Saturday, 4 February 2017

Public Library usage stats down again, hmm I wonder why?

Before i start i'd just like to make it clear that i think footfall/usage stats are a noose around our necks and we should be concentrating more on social impact but sadly these blunt figures are what senior managers, council officers and councillors like to see on graphs.

According to a recent Guardian article and the latest DCMS data In 2005/6 48.2% of the population had used a library within that 12 month period and now it's down to 33.8%. Without getting too bogged down in detail the possible reasons for this decline, especially since 2010, can be laid out as;

8000+ paid/trained staff culled. (inc many qualified and specialist staff)
350+ libraries closed.
12-15% vol-led.
Opening hrs and budgets (inc book funds) slashed.

I'll also add to this;

No public library standards in England.
An ineffective distributive leadership model.
5yrs wasted on an Inquiry and then a report/strategy that some say is already out of date and only re-enforces government policy.
A minister, Rob Wilson, who has, like his predecessor Ed Vaizey, done nothing to intervene to halt cuts and closures.
A government agenda to undermine and offload the public sector.

I would further add;

An increase in self-service and staffless libraries.
An escalation in privatisation and commercialisation.
An erosion of the public library ethos and mission.
An over-focus on leisure.

But putting in its most simple terms if you have less staff and less libraries that are open for less time with less books then you have less usage, simples!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

There's a fightback taking place in Ireland against staffless libraries but why not in the UK?

While we (apart from resistance in Barnet, Calne etc) in the UK roll over and seemingly die re staffless opening in our libraries, in Ireland there's a fightback taking place.

In Nov 2016 members of the union Impact voted 9 to 1  (Over 1,200 library workers backed industrial action by a margin of 9-1, with a voting turnout of 83%) in favour of blocking the introduction of staffless opening in 23 libraries across the country. Concerns have also been raised by campaigners and political representatives.

Very recently an FOI found that 111 library members of one of the pilots in Offaly had seen their memberships temporarily withdrawn for "breaches of terms and conditions", these included drunkenness and tailgating. Exactly the same concerns can be seen in a video made by Barnet campaigners.

So why the lack of concern and fightback in the UK?

Could it be that we're too cosy with the firms who push the product? After all we give them space at professional conferences/showcases and in our journals.

Could it be that we fall for the doublespeak and spin from councillors, politicians and the library establishment? We're regularly told that staffless opening is innovative and inclusive when it's really just another cost-cutting exercise that excludes children and young people (and possibly the elderly and those with disabilities)?

Could it be that those in power have lost sight of the core ethos/mission of public libraries and the true worth of paid/trained library workers, or just don't care?

We need research/data but i suspect that the only real way of doing this would be by submitting FOI's otherwise we'll be reliant on info supplied by those who have a vested interested in introducing the model.

But more than anything we desperately need our unions to step up and to oppose this latest attack on libraries, if Impact in Ireland can do it then why can't Unison et al?

Friday, 16 September 2016

UNITE and Fight! (and build for the national demo)

Recently out of the depths of the normal library doom and gloom came a real glimmer of light, Unite, the union, shoulder to shoulder with community activists won a victory against Bromley Council and the local volunteer centre, Community Links.

"The ongoing feud over Bromley’s library services took another turn this week, as Community Links Bromley announced it would not be taking over a handful of libraries.
Following strike action in July, Unite has called the move “a significant victory against the fragmentation of the borough’s library service”.
Onay Kasab, from the union, said: “Bromley council’s plans to break-up and run-down a key public service is in disarray. Now the fight is on to keep Bromley’s libraries in public hands, but library workers will be able to campaign as a single united force rather than a fragmented one.
“Workers have been fighting against the cuts and the privatisation since April last year. Many have taken over 30 days of strike action in the long campaign. It’s a testament to their determination.”

Just goes to show what unions, library workers and community activists can achieve when they unite and fight. That's why it's crucial that we build support and solidarity for the national demo on 05/11/16, we need a show of strength with thousands of library workers, library users, library campaigners and community activists marching shoulder to shoulder against the destructive, savage and ideological Austerity and Localism agendas.

Follow on Twitter at @5thNovDemo
Register you interest at

Friday, 22 July 2016

Library Workers of the World Strike and Fight!


There's a saying in libraryland that if library workers are on strike then things must be really bad, well things are really really really bad!
For the last 3 or so weeks library workers in Mississauga, Canada, have been striking for a better pay deal and terms and conditions. For the last two years they've been offered 0.5% and with 50% of the library workforce on part-time contracts with no holiday or sick allowances their union branch CUPE Local 1989 decided emough was enough and brought their members out. With wonderful support from their local community and library users they've managed to secure a better deal albeit a tentative one.

Their CUPE Local 4948 comrades in Toronto, lead by the wonderful Maureen O'Reilly, won a similar battle earlier in the year.

Library workers in Bromley started a weeks strike action on 16/7/16 against the mass privatisation and amateurisation of their service. With 87% YES vote in a ballot and a brilliantly organised community campaign they're taking the fight directly to the doors of the hard-right Bromley Council which seems more interested in investing money in commercial property than properly funding statutory services! The strike culminates in a March through Bromley on 23/7/16.
 Members outside Petts Wood library

Library workers in Lewisham also took strike action recently and held a magnificent march in which i was proud and honoured to be asked to speak at. They went on strike to try and stop the Council from making more cuts and handing their libraries over to volunteers, a disastrous policy which has resulted in drops in usage at the existing volunteer -led 'libraries' of 60-90%.

 Image result for lewisham libraries strike

And not forgetting my comrades at Barnet and Lambeth Unison who're still leading magnificent campaigns/strikes/marches/protests/occupations etc against cuts and privatisation.

Image result for barnet libraries strike
Image result for barnet libraries strike

The DCMS & Civil Society (and Ed!)

Recently an announcement was made by the government that could have a fundamental effect on the future of public libraries in the UK, responsibility for the government's 'Civil Society' (Charities, SocEnts, Mutuals etc) agenda has shifted from the Cabinet Office to the DCMS. The Minister involved is Rob Wilson who has also been given the DCMS libraries brief. This change takes place shortly after a ministerial re-shuffle that saw John Whittingdale being replaced by Karen Bradley and Ed Vaizey by Matt Hancock.
This move is seen by many as an attempt by the government to re-position and re-invigorate (or even demote) their 'Big Society' agenda;

"Under cover of darkness the Office for Civil Society, a shadow of its former self, slips, almost unnoticed, out of the Cabinet Office, shuffles across Whitehall and finds refuge in the cavernous DCMS." 

But why might all this be bad news for public libraries? Well although we've only got a handful of library mutuals we've definitely seen a push towards offloading library services to Social Enterprises, Charitable Trusts etc and with the Minister for Civil Society now holding the libraries brief within the DCMS I would be very surprised if their wasn't an escalation. Add to this the fact that the new 'Libraries Minister', Matt Hancock, is a Suffolk MP and that Suffolk Libraries are an Independent & Provident Society (IPS) then you can start to see why I'm getting twitchy.

And as for Ed Vaizey, his tenure as the longest serving 'Libraries Minister' was a complete and utter disaster for public library services, users and staff. During his reign we lost 8000 paid/trained library staff, 343-600+ libraries (figure depends on whether you count volunteer-led 'libraries' as closed); saw a 93% increase in volunteers, a huge decrease in budgets/opening hours and an escalation in privatisation/commercialisation. He also treated campaigners with contempt, blocking them on twitter and breaking his promise to debate with them in a public meeting.
Although he was very vocal about library cuts/closures in opposition he refused to intervene or speak out when in power, a total dereliction of his duties and leadership remit under the 1964 Act.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

'Lewisham March For Libraries' 21/5/16

Solidarity with Unison members in Lewisham Libraries who will be on strike this coming Saturday (21/5/16) in defence of the library service. They will be joining other library supporters on a march;


Saturday 21 May

Assemble 12 midday
Limes Grove - next to Lewisham Library

199 - 201 Lewisham High St, London SE13 6LG

March to Town Hall for rally with speakers including :

Carnegie Library occupier from Lambeth
Alan Wylie - Libraries campaigner
Heather Wakefield - Unison

Save Lewisham Libraries campaigners
More speakers TBC

Please show solidarity and send messages of support to , join them on the march if you can and sign the petition;