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.

Stronger Together

cilipI make no apologies for this post being unashamedly a recruiting drive for Cilip after seeing on Twitter that membership is still falling by 3%. However, as with everything, the context needs to be understood to see this fall as a positive and not necessarily a negative.

For years I was a harsh critic of Cilip, not because it had lost its way, but because it didn’t have a way forward at all. It was floundering under the pressure of austerity and the resulting widespread hollowing out of public libraries with the loss of jobs and thus membership. Worse of all, this was happening without Cilip speaking up for the profession or advocating the advantages of retaining a professional workforce.

It also faced the challenge of arresting the decline in membership. My own opinion was that members where leaving because they could no longer see the relevance of belonging to a professional body, and paying expensive subscriptions, that was too far removed from their everyday experience of year-on-year budget and job cuts.

But all this has thankfully changed. Cilip now has, and continues to develop, a strong voice in defence of its membership and championing library services in different sectors; public, schools, health. It challenges Government policy and intervenes, as much as it can, in local decisions to reduce services. Cilip is becoming the professional body its members need it to be.

I contacted Nick Poole for further information about the fall in membership and he sent this reply:

“The current rate of attrition is just over 3%. That’s actually around half what it was 3 years ago, but it’s still a declining number. We follow up with people who don’t renew, and the underlying reasons are informative. A significant proportion are due to retirement, which is why we’re working to improve the offer the retired members. Similarly, we see a significant drop-off in the transition from free student membership to full membership. We have seen a decline in the number of people leaving because of dissatisfaction with CILIP.

 Of course, over the past 10 years, the most significant decline in sector terms is membership among public library staff. This is one reason why we launched the new Careers Hub on the CILIP VLE – to provide support for public librarians who find themselves having to make a transition to other parts of the library sector. We know that public libraries are changing, but we see it as essential that public library staff are encouraged to engage with their professional body, develop their skills and maintain the connection to the wider library and information profession. This is why we are pleased to be working with SCL on the new Public Library Skills Strategy, which will help address some of these issues.

 We know from the workforce mapping project that there are around 69,000 people in the library & information workforce in the UK. With around 12,500 members, we currently represent around 18% of that workforce. The average for professional association membership in other sectors is around 20-22%, so there is scope to grow our membership base. It is important for us to do this because the more of the sector we can represent, the more credible we are when advocating for librarians and information professionals.

 When we went out to the wider profession, we found that a lot of people want to be part of CILIP as their professional body but don’t currently regard membership as affordable. The new membership model on which members are currently voting is designed to help us retain and support our existing members, and reach more of those people. We also found that there are a lot of people who want to be part of the profession but aren’t yet ready to commit to Professional Registration. Welcoming these people to the CILIP community and encouraging them to take up Chartership has been a major factor in the design of the new model.

Ultimately, the sector needs a strong independent voice – I’d argue now more than ever. We understand that people expect value for money from their membership, and we are working hard to deliver that. This is a model for growth and we are really hoping that members will support it and empower us to reach out to those people who could and should be members, but currently aren’t.“

All I ever wanted from my professional body, what I had the right to expect, is that it speaks up in defence of its members and profession. Cilip is absolutely doing this, which is why I have changed from critic to proponent for the body.

I absolutely understand why library workers have drifted away from Cilip in the past but I genuinely believe it has changed and would encourage all library and information workers, especially public library staff, to stay connected to the profession.

Here’s some very simple reasons I think you should stay with, join, or rejoin Cilip:

  1. Advocacy: a strong voice for the profession
  2. Lower subscriptions and better value for money
  3. Advice & support including access to employment law advice
  4. Professional development and networking

Ultimately, we are stronger together, and I look forward to Cilip expanding towards the 69,000 target.

Please do forward your question and indeed criticisms via the comments area and I shall ensure they are passed on to Cilip to answer.

Further information:

Changing Times, Changing Roles

My latest post can be found on the Libraries Taskforce blog: Changing Times, Changing Roles

45ea7abe81a766e78aed8ed432fd280eIn the post I reflect on the skills needed to successfully manage a public library service in the current environment. Whether we agree with it or not, we face a new reality for libraries and operating in such a landscape requires a high degree of adaptation and flexibility from all library staff.

Equally, the importance of strong strategic leadership is paramount to provide vision and aspiration. Library leaders will need the mental flexibility and managerial adaptability to bring distributed elements into a coherent whole to ensure the continuing success of libraries into the future.

 

Cilip VP Election – Rita Marcella

This post is written by Rita Marcella, one of the two candidates for Cilip Vice-President. I asked each candidate the same five questions with the opportunity for an opening and closing statement. The questions reflect my own interests as a public librarian but are hopefully also relevant for the wider profession as well as campaigners. 

The successful candidate will be elected Vice-President and “…will become CILIP President in 2018. The Vice-President and President are honorary roles and their duties include being an ambassador and spokesperson for CILIP.” 

Many thanks to Rita for sharing her views.  

Details on how to vote can be found at: Elections for the CILIP Board and for Vice-President 

rita-marcellaAbout me

I have been a librarian since my early twenties when I first went to work in a university library after graduating with my Diploma in Information and Library Studies. After having my first child I became an academic teaching cataloguing and classification, user studies and bibliographic and reference work. My research and teaching interests have varied far and wide over the years and I honestly believe that there is not an aspect of library and information service that I have not reflected upon over that time.

However, despite varied interests and work with public library services, advisory services and special libraries in government and business, my chief personal research interest has always remained that of supporting the library and information user to access the information they need to help them in every aspect of their everyday lives. I like to look at the issue from both sides: from that of the information service provider and of the information service user, understanding the motivations, context and challenges of both.

Over the last 15 years as Dean of a business faculty my focus has been on interaction with industry and management of resources, both of which have given me keen insights into the challenges facing organisations in both the public and private sectors. I have also been involved in numerous charities and non-exec boards, in particular in work to enhance equity and diversity.

1. What is the core message of your manifesto?

I feel passionate about the value of library and information service and about our profession – I believe that the enabled access that we in the profession provide is critical to people’s lives in a huge number of ways and I would appreciate the opportunity in the role of Vice President to support the profession in maximising the impact of that message.

We need to provide more tangible evidence of the ways in which access to information and knowledge empowers individuals, organisations and societies. It is my view that there has been a steady erosion of the funding of, investment in and commitment to libraries and information service support in all kinds of spheres in the three decades of my career and that this erosion has been mirrored in academia, where our discipline has found itself swamped by an organisational incorporation into ‘bigger’ disciplines to the detriment of the subject. I’d like to bring the whole profession – practitioners, academics and those entering the profession together to assemble the evidence of the impact of libraries and information in an even stronger way. Through CILIP we have the base of professional partnership on which to make that work.

2. If elected what is the one area you would like to see CILIP tackle?

I should like CILIP to tackle the notion of empowerment through information both by celebrating the successes and illustrating the impact of information access but also by exploring further the ways in which people, organisations and societies can be disadvantaged through not having access to relevant, reliable and robust information. This is very much in line with my own chief focus in so much of my work but I believe that it is an agenda that it is at the heart of what CILIP is seeking to achieve.

3. What would you like to see the Taskforce’s Ambitions document contain?

I’d like a clear action plan on assembly of evidence and its powerful communication. I think that all of us who are involved in LIS understand and believe passionately in the vital role that libraries and information services play at every stage and in every context. What we have perhaps been less good at doing is having a targeted strategy for how to tackle the attitude that allow us to be packaged up as something that is ‘nice to have’ in good times but under threat at others. Strengthening and reinforcing powerful advocacy and building on work CILIP has already done is crucial.

My own particular contribution to the debate whether or not I am successful in this election will be to develop our understanding of how access to libraries and information more generally enables people and in particular disadvantaged groups to overcome barriers to success and exclusion from society.

4. In your opinion are public and school libraries facing a crisis or opportunity? 

As ever there are no threats without opportunities – that is an accepted truism in business practice. The threat is real and has resulted in the erosion I describe above – and not just in public and school libraries, but in every kind of library and information service imaginable. But the opportunities are there too: indeed arguably too many opportunities. For another truism in management is that if you have 83 priorities, you’ll fail: if you have one or two you have a far greater chance of success. And one of the ways in which the profession and academia needs to work together is on identifying and focusing on the most high value opportunities, the biggest wins – is that the extent to which libraries and information services support the health of our economy? That’s a big ticket item for sure.

5. What is your opinion of the My Library By Right Campaign & did you sign the petition?

I agree that all of society should have free and equal rights to information through libraries and other forms of provision and I support the My Library by Right, as I did the American Library Association’s Declaration for the Right to Libraries. I was very happy to sign the petition and wish the campaign every success. It is it seems to me a fact that LIS professional communities across the globe share the same set of common values about libraries and information and we need to work together through IFLA and other fora to drive forward such campaigns.

My final thoughts

Standing in the election for Vice President of CILIP has given me a very welcome opportunity to reflect back over a career spent working in Library and Information Science, a career of researching information use and need amongst citizens, business, decision makers in government and so on – but also a career of recruiting young people into the profession and preparing them for a career in library and information service. Those 35 years have seen many changes but ultimately at their core the library and information professional is dedicated to excellent service to people, to organisations and to society. We have a huge amount to celebrate in that but some messages to convey to policy makers about how and why that is important.

I want to conclude by saying that while I would be honoured if given the opportunity to take on the role of Vice President of CILIP, I will not be downcast if I am not successful for having read the post of my fellow candidate in the hustings, Ayub Khan, that I completely support everything that he says.

Cilip VP Election – Ayub Khan

This post is written by Ayub Khan, one of the two candidates for Cilip Vice-President. I asked each candidate the same five questions with the opportunity for an opening and closing statement. The questions reflect my own interests as a public librarian but are hopefully also relevant for the wider profession as well as campaigners. 

The successful candidate will be elected Vice-President and “…will become CILIP President in 2018. The Vice-President and President are honorary roles and their duties include being an ambassador and spokesperson for CILIP.” 

Many thanks to Ayub for sharing his views. 

Details on how to vote can be found at: Elections for the CILIP Board and for Vice-President 

ayub-khanAbout me

I started my library career as a Saturday assistant more than 25 years ago. I have hands-on experience of all aspects of library services – at nearly every level. For the past few years I have been working hard in Warwickshire, steering county services through much change and many economies.

I have been a member of CILIP for more than two decades so I have a good understanding of the organisation, its membership, values and ambitions. I have been heavily involved in the national and international library scene, through various professional bodies, helping to develop new strategies and programmes whilst steadfastly adhering to traditional library values.

I would describe myself as a moderniser and problem-solver – and someone who is prepared to hard-sell library services at every opportunity. I am equally comfortable presenting to Government Ministers, or chatting to customers. In 2013, I was awarded an MBE for my services to libraries.

1. What is the core message of your manifesto?

Despite the challenges of recent austerity years I remain enthusiastic, committed and optimistic about the future for libraries. I believe CILIP has a pivotal role to play in providing a positive narrative for libraries – and pressing for positive action – as the leading voice of a vibrant and forward-thinking profession.

2. If elected what is the one area you would like to see Cilip tackle?

If elected as Vice-President I would focus on libraries’ future potential, as well as their proud traditions. My priorities would be workforce development, advocating the key role of knowledge workers, partnerships and technology.

 3. What would you like to see the Taskforce’s Ambitions document contain?

I would like to see the Taskforce come up with some practical, funded actions for change. There have been several reports, in recent years, looking at the future for libraries – but relatively little has changed as a result. We need to move forward now, with a clear purpose, ministerial mandate, and a properly-funded action plan.

4. In your opinion are public and school libraries facing a crisis or opportunity? 

Libraries have certainly had a tough time over the last few years and, for many of us, there are more cuts to come. We need to capitalise on the wider range of services libraries now offer – and their unique role. There are real opportunities for libraries around information literacy, data security  and information governance.

There has been plenty of commentary on the wider benefits of libraries – for health, literacy levels, education and job prospects, social inclusion and cohesion, the cultural wellbeing of the nation….. One anecdote sticks in my mind. Author Neil Gaiman, during his 2013 Reading Agency lecture, said he once heard a talk in New York about private prison provision in America. Apparently they forecast the number of cells that would be needed in 15 years time based on the percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds unable to read.

More recently, the October 2016 Libraries Taskforce meeting focused on ‘healthier and happier lives’ – one of its seven key outcomes. Members stressed ‘the importance of libraries marshalling evidence to advocate their strengths’ so they could promote library services – to health commissioners – as a prime delivery channel, particularly in terms of the self-management agenda.

What shocked me was the fact that, in one of the richest countries in the world, more people die from loneliness than smoking. Surely we need no other incentive?

Digital developments present all kinds of exciting opportunities for libraries. Advancing technology will enable library services to work together more effectively – and to offer more and better services to both physical and online customers.

Blowing our own trumpet: the opportunities are out there. I would encourage the profession to sing its own praises a lot more, and to shout about the power and importance of libraries. I know we tend to be modest types by nature but we are underselling the wider impacts we have on society. Libraries need to be seen as the solution, not a problem. Evidence-based advocacy – and the confidence to deliver it – is crucial.

5. What is your opinion of the My Library By Right Campaign & did you sign the petition?

I signed the My Library By Right petition as an individual citizen and support the campaign in principle. We need to take our voice to a national level – because it was national policy that created the austerity agenda. And we should capitalise on the massive public support for libraries of all kinds. We need others to be our advocates – as this would be more powerful.

Finally

It may sound corny but the library profession has given me so much that I want to give something back. I have a hands-on background but plenty of high-level strategic experience gained from the ‘day job’ and various voluntary/honorary roles I have undertaken, over the years. I believe my experience would bring a broader perspective to the Vice-Presidency, and I would welcome opportunities to influence policy, ensuring grass roots concerns and aspirations were fully considered.

 

It’s Complicated!

I doubt that many people, when the coalition government came to power, could predict the precarious state that public libraries would find themselves in five years later, particularly in England. Obviously over that time local authorities have responded in unique – at least as far as libraries were concerned – and not always popular ways including establishing volunteer led libraries, reducing library networks through closures, and hollowing services out by cutting hours, budgets and staff.  A few have gone down the route of commissioning out, mainly in the form of not for profit trusts.

However, the situation has become so fluid that solutions which appeared robust even a couple of years ago are looking unstable in the current climate. This is not necessarily the fault of the managers involved. I admit that my own views have changed, driven by the fact that it is one thing to develop practical alternatives to mitigate a 10%-20% reduction in funding and another to design a service around 40%-50% cuts, with more to follow. Services are being contorted by the unremitting grind of austerity into misshapen delivery models that ill-match their purpose: from a shop front of ragbag, mismatched council services to financially brittle libraries dependent on the availability and philanthropy of the local community.

That said, it’s also undeniable that councils are under immense financial pressure as the setllement from central government is substantially reduced year on year. According to the LGA central government has cut the settlement to councils by 40% since 2010 with a further reduction by 2018. The current furore between David Cameron and the leader of Oxfordshire Council shows that even the most ardent tory councils have had enough.

No wonder some local authorities seek to transfer assets, co-locate services, and turn libraries into ‘community hubs’, whatever that phrase means.

However, such approaches do not lend themselves to genuine service development and the outcome is that library services become pale imitations of their former selves, far removed from the ideal of ‘comprehensive and efficient’, which is sacrificed on the altar of austerity economics.

Library staff, campaigners, and local communities are often faced with a difficult dilemma when threatened with library closures. The option of choice for most councils appears to be to off-load parts of the network individually to local community groups and volunteers. Another option is to hand over to a private company but thankfully there are few examples of this in the UK. The main one being Carillion, which appears to be an unmitigated disaster. That said, Self-service and Bibliotheca’s Open+ are being used as an excuse to replace staff altogether. This is not a criticism of such technology but it is being used increasingly not to enhance service development but merely to enable staffing cuts.

A pragmatic solution? Personally I prefer my libraries with the human touch.

Another option that fewer councils have adopted is the mutual/trust approach. Many campaigners rightly point out the pitfalls in taking such a path and the pros and cons are summed up on Public Library News.

The main concern about trusts seems to be that they are viewed as a backdoor to privatisation, lack accountability in the way they operate, not least regarding FoI, remove accountability out of the hands of elected representatives, and offer lower employment terms and conditions  for staff. I have great sympathy for some of these concerns particularly over withholding information under the guise of commercial confidentiality.

Data around trusts is also hard to come by so how successful they really are in comparison with a council run service is difficult to reliably quantify.

However, despite these qualms we should not just dismiss the trust approach. Now I have previously argued in favour of trusts, not because I believe they are the ideal solution, but because they offer a pragmatic option over fragmenting library networks by closure or handing over to volunteers. I’ve also never been entirely convinced that this undermines local accountability, mainly because it’s the elected representatives that have helped to create the current crisis. Ask campaigners in Sheffield, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Kirklees…in fact almost anywhere in the country how well local accountability is working!

Yes the ideal might be a fully funded and council run service but in the current political climate and a government ideologically opposed to properly funding public services this is a unrealistic expectation. Maybe circumstances will change in the future under a more sympathetic government but we have a long way to go before we get there. In the meantime we need to develop pragmatic interim solutions.

The latest authority to go down the trust route is Devon, with the adoption of a new identity as Libraries Unlimited South West, which Ian Anstice observed could imply ambitions beyond the Devon area. I’ve explored regional library trusts in previous posts comparing them to  NHS trusts and surmising that perhaps similar cross boundary cooperation could work well for libraries.

Often staff are supportive of the trust model as an alternative but prevented from pursuing this by council members who, for some unfathomable reason, prefer threatening to close libraries as a way of coercing communities into running them.

So if it genuinely comes down to a choice between the option to keep the network mostly intact and run mostly by paid staff and qualified librarians or face the fragmentation of services and handing over to volunteers I know which option I’d choose. In fact where a council is intent on off-loading a large proportion of its library network then campaigners should challenge the council to adopt a trust model.

However, as I say, it’s complicated, and for the foreseeable future likely to get more complicated still.