Friday, 20 September 2013

A 'clearly expressed vision' for London Libraries?

These are just some of my initial and rudimentary thoughts and findings from hours and hours of looking at London LA websites and info.
I decided to look at all 33 London Library Service websites for information on and links to their library strategies and plans. I was looking for accessible information, something that a member of the public could easily find without having to trawl through the council minutes or the ‘Democracy’ sections of the sites.
What I found was, to me anyway, quite shocking, 18 of the 33 Library Services had no policy or strategy information at all on their pages, and only 5 out of the 15 that did have had links to up to date documents, the rest had a mixture of 'Stock Policies', 'Customer Charters' and out of date info.
Library Authorities at one time submitted annual ‘Library Plans’ or ‘Position Statements’ to the DCMS as this archived website demonstrates and according to Yinnon Ezra (DCMS), Graeme Mc Donald (SOLACE), and Janene Cox (SCL), in a recent blog post for the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (CLOA), it's still important that LA's clearly express their vision;
“The important first step for any LA should be a clearly expressed vision for the public library service. This must be informed by the views of local people, it is not about recycling the views of existing users, but ensuring that the vision embraces those who do not/will not/won’t use the service. This must also suggest how these aspirations will be met – collecting this information can sometimes be a challenge – but many Councils have wide experience of testing the quality of services through regular citizen surveys using good inexpensive market research is also well worth doing.”
Does “clearly expressed vision” include making a plan or strategy available online? You would have thought so?
I also looked at how libraries where described/grouped on the council websites which usually is a good indication of where they are positioned with the councils directorate structure.
13 x Leisure & Culture
4 x Community & Living
6 x Libraries
2 x Leisure & Libraries
2 x Leisure
1 x Leisure, Culture & Tourism
1 x Libraries, Leisure & Culture
1 x Library & Heritage Services
1 x Community & Leisure
1 x Libraries & Archives
1 x Education & Learning
As you can see there is a strong trend towards positioning libraries with ‘Leisure & Culture’ and only one council places libraries with ‘Education & Learning’, 11 councils still use the words library or libraries which is a positive in these dark times.
So what does all this tell us? Well nothing we didn’t already know and that is that over the years there has been a deliberate positioning of libraries with leisure and culture as Yinnon, Janene and Graeme touch on in their blog post;
“Many local authorities would argue that making savings particularly around Cultural Services, the label under which public libraries find themselves is NOT a new phenomenon. These services, which often include Arts, Archives, Heritage & Museums, Parks, Leisure, to mention a few, the latter having no ‘statutory duty’ attached to them, always struggle to attract recourses, but do better when Grant from Government for the other main services is steady or expanding. When this is reduced the impact is more direct, particularly when mixed into this is the regional variation in Grant distribution”
It's also clear to me that many London LA’s are failing to make their "clearly expressed visions" easily, if at all, accessible online for public scrutiny unless that is they are 'consulting' about cuts and closures.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Why I can't get excited about the new Library of Birmingham.

"a new library opening must be a positive thing, right?" - this is a question that was put to me the other day, you see I've not exactly been upbeat or towing the party line on the opening of the new Library of Birmingham.
I just can't get excited about a £189m (or is it? see city centre library when all around it local libraries and library staff are being slashed.
See for information on cuts to libraries in Birmingham (28% budget cut, 10% cut in opening hours, 37% cut in staffing, colocation, volunteers and low staff morale mentioned)

"yes but it will act as a catalyst", yes a catalyst for more councillors to build more expensive (mostly PFI) city centre vanity projects at the expense of local and rural libraries.
"The new £188m Birmingham Library will open with a fanfare to the public next Tuesday, with 400,000 new books – nearly twice the previous library's capacity – and an eye-catching design by Dutch architects Mecanoo.
At the same time, in other parts of the country, austerity-struck council leaders slash funding for professional librarians and close local library branches or hand them over to be run by groups of volunteers. Campaigners predict that there will be 400 library closures in the next three years."

I, and others, have concerns about the future of project and whether it will remain publicly managed, I/we also have concerns about the commercialisation of the library as touched on in a recent Economist article;
"He is equally pragmatic about the need to monetise the library (local authority funding is frozen at 2007 levels): “We need to find ways to generate commercial income, whether that’s from hiring facilities, making a greater success of retail or catering than in the past, or through business sponsorship or private sector philanthropy.” Though no community libraries have closed in Birmingham, library hours and staff will be reduced and much of the core lending facilities will become self-service, he says."

So as you can see I'm not overjoyed and i'm not the only one!

"But Margaret Bailey, of Brent, north-west London, said she would not be sharing in the enjoyment.

She has seen six of her 12 local libraries close since 2011 due to spending cuts and said she was angry so much money had been spent on just one.

"We are told you can't keep libraries open because of the cuts forced by central government and yet Birmingham finds £200m for this," she said.

"If staff are being cut and services being reduced I would not want £200m spent on one library. It makes a bit of a nonsense of them saying there is no money."


The 'We Own It' campaign.

Congratulations to the 'We Own It' campaign for fighting for public services, see;

"We want the UK to have high quality public services, owned by and accountable to the public. We are happy for private companies to produce some things – like coffee, shoes and computers. Other things – like health, education, energy and water – are public goods that belong to all of us and they should be run publicly. Privatisation isn't working; it's time for public ownership."

for Public Libraries see;

Keep the Library of Birmingham Public! - Communities against the Cuts - 03/09/13

"A letter from the Library campaign to the Birmingham Post and Mail:
“As the city celebrates the opening of our new Library of Birmingham, an unanswered question hangs over its future.
Sir Albert Bore was asked at Question Time at the Council meeting in July to ‘give a commitment that the Library of Birmingham will remain publicly run and publicly owned for the forseeable future.’ "
for the rest of the letter see;


Weakening TUPE legislation will drive down workers' terms and conditions, warns TUC - TUC Website - 05/09/13

"The TUC has today (Thursday) warned that government plans to weaken the Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations will drive down terms and conditions for vulnerable workers and make privatisation cheaper and quicker.
TUPE protects employees' terms and conditions of work when a business is transferred from one owner to another. Staff automatically become employees of the new employer on the same terms and conditions as they were on before, and their continuity of service is also protected.
However, under the government's plans TUPE will not always apply when services are outsourced."

Library contractor takes over running of Harrow's services - Harrow Times - 05/09/13

"The new operator of the borough’s libraries took over the running of services this week.
Harrow Borough Council signed an outsourcing contract of five years with John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS).
As part of the deal, JLIS will now deliver services at all libraries in Harrow in collaboration with neighbouring borough of Ealing."