Archive for January, 2018

No-one can accuse Sajid of being long-winded

Amazon show a future, but it’s probably not the one for libraries

Editorial

The history of public libraries over the last few decades has been one of automation. There was Browne Issue tickets (row after row of cards) being replaced by computers then the internet replacing much reference work followed closely by self-service machines and, now, in over one hundred buildings, card-and-pin entry so no staff need to be present at all. Amazon have just apparently gone one further even than this by not requiring a bank card (or in our case, library card) at all. I’ve often thought that the ultimate conclusion – as long we have buildings and stock that is – is the doors scan you as you leave, recognise the library card (or app) in your pocket and leave with books but with no swiping. Amazon have brought this day closer but there are major problems with their approach when it comes to libraries. First off, libraries need to recognise not just the type of good (e.g. the book) but the item (e.g. that particular copy of the book). Secondly, the system apparently requires little cameras everywhere – well, there goes privacy then but, then again, many libraries have CCTV all over. Finally, the system requires on everyone to have a mobile phone and an app. Well, that goes against a couple of key library things right there, not least of which is being open to all, regardless of ability to pay. So if such a system comes to public libraries it will be in radically different form, or it will be a radically different library.

Changes by authority

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With the main question being "how do you define a library"?

Ealing and Harrow likely to outsource again, deep cuts in Somerset.

Editorial

Ealing and Harrow have both responded to the collapse of Carillion by temporarily continuing library services in-house. Reading behind the lines, and despite having had their fingers burnt, it looks to me that both councils – who have been sold on outsourcing once – are likely to go that way again. Who this is (hello GLL?) remains to be seen and precumably tendering would need to be done.

Elsewhere, more details have come to light about deep cuts to Shropshire and Somerset. In the former, only 6 libraries are going to be run by the council in six years, with the rest being euphemistically called “cost-neutral”. This apparently means that someone else has to pay for them, be it lower-tier councils or volunteers: so there will be a deep drive to cut costs (i.e. paid staff) and increase income (e.g. parish taxes, grants, fundraising). The timescale for this was originally wildly unrealistic and a brush with consultation has meant that the council has extended the time limit a bit longer, possibly even long enough in some cases., if Shropshire library users are lucky, for another national government to come in and reverse the deep austerity that necessitates such damage in the first place.

I am sorry to see Somerset is once more up against it, with 15 out of 34 libraries due to close or pass to volunteers. The county was one of the first to face deep cuts when I first started PLN and it was only a court case that got them to stop closing libraries that time. Five years later and it looks unlikely that such a court case would happen again, given the generally lower levels of service now expected in council services and the lessons learnt from what went wrong last time. This time, the hope must be that the consultation is taken seriously by the public (I am sure it will be by the council – one bitten twice shy and all that) and the reaction helps persuade the council to lessen the cuts. Again reading between the lines, it seems unlikely that the new revolving-door libraries minister will intervene in either case.

Changes

National news

  • Arts Council England announces new director of museums – Arts Council England. “Sue Williamson joins ACE as director of libraries and Birmingham from St Helens Library Service, where she most recently delivered its award-winning Cultural Hubs Arts in Libraries programme and oversaw the successful application to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. Williamson also represented public libraries as part of a DCMS in a recent discussion on the future of digital technologies in arts and culture. “I am thrilled to be joining Arts Council England as Director: Libraries and Birmingham and to have the opportunity to support and champion the role of Libraries in delivering the wider cultural offer to the communities they serve. With the recent announcements of Coventry as the next UK City Of Culture and Birmingham as host for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, this is a time of great challenge and opportunity for the whole of the cultural sector in this area.””

“Three library services [out of 151] in England – Croydon, Ealing and Harrow – are managed for these local authorities by Carillion through its subsidiary, Cultural Community Solutions Ltd (CCS Ltd).  We [Libraries Taskforce and DCMS, through the Taskforce’s Chief Executive Kathy Settle] have made contact with the library services. We are available to assist and discuss with the library services if needed, however they have confirmed that contingency plans are in place and that they are proceeding with next steps. The library services are in contact with PWC, which has been appointed as special managers for the insolvency of Carillion, and discussions are underway about plans for the future. The Councils have been working with library staff and managers and the services have been opening and operating as normal. ” Libraries Taskforce

  • Library groups call for inquiry after Carillion collapse – BookSeller. “CILIP chief executive Nick Poole believes the Carillion collapse exposes flawed government thinking that private outsourcing provides the best quality services and highest efficiency. He called for a public inquiry into whether local and national government continued to knowingly to issue contracts for the delivery of vital public services to a failing company. “The current policies of austerity and privatisation are putting statutory services like public libraries at risk,” said Poole. “This is why CILIP is actively lobbying for a fair financial settlement for local authorities which enables them to meet the current and future needs of local communities and for standards which ensure that people receive the quality of service they have paid for.””. Also includes views from myself, Laura Swaffield of the Library Campaign and Tim Coates.
With the main question being "how do you define a library"?

With the main question being “how do you define a library”? With thanks to Mike Bedford

  • London libraries assess impact of Carillion collapse – Guardian. “Croydon council has reacted to the service provider’s liquidation by taking the service in-house again, while Ealing and Harrow are laying contingency plans” … “On Tuesday, Croydon council announced it would immediately terminate its eight-year contract with Carillion, which was set to run the borough’s 13 libraries until 2020, and take on the responsibility itself, rather than outsourcing to another firm. All 73 staff positions were guaranteed, it said.” … “Councillor Timothy Godfrey, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said that the council had been considering parting ways with Carillion for years, and claimed that the firm had failed to provide a satisfactory library service” … “The cost to the council to take on the borough’s library service would be slightly higher than paying Carillion, because Croydon council was a living wage employer, admitted Godfrey”. … “Harrow council is set to consider its future plans for its six library branches at a cabinet meeting on Thursday night, but a council spokesman said that it was business as usual, and maintaining consistency for residents and staff was its priority. Under Carillion’s care, no problems in the library service had been reported to the council, he continued, and while the current contract was working, it expected to need a new provider after Carillion’s liquidation.” see also Public sector looks for ways to plug gap left by Carillion – Public Finance.

““They hadn’t fixed the issues flagged when Hounslow left. They hadn’t been paying paper suppliers and photocopier engineers. Their annual library plan was always behind schedule. It’s been really unfair on the staff on the front line because they were the poor souls holding the service together, and they had no managerial support. There were staff paying out-of-pocket for things like for craft materials for activities with kids.””

  • Michael Ellis confirmed as new libraries minister – BookSeller. “Michael Ellis has been confirmed as the new libraries minister at the department of digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), following Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle last week. Ellis was formerly the deputy leader of the House of Commons. He is now parliamentary under secretary of state for the arts, heritage and tourism with responsibility for libraries”
  • On borrowed time? – BookSeller. “Meanwhile at Westminster, we have the third new libraries minister in 18 months: Northampton North’s Michael Ellis—an MP whose chief claim to fame thus far is persuading the government to put more money into pothole repairs. With the constantly rotating door of ministerial posts, will he stay in the role long enough even to master the brief? Waterstones m.d. James Daunt decried the “disgrace” of library cuts in an interview this week, saying the decline of the service will damage the future of British society; a view widely shared in this industry. If between them Khan and Ellis can push the case for libraries up national and local agendas, that assistance is badly needed; but the chronic threats to the service must be acknowledged, and whatever the digital opportunities for the library service, books and reading must stay absolutely at its core.”
  • Want to tackle loneliness? Stop closing libraries – Politics. “The knitting group changed all that. It arranges trips to garden centres and market towns. They get together for meals out. My mum now not only regularly visits the library but she also volunteers there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed her life. But all that could soon come to an end. Northamptonshire county council recently opened a consultation on its library services. Three options were put forward. The first would require local groups to run many of the county’s libraries to keep them open. The second would see 21 out of 36 libraries closed. The third would see 28 out of them closed. Option two and three would see my mum’s library close its doors. Even the mobile library would be axed. This isn’t an isolated case”

An online bookclub from Axiell More >

Carillion gone

Editorial

So Carillion has gone. It ran three library services in London arms-length via a non-profit arm called Cultural Community Solutions. Within hours, Croydon, which has changed party control since making the decision to outsource its libraries and is now Labour, announced it would be bringing its libraries back in-house. It had clearly expected and planned for this moment. Less prompt are Harrow and Ealing (both also Labour) who were recommending extending their contract with Carillion just last week. Oops. Although in their defence they would have been stung with big fines if they had (albeit fines they agreed to when outsourcing in the first place). I have not heard or seen anything about what will be happening at those two councils, with the options either being taking back in-house or going to another provider, the obvious one being GLL if they’re willing to do so. My heart goes out to library staff at both councils who must be going through a difficult time.

This means that there are currently no public libraries in the UK run by a for-profit company. That’s the first time since Laing took over Hounslow a decade or so ago and represents quite a change from when I wrote this article in 2011 when US company LSSI was wanting to take over a tenth or more of the UK market. The truth is that private companies do not have a magic wand when it comes to running public libraries. There’s nothing they can do that a council can’t, as those up and down the country who have tried every income-generating and cut trick in the book can testify. Heaven knows times are tight enough without a percentage siphoned off to shareholders somewhere. Simply put, if your public library is making a profit for someone then you’re doing it wrong. Long may that mistake not be repeated in the UK.

Changes

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Statistics are wonderful things

On average, and statistically speaking, I wasn’t in pantomime last week

Editorial

This post is even later than usual being I’ve been in pantomime over the last couple of weeks. It was a fun amateur production, and being a librarian I felt really at home as Baron Hard-Up, but it did not half reduce my blogging time.

That's me on the right. Oh yes it is.

That’s me on the right. Oh yes I am.

While I was away, the Libraries Taskforce, in their most recent Libraries Deliver newsletter, has added up some useful council survey replies and come to the conclusion that more than twice as many libraries opened or moved since 2010 than were closed. At first blush, this will come as a shock to anyone who has even a passing relationship with the reality of the situation but, to be fair, the same article makes clear that this is only a reasonable claim if you discount the 500 or so volunteer libraries (really) and also if you count libraries possibly co-located with ten other services or in a corner somewhere as the equal to a stand-alone building. But it’s a claim you can expect the new libraries ministerial team, when they work out where their office is, will be using repeatedly, without any such qualifications any day now.

Statistics are wonderful things

Statistics are wonderful things

In other news, it’s interesting timing that Harrow and Ealing are recommending staying with Carillion running their libraries while at the same time it’s in all the newspapers that Carillion will go bankrupt without hefty government intervention. The reason, though, is clear: both authorities agreed to massive fines (£485k and £693k respectively) if they decided to leave the private company before ten years was out. They must now be privately regretting that, especially as the evidence suggests Carillion are far better at negotiating hard-nosed handcuffing contracts than, well, actually running a successful business.

Changes

Ideas

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