Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Laings quit £30m Croydon libraries privatisation deal - Inside Croydon - 26/02/13

"Croydon Council’s plan to privatise our public libraries was in ruins tonight, as its hand-picked partners were revealed to have walked away from the £30 million, eight-year deal."

"Tonight, according to a Town Hall source, even though they had asked for more cash to run Croydon’s libraries than other bidders, JLIS has quit the deal because they refuse to take on the pension liabilities of council librarians."

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Myth of the 21st Century Library - Part 2

I've been asked by someone who has read, yes someone has read it, my original post to talk about changes that i would make to the Public Library service.
The answer to this lies in the practical problems I outlined in my original piece, lack of leadership/bad management, underinvestment, poor training/staff development/opportunities and two bigger more complex factors that to me underpin the whole discussion 'ethos' and 'community involvement' by which i don't mean volunteer run libraries!

The underinvestment issue to me is the hardest one to address and apart from a change in government to one who truly believes in taxing the rich to fund Public services I don't see an easy way around this. The way out of this quandary certainly isn't in my mind commercialism and private finance, this to me only detracts from the ethos and community involvement argument! So maybe we need to go back to basics on this one and look at what we are currently spending money on and if it could be spent better on things that the public actually need and want, such as books (ebooks included, although I'm still not totally convinced by this in relation to extent), local, welcoming and accessible branch libraries, properly trained paid staff and freely available quality IT provision, invest in these four key areas and to me you can't go far wrong! Overdiversification and the building of new PFI city centre libraries has not only taken our collective eye of the ball but also has diverted valuable resources into irrelevant and unnecessary sidelines and press friendly 'good news' stories for local and national politicians! Yes some will argue that the public want DVDs, coffee shops and a myriad of other diversions but we are not just another leisure option and shouldn't be competing in this market and shouldn't be building new libraries on a finance scheme akin to a credit card!

Leading on from this is my bigger concern that we as a service/profession have lost our sense of ethos, why and who are we here for? Most of us, apart from a few Directors and Heads of Service, are not in it for the money, so why do we do it? Is it just another 9-5 (or 9-8 in some cases or longer) job where we just go through the motions and then go home, if it is then you really should question your involvement! Is it just another career option, something to put on your CV, something that allows you to network and climb up the ladder? What it should be, in my opinion, is a public duty, a job that has at it's core a belief in social equity and fairness!

So in practical terms how do we reclaim this 'ethos' well to me it not only requires a total shift away from the market/retail led agenda prevalent in library management and service delivery but a re-examination of how we do things.

Let's start with recruitment, how many library job ads do you see that start with
"Do you believe in a local communities right to empowerment and self sufficiency? Do you want to work with them to achieve this goal?"
this might be a start and then have questions in the interview itself about books, reading, learning, information and community involvement. I would also as a part of the induction process take new staff on a tour of the local community and would have a session/discussion focussing on local socio-economic data and how to utilise it when planning service delivery.

With staff training the first thing i would do is bring everything back in-house, i would tap into the knowledge and experience already in the service rather than spending valuable cash on consultants and lean management gurus! In this way good practise and problem solving could more easily be shared and it might also help to break down the hierarchies that exist and to make staff feel that they have 'ownership' of the service and foster a sense of pride?

And last but most importantly i would actively encourage the forging of links with the local community by encouraging the setting up of Friends Groups, by 'embedding' library staff in community groups and organisations, by increasing visits to schools, nurseries, care homes etc., by holding regular meaningful consultations/surveys (not the sham ones we have become so used to!) and by publicising outcomes and actions for public scrutiny. These links with the community would hopefully help to foster a feeling of mutual respect and pride in the service which would not only help to develop it but would make it harder for politicians to cut it!

Anyway there you are simples!

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Myth of the 21st Century Library!

There's a myth being banded around 'libraryworld' by the so called 'modernisers', the 'neoliberals', the 'transfromation' merchants, of the '21st Century Library'; a vision of things to come, the library of the future, the 'Holy Grail' of service delivery models! Everything we have done in the past is outdated and wrong and library staff are too blame, we haven't been innovative, creative or 'modern' enough! - A library service for the 21st century - Libraries of the 21st Century: The Society of Chief Librarians have this morning set out their vision for the future of public libraries - A vision for a 21st century library

The year by year drop in user and issue stats is down to our inability to grasp the 'Brave New World' of online buying and new technologies; our failure to give the public what they want, even though the majority want exactly what we are providing only better resourced, has led to our downfall! We are not 'customer focussed' enough, we have a 'slacks and trainers mentality', we don't understand the realities of the market place, we need to 'rebrand', 'transform', 're-invent' and slim down!

Well lets get one thing clear, it's reactionary, reductionist bollocks!

We all know that underinvestment, a lack of leadership, poor staff training, opportunities and development and the sidelining of libraries through adopting a market/retail led agenda then handing the remit over to a politically controlled organisation, the Arts Council, so far out of its depth it needs breathing apparatus and oh yes and that little thing called 'false austerity' that a government to the right of 'Atilla the Hun' has chosen to hit the poor, the working classes, the Public Sector and the Unions with is too blame for the crisis! But oh no we still get fed the bullshit and the sad thing is we swallow it with a "mustn't grumble" "cuts need to happen" unquestioning acceptance!

I'm all for change and innovation, don't get me wrong but not if its forced, doesn't fit with our ethos (ethos remember that?) and not what users/members (users/members remember them?) want or need!


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Simi Valley council approves hiring private company to run library - Vantura County Star - 12/2/13

"The Simi Valley City Council voted Monday night to hire a Maryland company, rather than Ventura County, to run the city’s library for the next five years.
The council voted unanimously to authorize the city to enter into a contract with Library Systems and Services LLC to start operating the library July 1. The company, the nation’s largest private library operator, already runs Moorpark’s and Camarillo’s libraries."

A guest post by Gavin Boughton, Librarian at the MOD.

I sit on the Standing Committee on Official Publications (SCOOP) and I'm often amazed by the variety of roles undertaken by my fellow information professionals and that is why I've asked Gavin Boughton to write about his role within the MOD where he is the only member of staff in their DCG Library Information Centre!

During 2001, I started working in the Library Information Centre (LIC), Defence Geographic Centre (DGC) a department of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). To meet the criteria of qualifications required in the LIC, I enrolled on an NVQ 3 in Information and Library services, which developed into a degree (2:1 BA (HONS) in Business/obtaining my MCLIP Chartership in 2012)). My dissertation was the highlight of my degree studies - investigating how Libraries alleviate social exclusion, primary research gathered in Feltham and Leeds. Social exclusion and its effects on the life chances of the vulnerable in society continue to interest me.

Because LIC staffing levels have “changed”, I could see opportunities for combining personal and service performance. Selected by management from an original nine staff to remain the Library’s sole representation (Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown), encouraged my familiarisation with a wide-range of geographic resources. I identified two new aims and objectives to be exploited, thereby promoting the LIC as a valuable resource (open for business-“under new management”) and at the same time reflected through my own customer driven service delivery:

* Promote Liberty, the new Library Management System (LMS)

* Satisfy DGC customer Requests For Information (RFI)

To ensure and ultimately improve continuity of service, the LIC must evolve from a small, traditional provide of geographic information and therefore it follows, I must continue to investigate new research role opportunities to increase usage within DGC/wider MoD. Greater RFI can be achieved through innovative LIC exposure to all Defence staff, as the LMS has recently migrated from CAIRS cataloguing system to Liberty and its new desktop Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). Library information services are generally intangible and perishable. For example, services are offered and used at the same time – an on-line search during a quiet period in the LIC cannot be filed away to await an enquiry. However, despite intangible limitations, other Defence Library cataloguing systems are fully searchable to staff on the wider MoD Intranet. I have already examined with MoD HQ whether it would be possible for Liberty to join other catalogues already uploaded, thereby increase the LIC’s presence. Although the Liberty OPAC reflects many classified items, such a proposal is entirely feasible. The result would be two-fold, promote Liberty and increase RFI access to customers.

Increased digitisation, as outlined, will also be necessary to improve service delivery: For example, fostering external partnerships with wider information stakeholders: Having already applied for the online British Library Document Supply Service (BLDSS), the British Library invited little ol’ me to become the account manager at DGC. With enhanced functionality that this role brings, I am now able to control British Library online access together with providing DGC staff with the ability to order their own documents. This service has been a breakthrough, because items are now loaned to DGC researchers, a significant cost saving initiative when compared to the old and prohibitively expensive book ordering system used by my predecessors (bless). A very large proportion of the LIC budget was historically associated with a small, yet expensive proportion of the total number of RFI items held (madness, no more, no less).

Because DGC staff continue to travel extensively on business, requesting documentation to be sourced and collected abroad now supplements the LIC with ordinarily difficult to obtain items at cost price, improving DGC staff research capabilities. Purchasing second hand items from Amazon reduces occurrences of non supply (What is the preoccupation with “new” in these enlightened times - a dog eared copy is better than no copy at all?) and still ensures a consistently high quality customer service experience. Adopting new information harvesting methods allows LIC holdings to compare favourably with research material obtained from other government departments. Comparisons are conducive to influencing wider DGC management audit reviews to the need and importance of LIC services.

Marketing and promoting the LIC has always been important to me. For example, stopping journal circulation on the DGC site increased Library “footfall”, reduced copies going astray and provided the opportunity to promote LIC services and author talks, as well as provide access to Liberty to staff who ordinarily may not have visited the Library.

An article published in Defence Librarian, on my secondment to two Libraries, subsequently circulated throughout MoD Whitehall definitely increased personal confidence. Attending meetings, researching and writing the Standing Committee On Official Publications (SCOOP) news for Refer, the CILIP Information Services Group journal, has also provided the necessary confidence and involvement required for attending discussions on the future of the LIC (Demise? Over my dead body), I do what I can, where I can. For example, the sourcing and purchasing of relevant second hand and inexpensive material refreshes the LIC, reversing a trend for it to become an archive: MAKE IT LIVE is my clarion call! The increased autonomy of being a sole practioner has allowed me to promote and improve my role. Despite demands on my time, I have managed to widen my corporate profile, representing the Library at the London Book Fair. I have also met LIC suppliers at Frankfurt Book Fair, both officially and more recently in a private capacity, because many companies do not attend the London Book Fair.

Finally, managing LIC stock could be further enhanced by recognising how, if items are lost, damaged or severely overdue by a member of staff, the introduction of a nominal fine may become necessary to maintain the integrity of the collection for the future of the LIC and the wider good of DGC. Onwards! Onwards! 

'Private companies could play role in running Ealing libraries' - Ealing Gazette - 11/2/13

"A TRADE union is calling on Ealing Council to reject plans to outsource the borough’s libraries which they say may lead to a worse service for little saving.
The council says it is not privatising the borough's 15 libraries and the service will not be affected. It says the plans are for a private company to run them in a similar way that Greenwich Leisure Limited operate the borough’s leisure centres.
Mary Lancaster, secretary of Ealing Unison, said: “They’re going to give an alternative provider a sum of money to run the libraries instead of the council, that’s privatisation as far as I understand it. Other providers don’t necessarily have a good record of managing council services, in recent years housing benefits, housing and highways all had to be brought back in house."

Monday, 11 February 2013

Statement from Ealing Unison on the privatisation proposals

I have just received this statement from Ealing Unison

Ealing's Labour Council invites tenders for privatisation of the Libraries

Two bids to take over Ealing Libraries are being considered by Ealing's Labour Council at this moment.  The saving the Council wants to make by this wholesale removal of a service and all 15 Libraries in Ealing from the public domain is only £250,000.  The majority of this saving is said to be from 'business rates'.  UNISON is dismayed that £6.4 million can be spent by the Council on consultants yet £250, 000 cannot be found to avoid  privatisation.

Considering this Labour Council was not voted in to privatise services, nor has its stated aims been a privatisation of services but the opposite, it seems strange that this is its first port of call to find a saving that is small compared to other savings it could make instead.  The Council also see no reason to consult the public about this as they say there will be no detrimental impact on the service offered to the public.

The history of  privatisation in Ealing is that it fails. The return to Council ownership in recent years of Housing Benefits, Housing and Highways are all examples of the failure of privatisation. All those services are better run and managed and producing a better service to the public now returned to direct control and management by the Council.  Private companies seek to make a profit and make savings by reducing staff numbers and pay the staff they recruit less money. In Libraries a private company taking over the service may also seek to use unpaid and untrained volunteers, rather than qualified and paid staff.

It is a risk to Council tax-payers money therefore to out-source a service that on the evidence of history will have to be brought back in-house in a few years with the costs this entails. It is our community that is disempowered by such actions.  As Ealing residents we own our libraries, outsourcing takes them out of our hands and out of accountable control.

Ealing UNISON therefore urges the Labour Council to reject any option to privatise the Library service at the Cabinet meeting on 18 February and to find other ways to save £250k than the wholesale privatisation of all Ealing's Libraries.

It is also Ealing Unison's understanding that the proposal to privatise the library service has been put back a month until March due to last minute complications and that Harrow Library service will be part of the bid and that Harrow will be in charge of administration resulting in three posts being put at risk in Ealing. I've also been told that the preferred bidders are the usual suspects and we all know who they are!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

LSSI win contract in Palmdale, California.

"On December 5, the Palmdale City Council voted 50 in favor of awarding a contract to

Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) to operate the Palmdale City Library. Under the public

partnership agreement, the library will remain in the public trust, managed by the City of Palmdale and
operated by LSSI."

And here is a copy of the agreement;

which states;

"LSSI will have

the sole and absolute right to hire and or terminate the employment of the Library Staff from

time to time to perform work under this Agreement. However, the City Manager will have

the right to approve the selection of Library Director. Notwithstanding the preceding, LSSI

will interview all current Palmdale City Library staff interested in seeking positions with


One of the questions that LSSI will probably ask existing staff during their re-employment interview is "do you belong to a union" and if they say yes they will probably not offer them a position, they also have a reputation for only employing their own staff.

See the comments at;

And this worries me although i can't trace the original source! Review - United StatesCached - Translate this pageShare
Shared on Google+. View the post.
Well talked to the people from LSSI. They are the company that is taking over the Palmdale city library. The city of Palmdale is laying all the library staff off ...

See also;
"A private firm that operates Jackson County's 15 libraries is being forced to recognize that a majority of its employees are members of a union to resolve a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board."
"To achieve profitability, Library Systems & Services typically slashes costs drastically, in part by replacing unionized workers."
"4. Contract with LSSI

LSSI employees are usually not unionized, but
are paid a prevailing wage."


Croydon ignore National Libraries Day yet again!

"Despite wide national publicity of the event, Croydon have ignored Croydon residents' love and support for libraries by failing to mark National Libraries Day yet again.

Many suspect Croydon keeps so quiet about libraries to keep the attention off the deal being done to outsource them. Some transparency wouldn't go amiss. With local authorities across the country shouting about the value of libraries and what they have to offer today to celebrate National Libraries Day, Croydon is more interested in keeping a low profile.
That speaks volumes!"

National Libraries Day: a pledge for Croydon - Inside Croydon - 09/02/13

"TIMOTHY GODFREY restates a commitment to hand the running of the borough’s libraries back to the communities"

"Timothy Godfrey is Labour Spokesperson for Culture, Sport and Libraries on Croydon Council"

"On National Libraries Day, let me restate our promise on Libraries: We will cancel the privatisation of Croydon libraries and we will honour the pledge to match fund Lambeth Council at Upper Norwood Library."

In response to this Elizabeth Ash, the Croydon based National Library Campaigner said;

"When will councillors in Croydon stop using our much loved and much needed services as political footballs and start listening to those they were elected to serve?

Just as Croydon Conservatives had no mandate to outsource our libraries Croydon Labour have no mandate to hand them over to the community. The brazen disregard for the views of residents must stop as must the secretive way Croydon goes about its business.

Croydon Conservatives embarked on an outsourcing exercise that has been twisted for their own purposes. It is shameful that an additional £4 million of our money is being wasted on furthering Croydon's dubious relationship with Laing rather than offer the contract to GLL, who were not only considerably cheaper but have a far more sound track record in developing libraries. But what Croydon residents really wanted was for efficiencies to be made. Tim Coates identified the huge back office costs loaded on the libraries budget that could be cut and the income generation ideas offered by residents were also ignored.

And if anyone wants the facts we ( Save Croydon Libraries Campaign at ) have files of the stuff - the views of residents, both incidental observations and as a result of the sham consultations conducted. As a Croydon library campaigner I have been threatened and belittled ( a tactic I am told is not uncommon in Croydon) but I am even more determined that we will fight on to the end and that the truth will be exposed and used to challenge.

Croydon Labour will win no favour by using the plight of our libraries purely to offer grand election promises that may not ever come to fruition. They should be standing up NOW to challenge the lack of transparency, the ill-conceived decisions, highlighting the appalling deterioration of our much loved library service and really listening to the views of residents.

We must stop celebrating the hollow victory of open doors. The real fight is for the championing of the core offer of a comprehensive and efficient library service within; a service Croydon residents are entitled to, by law, and currently being denied."

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Swindon Labour and Libraries

Thanks to Shirley Burnham, the Swindon based National Library Campaigner for this little gem of an insight in to the mindset of the majority of Labour Councillors who instead of making a stand and fighting the cuts on behalf of their communities choose to implement them!

Chris O'Brien ( on behalf of Chris O'Brien (

Sent: 09 February 2013 12:43:20
To: Shirley Burnham

Hi Shirley,

I've spoken with Jim Grant and he's asked me to forward on the following information to you:

The cuts to the library services are as a result of the cuts being made by the Coalition government centrally which are supported by the Tory and Liberal Democrats locally.

Were Labour in power nationally or locally it is hoped we wouldn't have to make these cuts. However, because of the financial constraints being imposed by central government local government has to make very hard choices about how we spend what little money we have.

Labour will be amending the overall budget by finding additional savings in non essential spending in order to preserve services which have a direct affect on the lives of the vulnerable people of the town. This will not include opposing the cuts to library services.

Labour's long term plan for the library service is to ensure that libraries are contained within community hubs, similar to the Old Town library moving into the Arts centre. Unless this path is followed the future cuts to local government, supported by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, will inevitably mean permanent closure of libraries in Swindon

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Public Libraries Manifesto for National Libraries Day 2013

Here's my contribution to NLD 2013;

A very basic but fundamental Public Libraries Manifesto!

Public Libraries should always be statutory, publicly funded and publicly managed.

Books, knowledge/information and learning should always be at the core of the service.

At the heart of the service should always be the needs and wants of the local community, they should always be properly consulted and involved.

They should always be run by paid, knowledgeable and properly trained staff who are committed to the public sector ethos.

The service should always have as it's backbone a comprehensive network of local, accessible branch libraries.



Saturday, 2 February 2013

Proposal to cut the Library Enquiry Service in Somerset

Somerset County Council are proposing to cut their specialist Library Enquiry Centre based at Taunton Library, the service deals with 1600 enquiries a month;
"the service relieves other front-line staff
from the weight of reference enquiries normally associated
with a public library service.
70% of enquiries come direct from the public. The remaining
30% come from library staff."
The proposal goes on to outline the savings and the new model of delivery;
"It is proposed that the service should be stopped over two
years, 50% of the budget being withdrawn in 2013/14 and 50%
in 2014/15 (£100k in total)."
"The basis for this savings proposal is that the role of the
Enquiry Service can be fulfilled in other ways, including
through the rolling out of the Council’s Customer Strategy
(including face to face, phone and web access) and the Library
Service Review, and through existing access channels such
as Somerset Direct, NHS Direct, the People’s Network (which
provides publicly-available web access in Somerset libraries),
and relevant websites."
It also states;
"Outcomes for users, in providing them with the information
they need, will be achieved differently but without a necessary
loss of effectiveness."

Four specialist information staff will lose their jobs, staff who have probably spent years training and building up knowledge and experience in order to do their jobs 'comprehensively and efficiently' and the council states that there won't be a "loss of effectiveness" in cutting them!
"Capacity issues will arise for front-line
library staff unless effective mitigation is put in place to offset the loss of the service."

This is happening at the same time that the SCL, ACE and partners have announced that 'Information' will be part of their 'Universal Offer' to Public Library users, obviously no-one has told Somerset about this? - see 13.211

Friday, 1 February 2013

Gimmicks Galore at the Great Public Libraries Gala!

On the 31/01/13 the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), the local government association for Chief Librarians in England, Wales and Northern Ireland announced the 'Universal Offer' for Public Libraries, the four 'offers' are Health, Reading, Information, and Digital.

"the four service areas which modern users regard as integral to public libraries."

This "vision for the future of public libraries" has been developed in partnership with the Arts Council England, The Reading Agency and the DOH.

"The new national approach will, for the first time, clarify what the public should be able to expect from their library."

This has all got to be taken in the context of the SCL backing the government initiative 'Race Online' in 2010 (now 'Go On UK'), the publication of the evaluation of the proposed 'Public Libraries Information Offer' in June 2012 and the SCL report 'The new super-users of Britain's public libraries' published in Dec 2012 which they claim to have identified as;

Career builders
Health detectives

Little learners
Friend finders
Research sleuths

One glaring omission 'Fiction Readers', by far the biggest users of public libraries, but it's not trendy to focus on books in libraries unless it's the rise in the issues of children's books or the ebooks dilemma!

So back to the 'Universal Offer', what's wrong with an initiative that talks about "where libraries can provide real value to local people and where they will be working collectively to deliver impact in difficult times." I hear you ask? Well let's start to unpick the spin a little!

This is championed as a national universal offer but how can it be with the fragmentation and post code lottery of a service that we now find ourselves with? Most authorities have 'community libraries' in one form or another with no consistency in the service offered, some authorities have privatised the service, some have created models along the lines of IPS, co-ops and trusts and nearly all have 'hollowed out' the service which means there are far less staff (2000-3000? cut nationally with at least 562 cut in London alone) and less resources available than say 2-5 years ago! So with very little consistency in the service offered and a lack of staff and resources to offer it how successful is this 'universal offer' going to be?

Let's look in detail at three of the four offers themselves;

Health - The SCL claim that the 'Books on Prescription' scheme is a new offer when in fact it's been around for some time and although it's claimed that this is to do improving the health and well being of the community i suspect it's more to do with plastering over the cuts made to local NHS services in the same way that patients are encouraged to go to the pharmacist for minor ailments because GP surgeries can't deal with an increase in demand with a decrease in resources!

Information - What really worries me about this is the fact that the number of specialist information and reference staff has been drastically reduced with some authorities not employing any at all, so who is going to oversee and cascade this out to an ever decreasing number of branch staff? With the push towards the 2015 e-gov targets and the introduction of the online 'Universal Credits' system, library staff are going to be struggling to deliver anything but a basic level of service with very little time to spend guiding users/members through a maze of official government information or the time needed to assist a claimant navigate a 'Kafkaesque' online benefits system!

Digital - The same concerns as with 'Information' but with the added problems of an increasingly decrepit ICT infrastructure in libraries, corporate ICT policies/structures blocking development and innovation and a decrease in training budgets leading to fewer staff being properly trained to assist the public leading to an inconsistency in the quality of service provided and of course fewer paid staff to do it all!

So all in all some good ideas lauched too late with too little staff and too few resources!

But don't worry according to Vaizey;

“The public library service is in good health"

And Janene Cox, SCL President, gives our morale a much needed boost by stating;

"In the jargon of today, libraries must do more, or the same, with less"

Ahhh! I'm beginning to feel better already!

for more commentary see