Public library reports

I’ve added a new page to my blog today Public Libraries – Reports (see menu bar above) to collate the various reports, reviews and research relating to public libraries in the UK since 2010. I’ve chosen 2010 as the cut-off as given the rate of change since then anything previous is basically superfluous.

Obviously 2010 was the start of the austerity programme and the subsequent wide-scale cutbacks in the public sector, with local authorities being hit particularly hard.

During this period public libraries have undergone and continue to undergo rapid change, some good but much bad, with large scale reductions in funding, staffing and resources, as well as closures and handing over services to volunteers. Equally, there has been many reports and reviews about libraries from such diverse organisations as the DCMS, Unison, and the Women’s Institute.

I hope the page is useful and please feel free to send me links to any relevant reports etc for inclusion.

Who’s in the house?

Although not able to attend I’m looking forward to the Cilip debate this Saturday (27th September) to discuss the proposition: ‘This House believes Local Authorities are still the best way to deliver the public library service‘, with a panel contesting an issue that might have been inconceivable only a few short years ago. After all who else would deliver public library services! But the days of such surety are long gone thanks to the austerity measures of the past four years.

I have always been open in my own views around this issue, which is that local authorities are best placed to fund or commission library services but strategic development should be left to librarians and not councillors. The continuing long list of reductions and closures hardly inspires either the profession or public to put their trust in local authorities and only strengthens my belief that decisions are driven by misplaced ideology rather than sound business practices. In many ways it is the poor decision making by councils that has given rise to the myth that librarians lack business acumen when actually the reverse is true. Many librarians would relish the opportunity to have greater control and freedom over services rather than having to implement inadequately conceived ideas driven by local political expediency.

Library services should be in the hands of the staff themselves; to shape, develop, and deliver. Librarians have the depth of knowledge, expertise and experience to run an efficient service, and one that reflects a genuine partnership of community focused, rather than community led, libraries. The best way to achieve this in the current climate is, in my opinion, through a not-for-profit trust model. I would also hazard a guess that trusts will feature in William Sieghart’s report given that he has praised the Suffolk Libraries model on several occasions recently.

In the keynote speech to Cilip members at the recent AGM Sieghart also stated that urgent action was needed over libraries and likened the situation to Beeching’s closure of railway lines. However, despite the aspirational tone of the speech the unavoidable reality is that libraries, however delivered, need sustainable funding, not only to survive but also to develop. Therefore, it will be interesting to note what funding streams are identified as part of his report and how genuinely maintainable these will be. Equally, it would be a great pity for the report to concentrate solely on measures to keep libraries open without also addressing the issue of paid staff and professional librarians as being integral to service delivery.

One of the panelists, Ian Anstice of Public Library News fame, a strong proponent of public libraries, knows better than most how under pressure services are since he is the main source of news regarding changes to libraries nationally. The fact that this is achieved in his spare time is testament to Ian’s dedication and faith in the importance of libraries.

Another panelist, Biddy Fisher, should bring an interesting perspective as trustee of the Denby Dale Library.The friends group were instrumental in ensuring that the library continued to be run in conjunction with Kirklees Libraries and retain the services of a paid member of staff (albeit for a limited number of hours per week and with funding only agreed until September 2015). The approach of using a mix of staff and volunteers is becoming more common and an explanation by Biddy of how it came about can be seen here. I am sure that the group will be hoping for the council to continue with paid staff at the library but given the current news coming from Kirklees the future is looking rather uncertain.

Obviously, any debate around the subject needs to consider the dwindling settlement each year from national government to local authorities. Added to this are the soaring costs of both adult care and children’s services, which along with the austerity programme, is forcing massive cuts and radical change within the public sector. Until the matter of funding for social care and health services is addressed at a national level, expenditure locally will continue to increase to the detriment of nearly all other services. Whoever forms the next government will have to face the politically unpalatable issue of deciding whether or not to protect health budgets while so many other services suffer. This is the real context in which reductions to local services, including libraries, is set.

Brian Ashley, Director – Libraries, Arts Council England is also on the panel, and will no doubt be representing ACE’s view. I have never disguised the fact that I think libraries have been misplaced with the Arts Council, who fail to appreciate the full scope of what libraries do and try to shoehorn them into a mismatched arts agenda. I wonder if ACE readily funded library schemes not connected to the arts how many more Library Change Lives projects could be delivered.

I am also cautious about their links with Locality in that they commission a body whose core purpose is to support and enable community organisations to research issues around public libraries. It’s difficult to accept that a predetermined bias towards community led projects does not influence the outcomes of the reports, which calls into the question the credibility of its research. Given the resources available to ACE there appears little justification for not commissioning such work from an independent research organisation. Continually resourcing studies in support of community led libraries hardly inspires trust from librarians or campaigners who believe in the statutory principle of libraries and that paid staff are an essential element of the service.

Hopefully, another panelist, Andrew Coburn, former Secretary of the Library Campaign and UNISON activist, will be bringing the opinions of both campaigners and library staff to the table.

This is a important issue and the principle of local authorities as the best way to deliver library services has very real and practical implications for how services could be run in the future, so this is more than an academic exercise and should be treated as such. Perhaps this could be used as a prelude to a policy making exercise in which the outcome helps inform the formulation of a position statement for Cilip to take forward.

Because while discussion is essential in defining ideas ultimately what good is debate without action?

Cilip AGM 2014

Today is something of an anniversary for me. It was the debate over the renaming proposal last year that reignited my interest in Cilip and attendance at the general meeting, which led directly to me starting this blog, with the first post being a report back on the AGM 2013.

Since then I have widened the posts to include issues around library closures, service reductions, campaigns, and advocacy, as it is libraries in the political arena that mainly interests me. Most of all I have tried to bring a librarian’s view to the debate as I firmly believe that professionally qualified librarians are fundamental to the very nature of a library service and integral to the best possible service delivery. Quite simply, a library without a librarian is not actually a library.

Now obviously there are practical caveats is to this statement such as smaller libraries would be overseen and have consistent access to a community librarian (or similar) rather than one being based in each library but overall the general principle stands.

Sieghart: Anyway, back to the Cilip Big Day and AGM. The keynote speaker was William Sieghart who was obviously very supportive and sympathetic to public libraries. The main thrust of his speech was that libraries need a change of narrative to highlight how valuable they are. As well as updating the infrastructure and governance models, with Suffolk libraries being held up as what could be achieved when libraries are released from the bureaucratic constraints of local authority control. Overall, the talk was high on aspiration but low on substance. Anyone attending expecting a detailed analysis will have been disappointed so will have to wait for publication of the report for the specifics.

Governance: Although less controversial than the name change last year there had still been quite a furore caused over the proposed changes to the governance model, which on the day needed a two thirds majority to pass. Given the barbed comments at times on emails lists and social media the debate on the day was good natured, with the result being the adoption of the new model of governance but keeping a fully elected Board.

Credit to Cilip for allowing the proposals to be voted on separately as most members agreed that a new model was needed but many were not convinced about the proposed changes to Council.

Fees: I was in a minority regarding the subscription fees and the increase was passed. I think a debate over fees was lost amongst the changes to the governance model but I am hoping this will be the last rise for a while otherwise I see another argument brewing for the future.

Engagement: What continues to perplex me is the continuing low turn-out and voting on issues by the membership. I’ve said before that £200 is a lot of money to pay to then more or less ignore the workings of the professional body. Even where members are unable to attend AGM’s the proxy voting system is quite straight forward (although I look forward to the day when as an information profession we manage to do this online) so I find such indifference puzzling.

Fellowship: Another highlight was the awarding of the Honorary Fellowships of which there were six worthy recipients including John Vincent for his work around social justice and equality, and Janene Cox for championing the development of the Universal Offers.

However, this is not a blow by blow account of what happened on the day – full details can be found here – but rather my impressions. A highlight for me was Philip Wark’s comments during the Library Change Lives awards defending the professional integrity of library services over them being handed to volunteers. Philip is head of the award winning Midlothian library service and a honorary fellowship recipient.

On a personal note it was good to catch-up with colleagues from other services or that I had worked with in the past. Equally, it was good to talk to Council members such as John Dolan and Martyn Wade. It’s easy to forget in the cut and thrust of disagreement that Council is made up of genuinely decent individuals, giving their own time and doing what they think is best for Cilip. It’s OK to disagree but let’s remember do it professionally.

So one year on and while many things have changed the battle for public libraries continue. With the Sieghart review due for publication and a general election on the horizon we are certainly living in interesting times professionally, and I wonder what my reflections will be in a year’s time?

Cilip subscription fees

At the Cilip AGM this weekend members will be asked once again to vote for an increase in subscription fees. The current fee for anyone earning more than £17,501 is £200 with the proposed increase to £204 from 2015. On the face of it this seems a reasonable rise. However, since 2010 (incidentally the start of the government’s austerity programme) subscription fees will have increased from £184  to £204 (if agreed) representing an increase of 10.8% and the third time subscriptions will have been raised in a relatively short time.

Now set this against a background of pay freezes and below inflation pay caps for public sector workers, including library staff, during the same period. Many librarians have felt the full impact of the austerity measures not only in terms of job losses but also in the increase of living costs. According to the TUC the average public sector worker is £2,245 worse off in real terms since 2010, and there are indications from ministers that pay caps are likely to extend to 2018.

With this in mind Cilip should be looking at ways of freezing or reducing fees rather than putting an additional burden on members.

Needless to say I will not be supporting the subscription increase and hope that others also question the need to do so during difficult financial times for members.

Show me the money!

Although somewhat a distraction from the more serious business of library closures and service reductions, librarians will debate the outcomes of the governance proposals at the Cilip AGM on Saturday (20th Sept 2014).

Rather than rehash the arguments from previous posts I refer to the wider debate at the following:

  • Public Library News: post from 2 past presidents express fear over Cilip leadership proposals and the response from Nick Poole, CILIP Councillor and member of the project board for the Governance Review
  • The various posts on Tom Roper’s blog including many comments from both sides of the argument
  • Barbara Band (president of Cilip). Barbra has also discussed the review in the bookseller but unfortunately the article is accessible to subscribers only.
  • And email lists and social media sites such as PUB-LIBS and LinkedIn

I’ve thought long and hard about the proposals and while the modernisation of the governance structure is to be welcomed the undermining of the fundamental democratic principles of a membership organisation is not. Therefore, it is with reluctance that I shall be voting against the changes.

Whether Council is in tune with the general feelings of the membership or we see yet another debacle similar to the defeated name change last year will only be decided by the vote.

On a related note, the recent announcement by Ian Anstice that he has left Cilip due to it being too expensive is disappointing but understandable news and a move I fully sympathise with. For many library staff who have suffered both pay freezes and derisory pay rises during the past few years the cost of membership is a major investment.

At last year’s AGM it was noted that the subscription model would be looked at to consider a more equitable sliding scale of payments. To my knowledge this has not happened and this year we will once again be asked to vote for a rise in membership fees. I suspect there will be many members who will be asking if the ROI of membership justifies the cost and might just decide, like Ian, that it does not. For an organisation that has already lost substantial numbers of members this would be a major blow.

The Axeman Cometh!

Closures and professional library posts

There was a Guardian article recently bemoaning the destruction of the national library system and highlighting job losses and library closures. With both actual and threatened closures so widespread campaign groups have also become ubiquitous and to my knowledge most, if not all, support the retention of paid staff. However, we also need to recognise that while many local campaigns would prefer to keep library staff the majority will also step forward to run their local library if they believe there is no other choice to closure. Understandably, the primary focus of the campaigner is the library not the librarian. It’s also a sad fact that many professional staff are lost not through branch closures but through ‘efficiencies’, cuts to ‘backroom functions’, ‘management delayering’, and other innocuous sounding mislabeling.

Given the scale of proposed reductions in places like Cornwall, Havering, Staffordshire, and Kirklees (the list goes on!) the rate of attrition of professional posts is likely to increase.

The loss of professional staff contributes to the hollowing out effect and represents a lessening of the quality of service. There are many good sites explaining what library staff do and extolling the virtues of a professionally run service so I won’t go into all the advantages of having both a professionally led and delivered service here except to refer to the Why Public Libraries? section of the Voices for the Library website for a fuller explanation.

My own observation regarding the loss of so many posts is one of limited career advancement and less mobility as professional staff struggle to hang onto the posts they already have.Now I could go into ‘spin’ mode and say that despite this staff still manage to deliver an excellent service to the public, which is absolutely true. But the problem with such counter-balancing is it that does a disservice to those who struggle with managing services on a day-to-day basis and deal with year-on-year reductions, an uncertain future, low morale, job insecurity, and an ideology that regards the replacement of highly qualified and experienced staff with unqualified and inexperienced volunteers as acceptable.

In a recent interview, Librarian of the Year 2014, Jacqueline Cooper, made the following telling point:

“With fantastically bad timing,I met the common place service cuts of recent years coming in the opposite direction. Five years ago we had 6 full time equivalent librarians in West Berks; now we have 3 and none of us works full time. As a result, in recent years I’ve often had paid work outside libraries as well and perhaps this has given me a different perspective.”

While Jacqueline seems to take a positive approach to the opportunities this has presented, her comments highlight very clearly the issue of ‘underemployment’ for librarians in a rapidly dwindling job market.

Given the limited opportunities I wonder how many graduates leaving library school actually avoid public libraries as they no longer consider the sector to be a viable career option?

Number crunching

The loss of professional posts is not always easy to assess even relying on Cipfa figures. Recently, along with Jo Richards, I undertook a snapshot of how many professional posts had been lost within county council library services over the past five years (table below).

Now, obviously such figures should always be approached with caution. One of the difficulties is defining what is meant by a ‘professional’ post as not all authorities require staff to hold library qualifications. For example, Norfolk stated that only 15 of its 26 community librarians held library qualifications, although those without a library qualification are encouraged to undertake certification (ACLIP) through Cilip.

In Surrey only 6 posts are required to have professional library qualifications as a condition of employment and a further post requires an information management degree. However, the remaining 43 posts are not required to hold library qualifications at all although some will. Equally, North Yorkshire shows quite a high number of professional level posts but according to the information provided none are actually required to hold a library qualification as a condition of employment, although again, some obviously will.

Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing how consistently each authority interpreted the FOI request so perhaps a safe assumption is to take the figures to mean those employed at a professional level but not necessarily professionally qualified. There will always be debate about how a ‘professional’ post is defined and therefore the exact level of losses or reductions within the profession will be open to interpretation.

Equally, some authorities stated that the figures represented FTE while others did not. Only Worcestershire indicated that numbers were based on a headcount. I have made the assumption therefore that with the exception of Worcestershire all other figures represent FTE although this would require further clarification to be absolutely certain. Only one service showed an increase in numbers, ironically enough Lincolnshire, from 6.8 to 9 FTE.

Obviously, an analysis of Cipfa returns would give a more in-depth indication of the loss of professional posts throughout the country whereas the table below is based on a limited number of councils but I suspect is generally indicative of losses within all authorities. Unfortunately, it paints a rather depressing picture of the continuing de-professionalisation of the public library sector.

Number of professional library posts by county council for the financial years 2009/10 to 2013/14

County Council  2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 Loss as %
1.Buckinghamshire 16 11 11 11 10 37.5
2. Cambridgeshire 33.38 37.82 37.10 20.70 19.61 41.2
3. Cumbria 33 30 28 28 28 15.1
4. Derbyshire 55 47.6 38.5 38.9 35.1 36.1
5. Devon 39 39 39 29 29 25.6
6. Dorset 18.3 19.3 17.3 14.3 No information 21.8
7. East Sussex 27.3 27 25.2 24.7 22.3 18.3
8. Essex (1) No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided No information provided
9. Gloucestershire No information No information 23 23 17 26
10. Hampshire 15 15 13 7 7 53.3
11. Hertfordshire 67.7 67.3 49.7 52.5 54 20.2
12. Kent 69.31 61.89 54.96 49.93 44.61 35.6
13. Lancashire 22 22 19 16 12 45.4
14.Leicestershire(2) 25 20.5 20.5 (25) see notes (24.3) see notes (2.7) See notes
15. Lincolnshire 6.8 6 10 9 9 + 32.3 (increase)
16. Norfolk (3) 48.6 42.7 36.8 36.2 36.2 25.5
17.North Yorkshire (4) 55 55 55 43 43 21.8
18.Northamptonshire 31 30.5 26.5 26.5 18.5 40
19.Nottinghamshire 55 57 32.5 32.5 32.5 40.9
20. Oxfordshire 47 43 47 36 34 27.6
21. Somerset 25.4 23.3 21.9 20.2 17.0 33
22. Staffordshire 43.3 40.8 33.3 29.5 No information 31.8
23. Suffolk 25 24 20 18 12 52
24. Surrey (5) 51.7 51.3 48.8 52.2 50.4 2.5
25. Warwickshire 29.4 24.1 No information No information 15.5 47.2
26. West Sussex 62.8 44.8 41.3 41.3 41.2 34.3
27. Worcestershire (6)Numbers based on headcount and not FTE 36 29 32 29 28 22.2

(1) Essex: only provided one set of figures and do not stipulate what year they covered. Despite follow-up requests for clarification I have received no further information

(2) Leicestershire: provided the following information to supplement the figures provided. Details can also be seen here.

The information below details the posts where the post of Librarian was explicit in the job title and required the holder to hold a professional qualification as an essential requirement.

2009 = 25.0
2010 = 20.5
2011 = 20.5
2012 = 8.0
2013 = 7.3

In 2011 the library service was significantly restructured and a new post of Library Development Worker, and Area Manager were created which is not detailed in this data, but where professional librarian status was desirable, and required many of the skills of the librarian to undertake. The number also includes a Head of Service. Numbers associated with these posts are set out below and are in addition to the first numbers.

2012 13
2013 13

In 2012 the library service became part of the Communities and Wellbeing service, an integrated libraries, museums and arts service. The following numbers incorporate management and support functions , although not needing a library qualification, are graded at a professional level and will require work at a related level, and again are in addition to the data above.

2012 4
2013 4

(Comment: what I think this means is that the total for 2012 = 25 and 2013 = 24.3. However, I am happy to be corrected if I’ve misunderstood the information)

(3) Norfolk: stated that there are 26 Community Librarians, 15 of which have library qualifications. People employed as Community Librarians and without a library qualification are encouraged to complete the Affiliate of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, (ACLIP).

(Comment: a later email stated that they didn’t keep records of professional qualifications, which possibly indicates that community librarians are not required to hold a degree level library qualification or chartered status)

(4). North Yorkshire: stated that no staff are required to hold a library qualifications as a condition of employment.

(5) Surrey: 6 posts require library qualification, 1 posts required an information management degree, 43.4 not required to hold library qualification.

(6) Worcestershire: figures based on headcount and not supplied as FTE