Saturday 18 April 2020

‘Close the Libraries’

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything here but I felt that now was the time although it’s a very strange thing to be writing about the ‘Close the Libraries’ campaign when I’ve spent the last 10 years fighting to keep them open!!!

On 1/3/20 I tweeted about cleaning & disinfecting Library work surfaces & equipment, this is around the same time when other Library Workers in the UK started to raise concerns regarding the risk of keeping libraries open during a pandemic.
Library Workers where saying that they didn’t have hand sanitiser, gloves, masks or even proper washing facilities. They where also asking questions about how long the virus could remain active or survive on different surfaces like paper, plastic, screens etc.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study that was done on the life of this virus on various surfaces, Paper/cardboard=24hrs, Plastic=72hrs. Many libraries started quarantining materials for 72 hrs then disinfecting but this seemed to be mainly in the US.

Library Workers in Lambeth decided enough was enough and walked out on 20/3/20 due to a lack of hand sanitising facilities and the lack of social distancing, this forced Lambeth Council to close all of its libraries and even got a mention in The Guardian
Unions where using Section 44 of the Employee Rights Act 1996 to argue that workers could refuse to attend a workplace that they felt put them at risk.

A key concern for all library staff was social distancing, how do you achieve this in a library setting where staff work behind open desks with no protection and the public and staff are milling around? Libraries where still holding children’s events etc a week before they closed on 23/3/20, in fact I did an Under 5’s session myself to approx 70 children, parents and carers!!!

A concerned library worker tweeted

“Inconsistency from councils & union branches, no PPE, opposite of #SocialDistancing, library workers gagged & stressed.”

All this inconsistency and indecisiveness was putting library workers under great mental stress, the fallout of which will have to be fully dealt with by services and councils at a future date.

On the 17/3/20 Libraries Connected (formerly The Society of Chief Librarians) put out this statement

“Given the central role of libraries in their communities and their support to the most vulnerable, any decision taken to close buildings should not be taken lightly. 
However, in light of the recent escalation of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest government advice, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that library buildings should close to protect communities and staff from infection. We are calling on government to make a clear decision about closing libraries, along with other public buildings.“
On 20/3 the gov decided to close all schools. Library workers where concerned that this would mean that more children (and parents/carers etc) would come into libraries.
On the 21/3/20 Libraries Connected wrote to the DCMS asking that Public Libraries be put on the government list of services and institutions that must close due to the pandemic and on the 23/3/20 the DCMS responded saying that councils should be left to make this decision. At this point it was still estimated that 40% of all Public Libraries where still open.

Then on the very same day that the DCMS stated that councils should make the decision they finally instructed libraries to close.

“Other premises including libraries, non-essential shops, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close.”

It’s worth pointing out that many volunteer-led ‘libraries’ had already closed before this date due to the vast majority of volunteers being elderly and therefor at greater risk.

This was a very strange day for library workers who on one hand where greatly relieved but on the other where sad to close.

In the US the #closethelibraries #protectlibraryworkers campaign is still in full swing against those authorities and Library Directors who refuse to fully close their libraries although many are now offering ‘kerb side’ pickups which many still see as unsafe.
On twitter and in the real world Callan Bignoli @eminencefont and Alison Macrina @flexlibris have been at the forefront of the campaign and have even managed to get the New York Times to cover it.

So what are library workers doing now their branches are closed well many have been redeployed and are helping to contact the elderly and vulnerable and others are doing online storytime sessions etc. The demand for e-books and other online resources has shot through the roof.

When all this is over if it ever is then let’s hope that politicians and decision makers locally and nationally start to appreciate that libraries really are an essential service not only when there’s a public emergency, but I personally won’t be holding my breath.

Friday 18 May 2018

The Society of Chief Librarians, Sopra Steria and visa/immigration services in libraries!

It appears that the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) have been busy striking a deal with the IT outsourcing firm Sopra Steria to deliver their newly won digital visa/immigration contract via 56 public libraries.

Sopra Steria have an 'interesting' record, they were recently linked to a scandal re the loss of 500,000 NHS documents and the loss of 220 jobs in their UK government business.

I suppose it's seen in library establishment circles as just another pragmatic partnership a bit like the ones with Barclays, Cisco, Halifax et al but it'll be interesting to see how this develops and whether CILIP, library users/staff and campaigners put up a fight against what many will see as another major invasion of public library space by a private interest and a further erosion of our ethos.

Friday 11 May 2018

DILON & whiteness in librarianship, my article for 'Opendemocracy' and privatisation in Herefordshire and Hertfordshire.


Firstly and most importantly - the issue of 'whiteness' in the UK library and information profession (96.7% white) is one that needs to be urgently discussed and addressed so it's great to see a new group 'Diversity in Libraries of the North (DILON)' set up which "advocates for POC/BME/non-white library and information workers in the north of England". For more about the group read this interview with the founder Jen Bayjoo.

'Opendemocracy' article

Recently I wrote a piece for 'Opendemocracy' on the fight against library cuts and the need for Labour to adopt a national policy supporting statutory public libraries and the paid/trained staff who work in them.

"Campaigners were told to "innovate don't save” and urged to "adopt a positive narrative…if you keep saying libraries are in crisis then people will start to believe it"
But groups like Voices for the Library, Speak up for Libraries & the newer Radical Librarians Collective spoke out against the cuts and the closures. We spoke out against privatisation and commercialisation. And we were ridiculed and side-lined but we kept speaking out.
Hundreds of local campaign groups were formed and spoke up too, organising hundreds of marches and protests and union and community activists even managed to organise a national demo in 2016."

It's heartening to see Labour supporting Unison's campaign and petition opposing the privatisation of libraries in Herefordshire.

"UNISON believes that the public deserve the best possible service when it comes to Museums, Libraries and Archives and our policy is always to keep services in-house."


It looks very likely that Hertfordshire CC will adopt the PSM (Public Service Mutual) model for their library service. They cite Suffolk, Devon, York and Northamptonshire as successful adopters of this model but recently worrying figures have shown a 43% drop in usage in Devon and in 2016 both Suffolk and York showed drops!

Monday 16 April 2018

Proposals to Outsource Libraries in Herefordshire.

In Oct 2016 and then again in Nov 17 Herefordshire CC issued a 'Soft Market Test' for their museum, library and archive services. Basically this is to gauge market interest before making a final decision to outsource/privatise.

It now looks as if the council are ready to push ahead with the process with Halo Leisure Services Ltd, The Courtyard Trust, GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) and Vision Redbridge Culture & Leisure Ltd in the running but concerns and doubts have been expressed in a recent article and council submission by the campaign group Joint Action for Herefordshire Libraries and by Cllr Gandy, a Tory, who not only mentioned the Carillion scandal but said;

"What evidence is there that outsourcing will produce the savings required and by how much?"

As far as I can see the council is looking to cut £65k in the current financial year from the Libraries budget so from these figures and the fact that the council has been pushing the community-led model over the last few years it looks as if the decision to privatise libraries will be an ideological and not a fiscal one, which in my experience is more than often the case.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Bromley/GLL, Cisco (another ethical partner?) & Wimbletech/renting desk space in libraries.


Solidarity to Unite members in GLL run Bromley Libraries who've voted (100% on a 87% turn out) to take industrial action. 
"Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “There have been continual problems since Bromley’s libraries were privatised and GLL took over from the council.
“Staffing is a major problem, with workers being shipped in from neighbouring boroughs owing to staff shortages."
For some background see;

Cisco, the California based systems/networking firm, are planning to provide digital skills training in English public libraries. Manchester Libraries have already partnered with them and the Head of Service of Manchester Libraries just happens to be the President of the Society of Chief Librarians, what a coincidence!
Recently Cisco was involved in a data leak/breach involving job applicants, another perfect partner for public libraries?
David Fletcher, the founder of Wimbletech CIC, was on radio recently talking about why libraries matter. Wimbletech, based in Wimbledon Library, and their library spin-off 'The Workary' rent out desk space to entrepreneurs. 
They claim that they want to work with local councils to transform "under-utilized library space" and to "help libraries increase revenues, footfall, awareness & relevance" They are at this very moment sniffing around the burning embers of a once proud Barnet library service, so just another SocEnt cashing in on the crisis facing public libraries?
For arguments against renting out once public library space to entrepreneurs read me and others in a recent Bookseller article re Forest Hill Community Library which by the way is leased and co-run by V22, an offshore arts org!

Saturday 17 February 2018

Outsourcing Fundamentalism, Hasn't Herts heard of Carillion? and SCL/Taskforce backed vol-led 'libraries' conference comes to Sheffield.

Northamptonshire, along with Barnet one of the Tory outsourcing flagships, has had a Section 114 order slapped on it which basically means it can't spend any more money on public services except apparently on crucial statutory services which apparently doesn't include libraries! A Tory council collapsing under Tory austerity cuts, who would have thunk it!!
Oh and I forgot to mention that the ex-CEO of Northamptonshire CC is Dr Paul Blantern who just happens also to be the ex-Chair of the government's Libraries Taskforce. Paul is a bit of an outsourcing fundamentalist, who planned to shrink his council workforce from 4000 to 150 core staff by 2020 by outsourcing services to 4 'Next Generation' social enterprises. His council had previously moved libraries into a 'Wellbeing Community Interest Company' but also more recently had planned to cut/close libraries and hand over many of them to volunteers. When I asked him at a Speak up for Libraries conference a few years ago whether he thought that an outsourcing fundamentalist was a good choice to chair a Taskforce on public libraries he just laughed it off, hope he's stopped laughing although the £100k pay off he received from Northamptonshire might help lighten his mood.

Hertfordshire are 'consulting' on their libraries again and in the spirit of the government's 'Digital by Default' agenda misspelled 'consultation' in the link meaning that you got 'page not found' when you clicked on it, it has I'm glad to report now been fixed. Oh and the 'consultation' asks folks whether they want their libraries to be privatised or cut/closed and apparently doesn't mention that libraries are a statutory service, wonder why?

The 'Community Managed Libraries Peer Network', "a network of peers from the full spectrum of community managed libraries from independently funded libraries to those who receive local authority support" is holding its first national conference in Sheffield on 20/3/18. The network is funded by 'Power to Change', "an independent charitable trust that supports and develops community businesses in England", it's so independent that it lists DCLG & 'Big Society Capital' as partners! Basically it's just another front for the government's 'Localism' agenda, an ideological agenda that seeks to offload public services to suspect SocEnts and volunteers.
The network is not only supported by Locality (the armed wing of the DCLG and the Localism movement) and the Upper Norwood Library Trust but also by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Libraries Taskforce! Some see the involvement of the SCL and Taskforce as a pragmatic move but i think it's absolutely shameful and indicative of the ethical void at the upper echelons of our library establishment.
Oh and holding their first conference in Sheffield is a little ironic considering that volunteer-led 'libraries' there have seen a huge drop in usage!

Sunday 21 January 2018

Carillion and LS&S; the dangers of library privatisation.


It's amazing how many people didn't know that Carillion ran 4 library services in London.
In 2012 Harrow, Ealing, Hounslow and Croydon outsourced their library services to John Laing Integrated Services who then sold the contract on to Carillion in 2013. In 2017 Hounslow terminated its contract with Carillion and in the last few days Croydon followed suit after news that the firm had been liquidated, but even before the final crash came about news was coming out of the borough that Carillion were doing a bad job and couldn't even pay their newspapers bills!
Harrow and Ealing have yet to play their hands both claiming that it would be too costly to take the services back in-house and look likely to re-outsource with GLL being mentioned in some quarters.
I've been keeping tabs on Carillion's library venture since 2013 and have consistently over this time heard from good sources that they were making a real hash of things. Right from the start Unison, the main union representing library workers, experienced barriers in negotiating recognition agreements which really isn't that surprising considering Carillion's involvement in a major blacklisting scandal. If you wanted tangible proof of their mismanagement you only had to visit Croydon Central Library, it was a mess with half-empty and untidy shelves, one of the worst children's libraries you've ever seen and a visible lack of staff or even self-service kiosks that worked, it was a disgrace.
Anyway Carillion are no more and i live in hope that this has acted as a wake up call to councils, especially Labour ones, who are considering privatising such a crucial statutory service.

LS&S (formerly LSSI)

The US private library firm LS&S have recently lost a contract in Santa Clarita, California. Staffing shortages, unfilled vacancies, low morale and a drastic drop in usage have been cited as the reasons for termination of the contract. Now this didn't come as a surprise to my comrade Lori Rivas and other campaigners/users in Santa Clarita who not only put up an epic battle against privatisation in the first place but have also been raising issues and concerns since the contract was signed. Solidarity and congratulations to Lori et al.
Last week, after a law suit and community protests, LS&S won the contract to run libraries in nearby Escondido. Campaigners have vowed to keep fighting and let's hope they do.