Public & Mobiles Library Group Survey

I have to admit to being perplexed when I read some of the findings of the recent PMLG survey (Cilip Update, April 2014, p.24) First, congratulations to the PMLG committee, they acknowledged the effects of the cuts and closures on members, produced a good survey, and asked clearly about the sort of advocacy work the group (and by extension, Cilip) should be concerned with.

Thus, the results are both surprising and not a little disappointing. Apparently, more members in the survey “…ranked generic advocacy higher than targeted campaigning and political lobbying. In fact, campaigning against cuts and library closures was given a low ranking by the majority of respondents, with almost 50 cent assigning the lowest rank to campaigning against all cuts.”

And yet inversely, 92% of respondents “…agreed with the statement that ‘the impact of reduced budgets, service reductions and closures are the key issues that concern me’.”

64% ranked “‘advocacy for the generic value/benefits of a public library service’ as the top activity they would expect to see from CILIP and PMLG. This suggests bigger-picture thinking – library staff would rather that their professional body fight for the future of all libraries by reinforcing awareness of the importance of library services.”

Not sure I agree with the assertion that advocacy for the generic value indicates bigger-picture thinking. General advocacy (which has gone on for as long as I’ve been in the profession), and specific advocacy e.g. against reductions and closures, are not mutually exclusive and should go hand-in-hand. Equally, perhaps recognising that reductions to budgets will happen regardless or that strategic closures can sometimes be a good thing, many might have thought it unrealistic to be against ‘all cuts’.

However, that aside, there does appear to be an attitudinal conundrum here.

The statement that library staff “…would rather that their professional body fight for the future of all libraries by reinforcing awareness of the importance of library services” appears rather surprising. Surely if we don’t campaign against large scale closures and reductions there won’t be much of a professional service left to advocate for.

What’s startling is that after four years of such advocacy, highlighting the value of libraries extensively, not least through Cilip and SCL, and websites such as Voices for the Library, that colleagues still think this approach actually works when set against the politics of austerity, neo-liberal ideology, and the avowed intention of the government to shrink the state. When even an award winning service like Devon is targeted with substantial cuts you have to wonder at the political naiveté of such a stance.

I wonder how public campaigners will respond when they see the results of this survey. I suspect there will be many ‘head in hands’ moments and a lot of disappointment as it seems that library staff, while professing to be concerned about cuts and closures, appear as a profession to want to do little about it, or even worse, leave it to the public to campaign on our behalf.

Unfortunately, perhaps the fact that one of our greatest strengths as a profession; the willingness to cooperate and share, to be team players, has left us unable to cope in more adversarial conditions.

If anyone can explain the discrepancy in attitude or perhaps any inconsistency in the methodology used I would be more than happy to hear from them.

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