Comment 

A very important document, the “Future libraries report: Change, options, and how to get thereby the Local Government Group/MLA was published on Friday.  It gets off to a good start with a statement that “The best libraries are at the heart of the council’s approach to everything from lifelong learning to wellbeing, job seeking, volunteering, education and encouraging more people to get online.”, although it is a tad bit of shame that the word “book” is not used at any point on the first page (indeed not until page 22).

Things then get seriously more worrying when one reads (and/or translates) the recommendations, changed into easier to understand wording below:

  • Close down libraries and move them in with otherr services such as jobcentres or move those services into libraries (“co-locating libraries”) and/or closing them and putting some books into shops, health/leisure centres, police stations (“non-traditional outlets”).
  • Using non-council staff to run libraries (“Trusts, and charitable companies, other councils or through the private sector”)
  • Sharing services with other councils
  • Replacing paid staff with volunteers (“Empowering local communities”)
It would serve no purpose to summarise the rest of the report (some of it is fairly tedious) so I will merely list the bits that are of interest to a non-senior library specialist.  
The report’s most interesting, for me, section is about merging library services with savings of up to 25% mentioned, although an example of an authority which has achieved this is not given (Slough has apparently, though saved 15% in its merger with Essex).  Other authorities that are merging services are described (a complete list is here).
Given the high level of interest in the subject, the report has remarkably little to say on private companies taking over libraries.  It says “A private sector provider now operates in Hounslow and other new providers are entering the market opening choices and comparators for financial and service performance.”.  That’s it.  The report does not mention the 8 libraries that were initially selected for closure this year in Hounslow or the £300,000 cut from its bookfund.

On the subject of volunteers, the report lurches into uncertain factual grounds, saying that in “some areas local people want to play a more active role in running libraries, and councils are working through the implications of this for their statutory duty under the Public Libraries & Museum Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient service..  This is highly questionable as it should be noted that there is not a single case of this happening without the Council having made clear that the library would close otherwise. 

Strong political leadership is seen as essential, due to the “high level of public interest” in any changes to libraries.  The phrase could of course be put more accurately as “high level of public opposition”. Other important things to bear are in mind is the  importance of clearly stating what is required and what will be given/expected to people taken over the service. This is seemingly quite basic advice and it’s scary councils are apparently needing guidance on this, although a report from North Yorkshire today confirms that they do.  Interestingly (given the many current legal challenges) the need for strong legal advice is stated. There are whole sections (such as “positioning libraries”, “internal capacity to support change” and “Analysis of need”) which can be summarised as Make Sure You Know What You’re Actually Doing and That You Can Actually Do It.  Again, this is worrying that councils need to be told this.
Given the poor general council record on consultation the section on “user and community engagement” rings a lot of bells.  The line in the report (p.27) that “the earlier the engagement and the better the communication, the better the outcomes overall” should perhaps be in large bold font.  Worryingly for library staff everywhere, the otherwise almost pathologically (my money is on the author having been on a “think positive” training course) upbeat report admits that it is “hard times” for paid staff.  With reports like this being published and lauded by government, it is indeed.

Other items in the media  on the Report…

 “One of the worrying statements in the report is this: Change will only happen if political leadership and professional expertise are harnessed in the same direction. Hence this publication is aimed at those leaders who will drive the change. ” It is being directed at the very people who have presided over the engineered decline of public libraries over the last couple of decades and who now embrace the mass closures stimulated by government policy. It is vital that ordinary people make sure that debate and discussion includes library supporters instead of technocrats, policians and bean-counters” [Comment on Voices for the Library facebook page]

  • How can libraries survive? – BBC. 90 seconds from the BBC TV news on the report and its implications.
  • Librarians will rely on volunteers to surviveGuardian.   “More and more books will be distributed from shops, churches and village halls, predict local government and library bodies”.  “Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the report shone a spotlight on innovation and creative partnerships. “It will be a hugely useful resource, inspiring local authorities to emulate the best ideas to provide a first rate library service.”
  • Now books can be borrowed at stores – Express.  “Supermarkets are being invited to offer any spare room to public libraries in an attempt to save money and attract more borrowers.”
  • Plan to create libraries of the futureBBC. Summarises the report and comment son the BBC Radio 4 Today programme from the LGA that “The death of the book isn’t going to happen,” he said. “But equally if you go into a library now you find rows and rows of young people or older people using the internet and studying and that isn’t something I think we would’ve envisaged 30 years ago and certainly not 60 years ago.”.  Libraries, he continues, should take their “fair share” of cuts.  The BBC editor has picked largley positive comments about co-locating libraries (such as in doctor’s surgery) for the highlights in the comment section.
  • Shirley BurnhamRadio Five Live (1:50:19) – Library campaigner Shirley Burnham puts up spirited defence for librarians and library buildings.  One library in Swindon was turned over to volunteers but will be returned back to being run by paid staff as it had problems recruiting volunteers.  “Excellent professional staff, with knowledge and experience” highlighted “.. not trying to sell you frozen peas, God or a recycled computer, it was a community public space, completely neutral “.
    “Can I share one little thing? If you stick a skipping rope in a corner, you don’t call it a leisure centre.  If you stick a cracked ming vase on the mantelpiece, you don’t call it a museum. Right? If you stick a bunch of books in the corner of a shop, a church or a phonebox, that is not a library… just compare what is being foisted on you with what you have.” Shirley Burnham

“Unfortunately, at a time when real leadership and vision is required to outline a truly 21st century library service, the government is found lacking in imagination, short-sighted in its approach and blinkered by ideology.  These proposals do not outline a positive future for libraries and will only further their decline.  We strongly urge the government to tear up these proposals and truly listen to the needs and demands of local communities across the country.  Furthermore, we recommend that library users express their concerns regarding these proposals by emailing the Arts Council, the department that now has responsibility for libraries, at museums.libraries@artscouncil.org.uk.” Voices for the Library

  • Statement on the future libraries report – Voices for the Library. “Voices for the Library believes that the set of proposals outlined will lead to serious damage to our public library network, and be counterproductive to efforts to modernise libraries and meet the needs of the UK public.” Volunteers should not be used to replace paid staff, libraries should be in library buildings. Privatising the process will mean short-term cuts in order to make profit and loss of paid staff. Putting libraries in shops will end their neutrality.

News

  • For the record – Guardian.  “Core local authority funding across England is to be cut by 27% over four years, forcing many councils to cut all non-statutory provision such as libraries and youth services, which provide crucial services for working mothers.” [libraries are of course statutory]

  • No more xenophobiaGood Library Blog.  Controversial as ever, Tim Coates comes out firmly in favour of privatisation, arguing that comments against it are xenophobic due to LSSI being an American company.  “When they are given the chance LSSI tries to cut needless overhead and direct the resources granted to the library service in the direction of providing a better managed and better quality service. Because they are a private commercial company, with owners and investors in place of government grants, they need to operate at a profit; otherwise they would close.”.  [NB. Tim has pointed out that the piece is intended to point out xenophobia rather than as a pro-privatisation piece.  This correction added 8th August 2012].
  • Public libraries and me Thebradfordlibrarian. Librarian describes what she gets out (often literally) of the library.   
  • Save our libraries: Reserve this book today – Playing by the book.  “Last week we were on holiday in a county where 9 libraries have had their funding withdrawn. If volunteers can’t be found (putting aside the whole issue of whether volunteers running libraries is a good thing) the libraries, more than a quarter of all the libraries in the county in question, will shut their doors for a final time within a year. The message this sends out to me is “We, the powers that be, don’t care about imagination, exploration, understanding. We don’t care about community.”.  Otto the Book Bear is a book about the “magic of libraries”.  
  • Won’t someone think of the librarians?Dale & Co.   “Alix Mortimer mounts a passionate defence of librarians and the work they do to help people in their communities.” – ” But what shops and churches are presumably not going to start providing is librarians. And librarians are what make libraries worth defending, because their expertise in sifting information is put at the disposal of anyone who comes in off the street with a problem. Anyone.”…..”Until the advent of AI, the library worker remains the most sophisticated search engine on earth. Providing that capacity, for free, to allcomers, is one of the best and most characteristically liberal uses of state funding I can think of.” 

Changes

Local News

 
  • Gloucestershire – First birthday: the story so far – FoGL.   Summary of the last year of library cuts and campaigning in the county including formation, a 15 000 name signature petition, council intransigence, formal complaints, legal action and the first ever legal injunction against library closures.  “This has never been about party politics (FoGL supporters are drawn from a range of political affiliations, and walks of life), yet we have been at best ignored by the GCC administration, and at worst insulted and dismissed as ‘professional troublemakers’, ‘militants’ and ‘the usual suspects’ (whatever that means)”.
  • North Yorkshire – Supporters need business expertise Craven Herald & Pioneer.   Gargrave Library campaigners unimpressed by council dashing their hopes over council support.  Library group needs professional expertise in order to produce three year business plan but this has been so far been unforthcoming.