What does Labour think?

I was struck by the news story as reported on the PLN website from Inside Croydon. Commenting on a visit to the Central Library, Timothy Godfrey, spokesman on arts and culture for the local Labour group, observed:

“An entire floor had no staff on it. The children’s library had no librarian on duty either. Carillion, the private company that now runs the libraries, has purposefully “de-skilled” the borough’s libraries, employing as few professional librarians as possible.”

And Clr Godfrey’s solution to this?:

“We want a library service that builds on them as cornerstones of their local communities. Staff would be employed by the council and work with local people to develop their service to suit local needs.”

Call me cynical (which I am) but such rhetoric usually translate as involving staff in handing over libraries to volunteers. But in this particular instance perhaps I do Clr Godfrey a disservice and someone in Croydon could clarify what he actually meant by the above statement.

Nevertheless, the story does highlight a serious ongoing problem, which is the de-skilling and de-professionalization of public libraries.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much available evidence on the number of posts deleted or lost in individual authorities, including reductions in management. Cilip has collated some figures for 2012/13 but the response rate is so low that they don’t give a meaningful picture. Despite the perception that so called backroom and managerial staff are dispensable the reverse is true and professional staff are absolutely vital to providing a comprehensive and efficient library service.

Given the caustic effect of such hollowing out it would be interesting to note if FOI requests from the different campaigns have revealed how many individual professional staff and/or posts have been lost over the past five years in their local areas. Many campaigns highlight the wonderful work that professional staff do and how much they are appreciated so perhaps if campaigners are unaware of the numbers lost in their area now is the time to find out. If any one does have figures for their local area I would be grateful if they could let me know so they can be publicised.

Continuing the theme of labour politicians; four weeks and two emails later I am still waiting for an answer from Helen Goodman re: what constitutes a ‘core professional service’ for libraries.

Given the recent announcement by the LGA that many local authorities have reached a financial tipping point it is important for Labour to step forward and clarify its position on libraries. On the other hand, given that there are both local and European elections shortly maybe the shadow minister is deliberately remaining silent on the issue as perhaps we won’t like the answer. I’ve pointed out before that despite the criticism of current government policy Labour are just as happy to hand libraries over to volunteers and have yet to offer any meaningful alternative.

I am sure I am not the only one to contact Helen Goodman over this issue so if anyone has received an answer I would be very interested to know what the reply was.

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