Friday, 22 March 2013

Walking, Media & Libraries in Wester Hailes

An old friend of mine, Eoghan Howard, from my Clays Lane Housing Co-op days recently got in touch with me to tell me about the great and innovative work he is doing with communities and libraries in the Wester Hailes district of Edinburgh.

This is what he sent me;

"you might be interested in some of the things that we've been getting up to with the brilliant folk in our local library here in sunny Wester Hailes (including them setting up a "Wester Hailes Room" for us that will be used for social history & community news sharing purposes). Please find attached for your information therefore some (partly resent) items relevant to this from our various & wider Health + Heritage + Creativity + Technology activities here in sunny Wester Hailes (& please feel free to publicise as thought appropriate). These are:

1. interActive Edinburgh: encouraging closer links between Edinburgh's communities through walking groups, local history groups, community newspapers & blogs, local libraries, other relevant institutions, & waterside walking corridors (union canal, Water of Leith, & Seafront).

2. Outward Bound: ditto through promoting walks between all Edinburgh's local libraries (& other relevant institutions). This the WH example but am doing similar for all the other libraries as well.!/mail/ViewOfficePreview.aspx?messageid=8ad1142a-7d22-11e2-9eb5-001e0bccddde&folderid=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&attindex=1&cp=-1&attdepth=1&n=210907799

3. Community Media options: combining existing communications & social media activities with the new "digital sentinel" (resurrecting the previous closed WH community newspaper in a digital format with hard copy options that will be available at the library which will also be a central meeting point).!/mail/ViewOfficePreview.aspx?messageid=8ad1142a-7d22-11e2-9eb5-001e0bccddde&folderid=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&attindex=2&cp=-1&attdepth=2&n=1405146579

Plus a couple of weblinks....

4. Wester Hailes social history walks QR "
code book": (some of these start & finish at our local library)

5. Wester Hailes digital totem pole: (please check out the launch video in particular)"

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Croydon saga trundles on

"Croydon Defeated Libraries Motion - The facts "

THE collapse of the deal to privatise libraries has given the council the opportunity for a major rethink on how it runs its library service, an extraordinary meeting of the council was told on Monday.

Opposition councillors have launched a last-ditch bid to scupper plans to outsource the borough's libraries by pledging to tear up any contract if they win next year's local elections.

Bankrupt San Bernardino looks to privatise libraries?

In San Bernardino, California, library opening hours have been slashed and full time staff forced to go part time in an attempt to keep libraries open in the face of severe budget cuts due to the city facing bankruptcy. The city council is also seeking quotes from private firms interested in running it's library services and LSSI have been named.
The city will also look at outsourcing library services by seeking bids from potential operators. Those include the county library system and LSSI, a private firm that operates several libraries including Riverside County's.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Croydon again!

"There will be an emergency meeting of Croydon Council on Monday evening, when Tim Pollard will be called to account for the shambolic handling of the Conservative-led administration’s attempts to sell-off the borough’s libraries."

"A dispute over the liability for local government pension scheme contributions has caused the breakdown of a Croydon Council procurement exercise."

The Capita Report; 'Protecting Library Services' or "would you buy a used car from this bunch?"

My initial reaction to the recent Capita report on Libraries is that it's not actually a report but a sales brochure for their services and it doesn't actually say anything new or substantiated so for those reasons alone it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously but i know it will be in some circles so here goes;
Also see;

"In light of these cuts, libraries have two options; either they have to continue to significantly reduce the services they offer to the public, or they have to implement new ways of working to save money."

What about option three; go back to basics by concentrating resources on books, staff, buildings and IT, after all, if asked, this is what the vast majority of library users would say that they wanted from their service and fight to keep Public Libraries publicly funded/managed and staffed.

A problem shared is a problem halved
"Sharing services is one of the key ways to save money and the attraction of a shared library service can be a strong one."
There are obvious financial savings in this approach but it ultimately leads to less staff especially specialist staff (cataloguers, stock librarians, acquisitions staff etc) and doesn't always lead to a more efficient service, for example the feedback that I've had from staff who work in libraries linked to one of the big consortium is that there are serious issues with stock management, reserves and inter library loans. Creating bigger services also means that those who run the service/s are further removed from those who use it.
They also use the example of The Hive which was built with PFI money which raises concerns re sustainability and cost effectiveness.
The reality is virtual
"however, as libraries are now competing for clicks with websites such as Amazon and Lovefilms their customers will be expecting them to replicate that user experience"
Is this true, are Public Libraries really trying to compete in this market and if they are should they be? And do library users really want or expect the 'experience' to be the same?
"a typical face-to-face transaction costs £8.62 versus £2.83 for telephone and £0.15 for the web. Therefore significant savings can be gained by 'shifting' expensive face-to-face transaction to a lower cost channel."
You can't always get the same level of service in quality terms by telephone or online, a face-to-face enquiry with a trained, specialist member of staff is the gold standard, surely the service is more than about quantitative and financial indicators? And also what happens if the online service crashes or experiences technical problems or the phone just rings and rings due to the staff being too busy to answer it or you are just put through to a call centre?
Another real concern not discussed in this section is the 'digital divide', they assume that everyone has access to the internet and have the skills to utilise it.
Helping cusomer to help themselves
"as well as reducing costs, self-service machines can help improve both customer service and staff satisfaction. With self-service machines taking on mundane tasks, staff are freed up to improve service in other areas"
Self-serve reduces costs by cutting staff and there is absolutely no impartial evidence that it improves customer service and staff satisfaction, this is just the normal senior management mantra, if they asked front line staff the majority would probably say the opposite. The other myth is that self serve frees up staff time, in my experience and from the multitudes of feedback that I've had from front line staff throughout the country this is just not true, staff spend most of their time showing people how to use them and sorting out queries and technical problems with the machines and any freed up time they do have is spent catching up with the massive backlogs of work built up due to short staffing. Also outreach programmes have been reduced meaning that even if they did want to spend their time interacting with the community the framework and links may have been lost.
And what are these 'mundane tasks' do they mean the tasks that library staff do to ensure the smooth running of the service, by doing these tasks library staff learn their jobs, they are the day to day foundations of our trade, it's bit like telling a plumber that they don't need to know how to cut a pipe!
"it fast tracks all the things they would previously have queued for. This is the same technology our customers use in the supermarket and at the bank and they have taken to it instantly"
Library users still have to queue after the introduction of self serve due to technical problems and queries and trying to run libraries with too few staff and too few kiosks. Do library users really want the same experience as in a supermarket or bank? And while some may have taken to the new system the levels of user dissatisfaction and complaints about self serve have been hidden.
Income collection and income generation
The example they use of Bexley creating a premium service is being duplicated or proposed by many LA's and in my view raises ethical issues, especially around creating a two-tier service with those who can afford to pay more getting a better service than those who can't.
Reducing the administrative burden
"In some forward looking councils, there are proposals for integrating the library with the council's sports centre" - how is the forward looking, surely it dilutes the message and has only been done to save money? How does it improve the service?
"the data gathered from the card would then be used for marketing" - Oh dear! do library users want their 'data' used for marketing purposes and what are the data protection issues involved?
"Libraries are facing a time of great challenge and huge opportunity..." - the 'opportunity or crisis' spin again.
In fact this whole section is spin, from "move away from the idea that a library is a physical building" to library staff being freed from stamping books to spend more time empowering communities, when in fact the whole 'report' has got nothing to do with users or communities but increasing profits.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Is Smartsm really smart without Librarians?

I was interested to read the following comment by a library person on the UKLIBCHAT site recently;

"Would you say smart sm is tech? It’s a stock analysis tool – prob software w[?] web interface I think. We’ve been impressed in some ways doesn’t replace stock knowledge. But given reduction of professional librarians and need for paraprofessionals to be involved, smartsm is a helpful tool. Interestingly except when we’ve over weeded, customers have liked the results and commented positively"

This got me thinking about stock management in Public Libraries since the cuts and the level of professional input involved. I have a number of concerns, some of them highlighted in the quote above, these are;

If there are fewer 'professional' specialist staff (Stock Librarians, Cataloguers etc) in the system then who is keeping an eye on what Smartsm tells staff to withdraw from stock? Are these decisions being left in some cases to Library Assistants, and don't get me wrong I'm not saying they are not capable of making these judgements but if so who has an overview and the final decision?

And if stock is being sometimes 'over weeded' then is replacement stock being bought and is the depth and breadth of the collection being adversely effected?

Has 'Smartsm' been used more since the cuts?

Let me use some crude examples; if there is a 3 volume series and one of the volumes hasn't been out for a year and 'Smartsm' has been told to identify for withdrawal anything that hasn't been issued for a year then who is saying "don't get rid of that it's part of a multi-volume series"? And what about 'classics', a book by Zola or Proust, in some Libraries, might not go out very often but does that mean that they should be removed from stock just because they show up on a 'Smartsm' list?

My real concerns are about the de-professionalisation of the service and the 'dumbing down' of the collections, if we are not careful we could end up with Libraries full of flavour of the week or month popularist titles and surely as Bob Usherwood points out this is not what we should be aspiring too;

"Good librarians raise expectations too. Simply stocking libraries with books that reflect the assumed tastes of the public at large is a condescending act and one that reinforces the shallow values of the market and the media. It is insulting to the intelligence of people from all kinds of backgrounds who are, as history shows, more than capable of enjoying works of excellence. In a democracy, the public library’s role is to provide equality of access to first-rate collections and services."

My concerns may be totally unfounded and I'm sure if they are my lending colleagues will be the first to let me know.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The State of London's Libraries

Today i met with fellow London Libraries Unison Stewards, who are doing a brilliant job trying to defend their members and the service, to discuss the current state of affairs and although i can't go into detail about what was discussed what I can say is that we are in deep deep shit!

The service in the capital is being hollowed out and ripped apart so if ACE try to cloud your vision with talk of £6m arts partnerships, or the SCL's 'universal offers' give you optimism, or god forbid you are taken in by Vaizey's rosy eyed view then tell them from me it is far too little far too late and if they deny this then they are talking complete and utter nonsense .

And yes i do have an alternative plan; strike, protest and occupy.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Library campaigners organise public meeting for Tuesday - Postcode Gazette - 03/03/13

"Sheffield Communities Against Library Privatisation (SCALP) is holding a public meeting this Tuesday (March 5).
Campaigners say none of Sheffield’s 28 community libraries should close after the current review into their future concludes next month.

The council has warned that 14 will close if alternative means of meeting their running cots are not found, as the council struggles to makes £50 million of spending cuts from April.

Businesses and community groups are currently being sought to help run libraries, which might see their range of services extended to include things like coffee shops.

The meeting rakes place at Central United Reform Church, Norfolk St/Chapel Walk at 6.30pm. All are welcome."

for more on the cuts see

"* Library budget to be cut by £1.6m, putting 14 of 27 community libraries at risk of closure"

"....and the council admitted up to 14 of 27 libraries could close - but it hopes to avoid any closures by inviting third parties to bid to run them."

also SCALP can be found on Facebook at


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Does self serve really offer the library user a choice?

Let me start off by nailing my colours to the mast, I fundamentally disagree with the use of self serve (not RFID) in Public Libraries for the following reasons; in the vast majority of cases it's used to cut staff, it's linked to the commercial/retail led agenda prevalent in libraries management and from the evidence (mostly taken from the results of user consultations) that I've seen the majority of users don't want it.
But if it's going to be imposed, and it is up and down the country, then at least it should afford the user a choice. And this is what is really worrying me i don't believe that users are being given a real choice, usage targets are being set at anything up to 90-95% and staff are being trained in how to persuade and influence users, surely an ethical issue? Also desk/counter space is being reduced or removed and staff are being told that this is being done because the public see it as a barrier.

Recently i spotted a discussion on LIS PUB LIBS that highlights some of my concerns;

Subject: [PubLib] Self-checkout percentages

Apologies for any duplication.

Our problem:  we began self-checkout about three years ago, but so far we have not seen our usage levels rise to the desired point.  We're stuck at a system-wide usage of about 30%, with some branches much higher than that and others lower.  We really want to raise these levels because we want to free up some of our staff to do more interesting things than hang out at the circulation desk, but we're at something of a loss for how to do it.  We know that terminal placement in some of our locations is a problem and we're working on fixing that, but we know there are other things we can and should be doing to encourage higher usage.

We would love to talk to some libraries that have self-checkout and also have a usage percentage of 70% or higher.  If you represent one of those libraries and would be willing to share some statistics and tips with us, please reply to this email.  If you can, we would really like to see branch-by-branch usage stats, but we're also very interested in learning how you marketed self-checkout and actually got patrons to use it.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

The first thing to say about this is that there is no recognition that maybe the reason the figure is 30% is that users don't want to use it? It's always assumed that users are happy with self serve and only need to be influenced or pushed to use it, no consideration of political and ideological opposition.
The other thing is if staff are hanging out at the circulation desk then this is a training and supervision issue and isn't necessarily going to be solved by self serve unless they remove the desk altogether but then staff might just hang around somewhere else? To be quite honest I'm really surprised that staff have got the time to hang around, in my experience staff are run off their feet.

Here's one of the responses;

Subject: Re: [PubLib] Self-checkout percentages

Our self checkout is about 75-80% of our total checkout at our main library.
Here are some steps we took to increase use of self check:
1.      Self pick up of holds made probably the biggest difference.
2.      As you note, machine placement--we put ours front and center so they were right by the circ desk.  They are also right by the holds and the new books for the grab and go crowd.   We also uncluttered the lobby so there weren't so many distractions and the machines stood out more.
3.      We had volunteers in the lobby who would pull people out of line and ask them if they would like to try self check and who would walk them through it.
4.      At one point we were using dispensers for feature films, which forced anyone who wanted a movie to use a self serve dispenser. We stopped using those for a variety of reasons, but it did get people trained.
5.      We put one in the children's section and kids loved playing librarian by getting to check out their own books.
6.      We increased our block threshold.
7.      We enabled fine payment on the machines (have had some technical problems with this, but it is a way to remove barriers from use of the machines).
8.      Our vendor provides a remote staff override device which allows us to easily clear things that are preventing checkout, rather than having to wait for a staff member to walk over and help.
9.      Promotional materials to call attention to the service.
10.     We downsized our circ desk and only staff it with one person at a time (partly because of budget cuts) but it did make lines longer and the empty self check machine more attractive.
11.     The ability to key in your library card number in case you remember your card number but don't have your card with you (probably applicable only to library staff or extremely avid users)
12.     We also have self check enabled on our mobile app, so patrons can check out anywhere in the library using their phone or other mobile device.  We don't have a security system.

In general, trying to think of barriers that are keeping patrons from using self check is useful, like having to pay fines, pick up a hold, etc.   You could even ask users in line as kind of a mini focus group.   There are people who will say they prefer interacting with a live human and who love our staff, which of course is a good thing!  Some people mistakenly thought we were laying people off to replace them with machines, which we tried to clear up.

Hope this helps!

The worrying thing for me here is the use of the words 'pull' and 'force' and "We downsized our circ desk and only staff it with one person at a time (partly because of budget cuts) but it did make lines longer and the empty self check machine more attractive.", so where is the real choice here for the user?
Also users are not stupid, although we often treat them as if they are, they can see that staff have been cut and probably know that it's down to a mixture of budget cuts and self serve, why not just be honest about it?
At least they recognise that interacting with a "live human" is a good thing.

Being a library worker, whether you're a Head of Service or a Library Assistant, should be about responding to the needs and wants of the local community not imposing a service delivery model on them that they didn't ask for and then trying to force or influence them to use it. This lack of choice is surely an ethical issue that the profession should be resisting and at the very least discussing?


Friday, 1 March 2013

More on the Croydon Libraries contract fiasco

"We reproduce Labour's press release which was posted by a member on our Facebook page, along with further clarification and an audio extract for those not present at the meeting."

"At last night's council meeting Cllr Tim Pollard shocked everyone by announcing that it's back to the drawing board for libraries. Here is the transcript of his announcement."

"Library services in the borough are to go back out to tender after the council's preferred bidder changed its offer at the last minute.
The council is to reconsider selecting John Laing Integrated Services to run the libraries after the private firm altered proposed pension terms, triggering a reselection process.
Both John Laing and rival bidder Greenwich Leisure Limited are to resubmit new bids and are allowed to amend any part of their offers."

"Following an announcement about the status of the Libraries Outsourcing contract, made by Cllr Tim Pollard at a meeting of the full council in Croydon on 26th February, there have been a number of wholly misleading reports put about by Labour and its supporters on what the situation really is."

"Despite warnings from Labour councillors in previous meeting and widespread public opposition, Cllr Fisher’s Tory administration dream of selling off our much loved libraries lay in tatters last night as Laing’s integrated services spectacularly pulled the plug on Croydon – despite being handed hundreds of millions of pounds of our money as taxpayers from Croydon Conservatives."

"THE running of the borough's libraries is up for grabs again after the contract with the preferred bidder fell through.
John Laing Integrated Services (JILS), the former preferred bidder, says it will now re-bid against a former competitor to run the libraries instead of the council."