Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Society of Chief Librarians and the Chief Leisure Officers Association

I've been asked to explain my view on the link between the SCL and the CLOA and why i think this relationship has had a significant bearing on the development of the role of Public Libraries and the way they are perceived by the public, the profession and government, so here goes albeit briefly;

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) is a membership organisation made of all the Local Authority Chief Librarians in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was formed in 1996 and describes it's role as thus;

"SCL takes a leading role in the development of public libraries, through sharing best practices, advocating for continuous improvement on behalf of local people, and leading the debate on the future of the public library service. Public libraries operate in a fast-changing world and are responding to this challenge imaginatively in communities across the UK. SCL works to ensure that this community-based contribution to national and local strategies is recognised and developed.
SCL supports chief librarians by providing regional networks that allow them to discuss current issues and concerns in a confidential environment. These regional networks also work closely with partners within their regions to deliver real benefits to services and customers such as cheaper procurement of services and easy access to books across all libraries in a region."

The current SCL President is Janene Cox, Commissioner for Culture, Leisure & Tourism, Staffordshire County Council. The history of the SCL talks of Chief and County Librarians but you will be hard pushed to find any mention of Librarian in many of the job titles of the new bunch!

The SCL, in my view, have developed very close links with the Chief Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) which describes its role as thus;

"The Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (cCLOA) exclusively represents senior strategic leaders managing public sector cultural, tourism and sport services. It works closely with central government and key national organisations to influence the development of national policies and to lobby for positive change in the cultural and leisure sectors. It is also a founder and leading member of the National Culture Forum."

The current CLOA Chair is Richard Hunt, Head of Service Development (Culture, Sport and Communities) Adult and Community Services, Suffolk County Council, his remit covers libraries, archives, arts, museums, sports, culture and tourism! In fact Richard Hunt, the Chair, Iain Varah, the Vice Chair and John Bell, the Honorary Secretary, all have, or have had at one time, libraries as part of their professional remits!

Under 'Current Issues' on the CLOA website you'll find "Future direction for arts, museums and libraries." and on the micro-site for CLOA London it states;

"London cCLOA is currently involved in two projects in London
Team London Libraries Project
A £100K community development project centred on strengthening local communities and civic engagement through increasing volunteering in Libraries. This project is funded by the GLA and the following boroughs are participating in a fast track pilot: Croydon, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Barnet, Ealing, Enfield, Hackney, Havering, Tri Borough (shared service) and Bromley/ Bexley (shared service) The project will produce toolkits and best practice guidance in the summer of 2012 and will support other boroughs through a formal peer to peer programme from September 2012."

their general view on the situation facing Public Libraries can be gleaned from the following document and its title!;

CLOA and the Public Library Service

Crisis or opportunity?
SCL and CLOA members attend some of the same meeting/forums and both meet regularly with representatives of ACE, DCMS, LGA, London Councils etc, CLOA London publishes agendas and notes from their meetings but you'll be hard pressed to find these for the SCL!
So the SCL and CLOA have a close relationship, so what?

Well in my own opinion this relationship can be seen most clearly in the way that the majority of councils position their library services within their departmental and directorate structure, more often than not libraries are lumped in with leisure, arts and culture or anything else other than education and learning!
This change in perception and focus makes it easier for councils, government departments and agencies to renege on their statutory duties through divestment and/or by telling the profession that their job can be done by anyone, anytime and anywhere, after all it's only another leisure option!
In my view this is not coincidental but part of a deliberate neoliberal agenda to position libraries within the leisure, arts and culture market making them more attractive to private financiers, 'Social Enterprises' and the like or as i touched on in the last paragraph just easier to cut,  'hollow out' or divest. Look at the privatisation of Greenwich and Wandsworth's library services to sports/leisure specialist Greenwich Leisure Ltd and the 'Localism' agenda with it's 'Right to Bid' and 'Community Asset Transfer' spin offs!

This isn't by any means the full story, there's the cuts to ACE and DCMS funding, the fact that ACE funding to libraries is based around creating partnerships with arts organisations, the role of consultants and attitudes within the library profession itself, but that's a whole new blog post!
I'll finish with a quote from a recent article on libraries by Jeannette Winterson;
"When we look back at the latest cuts in Newcastle, we can see where this confusion starts – "Libraries, leisure and culture". But culture is not leisure – though you need leisure to pursue culture – and libraries are not leisure in the way that a sports centre is leisure. Libraries began with the highest purpose in mind – to educate through the agency of a book. The first public libraries were aspirational and proud. Libraries were not community centres with books in the way."


  1. I fear you are right Alan.

    Many authorities have sought to combat the arguments tabled by those speaking up for their libraries by portraying libraries as a mere extra, as partially or totally non-statutory (despite the 1964 Act!) and we even had a councillor in Croydon go one step further and refer to libraries as a luxury.

    Classifying libraries in with Leisure infers it is an extra rather than a core service. It completely overlooks the central role libraries play across many key local and national agendas including literacy, education for both young and old, social inclusion, aiding job seekers to find employment, and supporting mental health and well-being to name just a few. Many of the councillors making the decisions to hollow out or cut libraries do not really understand the wider role of libraries.

    As an aside -
    You refer to the lack of openness of the SCL: The latest is that SCL recently met with library campaigners - hopefully the beginning of an open frank dialogue - and SCL promised greater transparency, including reinstating the publication of minutes. Let's see what this brings. The proof will be in the follow up to this meeting and the keenness of SCL to meet again. The ball is in their court.


  2. I am currently in school at Rutgers, and we have an amazing library network and resources. Unfortunately, I'll be transferring out of this school for next semester. The closest library to my home is the Bayonne Public Library and quite's terrible. But because I am not a resident of NYC, I can't take books out from the NY Public Library. Does anyone know of any decent public libraries in my general area where I can actually take out books?

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  3. Thanks for your comment Alice Anne but unfortunately as i'm a Public Librarian based in the UK i can't really advise you on good libraries in New Jersey, all i can suggest is talk to your fellow students and have a look on the internet for reviews and recommendations.