Saturday, 24 November 2012

Public excluded from secret library privatisation - East London Lines - 23/11/12

"The penultimate step in the privatisation of Croydon’s libraries was taken on Wednesday night amid protests from members of the public.
The ‘preferred bidder’ was chosen in a secret meeting of the Corporate Services Committee, after councillors had been forced to reconvene elsewhere in the building.
Some Croydon residents had refused to leave the initial meeting when the public session was finished, forcing officials to move to another room."

"Elizabeth Ash from the campaign group Save Croydon Libraries attended the meeting.
She said: “It was truly shocking. This is far from democratic and Croydon have no mandate.”

Another way to privatise – flog your library building!

I was sent this fascinating, but worrying, piece by someone who wishes to remain anonymous for very good reasons!

Another way to privatise – flog your library building!
Private School to take over site of North Kensington Library?
About ten years ago the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) allowed a new exclusive private school, Notting Hill Prep. to lease the building next door to North Kensington Library .
The new school was backed by E Scott Mead, an American banker who had recently retired from Goldman Sachs. It was felt that this exclusive school was needed as the bankers who lived in the area did not want to send their kids to pleb schools. This is ironic as in 1895 the Campden Charities had built this building to be a school to educate the ‘poor of the area’. The school called the Campden Technical Institute. Since then the Notting Hill Prep has expanded, taking over more Council land to use as a playground extension, and also buying up the former Belgo Zuid restaurant (on 124 Ladbroke Grove). It has been rumoured for a long time that they have had their eye on the building next door, North Kensington Library.
The Library was opened in 1891 and for many years was the only purpose built Library in Kensington. It is a listed building and its facade owes much to the architect Henry Wilson who was one the most inspired practitioners of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The Library is located on junction of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road, near Portobello Market. This area has been traditionally been the poorer side of Kensington. RBKC have just announced a project to redevelop its buildings and facilities in the area this includes a proposal to build “a brand new North Kensington library” near the present site, but off the main street and will be probably much smaller. 

Meanwhile the plans for purpose built present North Kensington Library are that it would be ..

”be retained as a great asset capable of generating revenue for the Council and thus for the community. Educational use is one of a number of options that the Council is considering for the building”.

My money is that this has something to do with the exclusive school next door...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

£30m libraries privatisation could be sent for judicial review - Inside Croydon - 21/11/12

"The opposition Labour group on Croydon Council is considering seeking a judicial review of the decision to hand a £30-million, eight-year library contract to John Laing Integrated Services."

'RFID, Self Service and the future of library services' - a guest post by Mick Fortune

The following guest post 'RFID, Self Service and the future of library services' was kindly sent to me by Mick Fortune, founder member of Voices for the Library and leading RFID consultant -

Much has been said lately about the threat of RFID to the future of the UK library service.
I recently wrote a short piece for RFID Arena about the use of the technology in libraries which neglected to point out the negative impact on staffing levels that so often accompanies its introduction. My defence for not having done so was that this was a piece written for a global organisation to introduce those interested primarily in the technology to its potential uses in the library.
I called the piece “Can RFID save libraries?” because I am a passionate advocate for library services, particularly public library services, and hoped that the article might provoke some non-library, non-technical individuals into thinking about the wider uses to which the technology might be put in a library context.
There is no doubt in my mind however that the most popular use of RFID remains the introduction of self-service facilities (lending and returning stock) and that this is often done in order to reduce staff numbers.
Which is a pity. On several counts.
For the staff in those services where the technology is used to replace them it is obviously a personal tragedy for them. Interestingly the use of self-service to replace staff appears to be far more common in the public library service. Ironically academic institutions are far more likely to introduce the technology to extend opening hours or increase interaction between staff and readers to the mutual benefit of both – something that the more enlightened (and successful) public library services are doing.
But it’s not just a tragedy for staff, it may also be a tragedy for the service.
Why do I say this?
Self-service became hugely popular in the UK at a time when most other markets in the world were having reservations about using the technology at all. In the USA concern over the privacy of the individual led to legal challenges, and a virtual shutdown of the introduction of the technology. Many US libraries still don’t use it for the wide range of activities that their UK counterparts do – so why were UK libraries so eager to invest?
It seems to have been a combination of economic and peer pressures. UK librarians faced a perfect storm of reduced budgets and the sudden appearance of self-service machines across the country. Councillors wanted to know why their library didn’t have the new machines, council officers pressured library staff to reduce costs by investing in self-service.
The problem was that no-one was taking the time to understand what they were buying.
The very earliest adopters of RFID in libraries were in what we Brits still call ‘mainland’ Europe. In Denmark and Holland in particular the technology took off (and has been used to very good effect to improve library services as a whole). This was largely made possible by the early realisation by librarians in these two countries that there would be considerable long term and competitive benefits in developing something called a common ‘data model’. It’s a very simple idea – all libraries agree to use the same format and the same data on their RFID tags. That makes it possible to buy the equipment, tags and software on the open market. It also enables libraries to share resources, create a national lending service and protect their investment in the future.
None of this happened in the UK – although many librarians now claim that they thought that it had.
Consequently the majority of UK libraries that have invested heavily in RFID solutions have obtained none of the advantages enjoyed by their European neighbours – but inadvertently accepted all of the risks of early adoption. Ironically it was the market, rather than the librarians, that eventually delivered a global data standard that is now – too late for many – being deployed in most US, European and ANZ libraries.
A tragedy for the service?
Well at best an opportunity missed. To recover from these errors and be able to take advantage of the new services that will now be developed for a global market  most pre-2011 installations (the ISO data standard was adopted in the UK in 2011) – and even many more recent ones – face the cost of additional investment to reprogram stock. It’s a stark choice – accept the limitations of having bought proprietary and often unique solutions – or spend the money to join the emerging mainstream.
There are other problems here too – for which advice has been freely available but widely ignored since 2003.
Smartphones can now read (and write) library tags. That is of course an opportunity – but also a threat.
Self-service machines purchased from library budgets are now being used to pay council tax, parking fines and generally interact with a wide range of local authority services. This may be great innovation (and it is) but one wonders whether such plans formed part of public consultations (as apparently happened in the Isle of Wight) before the money was spent? Did the public really vote for the book fund to be spent on devices to make council tax payments faster?
Privacy is now becoming a concern in the UK too. Ironically, as the US emerges from its concerns over ‘hot listing’ and random scanning the UK may be plunged into the same morass.
So that’s my take on the threat of RFID. But it’s important to remember that it could also deliver a vastly improved and more useful service if used thoughtfully.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The last of a dying breed?

I'm a Public Reference Librarian, a dying breed if you look at what Enfield, Havering and the others are doing!
I work in a large Reference Library for a London authority that will remain unnamed and have specialised in Reference and Information work for roughly 18 of the 22 years I've worked in Public Libraries.

Reference work is a specialism and requires years of experience and training, in fact when i first started i had to shadow an experienced Librarian for 6 months before i was let loose on the desk and public! The role of specialist Reference and Information staff is now even more important with an ever growing digital divide and the push towards the 'e-government' agenda.
Reference and Information staff have a deep understanding and knowledge of how to source and retrieve good quality information, they can guide and assist users through the maze whether it be online or hardcopy. At our core is knowledge, information and learning, not forgetting our commitment to social equity and the public sector ethos!

So what do I and my colleagues do on an average day? Here's a snapshot;

contact details for a doctor working in a hospital somewhere in Canada
" have you got a phone book for Napoli"
"how do i find a visa form on the Ghana High commission website"
"I'm looking for an Asian jewellers in Leicester"
leasing commercial property through the council
apprehending a user stealing vouchers from the newspapers
helping a user with mental health issues find local advice and support
"have you a list of free ESOL courses"
asking a group/s of noisy students to be quiet x 100
asking people to silence their mobile phones x 100
"have you got information on local Poor Houses"
"I can't open an attachment can you show me" x 100
"i need to log on to but don't know how to use a PC" x 100
asking users not to trail laptop leads on the floor
"have you any information on European Human Rights law"

and on top of working on the desk and answering enquiries there's - updating fact sheets, ordering new leaflets and weeding old ones, managing the periodicals collection, delivering staff training, organising events, stock work, 1-1 IT training sessions with the public, organising tours of the library, outreach, staffing ENQUIRE etc etc

It's very hard to know out of the 2000+ library staff that have lost their jobs how many
where Reference staff, but what we do know is that many authorities have cut, downgraded or integrated their Reference services and in doing so have lost specialist knowledge and collections that no amount of 'online resources' and generic staff training, although important, will ever replace!

And please don't dare suggest that a volunteer would or could do my job!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Formal statement by GLL on Wandsworth contract

Thanks to Ian Anstice for bringing this formal statement by GLL to my attention;

"GLL, a charitable social enterprise, is committed to providing excellent library services for local communities. We are delighted to have been selected as preferred bidder by Wandsworth Council, however as we have yet to be awarded the contract it would be premature to make further comment at this stage."

Thursday, 15 November 2012

More from Inside Croydon and Elizabeth Ash on the John Laing fiasco!

"The worst nightmare of public library supporters appears about to be realised. Library campaigners have long feared that Croydon Council will resort to using some of the borough’s library buildings to bolster the flagging value of the secretive £450million urban regeneration vehicle – aka “massively failed property speculation deal” – which the council’s under-pressure chief executive Jon Rouse has pushed through with Laings."

The Croydon based campaigner Elizabeth Ash has this to say -

"Our money was frittered away on a sham consultation, the data from which, has been completely disregarded. Residents responded genuinely to offer suggestions but have been betrayed as they were never up for consideration. Whole sections of the community were not asked their opinion, lulled to believe that their library was safe. Croydon proceeded with the market-testing and procurement process, without a mandate to do so, frittering away a further £250K of our money. 

It is hard to see how Croydon will justify this decision; a decision that now looks very much predetermined. There will be no economies of scale, which was Croydon's justification for working with Wandsworth.  Croydon Council have run our library service down to the bare bones to pave the way for the takeover, modelling the Laings approach of stripping out shelving and stock and conditioning Croydon residents, over time, to a greatly reduced service.

So, what have Croydon got to look forward to? We need look no further than Hounslow, where Laings have already stripped out the service:
- Minimal staff, working to robotic procedures from island style service desks in isolation from users and other staff members
- Limited and poorly chosen book stock and periodicals
- Severely limited access to staff as much of the service is automated and few librarians are employed
- Management of spaces, that actually discourage use - such as open seating areas with constant passing distractions and reduced quiet areas for study or a children's library devoid of staff to help, engage or encourage the younger library user.

No doubt Laings will appear a slicker operator than Croydon but, let's face it, with the ongoing hollowing out of services, that won't be hard to achieve. 

This decision leaves Croydon wide open to challenge and, if the figures are withheld as I suspect they may well be, this will cause an outcry, compounding their already vulnerable position."

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

JLIS preferred bidder for Croydon contract

I've just been informed that John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) have been made preferred bidder for the Croydon Libraries contract, more info to follow!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Croydon and Wandsworth - The joint bid that wasn't! (or is it?)

An article recently published on the excellent website 'Inside Croydon' once again makes Croydon's Labour Party's position clear on library privatisation in the borough;

“Labour is committed to our library service not being run in the private sector. New, fully qualified librarians earn £23,500 a year. Making savings off the backs of cutting staff terms and conditions is not acceptable at this level,” Godfrey, a Selhurst ward councillor, said."
Croydon have apparently split from Wandsworth who recently chose Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) as the preferred bidder for their library service, both Councils have been involved in a long and costly procurement process and until last week many believed that it would be a joint bid. The fact that it appears that the process hasn't followed this path took myself and other campaigners by surprise but shouldn't have according to Diana Edmonds from GLL whom i spoke to at the Speak up for Libraries Conference on Saturday who seemed to suggest that this was always a realistic option even though the whole crux of the deal seemed to hinge on the economies of scale offered by the joint bid! (or didn't it?)

Croydon are expected to make an announcement after a council meeting on 21/11/12 and could still choose GLL? But with Croydon Labour threatening to pull the plug even if contracts are signed it looks as if it could be a costly and messy affair?
Woe betide the long suffering library users of Croydon and who knows what awaits their counterparts in Wandsworth?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The 2012 Speak up for Libraries Conference; An inspirational day!

I'd like to start by thanking Aaron Hussey and the CILIP team for being brilliant on the day also the Library Campaign, especially Elizabeth Ash, for all their hard work in helping to organise the conference.

The day started with an inspiring speech by Phil Bradley, CILIP President, Phil started by talking about the role that libraries played in the recent storm in the US, they helped to galvanise communities and how library staff acted as a life line too many. He then went all R.D. Lankes on us by talking about how our role as library staff should not be just the keepers of artifacts but should be based on outcomes, actions and embedding ourselves within communities!

Then we had a rebel rousing speech from Alan Gibbons, in which he spoke about the wider picture and how we must debunk the austerity myth. He also reminded us that we (activists, campaigners, union members et al) have by our collective actions made a difference, the situation could be a lot worse but we still have a hard battle in front of us and how we need not to just SPEAK but SHOUT up for Libraries!

Helga Pile from UNISON then gave a very useful and practical presentation on the current legislative and political situation surrounding the governments 'Open Public Services' agenda, talking about procurement, outsourcing/privatisation and so-called 'localism'.

We then split into our workshops and I along with Hannah Bailey, from UNISON, led the one entitled 'Privatisation - a foregone conclusion?' I must admit that I was a bit nervous as I'm a new comer to public speaking and have a pathological fear of 'Powerpoint', also Diana Edmonds, and colleague, from GLL where present! I started by giving an overview of the current UK situation and learnt from Diana Edmonds that GLL hadn't bid for the now dead Wokingham contract, something due to a lack of transparency I had just assumed! I then handed over to Hannah who gave a very informative presentation on the procurement process something she confesses to having a passion for, we suggested therapy! Hannah's thrust, and in fact the main thrust of the whole day, was based on how activists/campaigners and users can get involved in the process in order to influence or halt it. The workshop was repeated in the afternoon and we had in that session a very passionate and interesting discussion about the situation in Barnet and the wider political and economic situation thanks to Bali Rai and two of the Barnet campaigners. The message from both sessions is that privatisation is not a foregone conclusion and that we have to highlight the failures and successful campaigns such as Edinburgh, Cornwall, Wokingham etc and the wider picture!

At 1pm we had a well deserved lunch and an opportunity to put names to faces.

After the afternoon workshops we had a summing up session which was hosted by Abby Barker who I must say is a natural, and should be in my opinion going on 'I'm a Celebrity' rather than Nadine Dorries! (Disclaimer time! I would just like to make it very clear that i have never watched or have any future intentions of watching the aforesaid reality TV show, and if anyone suggests that i have or intend to then I will take it as a serious defamation of my cynical, grumpy Marxist character!)

Now came the bit we had all been waiting for, the speeches by the authors and library campaigners Bali Rai and Philip Ardagh (he of the Pre-Raphaelite chops!). Bali started off by talking about his background and why libraries where and still are so important to him, he talked about their role in inspiring kids and improving literacy and empowering communities, a truly inspirational speech. He then handed over to Philip who told us that he had inherited his facial hair from his mother and his love of all things 'Narnian' from his dad! He then talked off his hatred of self-serve kiosks and his love for professional librarians, something that got a cheer! Alan Gibbons then gave us a short rousing send off!

It was exhausting but inspirational and really gave many, if not all, of us hope and  a renewed energy to continue the fight. I feel very privileged to have spent the day with so many people who are passionate about and committed to saving libraries.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Important Croydon/Wandsworth Update

Wandsworth BC have just released this;

Councillors to discuss plan to safeguard libraries

Release date: Thursday 8th November 12
Comment on this article
An innovative plan to enhance and safeguard the borough’s library service by appointing a new management organisation to run it will be considered by councillors next week.
Councillors in Wandsworth have been advised by council officers to award the management contract for the borough's library and heritage service to charitable social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).
The recommendation follows a competitive tender process involving three organisations - from which GLL was deemed to offer the best value for money for local tax payers.
If councillors agree to follow the recommendation, GLL would run the service from April next year for a period of eight years. It is expected to produce yearly savings in excess of £500,000 compared to current running costs - and, crucially, strengthen the service at a time when the council is facing challenging financial pressures.
The move is designed to ensure that the borough's library and heritage service continues to evolve and keep pace with fast changing needs and demands from the public.
Under the contract, GLL would be expected to continue providing core library services free of charge to users, while library buildings will remain in the ownership of the local authority.
All 146 staff currently working for Wandsworth's library and heritage service would, from April 2013, be managed by GLL, with an additional full time and part time post being created as part of the change.
Wandsworth's executive member for environment, culture and community safety, Councillor Jonathan Cook, said: "Our libraries are among the best in London and we are proud to be looking at ways to safeguard and enhance the service at a time when other councils are considering closures.
"We realise, just like all councils, we have to reduce our spending. Bringing competition to the market place will ensure that our taxpayers continue to receive the best value and best service possible."
Last year, Wandsworth and Croydon councils began working together to explore new ways of running libraries and the potential benefits of harnessing the knowledge and experience of different service providers.
A market-testing process led to three organisations being identified as having the vision, the expertise and the financial backing to deliver top quality library services.
This evaluation process in turn led to three organisations being shortlisted - from which Wandsworth's council officers judged GLL to be the best value for money. Croydon Council will make its own decision which of the three to award its library contract to.
Borough councillors will discuss the recommendation to award GLL the management contract at a meeting of Wandsworth's environment, culture and community safety overview and scrutiny committee on November 15.
To find out more about the borough's library service visit
Notes to editors
GLL was the UK 's first leisure trust. It was formed in 1993 to run leisure centres in Greenwich - managing seven centres to begin with.
The charitable social enterprise created jobs and added new services to existing leisure centres. Since then, it has expanded and is now responsible for running a variety of community services and spaces across the UK .
GLL was the first leisure operator in the UK to be awarded both the Social Enterprise Mark and the Prime Minister's Big Society Award.
By: Ian Mason
Telephone 020 8871 5269 or

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) win Croydon/Wandsworth Libraries contract

I've just been informed that  Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) have won the Croydon/Wandsworth Libraries contract, the other 2 shortlisted bidders where John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) and most importantly the inhouse Wandsworth bid from South London Library & Cultural Services (SLLCS), the preferred choice of the unions and current staff. The contract is worth £8.76m (?) and is initially for 8yrs with a possible further 8yr extension.
GLL already manage Greenwich Libraries on a 15yr contract which they where awarded earlier this year despite much protest from the UNITE union, campaigners and library users.