Sunday, 27 January 2013

Wake up New Addo! - Save Croydon Libraries - 25/1/13

"Croydon's New Addington Library is back in the news but the 'facts' and even the headline are seriously questionable. You can read the full article here, entitled, "Council promises no loss of books as New Addington library moves from 'derelict' site"

The 'Save Croydon Libraries Campaign' looks beyond the spin and exposes the facts!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Is Harrow going to privatise its Library service?

Below is a conversation on Twitter I had yesterday with fellow Library Campaigner Shirley Burnham about Harrow Council's plans for its Library service, and their response;

Shirley Burnham@ShirleyBurnham

"great improvements" to libs promised in Harrow (hope these don't incl any *hollowing out* or staff losses)
Alan Wylie@wylie_alan
no privatise but you didn't hear it from me!
Shirley Burnham@ShirleyBurnham
Yours is a valid Libraries question for I trust they will respond. Or that will ask them

Borough of Harrow@harrow_council
Thanks for getting in touch. This is just one of the options, we have to explore different proposals in order to run as efficient a service as possible & keep libraries open. Discussions are continuing & more details will follow in the near future.

It's no secret that Harrow (and Ealing) have been considering the option of privatisation for some time see my full correspondence with them on this matter
the worrying thing is that it's Labour Councillors who are pushing this!


Friday, 25 January 2013

The 'Disneyfication' of Public Libraries

I got the idea for this piece from a comment a fellow library worker made to me recently in relation to the changes to Public Library Services and his own role, he said;

“it’s all becoming a joke; it’s a bit of a ‘Mickey Mouse’ job now”

This prompted me to think of the current ‘development’ of Public Libraries in relation to the theory of 'Disneyfication'.

A corporate mutant made up of Mickey Mouse & Uncle Moneybags.


“Disneyfication referred to the often criticized way in which Walt Disney, his co-workers and their successors put an original work through a Disney mincer to emerge with a distorted version of it”

What we are seeing is our libraries, the original work, being put through the mincer and coming out 'distorted' as ‘hub’, ‘community library’, 'Discovery Centre', 'Library Plus', 'Idea Store', 'Library Local', ‘Lounge’, ‘Hive’ and in my previous authority, Hackney, as ‘Technology Learning Centre’, which the staff renamed ‘Totally Lost and Confused’ due to the fact that the public would very often come in, after walking past several times, and say “is this the library?"

Library staff are pushed out of the mincer as ‘Learning and Information Assistants’, ‘Customer Service Assistants’. ‘Knowledge Managers’ and a multitude of other job titles that don’t contain any indication of what profession or sector the person actually works in!

And finally the services that libraries offer emerge from the same mixer over diversified partly due to co-location and sharing services but also due to a general policy of pulling people in through the doors by any means necessary, which yes in the short term does boost footfall but I believe in the long term leads to a muddled message! This muddled message about the core offer of libraries can be seen in the way they are very often branded as leisure options and often end up in leisure/culture/arts directorates within local council structures and in the way policy makers now allocate funding.

Another strand of this theory interests me and that’s ‘emotional labour’ especially in relation to the deprofessionalisation of library work and the introduction of self serve and other retail/commercial models of delivery in which it could be argued depersonalises the job and replaces true emotional interaction with members/users with one that is artificially controlled and scripted;

“Not only does this process result in ‘new depths in…deskilling (1998: 64) but also it entails control of the self through emotional labour, which has been defined as the ‘act of expressing socially desired emotions during service transactions’ ”

Thursday, 17 January 2013

David Ruse responds to the concerns of his staff.

This is the response by David Ruse to the open letter written by the staff of Westminster Libraries asking their Councillors not to impose further cuts to the service
The claim that Westminster City Council is planning the wholesale decimation of its library service is straight off our fiction shelves. I can state now that there will be no library closures and no cuts to opening hours and no reason to think that the excellent range of services described will be reduced.

Like all local authorities the Council is faced with tough financial challenges, and that includes the library service. But our innovative partnership with Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham has allowed us to make significant savings and so protect front line library services. We are also about to invest £12 million in a new library for Marylebone.

The Council knows how much local people value libraries and is committed to a first class service.

David Ruse

Tri-borough Director of Libraries and Archives

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Westminster City Council
Isn't it about time that those who climbed the ladder and have subsequently pulled it up showed some professional pride and spoke out against the destruction and 'hollowing out' of the service they once helped to build instead of overseeing it and openly mocking their staff?

Open letter from the staff of Westminster Libraries to their local councillors.

The following is an open letter from the staff of Westminster Libraries to their local councillors.

To the Councillors of Westminster,
Westminster Libraries currently uses less than 1% of the council’s overall budget. We have 11 libraries, an archives service, a reference library, a music library, a home library service and the largest online database for any public library service in the UK. We provide books, DVDs & CDs, Internet access, CV building workshops, Under 5s sessions, class visits, language and computer courses, community groups and workshops and engage teenagers through projects like Fast Forward which has taken over from the connexions career Services: We promote health, community and citizenship and provide a free space to work, socialise and study for residents and visitors.
We now have Parking, Council tax, Rescard, Housing and OneStop services incorporated into our day-to-day duties with no additional funding as a service or as employees; In fact we’ve provided all these services at this low cost whilst going through 5 years of cuts that has already closed libraries, reduced our budget and decimated our staff levels each and every year.
When employment goes down, our workload goes up, and as homelessness increases and incomes plummet, our footfall increases. Year-on-year we’ve risen to the challenge of providing all these services for that ever shrinking less than 1% of the council’s budget.
In 2011, Westminster Council hired two new department directors at the rate it cost to run St James’s library which they were closing at the same time.
In that same year, Westminster councillors refused a 5% reduction to wages above £100,000 to save £3.5 million because the saving would be too insignificant to justify; but library staff have been asked to bear double that cut for only 10% of that saving.
The solution to unemployment cannot be to fire people, and the solution to debt is not to cut income generating, job creating, and crime preventing services.
Not only is it a statutory requirement to provide this service, it is our moral obligation to do so. With new challenges, we need new ideas, not old mistakes and any further cuts to our library service budget would be a drop in the ocean compared to almost any other department in a council that has often stood in the spotlight on the international stage.
We ask that this race to the bottom is brought to an end; and that Westminster council commits to investment rather than cuts so we can continue the good work that we do for the small budget we have.
The Staff of Westminster Libraries

Take it from me this took a lot of courage and nerve even though it was posted by a Unison Steward, Library staff (and Stewards) up and down the country are under the cosh, employees threatened with punitive action if they speak out against their employers and Stewards having to fight for facility time and the right to represent members, but this shows that it can be done and that there is still power in a Union!

see also

Monday, 14 January 2013

Library Workers unite (and tweet)!

Saturday Assistants, Library Assistants, Cataloguers, Acquisitions and Finance Staff, Library Attendants and Van Drivers, Admin/Clerical Staff, IT Support Staff, Homework Club Co-ordinators and Librarians (sorry if I’ve missed any out but each Library Authority has its own set up and its own job titles!) We all have one thing in common and that is pulling together to deliver an important public service when faced with round after round of catastrophic cuts!
So why is it then that some feel left out of the conversation on the cuts, the fight back and future of Public Library Services?
Is it because that there is a perception that up until now the conversation has been monopolised by ‘professional’ qualified librarians, is it that Library Assistants etc. feel unable to speak out due to the fear of reprisals and losing their jobs, is it due to the hierarchical nature of library work where some staff still feel undermined and undervalued, is it down to the extremely low levels of morale and motivation in the sector, is it due to life and work pressures eating up people’s time and energy, is it just down to apathy and a feeling of hopelessness or just not knowing where to start? Well I’m sure it’s a mixture of all of these.
Library Assistants etc. must now surely make up 70-80% of the national public library workforce, in some areas Librarians are few and far between, so it is crucial that they have a voice, obviously many do through being union members but from some feedback that I’ve had many feel left out of the general discussion.
What can be done? Well maybe when we say ‘Librarians’ in a general discussion we could use ‘Library staff’ instead, maybe we could have an honest and open discussion about what ‘professional’ means, does it always have to mean having a library qualification, I don’t and I’m a Librarian, whether I’m ‘professional’ or not is open to debate!
It’s crucially important that we try to involve everyone in the debate so I wanted to make sure everyone knows that the forthcoming VFTL ‘twitter takeover’ is for all library workers.
After all we really are all in this together!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Simi Valley considers two proposals to run the city's library - Ventura County Star - 10/1/13

"Ventura County and Library Systems and Services LLC have resubmitted proposals to run Simi Valley's library beginning in July, city officials said this week.
The first round of proposals from Library Systems and Services, the nation's largest private library operator with headquarters in Maryland, the county and Thousand Oaks were rejected last May by the Simi Valley City Council.
The council turned down the proposals because of a lawsuit filed against the city by Service Employees International Union Local 721 that challenged the city's withdrawal from the county library system, now down to 12 branches. SEIU represents about 20 library employees.
After Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh ruled in the city's favor in July, the city reissued the request for proposals on Nov. 21. The city staff is evaluating the two proposals and expects to make a recommendation to the council next month, City Manager Laura Behjan said."

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Boris and the Mystery of the Public Libraries Trust!

In January 2011 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced that he was planning to create a trust to manage London's threatened Public Libraries;

"Boris Johnson will tonight announce plans to set up a trust to run libraries in London that are at risk of closure.
It would "manage and improve" libraries for councils that could no longer afford to do so."
"The trust would be run by Team London, which is being set up by the Mayor this summer to bring together all his mentoring and volunteering projects.
Banks and individuals will be asked to top up existing funds. Private donors have already contributed £2 million."

It all seemed pretty certain, even Tim Coates thought so, with £2m already secured and Team London ready to be up and running in Summer 2011 but then in an article in March 2011 it states that "he is considering the idea" and that it has now been put forward by the London Councils as part of the London Library Change Programme! Later that year he is spotted at a number of libraries promoting a literacy scheme (as reported in this insightful article on the Heat magazine website!), run by the National Literacy Trust in cooperation with Team London, to help with the promotion he roped in Peter Andre, a bit like promoting fine arts with a painter and decorator! And then in Dec 2011 he launches under the Team London banner the 'Love Libraries' scheme which looks to place 2,000 volunteers, or 'Library Champions', in London's Libraries, but what has happened to the trust and the £2m?
It all seems to have vanished, was it just part of the Boris self-publicity bandwagon?

But Boris does still care about libraries, in April 2012 he offered his support to the Brent campaigners saying;
“I think it is a great shame. It’s very sad what’s happened to the libraries in Brent."
“I have heard about the efforts of the campaigners and various community events they have held to fight for them and I admire them for that.”
but then again it might be seen to be politically advantageous to back a group fighting Brent Council due to it being Labour controlled?
Then in Sep 2012 he opens a new library in Hillingdon (Tory controlled) complete with a Florist, a Starbucks and 2,000 books! (in case you want to buy flowers and a coffee when the books run out!)

All this and 2,000 volunteers, as they say 'actions speak louder than words'!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Canada beware, the 'red menace' is no longer under our bed!

I worked for Hackney Libraries between 1991 and 2002, 11 very turbulent years which saw at least 4 restructurings, at least 4 Heads of Service, a year long strike and the closure of 7 of the 14 libraries. There was always a feeling amongst the library staff there that we where being used as guinea pigs in a number of management style experiments, one of them conducted by John Pateman.
John along with Naila and Shiraz Duranni set up a 'Black and Ethnic Minority Stock Group' which according to this abstract from the 'Library Review' sought;

"to involve black staff, at all levels in the library service, in the selection of stock for the black community. As a first step, 25 per cent of the stock fund was allocated to the purchase of black stock. This helped to make up for historical underfunding and was part of a longer term strategy to match library resources to the community profile. The BSG was a successful experiment in staff empowerment and led to the selection of stock which was relevant to the black community."

I'm not going to spend time analysing the success or failure of this initiative but i will say this, I agree that at the time BEM workers in Hackney where vastly underrepresented in key positions and the decision making process and the needs of BEM users weren't being fully met but many of us had concerns about the kind of stock being bought and whether our BEM users actually wanted or needed it? John was also heavily involved in the Cuba Solidarity movement and we sent box after box of discarded books there.

What i can remember from this time is that the libraries were very poorly managed and although not entirely John's fault he was the Head of Service!

From Hackney John then moved to Merton where he caused controversy by allegedly advertising for new staff through the pages of the 'Morning Star', see a very interesting discussion on 'Coates Watch' relating to this;
It's worth pointing out for reasons of balance that during his time at Merton they won an award for their services to Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

From Merton he moved to Lincolnshire and again steered them towards another award relating to combating social exclusion and furthering equalities.

And now he's fled the sinking ship and moved to Canada to take up the post of Chief Librarian for Thunder Bay Public Library where he has already stirred things up;

"The bay city’s new chief librarian, John Pateman, says that before accepting the position he did his homework and “sensed that (Thunder Bay) was a well-resourced system that was already involved in marketing itself.”
See, right there, there is the problem. While Francis sits and does nothing but thinks he can dash into action in 2018 and put the city on the map, Thunder Bay under the internship of Timm seems to be out there marketing itself and look at the results, it ends up with a forward thinking world class chief librarian or one from a world class city."

Wonder what they'll say when he starts boxing books up for Cuba?