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?
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 %|
|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|
|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|
|22. Staffordshire||43.3||40.8||33.3||29.5||No information||31.8|
|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.
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.
(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