Friday, 29 June 2012

'Manchester, so much to answer for' (The Smiths)

The 'Manchester Central Library Transformation Project' as Neil MacInnes, the Head of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, likes to call it, or as others like to call it "cultural vandalism on an industrial scale". is causing a storm of protest from authors, library users and campaigners. And more recently some library management heavyweights have joined in the on the discussion at

The number of books being ‘pulped’ or disposed off range from 210,000 to over 500,000, and the official reasons for them being ‘pulped’ or disposed off range from a 'miscalculation over shelf space in the refurbished library’ to "a much-needed housekeeping exercise"!

The reason I’m particularly interested in this story is that I’m a Reference Librarian, a dying breed, and in my 20+ years of working in Public Libraries have witnessed the 'pulping' and selling off, usually at a pittance, of thousands of 'reference books'. I've also witnessed rare and valuable books and manuscripts being left to rot in damp and mouldy basements and have personally saved hundreds if not thousands of books by kicking up a fuss, cataloguing them and publicising their existence, I’ve also facilitated the donation or loan of special collections to other specialist libraries. If I hadn't have done this they would have either been left to rot or boxed up and sold for a pound a volume to a second hand book dealer who would then sell them on for a very healthy profit!

Some of the books, in the collections that I am talking about, where 'weeded' because they where out of date, in bad condition or just never ever used and this process is crucial to good stock management, and I'm sure that this to some degree is what is going on at Manchester Central Library, but the vast majority where disposed off due to the space taken up by the collection being needed for another use, the reference library was downgraded, moved or closed down, there wasn't enough staff, money or time too administer the collection or specialist staff where made redundant, downgraded or moved to other positions!

Hackney Libraries years ago scrapped one of their reserve stocks, they got non-specialist and inexperienced staff to dump it in a skip out side the Central Library, a member of the public spotted it and alerted the local press and the skip was removed but the process continued behind closed doors!

Reserve stocks and special collections are being lost up and down the country, this network of collections all link together to form a valuable and important resource which should be protected and managed properly for future generations and the national good!

In my opinion the 'weeding' and disposal of between 210,000 - 500,000 books, papers and manuscripts is not normal stock management and surely some of the stock could have gone to other collections or appropriate good causes?

For links to news stories and letters relating to this story see;

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Vaizey's Speech to the 'Future of Library Services' Conference

Today Ed Vaizey gave a speech at the 'Future of Library Services' conference hosted by Neil Stewart Associates, "the leading specialists in public policy communications". The co-sponsor was John Laing Ltd, who run Hounslow Libraries, and the supporters were the SCL, the CLOA and the Reading Agency.

Let me start by talking about some good news, the DCMS and the DfE are to work together to provide automatic library membership to every primary school child, an idea put forward by Michael Rosen.

In the rest of his speech Vaizey paints a very rosy picture of the state of library services in England
"I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak at today’s conference. This is a great opportunity to talk about the thriving library service that we have in England."

He then picks Canada Water Library, Fitton Hill Library and Neighbourhood Centre, The Hive in Worcestershire and the £200m new Birmingham Library to illustrate his point! Hardly representative of the service!
Then he makes a blunder, he states that according to the latest data from the 'Taking Part' survey library visits are not in decline but according to the latest quarterly figures they've dropped from 39.7% to 38.8%!
He then goes on to announce that ACE will be allocating £6m pounds to develop partnerships between libraries and the arts;

"Today I am delighted to announce that the Arts Council will be allocating £6 million from its Grants for the Arts programme over the next two years for library authorities to lead projects working with artists, arts organisations and other cultural organisations on arts and cultural activity through libraries.
This fund will aim to stimulate ambitious, innovative partnerships between libraries and artists and arts organisations. It will help raise the ambition and expectation of libraries, and represents a significant commitment by the Arts Council to their new role."

Yes £6m seems a lot of money but shared out amongst all the libraries in England it is but a drop in the ocean and the over emphasis on the arts is worrying, no mention of education, knowledge, information or lifelong learning, surely the key core role of Public Libraries!

He then states he will be setting up with CIPFA a new benchmarking system for local authority services, called ‘comparative profile reports’ he also states that he will be commissioning reports on all the library authorities in England which will be available for public view from Dec2012. Are these the new 'Library Standards' that we have all been asking for?

"My Department will use the reports to look for ways in which we can help local authorities.  I must emphasise that this is not an attempt to sanction local authorities and certainly not a return to top-down, inflexible library standards. But if we see wildly diverging opening hours between two similar authorities with similar budgets and infrastructure, there will be an opportunity to ask questions and look at how opening hours could be improved.
Or if one authority is spending twice as much on book stock as another, but providing a similar number of books, we can ask if there are ways to improve efficiency in the authority in question."

He tackles the issue of using volunteers in libraries by stating;

"Volunteers are crucial to the library service.  But let me state again, as I have so often, they are not a substitute for expertise of professional librarians, as well as other people trained in specific aspects of the library service."

And then in my view contradicts himself by stating;

"I am also pleased to see community supported libraries coming into play, particularly where a local authority is planning to close a building. Community run libraries are contributing to a diverse picture of libraries located within village halls, pubs, shops, churches, day care centres, tourist information centres and enterprise hubs.
Community managed and community supported libraries will never replace the extensive network of council run libraries we enjoy.  But they do provide an important additional element of provision, and an important alternative model which can add to the rich variety of services already available."

Community Libraries and the volunteers who run them take jobs away from paid library staff, so it is substitution!

He then congratulates ACE for its 'Envisioning the library of the future' initiative, mentions the new LGA report ‘Local Solutions for Future Local Library Services’ and finishes with the immortal;

"I have made it clear from the moment I became a Minister that no library authority should contemplate closing libraries unless they have conducted a proper review of their library service.
While some local authorities have put forward controversial proposals since 2010, all of them have conducted a library review, as I made clear to them they would have to do when I took office. I have no doubt that the efforts of library campaigners have also brought about welcome changes in some of the more extreme proposals put forward. 
Nevertheless, I am always mindful that libraries are a local service, paid for by local taxpayers.  As far as possible, local democracy not Whitehall diktat should have an impact on how they are shaped. A library inquiry is a power of last resort – it has only ever been used once in fifty years. It is not a tool to be used lightly, or for political expediency"

The Minister who has done nothing has the temerity to praise campaigners for trying to halt the destruction and divestment of the Public Library service that he by his own inaction has renounced responsibility for! If it wasn't so tragic it would be funny!

"I hope you will join me in continuing to spread the good news" Thank you Ed we will if we can find any!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

'Beyond Books and buildings: should councils close their libraries to save money?" - the LGA's vision for Public Libraries!

The Conference session is being chaired by Flick Rea, Lib Dem Councillor for the Fortune Green Ward in Camden, who also sat on the board of the London Libraries Change Programme and now sits on the LGA's Culture, Tourism and Sports Board, and the speakers are Cllr David Hodge, Leader of Surrey CC, and Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham who sits on the LGA Workforce Board.

"Libraries are among the most valued services councils provide. The library landscape is also changing radically in light of budget cuts, the Localism Act and the Big Society. From sharing back office functions, to locating libraries in shops and empowering communities to play a bigger role, councils are finding innovative ways to give people access to quality library services. Councils are looking beyond books and buildings, opening up libraries for a new generation of users, forging new partnerships and putting them at the heart of the community.
So, are there alternatives to cutting library services? How can libraries achieve modernisation and digitalisation as well as value for money?
Delegates will hear the latest cutting edge thinking from LGA and local government and have a chance to have their say."
Outline of the session taken from

A media release relating to the report 'Local solutions for future local library services' can be found at and copies can be requested from, i've requested one but haven't yet had a response!

The themes and innovations talked about in the media release are not particularly innovative or new, libraries have been offering these services for years but what is new is the unprecedented push towards co-location, sharing services, private finance and volunteers, this neo-liberal agenda is also being adopted by ACE and of course the DCMS.

And i quote;
"A library in the 21st century can be a whole of things, from a small e-book borrowing point based in a shop to a part of a cultural hub which supports everything from education to lifelong learning to health, volunteering, art projects, smal business, job hunting and social care"

The LGA along with ACE and the DCMS have a clear vision for Public Libraries and that is to divest and diversify, they want to position 'libraries' within the leisure market in order to make them more attractive to private firms or failing this to hand them over to charities or volunteers!

This is not what the vast majority of library users want, they want local libraries that are publicly funded and accountable, staffed by paid professionals and housed in buildings which are accessible and easily identifiable as libraries, not 'library hubs', 'library plus', 'discovery centres' and shiny multi-million pound town centre libraries built at the expense of the local network and they certainly don't want library staff issuing death certificates, as in Kent Libraries!

How can i make these statements about what library users want, i hear you ask, well through 20+ years of asking them, through information gleaned from local newspapers, online forums, friends groups, feedback from other campaigners and by reading and digesting every relevant report i come across! For a fairly comprehensive overview of the reports, inquiries and research conducted on Public Libraries over the years see

It may be worth noting that the LGA's chair is a Conservative and the largest grouping is Conservative, it represents 373 councils across the UK and the councils pay an annual subscription ranging from £10k to £70k, see for more info.

Friday, 22 June 2012

there's gold in them thar libraries!

Lucky old Frank Pezzanite (LSSI), you know him off the;

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

has just come back from a 112 day cruise, you can read his account at

It's good to see that Frank, the Darth Vader of the Library World, is following his own advice and working hard!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Greetings from our library colleagues in Madrid!

Dear Allan,
I send you new photos of our last protest. We keep wearing black every friday.
Best Regards,

Guadalupe Uceta PĂ©rez
Ayte. de Archivos y Bibliotecas
Hemeroteca Municipal de Madrid
Conde Duque 9-11

UPDATE - LSSI pull out of the race for the Croydon\Wandsworth Libraries contract


I got confirmation from Cllr Tim Pollard this afternoon that LSSI have indeed pulled out of the race for the Croydon\Wandsworth contract.
What conclusions can we take from this, well i can only assume that they, along with Civica, came to the conclusion that running the libraries in Croydon\Wandsworth would be unprofitable?
The whole process is turning out to be an expensive failure and long may it continue! (a failure that is not expensive!)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Have LSSI pulled out of the race for the Wandsworth/Croydon libraries contract?

A little birdie, well actually a Wandsworth Unison source, has just told me that LSSI, the US based private library firm, have pulled out of the procurement process for the joint Wandsworth/Croydon Libraries contract!
If this is true then the major player has rolled over leaving John Laing, GLL, Essex CC and an in-house management bid still in the bed!
If it's not true then i'm sure that either Stuart St V Fitzgerald or Jim Lynch will tell me so?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The library neo-liberalists have an 'ACE' up their sleeve!

On the 1/10/11 the Arts Council England (ACE) took over responsibility for developing Public Library policy from the MLA, many at the time saw this as a deliberate attempt to sideline libraries and felt that the remit would have sat better with the Reading Agency! In fact you could have been mistaken in believing that ACE had just become the MLA markII due to their appointment of several ex-MLA officers especially Nicola Morgan!

Even before the hand over, in August 2011, ACE had committed to continue the 'Future Libraries Programme', a programme orchestrated by the MLA and derided by campaigners as a waste of time, effort and money and seen by many as having a neo-liberal agenda!
In September 2011 ACE published 'Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone' which they stated was an attempt to integrate Libraries and Museums into their wider framework for the arts. In my view 'Culture, knowledge and understanding...' didn't really say anything that hadn't already been said before, in fact there had been a plethora of research, reports and inquiries over the years and much of it covered the same ground, but one section revealed to me, and others, the ACE and DCMS agenda for Libraries and that is;

"In this context, the Arts Council’s commitment to quality is as valid for museums and libraries as it is for the arts, since this is what will shore up their long-term public value. So too is its ambition to strengthen a mixed economy for culture. Museums and libraries similarly need to strengthen their business models, diversify their income streams and look at new ways of encouraging private giving and supporting enterprise. Likewise, they need to continue to explore new ways of collaborating and improving efficiency in order to thrive not just survive. For the Arts Council, the imperative to enhance our role as an investor that understands how to support and position arts and culture becomes even greater. We will have responsibility for, but relatively few funds to invest in, museums and libraries. Those funds we have will have to work hard, as catalysts for change, alongside the core funding provided by others, such as local authorities, with whom we will work even more closely."

In fact ACE in all their reports, including their submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Library Closures, have consistently stated that they are in favour of private funding, co-location, sharing services and using volunteers in relation to Public Libraries!
On 14/6/12 I put this direct question to Liz Forgan, the Chair of ACE,
"With the imminent privatisation of Croydon/Wandsworth and Wokingham Library Services, Hounslow already being run by John Laing Ltd and Greenwich by GLL, does ACE see the private finance model as a way forward for Public Libraries?"
And got this reply;
"We need to be looking at many different operating models so we keep libraries relevant and sustainable – this includes potentially involving the private sector. However, I believe any library service should be focused on principles of free access, literacy and enjoyment of the written word."
On 09/11/11 they launched their 'Libraries Development Initiative' with 13 authorities each receiving a share of a £250,000 fund to "test innovative, locally appropriate and enterprising ways of working, resulting in a resilient vision for future public library services as a whole." This initiative received criticism due to the insignificant amount of money involved and for the type of projects it funded, in particular the "Creation of a volunteer managed and run community cinema within the community managed library in Kirklees, Yorkshire."

And from the beginning of this year, 2012. ACE launched a 'Libraries Consultation', commissioning Shared Intelligence and Ipsos/Mori to undertake the exercise. It kicked off with a "desk-based trends and innovation review' and then a 'Delphi inquiry' where they hand picked "over 200 sector experts" to consider a series of statements about how they would envisage the state of the country in 10 years time and then moved onto a blog with a number of yet again hand-picked contributors blue-sky thinking about library services in the year 2022! Why 2022? no one knows but them, huge criticism has been levelled at this exercise due to the fact that there has been absolutely no discussion, except from campaigners responding to the posts, about the present situation of cuts, redundancies and divestment!

As part of this 'consultation' process ACE held a panel discussion on 27/03/12 at Swiss Cottage Library, the panel was made of Brian Gambles - Asst Director of Culture, Birmingham City Council; Ciara Eastell - Head of Libraries, Devon; Janene Cox - Commissioner for Culture, Leisure & Tourism, Staffordshire; Nicky Parker - Head of Transformation, Manchester and SCL President; Antonio Rizzo - Head of Libraries & Information Services, Lewisham and Executive member of the ALCL and finally Mike Clarke, Head of Camden Libraries and Chair of ALCL. Lots of talk about encouraging entrepreneurs, flexible staff with the right attitude and oh yes volunteers (someone actually mentioned a book!) What a really representative bunch!

They have also been holding a series of 'Envisioning the Library of the Future' workshops around the country and I had the misfortune of attending the one at Swiss Cottage Library on 16/5/12! The attendees list was a roll call of the cutters and marketeers of the library world and included David Ruse, Helen Brazier, Sue McKenzie, Kate Pitman, Jillian Southwell, Maggie Appleton et al. For a fuller view read my account 'Selling the Family Silver....'

And in the next phase of the exercise, to run between June and late September 2012, ACE "will test the public view of the purpose and value of public libraries", yes you read correctly they will be asking the public what they think of libraries, because as we all know library users are not the experts! And finally they will produce another bloody report to add to the huge pile of reports and research produced on the very same subject over the years!

"Please let this be the end" i hear you scream! But no! in the last couple of weeks the plot has further thickened, a public tender has been issued by ACE, the DCMS, DCLG and DEFRA "to create
a new information and support resource for officers and service planners who are considering creating community supported or community managed libraries in their areas."

All this in the middle of a 'consultation' to envisage the future agenda of Public Libraries, well i never!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Floor Walking!

'Floor walking'
a.1. The act of walking across the floor. also known as roaming, rovering, putting one foot in front of the other etc
taken from 'Wylie's Dictionary of Annoying Retail Jargon used in Public Libraries'

With the introduction of self-service technology into the Public Library sector, senior managers are desperately looking at how to 're-brand' the library experience for users and staff! The argument is that self-service frees up staff time and removes the need for desks and other 'barriers', this in turn allows staff to move freely around the library 'engaging' and 'interacting' with the public! From a purely personal point of view the last thing i want when i'm walking around a shop or a library is someone coming up to me asking "do you need any help", "if i need help i will ask for it" is usually my reply! Now don't get me wrong there are times when library staff should and must approach users asking if help is needed, for example when someone looks genuinely lost or confused! Has anyone asked the public if they wan't this or if it really will, as management claim, 'improve the user experience" for them?
The concept comes from the retail sector along with calling library users 'customers', face on shelving, brightly coloured flooring and wall coverings, coffee shops etc. It's all part of the agenda to commercialise libraries and position them within the leisure and retail market and also to make them more attractive to private companies! The whole retail led experiment was pioneered by the 'Idea Stores' in Tower Hamlets which then influenced the 'Anythink' concept in the US but is slowly but surely being rolled out across the rest of the service!
I spotted this discussion on Lis Pub Libs the other day stating that Essex County Council offered a specific package of training and CILIP also offers courses.

I find it very worrying that my profession has embraced the neo-liberal model with very little resistance!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Board recommends Upland not privatize public library - Mercury News - 01/06/12

"The Upland Library Board of Trustees recommended to the city and the Finance and Economic Development Committee to not privatize the library and "provide written rational" to the finance committee and the city council.
The Thursday meeting, which took place in the Upland library's multi-purpose room, came after city manager Stephen Dunn recommended the council allow him to negotiate a contract with a Maryland-based private firm to manage the library.
Board member Renuka Balakrishnan said in Dunn's report, where the city manager recommends the council allow him to negotiate a contract with Library Systems and Services Inc., there was "no guarantee of success by outsourcing to LSSI."

"Sharon McKinley, 70, of Upland said she didn't trust LSSI's for profit motives.
"The library may be less publicly accountable," McKinley said because it's a private company."