Sunday, 10 September 2017

Libraries SOS Day 19/10/17 - is it enough?

My union, Unison, have announced that 19/10/17 will be a 'Save Our Services' day for public libraries. They will be asking members to post photos/videos on Twitter and Facebook and will be asking local and national decision-makers to take action and councils to commit to providing comprehensive library services.

All great stuff but with 10,000 library workers and 800+ libraries (if you count volunteer-led 'libraries') lost since 2010 is this really enough?

In my opinion we need to do much much more, we need to organise;

a national demo/march pulling together all the effected/interested unions + library users/campaigners + community activists.

a national ballot for a library workers strike or failing this then strategic and co-ordinated action in key councils cutting & closing libraries.

We need to be seen to be fighting back like our sisters and brothers in Unite and the PCS. If we don't fight we'll never win.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Unite the Union - Campaign to save Bromley libraries from privatisation

Yesterday an announcement appeared on the Unite website stating that thousands of households in Bromley would be receiving a booklet outlining the unions concerns about proposals to hand over the boroughs library service to Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).

"Unite, the country’s largest union, will be delivering the booklets to homes as the Tory-controlled council considers comments between now and July made on the consultation over the proposal to award the contract for running the libraries to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL)."

I'd advice anyone and everyone to read the booklet as it clearly outlines the issues and concerns that many of us have had regarding GLL since they acquired their first library contract in Greenwich. And solidarity to Onay Kasab (Regional Organiser), Unite members in Greenwich and Bromley and to the community activists there who've been leading a fantastic campaign against cuts, closures and privatisation.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

My initial observations and concerns re proposals to collocate Highgate Library and Jacksons Lane arts centre.

Highgate Library in Shepherds Hill, Haringey, is 110 years old and is housed in a lovely purpose built 'mock tudor' Edwardian building.

A few weeks ago an article appeared in The Stage announcing proposals to "merge" the library with the local Jacksons Lane arts centre.

On the 17/5/17 the 'Highgate Library Action Group (HLAG)' along with local councillors and architect Katy Marks hosted a "a round-table discussion", they then held their AGM on 24/5/17, among those who attended (invited to?) the AGM where the Leader of Haringey Council, Claire Kober, the Cabinet Member for Finance & Health, Jason Arthur and architect Katy Marks, so a pretty strong (heavy?) pro-merger presence.
The AGM from what I've been told was a lively affair with some on HLAG, including the Chair, seemingly keen on the proposals and others, including a HLAG committee member and a regular library user not so keen. In fact a vigorous opposition has emerged with a petition, twitter account (@HighgateStays) and FB page being set up. There have also been several articles in the local press.

I'm hoping to attend one of the consultation events taking place on 22/6/17 in order to hear more about the plans and to voice my concerns which at the moment are;

How far gone are the proposals? It seems that a lot of time and effort has been spent on this even before the so-called 'consultation' process has started with an Arts Council funding application submitted and an architect working on a feasibility study.

Is this just another Muswell Hill Library scenario with the council looking to sell off a valuable building?

Is this just another case of a 'third-sector' organisation, Jacksons Lane, muscling in on the cuts ravaged public sector in order to empire build?

What will the library service look like after the 'merger/collocation'? Will the arts centre be the dominant force and will the library end up as a provision and not a fully comprehensive service (a few shelves of books and some PCs with hub/arts staff rather than dedicated library staff)?

I also have serious concerns about the public perception of a library housed in an arts centre, this partly stems from the fact that most library services are linked with leisure/arts/culture rather than education/learning/information and are therefor easier to cut/privatise/undermine.

Anyway I'll try and attend the 'consultation event' on 22/6/17 and then hopefully have a better view of things after that?

For press coverage and further information see:

Fears grow in Highgate over 110-year-old library’s future home

Highgate Library ‘being sacrificed’ in possible move to Jacksons Lane

Architectural Feasibility Study

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lewisham, Little Free Libraries & GLL/Lambeth/Bromley/Greenwich.


Surprise surprise book lending stats for Lewisham Libraries have fallen by 45% (1,146,461 books issued in 2009/10 and 635,065 in 2015/16), this is what happens when you hollow-out, deprofessionalise & privatise/amateurise your service.

Little Free Libraries

Two Canadian Librarian/academics have just published a very interesting paper on the trademarked 'Little Free Libraries' (LFL) movement/business, apparently they're not just innocent little 'twee' book boxes, well who would have thought? Well me for one as their take on things mirrors my concerns about and experiences of the LFL movement in the UK. Oh and I even get a mention at the end of the paper, which is nice :-)
And before you read it (and please please read the whole thing) remember that it was published in 'The Journal of Radical Librarianship'!


Ah! GLL again, don't you just love this cheeky charitable SocEnt! Private Eye report that their Lambeth 'library/gyms' plans were at an advanced state only days after the official consultation finished!
GLL are also trying to sink their teeth into Bromley Libraries but Unite Regional Organiser, Onay Kasab along with community activists have got them in their sights and are leading a spirited fightback against proposals to privatise libraries there.
And GLL/Greenwich Council again with another article about footfall figures, i'm afraid i tend to take these kind of stories/figures with a pinch of salt especially when it comes to GLL/Greenwich as you can see by my blog post from a couple of years ago.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A strike in Bromley and staffless libraries in Canada.

After recently fighting off Carillion (blacklisting builders who run 4 other London library services) Bromley library workers/Unite members, backed by community activists, will now take further action, from April 1st, to stop GLL, and any other private firms bidding for the library contract. 

Unite backed by community activists have led an inspirational campaign against cuts and privatisation. Massive solidarity to them and their inspirational organiser Onay Kasab.

And worrying news from my CUPE comrades in Canada, it seems that the spectre of staffless libraries is about to make an appearance in Toronto.

Maureen O'Reilly the President of Toronto Public Library Workers Union CUPE Local 4948, another inspirational union leader, has raised, just like IMPACT in Ireland and some Unison branches in the UK, safety concerns;

"Under the pilot project, people will be able to enter the library using a swipe card system, likely tied to a library card. Once inside, O’Reilly says, it will be an “empty building” equipped only with security cameras.

O’Reilley says a library without security and without librarians isn’t a library.
“Technology can’t replace staff on the ground with their eyes and ears,” she says. “Having security cameras is not going to be acceptable.”

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Charitable (or not so?) Mutuals, 30% pay cuts and "misled" in Pembrokeshire. (oh! and a 'Conservative Home' contributor)

A 'charitable?' Library Mutual (and a petition)

Libraries Unlimited, one of the flagship library 'mutuals' run by the ex-head of the Society of Chief Librarians and Libraries Taskforce board member, recently announced that it would be cutting 'weekend enhancement' pay for it's staff, but it seems that in the 'Brave New World' of worker owned mutuals not all workers are equal.

"The pay cut will only affect lower-paid staff while the senior management team and those above Grade E will take no share of the cost-saving measures."

Ciara Eastell, a recent OBE recipient, apparently responded to the suggestion that she and the rest of the senior management should face the same cut by saying;

"she 'worked hard' and 'didn't think she deserved [one]'.

Whilst those at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder (who obviously don't work hard enough and thus don't deserve a proper salary) face up to a 30% pay cut;

"A library assistant joining the organisation now would earn £8.35 pr/hr, less than the UK Living Wage, and a relief library assistant would earn even less."

Library staff are so concerned that they've set up a petition which is very brave of them as I've heard they've been gagged from speaking about the cuts.

"But councils are cutting terms and conditions and gagging their staff" I hear you say and yes you're right but councils don't claim to be charitable worker-owned social enterprises do they?

Unison have raised serious concerns that mutualisation often leads to cuts in workers T&C's and the creation of a two-tier workforce;

"UNISON believes that alternative delivery models are not a panacea for cuts and in reality, significant savings would only be achieved through the denigration of workforce terms and conditions and/or the creation of a two-tier workforce"


Another day in libraryland and another Libraries Taskforce blog post, this time pushing the governments agenda on spinning out public libraries as mutuals or to give them their full title 'maude's mock mutuals'.

'Could an alternative delivery model be right for your library service?'

The piece was written by Fiona Williams, Chief Executive of Explore York Libraries and Archive and outlines how they became a mutual, plugs some DCMS workshops in March and introduces to us a new consortium, Optimo.

Optimo consists of York Explore, Suffolk Libraries, Inspire (Nottinghamshire), Libraries Unlimited (Devon) and Mutual Ventures.

Mutual Ventures is a consultancy firm fronted by David Fairhurst and Andrew Laird, they claim to;

"support public service commissioners, organisational leaders and front-line staff who are seeking to identify, develop and grow the right delivery model for their services"

not only that but they also state that;

"The missing element from traditional delivery is the power of public service entrepreneuralism"

One the directors, David Fairhurst, in 2012 was appointed by the government as one of its 15 'mutuals ambassadors'.

And the other director, Andrew Laird, is a regular contributor to the 'Conservative Home' website and recently wrote a piece for them in which he states;

"Theresa May has expressed a desire to see a more diverse public service market place with more public service mutuals. The Prime Minister has also spoken of the Government stepping up to repair markets where they are not working. So where better to start than by releasing the inner entrepreneur of our nurses, social workers and librarians? It’s the best way I can think of to kick start public service productivity."

So basically they're just another bunch of neo-liberals who've found a way of making money out of the government's ideological agenda to undermine and offload public services. Just another example of consultants circling the public sector carcass looking for bones.
Doesn't this and the 30% pay cuts in Devon bring the mutuals and co-operative movement into disrepute?

Winckworth Sherwood

"Aren't Winckworth Sherwood just a firm of solicitors?" I hear you say well yes they are but they've also found a way of making money out of the library crisis by advising councils on spinning out their services.

"The team has particular expertise advising on charity options for leisure, culture and heritage projects."
"To date the team have established over 75 arts, leisure and culture trusts operating successfully throughout the UK."

But it looks as if things haven't quite gone to plan in Pembrokeshire with the council asking for it's money back claiming that the firm "misled" them, oh dear!

"The council paid private consultant Winckworth Sherwood £20,000 to advise on how to save money by outsourcing libraries, leisure centres and sports pitches to a charitable trust."
"I think we were very much misled by Winckworth Sherwood and I ask that we make this known to the consultants."

See for more on Winckworth Sherwood and their lead partner on spinning out public services, Joanna Bussell.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Public Library usage stats down again, hmm I wonder why?

Before i start i'd just like to make it clear that i think footfall/usage stats are a noose around our necks and we should be concentrating more on social impact but sadly these blunt figures are what senior managers, council officers and councillors like to see on graphs.

According to a recent Guardian article and the latest DCMS data In 2005/6 48.2% of the population had used a library within that 12 month period and now it's down to 33.8%. Without getting too bogged down in detail the possible reasons for this decline, especially since 2010, can be laid out as;

8000+ paid/trained staff culled. (inc many qualified and specialist staff)
350+ libraries closed.
12-15% vol-led.
Opening hrs and budgets (inc book funds) slashed.

I'll also add to this;

No public library standards in England.
An ineffective distributive leadership model.
5yrs wasted on an Inquiry and then a report/strategy that some say is already out of date and only re-enforces government policy.
A minister, Rob Wilson, who has, like his predecessor Ed Vaizey, done nothing to intervene to halt cuts and closures.
A government agenda to undermine and offload the public sector.

I would further add;

An increase in self-service and staffless libraries.
An escalation in privatisation and commercialisation.
An erosion of the public library ethos and mission.
An over-focus on leisure.

But putting in its most simple terms if you have less staff and less libraries that are open for less time with less books then you have less usage, simples!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

There's a fightback taking place in Ireland against staffless libraries but why not in the UK?

While we (apart from resistance in Barnet, Calne etc) in the UK roll over and seemingly die re staffless opening in our libraries, in Ireland there's a fightback taking place.

In Nov 2016 members of the union Impact voted 9 to 1  (Over 1,200 library workers backed industrial action by a margin of 9-1, with a voting turnout of 83%) in favour of blocking the introduction of staffless opening in 23 libraries across the country. Concerns have also been raised by campaigners and political representatives.

Very recently an FOI found that 111 library members of one of the pilots in Offaly had seen their memberships temporarily withdrawn for "breaches of terms and conditions", these included drunkenness and tailgating. Exactly the same concerns can be seen in a video made by Barnet campaigners.

So why the lack of concern and fightback in the UK?

Could it be that we're too cosy with the firms who push the product? After all we give them space at professional conferences/showcases and in our journals.

Could it be that we fall for the doublespeak and spin from councillors, politicians and the library establishment? We're regularly told that staffless opening is innovative and inclusive when it's really just another cost-cutting exercise that excludes children and young people (and possibly the elderly and those with disabilities)?

Could it be that those in power have lost sight of the core ethos/mission of public libraries and the true worth of paid/trained library workers, or just don't care?

We need research/data but i suspect that the only real way of doing this would be by submitting FOI's otherwise we'll be reliant on info supplied by those who have a vested interested in introducing the model.

But more than anything we desperately need our unions to step up and to oppose this latest attack on libraries, if Impact in Ireland can do it then why can't Unison et al?