Public Library Skills Strategy

Cilip and the SCL have launched the Public Library Skills Strategy today with the aim of investing in and developing skills of the public library workforce in England. I won’t go into the detail here as the report is fairly short and self-explanatory. As stated:

“The strategy makes eight recommendations structured around key aims for workforce development and commits to ensuring that Local Authorities understand the expertise of the library and knowledge profession in developing and delivering quality services that are needed by today’s communities.”

The claim is that it:

“sets out a path to a thriving future for libraries by 2030 as centres of digital, creative and cultural excellence that will enhance prospects for their communities.”

Leaving aside such hyperbole there appears much to agree with and support. Certainly the greater part of the strategy appears to promote the value of a skilled, knowledgeable, and ‘paid’ workforce (my interpretation).

Cilip confirmed that the ‘…public library skills strategy is one part of an ongoing programme of developing the skills and expertise of the library and information workforce across all sectors to deliver modern services that meet the needs of users now and in the future.’

I am particularly intrigued by the aim of revisiting the role of professional ethics in public libraries, the outcome this will bring, and the expectations for staff. There’s further information on the Cilip website: Cilip’s Big Conversation on Ethics. As always, I encourage colleagues to participate in the Ethics Review Survey or sign up for the planned workshops so the views of the membership are made known.

However, back to the strategy as there are a few notes of caution:

1. The strategy clearly endorses a “…vision of a future for public libraries as digital, creative and cultural centres of excellence.” This positions libraries firmly in the cultural sector, a path started when libraries were allotted to the Arts Council.

It is also not particularly surprising given the recent £500,000 award to SCL to act as the Art Council’s Sector Support Organisation for Libraries. According to the SCL news release the “…award will enable libraries to work more closely with cultural organisations, both local and national.”

There are pros and cons to positioning libraries mainly as a cultural institution but nevertheless the news will be disappointing to those who see libraries primary mission more aligned with education and learning.

2. ‘Recommendation 5’ encourages changing the way we think about ‘professionalism’. It’s not clear what the context is for this or how it will be applied. Other than stating CILIP and SCL will work together to promote this new way (my italics) of thinking about professionalism, there is no further detail. However, the wording implies both organisations have agreed a working definition and application for the term.

3. The foreword mentions ‘developing a range of skills that staff and volunteers delivering public library services will need.’ However, while the main thrust of the strategy is around workforce development for paid staff, ‘Aim 7’ worryingly recommends  shared approaches to CPD for public library staff and volunteers.

I asked for clarification around points 2 & 3 above and was told that both will be expanded upon up in the workforce strategy for the wider library and information sector due to be published at the end of July. Apparently, this wider strategy  will clarify the use of the term professional and address key areas regarding volunteers.

While I broadly welcome many of the recommendations and investment in the library workforce the challenge will be reconciling the lofty ambitions of the strategy with the reality on the ground.

Sadly, news continues with grinding regularity of staff losses, threatened closures, or libraries being given over to volunteers or other organisations leading Ian Anstice to exclaim in his  recent editorial:

“…thoughts this week to the paid staff of the 12 libraries who are either now volunteer or soon will be. I wish the volunteers well but it is a tragedy that such an important public service as libraries is being given to amateurs.”

With that in mind it would be a great pity to see our own professional organisation supporting training for those replacing paid staff. But whether or not this is actually part of the wider strategy remains to be seen.

 

Shining a Light – Initial Response

 

 

Carnegie UK Trust has released research outlining how public libraries can contribute to government policy goals and improve people’s wellbeing. The investigation includes data around library use and attitudes towards library across the UK and Ireland 2011-2016.

 

The research is supported by other reports as part of the series including

  • Data booklet: provides the data and big picture ‘headline findings’ from across all jurisdictions
  • Five Country Factsheets: shows how England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are faring
  • Secondary Research: a report by Ipsos MORI which compares our findings with existing research

I don’t aim to go into detail about the report. This will be highlighted over the coming days and weeks from various bodies, with emphasis on differing aspects to suit either personal or political viewpoints. However, in the foreword it should be noted that the report recognises that:

“There is no doubt that public libraries face unprecedented challenges and very real threats. In 2016 the BBC reported that across the UK there had been more than 340 library closures and 8,000 library job losses since 2010.1 In response, the vociferous and visible campaign against the closure of library buildings has swelled, in England in particular. The campaigns have often focused on specific local decisions but point to broader trends and pressures.”

Instead, I wish to draw out some basic principles that form part of the report.

Demonstrating value

The main point for me is the research finally qualifies the ‘narrative’ argument. It demonstrates once and for all that both users and non-users value the library service and that libraries, contrary to some, are not in terminal decline, but remain a well used and valued service.

Demonstrating value to policy and decision makers has been a hotly contested debate. This can be summed up as the ‘positive narrative’ argument in that strategic leaders within the profession have been poor at showing the value of libraries and thus they have suffered a negative perception and decline in funding as a consequence.

The argument goes that by demonstrating value and how libraries contribute to local and national agendas decision makes will react accordingly by increasing – or at the very least protecting – funding and investment. The strength of the Shining a Light report is it demonstrates quite conclusively the value of libraries.

The SWOT analysis is a useful synopsis of issues facing libraries. Listed under threats is the point:

“Lack of understanding and buy-in among decision makers and the public regarding the broader aims and purpose of libraries.”

My own view is that after years of demonstrating the value of libraries it’s difficult for even the most hardened supporters of the ‘positive narrative’ approach such as the Libraries Taskforce and SCL to argue that libraries are little understood or appreciated. While there will always be the wilfully ignorant or obtusely political who choose to ignore such value the truth lies not with a lack of understanding or buy-in but one of ideology and funding.

For example the report makes clear that 72% of respondents opposed volunteers replacing paid staff (p.10). However, this runs contrary to the avowed aims of the Libraries Minister to support greater community involvement in running libraries. Not supporting libraries in complementary, value added roles, but taking on libraries and replacing paid staff.

This is where funding and ideology clash with public and professional expectations around the what’s good for the sector.

Rationale for libraries

There is a genuine attempt at explaining the rationale for libraries. Unfortunately, the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of libraries highlight how woolly the thinking has become in the UK. The mission behind libraries is highlighted for each country with much being made of ‘opportunities’, ‘enabling’, ‘potential’, and ‘wellbeing’ but with little focus on what this means in reality and whether or not it’s appropriate for libraries. Having them listed together in one place reflects what a jumbled collection of meaningless buzzwords have become attached to public libraries in the last few years.

While there is little to disagree with in noting libraries contribution to economic, social, cultural, and learning opportunities, and indeed this highlights the value of such activities, there is a clear intention to build a correlation between libraries and local and national government agendas:

“Demonstrating value and impact requires clearly aligning library services with community needs and the priorities and policies of funders, policymakers and decision makers. Following from this, delivery of new strategies need to be monitored to ensure that library services, decision makers and funders have a mutual understanding and recognition of the relationship between the role of public libraries and local and national government goals.”

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing but it assumes that current government goals will be beneficial for libraries and ignores the real drivers for change, which are the austerity, localism, and devolution agendas.

For instance aligning libraries with local authority priorities has seen an increase in co-location and sharing of services in a drive to reduce costs. At face value this would be a logical rationalisation of services. However, as many users have found, such an approach can lead to the devaluation of a library service as both brand and expertise are sacrificed to cost cutting, with specialised roles and experienced staff replaced with generic customer service posts to the detriment of the service and user.

Delivering a universal service

This is perhaps the most interesting and important aspect of the report and bears some quoting. The report demonstrates an interesting dichotomy in public libraries as a “…universal service when there is no universal set of needs.” While the public see value in “public libraries as community services, but they are much less likely to regard libraries as important to themselves personally.”

This is reflected in that:

 “…around three-quarters (72%-79%) of people reported that public libraries are essential  or very important to the community whilst only  37%-44% responded that public libraries are essential or very important to them personally. The level of support for public libraries as community resources is also not matched by an equivalent level of personal use, with around one in two people in each jurisdiction  (43%-50%) using the library.”

So the public are recognising the importance of libraries as a service for others but not necessarily for themselves. That said, this could be off-set by the assertion in the Libraries Deliver report that people use libraries at different stages of their lives or when circumstances change.

The report asserts that those involved “…in the delivery of public library services to discuss and debate whether, as a universal service, public libraries should strive to meet the needs of all demographic groups within a community, or to build on their success with particular demographic groups, and to identify ways forward.”

For me this is the essential point that the profession needs to address and quickly as well as the fact that:

“When looking at how many books, if any, library users read or listened to,10 we found evidence in sympathy with the idea that the primary focus of libraries ought to be books and the evidence with which to challenge this view. On the one hand, logistic regression reveals that being a prolific reader is a predictor for the likelihood of library use and frequency of use across all jurisdictions. On the other hand, there is a sizeable percentage (21%-30%) of people across the five jurisdictions who rarely or never read books that nevertheless use the library.

The challenge lies in developing services that continue to be attractive to prolific readers and services that are appealing to those who are not – whilst not inadvertently dissuading either group from using the library.”

While entirely sympathetic to such an approach this is dependent on the current raft of services on offer being the right ones to ensure the successful development and continuation of public libraries into the future. It could be argued that services around literacy and learning where once the mainstay of public libraries and would have been a guiding principle behind Andrew Carnegie’s description of libraries as ‘instruments for the elevation of the masses of the people’ and it is this that the profession has been side-tracked from.

Conclusion

This is just an initial response and the report certainly needs closer reading and further consideration. No doubt I shall return to the research over the coming weeks as more detail and nuance emerges. What I would say though is this is an incredibly constructive and timely contribution to the debate around public libraries and provides a great detail of material to support the worth of public libraries. As such, all due credit and thanks should go to the Carnegie Trust and the report’s author, Dr Jenny Peachey.

However, the drawback is that it analyses the current situation without fundamentally challenging the context of current service provision or governance both locally and nationally. As such , there are a number of basic assumptions around the status quo with the analysis concentrating on improving, rather than changing, the current model. For example:

“Being able to draw on evidence of impact will enable public libraries to plan, strategise and share learning within the sector, provide the basis for demonstrating their worth to decision-makers and funders outside of the sector and ensure libraries are accountable to those that fund them. Moreover, better evidence has an important role to play in helping to persuade those that are sceptical about the role and value of public libraries and in moving the conversation about the value of public libraries beyond the believers, advocates and critical friends that are already passionate about the value and role of libraries.”

This might well  prove to be true. But what I would have liked to have seen is more scrutiny around the fundamental positioning of libraries and a more radical envisioning of the core purpose going forward without reliance on current assumptions.

 

 

Date Set for Dataset?

Further information

Well this saga runs and runs! Apparently it’s not that Taskforce holding up the dataset but Downing Street. Should we be honoured or horrified! Perhaps a little of both. Would that this information had been shared with the profession by the Taskforce and the Minister. But that’s my political naivety coming through: expecting government bodies or minister’s to share something as simple as the truth!

On the face of it would appear to let the Taskforce off the hook over the issue but it also lays bare a fundamental flaw: that the Taskforce has very little influence or ability to enact real change in the sector, except the change dictated by government policy. And we all know where that is leading.

So perhaps they should just continue with what they are becoming best known for: publishing a blog and arranging workshops. It’s not much but it is something.

Looking at the comments below it might be that the way forward is to collate and release such data through the profession itself. More on that to follow.

__________________________________________________________

It’s been brought to my attention in the comments section that a parliamentary question had been asked:

Question From Kevin Brennan – 20 Dec 16
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what the timetable is for the release of data collected by the Libraries Taskforce in relation to statutory and non-statutory public libraries; and if she will make a statement.

Answer from Rob Wilson – 9 Jan 17
The data collected by the Libraries Taskforce in relation to statutory and non-statutory public libraries will be published in due course.

Due course…soon…shortly…any minute…before long!! How many more excuses can Rob Wilson give?

_____________________________________________________

Since publishing the post below a few interesting facts have emerged. In a tweet even the Chair of the Libraries Taskforce has implied the information is being withheld:

And if even the Chair of the Taskforce cannot release the data collected then it rather undermines their credibility as a body.

Paul indicates that the data is not quite as bad as anticipated but if that’s the case why the reluctance to publish? Unfortunately, even when eventually published the information will be out of date especially given the raft of changes to libraries since last year. It also makes a mockery of the Taskforces ambition to collate and release such data on a regular basis. Much longer and even Cipfa will be faster with library statistics!

There has also been a FOI submitted about the dataset by Ian Clark and Cilip. The Cilip one was dismissed as Nick Poole explains:

So we have a situation where both the Chair and a member of the Taskforce are being ignored and stonewalled. Also makes you wonder what the DCMS definition of ‘soon’ is as it appears to be a substantially different one to what most other people would accept!

Given the delay and the suspicion that the data will have been manipulated to put a positive spin on it I believe that the raw data should also be published to allow the public to make their own assessment (re: open data below).

The SCL have an important part to play in this as the information comes from SCL members and Heads of Service. In fact it would be an easy task for SCL to gather and release the data themselves. Perhaps Neil McInnes and the SCL Executive can to take this forward.

Another body that could get involved is the APPG for Libraries and I’ve emailed Gill Furniss as Chair to ask them to do so.

Ultimately, the decision rests with Rob Wilson as Libraries Minister. I will be tweeting and emailing regularly to urge the dataset is published immediately. That said, Rob Wilson has shown an almost contemptuous silence when it comes to answering difficult questions about libraries.

Therefore, I have decided to keep tweeting to Rob Wilson until the information is released or until he blocks me. I invite all interested parties to do the same.

If anyone has actually had a actual reply from Rob Wilson I would be interested in knowing so please do contact me.

_______________________________________________________

Post

Data matters because it helps to form evidence and evidence informs the truth. This has become increasingly important in a world in which post-truth, alternative facts, and fake news have become mainstream topics. Libraries have a important role to play in ensuring public access to trusted information sources, promoting information and media literacy, and where possible, encouraging users to think critically about the types of information and news available to them.

However, before boasting too much about our role in this area we need to set our house in order and collect, collate, and publish reliable data about libraries themselves. Unfortunately, the last seven years have highlighted the difficulty in providing accurate and comprehensive data regarding the depth and breadth of changes to the library network. This has allowed many councils and certainly many politicians to play loose and fast with the truth about libraries; some out of ignorance but others with the aim of furthering a political agenda. This in itself is a form of ‘fake news’.

So step forward the Libraries Taskforce, who are running a range of workshops with the aim:

“The core dataset is intended to be a series of data which all library services will, collect, use and publish. The plan is to have a consistent dataset which can be used to help inform and improve local library service delivery, as well as being used for advocacy purposes at local and national level…”

And there is certainly an urgent need for reliable, objective statistics for libraries. Ed Vaizey deliberately refused to collect data so he could continue to claim, quite wrongly, that there was no crisis in libraries, and ignore the claims by campaigners regarding closures and reductions to services. This led him to publish risible and misleading ‘desk-top’ research in an attempt to refute such claims. Make no mistake this was a deliberate act of obfuscation by the then Minister.

Most data around libraries come from a cross-section of sources. Cipfa being the most reliable ‘official’ stats but also additional information from the Taking Part Survey, Public Library News, BBC, and variety of ad-hoc sources.

However, there was, and continues to be, no definitive evidence concerning library closures and creation of volunteer led libraries. So it was welcomed when the Libraries Taskforce announced that they would start developing a model data set to better understand the level of library provision within each local authority in England. The first workshop was held in  December 2015. As Kathy Settle stated:

“We believe that access to timely, accurate, comparable library data is critical to enabling the library sector and users to monitor the delivery of library services and improve their quality.”

This was also followed up by a survey to SCL members and Heads of Service asking for information about the number and type of libraries in each area. In August 2016 it was announced that the data set would be published at the end of September and then in October it was announced that there would be a short delay in the publication but with the promise:

“Look out for a series of posts in the next few weeks. The first will point to the data set itself and share some early visualisations of the data.”

The weeks went by with no further announcements. Six months later we are still waiting. And yet the data has been gathered, collated, and no doubt relevant graphs and charts drawn up. So just what is the hold-up?

My assumption is that, as with everything associated with the Taskforce, they are subject to the self-interested political wrangling of its members, with no doubt one or another being particularly obstructive.

But here’s the conundrum; given the delay how can we trust the Taksforce in the gathering of data from the current workshops? Or is it perhaps they are looking to gather less contentious material to take our focus away from how politically unpalatable the first dataset is proving to be.

Ironically, I was at a recent Libraries Taskforce Sector Forum and attended a presentation on evidence-based, long-term and sustainable planning. One example was that of Newcastle Library Service which has adopted an open data approach:

“We are the custodians of this information, but it does not belong to us: it belongs to the citizens of Newcastle. And we need to give it back to them: freely, clearly, openly.”

You could use a similar argument for the data held by the Taskforce in that it belongs to everyone who uses libraries and should therefore be out in the public domain. If the issue is not one of politicking but capacity, if the Taskforce does not have the resources to fully collate and analyse the data, then they should simply release it. As Newcastle has found out:

“Just start publishing, it starts the conversation with data owners and data consumers and you will learn so much more this way.”

If we are to build a strong narrative on the value of libraries it needs to be underpinned by evidence and evidence needs to be supported by data.

With that in mind I encourage everyone to contact the Taskforce or individual members and urge them to release the data immediately. As always please keep such requests polite.

Contacts:
Rob Wilson: (Minister with responsibility for libraries)
Email: robwilson@parliament.uk
Twitter: @minforcivsoc or @robwilson_rdg

Paul Blantern (Chair of the Libraries Taskforce)
Email: pblantern@nrothamptonshire.gov.uk
Twitter @RosaSignum

DCMS: (FAO: Simon Richardson, Head of Libraries, DCMS)
Email: enquiries@culture.gov.uk
Twitter: @DCMSArts

Libraries Taskforce
Email: librariestaskforce@culture.gov.uk
Twitter: @LibTaskforce

The library profession also has direct input into the Taskforce in the form of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (Cilip) so please contact them and ask they request the dataset is released.

Members of the Taskforce (as stated on the website) are:

  • Dr Paul Blantern, Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council and Chair of the Libraries Taskforce
  • Kathy Settle, Chief Executive of the Libraries Taskforce
  • Neil MacInnes, President of the Society of Chief Librarians (and Strategic Lead – Libraries, Galleries and Culture, Manchester City Council)
  • Nick Poole, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
  • Rebecca Cox, Principal Policy Advisor, LGA
  • Iain Varah, Chief Executive of Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure Trust, and Immediate Past Chair of the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association
  • Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library
  • Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England
  • Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the Reading Agency
  • Felix Greaves, Deputy Director – Scientific and Strategic Information, Public Health England
  • Jane Ellison, Head of Creative Partnerships, BBC
  • Dominic Lake, Deputy Director of Arts, Libraries and Cultural Property, DCMS
  • Simon Richardson, Head of Libraries, DCMS

Libraries Deliver…

The following is an edited version of an article by John Vincent. It has been reproduced with permission from The Network Newsletter, Number 189, December 2016 (full article with appendices and footnotes). In it, John takes an in-depth look and analysis of the Ambition report and the correlation to social justice.

Libraries Deliver

The Libraries Taskforce report was finally published on 1 December. It has already had considerable media coverage, so this assessment is going to focus primarily on its approach to social justice (and how far the issues raised, for example during the consultation workshops, have been taken on board).

In addition, The Network responded at some length to the Independent Review of Public Libraries: a consultation, and again in May 2016 to the draft version of the report that appeared earlier this year; John Vincent also attended one of the consultation workshops – and this assessment will look at how many of these issues have also been taken on board.

Thinking about and analysis of the report are still in their early stages – no doubt there will be considerable additional comment that will need to be picked up at a later stage, but this assessment is intended to be a starter!

The social context

To start with some broader but vital points, in our response to the draft version of the report, we said:

“A key issue for us in looking at Libraries Deliver is how far it considers the context in which people are living in 2016 – and what we can forecast for the years 2017-2021 […]

We would want to see Libraries Deliver addressing some of the following issues, none of which is likely to have disappeared by 2021:

  • The increasing polarisation of rich and poor, and increasing inequality in the UK  
  • The increasing health gap between rich and poor  
  • The increase in poverty, for example as manifested by the growth of food-banks  
  • The removal of public services and the effects this has on people dependant on them  
  • The reduction in the public sphere, with, for example, fewer places where people can freely meet  
  • The growth in racism and Islamophobia, as well as hostility to migration  
  • The growing evidence of corruption at the heart of society, for example in the police (Hillsborough, undercover policing), in politics (expenses scandals)

Where are these issues – which the best public libraries are engaging with – reflected in this paper?” [p2]

We also argued that the suggested impacts of libraries “seem a bit too ‘safe’, and it would be good if they became ‘grittier’, for example including how libraries can have an impact on people’s lives in relation to the contextual issues mentioned above.”

Our response gave a few examples too: “[…] young people being bullied, trans people wanting to find out more about transitioning, BME people wanting to find themselves reflected in society somewhere, sex workers wanting to read up on contraception and sources of support.” [p6]

  • None of this has got into the final report. This is disappointing, and significant for several reasons:
  • It leaves an impression that libraries are not part of/engaging with the real political and social world. 
  • It also appears as though libraries are disengaged from the struggles that many in their communities face every day.  
  • It gives the impression that libraries are intended for only some kinds of people. For example, the figure, “Libraries are for everyone, throughout their lives” [p13], is a good illustration of part of what libraries do, but is targeted at ‘Active’ participants (“Children and young people”, “Active learners”, “Active citizens”, “Active ageing”); and, similarly, the figure on the next age, “Examples of targeted services which libraries provide for specific life situations” [p14], again gives some important examples, but is also quite unchallenging.
  • Libraries end up sounding ‘cosy’, ‘nice’, possibly ‘not-for-the-likes-of-us’.

Detailed response

Section 3: Context

The Context section in the report reflects, in many ways, a different ‘context’ from that we have noted above. It is completely understandable that, in setting the scene, this report does emphasise the positive aspects of library provision – why, otherwise, are libraries deserving of support? – but, at the same time, by doing so, it smooths over a lot of rough edges that should have been highlighted in this important report.

For example, it is important to emphasise that “Public libraries are a unique and valued public service” [p12], but this point is not helped with evidence that people thought libraries “[…] should be protected, whether or not they themselves were a regular user.” [p12]

The reach of public libraries is impressive, and there is considerable evidence of their impact on people’s lives, yet the paragraphs on p12 make it sound as though there is no problem with them: there is ample evidence of people who are not welcomed in libraries and do not use their services, and, of course, in the current dire financial situation, libraries are being starved of resources – which, in turn, is having a major impact on usage.

The sections on the legal position and on funding do not go nearly far enough in suggesting ways out of the current position; to say merely that “Councils will need to take these [funding and demographic changes] – and many other issues – into account when restructuring budgets to meet strategic priorities.” [p16] is not really very helpful.

Section 4: Vision

The final report has pulled together the vision statements (which were spread under the different ‘Purposes’ – now ‘Outcomes’ – in the previous version), and are more coherent and punchy set in one table.

These seem a useful set of overall ‘ambitions’ – for communities, public services and partners, and libraries themselves – but how will they be achieved?

Section 5: Outcomes

  • Section 5 looks at how the ambitions may be achieved via focusing on seven Outcomes:
  • cultural and creative enrichment 
  • increased reading and literacy 
  • improved digital access and literacy 
  • helping everyone achieve their full potential 
  • healthier and happier lives 
  • greater prosperity 
  • stronger, more resilient communities [p21]

(These are also looked at in more depth in Appendix 1 – please see below.)

Interestingly, the wording and order of the Outcomes have changed since the previous draft, which gives them some more power. Here are brief comments on each:

  • Cultural and creative enrichment: this Outcome has moved to the top of the list. It very much relates to the Arts Council agenda, especially with the emphasis on libraries-as-venues:

“We’ll encourage libraries to establish themselves as a focal point for community cultural life, hosting and running a range of activities in partnership with amateur and professional groups. As a result, we’d expect to see increasing attendance and active participation in creative arts by people of all ages and backgrounds.” [p23]

  • Increased reading and literacy: whilst citing research to show that reading does have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, this section is not strongly argued. Having argued for the positive impact of reading/literacy, it then says that there is a lack of basic skills, but does not suggest ways that this might be overcome; and the case study used is, again, the Summer Reading Challenge, the impact of which on literacy levels is unknown.
  • Improved digital access and literacy: this includes a good section on the role of libraries to support digital inclusion (but could have done with a case study other than the Tinder Foundation).
  • Helping everyone achieve their full potential: this is one section where a link to the wider world would really have been of benefit. At a time when social mobility is a ‘hot topic’, some detail here about libraries’ positive role in this could have made a significant impact.
  • Healthier and happier lives: the case for libraries’ role in health is not well made here (for example, had some of the examples from the Norfolk case study – which is mentioned on p28 – been drawn out, this would have signalled much more clearly what libraries can offer.
  • Greater prosperity: this is an important role, and one which many libraries are already involved in. The British Library Business and IP Centres are a valuable opening up of the BL’s resources – but surely meet the needs of only certain kinds of small businesses? There is a concern here that we are seeing this as a complete solution when it is only a partial one.
  • Stronger, more resilient communities: this section really does need further development. Given that there have been two very recent reports on the growing lack of social cohesion – and the dangers this poses – much more should have been made of libraries’ role in building cohesive societies; and the strong evidence of the key involvement of the library in Ferguson could also have illustrated this. As one of the messages from this review is that we need to ‘sell’ ourselves to partners and to local authorities, surely this could have been a great way of doing so?

Section 6: How we’ll achieve this

This section argues that, to make the vision and Outcomes a reality, “further development of library services” [p32] is required. The report suggests that “strong local leadership” [p32] can be supported nationally by the Taskforce, and that, together, there is a set of actions that need to be taken. These include the following:

  • Encouraging common design principles 
  • Planning public library services to meet local needs  
  • Considering different models for local service delivery  
  • Funding library services in varied and sustainable ways
  • Defining what an excellent library service looks like  
  • Helping libraries use better evidence to support decision-making  
  • Stronger co-ordination and partnership working  
  • Developing the library workforce, now and for the future

These seem very sensible courses of action – but, of course, are entirely dependent on adequate resourcing and political support.

Section 7: Making the case for libraries

This section pulls together all the points made in the previous draft report about improving the image of public libraries and people’s awareness of what they offer.

It includes:

  • Championing libraries to decision-makers: this has four connected priorities:
  1. “developing influence with local councillors and decision-makers to secure local support and funding, promoting ‘library first’ approaches whenever new service developments are planned 
  2. using data and evidence to make decision-makers aware of what public library services have to offer and how libraries can help achieve their wider strategic goals 
  3. ensuring that future policy and regulation at a national level supports public libraries 
  4. promoting achievements where local leaders have supported and worked through their public library service” [p52]
  • Creating wider public awareness of what libraries have to offer
  • Promoting positive messages about libraries in the media

Section 8: How we’ll take this forward

This brief section outlines the next steps for the Taskforce – primarily regularly reviewing progress on the actions listed in the report and in the separate Action Plan11 [also, please see below].

This is followed by 5 Annexes:

  • Annex 1: The 7 Outcomes the public library network supports [to be considered in more depth below]
  • Annex 2: Action plan [also see below]
  • Annex 3: Summary of the consultation and responses: this sets out the main changes to the draft report, which have been taken on board
  • Annex 4: Role and remit of Taskforce member organisations
  • Annex 5: Image credits and references: this incudes weblinks for some 167 footnotes.

Annex 1: The 7 Outcomes the public library network supports

This is where the detail about the seven Outcomes and what they involve is. As noted above, the Outcomes have been re-named and re-ordered, and there is more depth to them. Here is a quick assessment of each.

Outcome 1: Cultural and creative enrichment

This Outcome is much stronger than in the draft report, and has developed the sense of libraries as cultural hubs. There still is no link between this and Outcome 3 – makerspaces can be cultural and creative as well as STEM based. (This work will also be further developed as SCL creates the Creativity Universal Offer.)

Outcome 2: Increased reading and literacy

Here the “Success in 2021 will look like” section is shorter but mostly better defined than in the draft. The new ‘ambitions’ are:

  • “improvement in England’s international literacy rankings 
  • all library services offering a range of reading/literacy programmes and activities with an increase in the number of children, young people, adults and families participating (both as readers and volunteers) and, as a result, increased reading for pleasure 
  • stronger partnerships between public libraries and local schools” [p61]

It would still have been useful for the report to spell out what the “stronger partnerships between public libraries and local schools” would actually involve.

The outline of the role that libraries play in developing reading and literacy is clearer, and the report has moved away from what seemed to be quantitative approaches; there is also a wider range of reading programmes listed (although it would have been good to have included some local library service initiatives – which do not form part of a national programme – as well, such as Warwickshire’s creative reading festivals12.

Outcome 3: Increased digital access and literacy

The “Success in 2021” section is, again, stronger, although it would have been valuable to have linked digital skills and access to overcoming some of the social context issues outlined above.

The description is much stronger, with good emphases on outreach and digital inclusion.

Outcome 4: Helping everyone achieve their full potential

This has replaced “Learning” which was what was in the draft. It is much simpler and clearer, and more community-related, and less focused on measurable outcomes.

Outcome 5: Healthier and happier lives

The “Success in 2021” section is much improved:

  • “libraries are perceived as important partners for achieving improved health outcomes in communities by Public Health England, NHS providers, local health bodies, clinical commissioning groups, Sustainability and Transformation Plan Committees, and other health and wellbeing commissioners and providers 
  • people perceive themselves to have improved wellbeing/to be happier as a result of participating in library activities
  • people who are housebound, or who have dementia or autism, and their carers feel more connected and supported to manage in the community, and maintain their independence and wellbeing as a result of their contact with libraries 
  • library users are enabled to self-care and self-manage their health, participate in shared decision-making with healthcare professionals, and are more health literate” [p67]

There is a wide range of types of library work included in the description, as well as some national programmes.

Outcome 6: Greater prosperity

The report now includes both ‘bigger’ schemes, such as the British Library Business and IP Centres, and the smaller-scale – but vital – work that libraries undertake around literacy and digital literacy, job clubs, help with preparing CVs, and so on.

Outcome 7: Stronger, more resilient communities

The description of this Outcome has some real strengths, eg:

“Library services should work with local people to define, develop, plan and deliver the right mix of services to meet local needs and priorities; no two places will have the same mix. For example, rural and urban areas will need different ways of delivering services. Doing this will reinforce the library’s role as a focal point for local community activity.” [p72]

and some patchy paragraphs, eg:

“Public libraries contribute directly to community cohesion by creating a sense of place for their users. Local studies work brings communities together by exploring and celebrating local people’s differing and shared culture and heritage. Libraries also provide a valuable introduction into a community for newcomers, through assistance with specific needs (such as language training and citizenship support for recent immigrants where required) and, more generally, by using their knowledge to marshal a wealth of information on the local area, services and community.” [p72]

Examples of exactly what this work involves would have been of real benefit here. The examples given are strong, but there is no real sense of an active approach by libraries to foster community cohesion.

As the report goes on to say, “Libraries can also play a major role in work to combat disadvantage.” [p72] However, it would have been helpful if some of the ways in which this happens were spelled out here.

Finally:

“Libraries also provide an inclusive, free and safe space for all, both physical and virtual, making local people equally welcome irrespective of their age or background. They are one of the few remaining places where people from different backgrounds or generations can come together to learn from and appreciate each other (for example, through reminiscence sessions helping with local history understanding, or by younger age groups helping older people with digital learning). Innovations like ‘human libraries’ […] challenge prejudices and stereotypes by stimulating social interactions that people might be unlikely to experience otherwise. We want to see libraries developing these inter-community and intergenerational activities to increase understanding and draw communities closer together.” [p73]

This is certainly true of the best library services, but, sadly, not of all. Perhaps there needs to be a clearer ‘ambition’ that this description is what every library should be aiming to achieve.

Action Plan

As noted above (in relation to Annex 2), the Action Plan13 has also been published.

This includes 25 actions to be taken by the Taskforce; 5 challenges to Central Government; and 12 challenges to Local Government/Library Services.

The Taskforce actions are taken from the report, and are grouped under:

  • Priority actions, such as ensuring that a ‘Libraries First’ approach is adopted, and that a core dataset is produced
  • Raising public awareness of what libraries have to offer 
  • Identifying and showcasing good practice and supporting innovation 
  • Supporting workforce development 
  • How we will take this forward: monitoring and reporting on progress.

The challenges are all also taken from the report and are intended to assist in the ‘Libraries First’ approach, encouraging new approaches and partnership working.

Provided the monitoring does take place and is thorough and transparent, this should give a good way of following and checking on progress (possibly not as good as a proper library planning process, but important).

Other actions

Workshops

The Taskforce is organising a series of workshops14 in January 2017:

“The events will start with a series of presentations about Ambition, followed by workshops on topics covered in the action plan. These will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the actions and enable you to give your views. Workshop topics will include:

  • mutuals and other alternative delivery models 
  • alternative funding streams 
  • communications (covering barriers to involvement and how to overcome, and shared and reusable assets) 
  • data  workforce development”

Community-managed libraries

In addition, Kathy Settle has just published a new Taskforce blogpost, “Community managed libraries – the next phase …”, which outlines the next stages in the work to support community-managed libraries – this will involve the Taskforce in:

  • Undertaking research into community managed libraries, and 
  • Working with partners to create a new peer support network to make it easier for communities to share good practice and to learn from each other.

In terms of the research, DCMS have commissioned SERIO17 (part of Plymouth University) to carry out a survey of:

“[…] all known community managed libraries in England. The survey focuses on areas such as:

  • the different types of service(s) the library delivers and their effectiveness 
  • any barriers to service delivery 
  • staff/volunteer satisfaction and training 
  • current and future resourcing plans 
  • the financial sustainability of the library […]

An analysis of the responses, along with more detailed case studies from a representative sample of community managed libraries, will form the basis of the final report to be published in March 2017.” 18

There is further information about the peer network which intends to offer support and guidance, including:

  • “extensive range of online tools and resources 
  • series of expert webinars 
  • local networking events 
  • advice and learning from others in the network on fundraising and business development 
  • platform for shared learning 
  • signposting to other external resources 
  • Q&A forum for practical advice and support 
  • sector news and debates – how can you make a difference?”

Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund

ACE have also announced this new funding stream20 which “will support projects that develop innovative library service activity to benefit disadvantaged people and places in England.”

Principles for the Leadership and Development of Public Library Services in England

Finally, CILIP has issued a challenge to “HM Government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association, the Arts Council England and fellow members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce” to support ten principles. These are:

1. “England’s public libraries are part of a successful network which delivers key outcomes including learning, health and wellbeing, digital inclusion, civic participation and stronger local economies.

2. Securing these outcomes for the long-term depends on effective leadership through a fully-funded and evidence-based National Public Library Plan for England that is owned jointly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Association.

3. Implementing this plan requires appropriate governance of the library network, including partnerships for local delivery, regional and national support and with appropriate engagement with the equivalent strategies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

4. It also requires a national strategy for the development of the professional library workforce alongside the appropriate use of volunteers.

5. Effective national support for the library network requires an appropriately-resourced and mandated national development function, the responsibilities of which should include quality standards, targeted investment and development support and a transparent approach to monitoring and impact evaluation.

6. HM Treasury must make available to Local Authorities emergency relief funding and transitional support to ensure they are adequately resourced and funded to meet their statutory obligation for the provision of a quality public library service and to set in place appropriate plans for long-term governance and sustainability.

7. Library service points should not be transitioned out of statutory provision unless all alternative options for their maintenance have been explored, a full cost/benefits analysis has been conducted in consultation with the community and a realistic plan for long-term support is put in place.

8. Where a Local Authority fails to meet agreed standards on statutory public library service delivery (so-called ‘hollowing-out’ of services) DCMS and DCLG should use effective strategies for early intervention & improvement, including options for sanction and the removal of library services (and funding) into a national or regional Library Service.

9. Public libraries must work in partnership with other local community organisations to sustain and amplify the reach and impact of their services.

10. Public engagement with libraries should be promoted and encouraged through a joined-up programme of media and public relations led jointly by members of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce (and in future by the organisation with responsibility for the national development function for public libraries).”

Conclusions

The report has met with a mixed reaction, with some saying it’s a good way forward, with others saying it is ‘too little, too late’ and/or being critical.

In terms of social justice, there are real strengths (and it’s a huge improvement on the earlier versions), but still does not really touch the reality (as outlined above in the ‘Context’ section). The result is a vision of libraries that is very positive and proactive – but also somehow unrealistic, and unrelated to the austerity cuts and to the severe disadvantage and discrimination that large sections of the UK face.

Certainly, the £4m from ACE is very welcome – but does not really go anywhere near replacing the core funding lost by public libraries over the last eight years or so.

Overall, probably of most importance is the lack of any real monitoring process which would hold local authorities to account. Much as people grumbled about Annual Library Plans, they did ensure that a planning process was in place; plans were assessed and they and the assessments were made publicly available.

So – there are huge improvements in this version of the report compared to earlier drafts; some areas of library work come through really strongly (including aspects of their social justice work); but the real context – in the social, community and political senses – seems to have gone missing.

 

Abbreviations and acronyms

  • ACE = Arts Council England
  • BME = Black and minority ethnic
  • CILIP = Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
  • DCLG = Department for Communities and Local Government
  • DCMS – Department for Culture, Media and Sport
  • IP = intellectual property
  • SCL = Society of Chief Librarians
  • STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Cilip AGM 2016

The highlight of the Cilip AGM is the Libraries Change Lives Award, providing as they do an inspiration for the rest of the sector. This year was no exception.

Congratulations then to the winner, Norfolk Libraries for their  Healthy Libraries’ initiative; a countywide programme promoting healthy living and targeting the county’s most serious health priorities through the Norfolk library network.”

But equally well done to all those shortlisted for showing how vital and needed libraries and staff are for their communities.

Congratulations also to the winners of the UKeiG Information Manager of the Year and Mentor of the Year awards, and the Honorary Fellows.

Typically in the build up to AGM I would write several posts, usually critical and usually about the increase in subscription fees or lack of political campaigning and advocacy for libraries.

Two factors have conspired to keep me quiet this year. Firstly, work events and demands have meant that my attention has, by necessity, been focused elsewhere. Secondly for the first time I broadly agreed with all the items on the agenda including the proposals regarding membership fees. The AGM agreed to:

  • Freeze to subscription rates for the majority of members in 2017
  • End the trial of providing free student membership and returning students to a heavily discounted rate
  • Include a minimum annual subscription of £40 for newly qualified members and the removal of access to a 50% discount for newly qualified members if earning over £42,001
  • Modest fee increases for Professional Registration enrolment and portfolio submission

This now paves “…the way for CILIP’s proposed new approach to membership from January 2018. The proposed structure is designed to be more affordable, better value for money, more open to everyone in the sector and provide clearer benefits.” To which I add is more equitable and fairer to members.  

Added to this is my growing satisfaction with the direction of travel that Cilip is taking and that within a relatively short space of time a convergence of views has evolved.

From being  perceived as soft on library closures we have seen quite increasingly strong statements from Cilip, Nick Poole as CEO, and the current President Dawn Finch, against closures, hollowing out, and the loss of paid staff.

Nick has engaged in a round of media coverage to promote the value of libraries, and even written to councils where cuts have appeared rather draconian. Equally, Dawn is an outspoken defender of library services and fierce critic of closures and cutbacks.

Last year the Cilip Board fully endorsed the resolution to oppose the ‘amateurisation’ of public libraries services and we have seen the launch of the My Library By Right campaign, challenging both local and central government to fulfil their legal responsibilities and provide a quality library service.

Cilip is also ensuring that librarians and staff have a strong voice on the Libraries Taskforce.

And while this is still not enough for some I see it as evidence of an increasingly confident and vocal professional body, willing to champion the value of libraries and librarians.

So this year the other winner is Cilip itself in achieving what some people would have considered impossible; giving me nothing to be grumpy about.

The problem is, I do like being ever so grumpy…thanks a lot Cilip!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!