Sunday, 9 March 2014

Information resources on the privatisation of public services, including public libraries.

I thought it might be useful to put together a short guide for anyone looking for information on privatisation, including libraries. It's a work in progress and will grow, so here goes;

UK - Information on library privatisation from THE public libraries information website in the UK if not the world? - a resource list compiled by me for library campaigners, includes links to info on library privatisation. - the main union for library staff in the UK and a key partner in the Speak up for Libraries coalition. - Save Croydon Libraries Campaign. Croydon Libraries, along with Hounslow, Harrow and Ealing, are now managed by Carillion, a private construction firm.
- SCALP: Sheffield Communities Against Library Privatisation. - info needs updating.

US - SEIU represent many public library staff in the US and helped organise the 'Privatization Beast' campaign. - "PrivatizationWatch is a daily news blog covering privatization, and is a joint project of Essential Information and The Center for Study of Responsive Law." US based but very comprehensive and informative. You can sign up for their daily alert service. - "Resources brought to you by the library at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees" - You can sign up for their daily alert service.
see also; - the American Library Association (ALA),  see especially Keeping Public Libraries Public: A Checklist for Communities Considering Privatization of Public Libraries (PDF).

International - PSIRU was set up in 1998 to carry out empirical research into privatisation,
public services, and globalisation. - The Outsourcing and PPP Library provides analysis
and information on the consequences of outsourcing public services, Public Private Partnerships,
PFI projects and strategic partnerships.

Other useful resources/articles/reports; - 'The Real Cost of Privatisation' - excellent article outlining 7 reasons to oppose library privatisation. - A conference held in 2013, see 'Conference Papers' for presentation by John Medhurst of the PCS. - article ny Neil Clark from 2011. - article by me for VFTL from 2011.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

World Book Day, cuts and the need for joined up thinking.

Today The Guardian very kindly published a piece written by me, on behalf of Voices for the Library, about World Book Day, the cuts and the need for more joined up thinking in local & central government 
Here is the full text;
Today is World Book day, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a worldwide celebration of reading. It is the biggest event of its kind with more than 100 countries taking part.
In the UK, the Reading Agency is co-ordinating activities with an array of exciting opportunities to promote libraries. Children and staff will dress up as their favourite literary characters, authors will give readings, excited school classes will visit their local libraries and everyone will be having a thoroughly good time.
But this is about more than just fun. Libraries play a crucial role in promoting literacy in local communities and society as a whole.
Only 40% of England's 10-year-olds have a positive attitude to reading, according to the Reading Agency, and just one in five parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children. In lower income homes, 14% of children rarely or never read for pleasure. Research carried out by the National Literacy trust also shows that, when asked, just over a quarter of 35,000 children from 188 schools said they read outside of school.
But a study conducted by the Institute of Education shows that 10 to 16 year-olds who read for pleasure do better at school. Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The National Literacy Trust says there's overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people's life chances. "A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote. Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage."
Public libraries promote positive reading experiences from the cradle to the grave. It's all part of their lifelong learning remit. As with most things, it all starts from the beginning. For babies, children and young people there are baby-bounce, class visits, storytelling sessions, summer reading schemes, teenage reading groups, including ones specifically focused on Manga and graphic novels, for example.
For adults, though not exclusively, there are reading groups, creative writing groups, self-publishing groups, reading challenges, author visits – the list goes on.
Library staff also visit schools, nurseries, playgroups, prisons and community centres. Outreach is not just crucial in promoting the great work of libraries, and attracting more users, but it canlead to greater community involvement, empowerment and resilience.
All of this work is taking place in a time of budget reductions. Councils need to start seeing cuts to libraries as a false economy: the cuts are easy to make but the long-term consequences could be disastrous.
They need to develop and promote the key education and information role libraries have, not only within their own departments and directorates but within central government as well. More joined-up thinking is needed in local authorities; for example when drawing up a poverty reduction or education strategy, why not involve the library service? Stronger links should also be made with local schools and and higher education establishments.
Councils and policymakers need to conduct more research and evaluation into the social impact of libraries, as opposed to just relying on footfall, issue and economic data which is seen by many to be a poor indication of their true value.
It's claimed that many local councillors don't own a library card, or if they do they haven't used it in years. If this is the case, then today is a great day to start because they will see the joyous faces of children, and adults, enthralled in the telling of tales and the dedication and enthusiasm of trained and knowledgeable library staff. This might even, hopefully, influence them when making the next cut or writing the next strategy document.
Alan Wylie is a public librarian and member of Voices for the Library.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


The Government is very keen on creating public sector mutuals, they have even set up a unit within the Cabinet Office to oversee a £10m programme.

"Why have the Tories suddenly become interested in 'mutuals'" i hear you ask, "surely they can't be seriously interested in promoting the co-operative and collective spirit?" Well the following definition, from their website, might give you a clue;

"A public service mutual is an organisation which has left the public sector (also known as ‘spinning out’) but continues to deliver public services"

Has it become any clearer? They are interested in shrinking the state and 'spinning out' or outsourcing or privatising as many public services as they can in order to do so. It's not a 'road to Damascus' moment when they suddenly say "we need to embrace worker control for the good of society" it's a cynical and ideological attempt to shrink the state and to introduce more private finance and risk into public services at the same time making more money for themselves and their mates who just happen to control/own most of the private finance. And private finance has to be serviced which means more outsourcing, privatisation, procurement and commercialisation. Clever eh?

Add to this concerns about democratic member control, privatisation and democratic accountability and sustainability and you might start to see why I'm, and the unions are, not exactly jumping up and down with joy when to hear about York Libraries and Archives going down this route. And the incredible thing is that all this is being pushed through to save a paltry £450K over 3 years, that's the councillors fag money! And oh yes i forgot to mention that they've received £100k from the governement to do this! 

"But isn't it better than closing libraries and staff losing their jobs or handing them over to volunteers?"

To be honest I'm fed up with this response, it suggests that as a profession, service and society we are happy to except that 'anything is better than nothing', even when it's a crucial public service that we have spent decades fighting to improve and sustain and that we already pay for.

I can fully understand the passion and commitment of the staff involved and wouldn't like to be in their position but just like communities forced to take on the running of libraries it's a gun to the head. The management, council and government will try to spin it as being 'innovative' but really it's a desperate response to savage ideological cuts.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Let's reclaim 'community'!

You’ll hear the word ‘community’ used a lot in public library circles, it is of course used correctly when we talk of ‘working with our community’ or being a ‘focal point in the community’ but worryingly it’s also being used as smokescreen for cuts.

‘Community Libraries’ instead of meaning ‘a local public library based in the community’ now means ‘a volunteer-led library’ where because of closure local people have been forced to take on the running of the service.
Another example is ‘Community Hub’ which now means an existent library or new build being used as a one stop shop for a host of other council/NHS (even post offices!) services, this can often lead to the core library service being diminished and library staff taking on other tasks, roles and responsibilities but at the same time having their terms and conditions cut.

This collocated/shared services approach is often sold as ‘innovative’ when in the majority of cases it’s due to cuts in other departments and can often lead to a potentially unsympathetic merger of services. Take Northamptonshire as an example where due to cuts in children’s centres, there are proposals to move some of the advisors in with libraries, which has raised safeguarding and other concerns;

“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”
“The report adds that people in Corby were "happy with the current provision and did not wish to see a significant change".

So not only are there concerns but the people don’t want it, democratic accountability?

There are other proposals in other authorities to move police officers and health services etc. in with libraries.

There is very often nothing innovative about this, it’s nearly always cuts based.

So let’s reclaim the word ‘community’ and use it positively not as a smokescreen for cuts.