Date Set for Dataset?

Further information

Well this saga runs and runs! Apparently it’s not that Taskforce holding up the dataset but Downing Street. Should we be honoured or horrified! Perhaps a little of both. Would that this information had been shared with the profession by the Taskforce and the Minister. But that’s my political naivety coming through: expecting government bodies or minister’s to share something as simple as the truth!

On the face of it would appear to let the Taskforce off the hook over the issue but it also lays bare a fundamental flaw: that the Taskforce has very little influence or ability to enact real change in the sector, except the change dictated by government policy. And we all know where that is leading.

So perhaps they should just continue with what they are becoming best known for: publishing a blog and arranging workshops. It’s not much but it is something.

Looking at the comments below it might be that the way forward is to collate and release such data through the profession itself. More on that to follow.

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It’s been brought to my attention in the comments section that a parliamentary question had been asked:

Question From Kevin Brennan – 20 Dec 16
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what the timetable is for the release of data collected by the Libraries Taskforce in relation to statutory and non-statutory public libraries; and if she will make a statement.

Answer from Rob Wilson – 9 Jan 17
The data collected by the Libraries Taskforce in relation to statutory and non-statutory public libraries will be published in due course.

Due course…soon…shortly…any minute…before long!! How many more excuses can Rob Wilson give?

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Since publishing the post below a few interesting facts have emerged. In a tweet even the Chair of the Libraries Taskforce has implied the information is being withheld:

And if even the Chair of the Taskforce cannot release the data collected then it rather undermines their credibility as a body.

Paul indicates that the data is not quite as bad as anticipated but if that’s the case why the reluctance to publish? Unfortunately, even when eventually published the information will be out of date especially given the raft of changes to libraries since last year. It also makes a mockery of the Taskforces ambition to collate and release such data on a regular basis. Much longer and even Cipfa will be faster with library statistics!

There has also been a FOI submitted about the dataset by Ian Clark and Cilip. The Cilip one was dismissed as Nick Poole explains:

So we have a situation where both the Chair and a member of the Taskforce are being ignored and stonewalled. Also makes you wonder what the DCMS definition of ‘soon’ is as it appears to be a substantially different one to what most other people would accept!

Given the delay and the suspicion that the data will have been manipulated to put a positive spin on it I believe that the raw data should also be published to allow the public to make their own assessment (re: open data below).

The SCL have an important part to play in this as the information comes from SCL members and Heads of Service. In fact it would be an easy task for SCL to gather and release the data themselves. Perhaps Neil McInnes and the SCL Executive can to take this forward.

Another body that could get involved is the APPG for Libraries and I’ve emailed Gill Furniss as Chair to ask them to do so.

Ultimately, the decision rests with Rob Wilson as Libraries Minister. I will be tweeting and emailing regularly to urge the dataset is published immediately. That said, Rob Wilson has shown an almost contemptuous silence when it comes to answering difficult questions about libraries.

Therefore, I have decided to keep tweeting to Rob Wilson until the information is released or until he blocks me. I invite all interested parties to do the same.

If anyone has actually had a actual reply from Rob Wilson I would be interested in knowing so please do contact me.

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Post

Data matters because it helps to form evidence and evidence informs the truth. This has become increasingly important in a world in which post-truth, alternative facts, and fake news have become mainstream topics. Libraries have a important role to play in ensuring public access to trusted information sources, promoting information and media literacy, and where possible, encouraging users to think critically about the types of information and news available to them.

However, before boasting too much about our role in this area we need to set our house in order and collect, collate, and publish reliable data about libraries themselves. Unfortunately, the last seven years have highlighted the difficulty in providing accurate and comprehensive data regarding the depth and breadth of changes to the library network. This has allowed many councils and certainly many politicians to play loose and fast with the truth about libraries; some out of ignorance but others with the aim of furthering a political agenda. This in itself is a form of ‘fake news’.

So step forward the Libraries Taskforce, who are running a range of workshops with the aim:

“The core dataset is intended to be a series of data which all library services will, collect, use and publish. The plan is to have a consistent dataset which can be used to help inform and improve local library service delivery, as well as being used for advocacy purposes at local and national level…”

And there is certainly an urgent need for reliable, objective statistics for libraries. Ed Vaizey deliberately refused to collect data so he could continue to claim, quite wrongly, that there was no crisis in libraries, and ignore the claims by campaigners regarding closures and reductions to services. This led him to publish risible and misleading ‘desk-top’ research in an attempt to refute such claims. Make no mistake this was a deliberate act of obfuscation by the then Minister.

Most data around libraries come from a cross-section of sources. Cipfa being the most reliable ‘official’ stats but also additional information from the Taking Part Survey, Public Library News, BBC, and variety of ad-hoc sources.

However, there was, and continues to be, no definitive evidence concerning library closures and creation of volunteer led libraries. So it was welcomed when the Libraries Taskforce announced that they would start developing a model data set to better understand the level of library provision within each local authority in England. The first workshop was held in  December 2015. As Kathy Settle stated:

“We believe that access to timely, accurate, comparable library data is critical to enabling the library sector and users to monitor the delivery of library services and improve their quality.”

This was also followed up by a survey to SCL members and Heads of Service asking for information about the number and type of libraries in each area. In August 2016 it was announced that the data set would be published at the end of September and then in October it was announced that there would be a short delay in the publication but with the promise:

“Look out for a series of posts in the next few weeks. The first will point to the data set itself and share some early visualisations of the data.”

The weeks went by with no further announcements. Six months later we are still waiting. And yet the data has been gathered, collated, and no doubt relevant graphs and charts drawn up. So just what is the hold-up?

My assumption is that, as with everything associated with the Taskforce, they are subject to the self-interested political wrangling of its members, with no doubt one or another being particularly obstructive.

But here’s the conundrum; given the delay how can we trust the Taksforce in the gathering of data from the current workshops? Or is it perhaps they are looking to gather less contentious material to take our focus away from how politically unpalatable the first dataset is proving to be.

Ironically, I was at a recent Libraries Taskforce Sector Forum and attended a presentation on evidence-based, long-term and sustainable planning. One example was that of Newcastle Library Service which has adopted an open data approach:

“We are the custodians of this information, but it does not belong to us: it belongs to the citizens of Newcastle. And we need to give it back to them: freely, clearly, openly.”

You could use a similar argument for the data held by the Taskforce in that it belongs to everyone who uses libraries and should therefore be out in the public domain. If the issue is not one of politicking but capacity, if the Taskforce does not have the resources to fully collate and analyse the data, then they should simply release it. As Newcastle has found out:

“Just start publishing, it starts the conversation with data owners and data consumers and you will learn so much more this way.”

If we are to build a strong narrative on the value of libraries it needs to be underpinned by evidence and evidence needs to be supported by data.

With that in mind I encourage everyone to contact the Taskforce or individual members and urge them to release the data immediately. As always please keep such requests polite.

Contacts:
Rob Wilson: (Minister with responsibility for libraries)
Email: robwilson@parliament.uk
Twitter: @minforcivsoc or @robwilson_rdg

Paul Blantern (Chair of the Libraries Taskforce)
Email: pblantern@nrothamptonshire.gov.uk
Twitter @RosaSignum

DCMS: (FAO: Simon Richardson, Head of Libraries, DCMS)
Email: enquiries@culture.gov.uk
Twitter: @DCMSArts

Libraries Taskforce
Email: librariestaskforce@culture.gov.uk
Twitter: @LibTaskforce

The library profession also has direct input into the Taskforce in the form of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (Cilip) so please contact them and ask they request the dataset is released.

Members of the Taskforce (as stated on the website) are:

  • Dr Paul Blantern, Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council and Chair of the Libraries Taskforce
  • Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Libraries Taskforce
  • Neil MacInnes, President of the Society of Chief Librarians (and Strategic Lead – Libraries, Galleries and Culture, Manchester City Council)
  • Nick Poole, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
  • Rebecca Cox, Principal Policy Advisor, LGA
  • Iain Varah, Chief Executive of Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure Trust, and Immediate Past Chair of the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association
  • Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library
  • Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England
  • Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the Reading Agency
  • Felix Greaves, Deputy Director – Scientific and Strategic Information, Public Health England
  • Jane Ellison, Head of Creative Partnerships, BBC
  • Dominic Lake, Deputy Director of Arts, Libraries and Cultural Property, DCMS
  • Simon Richardson, Head of Libraries, DCMS

Dodgy Dudley?

As a library campaigner and commentator I am particularly interested when libraries spin out of local authority control. It’s an issue I have written about many times and therefore tend to keep an eye on those proposing such a route.

Dudley is one such service. In October 2015 Public Library News highlighted the aim of Dudley Council to create an employee-led mutual with a planned launch date of April 2016. Given that such decisions require planning well in advance (or at least should do) I have no doubt that library staff, corporate officers, and councillors had been in discussions for a long time.

In the news story a spokesperson for the council made clear that the mutual would be “where council employees set up a new organisation separate to the local authority to continue to deliver public services.” A three-month public consultation was planned and for talks with staff, unions and other stakeholders.

Rachel Harris, the cabinet member responsible for libraries said:

“As a community council we are committed to delivering high quality services to our existing customers and at the same time providing opportunities to widen access to community services. An employee-led mutual creates opportunities to deliver professionally led services supported by the community in a way that local people can be proud of.”

In April 2016 it was announced that the library service would be run as a ‘not-for-profit mutual’. Councillor Harris is quoted as saying that this was a new era for the borough and described it as a ‘absolutely historic occasion for this council’.

It was reported that the new organisation would be run by staff but have community, employee and council involvement at board level.

So far, so good. Despite the cutbacks and financial challenges Dudley Council had made the decision to place the future of the library service firmly in the hands of the people who knew it best, the library staff themselves. This was certainly the position the council promoted to the public during the consultation exercise.

It was also the preferred option of the Council as the Cabinet Report made abundantly clear:

  • “Consultation with user groups about the Mutual model has been done by local staff in each setting.” (point4)
  • “There has been a specific comment about the mutual model from one of the Friends of Libraries groups who wanted to know more about the business case and how the Friends would work with the library if it was run from within a staff led mutual.” (point 5)
  • “There have been helpful and encouraging comments from one partner organisation where the library is co-located in their building about the Mutual model and how this could improve further joint working.” (point 6)
  • “Frequently Asked Questions continue to be compiled and a regular staff mutual newsletter began in January.  Staff are taking part in workstreams, including a workshop on branding for the Mutual.” (point 8)
  • ” A Mutual is an umbrella term for an organisation run for the benefit of its members, who have active and direct involvement whether as employees, suppliers or the community.  Meta-Value recommends an Employee-led Mutual with charitable status as the model for LAAL, which would enable greater income growth.  Membership would be open to employees and members of the community with a Board which includes a nominated Council representative.  York Explore has spun-out using this model.” (point 14)
  • “On 28th October 2015, Cabinet approved the following:  in principle, the setting up an employee-led Mutual for   LAAL, with a 5 year Business Plan, subject to consultation with staff and the public and the decision of full Council in February” (point 15)

In fact the whole report is in favour of the proposal to set-up a ‘staff led mutual’, so you would be forgiven for thinking that’s exactly what would happen. Certainly both the public and staff were led to believe this. So positive was the proposal to establish a staff led mutual that Dudley Council even prepared a candidate’s pack for a Treasurer of the newly created model.

Dudley was also awarded £42,000 as part of the Mutuals Support Programme for support around ‘legal governance, business planning and financial modelling, stakeholder engagement support and transition.’

Therefore, it came as a great shock when it was announced that GLL was instead to step in and take on the running of Dudley’s Libraries.

Now there several puzzling areas here:

  • How can GLL take on the running of Dudley libraries, including TUPEing staff over, and yet the Council still claim that a staff-led working arrangement has been created? A ‘staff-led’ mutual is precisely that: a service owned and run by the staff, for the benefit of the community in which each member of staff has a vote to elect trustees and local residents are able to become members. This is a long way from how GLL operates.
  • Where, when, how and whom made the decision to appoint GLL? Like many Councils decision-making takes place in a labyrinth of different committees. However, such decisions should be clear via Cabinet or Scrutiny minutes etc. I’ve made a request to DMBC for details but have not yet received an answer.
  • Did the funding given to Dudley via the Mutuals Support Programme allow for the awarding of the contract to a different provider?

I am actively following through on these questions and will publish a further post when (if!) I get answers.

One thing that is clear though is that both staff and the public have been misled and misinformed over the proposals. Neither group have been consulted or engaged with over the process and the decision to award the contract appears shrouded in council bureaucratic fog.

I hope that residents and campaigners challenge this bit of rather dodgy decision making. That Dudley Council quickly comes to its sense and reverses the agreement with GLL and awards it to where it properly belongs; to the staff and residents of Dudley.

 

 

Stronger Together

cilipI make no apologies for this post being unashamedly a recruiting drive for Cilip after seeing on Twitter that membership is still falling by 3%. However, as with everything, the context needs to be understood to see this fall as a positive and not necessarily a negative.

For years I was a harsh critic of Cilip, not because it had lost its way, but because it didn’t have a way forward at all. It was floundering under the pressure of austerity and the resulting widespread hollowing out of public libraries with the loss of jobs and thus membership. Worse of all, this was happening without Cilip speaking up for the profession or advocating the advantages of retaining a professional workforce.

It also faced the challenge of arresting the decline in membership. My own opinion was that members where leaving because they could no longer see the relevance of belonging to a professional body, and paying expensive subscriptions, that was too far removed from their everyday experience of year-on-year budget and job cuts.

But all this has thankfully changed. Cilip now has, and continues to develop, a strong voice in defence of its membership and championing library services in different sectors; public, schools, health. It challenges Government policy and intervenes, as much as it can, in local decisions to reduce services. Cilip is becoming the professional body its members need it to be.

I contacted Nick Poole for further information about the fall in membership and he sent this reply:

“The current rate of attrition is just over 3%. That’s actually around half what it was 3 years ago, but it’s still a declining number. We follow up with people who don’t renew, and the underlying reasons are informative. A significant proportion are due to retirement, which is why we’re working to improve the offer the retired members. Similarly, we see a significant drop-off in the transition from free student membership to full membership. We have seen a decline in the number of people leaving because of dissatisfaction with CILIP.

 Of course, over the past 10 years, the most significant decline in sector terms is membership among public library staff. This is one reason why we launched the new Careers Hub on the CILIP VLE – to provide support for public librarians who find themselves having to make a transition to other parts of the library sector. We know that public libraries are changing, but we see it as essential that public library staff are encouraged to engage with their professional body, develop their skills and maintain the connection to the wider library and information profession. This is why we are pleased to be working with SCL on the new Public Library Skills Strategy, which will help address some of these issues.

 We know from the workforce mapping project that there are around 69,000 people in the library & information workforce in the UK. With around 12,500 members, we currently represent around 18% of that workforce. The average for professional association membership in other sectors is around 20-22%, so there is scope to grow our membership base. It is important for us to do this because the more of the sector we can represent, the more credible we are when advocating for librarians and information professionals.

 When we went out to the wider profession, we found that a lot of people want to be part of CILIP as their professional body but don’t currently regard membership as affordable. The new membership model on which members are currently voting is designed to help us retain and support our existing members, and reach more of those people. We also found that there are a lot of people who want to be part of the profession but aren’t yet ready to commit to Professional Registration. Welcoming these people to the CILIP community and encouraging them to take up Chartership has been a major factor in the design of the new model.

Ultimately, the sector needs a strong independent voice – I’d argue now more than ever. We understand that people expect value for money from their membership, and we are working hard to deliver that. This is a model for growth and we are really hoping that members will support it and empower us to reach out to those people who could and should be members, but currently aren’t.“

All I ever wanted from my professional body, what I had the right to expect, is that it speaks up in defence of its members and profession. Cilip is absolutely doing this, which is why I have changed from critic to proponent for the body.

I absolutely understand why library workers have drifted away from Cilip in the past but I genuinely believe it has changed and would encourage all library and information workers, especially public library staff, to stay connected to the profession.

Here’s some very simple reasons I think you should stay with, join, or rejoin Cilip:

  1. Advocacy: a strong voice for the profession
  2. Lower subscriptions and better value for money
  3. Advice & support including access to employment law advice
  4. Professional development and networking

Ultimately, we are stronger together, and I look forward to Cilip expanding towards the 69,000 target.

Please do forward your question and indeed criticisms via the comments area and I shall ensure they are passed on to Cilip to answer.

Further information:

Not Waving but Drowning

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It’s difficult to take a balanced view of public libraries at the moment. Concentrating overly on bad news around closures and cuts appears so much doom-mongering. Equally, highlighting only positive news stories smacks of pollyanaism. Obviously, both aspects exist and will differ from region to region, authority to authority, and even community to community within relatively close proximity. Amongst the cuts there is still opportunity to find examples of good practice, valuable partnership working,  and innovation within the sector.

That said, the bad news does appear to have the upper hand at the moment, especially with the announcement that local councils face an ever deepening hole in their finances: A story in the Bookseller outlines how:

“According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the long-term funding crisis means local government will continue to face an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 and that more than two thirds of the 375 councils in England and Wales will be forced to find millions in savings to plug the funding gaps in 2017/18.”

This was put into stark context with a warning from the Leader of Liverpool Council that:

‘…even if he closed all 19 libraries in the city and its nine sports centres, stopped maintaining its 140 parks, halted all highway repairs and street cleaning and switched off 50,000 streetlights, he would save only £68m—which is £22m short of what he must cut by 2020. So there will have to be a further 10% reduction in the social-care budget.’

Many other councils are facing equally unenviable choices, which is the consequence of a path determined by the coalition government in 2010. According to the government, at the start of the 2010 almost 80% of council expenditure was financed by the central government grant but by 2020 this will have reduced to 5% with the ultimate aim that it will disappear altogether.

The consequences for libraries are obvious, with a litany of severe cuts from all around the country, and figures showing that UK libraries had lost £25m from their budgets in just one year. Nick Poole has warned that library closures will double unless immediate action is taken, stating that:

“We have already lost 340 libraries over the past eight years and we think that unless immediate action is taken, we stand to lose the same number over the next five years.”

This leaves bodies like the Libraries Taskforce, SCL and ACE in a difficult position. Tasked with developing libraries it seems the best that can be assumed is a slow rout with an eventual retreat in many areas to the consolidation of a central library underpinned by varying levels and quality of community provision.

I am reminded of the image of the Little Dutch Boy holding back the incoming flood, with the Taskforce vainly attempting to stop the torrent of cuts while the dyke around them steadily spouts leaks labelled Kirklees, Plymouth, Walsall, West Berkshire, Bristol, Bury, Lancashire…the difference being, in the story at least, the Little Dutch Boy was successful at plugging the gap!

Or to use a bleaker literary reference the sector is ‘not waving but drowning.’

Unfortunately, the Taskforce is operating to a deeply flawed report that is hopelessly outdated just a mere two years on, with little in Ambition to offer concrete help or financial support. But most of all it is curtailed by political intransigence.

To a large extent the malaise goes even deeper than just funding. Councils have shown themselves to be unimaginative at best and inept at worse when dealing with library services. Parochial to an incomprehensible degree, very little has been done to genuinely merge services across boundaries or treat them as part of a national infrastructure. Localism is part of the problem not the solution.

But let me end on a positive note, which is the re-launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libraries. So welcome to the new Chair, Gill Furniss MP, who stated that:

“I was brought up on a council estate in Sheffield and my dad was a reader. When I was four he took me with him to the public library and it was like walking into an Aladdin’s cave…If my dad hadn’t taken me to that library I do not think I would be stood here as a Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. I’ve got my career and the knowledge it gave me which drove me on to go and get a degree and eventually become a Councillor.”

Whether the APPG is capable of providing the life-line desperately needed by the sector remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Libraries Deliver…

The following is an edited version of an article by John Vincent. It has been reproduced with permission from The Network Newsletter, Number 189, December 2016 (full article with appendices and footnotes). In it, John takes an in-depth look and analysis of the Ambition report and the correlation to social justice.

Libraries Deliver

The Libraries Taskforce report was finally published on 1 December. It has already had considerable media coverage, so this assessment is going to focus primarily on its approach to social justice (and how far the issues raised, for example during the consultation workshops, have been taken on board).

In addition, The Network responded at some length to the Independent Review of Public Libraries: a consultation, and again in May 2016 to the draft version of the report that appeared earlier this year; John Vincent also attended one of the consultation workshops – and this assessment will look at how many of these issues have also been taken on board.

Thinking about and analysis of the report are still in their early stages – no doubt there will be considerable additional comment that will need to be picked up at a later stage, but this assessment is intended to be a starter!

The social context

To start with some broader but vital points, in our response to the draft version of the report, we said:

“A key issue for us in looking at Libraries Deliver is how far it considers the context in which people are living in 2016 – and what we can forecast for the years 2017-2021 […]

We would want to see Libraries Deliver addressing some of the following issues, none of which is likely to have disappeared by 2021:

  • The increasing polarisation of rich and poor, and increasing inequality in the UK  
  • The increasing health gap between rich and poor  
  • The increase in poverty, for example as manifested by the growth of food-banks  
  • The removal of public services and the effects this has on people dependant on them  
  • The reduction in the public sphere, with, for example, fewer places where people can freely meet  
  • The growth in racism and Islamophobia, as well as hostility to migration  
  • The growing evidence of corruption at the heart of society, for example in the police (Hillsborough, undercover policing), in politics (expenses scandals)

Where are these issues – which the best public libraries are engaging with – reflected in this paper?” [p2]

We also argued that the suggested impacts of libraries “seem a bit too ‘safe’, and it would be good if they became ‘grittier’, for example including how libraries can have an impact on people’s lives in relation to the contextual issues mentioned above.”

Our response gave a few examples too: “[…] young people being bullied, trans people wanting to find out more about transitioning, BME people wanting to find themselves reflected in society somewhere, sex workers wanting to read up on contraception and sources of support.” [p6]

  • None of this has got into the final report. This is disappointing, and significant for several reasons:
  • It leaves an impression that libraries are not part of/engaging with the real political and social world. 
  • It also appears as though libraries are disengaged from the struggles that many in their communities face every day.  
  • It gives the impression that libraries are intended for only some kinds of people. For example, the figure, “Libraries are for everyone, throughout their lives” [p13], is a good illustration of part of what libraries do, but is targeted at ‘Active’ participants (“Children and young people”, “Active learners”, “Active citizens”, “Active ageing”); and, similarly, the figure on the next age, “Examples of targeted services which libraries provide for specific life situations” [p14], again gives some important examples, but is also quite unchallenging.
  • Libraries end up sounding ‘cosy’, ‘nice’, possibly ‘not-for-the-likes-of-us’.

Detailed response

Section 3: Context

The Context section in the report reflects, in many ways, a different ‘context’ from that we have noted above. It is completely understandable that, in setting the scene, this report does emphasise the positive aspects of library provision – why, otherwise, are libraries deserving of support? – but, at the same time, by doing so, it smooths over a lot of rough edges that should have been highlighted in this important report.

For example, it is important to emphasise that “Public libraries are a unique and valued public service” [p12], but this point is not helped with evidence that people thought libraries “[…] should be protected, whether or not they themselves were a regular user.” [p12]

The reach of public libraries is impressive, and there is considerable evidence of their impact on people’s lives, yet the paragraphs on p12 make it sound as though there is no problem with them: there is ample evidence of people who are not welcomed in libraries and do not use their services, and, of course, in the current dire financial situation, libraries are being starved of resources – which, in turn, is having a major impact on usage.

The sections on the legal position and on funding do not go nearly far enough in suggesting ways out of the current position; to say merely that “Councils will need to take these [funding and demographic changes] – and many other issues – into account when restructuring budgets to meet strategic priorities.” [p16] is not really very helpful.

Section 4: Vision

The final report has pulled together the vision statements (which were spread under the different ‘Purposes’ – now ‘Outcomes’ – in the previous version), and are more coherent and punchy set in one table.

These seem a useful set of overall ‘ambitions’ – for communities, public services and partners, and libraries themselves – but how will they be achieved?

Section 5: Outcomes

  • Section 5 looks at how the ambitions may be achieved via focusing on seven Outcomes:
  • cultural and creative enrichment 
  • increased reading and literacy 
  • improved digital access and literacy 
  • helping everyone achieve their full potential 
  • healthier and happier lives 
  • greater prosperity 
  • stronger, more resilient communities [p21]

(These are also looked at in more depth in Appendix 1 – please see below.)

Interestingly, the wording and order of the Outcomes have changed since the previous draft, which gives them some more power. Here are brief comments on each:

  • Cultural and creative enrichment: this Outcome has moved to the top of the list. It very much relates to the Arts Council agenda, especially with the emphasis on libraries-as-venues:

“We’ll encourage libraries to establish themselves as a focal point for community cultural life, hosting and running a range of activities in partnership with amateur and professional groups. As a result, we’d expect to see increasing attendance and active participation in creative arts by people of all ages and backgrounds.” [p23]

  • Increased reading and literacy: whilst citing research to show that reading does have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, this section is not strongly argued. Having argued for the positive impact of reading/literacy, it then says that there is a lack of basic skills, but does not suggest ways that this might be overcome; and the case study used is, again, the Summer Reading Challenge, the impact of which on literacy levels is unknown.
  • Improved digital access and literacy: this includes a good section on the role of libraries to support digital inclusion (but could have done with a case study other than the Tinder Foundation).
  • Helping everyone achieve their full potential: this is one section where a link to the wider world would really have been of benefit. At a time when social mobility is a ‘hot topic’, some detail here about libraries’ positive role in this could have made a significant impact.
  • Healthier and happier lives: the case for libraries’ role in health is not well made here (for example, had some of the examples from the Norfolk case study – which is mentioned on p28 – been drawn out, this would have signalled much more clearly what libraries can offer.
  • Greater prosperity: this is an important role, and one which many libraries are already involved in. The British Library Business and IP Centres are a valuable opening up of the BL’s resources – but surely meet the needs of only certain kinds of small businesses? There is a concern here that we are seeing this as a complete solution when it is only a partial one.
  • Stronger, more resilient communities: this section really does need further development. Given that there have been two very recent reports on the growing lack of social cohesion – and the dangers this poses – much more should have been made of libraries’ role in building cohesive societies; and the strong evidence of the key involvement of the library in Ferguson could also have illustrated this. As one of the messages from this review is that we need to ‘sell’ ourselves to partners and to local authorities, surely this could have been a great way of doing so?

Section 6: How we’ll achieve this

This section argues that, to make the vision and Outcomes a reality, “further development of library services” [p32] is required. The report suggests that “strong local leadership” [p32] can be supported nationally by the Taskforce, and that, together, there is a set of actions that need to be taken. These include the following:

  • Encouraging common design principles 
  • Planning public library services to meet local needs  
  • Considering different models for local service delivery  
  • Funding library services in varied and sustainable ways
  • Defining what an excellent library service looks like  
  • Helping libraries use better evidence to support decision-making  
  • Stronger co-ordination and partnership working  
  • Developing the library workforce, now and for the future

These seem very sensible courses of action – but, of course, are entirely dependent on adequate resourcing and political support.

Section 7: Making the case for libraries

This section pulls together all the points made in the previous draft report about improving the image of public libraries and people’s awareness of what they offer.

It includes:

  • Championing libraries to decision-makers: this has four connected priorities:
  1. “developing influence with local councillors and decision-makers to secure local support and funding, promoting ‘library first’ approaches whenever new service developments are planned 
  2. using data and evidence to make decision-makers aware of what public library services have to offer and how libraries can help achieve their wider strategic goals 
  3. ensuring that future policy and regulation at a national level supports public libraries 
  4. promoting achievements where local leaders have supported and worked through their public library service” [p52]
  • Creating wider public awareness of what libraries have to offer
  • Promoting positive messages about libraries in the media

Section 8: How we’ll take this forward

This brief section outlines the next steps for the Taskforce – primarily regularly reviewing progress on the actions listed in the report and in the separate Action Plan11 [also, please see below].

This is followed by 5 Annexes:

  • Annex 1: The 7 Outcomes the public library network supports [to be considered in more depth below]
  • Annex 2: Action plan [also see below]
  • Annex 3: Summary of the consultation and responses: this sets out the main changes to the draft report, which have been taken on board
  • Annex 4: Role and remit of Taskforce member organisations
  • Annex 5: Image credits and references: this incudes weblinks for some 167 footnotes.

Annex 1: The 7 Outcomes the public library network supports

This is where the detail about the seven Outcomes and what they involve is. As noted above, the Outcomes have been re-named and re-ordered, and there is more depth to them. Here is a quick assessment of each.

Outcome 1: Cultural and creative enrichment

This Outcome is much stronger than in the draft report, and has developed the sense of libraries as cultural hubs. There still is no link between this and Outcome 3 – makerspaces can be cultural and creative as well as STEM based. (This work will also be further developed as SCL creates the Creativity Universal Offer.)

Outcome 2: Increased reading and literacy

Here the “Success in 2021 will look like” section is shorter but mostly better defined than in the draft. The new ‘ambitions’ are:

  • “improvement in England’s international literacy rankings 
  • all library services offering a range of reading/literacy programmes and activities with an increase in the number of children, young people, adults and families participating (both as readers and volunteers) and, as a result, increased reading for pleasure 
  • stronger partnerships between public libraries and local schools” [p61]

It would still have been useful for the report to spell out what the “stronger partnerships between public libraries and local schools” would actually involve.

The outline of the role that libraries play in developing reading and literacy is clearer, and the report has moved away from what seemed to be quantitative approaches; there is also a wider range of reading programmes listed (although it would have been good to have included some local library service initiatives – which do not form part of a national programme – as well, such as Warwickshire’s creative reading festivals12.

Outcome 3: Increased digital access and literacy

The “Success in 2021” section is, again, stronger, although it would have been valuable to have linked digital skills and access to overcoming some of the social context issues outlined above.

The description is much stronger, with good emphases on outreach and digital inclusion.

Outcome 4: Helping everyone achieve their full potential

This has replaced “Learning” which was what was in the draft. It is much simpler and clearer, and more community-related, and less focused on measurable outcomes.

Outcome 5: Healthier and happier lives

The “Success in 2021” section is much improved:

  • “libraries are perceived as important partners for achieving improved health outcomes in communities by Public Health England, NHS providers, local health bodies, clinical commissioning groups, Sustainability and Transformation Plan Committees, and other health and wellbeing commissioners and providers 
  • people perceive themselves to have improved wellbeing/to be happier as a result of participating in library activities
  • people who are housebound, or who have dementia or autism, and their carers feel more connected and supported to manage in the community, and maintain their independence and wellbeing as a result of their contact with libraries 
  • library users are enabled to self-care and self-manage their health, participate in shared decision-making with healthcare professionals, and are more health literate” [p67]

There is a wide range of types of library work included in the description, as well as some national programmes.

Outcome 6: Greater prosperity

The report now includes both ‘bigger’ schemes, such as the British Library Business and IP Centres, and the smaller-scale – but vital – work that libraries undertake around literacy and digital literacy, job clubs, help with preparing CVs, and so on.

Outcome 7: Stronger, more resilient communities

The description of this Outcome has some real strengths, eg:

“Library services should work with local people to define, develop, plan and deliver the right mix of services to meet local needs and priorities; no two places will have the same mix. For example, rural and urban areas will need different ways of delivering services. Doing this will reinforce the library’s role as a focal point for local community activity.” [p72]

and some patchy paragraphs, eg:

“Public libraries contribute directly to community cohesion by creating a sense of place for their users. Local studies work brings communities together by exploring and celebrating local people’s differing and shared culture and heritage. Libraries also provide a valuable introduction into a community for newcomers, through assistance with specific needs (such as language training and citizenship support for recent immigrants where required) and, more generally, by using their knowledge to marshal a wealth of information on the local area, services and community.” [p72]

Examples of exactly what this work involves would have been of real benefit here. The examples given are strong, but there is no real sense of an active approach by libraries to foster community cohesion.

As the report goes on to say, “Libraries can also play a major role in work to combat disadvantage.” [p72] However, it would have been helpful if some of the ways in which this happens were spelled out here.

Finally:

“Libraries also provide an inclusive, free and safe space for all, both physical and virtual, making local people equally welcome irrespective of their age or background. They are one of the few remaining places where people from different backgrounds or generations can come together to learn from and appreciate each other (for example, through reminiscence sessions helping with local history understanding, or by younger age groups helping older people with digital learning). Innovations like ‘human libraries’ […] challenge prejudices and stereotypes by stimulating social interactions that people might be unlikely to experience otherwise. We want to see libraries developing these inter-community and intergenerational activities to increase understanding and draw communities closer together.” [p73]

This is certainly true of the best library services, but, sadly, not of all. Perhaps there needs to be a clearer ‘ambition’ that this description is what every library should be aiming to achieve.

Action Plan

As noted above (in relation to Annex 2), the Action Plan13 has also been published.

This includes 25 actions to be taken by the Taskforce; 5 challenges to Central Government; and 12 challenges to Local Government/Library Services.

The Taskforce actions are taken from the report, and are grouped under:

  • Priority actions, such as ensuring that a ‘Libraries First’ approach is adopted, and that a core dataset is produced
  • Raising public awareness of what libraries have to offer 
  • Identifying and showcasing good practice and supporting innovation 
  • Supporting workforce development 
  • How we will take this forward: monitoring and reporting on progress.

The challenges are all also taken from the report and are intended to assist in the ‘Libraries First’ approach, encouraging new approaches and partnership working.

Provided the monitoring does take place and is thorough and transparent, this should give a good way of following and checking on progress (possibly not as good as a proper library planning process, but important).

Other actions

Workshops

The Taskforce is organising a series of workshops14 in January 2017:

“The events will start with a series of presentations about Ambition, followed by workshops on topics covered in the action plan. These will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the actions and enable you to give your views. Workshop topics will include:

  • mutuals and other alternative delivery models 
  • alternative funding streams 
  • communications (covering barriers to involvement and how to overcome, and shared and reusable assets) 
  • data  workforce development”

Community-managed libraries

In addition, Kathy Settle has just published a new Taskforce blogpost, “Community managed libraries – the next phase …”, which outlines the next stages in the work to support community-managed libraries – this will involve the Taskforce in:

  • Undertaking research into community managed libraries, and 
  • Working with partners to create a new peer support network to make it easier for communities to share good practice and to learn from each other.

In terms of the research, DCMS have commissioned SERIO17 (part of Plymouth University) to carry out a survey of:

“[…] all known community managed libraries in England. The survey focuses on areas such as:

  • the different types of service(s) the library delivers and their effectiveness 
  • any barriers to service delivery 
  • staff/volunteer satisfaction and training 
  • current and future resourcing plans 
  • the financial sustainability of the library […]

An analysis of the responses, along with more detailed case studies from a representative sample of community managed libraries, will form the basis of the final report to be published in March 2017.” 18

There is further information about the peer network which intends to offer support and guidance, including:

  • “extensive range of online tools and resources 
  • series of expert webinars 
  • local networking events 
  • advice and learning from others in the network on fundraising and business development 
  • platform for shared learning 
  • signposting to other external resources 
  • Q&A forum for practical advice and support 
  • sector news and debates – how can you make a difference?”

Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund

ACE have also announced this new funding stream20 which “will support projects that develop innovative library service activity to benefit disadvantaged people and places in England.”

Principles for the Leadership and Development of Public Library Services in England

Finally, CILIP has issued a challenge to “HM Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association, the Arts Council England and fellow members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce” to support ten principles. These are:

1. “England’s public libraries are part of a successful network which delivers key outcomes including learning, health and wellbeing, digital inclusion, civic participation and stronger local economies.

2. Securing these outcomes for the long-term depends on effective leadership through a fully-funded and evidence-based National Public Library Plan for England that is owned jointly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association.

3. Implementing this plan requires appropriate governance of the library network, including partnerships for local delivery, regional and national support and with appropriate engagement with the equivalent strategies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

4. It also requires a national strategy for the development of the professional library workforce alongside the appropriate use of volunteers.

5. Effective national support for the library network requires an appropriately-resourced and mandated national development function, the responsibilities of which should include quality standards, targeted investment and development support and a transparent approach to monitoring and impact evaluation.

6. HM Treasury must make available to Local Authorities emergency relief funding and transitional support to ensure they are adequately resourced and funded to meet their statutory obligation for the provision of a quality public library service and to set in place appropriate plans for long-term governance and sustainability.

7. Library service points should not be transitioned out of statutory provision unless all alternative options for their maintenance have been explored, a full cost/benefits analysis has been conducted in consultation with the community and a realistic plan for long-term support is put in place.

8. Where a Local Authority fails to meet agreed standards on statutory public library service delivery (so-called ‘hollowing-out’ of services) DCMS and DCLG should use effective strategies for early intervention & improvement, including options for sanction and the removal of library services (and funding) into a national or regional Library Service.

9. Public libraries must work in partnership with other local community organisations to sustain and amplify the reach and impact of their services.

10. Public engagement with libraries should be promoted and encouraged through a joined-up programme of media and public relations led jointly by members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce (and in future by the organisation with responsibility for the national development function for public libraries).”

Conclusions

The report has met with a mixed reaction, with some saying it’s a good way forward, with others saying it is ‘too little, too late’ and/or being critical.

In terms of social justice, there are real strengths (and it’s a huge improvement on the earlier versions), but still does not really touch the reality (as outlined above in the ‘Context’ section). The result is a vision of libraries that is very positive and proactive – but also somehow unrealistic, and unrelated to the austerity cuts and to the severe disadvantage and discrimination that large sections of the UK face.

Certainly, the £4m from ACE is very welcome – but does not really go anywhere near replacing the core funding lost by public libraries over the last eight years or so.

Overall, probably of most importance is the lack of any real monitoring process which would hold local authorities to account. Much as people grumbled about Annual Library Plans, they did ensure that a planning process was in place; plans were assessed and they and the assessments were made publicly available.

So – there are huge improvements in this version of the report compared to earlier drafts; some areas of library work come through really strongly (including aspects of their social justice work); but the real context – in the social, community and political senses – seems to have gone missing.

 

Abbreviations and acronyms

  • ACE = Arts Council England
  • BME = Black and minority ethnic
  • CILIP = Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
  • DCLG = Department for Communities and Local Government
  • DCMS – Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • IP = intellectual property
  • SCL = Society of Chief Librarians
  • STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Review of Public Libraries 2016

2016 is set to be a watershed year for public libraries. The Libraries Taskforce published the Ambition report, the longest serving libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, was replaced, and Cilip finally found its voice. All this against a backdrop of increasing library closures, massive reductions in library budgets, and decreased library book spending.

Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2012

Ambition was a report of two halves in many ways. It was launched with great fanfare early in the year with a round of workshops and consultation that included library staff and not just the usual suspects. I attended one of the workshops and found it positive. There was a sense of optimism that perhaps, at long last, here was an opportunity to effect genuine change and start to turn around the decline in public libraries. As Kathy Settle noted:

“It was inspiring to see and hear all the interest, passion and commitment for the public library network. The valuable ideas, insight and feedback we received really helped to challenge and hone our initial thinking, and make the document more useful to the various stakeholders we’re trying to involve as we take our plans forward.”

The report was due to be published at the end of July but the timetable quickly slipped as the usual horse trading and debate over wording took place. This delay was exacerbated by the replacement of Ed Vaizey, a victim of the post-Brexit vote, with Rob Wilson taking on the role of libraries.

Initially the delay was to allow the new minister time to get to get to grips with his new portfolio but as the months marched on I and many other campaigners began to question if the report would be published this year at all. Eventually, with no advance notice, it was released on a day in which the main news headlines was the increase in EU migrants arriving in Britain. Despite this rather clumsy attempt to ‘bury bad news’ the report received its fair share of publicity within the sector.

I won’t go into the pros and cons of the report as many others have already responded such as Cilipcampaigners and authors.  In contrast the report was broadly welcomed by those with a seat on the Taskforce; SCL, LGA

My own view is that the report failed to encapsulate the aspirations of the profession. What we got merely reflected existing government policy and advocated the views of a minority of vested stakeholders, with the early optimism being replaced by crushing stoicism and an uncertain future of continuing funding cuts.

Libraries Taskforce

I have always chosen not to give the Libraries Taskforce its full title in my posts. This is simply because I do not view it as a leadership body for libraries. What we have is a body set up, funded, and answerable to the DCMS and the libraries minister. In my opinion the Taskforce is precisely that: a group ‘tasked’ with delivering government policy around localism and devolution, and papering over the cracks caused by the continuing decrease in government funding to local authorities.

Now its easy to conflate the organisation with the individuals involved. The fact is I have met Kathy Settle and other members of the Taskforce and they strike me as being both dedicated and conscientious in their aim of supporting libraries through a prolonged and difficult period. But they have the unenviable task of doing this with no access to long-term funding and with only piecemeal project monies available. Even the £4 million libraries innovation fund is not actually new funding but money left-over from previous projects.

Sadly, the Taskforce has yet to evolve into the strategic body that libraries desperately need: one that provides a genuine national strategy underpinned by sustainable funding for the sector.

Library Ministers

This was the year we lost Ed Vaizey as the longest serving culture minister, who was sacked during the post-Brexit reshuffle. Vaizey, despite harsh criticism of Labour when in opposition, proved to be something of a lame duck when in office. He failed to intervene in any cuts, claimed “the library service is not in crisis”, and disputed statistics produced by Cipfa, the BBC, and leading campaigners, while at the same time producing much ridiculed figures from his own desktop research.Very few within the sector were sad to see him go.

Although replaced by Matt Hancock as Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, the library brief was awarded to Rob Wilson, the minister for civil society. For many this set alarm bells ringing as it placed libraries directly into a portfolio that actively promoted volunteering, social enterprise, and spinning services out from local authority control.

Only five months into his new role Rob Wilson has faced a plethora of challenges as cuts to libraries have become even more entrenched, leading Nick Poole to describe one authority’s proposals as ‘the most damaging ever seen to any library service anywhere in the country.’

Faced with major cutbacks in places such as Lancashire, the minister emulated his predecessor and took a non-interventionist stance. Then again it would be a brave politician that challenged his own government’s policies that have basically starved councils of funding. Equally, given the UK national debt has risen by £555 Billion since 2010, libraries are hardly likely to be viewed as a spending priority when set against the burden of adult social care.

However, it is worth considering how the DCMS decides what does and does not constitute a ‘comprehensive & efficient’ service. Without a baseline measurement how can they evaluate when an authority falls below the standard required? After questioning those councils proposing major cutbacks it appears the Minister does not consider them to have fallen beyond the ‘threshold’ required to trigger intervention. So what yardstick, what definition and criteria, has been used to ensure compliance with the 1964 Act?

Apparently only the Minister and DCMS know.

2016 was the year that Cilip finally found its voice. Following on from the resolution in 2015 to oppose the amateurisation’ of public libraries services’ the My Library By Right campaign was launched, challenging both local and central government to fulfil their legal responsibilities and provide a quality library service.

From being  perceived as soft on library closures we have seen quite increasingly strong statements against closures, hollowing out, and the loss of paid staff. An extensive round of media coverage was undertaken to promote the value of libraries, and councils challenged where cuts appeared draconian.

Recently, Cilip also launched its own vision for the future of libraries. While this is still not enough for some I see it as evidence of an increasingly confident and vocal professional body, willing to champion the value of libraries and library staff.

Unfortunately, Cilip’s aspiration for libraries is at odds with that offered by the Libraries Taskforce and Ambition report. As I’ve previously noted, it’s unlikely Cilip’s vision will be adopted as it runs contrary to government policy.

That said, I much prefer a professional body that is in tune with the aspirations of its members and reflects what the sector genuinely needs even if its vision is unpalatable to the current administration. After all, circumstances, and even administrations, eventually change.

The Future

Sadly, the medium term future appears bleak for public libraries: a lack of national strategy, a dearth of leadership, continuing funding cuts, and a non-interventionist minister hardly provides a genuine ‘ambition’ for libraries. That libraries will survive into the future in some form is a given. What form that takes and whether as a service it will remain ‘comprehensive and efficient’ remains to be seen.

It only remains for me to wish you all, despite the trials and tribulations, a very Happy New Year.

_______________________________________________

Comment from Nick Poole

An excellent and measured review of a challenging year. It is a sad fact that the trend of funding cuts and service reductions has occurred despite a quite extraordinary body of great work by public librarians across the country. I have noted elsewhere that it is not the ‘core product’ of public libraries that is at fault here but the lack of political engagement with it, and it is this which we must increasingly organise ourselves to counter.

We know from the My Library By Right campaign that the statutory basis of public library provision is very thin, thanks in no small part to the withdrawal of Public Library Service Standards, which provided that vital 2nd tier of definition around ‘comprehensive and efficient’. We should also be clear that this is not the only legal basis from which to challenge poorly-implemented service redesign – legislation around Equalities is likely to be equally important in defending the public right to a quality, universally-accessible service.

There are many inside the sector who oppose standards, but the fact is that in almost every other public sector they serve an essential role in providing clarity, definition, a baseline against which to assess improvement and a valuable means of identifying and correcting poor performance or under-investment. In my view, we as a sector ought to be able to organise ourselves in England to develop our own standards, following the model set down in Wales and Scotland.

To me, the most important message in your post is the one that says that ‘administrations will change’. I would be surprised if the current administration survives in its current form to May 2020 given the political and economic pressures at play over the next three years. As a profession, we need to ensure that when and if the political winds change in our favour, we are ready with workable, costed solutions so that we can act swiftly to mitigate the damage being done to the public library network and, where possible, repair it.

In the meantime, though, I commend you, your colleagues and everyone out there that is continuing to focus on what really matters – ensuring that every citizen can continue to benefit from the unique value that libraries bring to their lives.