Comment

There is an excellent paper by LSSI available on why it should be considered as a provider of UK public library services available on the website of Alan Gibbons.  Readers of his website will know that he is generally against privatisation and it is greatly to his credit that he has allowed the American private-equity-firm-controlled company to put its case forward.  Readers of Public Libraries News will also know that I also am generally not in favour of passing services, and much needed cash, to private companies for the profit for their shareholders.  An article I wrote that was published in CILIP Update magazine summarises my knowledge and understanding of the subject so far.
However, the response by LSSI contains many valid points and they need to be addressed.  There are benefits entailed with the economies of scale that their running several services would allow.  To counter this argument of course, one should point out that many councils – notably the tri-borough – are already doing this without any money going to private concerns.  There are also some cases cited by LSSI, which I have no doubt are genuine, of poor quality customer service, although they themselves report that Sefton and Bournemouth libraries are excellent in this regard and thus automatically concede the point that one does not need a private company to sort such things out.  Other points such as the company’s “long” experience – they have been up and  running since 1981 – are easily dealt with by pointing out that UK public libraries have sometimes been running since 1850, with most having their origins over one hundred years ago.  The point about local managers being hamstrung by bureaucracy (although the worst case stated here, of a manager not being able to paint a front door for months, is hardly a convincing enough call for overturning the entire current system) is sadly true in some councils, especially the more cash-strapped ones. 
The difference, perhaps, between me and the author of the LSSI report, Stuart St V Fitzgerald, is that he has lost faith in council-run library services while I have not.  For you will notice that none of my counter-arguments are from a moral or ethical position, although it is worth noting that LSSI concede such arguements are genuine. I don’t include them here because they can seem airy-fairy and special pleading to newcomers to the subject.  No, the counter-arguments put forward here are simply on economic grounds.  For, simply put, there is no magic privatisation bullet that will sort things out that a well-run council library service does not have access to as well. Rather, Stuart’s excellent piece should be seen as a call to arms for council library services to ensure that they get their own act together.  For, if they do, private companies simply cannot compete.  After all, companies need to feed outside (not necessarily foreign; I have no special beef with private companies being American, British or from anywhere else) shareholders a significant percentage of the money that should by all rights be spent improving libraries.  Such profit would be seen if it happened by a council-run service as pure waste, or worse. It would be deeply ironic if councils chose, for a belief in its efficiency, to give the money to an organisation that due to its very nature could never hope to beat that of a well-run council service.  
Readers of Public Libraries News will also know that it can be a deeply depressing thing to browse  sometimes.  Such times as these do not breed jollity.  There is though, even in the darkest of times, some hope to be had.  For there is now an opportunity for all those poor examples that LSSI cite to be done away with.  Libraries, and councils, now have all the incentive in the world to be as efficient and customer driven as they can.  They should be, and to their credit often are, exploring ways to work at a lower cost.  Councils should also be thinking about the long-term and thus be wary of the quick cheap ways so often documented below like blackmailing local people into running services for them, cutting staff, reducing investment (“sweating the assets” it is called) or opening hours.  Such things may appear to be the answer to short-term financial and political necessities but doom libraries to medium or long-term decline.  Other ways should be found that keep libraries open and thriving.  This is not going to be easy. But giving a noticeable percentage of the money to Islington Capital Partners is hardly going to help either.
399 libraries (309 buildings and 90 mobiles) are currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK.  The librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.

  Lobbying Parliament on 13th March,http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/
   Attend if you can, invite your MP or send message of support.

News

  • LSSI response to Alan Gibbons and Alan Wylie’s challenges – LSSI.  A full and well-thought out response from US private company LSSI answering questions from two well-known library campaigners.  The statement about economies of scale is a good one, the point about local managers being hamstrung by bureaucracy rings true and the criticisms about the poor quality service in some libraries is valid.  [However, there is nothing stopping councils doing anything that is suggested here while at the same time avoiding handing c.10% in pure profit to an American private equity company.  This paper should rather be seen as a rally call to any poor council library service to get its act together. Ed.]. 
  • Move to privatise Simi Valley Library blocked by Ventura County CourtSEIU721 (USA).   Union takes council to court over outsourcing/privatising library service to LSSI and delays takeover. “”We are pleased that the judge heard our case and has blocked Simi Valley from contracting out their library services to a private contractor. We look forward to the next hearing on April 9 which will determine the legality of the actions taken by Simi Valley in establishing a new library system”
  • One flew over the library – Jettison Cocoon (USA).   “Two years ago, before working on the bookmobile, I worked in a mental health facility. You know it as a library. Our “patients” had a variety of symptoms and problems, but rather than turn to therapists or psychiatrists they came to the library and self-medicated with books, magazines and the internet.”  Excellent piece on an often  invisible but vital service public libraries provide.

 Porn in public librariesYoung Turks (USA).  ACLU argues for porn on libraries.

  • Sense of scaleLibrary Data.   Chart shows that publishers’ revenues dwarf public libraries expenditure so companies, with the absence of any legal rules on the subject, can pretty much do what they like with their ebooks in public libraries policy.
  • Ten ideas for public libraries in college towns – 658.8 Practical marketing for public libraries (USA).  Check to see if your public library is doing all of these if it has a nearby university.

Changes

Doncaster Legal action being considered against closures.  New group: Sprotborough Community Library.

Local News

“Ken regards libraries as a valuable resource for the whole community and is opposed to their whole sale closure. Ken supports the campaign to keep libraries open in Brent and wishes the campaign every success. If he is elected Mayor in May he will add his voice and use his office to help prevent library closures.” Brent – Ken Livingstone backs campaign to save Brent’s libraries – Save Kensal Rise Library.

  • Sex pistols artist, Tim Dowling and Police Dog Hogan, One Man and His Beard raise thousands for the campaign – Save Kensal Rise Library.   Guardian columnist Tim Dowling and his Country & Western band Police Dog Hogan rocked the joint. They were supported by One Man And His Beard who has just recorded a single ‘We need libraries’, which can be downloaded from the iTunes store. Meanwhile, limited edition signed Jamie Reid posters featuring the library were on sale at £30 each. There are still some left! Contact Rachael Newberry.”
  • Brighton and Hove – Book grumbles – Argus.  “Mr Trimingham asserts that technology is supplanting books. However, public surveys have continually shown readers want more book stock. The book fund is increasing.”.
  • Doncaster – Latest news from the SDL HQ – Save Doncaster Libraries.  “Perhaps the most important news is that we are considering and consulting regarding legal action.  The Council, led by the Mayor and his Cabinet, have proven so inept and unable to consult regarding changes in a proper, fit and statutorily required manner that it seems we may have a very good case for a judicial review.”
    • Sprotborough library group to hold public meeting – Sprotborough Community Library.   “Volunteers will be sought to run the library on a day to day basis and training will be provided by DMBC for these people to help make the take-over smooth for the volunteer group.  If you are interested and have a few hours to spare each week then join this group and  get out of the house to meet and help people,  and find a new interest.”

  • Gloucestershire – Share library view – This is Gloucestershire.  “Gloucestershire County Council is undertaking a six-week consultation to get people’s views on proposals to reduce opening hours of some libraries and to close others.”
    • Library consultation – West Country Tonight (ITV).   Two minute video on consultation. “People are once again being asked to comment on the future of Gloucestershire’s library services. The council has gone back to the drawing board after a judicial review ruled against plans to shut ten libraries. Its new revised proposals are now on display, but campaigners say they still go too far.”
I went to a “public information” meeting last night at West Greenwich library about the proposal to transfer Greenwich Libraries to Greenwich Leisure Ltd. It was surprising there were around 25 people there as it was hardly advertised at all -a couple of lines in the Council paper and a notice in the library a few days before. I believe there have been 2 other meetings plus 2 “friends” meetings but no information to library users generally. Apparently as there will be “no material change” to the service, public consultation is not required. Everyone was very suspicious and angry, so if it is going to be so good for the future of the libraries, the PR has been a disaster! No doubt the transfer will be rubber-stamped at Cabinet on Tuesday.” Greenwich – Via email.

  • Kirklees Council’s cabinet “discriminating” against non-Labour areas say leading Conservative – Huddersfield Daily Examiner.  “It is proposed that seven libraries are to become community-run and those in Denby Dale, Honley, Lepton, Slaithwaite and Shepley all happen to be in wards with no Labour councillors whatsoever.” … “This means 57% of the 14 Lib Dem councillors on Kirklees are due to lose a staffed library; 33% of the 21 Conservatives and 11% of the 27 Labour councillors.”
  • North Yorkshire – Craven residents urged to volunteer at local librariesTelegraph & Argus. Young people in particular can benefit from the opportunity to add volunteering to their CV. For people who feel lonely or isolated, volunteering is also a great way to build their confidence and make new friends. Anyone interested in library volunteering should contact …” [The only ones not suffering under the current cuts seem to be those who can put the best possible gloss on them.  Ed.]
  • Warwickshire – Community managed libraries in Warwickshire – Warwickshire Council. 11 more libraries forced out of council control by April 1st, to follow Kineton (managed by volunteers) and Bedworth Heath (turned into an unsupervised book swapping store or “honesty library”).   Kingsbury and Binley libraries likely to close.
    • Sutton Coldfield librarian works as  naked butlerSunday Mercury.   “Russell Davies enjoys helping bookworms to get the most out of the services offered at Hartshill Library, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. And when he finishes his shift, the 28-year-old from Sutton Coldfield, has fun stripping off for hen parties.”. Warwickshire points the way towards future careers for its library staff.