Time to speak out

In a recent editorial Ian Anstice makes the telling point that a new narrative around public libraries ‘…can only happen in different political circumstances where national politicians realise the importance of libraries and are willing to invest in public libraries … and that can only realistically happen with a General Election.’  

I wholeheartedly agree. And for this to come about the message needs to be driven home over the coming months time and again.

In a speech the new SCL President, Ciara Eastell, highlighted the need to advocate for libraries in the build-up to the general election. Leaving aside the potentially divisive commitment to support community-led libraries this was an excellent rallying call to be more proactive in promoting the value of libraries to politicians. To which we can add, promoting the value of librarians and library staff.

However, it would be wrong to leave advocacy only to campaigners and professional bodies. As individual librarians we also can make a difference. The general election is only 11 months away so now is the perfect time to start engaging politicians about public libraries. As citizens and constituents we can be a powerful voice in advocating for libraries at both local and national level with potentially thousands of library staff throughout the country standing up and defending an important public service.

Cilip’s  ‘public libraries – get involved’ page is a good place to start, with links to sites for contacting your MP:They Work for You and Write to ThemThere is also some excellent advice for writing to a MP at the Open Rights Group website.

If you have ever felt powerless as a member of the library profession in the face of changes to services over the past four years now is the time to influence political opinion for the future. Remember, your MP is not an expert on libraries but you are and you can use this opportunity to educate them about the value of public libraries. Obviously, some may disagree but others might just be willing to listen. And politicians tend to listen a whole lot more when it’s election time!

There are also many sites for background information including the excellent Public Library News, the Library CampaignVoices for the Library, and Speak Up For Libraries (including the SUFL Manifesto). Local library campaigns can also be good sources of information.

Try to publicise the information you get back (start your own blog!). Equally, I would be more than happy to publish replies on this site and I am sure that other, campaigning sites would likewise be interested in politicians replies.

Our voices can make a difference. But only if we raise them and speak out.

Small is beautiful & reply from UKIP

Small is beautiful

Two stories caught my eye showing that even small library services can have a big impact.

First, congratulations to Midlothian library services who have scooped the prestigious Library of the Year 2014 award. Midlothian only has nine static libraries and one mobile but nevertheless beat off competition from bigger services on the strength of its children’s service and “hugely impressive” programme of events.

Second was an update on James Powney’s blog highlighting the success of Brent Libraries and continuing improvements to the service. Obviously, this is still a divisive subject as some campaigners disagree strongly with the Brent libraries transformation project.

Obviously, it would be wonderful if no library budget was reduced or library closed. Wonderful but unfortunately not very realistic. Cllr Powney states that the transformation project ‘…is an exemplary case of how Councils should redesign services in the face of budgetary contraction.’  And I have to say, I agree.

Reply from UKIP

As well as Labour I’ve also taken the opportunity to write to some of the other parties regarding their stance on libraries. I’m still waiting for a reply from the LibDems and the Green Party but Tim Aker of UKIP has provided a short answer (below) to a general request regarding volunteers. I have asked for a fuller reply around the questions posed to Helen Goodman.

I deliberately chose not to write to the Conservatives as I believe their record over the past four years speaks for itself!

Dear Leon Bolton,

Thank you for your email. We’re quite flexible on the means of keeping libraries open – one size doesn’t fit all in local government. Whether it’s franchising out a section to a coffee shop, or running it on a community/volunteer basis, we
want to do all we can to keep front line services accessible to residents.

Best,

Tim

Cilip Governance: fit for the future?

The Cilip Governance Review continues and there is a two page spread in the Update Magazine (May 2014, pp 22-23) explaining what’s happed so far. Members will be given the opportunity to vote on the new structure at the AGM, 20th September 2014.

As I’ve said previously the proposals are in the main reasonable and will hopefully make Cilip more flexible and responsive as an organisation. However, I also raised concerns about the accountability of the Board particularly concerning the role of appointed members and their influence in voting for the post of President.

I also raised the issue that only elected members should be eligible for the President’s post as I believe there should be a direct link between ordinary members and the post of President. Currently Cilip Council is considering an amendment to the proposed byelaws that the President should always be an elected trustee. Hopefully, the amendment will soon be a reality. Personally I wouldn’t support the new structure if it wasn’t.

This still leaves us with the issue that a third of the Board will be appointed (unelected) and therefore directly unaccountable to the membership. I am not opposed to using appointed members as they can provide much needed expertise and experience. However, they would have ‘full and equal rights as members of the Board’ including the right to elect Cilip’s President. This continues to strike me as undemocratic. Therefore, I would urge a further amendment that only elected members can vote for the post of President.

One thing that struck me is that as part of the process Cilip has considered various documentation to help inform the new structure and quotes the following:

‘Governance pertains to the legal and formal structure for exercising power and authority in the association and ensuring a smooth operation that benefits the individual member and the entire membership.’ 

FLA Guidelines for Governing and Leading Library Associations

However, the same guidelines, outlining where authority and responsibility should lie, also states:

‘Usually this person or group with ultimate authority is selected by members and reflects the whole membership in order for decisions to be acceptable.’

My own view is that when it comes to electing Cilip’s President appointed members lack the mandate from ordinary members and as such do not reflect ‘the whole membership’ in order for this particular decision to be acceptable.’

As I said in my previous post about the governance review I urge Cilip members not to let these proposals go through without rigorous scrutiny and debate. Cilip is our professional body so let’s help it modernise but also keep it democratic, accountable, and answerable to its members.

Details can be found at What’s Next? and you can send your views to: web@cilip.org.uk

 

Reply from Helen Goodman

After comments made during a speech to campaigners in Lincolnshire I wrote to Helen Goodman asking the following questions and for a reply for inclusion on this blog:

You have stated Labour is committed to maintaining a core professional service. In your view what constitutes a ‘core professional service’?

• Does your party support the creation of community/volunteer managed libraries and if so under what circumstances?

• Do you believe that volunteers provide the same quality of service as paid library assistants and professionally qualified staff?

Her reply (below) is hopeful and one which I give a cautious welcome to. It’s encouraging that the shadow minister is willing to engage with librarians and to listen to our concerns, more than can be said for the present Minister for Culture. I do have some reservations about the wording concerning volunteers as personally I would prefer to see volunteers being used in complementary roles only.

That said, this is a far more positive response than anything we are used to getting from the current incumbent, Ed ‘completely useless’ Vaizey. It is also in complete contrast to the recent letter and comments by Karl McCartney MP (Conservative) to the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign.

I look forward to the outcomes of discussions with stakeholders and to Helen Goodman clarifying more firmly Labour’s stance on public libraries over the coming months.

 

LETTER

Dear Mr Bolton

Thank you for your email. Apologies for the time it has taken to respond – I have indeed been extremely busy with local elections.

As I have said previously, Labour is committed to supporting our public libraries in the face of devastating local government cuts. We believe they should remain free and that there should not be a postcode lottery for quality.

In answer to your specific questions about the place of professionals and volunteers, Labour believes in maintaining a core of professional librarians in every local library authority. What precisely constitutes a ‘core professional service’ is something I wish to discuss with all relevant stakeholders over the coming months, but I am clear that it must include paid fully qualified librarians, alongside other trained library staff.

Volunteers make an enormous contribution to libraries and to community life as whole. However, it is not only unfair to expect volunteers to run whole libraries, but also risks a decline in service quality as volunteers have not been properly trained to manage a library or deal with issues such as health and safety; child protection; and data protection.

While I am not suggesting volunteers cannot, if they wish, run a small library for a few hours a week, they should not be taking on the full running of a library service.

Where volunteers are working in libraries, their role needs to be properly specified and appropriate (i.e. they must not be asked to undertake work they are not trained for or work that should properly be done by trained staff).

I hope this answers your questions. Over the coming months, I will be continuing my talks with librarians, campaigners, trade unions and professional bodies.
Yours sincerely

Helen Goodman

Shadow Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Communications
MP for Bishop Auckland

SCL Conference 2014: Ed Vaizey

It’s obviously difficult to comment on Ed ‘completely useless‘ Vaizey’s speech at the SCL conference with only twitter feeds to go on. That said it’s hard to reconcile what’s been reported with the reality of the last four years.

One comment that does stand out is his apparent support for the establishment of a development agency for libraries. This from a minister who has all but abolished the Advisory Council on Libraries. I’m sure I am not the only one to see the irony of his ‘dreaming’ of a body to develop libraries while at the same time actively attempting to abolish a body that provides impartial advice on libraries!

Equally, his comments stating that the profession doesn’t accentuate the positive enough regarding library openings and refurbishments. Again this from someone who has overseen a particularly dark period for public libraries including widespread closures, de-professionalisation, and handing libraries over wholesale to unpaid amateurs to create a two-tier system. He has also consistently and steadfastly ignored his legal duty to ‘superintend’ or oversee library services provided by local authorities.

Last but by no means least, libraries are so important to him that he refuses to meet face-to-face with the professions professional body, Cilip.

As usual with Ed ‘completely useless‘ Vaizey his actions are far removed from his words.