Comment

The Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, has said that his council will no longer continue to provide paid staff in fourteen libraries directly because he wants volunteers to do it instead.  He said “”If you put some paid people into libraries run by volunteers the likely scenario is the volunteers will say, ‘to hell with this, they are getting paid I am doing it for nothing, I am not sticking around”. What makes this even more tragic is that the money is available to provide staffing but Cllr Davies said that providing it would send the “wrong message” to communities if he provided it and he even overruled the majority will of Doncasters’ councillors to stick to his guns.  This is the most stark example yet of the politicisation of volunteering.  Ironically, the mayor is sending far more of a wrong message by his statement.  He is openly stating that volunteering will directly lead to people losing their jobs.  What makes the situation even worse is that local people are not exactly falling over themselves to work for nothing to do something that used to paid for by their council tax anyway.  Two branches, in the most deprived wards in Doncaster, have already closed.  They could not attract enough volunteers.  Many of the twelve others that the mayor is keen to offload onto the community are struggling to get sufficient interest.
This is hardly the rosy image that those in favour of the Big Society would seek to convey.  Of course, what the outspoken mayor is saying publicly is what many councillors around the country are thinking privately.  By doing so, they are changing the goodwill and love for a public service into a destructive force. Volunteering should be an unalloyed good for a community and, if done properly, can be of tremendous positive impact in a library.  What is happening in Doncaster and elsewhere in this country is a destructive perversion of that ideal.

It’s not going well in North Yorkshire either. This from the Private Eye (Issue no.1309 9-22 March Library News p.28):

“When North Yorkshire shelved its plans to close many of its 42 libraries last year (Eye 1279), the county council fended off a vociferous Save Our Libraries campaign by announcing it had high hopes that all the threatened branch libraries would be “saved” by local communities.

By the end of this January, library chiefs were reduced to rather frantic begging for volunteers via local press, saying that working for nothing in the library could offer young people “work experience” while also providing opportunities for anyone feeling “lonely or isolated”.

In Hunmanby, near Scarborough, the whole plan was scuppered when, despite having 25 people prepared to give up time to man the library desk, no willing volunteer coordinator could be recruited and no viable scheme had been put forward in time.  So now, instead of a library open four days a week and offering children’s activity clubs as well as books and community internet access, the village will just get a fortnightly visit from the county’s mobile library.”

399 libraries (309 buildings and 90 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below. 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.

News

  • Culture, Media and Sport Committee announces final evidence session on library closuresParliament.uk – “Tuesday 13 March 2012. “Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, a number of local authorities announced plans to close one or more libraries in their areas, sparking campaigns and protests. The Committee is investigating what powers and obligations the Government has regarding these closures. For its final evidence session on library closures the Committee will take evidence from: At 10.30 am: Ed Vaizey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries), Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
  • How to get ahead in … library services - Guardian.  “Local library staff are being trained to show customers how to access potentially life-changing advice and information online in a pilot scheme which could create a new national library service. Sixty libraries have been recruited to eight pilot projects looking at how libraries can direct library users to quality internet advice and information about finding a job, changing career or keeping healthy.”
“Although cuts are hitting library services Taylor says staff training and development budgets for digital skills are surviving. “In my authority we still have the same budget for digital training we had two years ago. We are using the skills of colleagues who are more advanced in the field, but we still put people on external courses because we felt it represents value for money.”

made for Save Our Libraries Day, 2011.  A year old but still great to watch.

  • Returns sorter removes tedious library jobHutt News (New Zealand).  “Books, CDs, DVDs and magazines put through the library’s returns slot will have their RFID (radio frequency identification) tags ‘read” by the automated sorter, which will update the library database to show the item has been returned. The machine will be pre-programmed to sort the books into five category bins using conveyor belts.” … “At Brisbane central library there is a large glass wall and people just stand there watching the sorter.”
  • Shared service benefits at conference - Public Service.   “Personnel from local government and public libraries across the UK are expected to gain the knowledge needed to set up their own consortium – or to implement shared services or shared working on a smaller scale – when they attend a consortia conference organised by two of the largest public library consortia, the London Libraries Consortium and LibrariesWest.”

Local News

  • Bath and Northeast Somerset - Recycle an ex-library book into a work of art and win a prize - This is Somerset.  “”The idea is for members to pick up one of the old books from their local library and ‘recycle’ it as a piece of art. We’ve have already had some members of staff attempt some quick pieces of their own to inspire people.”
  • Devon – Campaigners to carry on Sidmouth Health Centre fight - Sidmouth Herald.  “The Herald reported last week how county council bosses said £600,000 allocated to Sidmouth Library – seen as the catalyst for the regeneration of both amenities in Blackmore Drive – will be spent across Devon.
  • Doncaster – Volunteers could save the day for Denaby Library - South Yorkshire Times.   “At the meeting a Labour motion that 14 of the 26 libraries the council closed receive £382,000 to keep them open was passed. The decision included re-opening Denaby and Carcroft libraries. Many of the other sites have been taken over by volunteers. But yesterday Mr Davies said he would veto the spending. Under the borough’s governance procedures the mayor has the final decision on almost all policies.” … “Mr Davies said he had provided £110,000 additional funding to help libraries but Labour’s plan could send the “wrong message” leading to communities not supporting libraries.”
    • Mayor defends decision to veto £380,000 libraries investment - Yorkshire Post.  ““As I understand it, I cannot spend the money on anything else, but I am not prepared to spend it on the libraries as suggested because my policy is already successful. So the money will be placed on one side. The Labour party spent years neglecting libraries in this borough and my policy was to close two and hand 12 over to the community to save money. We plan to go to town on the other 12 and make them much more welcoming and brighter, not the run down, dowdy places they were under previous Labour administrations.”
“Mr Davies said under the elected mayoral system he had the right to spend or not spend the money as he wished and would overrule the council for the first time in three years. He said: “If you put some paid people into libraries run by volunteers the likely scenario is the volunteers will say, ‘to hell with this, they are getting paid I am doing it for nothing, I am not sticking around’.”Ms Holland said: “I am appalled by the news that the mayor will ignore this vote and refuses to wake up to the fact that Doncaster people want to see community libraries supported and closed libraries reopened.”” Mayor of Doncaster refuses to open libraries - BBC.   English Democrat Mayor overrules (Labour) majority of councillors and continues with plans to withdraw staff from 14 libraries. 

  • Durham – Inspire, include, inform: library consultation - Durham Council.   “Our proposals are: to keep open all our library buildings, but reduce the opening hours funded by the council, to revise our criteria for the communities that are served by our mobile library service, to co-locate libraries wherever possible with other services and to invest to improve their appearance and facilities, to drive down our support and management costs, to move our library services into a not-for-profit Trust.”
  • East Sussex – Give your view on libraries - Bexhill on Sea Observer.   “East Sussex County Council’s (ESCC) library and information service is looking at how it provides rural and mobile library services across the County and says it wants to ensure it is giving the best service at the best price – and in the right place at the right time. Once the survey has closed the results will be compiled and reports drawn up for councillors and senior managers. Any proposals for change will be opened to full public consultation before any decisions are made.”
  • Hertfordshire – Waltham Cross LibraryHertfordshire Council.   Self-service on Mondays and Thursdays due to other non-library staff using library.  The council cut overall opening hours in its libraries by one third last year.
“We are extremely concerned about unstaffed opening – a small, short-term access gain risks future staff cuts and volunteer-run branches. We do not believe that library services should be reduced to the book stock, a photocopier and a few self-service machines. We do not believe that Hertfordshire’s library users are getting a fair deal from this arrangement.” We Heart Libraries on Twitter.

  • Surrey – I won’t rule out standing for the leadership: that from sacked Surrey Councillor Denise Saliagopoulos – Eagle Radio.  “However, Standards Committee member Eber Kington said: “Any matter referred to the Standards Committee has to be taken seriously. “If two people have been asked to step down while that is going on, they must be issues which are probably more than just normal, ordinary concerns.” Mr Kington adds that this could be an opportunity for the council to reverse its plans to get volunteers to run some libraries: “He (David Hodge) is a very pragmatic politician. “He also listens when he realises things have gone wrong. “He will look for opportunities to make changes and I think the library one, where he could be looking at costs against the council, would be a good one to start changing.”
  • Trafford – Report attacks Old Trafford library plans - Messenger.   “a spokesman for the Hands Off Old Trafford Library (HOOT) Campaign said: “One of our biggest concerns has been that the council doesn’t seem to have done any kind of feasibility study before publishing these proposals. It fell to the community to do the hard work of analysing the plans and we discovered that the council’s sums simply don’t add up.”