Category Archives: Librarians

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.

Dysfunctional and devalued

I’ve been quiet on the blogging front lately during which time there seems to have been a never ending stream of negative news about public library provision, either threatened closures or handing over to volunteers. Even in Wales, where in the main they have sought to protect library services, there is definitely a sea change driven by the continuing austerity measures and major reductions in funding. This was further reinforced by the details of the Autumn statement and the massive cuts to public spending that are being forecast. Given such projections it’s difficult not to be despondent about the future of public libraries at the moment.

This brings me to Sieghart, who appears to have finished his report and it is now with Ed Vaizey, no doubt glaring accusingly from a ministerial in-tray. If early indications are anything to go by it will make uncomfortable reading for the Minister as it seems to be the antithesis of his own approach and at odds with the expectations of localism and the big society. I suspect there will be a lot of pressure and horse trading to tone down those areas which make the current coalition’s approach to libraries look as bad as they genuinely are.

It also comes as no surprise that Sieghart has described the current system as dysfunctional. Many campaigners and those within the profession have been pointing out the same for a long time now. But it’s good that Sieghart appears to be so forthright and honest over the situation. It appears that the notion of standards, a national coordinating body, views about volunteers, and if earlier indications are anything to go by, libraries as trusts might also form part of the document. There’s a good piece about the awaited report by Guy Daines on the Cilip website.

Ian Anstice recently reported back from Spain, where there appears to be a general acceptance that libraries are more than just buildings and stock. There is apparently a third ingredient that makes libraries a ‘service’ rather than just a ‘function’. Yes, you’ve guessed it…the librarian! It is the professional element that allows us to manage and develop services, deliver on the universal offers, and contribute to the many local, regional, and national initiatives. This is in direct contrast to the view that any Tom, Dick or Harriet can run a library.

No wonder professional staff abroad are appalled at the changes and damage being done not just to individual services but to the profession as a whole in the UK.

Perhaps even more than closures the real damage is through the hollowing out effect while trumpeting that no libraries have been closed. This is one of the biggest divergences between the library profession and politicians. On one hand the profession points out quite rightly that libraries are more than just buildings and stock, that service quality and development also counts, and for that you need professionally qualified librarians. On the other is the politicians view that any unqualified, well meaning amateur…well, see above.

Equally, library services are increasingly being used as a shop front for council services, which is indicative of the narrow view of libraries as just buildings and thus an outlet for other services, rather than as a unique and valuable service within their own right. I am not against partnership working or authentic collaborations but restructuring and integration at this level are ‘cuts’ driven and have very little to do with improving operational efficiency or the strategic development of libraries.

Unfortunately, there appears to be another insidious thread worming its way into public libraries, which is the downgrading and disappearance of senior library roles. In my experience it seems that the role of Chief Librarian/Head of Service is being shunted down the management structure, ever further away from the senior echelons and decision makers. Obviously, this represents a loss of influence and while some HoS enjoy good working relationships with senior officers many have to wade through several layers of intervening management, each with their own agenda, to get the library message heard. It is one thing to say libraries must do more to influence key policy makers but the reality is one of services being corporately sidelined and merged with other areas, with the danger that libraries are devalued and no longer viewed as a distinctive service but just another council outlet.

Another worrying aspect is the deletion of HoS posts, with the resulting loss of substantial professional experience and knowledge, and the replacement (usually at a higher grade) by generic managers with little or no familiarity of the sector.

I am still idealistic enough (perhaps naively so!) to believe that it is the professional component that makes libraries a genuine service rather than merely a function. Whether this is a view shared by the Sieghart report we shall have to wait and see.

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.

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

The Leadership Void

I have to admit to admiring mavericks. Individuals that stand above the mainstream and are quite happy to challenge the system or status quo from without or within. Think Tony Benn. Such maverick behaviour is a time honoured and valuable political tradition. Principles before party and all that.

Then again, perhaps I just watched too many films such as Rebel without a Cause, Easy Rider or The Wild One when younger! The phrase ‘what are you rebelling against’, which elicits the reply ‘whadda you got?’ resonates down the decades.

Rebellion seems rife at the moment over the governance review with barbed comments flying thick and fast on LIS-PUB-LIBS. Even without Tom Roper’s resignation to add to the mix the issue was always likely to cause a furore. As far back as February I highlighted elements of the proposals, which to me, went against the democratic principles of a membership organisation. Equally, many other individual members also raised concerns in their feedback to Cilip. Certainly Tom’s resignation has not caused the resulting uproar but it has brought it into sharp focus.

Many campaigners and those outside the profession are both perplexed and as Desmond Clarke observed, appalled, by what they see as an unnecessary distraction to campaigning against library cuts and closures:

“All this energy being spent by the CILIP leadership on changing the structure of its Council at this time is appalling when the library service faces a major crisis and thousands of librarians are losing their jobs. Fiddling with the composition of council at this time is not going to help anyone, neither CILIP, its staff. CILIP members or the public that libraries exist to serve. No one would be affected if the changes were put off for a year or two while everyone focused on ensuring that a library service is available to the millions of people who need it.”

Now I have to say that I see things slightly differently. Despite the unfortunate tendency towards mud-slinging the debate has thrown-up, the governance of our professional body is an important issue. If a revised structure improves the running of the organisation than well and good. It’s been a long time in the planning and deserves proper consideration and debate by the membership.

Such discussion should obviously not distract us from the major changes going on in the library sector. However, debating these changes does not equate to there being any less willingness or time spent on advocating for public libraries either by individual members or Cilip itself. They are not mutually exclusive activities.

Maybe the real point then is not whether such activities distract Cilip from campaigning but whether Cilip is capable of the robust advocacy needed in the rough and tumble of the political arena in the first place. And that’s a whole different question and debate.

Perhaps this highlights the issue of the ‘leadership void’ that so many campaigners have complained about. Not individual leaders of which there are many fine examples in libraries but rather a body that proactively seeks to defend public libraries and staff.

Cilip

One of the difficulties that Cilip faces is that it lacks both the size and political influence that say a combined professional body and union such as the National Union of Teachers has. Neither does it have a strong history of political advocacy, which immediately put it at a disadvantage during the upheaval of the past few years.

A difficult point for many outside, and even inside, the profession to accept is that Cilip has never been a campaigning body. Why this is so is not always clear. It has been argued that the charitable and chartered status of the body sets certain restrictions on campaigning activity. Equally, as a body it has limited resources so has tended to rely on co-operation and conciliation rather than taking a more adversarial approach. Perhaps it has never needed to campaign strongly and the advantages that we have taken for granted until recently, such as professionally staffed libraries, have been given to us rather than fought for and earned.

The profession is, in the main, conservative with a small ‘c’ and overall members have shown a lack of appetite for direct campaigning. Partly, I suspect, this is related to job insecurity and not wishing to put heads above the parapet. Cilip has also become quite a broad based organisation appealing to other sectors such as information and knowledge management, as well as school, academic, and special libraries, which means it’s not just public libraries that have to be catered for.

Nevertheless, we should also recognise that as a professional body Cilip does many things well, such as training, networking, highlighting good practice, raising professional standards, organising conferences, cooperating with other library associations, and contributing to important professional topics e.g. copyright law and ebooks. As such it should be given credit.

However Cilip is not, and is unlikely ever to be, a strong campaigning organisation and those that expect it to be expect too much.

Society of Chief Librarians

Equally, looking to the SCL for political leadership is also unrealistic. The SCL is not an independent organisation but is accountable to the Local Government Association and as such will conform to restrictions imposed by the expectations and policies of the LGA. The recent announcement to support ‘community libraries’ being a case in point.

The SCL enjoys close links to governmental agencies that influence the direction of travel for libraries such as the DCMS and ACE. Over the years this has usually worked to the profession’s advantage. Equally, Ed Vaizey is still happy to talk to the SCL directly (unlike Cilip), which could be viewed as keeping open important channels of communication to the Minister responsible for libraries. Conversely, it also indicates how much SCL is part of the mainstream political machinery and regarded as a safe organisation for promoting the government’s view of libraries.

Now to be fair to the SCL they have always been open about their limitations. When meeting with campaigners in 2012 they made it very clear that:

• They were not and could not be a campaigning body
• As a body they were accountable to the LGA
• They could not criticise local authorities or oppose government or council policy
• They were not a voice for librarians but for local government and that it was CILIP that was the voice for librarians

That is not to say that the SCL does not carry out excellent work. It does. Over the years the body has promoted good practice, encouraged senior librarians to support each other and work together on a regional and national basis, and has been responsible for the Universal offers, to which the addition of a ‘learning’ strand is to be welcomed. The Universal offers are in my opinion one of the best schemes that libraries have undertaken. And for this the SCL should be given full credit.

So it’s unrealistic to expect the SCL to be anything other than it is. Those who expect the SCL to provide independent leadership for the library profession will be sorely disappointed. That is not its raison d’etre.

Rebels with a cause

In the main I am not a reformist. I do not believe that Cilip can be changed sufficiently to provide the strong focus, frank rhetoric, and forceful advocacy that public libraries need. So far this has been left to organisations such as the Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. But such groups, while providing an essential outlet, are not professional bodies or a voice solely for librarians.

The library sector is changing, driven by technology, societal pressures, and political ideology. As a profession we have responded positively to technological and societal changes but it is the ideology that is proving our downfall. In response we need to find another way to challenge the politics, to provide a united front, to fill the leadership void. One that is focussed solely on campaigning for public libraries and in which librarians are the central voice.

Not so long ago I wrote a post speculating about the need for another kind of professional body. At the time Tom Roper who was then a council member, disagreed with me (just as I disagreed with his viewpoint). There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding divergent views – which leads to debate and then hopefully consensus – but equally there comes a point when attacking organisations such as Cilip and the SCL becomes a waste of time and energy particularly if transformation is not possible or, more importantly, if they are not the most effective agents for the change that is needed.

Perhaps it’s time to stop rebelling for the sake of it, for asking ‘whadda you got?’ Public libraries are a cause worth fighting for, what we need is an organisation that can take that fight forward.

It’s good to…listen

Martyn Wade has released a statement (reproduced below) to the effect that there will now be two separate proposals at the AGM in relation to the Governance model.

This is a commendable decision and shows that Council have listened to the concerns expressed by members. I am heartened that the issue has been debated so robustly and will continue to be so at the AGM. Such debate is necessary for the democratic wellbeing of the organisation and shows that people care strongly about the future direction of Cilip.

Equally, thanks should go to Martyn and the rest of Council for taking note and for being willing to amend proposals in light of the concerns raised. This sends a positive message that Cilip is a mature and democratic body that listens to its membership.

Governance Proposals

On behalf of CILIP Council I thought it would be helpful to summarise the decisions that CILIP members will be asked to make at the AGM on 20 September 2014 (with apologies to non-members).

I think that we can agree that we all want the best governance for CILIP for the future. However, it is clear that members hold differing views on what that means in practice, based on their personal experience and perspective.

In January CILIP Council consulted on a new model of governance. The consultation showed broad support for the model, as well as a new method of appointing Council and the President.

CILIP Council would have been rightly criticised if it had ignored the outcome of this consultation. However, feedback since has shown that some members have concerns over the proposed voting and appointment process and Council wanted to reflect this in the AGM motions.

Whilst this does make the process more complex, the clearest option is to separate the decision on the committee structure from that on the voting and appointment process for Council and the President.

At the AGM members will first be asked to consider whether to adopt a simplified committee structure that will provide a clearer, stronger way for members to determine CILIP policy and priorities. There have been few if any concerns raised over this proposal.

If this new committee structure is approved, there will be a second decision concerning the voting and appointment procedures for Council and President. This is the area where there has been much more debate. The choice will be whether to approve a new voting and appointment process, or retain the existing arrangement with a directly elected President and a smaller number of co-opted members. This allows those who supported the proposals during the consultation to have their say, and those who have expressed concerns to have theirs.

Further details can be found in Update and on the AGM pages of CILIP.

Information about the process that the governance project board used to develop the proposals can be found at http://leonslibraryblog.com where a response to a request for this information was posted last month.

From this point it is for members to vote and decide on the future governance of CILIP, and I and all of Council will be happy to work with the outcome of that vote.

Martyn Wade

Chair, CILIP Council

Time to share?

Catch 22

In the drive towards savings in libraries the greatest losers have been paid staff and in many circumstances the axe has fallen heaviest on professionally qualified staff as, from a local authority’s point of view, these are the most expensive asset of the library service.

Equally, library assistants (or equivalent) have also suffered in the drive towards volunteers taking over smaller, local libraries, either outright or by replacing staff. Now this is not a criticism of volunteers per se, many communities are put in an unenviable position and step forward in order to prevent the withdrawal of a valuable and valued service.

It is unfortunately a catch-22 situation: by taking over the running of the library or by replacing paid staff volunteers enable authorities to claim the success of such ventures and thus risk the domino effect as more and more libraries are given over to the unpaid. Volunteer libraries beget volunteer libraries. But what would happen if communities refused to step forward and volunteer? Would the council still enact such widespread closures or would they fear the political backlash? It would be a very brave community that put this to the test and many are not prepared to play such brinkmanship for fear of losing the service.

So an unpalatable aspect of volunteer libraries is the exploitation of reluctant communities to take on resources they would prefer to be professionally run and staff being deprived of often cherished livelihoods within that same community. Not a situation that is acknowledged in the official spin surrounding so called ‘community libraries’.

Better than closure?

This leads me to a second observation regarding attitudes towards library closures. There have been a number of comments recently to the effect that a volunteer run library is better than a closed library. However, this is too simplistic a conclusion. For instance, closures can have a devastating impact in rural areas but the same cannot always be said for urban areas.

I realise this is a contentious point but large rural counties such as Lincolnshire and Devon with libraries in small rural communities with challenging transport links for example require a different strategy to that of a large urban area with relatively good transport. Strategic based closures can have a part to play in order to protect the integrity and quality of the overall service but this is dependent on many local factors. Therefore, a blanket generalisation that a volunteer library must automatically be better than closure is a logical fallacy.

Equally, the automatic acceptance of volunteer libraries over closures also discourages investigating and challenging councils to consider other alternatives, such as charitable trusts and shared services. A point raised by the judge in the recent judicial review for Lincolnshire libraries. A more contentious alternative is challenging senior officer and chief executive pay, increased allowances for councillors, or the reduction of services in the face of massive underspends and reserves.

Shared services

One alternative that appears to receive almost brick-wall indifference or outright opposition is that of councils sharing library services. Although some very limited moves have been made in this area such schemes are few and far between.
I have referred to shared library services in past posts and also highlighted that many within the profession would like to see a merging of library authorities. Recently the New Local Government Network (NLGN) stated that “Councils should find alternative ways to sustain local arts and culture… (and) should now look to share services such as libraries and theatres as funding cuts are handed down to local cultural sites.”

While not underestimating the difficulties involved there is definitely potential in the shared services approach for libraries (for further information see PLN – Efficiencies: Sharing services). For instance, integrating operational arrangements e.g. stock units and management systems, or merging libraries that are geographically close to each but in  in different authorities. Larger authorities could increasingly deliver services for a smaller services such as Essex and Slough, or staffing structures between neighbouring services could be shared.

Equally, regional library trusts could potentially deliver economies of scale, have access to different funding streams (including direct fund raising), and provide non-traditional services to fund the core offer. Locality have just produced a report outlining possible areas of income generation for public libraries, with some excellent examples and intriguing suggestions.

However, sharing library services seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Equally, it also looks like the idea of library mergers will be missing from Sieghart’s final report if recent comments are anything to go by, which seems to me both a great pity and missed opportunity.

Elected!

I’ve written before about the Cilip Governance Review (Fit for the future? & Chairman of the Board), which will be debated and voted on at this year’s AGM in September. Cilip Council met recently (8th July) to discuss the proposals and comments from the membership. The minutes and comments can been seen here.

It seems a number of reservations have been expressed regarding several areas of the review but overall there doesn’t seem to be that much opposition to the proposals from the wider membership, certainly not in the way that the name change last year generated opposition. Whether this amounts to approval of the suggested changes or just simple indifference is difficult to tell. Maybe librarians are more concerned about pay and conditions than the esoteric maneuverings of their professional body. Certainly there are a lot less of us nowadays in public libraries to be worried about Cilip’s shenanigans.

That said, I still believe that this is an important issue that will see Cilip being less democratic in principle than before, particularly in relation to co-opted members being given voting rights to elect the president.

The issue took on a new twist with the resignation of Tom Roper from Cilip Council who has also expressed concerns about the review and in the way Council conducts itself. Tom is considered a leading light in the library sector and has challenged Cilip over issues previously, particularly the vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey, but whether Tom’s exit will rock the boat enough to knock the review off course remains to be seen.

There are some very sensible suggestions in the review and in the main I support more of the proposals than I don’t. However, the recommendations form a single package so it seems a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater to vote against them. And perhaps that is what Cilip Council is hoping for to get the plan through without too much resistance. Then again, perhaps some members will feel strongly enough about the issue to submit amendments to the proposals.

What would be interesting to know is what other professional bodies Cilip looked at and considered to reflect good practice. If they could highlight how the model has been successfully achieved elsewhere without undermining the fundamental link between the membership and leadership it might go a long way to allaying mine, and I suspect other members, fears. Comments from Cilip Councillors welcome.

One way or another the issue will either fizzle out due to members having more pressing concerns, such as trying to hang onto their jobs, or it could be an interesting few months of infighting similar to what we saw last year.

Given the potential for conflict and the fact that the keynote speaker is William Sieghart who’s recent comments about the future of libraries didn’t exactly garnish overwhelming approval it could be an interesting AGM once again this year.

I very much look forward to it!

Time to speak out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response to Challenge Accepted

In a recent post, Challenge Accepted, I asked if there were any practical solutions, other than closures or handing libraries over to volunteers, that have not been considered. Many campaigners were kind enough to leave suggestions in the comments section but only one, Trevor Craig, put forward a number of alternatives (below).

Trevor writes his own blog Question Everything and I would like to thank him for offering another viewpoint and adding to the debate around volunteer managed libraries.

If anyone else would like to offer other suitable alternatives I would be happy to add as a post.

Alternatives to Volunteer Libraries

Trevor Craig

The rush to volunteer libraries, instigated by the feckless politicians and cheered on in some sections of the librarian profession still shocks and saddens me. From what I can gather over the years there has been a decline in the profession of librarian and while most people won’t know it the majority of branches outside the central ones, the libraries are ran by library managers and assistants. These library managers and assistants, the ones I’ve encountered anyway, do an amazing job. They keep the library running, organise all the other activities (rhyme time etc) and do the very vital outreach work into schools, playgroups and old peoples homes that get new young readers and help keep existing ones. Not to mention helping ensure that the very valuable space in the library can be used for other things when they library may not necessarily be open. They can and should be supported by value added volunteers. Contrary to what the authorities would have us believe, the library service is all about the buildings and the staff, a library needs both that can be accessible by all that desire to use it, not just those in the city centres. If a small library isn’t getting the book issues or the visiter numbers, then it shouldn’t become first in line for the cuts, it should be first in line for extra support and resource.

The library managers and assistants are not hugely paid, they don’t have charterships or funny letters after their names or go to all the endless courses and seminars to learn about the supposedly amazing exciting things happening in library world. The hacker spaces, 3D printers and all the other guff that the small branch and rural libraries haven’t got the space for and users like me couldn’t care less about.

I think a back to basics approach is what is required, and the SCL’s universal offers is a good framework for this but it cannot be delivered by volunteers and self service machines, both of which the users don’t like and arguably doesn’t actually save much money. When a library building is closed, if people have further to travel, inevitably you’re excluding people from the service as there are travel time and costs involved, or the user is simply to old and frail to make the journey.

So if we accept the premise that the library service has to be cut (which I don’t incidentally, but reality being what it is) then where should local authorities look to make savings?

The Hillingdon example was and has been ignored by the profession as a whole, as has the Tri-Borough arrangement in London that has saved money but maintained staffing in the libraries.

The future libraries report, another expensive bit of work said up to 25% savings could be made by service mergers. But there seems to be a stubborn refusal for common sense to break out.

There seems to be an endless list of reports researching into the public library service, mostly rubbish that has taken up lots of time and money and seems to only exist to kick the political can further down the road and give those at the top something to occupy their time. Some from special interest groups like Locality who are getting huge public funds to further an agenda, others also funded by taxpayers like the LGA who want the 1964 act abolished.  If they had there way we’d end up with just the PFI super libraries and very little else.

The obvious answer to anyone that looks at the CIPFA returns is the huge gigantic elephant in the room of the service support costs. Obviously I’m more on top of the detail for the Oxfordshire data but most I’ve looked at it costs councils millions to support the library services. Its too much and the administrative burden could and should be shared with other authorities.

The 151 library authorities should be abolished and replaced with a smaller number of authorities along a similar line to police authorities, each having its regional support hub that provides the management and service support to a number of council library services. Millions and millions would be saved and they could stop sacking the people at the bottom of the profession who are in the market towns and villages at the coalface where the library is vitally important as for some its their only lifeline to the rest of world.

Of course there are huge obstacles to the above, an incompetent and uninterested minister, a profession that seems oblivious to its own impending demise with its upper echelons refusing to speak out about the reality of the crisis the library service is facing, whether its cowardice or the rise up the greasy pole that prevents this I don’t know. But their silence is deafening. I cannot see the above happening. Libraries are not considered sexy enough to gather the political will required. There’s always money around for shiny new things but for the library managers and the amazing libraries they run, it seems the money or the political will to change a hugely inefficient provision of service isn’t there.

The only way it could really happen is if there was some proper reform of local government, getting rid of the unnecessary middle tier and making all counties unitary authorities, then the service support hubs could be for all council services not just for libraries.

If the profession cannot get its will behind a radical and bold reorganisation and have less library authorities then all that will happen over time is the services will be outsources as most others in councils have and the big outsourcing providers will be the ones realising these back office savings not the taxpayer. The service will become even more distant and unaccountable that it is now. Sadly, as I’ve stated,  nothing will be done, we’ll just drift along like we are now in decline, the councils will continue us with their sham consultations and the senior profession will continue to ignore the wishes of the users which they are supposed to serve.