shortlisted to be closed?
The Huddersfield Examiner carried an article in November 2011 and I submitted a Freedom of Information Act question to the Council immediately. There was a negative response to this request.
3. What was your initial reaction?
I was amazed that, despite the outcome of infamous cases like that of the proposed closures in the Wirral, that Kirklees Council could propose closure of libraries without any rationale and without the necessary public consultation that is necessary.
4. Whom did you contact or lobby?
One of our Parish Councillors suggested to me that I may wish to involve myself in the issue. National Libraries Day in 2012 offered a good opportunity to raise awareness and gauge support in the community. (see Q5.)
5. Have you been publicly vocal in your criticism of the intended cuts?
Yes. I would always condemn closures of libraries without the required review, assessment of needs and without members of the public being given a chance to show their feelings about their library service. Equally I am sufficiently realistic to recognise that libraries are not everyone’s priority and that Councils are under significant pressure to reduce costs.
6. As a professionally trained Librarian, have you been concerned that the council think the library can be run by volunteers?
No library service can be ‘RUN’ by volunteers. This is the most misunderstood of all the issues that confront those who wish to see library services maintained. A library that is run by volunteers alone is a book exchange as there is no access to or support from any of the professionally managed services that makes a library what it really is.
7. When was FODDL (Friends of Denby Dale Library) conceived and created?
The Friends of Denby Dale Library began as a campaign group in February 2012, on National Libraries Day. I was heartened by the response that came as a result of a hastily put together item on the agenda of a Denby Dale Ward Forum. A group of five members of the community put themselves forward to act as a steering group to make vocal the feelings of the community of Denby Dale to the proposed closures and to respond to the Council on the issue.
8. Was there a public consultation process?
Not at first. This was one of the successes of FODDL and other local groups in the villages where closures were proposed that we fought and achieved a consultation process that went beyond asking people if they were prepared to volunteer to run the library. (That misnomer again!)
9. Was a legal challenge at one point suggested?
It is always possible to lodge a request for a judicial review of a decision made by a council that has not followed accepted procedures for the proposed action. In our case there was adequate precedent to indicate that were it to come to that we would have succeeded. However, given that it is public money that is used for such actions, I was very glad it did not come to that point.
10. Did you organise a petition?
FODDL steering group managed a petition as part of the campaign. The petition was against the removal of the paid staff of Denby Dale library. We knew that it is the presence of a employee of the Kirklees Library Service that ensures our library retains full status as part of the authority’s statutory requirement to provide efficient and comprehensive library service throughout Kirklees.
11. When was the idea of handing the library over to the Community first suggested?
In parallel with the FODDL campaign, another group was looking more strategically at the provision of community facing services in the village. This group , Chaired by Cllr Jim Dodds, was convinced that an element of community management would be required if we were to retain a library in Denby Dale. The aims of this group were different from FODDL and until it became clear that the Council was willing to entertain the notion that a paid member of staff was to be retained in our village I was not willing to compromise the principles of the FODDL group or my own professional principles.
12. When did you realise that the formation of a charitable trust was the only viable outcome to secure a library service.
I had been in frequent discussions with the Parish Councillor, Ward Councillors and had met with senior staff of the Kirklees Library service and seen at first hand partnership arrangements with other community services that worked well within Kirklees. I had also met and talked with staff of Locality who have a track record of facilitating such initiatives. The project in Denby Dale has at its heart the Library with its paid member of staff, supplemented by volunteer assistance and the presence in a new building of other local charities who provide community facing services. The project’s success depends upon the retention of a paid member of staff and a link to professionally managed services, if that was not the case and if in future it stops being the case then I would by professionally compromised and I would not be able to give it the same support as I am doing as a Trustee.
13. You have been criticised by a minority of people who have suggested you are endorsing an undemocratic scheme. How do you answer that?
I am not sure that any of the detractors of the scheme have actually looked beyond the misleading headline in the ‘Huddersfield Examiner’ and which has been repeated and mis-quoted ad nauseam in various unevidenced summaries of that newspaper’s item. I know for a fact that there have been four public, open meetings, at least 20 meetings of a project group with members of the community present, and opportunity via various means of communication for people to raise questions, concerns and issues to do not just with the library but the whole project that we are engaged with. Local political party groups have discussed it and it is unanimously endorsed by all our ward Councillors who have put their political differences to the side in order to offer their support in ways and means. Such criticisms are usually off the cuff remarks, and very easily made by those who do not do any research or analysis. The fact that these are being made by members of my own profession who have undertaken training to be information ‘professionals’ is quite astounding.
14. What do you think the future holds for Library provision in Denby Dale?
The prospect of retaining a library service of the quality and breadth that we currently have is not just an issue for Denby Dale. I am heartened by the extent to which support is forthcoming for continued library services but the real impact of diminished local authority spending is going to be far more severe than anything we have seen yet. When that day comes I believe it will be schemes like ours in Denby Dale, where the community forms a strategic and sustainable plan in order to retain a valued service for all age groups, linked to a full library service managed by professionals, and working in partnership with other complementary organisations, that will ensure that there is a future.
A link to Locality library projects.
1. Why did you get involved?
As a Denby Dale local councillor I fully understood the difficulties that Kirklees Council were facing, as they struggled to balance the books and make a large reduction in their budget.
Unlike other areas of Kirklees, when the announcement was made that seven libraries (including Denby Dale) would be run by volunteers, I did not organise a campaign to fight against this. Instead I started a looking at other ways we could keep the Denby Dale Library open with a trained member of staff.
2. What is the project about?
Soon after the announcement to have libraries run by volunteers, I chaired a small group of residents to look at the problem. The initial aim was – and still is – to ensure that the Denby Dale Library continues with a trained member of staff. As we looked into different ways of doing this our small group grew with other interested individuals. We held numerous meetings with Kirklees Council and the project slowly grew. It was gratifying that personal and political differences were put to one side as we worked together for the best for the Denby Dale community.
3. What brought about the new building?
In the Kirklees Capital Plan there has been £250K set aside for rural initiatives to improve community facilities within Kirklees. It was first envisaged that Kirklees would place another modular building onto the existing Library site. The existing building is past its sell-by date and we soon realised that this approach would not work. We then started discussions with a local developer who said he could build a new, single storey building on the existing site for £180,000.
4. Where are you getting the funding from?
We then approached both the Area Committee and the Parish Council and secured a promise of £40,000 from each of them making £80,000 in total. We now had sufficient funds for a single storey building, but how were we going to sustain it? This led to further discussion and the growth of the building into a two storey one, with the addition of two further tenants the Denby Dale Centre and Kirkwood Hospice to provide rental income and so give us sustainability.
5. Do you need further funding?
We now obviously need further funding and to help us achieve this we have applied for charitable status and are actively looking for ways to raise the extra money required to have a brand new community centre that will house the library, an internet cafe, a charity Shop, offices and meeting rooms.
6. Is there local support and do you require further volunteers?
We have been working on this project for the last two years and until our first public meeting on the 8th May 2013 we had to do this under the radar. This was because our ambitions and ideas would change on a weekly basis as we explored all avenues open to us. We did not want to raise resident expectations, or worry them, unnecessarily until we had a firm proposal.
We unveiled that firm proposal on 8th May, at a public meeting attended by over 60 residents. From that meeting we had 33 pledges of support and 12 individuals who wanted to get involved.
Since this meeting we have continued to improve our ambitious project and had a second public meeting on the 16th September to unveil further progress made. Again the response from those attending was overwhelmingly supportive and other people came forward wishing to get involved. We now have 7 named Trustees, a bank account and submitted our application to become a Charitable Trust.
Having said all this we are still looking for further volunteers who can boost our numbers. If you are interested in your community and want to improve it please get in touch!
7. What support have you received from local businesses?
The response from local businesses has been terrific, with over a dozen offering assistance either with equipment or goods to be supplied free or a cost. Add to this their expertise and talents in various areas – from marketing, construction, fundraising and legal advice – and I feel we have been fortunate with the response we have received and the area we live in. Already local businesses like Ronan Development, Oakwood Properties, The Orange Circle Andrew Locke Plumber and Lance Fawcett Electrician have given up their time and expertise to produce plans, costing and advice to our working party.
8. How have Kirklees Council reacted to the project?
The Officers from the council who have been involved since those very early days have been excellent. Nothing has been too much trouble, in answering our many questions and request for advice that we have put to them. The Leader of the Council and his Cabinet members have been 100% behind the project since the start and offered help and words of encouragement along the way. Simon Reevell MP has kept a close eye on the progress made and has given us a letter of support and offered to assist in any way that he can.
9. Why do you think that this Project will succeed?
We are fortunate to live in a lovely part of Kirklees where residents value their community and are willing to walk that extra mile, to not only ensure the status quo but try to improve the community they live in.
The number of volunteers who have stepped forward to help in this project have a vast array of talent and experience. Their enthusiasm and commitment to the project makes me immensely proud to be part of this innovative scheme to not only secure the future of the Denby Dale Library but also improve the community facilities available in the village.