Friday 12 April 2013

Gagged Library Workers

A story was recently widely circulated about Canadian Federal Librarians being gagged by a new code of conduct;

"Federal librarians and archivists who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities, according to the new code of conduct at Library and Archives Canada.
Given the dangers, the code says the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”"

Yes this is extremely worrying and shocking but it's not new and it's not confined to Canada, Public Library workers in the UK as Local Government employees have always been bound by a 'code of conduct' which stipulates that they mustn't criticise their employer and outside work, in their personal time, their is an 'understanding' that they should act as an 'ambassador' for the council/authority.

This is an example of a standard 'code of conduct' courtesy of Wigan Council

2 Disclosure Of Information

2.7 Employees have a duty to maintain confidentiality and must not disclose any information obtained in the course of their employment to any third party for any unauthorised reason. A disclosure which complies with the requirements of the Whistleblowing Policy will be regarded as authorised disclosure.

7 Personal interests

7.1 Employees must declare to an appropriate manager, any non-financial interests that they consider could bring about conflict with the authority's interests.
7.5 Employees must declare to an appropriate manager (preferably in writing), any non-financial interests that they consider could bring about conflict with the Council's interests. This may include membership of outside bodies in a personal capacity. In such cases employees should be mindful not to place themselves in a situation where their involvement or working contribution could compromise their continuing professional duty to the interests of the Council.

Some Councils, especially since the cuts have kicked in, have been trying to actively enforce or go beyond this code. Library staff in Southampton were not only ordered not to discuss the cuts to their service in public or with councillors but they were also told;

“We should avoid actively encouraging people to complain as this will undermine the value of the comments the council receives if it becomes known.”

This article published in the Guardian in 2011 talks about the 'hollowing out' process taking place in libraries and the 'confidentiality' agreements that staff are bound to;

"Library staff gagged by council confidentiality agreements are unable to speak publicly. But one senior service manager, commenting on condition of anonymity, said: "Lots of the cuts are hidden cuts – to the book fund, to staffing, to outreach, to reader development work. Is that actually just as detrimental as closures? What's the point of a full network if people stop using the service because all these library buildings haven't got anything inside?"

And this example from Doncaster clearly shows the stress that not being able to answer public questions about cuts has on staff and the confusion it causes to users;

“Every day (in a branch) you are asked dozens of times ‘what is happening?’, ‘is this library affected?’, ‘what about your jobs?’. All we can do is speculate which, in theory, could lead to disciplinary action.”

Library staff are also muzzled by online restrictions, many authorities stop staff from using social media sites, actively monitor internet usage and can snoop on email accounts.

See the following blogs and their associated comments for more discussion on this topic

If you want to speak out against your own authority then do it through the union, you could risk being disciplined or sacked if you do it alone but there is nothing stopping you speaking up and out about other authorities and policy makers, in fact why aren't you?



  1. Harrow council in conjunction with Carillion have gagged the library staff. Harrow is currently having a consultation on closing 4 libraries, almost halving the library service. Staff are not permitted to start petitions, sign petitions, express an opinion, write to the local paper, or campaign in any way whatsoever.

  2. Thanks for this. Interesting.

  3. It beggars belief, employees not allowed to criticise their employer.

    It beggars belief, employer can dictate what external activities employees have.

    It seems to have been forgotten councils are public bodies, accountable to the pubic.

    Public servants are accountable to the public, not their management.

    Public bodies are accountable to the public.

    In Lincolnshire, library staff are gagged, a climate of fear prevails.

    Lincolnshire County Council behaves as though it is North Korea.

    The public are now barred from petitioning the County Council to force a debate.

    A Scrutiny Committee to discuss mass closure of public libraries was cut short, the chairman had a vested interest, everything had been predetermined, making a farce of scrutiny.

    Mass closure of public libraries has been challenged in the High Court. The decision was overturned, the judge slammed the behaviour of the County Council. The County Council has carried on, business as usual.

    The Audit Commission has slammed the County Council for the way library closures have been handled.

    Tuesday of this week, the executive of Lincolnshire County Council voted for mass library closure.

    Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, has wasted public money, shown nothing but arrogant contempt for the public, demonstrated that he is unfit to hold public office. It is long overdue Martin Hill was surcharged and barred from holding public office.