Saturday 2 February 2013

Proposal to cut the Library Enquiry Service in Somerset

Somerset County Council are proposing to cut their specialist Library Enquiry Centre based at Taunton Library, the service deals with 1600 enquiries a month;
"the service relieves other front-line staff
from the weight of reference enquiries normally associated
with a public library service.
70% of enquiries come direct from the public. The remaining
30% come from library staff."
The proposal goes on to outline the savings and the new model of delivery;
"It is proposed that the service should be stopped over two
years, 50% of the budget being withdrawn in 2013/14 and 50%
in 2014/15 (£100k in total)."
"The basis for this savings proposal is that the role of the
Enquiry Service can be fulfilled in other ways, including
through the rolling out of the Council’s Customer Strategy
(including face to face, phone and web access) and the Library
Service Review, and through existing access channels such
as Somerset Direct, NHS Direct, the People’s Network (which
provides publicly-available web access in Somerset libraries),
and relevant websites."
It also states;
"Outcomes for users, in providing them with the information
they need, will be achieved differently but without a necessary
loss of effectiveness."

Four specialist information staff will lose their jobs, staff who have probably spent years training and building up knowledge and experience in order to do their jobs 'comprehensively and efficiently' and the council states that there won't be a "loss of effectiveness" in cutting them!
"Capacity issues will arise for front-line
library staff unless effective mitigation is put in place to offset the loss of the service."

This is happening at the same time that the SCL, ACE and partners have announced that 'Information' will be part of their 'Universal Offer' to Public Library users, obviously no-one has told Somerset about this? - see 13.211


  1. Thanks for highlighting this threat to Somerset's Enquiry Centre.

    In addition to the points you've made, another factor is that Somerset provides this service on a traded basis to three other authorities in LibrariesWest, so they too will be obliged to make alternative arrangements if the closure takes place.

    The proposal goes to SCC Cabinet on Wednesday February 6th. Friends of Somerset Libraries [FoSL]have submitted written questions, which ask why an Equalities Impact Assessment and an analysis of information needs have not been carried out. Also, why the promised consultation on the closure is scheduled for after the Cabinet decision. The questions also cover skills, resources, training, plus the future need to support volunteer-run libraries. The questions also pick up on a reported remark by the Cabinet member at the Scrutiny Committee meeting that the response to enquiries should cost no more than 5p [or 15p - it's unclear]. The FoSL question on that asks if SCC considers 20 second [or perhaps 60 second] responses will allow for the provision of an adequate information service. The question on skills asks for the evidence on which the assertion is made in the phrase "without a necessary loss of effectiveness", which you have noted in your piece.

    And, yes, we have raised the question of Somerset's ability to be part of the universal offer.

    Thanks once again for the blog. As an ex-member of Somerset staff, I make this contribution with a great deal of sadness at the situation, fully acknowledging that Somerset, as with every other local authority, has huge savings to make.

    1. Thanks for your comments Phil, the decision to cut similar services is happening up and down the country with the loss of specialist staff and knowledge making a 'universal offer' on information seem rather ludicrous! You also point out that they intend to consult with users etc after the cabinet decision which further highlights the general feeling that the vast majority of library consultations are a sham!
      Good luck and please keep me informed of any future developments.