It’s New York!

In these days of doom and gloom it’s very rare that we see news that actually inspires us. Well, recently I saw exactly that. The inspirational story for me was York Libraries & Archive Services move to becoming a Mutual organisation from April 2014.

Looking at it from a library perspective the positives are:

  • There is a very clear vision that puts core library services at the heart of the venture
  • Decisions are made by professional librarians and managers
  • Continued staffing by professionals and experienced library staff
  • Working with volunteers but not handing over responsibility and libraries to the community

A clear message came through in the article; that a more professional service is provided and staff can focus solely on their business because as Fiona Williams (soon to be CEO of the new Mutual) stated ‘…being a librarian means something: being an archivist means something.’

It’s such a great pity that York is still a rare entity instead of being the norm. Many library campaigners and librarians themselves have been wary of going down the Trust or Mutual route, and sometimes with justification.

However, the alternative is proving somewhat worse. For many still under local authority control the reality is dominated by the morale sapping grind of salami slicing the service year on year, with councils spinning a smokescreen of not closing libraries when in actuality what remains underneath the façade is a hollowed-out shell that bears little resemblance to an effective and comprehensive service.

In a national climate that is too often dominated by a lack of strategic vision, political tribalism, uninspired thinking, the deletion of professional posts, and blackmailing communities into running local libraries – often with a resultant fall in the level of service, it is good to see a truly, innovative model being advocated.

The York model shows that there is another way, a more positive way, and one in which the library staff themselves have a vested interest in the long term success of the organisation.

One comment

  1. I certainly hope you are right about mutualising being a positive way forward for York Libraries and Archives but campaigners and unions have reason to be wary. It being used as a trojan horse for privatisation, outsourcing and commercialisation is a big concern, you can already see by the language used that the service is being viewed as a business. The other major concern is the viability and sustainability of it in the leisure/culture market, there is no guarantee that it will survive, putting not only jobs at risk but jeopardising a crucial public service.
    I agree that some of the alternatives are bleak but I fear that the government and local authorities, if it’s successful, will see this as another way off divesting and reneging responsibility for statutory public services.


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