Archive for July, 2018

A city square with a roof

Changes

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Libraries Unlimited

Editorial

I included in the last post, and tweeted, an open letter from an ex-member of Devon (Libraries Unlimited staff) which raised serious questions about the way Devon’s library services were being managed. There was a lot in the post that was concerning so I emailed Ciara Eastell,, Chief Exec at LU for a response on four specific questions I had from it. Ciara has now sent the following back to me, which I publish below in full. I also asked another question about why some staff have needed to sign non-disclosure agreements, but I am told this is not happening at all and so the question has not been included.

 Have the number of managerial grades gone up, and frontline staff gone down, since the start of Libraries Unlimited? Why?

Changes to staffing structures since our transition from a local authority service to an independent organisation, and the increase in management staff, have been largely due to creating a number of new roles for work that would previously have been carried out by Devon County Council. This includes HR, communications, premises, IT, security, finance, health and safety and others, plus the creation of our Creative Director role that is funded by Arts Council England through our National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status.

At the point of transfer, 34% of our staff (in FTE) were in supervisory roles or above – this includes supervisors of medium sized libraries up to senior management level. In comparison, we had 66% on lower grades (library assistant/senior library assistant levels). As at end of March 2018 (latest available figures), we have 38% of our staff on supervisor level or above and 62% of staff on lower grades. As stated above, the changes are as a result of increased support services needed to run an effective independent organisation.

Where does money received from donations go?

All money that we raise through our range of fundraising activities is invested directly back into library services. This includes investing in extra events and activities and better equipment and resources for our libraries, to enhance our core offering. >We fundraise for both specific projects and resources (such as our Adopt A Book scheme and our recent fundraising campaign for increased activity in prison libraries), as well as fundraising generally. All money raised through general fundraising is put towards specific projects and events, with 50% of local library donations being put directly into that library and the rest invested into county wide improvements and enhancements, such as improved services for children and young people.

We gained registered charity status in November 2016, and launched our first fundraising activities towards the end of last year. Many library services and cultural organisations are able to fundraise to enable greater impact within their local communities. We welcome the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from others as we all seek to ensure that libraries and cultural organisations reach and engage with more people. As a charity, we have the added benefit of being able to benefit from Gift Aid, which means the money we generate from many fundraising activities can go even further.

Is there is a route of communication between frontline staff and trustees?  

We have two staff trustees on our Board, so those members of staff are freely available to be contacted by any member of the team. We also have two community trustees who are members of Friends Groups and are therefore directly in touch with their local library and with Friends Groups across the county. In addition, our trustees get out and visit libraries as much as they can. Their Board meetings are held in various libraries across the county, and they regularly attend events and activities at libraries. Just in the last month we had an event at Northam Library which was attended by one of our independent trustees and the Chair of our Board was also at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge in Exeter Library. We also organise an annual trustee tour, hosted by library supervisors to ensure trustees visit as many libraries as possible during their tenure.

In terms of more formal opportunities, we have an Annual General Meeting (AGM) which both staff and trustees attend. Every year our AGMs have offered staff and trustees the chance to engage with one another.  However, it’s important to understand the differing roles of trustees and senior managers. Trustees, including staff trustees, are there to drive the broader strategic direction of the organisation; as with all charities, they are volunteers giving their time freely in support of the mission and vision of Libraries Unlimited. The day-to-day running of the organisation is rightly the responsibility of senior managers. As well as two staff trustees, we also have an elected Staff Forum, who meet on a regular basis with the Chief Executive and senior managers. The Staff Forum is an important route for any member of staff to raise concerns, queries, issues or suggestions, and the staff representatives on the Forum decide where and who the particular item needs to be raised with.

Is there anything else you want to say?

At Libraries Unlimited we are incredibly proud of the difference we make to people’s lives on a daily basis. All of our libraries, large and small, offer a variety of services that meet the varying needs of the communities of Devon and Torbay. Our team of over 350 staff work hard to provide support and encouragement to those who visit. They greet people with warm, friendly smiles, with knowledge and professionalism. As a charity, everything we do is focused on our core mission, to bring ideas, imagination, information, knowledge and creativity to people’s lives. All of our staff and volunteers, from customer service assistants to the senior management team and our trustees, are absolutely committed to our cause. We are proud that, working closely with Devon and Torbay Councils, we have not closed any libraries, and each one is run and managed by paid and experienced members of staff. We believe that what libraries need is positivity. They need the people that love and value libraries to help spread the word about what it is that makes them special, and for people to work together to raise awareness of the excellent community resources that libraries provide. At Libraries Unlimited, we continue to focus on our six core purposes and on delivering diverse and high-quality library services for the benefit of people and communities of Devon and Torbay.”

Changes by authority

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Catch it if you can: sharp decline in bookfunds and lack of minorities in childrens’ books

Editorial

I don’t often entirely agree with Tim Coates.. Few public librarians do as he tends to blame the profession for its miseries, which, considering the budgetary reductions since 2010 is a hard line to take. However, he’s written an excellent piece in the BookSeller pointing out the dramatic reductions to bookfunds in the last decade. Tim has access to the full CIPFA figures for decades and so can do this sort of thing. Sadly, such statistics are barred from ordinary mortals by prohibitive (and ridiculous, considering CIPFA gets the figures for free) fees. But if they’re halfway correct then it shows the annihilation of bookfund in the UK which could go a significant way to explain why book issues have reduced so much in the same time. It’s hard to borrow something that’s not there.

In other news, the shocking lack of ethnic representation in children’s books – with only 1% of books published last year having a BAME main character – has been exposed in a new report. Perhaps public libraries could do something about that by selecting bookstock differently. That is, if they still have bookfunds. Finally, there’s been two lengthy reports emailed in about a film documentary of NYPL. It sounds like quite something. Catch it if you can.

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Libraries of the Year

Editorial

There’s some great things going on in libraries. I see so much brilliant stuff in the news doing this blog and in my work regionally and locally. Up and down the country, library services are looking up from their books and reaching out the local community and beyond, working out what they need to succeed. Those services lucky enough to have both staff and have those staff be active and busy, rather than wait for people to walk through the door (and, yes, this still happens in places) can be something to behold. So well done to Liverpool Central, one of my favourite libraries, and to the others on the list. You do us proud and are, literally, examples for all. And, lest we forget, thanks also to the BookSeller who set up this award. It’s a magazine that’s taken for granted a little and perhaps not seen much in many libraries these days, with there often being limited numbers subscribed to it and perhaps just one paper copy per service, if that. But it does sterling work and its support for public libraries – comparable only to the Guardian – has been notable for as long as I can remember, with the current issue being a brilliant example of how it both reports on libraries and seeks to support them.

Changes

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Enough money for Trump

Editorial

Further from my last editorial on the new DCMS Secretary of State, none other than the great Bob Usherwood emailed in to point out Jeremy Wright MP defended the so-called “ban” on prisoners buying books. See this. Yay. On the plus side, in the same article the MP does advocate for using the prison library instead so it’s not all bad.

In other news, well done to Lancashire who has reopened its twelfth library after the change in controlling party there. As a reminder, and somewhat confusingly for some, it’s the Conservatives who are in control there now. In addition, one notes that Ealing are looking to close down a recently refurbished library and change it to a volunteer one, perhaps in a local church. Not that, it seems, they’ve actually asked the local church yet. And Ealing is Labour. And Labour are as likely to cut libraries as the Conservatives, with both fine with volunteers (although Labour perhaps more hesitantly). What’s clear is that the overall political environment in England is austerity and so whoever is in charge looks around to make cuts. It’s not that the world is turned upside down – it’s just you have to zoom up a little to see the real cause, which is a continued national deep cut in spending on local services. There’s still enough UK money for Trump (who must be the anti-librarian in so many ways) to have at least £5 million set aside for his golf trip to Scotland. As ever, when it comes down to it, spending is a political choice. But that choice is more forcibly made in central rather than at local level.

Note: I described Nominet as a private company yesterday in my coverage of Two free guides for small businesses: Why get online, and How to get online. It is effectively a non-profit trust. My thanks to the Libraries Taskforce for pointing this out.

Changes

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Mr (W)right? A new Culture secretary appears.

Editorial

One of the dominoes falling from the current government changes means that we have a new person in charge of the DCMS (Mr Ellis’s boss), which has oversight of public libraries. A quick google search shows Jeremy Wright MP has had at least one advice surgery at Kenilworth Library, which is great, and I don’t begrudge him, when he at the time earned £190k per year, the 90p he claimed to drive from there to a local firework display at all. He was also at the opening of Southam Library. where he is on record as saying ““This is a huge achievement and this building will become, and already is, at the heart of the community for everyone – from the very youngest to the very oldest.”.  Other than that, he looks very much a normal non-rebellious Conservative MP who had become attorney-general a couple of years before. Its worthy of note, though, that Mr Wright – whose brief includes digital – does not have an active Twitter account, although he is on Facebook. If you need lessons, Jeremy, I am sure the library can help you …

Changes

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Balancing and philanthropy revisited

Editorial

Excellent piece from Leon about the need for a more balanced narrative about public libraries. You know the sort of thing. Campaigners on one end only reporting bad news and being angry on side while, on the other, official professional library stuff only emphasising the good news, with neither side really acknowledging the truth of the other. Leon argues that we should be happy to talk about the good as well as the bad, the bad as well as the good, and I agree. I thought Isobel Hunter’s first impressions about libraries after taking the helm at Libraries Connected was the closest I’ve seen for a while and Nick Poole can do balanced too. But too often I read only one side or the other in the news, and I am as guilty sometimes as anyone else, so Leon’s blog is timely and welcomed.

Speaking of balancing acts, now its time to go back to philanthropy for a bit. I’ve been thinking about my previous editorial. First thing is that after some rooting around, I find that  philanthropy funding public libraries directly, even up to 100% of the service, is legal as far as I can see as long as the local authority is still providing a service that satisfies the minister (not exactly hard) and other legislation such as on equalities. So I was wrong there. Secondly, of course, in reality, it’s a rare to non-existent council that would say not to any private donation as long as it was politically or ethically abhorrent.  So, as much as pretty much everyone in libraries would say that they’d want the sector to be paid for properly by taxation, when it comes to it, pretty much every council would take the money. And I suspect staff would too, if their jobs depended on it. Moreover, the current government would clearly strongly welcome such moves – they’d get rid of funding public services entirely if they could, and see no problems with MacDonalds Library with Fries  – and Labour would not be far behind them. So, OK, pragmatically, thank you Banksy. Make the cheque out to … oh, what do you mean, you’ve not actually said you’d pay anything yet? Darn it.

Changes

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Go big or don’t make the offer: Why we shouldn’t Banksy on public library philanthropy

Editorial

Two big stories in libraries this week for me. The first was the announcement that Bristol had been contacted by the artist Banksy to ask if he could help in some way after the council there announced they were cutting the budget and possibly closing 17 out of 27 branches. Just recently, after a storm(zy) of protest, the mayor u-turned and gave a reprieve until 2020. On closer inspection, it looks like Banksy hasn’t actually given any money to Bristol. Observers have also pointed out that he couldn’t legally pay for public libraries anyway (that statutory thing I think) and, moreover, depending on the whim of local rich people to fund what is a much-needed public service is no way for a civilized and wealthy country to behave. Indeed, my twitter feed was, and is, full of people saying this.

So let’s have a look at the big picture. Well, public libraries are perhaps the most famous beneficiaries of philanthropy ever. Mr Carnegie’s donations are still around in many beautiful buildings and the work of the Carnegie UK Trust. More recently, the Wolfson Foundation provided a lot of the original money for the People’s Network, and – perhaps less known – the lucky librarians of Hull have received £4 million in the last six years due to the nice James Reckitt Library Trust. On a smaller scale, Rochdale has a literature festival due at least in part to the good wishes of a couple who fell in love in the libraries there.  But, look, Carnegie is so well known because he gave $350 million. That’s easily over £6 billion in today’s money or perhaps seven times the total British public library annual budget. And all of the others have very definitely provided things additional to the core service. And libraries are for life, not just for Christmas.  Just like in the case of volunteering, relying on the whims of nice rich people is no way to run a library service. Unless a new billionaire comes along of course or you’re willing to spend a lot on long-term assistance for one authority.

Perhaps someone can hassle Bill and Melinda Gates to look to the UK. But I doubt very much that there’s any chance  ultra-capitalist Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon has done so much to destroy libraries and bookstores while paying a pittance to his warehouse human drones and avoiding tax, will much help. Perhaps, rather, we should look to, oh I don’t know, our taxes to cover such a service. Just don’t expect many billionaires to think similarly. My view, as stated in this Big Issue article, is “go  big or don’t make the offer”.

Secondly, it’s CILIP Conference week and there was big speech about how the US does its campaigning. Looks like it made quite an impact. Have a look below. And there’s a nice piece about the People’s Network in there as well.

Changes by local authority

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The hijacking of a common noun

Editorial

Dawn Finch has written an excellent article on public libraries that deserves an attentive read. One of the things in it is what shouldn’t be a library, such as those telephone or big bird-box book exchanges you see around the place. I love the word “library” and part of me thinks that if other people are appropriating it then it shows what a strong brand it is. After all, people use it not just for these Little Free LIbraries but also for software/code “libraries” and children’s collections like “My First Library”. People know, and like, what it means. That’s why I can never understand when people want to change the name of a library to something else. “Community Hub” or “Learning Resource Centre” doesn’t do it to me, nor for others, as Tasmania recently found out. People have a clear idea of what a library means. And it has less syllables than the alternatives.

I’m tempted to go off on one now about how volunteer libraries “community libraries” is a debasement of the term, much like inflation leads to a lower of the cost and quality of metal in coins but I don’t want to insult volunteers, who are doing unpaid work with the best of intentions. However, I would say that almost everyone agrees that council-run public libraries are the ideal. So, ideally, I’d like the word “public library” to keep meaning what it used to mean.  But there’s no appellation d’origin controlee for the word “library”. Or volunteer-run “community libraries” would have needed to have been called something else. Like “hubs” perhaps.

Changes by local authority

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