The campaign to reverse Devon County Council’s decision to cut Devon’s mobile library service now has over 5,000 signatures, with the TV presenter Carol Vorderman the latest high-profile figure to lend their support. But while Conservative County Councillors have sought to justify the decision on the basis that the ‘lumbering vans’ are no longer viable, Torridge and West Devon MP Sir Geoffrey Cox has sent a different message to campaigners. In a statement issued to Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, he said that he ‘strongly supports’ the continuation of our mobile libraries and sees them as ‘an important service to our rural communities’, calling for ‘alternative financial models to sustain them.’
This contrasts strongly with comments by cabinet member Rufus Gilbert (Conservative, Salcombe), who is reported as having said ‘It’d be better to buy the books and post them to them’, and Councillor Andrew Saywell, (Conservative, Torrington), who thought the decision justified on the basis that ‘less and less people are using the vans’ (sic).
But Torridge Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, who is leading the campaign to save the mobile library service, has presented figures which show that in the last five years there has been no obvious decline in usage and that in huge areas of Devon numbers have increased significantly. She has argued that the figures which show a decline since 2012 are misleading because the service had already been reduced and the number of mobile library vans cut from eight to four. She and Liberal Democrat colleagues have called for discussions on opportunities to use the library vans to offer additional services to rural communities such as partnerships with the deaf association, opportunities to work with Citizens Advice, and the potential for a council enquiry service.
Commenting on a meeting with Sir Geoffrey to discuss the issue, Councillor Cottle-Hunkin said:
‘Sir Geoffrey was aware of the impact the campaign to save the service is having and told us he has been hearing about it from worried constituents. He agreed with our arguments that Devon County Council could learn from other councils who are developing mobile libraries to provide a range of other services, and that there are options to look at alternative ways of funding them. The County Council has a statutory obligation to provide equal access to books through the library service. I therefore hope that when the matter comes before the Scrutiny Committee on 28 September, Councillors will take heed of the strength of support there is for maintaining the mobile library service and be more pro-active in imagining its future.’
The petition to Save Devon’s mobile libraries can be signed at: www.change.org/SaveOurMobileLibrary
A competition for children to ‘imagine the most fabulous mobile library ever’, with prizes of books donated by children’s authors, is open until 15 September. For more details go to the Save Devon’s Mobile Libraries Facebook page: