Bucks Council slammed for library cuts set to dramatically reduce staffing

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Buckinghamshire Council’s planned cuts to its library service are ‘madness’, a retired librarian has said.

Kari Dorme, aged in her late 70s, warned that new cost-cutting measures, including the roll-out of self-service technology, would further erode the vital function the county’s libraries play in society.

The former branch and area librarian for Beaconsfield and High Wycombe said: “These cuts will, in time, kill off the whole ethos and character of what library work is about.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dorme, who served the county’s libraries for 30 years, hailed their provision of ‘free access to everyone to pursue knowledge and culture’ and their importance for children’s development.

Kari Working At Beaconsfield Library 1992, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting ServiceKari Working At Beaconsfield Library 1992, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting Service
Kari Working At Beaconsfield Library 1992, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting Service

However, the former librarian warned that such benefits were under threat after the cabinet approved a raft of planned cuts to Buckinghamshire’s libraries last month in a bid to save the council £555,000 a year.

The plan, dubbed ‘Library Flex’, is to introduce new self-service kiosks for borrowing books, as well as other user-operated technology, while also reducing staffed hours by 25-30 per cent and relying more on volunteers and community groups to run libraries when there are no staff on site.

Council documents do not use the word ‘cuts’ but say that the ‘savings potential’ lies in staffing costs and that there may be a ‘headcount reduction’ of 18-20 people under the plan, which could ‘trigger redundancy and pension strain costs’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of the 10 county libraries, ‘Library Flex’ is to be introduced in Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Buckingham, Chesham, Hazlemere, Marlow and Princes Risborough.

1997 Kari Dorme Last Day At Old High Wycombe Library she Is in the tartan dress, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting Service1997 Kari Dorme Last Day At Old High Wycombe Library she Is in the tartan dress, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting Service
1997 Kari Dorme Last Day At Old High Wycombe Library she Is in the tartan dress, photo from Charlie Smith Local Democracy Reporting Service

Site visits have also been undertaken to estimate the costs of building alterations at the remaining two county libraries, High Wycombe and Burnham.

The council said services at High Wycombe Library may be cut to one floor only and said it was in talks with Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust to explore the creation of a ‘health on the high street’ space on the ground floor.

Dorme, who worked as a librarian in Wycombe for five years and Beaconsfield for 20 years, said the council’s move towards ‘self-service’ libraries to save money was a ‘terrible’ idea.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “These machines are going to be installed when the libraries are shut, and no staff are there.

“I don’t see the point of it. Not many people will use those machines. I am worried about the security of the building. We are going to get vandals in. That is madness.

“We have self-service machines now. A lot of elderly people don’t want to use them. They would rather talk to a human being. I think these things are happening behind closed doors.”

The safety of unstaffed libraries was one of the main issues raised by councillors as they discussed the planned cuts at last month’s cabinet meeting.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, the blueprints for ‘Library Flex’ detail a range of security measures, including that lockable doors will be accessed via a membership number and pin and connected to the ‘self-operated library controller’.

Door sensors will also be installed to reduce tailgating, while there will also be 360-degree CCTV coverage and a burglar alarm system that can detect movement and signal a responder.

The council said that it would hold a public consultation on ‘Library Flex’, involving library staff and volunteers, partners, library users, residents and non-library members.

This will be undertaken between now and October before a ‘staff restructure’ takes place in January 2025 and ‘Library Flex’ is implemented in April.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dorme, who is originally from Durham, said the council still had several questions to answer, including about how many redundancies there might be as part of the library cuts.

The former librarian, who began her career as a graduate trainee at Slough Library, claimed that she had witnessed the slow demise of Buckinghamshire’s libraries over the last few decades and that she had become a ‘bit of an activist’ in her retirement to highlight how the service has been stripped back.

In 1997, like many other senior librarians, including the county librarian at the time, Dorme accepted voluntary redundancy and early retirement.

She said: “I loved my job, and in hindsight, I realised that I had the most fulfilling years working for a library service that was one of the best in the country, well-staffed and well-funded.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the retiree says she was ‘fortunate’ to leave before ‘very significant changes’ in the organisation made it ‘much weaker and more vulnerable to cuts’.

She explained that after 1997, the libraries lost their own library committee within the council and the protection of the education department of which they were a part.

Dorme said: “My appointment letter stated that the chief education officer was my boss; thus, all funding came from the education department’s budget.

“This ceased, and libraries were on their own and expected to fight for their own money without a committee of councillors and without solid leadership supporting their cause. Hence, there began a downward spiral of cuts to staffing, book funds, and opening hours.”