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'We got it wrong on informing about libraries - I apologise'

'I think it has been, unfortunately, badly communicated to the communities about what we were trying to do'

Glasgow Life got it wrong how it informed communities about their libraries and services this week, its chairman admits.

David McDonald said he took responsibility and offered his apology for the “distress and worry” caused.

“I think it has been, unfortunately, badly communicated to the communities about what we were trying to do.

“And we certainly don’t want to have caused anyone in any community across the city any upset or distress - so we absolutely take onboard the feelings that will exist.

“Communities across the city should never feel like they have to fight to protect their local services."

Speaking to this website, he said: “I take responsibility for how this was badly managed and communicated to those communities.

“And, yes, I am more than happy to offer them my apologies for how it was communicated to them.

“Because it isn’t good enough and has caused people to be distressed and worried when I don’t think that had to happen.

“I am keen that we are able to find a way of moving forward and having discussions with those communities to see what the best solution for each of those venues and services are going forward.”

The Glasgow Life chairman said he had heard the upset and anger from communities  - and was listening.

McDonald said short-term pop-up libraries that were now being planned were a response to those feelings.

He said he would contact groups and local representatives from next week and conversations would begin on long-term solutions.

But he insisted no closures of any building or sites were planned.

And he said venues not scheduled to reopen after lockdown were remaining closed solely because of the impact of Covid.

Recent days should have been filled with anticipation of the city’s cultural jewels and community buildings reopening after months.

Instead, Glasgow Life was forced to fire-fight anger over those venues remaining shut.

Maryhill Library
Maryhill Library

A list of venues 59 not reopening was only released on Tuesday after Glasgow West End Today requested it.

The list appeared to come out of nowhere and gave little detail of what was proposed for each site.

It instantly caused a furore as communities across the city became concerned about their local facilities.

Communities in Whiteinch and Maryhill said they had not been aware of plans to re-locate services to other hubs.

In Whiteinch, residents were angry at plans to relocate the library service to Scotstoun leisure centre.

McDonald said he had listened to their concerns.

“For more than a decade there has been a programme of relocating some of those libraries and other community assets.

“With Whiteinch, there had been a planned formulated two years ago that was looking actively at engaging with the community to understand what alternative provision might be made available.

“Then due to Covid, none of that has really been able to take place.

“We have heard very loudly and clearly over the last few days how people feel about their community and library at Whiteinch.”

He added: “What we want to do now is provide a library service in a pop-up location to deal with the immediate need and desire for a library in Whiteinch.

“That wont be in the current Whiteinch Library building, but we are keen to know from the community where they would like that to be.

“We originally suggested that Scotstoun (leisure centre) could be the site of a relocation of the library, it could also be the site of a pop-up.

“But if there is somewhere else locally that is able to be opened as a pop-up facility in the short-term, that is a current proposal for the community.

“A library service will continue to serve that community - that is guaranteed.”

Whiteinch Library
Whiteinch Library

In Maryhill, anger met plans to close the Carnegie listed library on Maryhill Road after 116 years.

A petition was launched and politicians of all parties have called on Glasgow Life to rethink.

McDonald said Glasgow Life would work with local organisations to come up with solutions.

He said: “I sense that was based on people’s thought the closure of that building meant the loss of the service.

“We are still hoping to have a conversation with community organisations in Maryhill and explain the rationale and the idea behind the co-location the leisure centre in Maryhill, which is on the other side of Maryhill Road.

“It maybe doesn’t have the same geographical challenges of potential solutions around Whiteinch.

“I think Maryhill in terms of its users, is one of the lowest-used libraries in its current site, where as in contrast the leisure centre is one of the busiest.

“If there is a way of co-locating that service that encourages some of those gym users to use the library, as well as some of the library users to use the gym, then there are maybe some additional benefits that the community can get from that.

“We will be having those conversations with communities and we will be putting one of the pop-up libraries in Maryhill as well. 

“Given the closeness of the leisure centre, and that the centre is able to open, I think the pop-up can go in there.”

The list of venues remaining closed had little detail when it was released this week.

Glasgow Life has revised that list over recent days to include a narrative of intentions and proposals for each venue.

McDonald said: “I think it would be fair to say that the list when it was first published was unhelpfully sparse of the kind of detail that communities need to know.”

He said there no plans or intention to sell any of the buildings or sites.

“We are clear that these heritage sites belong to the people of Glasgow.

“They are held on the behalf of the people by the city council and there is no intention or plan to proposals for any of them to be sold off.

“What we want to do is work in partnership - and that might be with community organisations, and that be on occasions with private-sector organisations -  but these are very much public buildings and we want them to remain as public buildings.

“But we also want to work with others to help us to refurbish them and to help us get them back open so that people can access the services that the offer.”

McDonald said the pop-up libraries would provide a stop-gap solution to those communities where library buildings weren’t reopening.

And, yes, I am more than happy to offer them my apologies for how it was communicated to them. Because it isn’t good enough and has caused people to be distressed and worried when I don’t think that had to happen

Cllr David McDonald

He said: “They obviously wont be of the same size and scale, but they will have a selection of books and also IT and staff on site.

“If people are looking for a particular book that they don’t happen to have then that can be ordered for someone and will be available the next time they are able to come into the pop-up library.

“It will be nicely furnished with sofas and places for people to relax and read in comfort.

“Hopefully over the next few days, we are working to source all of the add-ons that would be required to make the pop-ups a useable and a comfortable place for communities to visit - and to take their first few steps back into the world.”

The pandemic has crippled Glasgow Life’s finances.

Cancelled subscription and income has left it with 15% less money now than it had before the pandemic.

More than 90 venues including Kelvingrove and the Riverside museums will begin to open from next week after the city council provided £100m in emergency funding.

McDonald denied Glasgow Life had deliberately concealed the fate of any of the buildings.

He said: “Anyone who thinks there is any political motivation behind any of the choices that are having to be taken, I think don’t fully understand the challenges that Glasgow Life as an organisation faces.

“The same people that are making the political allegation that we are trying to keep these things quiet or hidden, are also from political parties that had no plan for any of these venues to open.

“There was only one proposal which in the end all political parties backed.

“It was clear when we put that £100m plan in place everybody got a list of all the venues that were going to open.”

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