Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Selling the Family Silver! (or a day at an Arts Council Libraries Consultation Worskshop)

'Envisioning the library of the future' - 16/5/12 - Swiss Cottage Library

I don't even try anymore to keep an open mind when attending these kind of events, i've got an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what agenda and direction these things will follow beforehand and I'm very rarely wrong!
So i wasn't disappointed when i saw the attendee list, Directors, Heads, Senior Managers, Senior Officers, Consultants, a few marketing types, a few volunteer types, a small handful of campaigners, a UNISON Official (thank god!) and a Cultural Champion! Very top heavy and loaded with marketeers and cutters!
Then i read the 'workshop notes' and my heart sank even further, 'consumers', 'future proofed libraries', 'new models for raising funds' and to top it all the 'library brand'!
The programme then started with an introduction by Helen Lax, East Regional Director Arts Council England, who within 5 minutes had already mentioned 'volunteers', 'commercial sector' and told us that we needed to look at 'how the citizen consumes culture'! For a brief moment i thought i might  have stumbled into a franchising event for a fast-food retail opportunity!
We then got a slick marketing style presentation from Ipsos Mori and Shared Intelligence of key socio-economic indicators and library trends, something that would have been better sent as a PowerPoint presentation to all attendees before the workshop! A key message from this part of the session was that "we're not futurologists"!
We were then split into colour coded groups to discuss 4 scenarios of how the UK might be in 2022 and were asked to discuss how libraries would take up certain challenges relating to the scenarios! My group chose the topics of 'partnerships' and 'changing staff roles' as wider issues and then every groups discussion topics, which were written on post-it notes, were pinned to a wall, by this time i was feeling like pinning more than the post-it notes to the wall!
We then had lunch and people networked, all i got, apart from a nice chat with Phil Bradley and Hannah Bailey, was "Oh! you're Alan Wylie"? So nice to be recognised and appreciated!
After lunch we each picked a discussion topic, mine being 'volunteering and community libraries' and split of into groups. My group had Julie Hall, Service Development Manager, Information and Heritage, Lewisham, Darren Taylor, he of the Eco Computer Systems Lewisham community libraries fame, a Camden Campaigner, a Volunteer Coordinator and someone else to do with volunteering! The discussion got rather heated when the Camden campaigner started to taunt the Lewisham contingent and when i said to the Volunteer Coordinator "how do you think that i feel having built up 20+ years of knowledge and skills only to be told that a volunteer can do my job", she said "that's what i thought when i took up the challenge, am i supposed to do all this" When i brought up the issues of data protection, customer service, stock selection, etc i was told that "all these things can be easily learnt or overcome"!
The Eco bloke then eulogised about his community libraries and what a wonderful philanthropist he was, it was at this point i decided to leave!
It was all very loaded and very frustrating, there was virtually no one challenging the neo-liberal status quo, we are my friends being sold off like the family silver!


  1. Hi Alan, we've already had a 'heated' discussion;) as a part of the ACE Envisioning blog.
    I too attended an ACE event, the one in B'ham and I too was disappointed with the lack of library assistants, there were a few library managers and too few shelf stackers imho.
    I was tempted to ask when was the last time anyone here actually shelved a book? I didn't though, not because I was afraid of offending anyone or because it's my plan to infiltrate the elite and bring it down from within!
    I didn't because I was enjoying the day and the conversation however much I may have disagreed with what was being said.
    However much we may disagree with each other I hope you can recognise in me, as I think I recognise in you, someone who is passionate about libraries.
    It's this passion, hell even anger, I'd like to appeal and invite to an event I'm helping organise, albeit with ACE etc involvement. I would hate for you to come and end up leaving out of frustration, wasting your day and an expensive journey, it's in Birmingham. I can understand if you'd think it's going to be too 'corporate' or even biased. I can only say that entry is free and open to all, particularly library shelf stackers:)
    If you've managed to get to the end of this post without swearing and would like to know more please don't hesitate to contact me at

    1. Thanks for your comment! Send me the info about the Birmingham Event and i'll have a look!

      I'm sad to say that i've, and many others have, found the whole ACE consultation experience very frustrating, first of all who were the 200 chosen for their expert opionions? and why did the initial panel discussion held at Swiss Cottage Library consist solely of Heads and Senior Managers? The workshop yesterday just summed the whole thing up for me, and others, it was very top heavy and very loaded towards the 'diversify, commercialise or die' merchants and the discussion group i was involved in was extremely biased towards volunteers and the 'community library' model!

      There are a significant number of users, staff, campaigners and trade unionists who totally disagree with the agenda being set and see the emergence of it in the last 15 years, and the recent adotion of it by ACE, the Carnegie Trust etc, as one of the main reasons, along with poor leadership and management, the cuts of course and the obolition of the national library standards, as to why libraries are on their knees!
      And i haven't sworn once!

  2. Brilliant. I'll leave these with you and if you're interested please let us know.
    Our blog.
    A list of discussions that took place last year.
    The attendee list from last year.

    All the best to you and yours'