Friday 4 September 2015

Labour's Policy Review on Libraries; a lost opportunity?

In 2011 I was contacted by a Labour Party researcher and asked to input into their newly emergent policy review on public libraries, I gave my views freely and didn't hear anything more but with the launch of
Innovation, Co-location and Partnership

Dan Jarvis was re-shuffled in 2013 and Helen Goodman was handed the remit, Helen then held a consultation in 2014 with interested parties including a meeting with Unison at which I was present.
For an outline of the consultation see;
both I and Voices for the Library submitted responses but don't ever remember getting feedback.

To give Helen her due she did at least talk to people and also took part in a panel discussion on libraries at the 2014 SUFL conference but many of us expressed concerns about her insistence that volunteers could in certain circumstances run a library, see;

Helen was then re-shuffled and Chris Bryant drew the short straw. Chris didn't exactly endear himself to library users and campaigners with his comment re volunteers when he met with Barnet users/campaigners;

“Discussing the use of volunteers, he said: “They are brilliant, but they don’t replace librarians. I am not completely opposed to a volunteer-run library. If that’s the only solution to a particular area, then fine.”

Labour has struggled with its libraries remit, especially the role of volunteers, and instead of formulating a strong policy which clearly states the need for publicly funded & managed libraries run by paid & trained library staff it has instead partly mimicked the Tories. Off course it’s the Tories who are slashing the funding but why aren't more Labour Cllrs marching shoulder to shoulder with their residents in opposition to austerity and the 'Localism' agenda, both of which have caused huge damage to library provision? If the Labour Party had taken a strong and clear position right from the start and had listened to users, staff, campaigners and union members then maybe some or many local Labour Cllrs would have taken the lead.

As for the future who knows? I haven’t yet managed to speak to Jeremy Corbyn re libraries but since he’s a fellow Islington Unison member I'm sure the opportunity will arise and I hope he’ll appoint a Shadow Culture Minister who’ll actually listen to library users/campaigners/staff and then act to promote and protect public library services and the paid and trained staff who work in them.

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