Friday, 27 June 2014

Volunteers standing down and a Literary Map of Dundee.

Yesterday a story appeared in the 'Lincolnshire Echo' about volunteers at Alford Library having enough of struggling to run a library, for just over a year, standing down, a worrying blow to Lincolnshires' plans. Apparently they've been cast adrift by the council;

"The volunteers set-up to support the community by giving them another day of opening alongside the other days that the library opened under professional staff."
"Since the decision to completely change the way Lincolnshire libraries are to be run, by threatening closure, if volunteers did not take over the day to day running and funding, the group have noticed the support they used to get has effectively gone."

And as the Councillor quoted in the article puts it;

"It highlights to me the sustainability issue of volunteers and also how much you can push them before they say enough is enough"

Campaigners, users, staff and unions have been stressing the point of sustainability from the offset, it's not just about keeping the building occupied and opening the doors it's far far more than than that; there's the small matter of providing a 'comprehensive and efficient' service even though the majority of volunteer libraries are now outside of the statutory remit.
Campaigners don't vilify people for trying to keep their local libraries open, however misguided and naive it might seem at times, they vilify the government's agenda to shrink the state through the implementation of its 'Localism' agenda. It's all very sad and ultimately destructive.

And now for some good news!

Those clever people at Dundee Central Library have created a literary map of the city.

"The 15-mile, 48-stop route takes in Broughty Ferry as well as the city centre and the west and east ends and will chronicle Dundee’s literary past and present.
Stops on the trail will have walkers thinking about Frankenstein author Mary Shelly, crime writer Agatha Christie and children’s favourite Jacqueline Wilson.
There’s even a stop dedicated to notoriously bad poet William McGonagall."

This excellent idea reminded me off something a friend of mine developed a while back in Edinburgh;



Thursday, 26 June 2014

Dawn of the Unread, Merrick Cockell, Franchising libraries & Sieghart's message to the LGA.

Some stories that have recently caught my eye;

Dawn of the Unread

I was recently contacted by James Walker from 'Dawn of the Unread' who asked if I could help publicise the project and of course as it's a wonderful and creative idea I, and Voices for the Library, agreed.


Merrick Cockell

Sir Merrick Cockell, who served as Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea for 13 years and chaired London Councils for four, will be from July 2014 taking over as the Executive Chair, and Chair of the Board, of Cratus Communications. He's obviously delighted by this and by the appointment onto his board of Tim Grier, Nine years as Managing Director of John Laing Integrated Services. As you may remember JLIS ran Hounslow Libraries and then won the contract for Croydon, Harrow and Ealing libraries which they then very quickly sold on to Carillion.

“I am delighted to be joining Cratus at such an exciting time in their development. Having observed their work with John Laing pioneering contracted-out library services, I know that they are one of the few companies that truly understand how local government works. They know that elected members need to lead the revolution in local public services that is happening across the country and that the public and private sectors need to better understand and learn from each others’ strengths.”

Exciting times ahead then!!

(Thanks to me old mucker Ian Anstice for alerting me to this)


I recently picked up from a Barnet source that they are considering 'franchising' their libraries and have got the idea from Lambeth and Staffordshire! Now this is the first time I've heard this term used in relation to public libraries and can only guess that it's another example of neo-liberal library speak and really means privatisation and/or the handing over of libraries to community groups, Social Enterprises etc. I asked campaigners in Lambeth and they hadn't heard of it and as for Staffordshire well as far as I can see they've just cut and volunteered like nearly everyone else!!

If anyone does know what the hell this is or has any info then please let me know.

William Sieghart's message to the LGA

The current edition of the LGA's 'First' magazine has a guest feature by William Sieghart, Chair of the panel commissioned by the Departments for Communities and Local Government and Culture, Media and Sport to produce an independent report on England's public library service.
It's worth reading as it gives a clear idea as to the direction that William and the panel think that public libraries should be moving and that is towards collocation, shared services and a more strategic national approach in relation to digital services and membership. I have serious reservations about collocation and shared services but depending on the detail could be persuaded on the national part.
And as for libraries in pubs, I wrote something about this last year;

I've met with William and have given oral evidence to his panel and although I can't yet discuss the detail I can say that he's very keen on what he/they see as 'pragmatic' solutions!

Monday, 16 June 2014

The SCL and volunteer-led libraries.

Today the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) published a speech given by their incoming President Ciara Eastell on her/their future priorities.

In the pre-release they say;

"She emphasised the enormous role that libraries play as enablers for local people and communities, laid plans to create a Learning Offer to expand on SCL’s current 4 Universal Offers, reaffirmed SCL’s commitment to strengthen libraries’ digital capacity and vowed to help libraries boost advocacy efforts locally and nationally in the run up to the 2015 elections. SCL will also develop more learning resources for library staff, especially in the areas of digital leadership."

and in the speech itself she talks more about the Universal Offers, developing a digital strategy, boosting advocacy efforts leading up to the 2015 elections, supporting staff & workforce development and about libraries and library staff being "key enablers for local people and local communities".

all of this is to be applauded, welcomed and supported but on page 3 of the speech she/they drop the following bombshell;

"I would like us to explore how we might develop resources and a framework to
support community-led libraries, recognising that there is a real practical need in
many of our organisations to have resources that will help to grow and develop
sustainable services."

Let me just remind you, before I say anything more on this, that the SCL is a membership organisation made up of the Heads of public library services, services that are publicly funded and are a statutory requirement under the 1964 Act. It's also worth pointing out at this point that many or the majority of volunteer-led libraries are now positioned outside that statutory remit. So why you may well ask is an organisation that should be fully supporting statutory library services proposing to use part of it's scarce resources to support what many see as book exchanges/internet cafes/community centres?
Existing volunteer-led libraries and the communities forced to consider this option already have a extremely well funded (£6m+) advice and support network provided by the Communities Knowledge Hub Libraries (CKHL), an offshoot of Locality, and Jim Brooks from Little Chalfont Community Library who receives funding to advise others on this from the DCMS, or so I've been told?

And how do the SCL intend to ensure that the initiatives and crucial roles they've outlined for public libraries are firstly taken up by volunteer-led libraries and secondly delivered in a 'comprehensive and efficient' manner? Sustainability and viability are the crux of the issue here, but it seems that not only have the SCL decided to give up any resemblance of a fight to fully protect the profession and service but have also come to the conclusion that volunteer-led libraries are a viable and sustainable option. What evidence have they based this upon?

It comes across to me as a very contradictory and muddled message but as I'll probably be told by it's supporters "a realistic and pragmatic one"!

But I'm not a great believer in the stance taken by many in my profession and also by some campaigners that "anything is better than nothing' and that's it's better to hand libraries over to volunteers in the hope that some day a Utopian government will be elected which will then fully re-instate the professional service. This is just politically naive. Every party (except for TUSC and the Greens maybe?) has adopted the neo-liberal agenda and every library handed to volunteers and taken out of the statutory service is another notch in the bedpost of Localism and another step towards shrinking the state and dismantling the public sector.

Now more than ever communities need a professionally run and publicly funded and managed service and it's my view that we should be debunking the austerity myth and fighting tooth and nail to keep every library publicly funded and properly resourced and to keep every one of those libraries staffed by paid & trained/qualified library workers. This is not about vilifying volunteers its about vilifying the governments agenda. Not to do this, in my opinion, is a betrayal of our users/members/borrowers/readers, the wider communities we serve and our ethos.


Monday, 2 June 2014

Volunteer limitations!

Angela Montague, a member of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries Campaign, has very kindly brought to my attention the following report about a 'Portas Pilot' in Market Rasen that she was involved with. The part of the report relating to volunteers could raise concerns with those planning to take on the running of local libraries and other such initiatives;

"At every stage in our journey
we have underestimated
the time, resourcing and
administration requirements
of what is required to
maintain this initiative."

'Volunteering has been
our Achilles heel.'

"Our volunteer board is exhausted - the
responsibility and physical demands of
delivery, combined with pressure for
transparency and inclusion have taken their
toll. Additionally, initiatives that we hoped
would be run by additional volunteers
have met with patchy support and have
necessitated much more management than
we anticipated. Our fall back position has
been employed management resource. Our
experience has been that pilots may take
many months to generate revenues that
see them attaining a sustainable financial
position. Portas funds gave us the backing to
implement our ideas - but not all can or will
be taken forward beyond the pilot period."