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!

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