Too Many Chefs…

Well another general election is upon us and sooner than most could have predicted. The indications are the Tories are on course for another victory with the only point being how large the majority will be. That said, polls have been wrong before so we can but hope.

Labour have at least mentioned libraries in their manifesto with a promise to increase council funding and reintroduce Library Standards. Both are very welcome but for me miss the main challenge facing the sector.

Unfortunately, both parties offer little in the way of innovation. For the Tories it will be the continuing path of localism and devolution leading to even greater fragmentation of the sector. For Labour it is primarily a funding issue. However, funding is only part of the overall challenge, what’s really needed is addressing the structural issues facing the sector.

There has been a tendency to focus on funding and to apportion the lack of financial support as the main reason for the current crisis in libraries. However, the problem goes deeper than this: it is about vision, about what libraries are, could, and should be. And just as importantly who should run the service. In my opinion, after seven years of mishandling the situation, councils are a fundamental part of the problem. The traditional model of local authorities delivering library services is no longer fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.

The lack of strategic vision is further exacerbated by the lack of leadership, which in turn is the result of the chaotic nature in which libraries are overseen, funded, and influenced. From the libraries minister, DCMS, DCLG, ACE, Libraries Taskforce, and LGA,  to professional representation by Cilip and the SCL, down to local authorities, and increasingly parish councils, community groups, charities, and mutuals.

Far from the concept of ‘distributed leadership’ once inappropriately advocated by the Arts Council the current framework of oversight and delivery is a prime example of organisational dysfunction. Rather than addressing the structural challenges of the sector the current approach creates a toxic mix in which add-hoc project funding merely places greater pressure on an already creaking network.

The Libraries Taskforce has failed because it has been unable to address two central issues: the provision of on-going revenue funding and the creation of a unified strategic vision that addresses the structural challenges and is not merely a rehash of government policy. No amount of positive spin, blogging, or occasional funding can cover this deficiency.

Nick Poole captured the above difficulties when stating:

“The reason for this is that the Government has more or less direct control over the priorities of lottery and other providers of project funding, but due to the overarching policies of devolution and austerity has elected not to exert control over the ‘core’ funders of libraries and civic museums – the Local Authorities themselves. By withdrawing funds from Local Authorities and leaving them, essentially to their own devices, Government is forcing them into a position whereby core structural issues cannot be addressed and, by association, creating the very real danger of significant inequality between communities in different parts of the four nations of the UK.”

Those of us on the ground see the outcome of these policies everyday; the creation of a two-tier, post code-lottery in local library provision. In turn this leads to greater inequality throughout the country, with the already socially deprived being the most disadvantaged.

Libraries are a national resource and should be treated as such. However, this approach is very much at odds with current political ideology, which does nothing to address genuine sustainability for the future and impedes long-term planning. What we face is a systemic failure of oversight in the sector to create a unified, sustainable model of provision.

As a working librarian I have to accept the current political reality of the fragmentation of services, the downgrading of libraries as a shop front for a mish-mash of council services, and the deprofessionalisation of the sector.

However, I can also hope and aspire towards a better future. For a strategic vision and leadership that leads towards a national approach for library services; that provides genuine oversight, development, and resources to enable libraries to be the best they can be for the benefit not only of local communities but for society as a whole.

This should be the aspiration of the whole library profession while recognising the current political challenges that make this unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Reply from Owen Smith

I was intriqued, like many library observers and campaigners, by the recent comments from Owen Smith, the Labour MP making a challenge for the party leadership against Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Smith has pledged that he will spend more on public libraries and re-open them if closed.

But as always the devil is in the detail so I wrote to Mr Smith asking him to clarify his comments and for his views on the following areas:

  • Library closures
  • Hollowing out of services
  • Replacement of staff with volunteers
  • Labour’s lack of policy on libraries

Labour has a very poor record on providing any meaningful answers to previous queries or for having any policy on libraries whatsoever. This latter point wasn’t addressed unfortunately or even acknowledged that one is needed. And while I fully agree that austerity is the driving force behind the cuts there was no recognition that Labour councils could be at the forefront of redesigning library services to mitigate against the cuts instead of emulating Tory practices.

Whether or not the reply below will give campaigners hope that a future Labour government would take the dismantling of the public library network seriously will depend on how it’s interpreted. Obviously, this would also depend on Owen Smith being the leader of that future government.

Dear Leon

Please find a reply from Owen below;
Thank you for taking the time to get in touch and for sharing your work on the important issue of libraries.
 
Public libraries offer each and every one of us a portal to the cumulative wisdom of the ages and the vast expanse of the human imagination. They do so for free and on the simple principle that, by sharing resources and building common institutions, we can all learn more and take greater pleasure than is possible when we act alone. There is nothing more democratic, nothing more socialist and nothing more Labour than a public library.
 
The vandalism inflicted upon our libraries by this rotten Tory Government is a national scandal. 343 libraries have closed, but that is only the thin end of the wedge. Opening hours and book funds have been slashed across the country.  8,000 jobs have disappeared and our libraries now rely upon volunteers, who do great work and deserve better than being used as a fig leaf for unsustainable cuts.  The sad truth is that the libraries that remain are offering a diminished service.
 
Labour Councils have been put in an impossible position by a Tory Government tying both hands behind their backs.  The only way that services will be restored and libraries re-opened is if austerity is ended and local governments are properly funded.
 
Not just do we need to end austerity, we also need to learn from the past 6 years if we are to safeguard our libraries in the future. Despite their statutory duty under the 1964 Act to “superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service”, Tory ministers have not provided any national leadership. I would work with councils to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead and meet local needs. 
Under my leadership we would rebuild a democratic, socialist and Labour public library system fit for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
 
Yours Sincerely
Owen Smith

 

 

My Way

So it’s finally happened. Ed Vaizey, the longest serving Minister for Culture has finally left the building, or at least been asked to leave as part of the new Cabinet reshuffle. It would be unfair to blame Vaizey for the all the problems of the public library sector over the last six years. The overriding factor has been one of ideology; from austerity, to localism, to devolution. But the ex-minister was certainly a strong advocate for these policies and ensured that libraries became a poster-boy for DIY community services.

It would also be unfair to lay the blame at the feet of just Tory local authorities. Councillors of all hues have been keen to support and adopt both localism and devolution, sometimes as a pragmatic solution to budget cuts, but equally as a means of distributing power from central government. And Let’s not forget that Labour and LibDem councils have been just as quick to reduce library services and hand over to volunteers as their conservative counterparts. Equally, it could be argued that the profession had grown complacent with comfortable funding and cosy political links so was ill-prepared to respond to the severity of the public spending cuts agenda.

So how should we judge Ed Vaizey’s time in office? Certainly the SCL appears to have regarded him as a positive force for championing libraries as the following tweet shows:

I have to say my own view is not so charitable. This was a minister who refused to intervene in any library reductions whatsoever, and who despite having the resources of the DCMS at his disposal preferred to rely on desktop research to assess library closures. The government figure touted was totally at odds with both CIPFA, independent BBC research, and what the public could see happening to their local libraries. Incompetence or deliberate spin? Take your pick.

According to the BBC the last six years have seen:

  • 343 libraries closed. Of those, 132 were mobile services, while 207 were based in buildings (and there were four others, such as home delivery services)
  • The number of closures in England is higher than the government’s official estimate of 110 buildings shut
  • The number of paid staff in libraries fell from 31,977 in 2010 to 24,044 now, a drop of 7,933 (25%) for the 182 library authorities that provided comparable data
  • A further 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups, while 50 have been handed to external organisations to run. In some areas, such as Lincolnshire and Surrey, the move has led to legal challenges and protests from residents.

The BBC also estimated that a further 111 closures were planned, but since the research was published, I suspect the number is now far higher. This is alongside a funding reduction of £180 million since 2010.

Matt Hancock has replaced Ed Vaizey so it remains to be seen what stance he will take particularly in the light of a new Prime Minister and Cabinet. Will he continue a non-interventionist approach or actually engage to slow down the rate of attrition?

Anyway, I shall end with a personal tribute to Ed (with apologies to Old Blue Eyes!)

(Click to enlarge)

Ed Vaizey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labouring the point

Well, after 53 days, 1 letter, 3 emails, and several or more tweets I finally received a reply from Maria Eagle, Shadow Culture Minister. The lesson being I suppose is that social media is not the preferred method of communication for MPs but rather good old fashioned letter writing.

I won’t say that the letter was disappointing because my expectations of Labour are pretty low nowadays. The letter is full of the well worn platitudes and unimaginative thinking that has characterised Labour’s stance on libraries for a number of years (see my previous post) and hardly differs from the current administration’s view.

This was illustrated by two incidents recently. The first is Barclays apparent bid to supplant libraries as the digital trainer of choice through the Eagle Labs programme. Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, commended Barclays for having such an initiative and stated “If we don’t have everyone involved in a digital age, with the skills they need, we will lose out as a region, so the Digital Eagles programme is fantastic.” followed by the wonderfully ironic “Some people might argue Barclays has a self-interest…”

Actually, there’s no ‘might’ about it. Barclays definitely has a self-interest and it’s naive to think otherwise. A factor the SCL and Libraries Taskforce might want to consider before committing the sector to more partnership working with  financial organisations mired in scandal and allegations of ‘systematic fraud’.

She concluded “…the important part I would say is we need to invest in libraries and other public spaces, but given the cuts I do think it’s great that they are taking the time and investment to support getting people online.”

So here’s one Labour MP who’s happy to support the commercial sector taking over aspects of library work.

Sending a more traditional Labour message John McDonnel pledged support for striking Library staff in Barnet in the continuing dispute over the council’s plans to outsource library services across the borough. In a rousing statement Mr McDonnell said:

“I want to pay tribute and send solidarity greetings to Barnet Unison library workers. They have been fighting an inspirational workplace and community campaign and I would like to thank them for their sterling efforts to expose and prevent the proposed widespread decimation of their library service…Barnet Unison has been a fine example of how trade unions and their community can work together in fighting austerity policies which are destroying local public services up and down the country, they have my 100 per cent support.”

All well and good until you consider the same sort of decimation taking place in Lambeth, which Labour MPs, and the new London Mayor, Sadiq Kahn, have been notoriously silent about. If John McDonnel really wanted to offer his ‘100% support’ to library campaigns he would encourage the Labour Party to adopt a substantially different policy and approach to the one it has now.

Which brings us back to the reply from the Shadow Culture Minister, which can be summed as:

  • Labour councils are hit harder than tory ones
  • The tory government is to blame
  • Labour councils are delivering innovative models of library provision and offering positive solutions
  • She will continue to listen to campaign groups and local authorities to try to develop a set of policies for libraries for the next election

And that was it! It would be interesting to know which campaign groups she has been talking to and the advice given. If you are one of those groups please do get in touch. Also, why it is going to take four years to ‘try’ and develop a policy for libraries? A working group of interested parties could easily formulate a policy in a fraction of that time as can be seen by the Ambition consultation, especially as Unison has done so much work on libraries, which could readily feed into a policy document.

It would also appear that unlike her shadow cabinet colleague, Maria Eagle would consider the solution on offer in Barnet as being both innovative and positive. It’s certainly no worse than the ones delivered in Sheffield or suggested for Lambeth and, in the main, Tory councils are under as much financial pressure as Labour one’s.

So, to labour the point, there really does appear to be no difference between the two main parties regarding libraries. Any campaigner who thinks that Labour will ride to the rescue of libraries is likely to be disappointed, as it is patently clear they are bereft of both ideas and inclination.

 

Mythomania

Despite the constant misinformation from the government such as only 110 libraries have closed since 2010 we at least know what to expect from this administration as in practice public services and therefore libraries have never been under greater threat. This is down to ideology and dogma, and the rigid adherence to the economically dubious austerity agenda.

I came across the wonderful term ‘mythomania’ recently. Apparently it refers to the behaviour of habitual or compulsive lying…or in other words, spin! The mythomania developed by the government around libraries is almost admirable in its simplicity and effectiveness. Even the Prime Minister has got in on the act recently by claiming that library closures are due to ‘technological change’, whilst totally ignoring the massive reduction in funding.

2498lambeth1If Conservatives hold a totally skewed view of libraries you would reasonably expect Labour to have an opposing narrative. Unfortunately not! The Labour view of libraries is rather conspicuous by its absence. This is compounded by major figures such as the new London Mayor. During the mayoral election race, the now successful Sadiq Khan, failed to respond in any meaningful way to campaigners request for support, no doubt cautious over criticising the incompetent debacle unfolding in Labour controlled Lambeth.

The equally silent Maria Eagle, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media & Sport seems to have no apparent opinion – or should that be knowledge – of the library crisis, certainly if her Twitter feed is anything to go by. I’ve tried to contact Miss Eagle a number of times by email and Twitter but have, as yet, received no reply.

The last time a shadow minister tried to formulate an opinion around libraries was early 2014 under Helen Goodman. Unfortunately, she was a blink-and-miss-them appointment. Followed by the equally blink-and miss-them,  and ‘I don’t want this role’, Chris Bryant, whose approach to libraries was so akin to Ed Vaizey’s that you couldn’t wedge a piece of paper between them. When challenged Chris’ mantra was ‘silence is golden’, refusing to engage with campaigners or support a fight against closures in his own constituency. Again by a Labour controlled authority.

Labour’s last attempt at writing a policy resulted in the risible Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership, which again was so akin to the Tories you could be forgiven for thinking they had been written by the same team. And herein lies the problem: the current government has no difficulty with libraries being cut, closed, hollowed-out, or out-sourced. We can disagree with and oppose this approach all we want but at least it’s a clear stance.

Labour on the other hand lack any sort of vision, policy or inclination around libraries and seem supremely unwilling to engage with campaigners to develop one. Unfortunately, for a party committed to public services under Corbynism this presents a conundrum as Labour controlled councils – stand up Sheffield – are just as likely to close and cut local libraries as Tory authorities.

Where there should be a stronger commitment to public services, we get the right of the Labour Party espousing the same free market terminology and localism mantra as the current government. On the other hand the left of the party seem willing to sacrifice valuable local services in order to indulge in petty point scoring against Tory austerity. Added to this mix are senior leaders who refuse to be drawn on the whole issue of the library crisis.

Many have an high expectation of Labour rolling back the devastating damages done to public services and libraries. Given the sheer lack of interest by the previous and current shadow minister in the issue, campaigners are unlikely to see a viable alternative to Tory policy developed anytime soon. In fact given how quickly culture shadow ministers come and go it’s unlikely any will have time to develop a proper response.

But then again perhaps the perception that Labour will restore public services to previous levels is in itself a form of unintentional mythomania!

A reply from Labour…sort of!

If you haven’t yet seen it Cilip has received a reply from the Conservatives as part of the Election Watch Campaign. As expected it is the usual political fluff, managing to fill space without actually saying anything of substance. A sort of fifty shades of vanilla, which describes most of mainstream politics at the moment!

Part of the problem is that the campaign letter itself is fairly bland and non-specific, inviting a insipid response in return, which is precisely what’s happened. As a reply it is too inane to even bother critiquing and merely proves the point that politicians don’t communicate to elucidate, merely to make themselves or the party look good.

Anyway, I prefer to let the coalition’s atrocious record on libraries and public services for the past five years stand for itself.

So far there doesn’t appear to have been any replies from the other political parties but obviously, the most anticipated will be from Labour (did anything ever come of the consultation carried out by Helen Goodman?) and I hope Cilip has better luck than myself in receiving a reply. Despite three emails to Chris Bryant and a Twitter exchange he still hasn’t bothered responding.

That said, he might just be killing time until Labour is elected and hoping for a more exciting portfolio and thus libraries are so far down on his list of interests that it’s not worth formulating an informed response.

Leaving silent Bryant aside, I did have slightly more luck when contacting Labour via the House of Lords and received a response from Lord Collins, whose reply is below including his speech re: Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England.

While I appreciate that Lord Collins at least answered, and that Labour appears to at least acknowledge the difficult situation libraries face, unlike Ed ‘crisis, what crisis?’ Vaizey, this has not translated into any clear statement or commitment from Labour regarding library provision. And like the Conservatives the reply manages to say a lot without actually answering the questions asked.

So far, it appears that Labour’s policy on libraries is to not actually say what their policy is, but then again, perhaps they just don’t have one!

_______________________________________________

Dear Leon,
Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, however I wanted to provide you with details (below) of the press release Chris Bryant put out put out last week setting out current policy on Libraries. I have also set out below a local story about the visit Chris did on the subject.
I am also attaching for your information a recent speech I made in Grand Committee of the House of Lords on Libraries.
Hope this assists.
Best wishes,
Ray
Lord Collins of Highbury
40 million fewer visitors to libraries under Cameron
New House of Commons Library research shows library closures have accelerated rapidly since David Cameron’s Tory led Government came to office.
  • There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop.
  • The number of visits has declined rapidly since 2010. In 2009/10 there were 322 million visits, but by 2013/14 visits had fallen to 282 million – a 12 per cent drop.
  • The percentage of people visiting libraries in the most deprived areas, which rely on public libraries the most, has fallen since 2010 from 46.2 per cent of people to 36.8 per cent. That is a 21 per cent drop.
  • Since last April a further 216 static libraries and eight mobile libraries have been put under threat of closure or passing to volunteers.
The research was commissioned as the Government is failing to keep records on how many libraries have been closed or handed over to voluntary organisations. And despite their statutory duty under the 1964 Act to “superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service”, Tory ministers have not provided any national leadership.
The next Labour government will ensure a Culture Minister will chair the “task and finish group”, set up following the Sieghart review into libraries in order to provide leadership to the sector. It will also work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.
Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Arts Minister said:
 
“Under David Cameron, successive Tory Secretaries of State – Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller and Sajid Javid – have utterly failed library-users.
“Libraries are a vital part of the social and cultural life of this country.  They extend opportunities for people, whatever their background, to read, learn and explore and they help bridge the widening inequality gap in the country.
“That is why a Labour government will provide genuine national leadership, encourage greater collaboration in local government, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.”
ENDS
Notes to editors:
1.      These graphs were produced by the House of Commons Library, based on figures from CIPFA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part Survey.
2.      Library closures have accelerated rapidly since 2010 – there are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week.  That is an 8 per cent fall.
3.      The number of visits has declined rapidly since 2010. In 2009/10 there were 322 million visits, but by 2013/14 visits had fallen to 282 million.  That is a 12% drop.
4.      This has happened in every region in the country.
5.      Especially worrying is the decline in visits by young people – we are losing the next generation of readers and learners.
6.      The percentage of people visiting libraries in the most deprived areas, which rely on public libraries the most, has fallen since 2010 from 46.2% of people to 36.8%. That is a 21% drop.
7.      Since last April: 216 static libraries have been put under threat of closure/passing to volunteers. Eight mobile libraries under threat. One new library opened. 3 refurbishments over £50,000, 11 libraries (three static and eight mobile) libraries closed, nine libraries passed to volunteers, one entirely new volunteer-run library. This is according to Public Libraries News.
Christopher Bryant says the Government needs to do more to maintain libraries By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: February 05, 2015
MP Christopher Bryant visited Lincoln to discuss the current state of libraries across the county
Labour MP Christopher Bryant has called on the Government to take more “responsibility” in maintaining libraries across the county.
The shadow minister for the arts’ visit to Lincoln Central Library came after Lincolnshire County Council announced plans to hand over 30 libraries to volunteers, following a consultation that cost more than £720,000.
The idea was first mooted in 2012, with more than 20,000 signatures opposing the plans. The subsequent ruling by the High Court criticised the way in which the council reached the decision, however a second consultation has reached the same verdict.
Mr Bryant believes the importance of the library cannot be overestimated.
He said: “I think libraries for so many people are their best way of getting on in life. It is part of our social fabric. The most distressing thing is the visits in the most deprived areas have declined.
“The big solution is government cannot wash its hands. It has got to take some responsibility, it has to assess what is happening in the country. It is a bit depressing that 60 per cent of libraries in the country do not have Wi-Fi.
“I know Karl (McCartney) and I have never heard him say a word about the library in his constituents. Maybe he never uses the library?
“I think if Lucy (Rigby) is in parliament she will make an enormous difference. She is one of the best candidates we have got. The leadership of the Labour Party would listen to Lucy,” he added.
_____________________________
Speech

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England) Order 2014

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab):

My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s remarks about the current crisis libraries are facing. They are not a luxury but a practical tool and provide vital public space for individuals and families across the country. They are a resource for parents and young children, schoolchildren who do not have a place to work at home, jobseekers who are trying to gain new skills and employment, elderly people living in isolation and community groups. Increasingly, they are incubators for new ideas and places where businesses come to fruition.

Personally, I regret that over the past four and a half years the Government have been slow to respond to the growing crisis in the sector. At a time when many library services were under threat there was no sense of urgency, coherent strategy, direction or guidance for local authorities, and no idea about what might be the minimum acceptable outcome. Libraries are provided at local level, and councils, rightly, have the first claim on leadership, but the Government have a clear duty to minimise the damage done to the library service and to provide an overarching strategic vision.

I feel a little as though I am in a “Monty Python” sketch. We are considering the case for a body in this debate on its proposed abolition, but the Ministers have told us that essentially the ACL is a defunct body, with no staff, premises, assets or liabilities. In other words, it is a dead parrot.

I, too, welcome the Independent Library Report for England, published just before Christmas. However, as Ed Vaizey, the Minister, tells us, it,

“did not include consideration of the statutory requirement of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964”,

and,

“makes no reference to the ACL”.

I admit that I find it difficult to follow the argument that since the ILR did not consider the statutory requirement of the statutory Act or the ACL, its abolition is not dependent on the report’s publication, yet one of its primary recommendations now apparently negates the need for the ACL. As the Delegated Powers Committee suggested, the considerations of the ILR clearly intersect with the practical implementation of the duties placed upon the Secretary of State and local authorities by the 1964 Act, and it is therefore reasonable to see the outcome of the ILR as relevant to the decision on the ACL. I am sorry for all these abbreviations—they will get worse when we get to the recommendations.

Clearly, my party believes that there is a good case for a body to support development, innovation and best practice, including measures to find efficiency savings and increase impact, helping to lessen the pressure for cuts to services. That is why we welcome the conclusion of the review to establish the libraries’ task and finish group. I rather like that name. Gone are the days of a good old task force; it is now “task and finish”. Maybe that is where some of my concerns are.

Cross-party and organisational working must be at the heart of its activities. The Department for Education, the Department of Health, DCMS, BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all have a role to play, as have organisations such as the British Library, Booktrust, the Reader Organisation, the National Literacy Trust, Arts Council England—as we heard from the Minister—the CILIP and the Reading Agency.

Mr Vaizey’s case for the task and finish group is that its functions are far wider than the sole advisory function of the ACL—as we heard from the Minister in her introduction—and, as he says, more importantly, it will also be focused on delivery. Unlike the ACL, the membership of the task and finish group will be flexible and dynamic, so that it can adapt to suit the specific tasks involved. The TFG will report jointly to Ministers and the Local Government Association and will be independent of government.

When, in October 2011, the Arts Council took over responsibility for supporting and developing libraries from the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, it did not take on the MLA’s supervisory role for libraries—again, a point raised by my noble friend. At a time when libraries are withering on the vine in many communities, oversight is even more critical than at any time before. The point the noble Earl made was absolutely right. I agree with the view that the recommended role and structure of the task and finish group are not suitable for the ACL, whose primary aim and minimum membership is prescribed by statute. However, I do not necessarily accept that the establishment of the TFG and its range of functions negate the need for statutory independent advice in the Secretary of State’s meeting his obligations under the 1964 Act. I fear that in performing its job, working with a range of authorities, it will miss that fundamental requirement that we must have a library service. And what is that library service? It is certainly not a second-hand bookshop in a local high street. It is more than that, and we need to be very careful about the standards that we set.

Mr Vaizey’s view is that, as we have heard from the Minister today, advice and guidance from stakeholders and officials at the DCMS are sufficient to meet the function of providing advice to the Secretary of State, including on the use of his statutory powers. I am not sure that the fact that nobody has taken action is necessarily evidence that there is no need for action. Clearly, with the number of library closures increasing and access to libraries diminishing, that is not the case at the moment.

Although DCMS has stated that no budget is allocated to the ACL—I think that its abolition will save approximately £2,500 a year; this is obviously not a budget consideration—I ask the Minister whether, during the period of the ACL’s inaction, any external advice to the Secretary of State has been brought into the department and, if so, what the cost of that advice was

Say no to libraries without librarians

I saw the title of this post on Twitter recently and fully support the sentiment. Now we just need to influence the policy makers and politicians to this end. Cilip has produced an Election Watch area on its website with a good range of advocacy materials and information in the lead up to the general election. The information has also been made available via the Update magazine and includes details on public and school libraries, digital inclusion, and tips on engaging with political candidates.

It’s worth reproducing what the campaign is about:

As the political parties campaign for our vote in the 2015 General Election, we have a unique opportunity as a professional community and as individuals to raise our profile and demonstrate our value as a sector.

This campaign is about engaging in dialogue with political candidates and key party spokespersons to encourage greater understanding of the relevance and opportunity our sector presents in terms of a future government’s goals and strategy; and to show them that libraries and information matter to many voters.

Equally, it’s about supporting CILIP members to carry out their own campaigning on their own, or shared, issues.

The last point is one worth reinforcing. During the past five years under the austerity drive libraries have closed, been handed over to volunteers, and services hollowed out. Many paid staff have been made redundant and the profession undermined by the ideology of localism and the big society.

The biggest and most far reaching change is the belief that untrained volunteers can replace qualified staff. This idea should be anathema to our professional body and individual members so now is the time for librarians to challenge politicians and their attitude towards public libraries and staff.

If all Cilip members were to write/email/tweet their local MP and candidates, as well as the separate political parties, to promote, challenge, and question this would be a powerful campaigning voice for the profession. In addition we can ask our family, friends, and library colleagues who might not be members of Cilip, to do the same.

On a personal level I see no point in engaging with the current culture minister or coalition hierarchy. The past five years have seen their contempt for the profession made clear. I do however think there is value in engaging with the other parties and in particular Labour. To that end I have emailed Chris Bryant (Shadow Culture Minister) and Baroness Jones (Labour’s House of Lords spokeswoman on Culture) seeking Labour’s views.  As yet, I haven’t received a response to my questions but will publish them when I do. Cilip has also indicated that it has written to the main parties and will publish the replies received.

Engagement and advocacy is never an easy task but we should all do our utmost to influence politicians, especially in the lead up to the general election. Cilip has provided the framework and it is now up to members to advocate for the profession.

After all, if you believe that your library qualification matters, that your chartership means something, then why stand idly by as the very basis of your professional identity is undermined and demeaned? This is the first time in five years, the first time since austerity began, that, as individuals, we have the chance to influence the political narrative about libraries and our professional standing .

Let’s not waste the opportunity.

___________________________________________________________

Addedum: see also Alan Wylie’s post Library Workers unite (and tweet)! in which he points out that cuts effect all grades of library staff and not just those professionally qualified. I absolutely agree and encourage all staff, regardless of role, to speak out in defence of libraries, both locally and nationally.