Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The daunting prospect of running a volunteer-led library.

After reading this recent blog post on the daunting prospect awaiting someone who volunteers, or is forced, to run a public library i was reminded of a list i've seen that outlines the legislative framework surrounding just one aspect of library work, stock provision;

Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964
Race Relations Act 1976
Obscene Publications Act 1959, amended 1964
Sex Discrimination Act 1975
Video Recordings Act 1984
Public Order Act 1986
Local Government Act 1988
Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988
The Children's Act 1989
Disability Discrimination Act 1995
Data Protection Act 1998
Human Rights Act 1998
Terrorism Acts 2001 & 2006
Racial & Religious Hatred Act 2006
Local Government & Public Involvement in Health Act 2007

you'll hopefully now get some idea why it's crucial that public libraries are kept within local authority control, run and managed by paid and trained staff.

It's not just a book exchange it's a statutory public service, legally and democratically accountable.

for more on Data Protection and volunteer-led libraries see;

Friday, 21 February 2014

Public libraries and economic impact.

Now people that know we well know that I'm not a sucker for conspiracy theories, I'm more of a logical being, so when i see Arts Council England (ACE) launching a new research programme at the same time as a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry is called into their work i think "that makes sense, they are trying to prove themselves" but when i see it's on the 'economic impact' of libraries my heart sinks and doubts begin to set in..

"But" i hear you say "at this moment any research into the impact of public libraries is worthwhile", well is it?
Over the last 10-20 years there have been a multitude (20+?) of reports, inquiries, consultations into public libraries all backed up by research, some good some bad, and in the first stage of their programme ACE intend to pull this research together, but why concentrate on 'economic impact'?

I recently asked for people's opinions on this and Lauren Smith – PhD Researcher, University of Strathclyde, said;

".....economic contribution is a last ditch effort to get the Tories to listen - they don't care about anything that has social impact. They also don't care about things that cost "taxpayers' money" even if they can be shown to be saving money elsewhere, but might possibly listen if it can be shown on a graph that they contribute to businesses making money.

It's an approach that's been taken in America where libraries can encourage for tax levies (e.g. but research here has been abandoned in the past because, well, it's bunkum."

David McMenemy, Course Director MSc/PgDip Information and Library Studies, University of Strathclyde has written extensively about this topic and in his paper 'What is the true value of a public library?' published in the journal 'Library Review' in 2007 he argued that;
"focussing on the economic value of an institution like the public library runs the risk of demeaning its social and intellectual foundations"

We all know that the government view the arts and culture in terms of financial return and we all know that there is an overriding agenda to commercialise, divest and privatise libraries so it's only fitting that ACE concentrate on 'economic impact'.
Add to this the fact that the panel of 'experts' for the forthcoming Sieghart report into public libraries is loaded with private interests, and to be fair 2 or 3 library people, and you can start to smell an agenda.

Wayne Bivens-Tatum in his book 'Libraries and the Enlightenment' suggests that libraries are places “where values other than the strictly commercial survive and inspire, places people can go, physically or virtually, and emerge better people, their lives improved and through them perhaps our society improved.”

Now that's something we can hopefully all agree on?

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ed pops up!

Just when we were thinking (or hoping) that Ed had washed his hands off libraries he pops up all over the place, first in Corby, visits a couple of libraries, with Cllrs Savage (very apt!) and Harker in tow and then declares that;

“The library service in Northamptonshire has been designed with a clear focus on the needs of their communities, with Sunday opening and innovative use of volunteers helping to ensure that all their libraries remain open and provide wide range of support and services for the community,” Mr Vaizey said. “It’s an example from which others can learn. I know they are active in collaborating with other public library authorities and I want to see this continue and grow in the future.”
Northamptonshire CC calls its service ‘Library Plus’, operates within it a number of ‘Enterprise Hubs’ and relies heavily on volunteers to run the whole shebang. Just the kind of entrepreneurial, shared services, collocated and ‘Localism’ style service that Ed and the DCMS are striving towards, so it was really lucky that he just happened to be in the area!
But what Ed, the press and the councillors didn’t mention was the unscheduled closuresredundancies, budget cuts, thefall in visitor figures and the use of volunteers not only to prop the service up but also to substitute paid staff. Concernshave also been raised about collocating ‘children’s centres’ with libraries;

“expressed concerns that "libraries aren't the right environment for young family activities (including safeguarding concerns relating to full public access and confidentiality issues)", and some raised worries about accessibility and location.”

John Wignall has very kindly allowed me to publish his comment about Ed’s visit;

“I find the report on Ed Vaizey’s visit to Northants depressing and distressing. It is not at all in tune with what I hear from former colleagues who have nearly all lost their jobs. The report from 2013 presents a truer picture of the situation”

Ed then, just to show that he really cares about libraries, pops up on National Libraries Day in Kent, at Deal Library. Kent is becoming a ‘commissioning council’, a local authority that doesn’t run its own services, including libraries, but outsources them to private firms and other providers. So just the kind of privatising model that the government likes, Ed really is good at picking his library visits isn’t he?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Catching up on Carillion!

I haven't had much time lately to update my blog, I've been drafting the Speak up for Libraries local and general elections manifesto/pledge, writing stuff for Voices for the Library, finishing my submission to the Arts Council Inquiry and trying to publicise and celebrate National Libraries Day (also working and family life) phew!

Anyway it seems that Carillion are cutting up to eight 'professional' library posts in Croydon, four at the Central Library and another four across the branches. All this just weeks after buying the contract from JLIS, who had already warned of 're-structuring' (the management term for hollowing out). From what I've heard the service is already at breaking point with even the LMS breaking down and staff having to manually check books and other stock items in and out, so will these cuts bring it to its knees?
As I've said before i can only offer my condolences to the long suffering users and staff, public libraries are crucial statutory public services and shouldn't be bought and sold, they are far too important for that.

Not another bloody report!

A good way of not taking action in government is to launch an inquiry, review, commission or report and in relation to public libraries this is exactly what has happened over and over again. I've lost count on how many inquiries, reviews and reports etc there have been from the 'distributive' leadership in 'LibraryLand' over the last few years, at least a couple of dozen i would think? They say the same things and make the same noises but do nothing, or very little, to safeguard or develop libraries.

Now we have a jointly commissioned report by the DCMS and the DCLG chaired by William Sieghart (chaired the recent e-lending and public libraries review). The report will focus on;

  • What are the core principles of a public library into the future?
  • Is the current model of delivery the most comprehensive and efficient? and
  • What is the role of community libraries?

And the 'expert' panel will be made up of;

Sue Charteris - a Public Policy Consultant famous for leading the inquiry in to library closures in the Wirral
Janene Cox - Current Chair of the Society of Chief Librarians (soon to be replaced by Ciara Eastell)
Luke Johnson - Chairman of Risk Capital Partners.
Roly Keating - CEO of the British Library.
Caroline Michel - Chief Executive Peters Fraser & Dunlop.
Stephen Page - Chief Executive Faber & Faber.
Joanna Trollope - Author

So as you can see a really representative, 'independent' (whatever that means?) bunch. What might strike you is the omissions of CILIP and ACE but what is really sickening is that there is no real voice for users, frontline staff, unions or campaigners.

It looks to me that this has been set up to give the government more time to cut, close and divest libraries and to deliver a report broadly in line with policy, a rubber stamp. for more comment see;

I would however urge everyone who supports libraries to submit evidence to, i'm not sure what good it will do but we've got to keep up the pressure. As the Library Campaign puts it;

"The Library Campaign urges all who care about libraries to contact the inquiry. And to tell the minister we are sick of his inaction."