- By authority
- Volunteer-run libraries
- Privatized Libraries / Outsourcing library services
- Increasing income
- Why libraries?
Minutes of the Library Campaign Conference 22/10/11
Library Campaign Conference
Saturday 22nd October 2011 at ULU, London.
The following are notes, typed in as people spoke, from the Conference. They do not
claim to be 100% accurate.
Margaret Bailey (co-chair Save Kensal Rise Library and involved in SOS Brent Libraries): We’re “all in the same boat” as councils are not wanting to talk to any of us. We’ve all spent long hours organising campaigns so libraries can stay open. This is especially annoying as councillors and officers are not listening to use despite being paid to run the service. Our Chief Executive earns more than the PM. Councillors are refusing to listen to campaigners even though they say they want to know what users want. The campaign is “proof we need and love our library”. The spontaneous pop-up library outside our now closed one shows that we care. When the workmen came to board up the library, it was women and children who stopped them. Then there were all-night vigils to stop them doing it secretly – they were very very cold. We received a lot of help with constant (hot) food being supplied. We sat in blankets, with heaters, on chairs at what has become known as the “Kensal Rise Piazza” where people came supported and hung out.
“This campaign has galvanised our community”. “The community has been transformed by the threat” of the loss of the Library. We appreciate the support that we have had from people all around the country. “Hopefully together we will stop the destruction of our libraries”. Many of our libraries are now boarded up: this is so very wrong and dispiriting. Brent council sent some workmen to paint over the Preston Library boards which had been daubed with numerous showing messages of support. They had been told that they had to do this as there was pornography on them. So we took them around all of the boards and there was no pornography, just messages of support so the workman went away. We’re not finished yet.
The discussion on Brent was then taken up by a second lady from Kensal Rise. There were three test claimants for the judicial: (1) Margaret (above) who runs local children’s nursery. (2) a mum who uses library as an extension of her home and (3) Steve Lester. We lost the review. It was the same judge who rejected the Dale Farm travellers bid. The rejection was also on the same date that Mark Twain gave the speech opening the library. The council then moved very fast trying to board up the libraries. All but one was successful but at on library, the boarding up was stopped by school kids shouting “save our library”. Later, Preston Library campaigners stopped protesters taking equipment and computers away. All Souls College may go back to owning Kensal Rise (they are the owners but the council had it for free as long as it was run as a library) but the college is not interested in running it. They are nice about it but they are a charity themselves and don’t want to take it over. “It is our hope that Brent Council and the campaigners will reach a solution that will keep the library running.”.
Our lawyers moved very fast too. Deciding to do an appeal meant that campaign lawyers worked non-stop, with the highly motivated campaigners in turn motivating the law firm. The Brent appeal hearing will be on 10th/11th November at the High Court : all are welcome to come. A “Dangerous” new barrister has come on board on our side – campaigners very happy about previous lawyer but happy about this one now.
The grounds for the court case are (1) Equality Impact Assessment. The loss of branches will be especially bad for Asian community. This is shown now by users going to the next nearest branch, where staff are telling users to go to an internet café as they are too busy. (2) 1964 Act – council has not looked enough at need of children. (3) Unfairness and lack of transparency in ways community proposals are dealt with. “Seven secret criteria” used to judge the community bids. Campaigners were not told what they were so naturally could not meet them: their bids were thus rekected.
Money. Kensal Rise set up new charity to run / assist in the running of library so that includes all eventuality. “Margaret and I both feel that libraries should be run by the local authority, we pay librarians but we are really in the position of our backs against the wall.”. If that’s what it takes, it’s something we have to do. They were upset by a Voices For the Library blog post on Brent which criticised people for wanting to take over libraries with volunteers. Council has not used building particularly well and we could use it better. No reason Kensal Rise library had not been boarded up, workmen were told that “500 schoolchildren will cry if you board up this library”. There were, though, repeated efforts to board up, with “white vans circling around the library like sharks”. Margaret has given the undertaking that she will pay for the cost of security until decision made – which at £16 per hour is a lot money. “We need to find a rich person to write us a cheque”. However, this undertaking needed to be done as it would have been a really powerful symbol if boarded up that the Council can do anything it likes. £30,000 already raised by the community for the campaign and it’s likely that more money needs to be raised. There will be a national appeal for that money as campaigners feel so much has come from their community already.
Jo Anderson and Demelza Jones. Jo is in the Voices For The Library groups as she felt there needed to be a voice for librarians and library users. Started Glos campaign as library budget already one the smallest but bookfund cut by 40% even before spending review. There were at the time no library user groups, no user feedback. She started a non-political group, initially Friends of Cheltenham Library but became countywide as Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. Members are from all backgrounds, ages, united by “a lot of passion” : not just the “whinging middle classes”. The group rattled politicians who nevertheless refused to talk to FoGL, trying to withdraw funding from 10 libraries, of which 4 were in the highest deprivation areas. Local users felt they were being blackmailed into running them but some like Hesters Way would be very difficult to run by volunteers. Petition was started. Group aimed for 5,000 but got 15,000 signatures. Plus six different community petitions as wekk. Not one Conservative councillor spoke up. Our petition wasn’t “don’t cut libraries”, it was that there was no Plan B, no thinking about it. We Wanted independent review of plans. Council still did not listen.
There was a “Trainwreck” council meeting when petition received. Councillors did not know what to do with it. Council voted to close libraries then invited campaigners to speak. Glos PR said volunteers were keen to start but all groups said they were being held to ransom. So, we decided to go for legal challenge and were promptly told needed to get money for challenge. Didn’t like it as it was in some of the most deprived areas but people rose to the it and got the money.
Then there was a meeting with the DCMS. Six retired librarians wrote detailed letter to DCMS saying why the reforms would not work and so FoGL were invited to London to talk to them. “We don’t understand why they met with us and not with others”. The department met with Isle of Wight and Lewisham campaigners too. DCMS also met with council. No information or action afterwards. Same template letter “we’re monitoring the situation” from Dempster Marples that has been received by many other groups present. Complete lack of action by the department.
The judical review is different to Brent and other cases as e.g. council voted cuts in before consultation was finished. Frustrated that Courts are deferential to DCMS and vice versa. Government’s attitude appears to be “We’ll see what happens” and does nothing. Overwhelming and heartwarming support for the campaign by the public though,
(Lauren Smith) – There have been no professional librarians employed in Doncaster for years, apart form 1.5 in back-office soon to be made redundant. There has also been no chief librarian until recently. Annie Mauger (just before being made chief of CILIP) did a report on Doncaster and said situation was not acceptable but then spending review came in. Libraries are badly underfunded so the Mayor’s logic is they’re underused and so they’re not needed and will be closed. Many branches under threat are in some of the most deprived areas of the country.
There was lots of protest to news of closures, uncluding a 15,000 name petition but debate in council. Consultation has been redone due to being recalled by scrutiny panel. However, political situation is peculiar. The mayor is an English Democrat and his Cabinet are made of English Democrats, Lib Dems and Conservatives. However, majority of councillors are Labour but have no say if it a decision is a Mayoral/Cabinet one such as the one closing libraries. This is a very high-profile issue and Labour councillors are very supportive. New library chief appointed with a better consultation but still only 1% of population asked. Council has not looked at deprivation indices. Labour party has alternative budget that does not mean libraries will close. Mayor uninterested, never used libraries, thinks anyone can staff them, does not even know where they are. Campaign has massively raised libraries on national and international agenda.
Lauren is a Voices for the Library member, with a lot of this work being online. Voices talk to the media and suggest ways of how councils can keep branches running and their value. The group had a stall at Hay on Wye to raise profile amongst book-lovers generally
Gillian Johnson, ex head of Doncastet Library Service then spoke. Councillors were not allowed to say anything at council meeting other than people who were in the mayor’s cabinet and so could not disagree with Mayor Davies. “I didn’t think I would spend my retirement trying to salvage the situation in Doncaster”. Mayor says community can run library and if they’re not interested, it’ll close. Council expects volunteers to bear whole cost of running branches other than bookstock. An advisor paid for by the council ran seminar for volunteers reading out long list of what was needed but mayor claims he is not aware of it and the job is an easy one.
Some people have suggested that the Conference is being run by UNISON. This is not so, although it has been advertised to its members. The next speaker us Pete Challis from the union to explain the national situation and the economic arguments.
Does this make economic sense – Pete Challis, UNISON.
“We won’t be able to solve what is happening in public libraries without understanding the economic arguments”.
Pete started with an example of the economic impact of making a library assistant made redundant. £5000 goes in tax from someone earning £15000. If assistan loses job though, government now contributing to her – job seekers allowance, etc so government paying £11000 just to keep her. Also, she spends less so impacts on private sector. For every 100 public sector posts lost, another 41 lost in private sector. It therefore makes little economic sense to get rid of council workers unless they immediately move into another job.
Local government gets money from (1) Grant from “Communities and Local Government”, made up mostly of business rates (c. £20bn per year) plus revenue support grant (£3bn per year) plus money for schools. (2) Council Tax payers (£26bn). (3) Fees and charges. This last is the fastest growing element of the lot.
2010/11 – £1.1bn cut to local government from central government, especially £311m cut to children/young people (Connexions etc).
2011/12 – A further £3bn cut. These are the fastest and deepest cuts made in most people’s lifetimes. “And this is only the beginning”.
2014/15 – 28% cut in real terms to all inc. police but for local government it is worse. Starting at £20bn in 2010, ending at £13bn. This means a 33% “cash cut”. For every £1 council received in 2010/11, it will get 67.6p in 2014/15 from the Government.
If you factor inflation in as well, then it an even bigger cut.
Council Tax will be frozen so there is reduction in relative terms for it due to inflation. This freeze will benefit the better off the most as it is based on house prices. People in London in most expensive bands G and H will gain twice as much as those in poorest bands elsewhere in country. The Chancellor has found £650m to pay for the tax-freeze but this created regional disparities and removes the opportunity for local people to say that they would be willing to pay more for libraries. There’s clearly some resources that can be found by government for other things though as it found a further £250m for weekly waste collections.
“There may be some real efficiencies” e.g. introducing co-mingled recycling collection saved £25m in one council due to being charged less in landfill charges. However, these cannot be made overnight and the scale of the cuts makes the task impossible.
Formula Grant has gone down this year. First year in the history of it that it has done so. The Welsh Assembly has allowed councils to increase tax (they believe in localism there, unlike in England where councils do not have the choice).
The Government is saying it is wanting to encourage local retention of business rates. This is great if you’re in Westminster who currently have £1bn revenue but only get £100m back. Also, there has been sleight of hand by government – forecast business rates above the limits will be kept by central government to subsidise other grants. So growth in business rates will not go to local councils but rather to central government. £21 distributed in business rates 2011 but £19bn in 2011 – government claims accounting was wrong. This is important as the artificially low 2011 figure is used as base year so this makes things even worse. OBR predictions say business rates will rise to £30bn but all this gain will go to government.
Then there’s tax avoidance and evasion. There was a £35 bn tax gap in 2009/10 (HMRC figures) due to big companies not paying the tax that they should. Proposals for a Robin Hood Tax (if .01% tax on financial transactions, government could raise £25bn per year) which is a popular idea in Europe and increasingly so in the USA. Corporation tax rate us lower in the UK than many places. UK 28% cf Japan/USA 39%. Eire is 12.5% to attract business – it is not really helping them now as locked into it. Government plans to cut corporation tax rate down to 23% in 2014 (this will mean £2.7bn less in revenue in 2014/15).
“If we ignore where the money is coming from, perhaps we miss the trick”.
Questions from the audience on the morning session were then taken.
Q. There’s been no mention of the Wirral criteria. How were the councils allowed to evade it? A: this criteria was not legally binding. Report was done by lay-person. However, Glos situation and others is worse than Wirral. Wirral criteria are also not a legal precedent as Secretary of State did not legally endorse them (Wirral Council changed their spending aims before a legal precedent was set).
How are cuts being made if libraries are a statutory service? A; MLA and now ACE have been advising councils to say it is a local issue. DCMS say there is no need to intervene even though they have a duty on paper. We’re caught in limbo. DCMS says “wait and see what the judge says” and they will absolutely not intervene on a national level (Alan Gibbons asked, DCMS said no). No-one wants to take responsibility for it. It’s very frustrating that government is passing buck on to council. Ed Vaizey put lots of pressure on when he was shadow minister about the Wirral but he is not doing anything now as minister. The fear is that this government cares more about ideology than the law.
Patricia Richardson said about the Lewisham example where there are 5 pseudo-libraries, with 1 “hanging by a thread”. “Local need had to be assessed” says DCMS lawyer during meeting but questioned about what we can do about it. Patricia thinks that all campaigns should get together and demand a national review (to applause).
There is no real definition of what is a “comprehensive and efficient” service.
Peter Richardson, also of Lewisham said they have a directly elected mayor there. Every mayor can decide his own cabinet so it is a system of “one man one vote” – “the mayor is the man and he has the vote”. Chief Exec said “non-statutory” services “such as public libraries” could face cuts and buildings could be sold. This policy is still in process regardless of the law. 41% of libraries closed in May 2011 – 3 run by social enterprise manned by volunteers, already asking for book donations. Another one had £250k of council money given to set itself up. New Cross – the library closed, local campaigners wanted to run it but council demanded £30k per year rent. “Comprehensive” means everyone in local authority has the same service. Where is Jeremy Hunt? Where is Ed Vaizey? The answer appears to be: “Hiding”.
Do people in Brent know how much it costs to run the service? Yes, campaigners do know and have researched the matter in detail. It is depressing that frontline services are being cut but that the Chief Exec has the same pay as always. Small figures for council as a whole but they mean life or death for libraries. Lauren Smith added a point about “comprehensive and efficient”. Judges defer to the Secretary of State but he is not saying. National Library Standards have been removed so its all guesswork.
Somerset campaigner – Councils are pursuing a “divide and rule” strategy. We have to stay together. Brent judge said judgement was specific only in Brent. Brent campaigner says it is only important nationally due to timing as it is first. Glos may get result of ruling before Brent appeal. DCMS are being inundated with complaints and are hoping that the courts will sort it out.
Judith Wardle, Oxfordshire campaigner. Oxon has done analysis of what they say is “comprehensive and efficient” using seriously flawed statistical criteria. Claim got criteria from MLA but did not tell them that until MLA ceased to exist. No minutes of meeting where this took place. It turns out these criteria were taken from a page on the Save Doncaster Libraries website.
Croydon campaigner. “Small wonderful library” costs £18k p.a. Thanks to everyone at the Conference as as we are all on the same wavelength and its great to say that. The Council had 20,000 objections to its closure proposal so council decided not to close them but to outsource them. The procurement process for this apparently costs £250. We don’t know why – perhaps the meetings have incredibly expensive biscuits? Also, in the case of privatisation being successful, what happens to statutory right? A: nothing happens, Laing have done it in Hounslow for years.
Hertfordshrie campaigner. We should all write to John Whittingdale on DCMS committee to encourage it to be discussed in Parliament. (Idea picked up from Public Libraries News website which got the idea from the Bolton campaign).
There were then a series of workshops. I attended the one on:
Privatisation is much further forward in the USA, with LSSI being the fifth largest provider in the country. In comparison, there is only one council (Hounslow) run by a private company in UK. So far. Privatisation means fragmenting the service, offering two tiers. It also doesn’t make sens as libraries will never make money. If have to be privatised, though, it is better to be first to be privatised to a company as it will be used as a flagship to get more contracts, such as was the case in Brent.
Cross-boundary working is a good way to save money. “The economies are enormous”. Diana Edmonds (from GLL social enterprise) says there is potential for integration very fast e.g. library app able to integrate all libraries in London. However, lack of co-operation between different companies e.g. Civica who want to run libraries so it is no use to them (TALIS popular library computer system just bought by Civica). This means opportunity to combine services is lost. Privatisation and outsourcing changes the nature of the library.
There is a need for a national network. There is currently a lack of any national libraries system e.g. everyone has different computer catalogues, library cards, self-service systems (RFID) etc. Privatisation and volunteers makes fragmentation worse, not better.
Technology. Makes it easier for national standardisation. Be careful though to make sure though that one does not accidentally fragment to just be one of many competing standards.
Competition – There isn’t any in libraries – they don’t match the private sector well. There is no need for long-term contracts for private companies unless they have themselves paid for a high initial investment into the system and need to make the money back.
It spares the council the political embarrassment of closing libraries if outsource service. However, libraries lose their directly accountable nature for anything not in the private company’s contract. Also, councils tend not to want to know – it’s ideological. Company is accountable to the council which is accountable to the public. LSSI claim “all they will do will deliver service more efficiently due to economies of scale” – but they have zero at the moment. You can challenge private companies on efficiency criteria. They have no magic bullet of efficiency, certainly not the 15% margin they would need to cover their probable profit.
May make service more populist not popular. Need to be comprehensive, e.g. include classics. However, company’s main duty is to shareholders not to public.
The Localism Bill means that anyone can challenge the local council and ask to run the services. So it may be academic but … we need to know the arguments and make sure that you speak out and get your views known.
Get the press on side. Rupert Murdoch needs a great campaign. Why not get him to support it? (Laughter)
Use the social media and the internet. Use Public Libraries News, Voices for the Library etc. Ensure you’re on Twitter and follow them so that you know all the necessary news and info.
“We’re not shouting for libraries, we’re shouting for people who use libraries” (John Dolan)
The key is to get elected members on side so write to your MP esp. All-Party Parliamentary Group on libraries starting soon (Justin Tomlinson Swindon MP is chair). Libraries are not a party political position so any MP can be useful.
Hounslow are run by John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS), a wholly owned subsidiary of John Laing. Market is now saturated in PFI so Laing moved to libraries as it is a “virgin” market with potential profit to be made. The plan was to make it a flagship service and so sell itself to more councils but JLIS haven’t won a single further tender so they’re desperate. JLIS are a “total disaster”. They know little about library services. Hounslow Council don’t know about it either as they have sacked all their professionals. Like “soft” facilities management
Lewisham – Started outsourcing discussions in March before mentioning it to the public. Already done deal with Age Exchange. BlackHeath building was rented so wanted to get rid – still renting it as no-one wants to buy it, as yet. 3 branches controlled by social enterprise. Initial registration attracted 13 different parties which was cut down to 4. We suspect Laing dropped out due to there being insufficient profit. Person taking over the lease is responsible for repairs. Eco Computer Systems already had a 1000-book branch with café (café now closed) and now has 3 more buildings on 25 year lease reviewed every 5 years. “Severe reputational risk to council” if it fails but they did it anyway. Unclear as to how they will raise money for repairs. Advantage is libraries still in the buildings and still being run. Council has removed some stock from “pseudo-libraries”.
Croydon – Cut before even finished consultation – “staff restructure” lost qualified librarians. A lot of qualified libraries were managers and so retired. Specialist Librarians “rebranded” as “Reading and Learning Librarians” so lose their specialism. Local branch lost qualified children’s librarian with the result that some Croydon libraries have access to qualified librarian one day per month. New staff (moved from other parts of the service) did not have technical training, including even how to scan books. Staff in libraries now don’t have basic information, down to and including where the comments cards are.
This following session was designed to share ideas from the individual workshops.
Privatisation. Chief conclusion was that privatisation and outsourcing are against what the library needs – they fragment the system and “causes anarchy of the marketplace.” Worried that Big Society/Localism agenda is mask for privatisation. There were no lightning bolt proposals from the group but it was very useful to talk to eachother. Campaigners should talk to people working in libraries and in trade unions. Challenge people who make ill-informed and wrong statements. How do you argue with ideologically driven councillors though? Share information amongst ourselves. Use websites.
Looking at the figures. Find the following official council documents – (1) Medium-term financial plan produced annually and shows plans for next 3-5 years. (2) Annual Budget (can be revised several times per year) and Out-turn (shows if they did what they said that they were going to do). Budgets set 1st March for counties, 11th March for districts and boroughs but now (Oct/Nov) is when people are making the big financial decisions. Documents tend to be released June/July the following year. (3) Discover the council level of reserves – some are being added to (!). If council claim money in the reserve is earmarked, it needs to be done for a stated purpose and needs to be reviewed annually. Capital funds = earmarked for buildings. Revenue funds are for everything else. Council cannot sell a building and move it to the revenue budget. Watch for “service charges” where Council charges Library Service for IT/Personnel etc. However, it can be really difficult to get exact figures. Moving libraries to being run by Community Trusts and Asset transfers – both of these are a lot less attractive due to changes in the law.
Using social media – Blogs/Twitter/Facebook – allows links to individual campaigns so know what is going on. Let Voices for the Library / Library Campaign know if setting up a site so can list all. What’s the key – go with Facebook first as biggest population of all the social media.
Legal challenges – Some thinking about it, some doing them, some have alternatives. It’s a lot harder than you think to do a challenge. List of things to consider = you’re going to face criticism (as some prefer it going to social care), community libraries are an expense for years. Money and legal aid = every campaign so far has said Legal Services Commission wants a “community contribution”. Do you have the money or support to do it? People eligible for legal aid are often vulnerable people and may be put into spotlight so is it ethical to do it? Campaigners need to collect a lot of data for lawyers, do you have a sufficient support network to do it? You need to manage expectations of challenges – lots of highs and lows. Need to keep you going. Media – very difficult to keep them informed and understand what is going on. Local Government Ombudsman / Scrutiny panels may work beforehand and obviate the need for a challenge. Action point – do we want DCMS intervention? Maybe we should go for a collective national judicial review into the DCMS.
Voluntary. Half of the (large) group for this believed that volunteers should not run libraries at any price due to danger that their example will be used to encourage other libraries to lose their paid staff. Half believed that a volunteer-run library was better than no library at all. None wanted to run the library in preference to the council – all thought that, all things being equal, the council should run their library.
Forcing volunteers to run libraries is unfair on those in deprived communities that will not have the same resources as in more prosperous areas. Fear that council will blame volunteers for closing the library. Also, another fear that volunteer-run branches will not last for long: they may survive a year or two or three and then fail so the community is left with no library in the end anyway. Volunteers needed a dedicated volunteer co-ordinator (who may well be a volunteer themselves) to ensure proper vetting process, interview process, training process. There is a danger that any or all volunteers will face burn-out after an initial enthusiasm. This does not bode well for the long-term survivability of volunteer-run libraries.
Useful sources of information: Community Knowledge Hub is a Big Society website for libraries run on a fee basis. However, you can get a month’s free trial if you ask so use it for that long and see what use it is for you. Also, use Public Libraries News volunteers page, Voices for the Library etc. English Heritage has recently produced an excellent volunteers handbook on their site, also use UNISON one. The group really wanted a website they could all use and talk to eachother on, without someone else making a profit on it or having another agenda.
Working with the media – Local and national media. Is it easier to sue local media – short pithy statements, press releases and nice photographs so journalists can cut and paste. Say two points that you want to get across and keep saying them. Be prepared – write down points you want to make, don’t be scared on the radio. Don’t worry about finer details, get on message about how relevant libraries are today. Talking to the media puts pressure on the councillors. Keep going and don’t be afraid. Best kind of media training is doing it.
Composing arguments and events. Keep repeating your message. Fun, raises morale. Research your facts because the council won’t. Anyone can organise event, you should do it – everyone will gravitate to you. If you don’t do it, who will? Send the same message all the time. When’s the best time to run events? When people can attend it. Think about having events at weekends. Coincide a little before council meetings. Use mixed media – talk to your journalists as they will love you, include children waving banners, TV, radio, leaflets, push through doors, word of mouth, email. Don’t forget those who do not use the internet. Don’t be scared to do it!
Points from floor
Statutory or non-statutory – Some volunteer libraries are one, some the other. Why? And where can we find a list?
Volunteers or privatisation – If one volunteer-run library starts, then it is used as an example to close others. Private companies are also looking to make money from the process.
Playing services against eachother – Social care or libraries? The users are often exactly the same people. This is not a party-political campaign.
Educational rankings – UK has gone down consistently over the years.
Information needs – everyone has different needs. Need central site, functioning as a wiki so everyone can input into it. Enable everyone to log into it.
Barnet – Council looking at outsourcing all libraries. There’s a huge need for national action to bring pressure to bear. All the groups are very divided, limited amount of what can we do. In favour of a march on Downing Street.
We need to act as one body – Important above all. How are we going to do it?
Relief on business rates – It seems there will be no relief for charities from April next year. You can use capital for reducing revenue needs eg. Self-service machines.
4th February 2012 National Libraries Day. The intention is to celebrate libraries. Please get involved in that.
The Library Campaign was set up in 1984. Campaign is a charity and is so slightly constrained on what it can do. Campaign needs more active bodies to get on board. Campaign needs list of campaign groups and membership today is a great core contact list.
The strongest message is that we need unified action.
NB This is a quick summary, typed as Philip was speaking. It is full of omissions. Philip will make the speech electronically available soon.
Thanks for allowing me to sit in. Every activity, protest and court case … each is a blow worth making in the interests of the public good. But it is useful to stand back a little to see the great big war, and other fights. The fight to save the libraries is not just a struggle in isolation. To get that wider view, I want to remind you of some characteristic of the world today. In this country,we have a system less and less democratic, where influence is bought. Lord Ashcroft! Philip Green! Persuading journalists that privatisation is always efficient and public services always inefficient. Private companies paying for ministers to meet influent media owners and even spend time with them at dinners. What about the financial crisis and the way bankers have even managed to reward themselves with ever bigger bonus. The bastards! (CHEERS) Prime Minister after Prime Minister has been persuaded that we need big bastards to take advantage of us.
We have very little democratic protection against this? Were we ever asked that we wanted this? Will we ever be? Also, the catastrophic impact on the environment … I mean the way we continue to burn the great gift of energy as if we have never been told that is a bad way of doing things.
And now the family. UNICEF says children are the unhappiest in the UK than anywhere. Quotes Philip Larkin “They fuck you up Mum and Dad”. We are turning out a generation of unhappy children with low expectations who don’t feel safe.
And now for local authorities. I was astonished by how surprised the council were about the response to libraries and how quickly they turn to insults. Oxfordshire saying that we are only interested with selling books. Brent says they want a wonderfully improved service. Bullshit. “All the time we were wanting to improve the public library service and the only thing that was standing in our ways was the libraries”.
Is it malice? I don’t think it is. I think it’s because its stupid. Look at the halfwitted way the Republican Party is in the USA. What a stupid way to look after the environment. Our war is against stupidity and it is not to be underestimated. “Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain” (Schiller).
But I haven’t come today to be pessimistic. I want to see happy children. I want to see councils taking care and I am sure you want to see that as well. We need to do one thing at a time. One of the things that has constantly cheered me this afternoon, is the detailed thought going into it by campaigners. There’s a sense of purpose here. People are fighing stupidity.
I want to focus on libraries and children because their needs trump every other. We surely must not make access to libraries worse. Families need a place that is reachable. When libraries close, that makes it worse. We must make libraries more accessible to children. People always say “it opened up the world for me when I was a child”. I want that possibility to be open for everyone. Reading for pleasure is essential but government after government are making it worse. Children in Kazakhstan and Albania are far ahead of us according to the OECD PISA report. Literacy increases understanding, enjoyment, empathy … reading for please is what does that. Reading for pleasure has to be controlled by the child, not anyone else. They think the value for reading is instrumental, about what it can be used for. Find the examples of the passive voice. See what words are missing in this paragraph! Analyse, count, explain! 71 different verbs and the word “enjoy” did not appear once. Authors don’t write books for that purpose.
The purposes when I write is to help people enjoy and understand life. “Volunteers, no matter how willing, will never replace volunteers”. I was amazed by the numbers in the Summer Reading Challenge. Only libraries can do this. I remember being a library assistant in Charing Cross library. I’m a romantic. One of the things that thrilled me was a great network reaching out from library to library, linking branches. If someone wanted a book we could get it. You were part of the great system. I used to collect the compliments slips and I still have some – Herts, Luton, Brighton, Surrey, UCL, Uni Nottinghm, Uni Lancashire, Home Office, Milk Marketing Board, US Air Force South Ruislip Middlesex. This is why Brent and others are wrong when they want to close little libraries. If still open, readers can get every books.
The internet is there is we want it. It’s a keyhole that is pointed in a direction by someone else. Google works out what it thinks you want to see. If you really want complete freedom of choice, the only place to find it is a library. The book is second only to the wheel. It is the greatest weapon against stupidity. Beware of anyone who wants to make books harder to get at. Not intentionally. Very few people are stupid intentionally.
I salute you all. There’s nothing more valuable in the war against stupidity than the public library. Everyone of you is guarding a beacon and, based on what I have heard today, I have every confidence that that beacon will not go out.
Q. Are ebooks books? Yes.
Q. Will you come to speak at our libraries? I wish I could but I have so much work to do. The speech will be made available soon.
Q. When we go in meetings with managers, they give us all this wash about big libraries being open 24 hours a day. Well, authors are gods to the library service. Small quotes on a regular basis would be really helpful. I’ll bear it in mind.
Q. Thanks for mentioning interlending loans. Google isn’t the internet and we can show you how to work ti.
Q. It wasn’t just stupidity that led to the burning of books in South America. Would you consider joining us in a march on Downing Street. If it is at all possible, I would like to, yes. (Applause)
Q. Thank you so much. We were very angry with the Telegraph article yesterday and it was great to see your response there. The media listen to you. Also, thank you for some lovely books.
Make sure you write to John Whittingdale MP from the DCMS committee. Join the Library Campaign (£15 per membership, cheaper for some). Big thanks to the workshop presenters and to Tom Roper who did an awful lot of work. Well done to Laura Swaffield. But big thanks especially to all of you. Thanks for coming. Safe journey home.
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Numbers293 libraries (258 buildings and 35 mobiles) are currently under threat or have been closed/left council control since 1/4/13 out of c.4265 in the UK. The complete list is on "Tally by Local Authority" page as are other changes to budgets such as cuts to hours, bookfund and staffing. Public Libraries News estimates 78 libraries and 14 mobiles were lost in 2012/13, although this is likely to be an underestimate. CIpfa have calculated that 201 library service points were lost 2011/12 . Public Libraries News has tracked down links to 142 of these via counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day. Full Fact have analysed the accuracy of the figures. For a list of new and refurbished buildings see this page,
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Disclaimers and thanks
Please note that this website is maintained entirely in my own time and should in no way be seen to reflect the opinions or otherwise of my employer.
I would also like to add at this point my thanks to Shirley Burnham for her frequent emails with relevant public libraries news which I then use as a a large part of the material for this site.
Warren O'Donoghue of Rabbitdigital Design has been wonderful in designing and creating this website, maintaining it and basically being there for the one hundred and one web problems that seem to surface all the time.
A mention should also go to Sally Pewhairangi who runs the excellent "Finding Heroes" library news website and daily email service, providing valuable insights from the world and, as interestingly, from New Zealand.
Top Posts & Pages
- "The only place where I would willingly obey the laws": Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on libraries
- Changes by local authority
- New and refurbished libraries by authority
- "Every library should have a Hulk": An interview with the man behind a great libraries idea
- Volunteer-run libraries
- Two surveys show the importance of libraries
- Why libraries?
- Two cheers: Monday 20th May 2013
- Reasons for libraries: Educational