Saturday, 26 April 2014

Public Libraries UK Plc or the ACE/Locality report on 'enterprising libraries'.

I'd just like to start off this post by saying that I'm not an academic so i do not have the ability to analyse a report in a trained and rigorous manner, these are just my initial untrained thoughts.

Recently Locality, the well funded armed wing of the DCLG, published a report entitled 'Enabling Enterprise in Libraries'. The report was commissioned by the Arts Council England (ACE), the underfunded unarmed wing of the DCMS.
The report looks at;
"if/how income generation might underpin a
step-change or service transformation in tangible locations, against a backdrop of
falling visitor numbers and growing interest in e-lending."
not just 'income generation but;
income generation"

In the opening paragraph they say that they are not (yet) looking at income generation as a replacement for core funding but as an add-on to improve services and make them more resilient.

They also say that out of all the people they surveyed the ones most interested in 'signicant income generation' are those from social and community enterprise libraries, i take from this they mean SocEnts, Trusts, Mutuals and the like. Although they do say that a small number of public library authorities have employed specific staff to "facilitate retail trading".

But what about volunteer-led so-called 'libraries', according to the Community Knowledge Hub for Libraries, under a telling section called 'How can a library make money?';

"If you are acting as an entirely independent Community Owned Library then you can largely choose what you charge for with the same kinds of freedom as any other enterprise."


"Before deciding what you would like to charge for you should be clear about the purpose of your library so that your pricing policy is not at odds with your Social Objectives e.g. charging for book borrowing when you are seeking to encourage reading among lower income families."

In the 'Enabling Enterprise in Libraries' report itself the issue of 'ethos' also pops up;

"The project seeks to support providers to intensify or widen their area of
operations in an enterprising way -
without losing or compromising their ethos
and core objectives"

So they are obviously very aware that many will see the raising of significant income from retail and commercial activities highly problematic for a statutory public service especially one that has at its core the belief that reading, learning and information should be free at the point of access. But then again the NHS also has this at its core and it hasn't stopped them from privatising and commercialising that beloved institution.

In the summary findings of the report they claim that;

"There is growing acceptance of ‘Enterprising Councils’, and an entrepreneurial culture underpins social and community enterprise libraries, although the same cannot be said of all volunteer-led libraries"

I can't disagree with this statement, over the last two decades, or longer, there has been a movement towards a neoliberal agenda in library policy and management as chronicled by Margaret Greene and David McMenemy in their paper "The emergence and impact of neoliberal ideology on UK public library policy, 1997-2010"

And this movement is being pushed further forward by the growth of alternative models of library service delivery by SocEnts, private companies, trusts, mutuals and independent volunteer-led 'libraries'.

The research is only at the first stages but as the summary findings makes clear ACE sees the development of income generation skills for staff/volunteers as a priority;

"Whilst there are challenges surrounding the capacity and skills of employees/volunteers who might be tasked with the design and delivery of income generating activities, development of the same is cited as a priority for future action in Arts Council England’s response to Envisioning the Library of the Future"

So what can we expect, a rise in charges and fines? Well no as they say they are looking for 'significant income generation' which examples of can be found at;

So the next time you issue a book to someone, if you ever get the chance due to self-serve, ask them the question "do you want fries with that?", your library buying new books or providing kids events might depend, in the future, on the the answer being "yes and a large coke"!

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