Friday 20 September 2013

A 'clearly expressed vision' for London Libraries?

These are just some of my initial and rudimentary thoughts and findings from hours and hours of looking at London LA websites and info.
I decided to look at all 33 London Library Service websites for information on and links to their library strategies and plans. I was looking for accessible information, something that a member of the public could easily find without having to trawl through the council minutes or the ‘Democracy’ sections of the sites.
What I found was, to me anyway, quite shocking, 18 of the 33 Library Services had no policy or strategy information at all on their pages, and only 5 out of the 15 that did have had links to up to date documents, the rest had a mixture of 'Stock Policies', 'Customer Charters' and out of date info.
Library Authorities at one time submitted annual ‘Library Plans’ or ‘Position Statements’ to the DCMS as this archived website demonstrates and according to Yinnon Ezra (DCMS), Graeme Mc Donald (SOLACE), and Janene Cox (SCL), in a recent blog post for the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (CLOA), it's still important that LA's clearly express their vision;
“The important first step for any LA should be a clearly expressed vision for the public library service. This must be informed by the views of local people, it is not about recycling the views of existing users, but ensuring that the vision embraces those who do not/will not/won’t use the service. This must also suggest how these aspirations will be met – collecting this information can sometimes be a challenge – but many Councils have wide experience of testing the quality of services through regular citizen surveys using good inexpensive market research is also well worth doing.”
Does “clearly expressed vision” include making a plan or strategy available online? You would have thought so?
I also looked at how libraries where described/grouped on the council websites which usually is a good indication of where they are positioned with the councils directorate structure.
13 x Leisure & Culture
4 x Community & Living
6 x Libraries
2 x Leisure & Libraries
2 x Leisure
1 x Leisure, Culture & Tourism
1 x Libraries, Leisure & Culture
1 x Library & Heritage Services
1 x Community & Leisure
1 x Libraries & Archives
1 x Education & Learning
As you can see there is a strong trend towards positioning libraries with ‘Leisure & Culture’ and only one council places libraries with ‘Education & Learning’, 11 councils still use the words library or libraries which is a positive in these dark times.
So what does all this tell us? Well nothing we didn’t already know and that is that over the years there has been a deliberate positioning of libraries with leisure and culture as Yinnon, Janene and Graeme touch on in their blog post;
“Many local authorities would argue that making savings particularly around Cultural Services, the label under which public libraries find themselves is NOT a new phenomenon. These services, which often include Arts, Archives, Heritage & Museums, Parks, Leisure, to mention a few, the latter having no ‘statutory duty’ attached to them, always struggle to attract recourses, but do better when Grant from Government for the other main services is steady or expanding. When this is reduced the impact is more direct, particularly when mixed into this is the regional variation in Grant distribution”
It's also clear to me that many London LA’s are failing to make their "clearly expressed visions" easily, if at all, accessible online for public scrutiny unless that is they are 'consulting' about cuts and closures.

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