A quick word about how local government in Hertfordshire works. Bear with us, you’ll need to get your head around this in order to understand how libraries are run – but we’ll make it as brief as we possibly can.
Depending on where you live, there’s a local authority for your district (for instance North Herts or Stevenage Borough) which provides neighbourhood services like car parks, allotments, rubbish collection, recycling, parks and leisure facilities.
A second local authority, Hertfordshire County Council, runs county-wide services like highways, libraries and social services. Both the district and county council (as well as some other services like police and firefighters) are paid for from the money raised by council tax.
Each council elects a separate set of members, although it is perfectly possible for an individual to serve as both a district and county councillor at the same time. What this means is that to stand up for libraries you need to identify which county council division covers your neighbourhood and who is the councillor representing it.
Rural areas might also have town or parish councils which operate on an extremely local scale. A few are taking on libraries threatened with closure. But we don’t face that situation in Hertfordshire, so don’t worry about them right now. Also, council staff and managers work completely outside the political structure so can’t deal with this kind of policy issue.
Some tips about writing to elected representatives. Be succinct rather than long-winded. Keep the tone civil and polite, otherwise you are offering the perfect reason for your concerns to be ignored. Don’t worry about using email – that’s every bit as valid as writing a letter these days.
Present yourself well by paying attention to spelling and formatting. Stick to the issues rather than trying to make it personal. And tell your own story, in your own words – a very effective way to explain the results of policy decisions on the lives of you, your friends and family.
You could explain how Hertfordshire libraries have helped you learn a new skill and boosted your job prospects, or how they provided resources and activities for your kids. Maybe you got your first taste of the Internet with help from library staff or you’ve had a wonderful time tracing your family history.
Whatever your story is, let your councillor hear it, so they understand why these institutions are such an important part of our community.