The Library's future is at risk
News Update - 27 November 2017
Representations from user groups and members of the public intent on trying to preserve as much as possible of the service currently provided by the Surrey Performing Arts Library have had a small measure of success. The Communities Select Committee (CSC) of Surrey County Council (SCC) has agreed that Option 3 (closure of the service) should be removed from the future options for SPAL. It has also agreed to a three month delay before taking any substantive decisions about SPAL to enable proper consideration of an alternative long-term sustainable future for SPAL outside SCC (Option 2).
More than 2,000 people signed a petition in support of SPAL (due to be presented to the SCC Cabinet meeting on 28 November) and over 1,600 people responded to the consultation launched by SCC in September. The decisions to remove Option 3 (closure) and explore Option 2 (takeover by an independent body) were taken at the CSC meeting on 7 November and there was a large attendance by supporters of SPAL in the public gallery. Thanks to all of you who have given your support to SPAL. There is no doubt that, but for the intervention of user groups, supporters and organisations such as Making Music, the Friends of Surrey Performing Arts Library (FOSPAL) and the International Association of Music Libraries (IAML(UK&Irl)), Surrey County Council would have proceeded with their Option 1 (dispersal of the collection to other Surrey libraries with no dedicated staff and no dedicated acquisitions and renewals budget).
In the consultation, two thirds of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with Option 2 (exploration of a takeover of SPAL by an independent body). Making Music and FOSPAL strongly believe that this option is worth pursuing - even though the timescale for developing such an alternative is ridiculously short (SCC are still adamant that a "cost neutral" solution for SPAL must be found before 1 April 2018). At least the councillors on the CSC agreed that that option should be properly explored.
Since then there have been two meetings between the Library Services management team and Making Music, FOSPAL and IAML(UK&Irl) to prioritise what work needs to be done to explore the feasibility of Option 2 (and by whom). At the second of those meetings (on 23 November) much better historic and current financial and other information about SPAL was produced than was contained in the report to the CSC. From this information, we expect that a "model budget" of what an independent SPAL might look like (in terms of how much it would cost to run it and how the necessary income might be generated to do so) will be produced in early December. Making Music and FOSPAL are urging that this should be the centre-piece for discussion at a public meeting to be held with user groups and others as soon as possible. In the meantime, in consultation with IAML(UK&Irl), FOSPAL and Making Music have been working on how an independent and expanded SPAL might be set up and managed - taking into account what has worked in other parts of the country.
In the short-term, SCC are considering increasing charges to reduce the budget short-fall at SPAL; they are investigating adopting a much more efficient IT package designed specifically for performing arts materials by Nottinghamshire Performing Arts Library; and they are investigating how to reform the Inter Library Loan (ILL) system which currently costs (rather than rewards) net lenders (such as SPAL).
Whatever the outcome of this work, it seems (unfortunately) unlikely that SPAL will be able to continue to be based indefinitely at Denbies. The cost of operating at Denbies is high and, in trying to look at ways to keep the costs of SPAL to user groups as low as reasonably possible, an independent organization taking over SPAL would be bound to look for an alternative (cheaper) venue.
A further update will be issued in mid-December when the parameters of what Option 2 might involve are clearer.
In the meantime, we are told that the Libraries Service management team are also working in parallel on Option 1 although we have been given no more details about that.
This news update is being sent to FOSPAL members and to Making Music members. Please disseminate it more widely to those with an interest in the future of this vital service.
You can find the latest FOSPAL newsletter here
Surrey Performing Arts Library