Archive for February, 2019

Going bye the board?

Editorial

The big talking point on library-land social media the last few days has been something on the face of it pretty boring: Hertfordshire are changing their byelaws to include volunteers. The change means volunteers have the right to use the byelaws and puts them more on a par with paid staff. Presumably, Herts are worried that, if an incident occurs, then volunteers, who are sole staffers of many of their branches, with more cuts on the cards, would otherwise not be able to do legally do anything about it other than call the police. Also it suggests a whole bunch of other library services who rely on the unpaid to keep their libraries open will need to do the same.

The DCMS needs to approve the change but there will be no problem there. Nor will there be with Libraries Connected who – despite its recent public awareness of the impact cuts – has been an enabler for replacing salaried personnel with the free alternative almost since the start of the phenomenon. Some hope CILIP may raise a warning. My view is that this is an inevitable acceptance or, depending on your view, a further sliding down of the slippery slope, of the consequences of accepting volunteers as replacements for staff that started at around the same time austerity kicked off. Some would put the date earlier. Inevitable or not, it’s hard to see what else needs to be done before there’s effectively no difference between the paid and unpaid in at least some UK public libraries. Well, apart from qualifications, training, average time commitment and salary that is.

The rest of the news is remarkably good. Camden is refreshing its IT. This is, fair enough, every service should do anyway but these days is not a given. The proposed closure of several Moray libraries has been cancelled and there’s even a couple of re-openings, two new libraries and a refurbishment. This is brilliant news. Great news also for York Explore which has won a further, and remarkably long, 15 year extension to its contract. It looks like they have had to accept a reasonable reduction in budget to do it, though, although the mutual (which does not have to answer freedom of information requests) and the council have been a bit vague about that.

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A blueprint for libraries … and watching Bridgend with interest

Editorial

There’s something big and national going on at the moment called the “Blueprint project” going on at the moment looking at how public libraries should position themselves in the future. It’s early days yet but it looks like those involved want regional development organisationss. Being involved in one of these at the moment, Time To Read North West, I can attest how useful this would be. Although I’ve discovered 32 such examples of UK public libraries working together, there is still very little co-operation in some areas and much resultant duplication of effort. So it’s good that that may be change. I’m less sure about other changes listed like to the “legislative framework, funding routes, quality standards and digital connectivity”, for a variety of reasons. Particularly concerning is the “funding routes” one, which from what I can piece together, is pushing for more franchising out of central government work and also commercial partnerships. The problem with both is, of course, the danger of losing unique selling points of the library – like neutrality – in favour of simple money. Chiefs will need to be very careful about that, which will be hard when money is being waved around, and the initial experience of working with Sopra Steria, did not bode well, although I understand things are better now.

Well, that’s big picture stuff, let’s get granular now …  it’s good to see the Wirral may be getting some investment and that a £150k cut in Brent has been cancelled. A move towards outsourcing, which looked very likely, in Swindon has been cancelled, possibly due to the leading politician in favour of it no longer being in charge or possibly due to other factors like a concern that a non-local concern may take it over. In the bad news side of the coin, there’s warnings of cuts in Aberdeenshire and Bridgend. The last has already outsourced its library service so it will be interesting to see if the Awen Leisure Trust, which runs it now, will take such cuts lying down or will publicly protest them. It’s been fascinating to see such open disagreements happen in one or two Trusts, which I see as a bid advantage of them, so I’ll be watching Bridgend with interest.

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Diversity and austerity

Editorial

I come from a fairly typical background in South Wales. My parents could not afford all the books I wanted and I had to catch the bus to the local library . Working hard at the local comprehensive I made my way to university in Exeter and then Sheffield and thus to libraries. I did not think at the time if my capability in doing this was in any way due to being male or white. But being I clearly remember racism and sexism being a big thing in 1970s and even the 80s I suspect it helped. So it’s good to see the need for diversity being recognised on the national level, not least because of the fact that, shockingly, 97% of the library profession is white compared to 88% of the population as a whole. And I remember in the 1990s when I started working that everyone thought, as a man, that I’d be on a fast track to promotion. Such thoughts may be less overt now but I suspect they’re still there.

I get accused sometimes of singing the praises rather too much of librarians and this is true. I love libraries and think there are few roles more rewarding to society and self than working towards the library ideal. But I’d be wilfully blind not to admit that there are problems in the profession. Last post, I touched upon the lack of apparent importance given to a core service, indeed the book is to many the core, by many in the sector. A rebalancing slightly away from gushing about makerspaces (which will only, when it comes down to it, ever be a side activity) and theatre shows (likewise) towards actually making our book offer look professional is long overdue. And this lack of diversity is something else that needs to be addressed.

The protests against the cuts in Essex continue to dominate the news. They clearly love their underfunded and under-appreciated (by the council) libraries there and it’s great to see. Whether the protests will actually achieve anything, other than possibly extract a few token concessions, is in question as English councils do not have a brilliant track record with actually listening during library consultations. It’s notable, in fact, that councils are far more likely change tack after reading the results of them in the other parts of the UK. Why this is may be open to question: possibly due to their being less True Believer Conservatives in power but presumably also to them questionably being (slightly) less affected by austerity. An example of this is Neath Port Talbot in this post who have cancelled four closures down to the public response. Good to see. And I hope the campaigners in Essex can take heart from it, and their councillors listen.

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Hello Library Sector, it’s me, Book

Editorial

Libraries Connected have done some work to their (previously very sparse) website and added links to some useful resources. There’s not much new there – and, my, it shows how few free resources there are for reading – but it’s good to see them there. Speaking of reading, LC (I can’t help but call it Elsie) have done some nice statistics summaries, which show that more than three quarters of library visitors are there for the books. I find the lack of serious projects or indeed discussion, or any kind of focus, on books one of the biggest black holes in libraries in the last decade. By rights, there should be initiative after initiative in boosting what is very much our core product. But no. apart from some sterling work by the Reading Agency, the focus of much of the sector has been on what are, ultimately, side projects like makerspaces and coding. These are great to be sure but there seriously needs to be some rebalancing going on.  Those books on the shelves are important and the lack of serious training or concentration on boosting their use is as dangerous as the repeated cuts to their funding over the years. Another curious stat gleaned from the LC tables is that, using the figure of 2,080 hours work per year per 1 FTE, a full eighteen times more work is done in libraries by paid staff than by volunteers. Yes, despite all the coverage, it’s the poor (down 5% in one year, salary freezes or pay increases below inflation for a decade) employees who are still doing the vast amount of the actual work.

The news that the National Literacy Trust is boasting about working with shoe shops to boost literacy is as puzzling as library services who are disregarding books and paid staff. NLT, please, dudes, hello. We’re Over Here. Work with us. Local authority-wise, there’s some good news in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall (who have, by the way, quietly passed a ton of their libraries to parish/town councils) and Milton Keynes. The £200k reduction in the previously announced big £1m Worcestershire cut is entirely offset by a £200k cut in Powys. Finally, the new post announced in CILIP has, to say the least, raised some eyebrows on social media after the deep job losses that occurred last year.

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