Special report: “This house believes that local authorities are still the best way to deliver the public library service” CILIP PMLG Debate 27th September 2014

I was very grateful to be invited to be on the panel of the CILIP Public and Mobile Libraries Group (PMLG) debate at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this afternoon.  In addition to me (Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News since 2010 and full-time professional librarian since 1994), other members of the panel were

  • Biddy Fisher OBE, Trustee, Denby Dale Community Project*, Past President of CILIP. [*My post initially described the project as just the library: this is incorrect. Although this includes creating a new building to house the library it also involves services provided by two other local charities - the Denby Dale Centre (a service for the old, vulnerable and lonely in the community) and the Kirkwood Hospice. The library is currently staffed with a paid professional librarian - Ed.]
  • Brian Ashley, Director – Libraries, Arts Council England.
  • Andrew Coburn, former Secretary of the Library Campaign and UNISON activist
  • Cllr Cath Pinnock. Kirklees Council.  Soon to be a Liberal Democratic peer in the House of Lords.
  • Darren Smart, Chair, Public and Mobile Libraries Group.

It’s fair to say that all, with the exception of Brian, were speaking from an entirely personal capacity and not speaking for anyone else.  It’s also worth saying that there were, frankly, not that many people there.  Perhaps twenty five in the audience.  But that didn’t stop a lively and well-tempered discussion.  The main points I noted for either side were:

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Steal some ideas from the USA, why don’t you?

Editorial

Some very useful stuff is coming from a US project to look at innovative ideas in public libraries.  It’s very similar to the Carnegie LibraryLab programme in the UK but, well, bigger.  It’s also more open. I’ve noticed that the (many) authorities going for LibraryLab funding are being a bit cagey about what they’re developing and, possibly quite rightly, seeing other authorities as competition to be beaten to the prize.  That’s the case with the Knight News Challenge too of course but there they’ve hit on the idea of making all ideas public from the time of submission. the result is a beautifully presented list / treasure trove of copyright-free ideas for libraries all around the world to dip into.  Including us.  So look at the pages on Inspiration (47 contributions) and the one on Submissions (67 separate ideas on there so far) and steal away.  Shame so few are about books though.

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A big day

Editorial

Good to see the success of the CILIP AGM “Big Day” on this Saturday past.  There was much positive stuff about Libraries Change Lives (well done to Northamptonshire) and Honorary Fellows (congrats to Janene Cox and Philip Wark).  William Sieghart, at some point before January to publish his inquiry into English public libraries, spoke about the sector being at a “Beeching” (as in the savage cuts to the railways) moment but at how impressed he was about the work that was done.  The CILIP President’s speech was an appeal to work together, look to the future and focus on the good that is done.

In terms of votes, all motions were carried apart from the one that was causing all the rumpus because it would have reduced, in the eyes of many, the representative nature of the CILIP Council (now renamed “Board”).  So, seen from afar, this looks like quite a good result for everyone: the organisation gets to boost its achievements and that of libraries and those worried about its direction of travel need not worry about a decline in democracy.  It was indeed a Big Day.

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Ed Vaizey v. Sheffield Council: battle is joined

Editorial

It looks like Ed Vaizey, the minister most in charge of public libraries, is showing some action.  In a detailed letter to Sheffield Council, Ed demands clarification and explanations of fifteen different points in order to help him make up his mind about whether he should intervene.  He has also instructed them not to make any changes to library services until the end of October, to give him time to consider the results and override the council if necessary.  That last may either force him to action or make him look very weak indeed as the council has made it clear that they have no intention to stop changes and will move forward with having volunteers take over its libraries.  So, it looks like Sheffield, home to Nick Clegg and a Labour Council, is going to be a key battleground in deciding who has the final say in public libraries: local councils or the Secretary of State.  The lines are drawn.  Now let’s see if it’s the council or Mr Vaizey who is humiliated.

In other DCMS related news, the department has to the surprise of no-one, decided to go ahead with the formal abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries.  This group had already practically been abolished in 2010 but a consultation had to be done in order to make this legal.  That has now been done and the ACL is now formally consigned to history.

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Ed Vaizey’s letter to Sheffield: summary and analysis

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Depth of Wirral cuts become clear, income generation and CILIP governance

Editorial

Main things today include a response from CILIP Council to the post written yesterday.  Being I have taken the decision to leave CILIP (it’s simply too expensive for me to justify considering reductions in real salary over the last few years) I have refrained from voting but I do urge any of you who are members to vote.  It’s not quite as important as that referendum thingy happening in Scotland at the moment but, you know, if you’re feeling left out of that one …

I was surprised to see that the proposed cuts to Wirral were so deep.  To reduce opening hours of fifteen out of twenty one libraries to just ten hours per week is going to have an impact.  The council argues that at least it is not closing them or passing them to volunteers and it is a sign about how bad things have gotten nationally that this will be seen by many as a reasonable position.

If you’re looking at raising money for your library service then the opportunity via Locality to be involved in their pilot programme on income generation in libraries may be useful.  Worth a look.

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Effective Governance for CILIP – A response to Tom Featherstone and Bob Usherwood

By Nick Poole, a CILIP Councillor, former Treasurer and member of the project board for the Governance Review

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2 Past Presidents express fears over CILIP leadership proposals

Tom Featherstone and Bob Usherwood, both Past Presidents of The Library Association, sent this piece to me expressing concern about the proposals for changing the way CILIP is governed Being these proposals will be voted on this Saturday, I am giving them their own post below.  In addition to being Past Presidents, Tom Featherstone is Chair of CILIP’s Retired Members Guild and Bob Usherwood edits its journal Post-Lib.

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Big library trends: three tier services and Trusts

Editorial

Two bits of big library news today has got me thinking about longer term national trends.  Number one is bad news from Hertfordshire as it announces plans to lose all staff from 17 out of 46 of its libraries. This is in keeping with the trend notable from other English and Welsh authorities where the council aims for all of the smallest branches to be either volunteered or closed.  The general scheme is:

  • The largest library/ies have an unaffected or even improved service.
  • Middle sized libraries (towns, major suburbs) have slightly reduced services, but with some paid staff replaced with volunteers.
  • Smallest libraries are passed to volunteers, parish councils or closed.

Someone asked me the other day what future I saw for public libraries if current trends continue.  I’ve been thinking about this for a short while and my guess is something like the above pattern but taken a bit further.  So, if you work in or use a central library, congratulations, you have comparatively nothing to worry about in the next three years.  You’ll notice less books and less staff but the odds are the place is going to be the least affected by the inevitable cuts in your authority. If you work in a suburb, small town or village, on the other hand (less than 20,000 population? Not sure) then, sorry, you’re probably going to see your library close down or more likely pass to volunteers. The grey area is those larger non-central libraries.  It’s very hard to see how a sizeable busy branch can be volunteer run or be closed down.  My guess is that will be where non-profit enterprises (or even profits) will be making an appearance and you’ll notice that the branch gets more and more non-book stuff in it.

The other big bit of news in today (although it has been suggested for a long while) is confirmation that Kent is planning to move to be a charitable trust.  It will join York and Suffolk as a non-Leisure non-profit .  Now, there seems to be a little confusion with Library/Leisure Trusts at the moment with Wigan’s libraries being returned to the local authority.  I’ve heard rumours that it’s not just Wigan either that is having problems with combined library/leisure trusts.  So, the trend here seems to be that library-service trusts are in the ascendant but the growth in library/leisure trusts is stalling.  Set against this, of course, is the leisure-library trust GLL which is currently trying to add Lincolnshire to its list.  We’ll see whether GLL can buck the trend – or even if I’m right that there is a trend at all – over the next year or two.  Oddly, what we’re not seeing, after the excitement of the Tri Borough amalgamation, are more library services combining with eachother.  Presumably this is because of political difficulties … and I’ll be very surprised I anyone is going to make a decision of that nature until the General Election.

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Some great national stuff, some depressing local stuff

Editorial

I, like staff in 200 other libraries in the UK will be giving out Diary of a Wimpy Kid books this Saturday.  Of course, libraries loan these as a matter of course but it’s not often we give them away.  Well done to a partnership including the Reading Agency, Puffin and ITV Good Morning Britain have made this possible, showing the strength of national promotion.  Another couple of national things also caught my eye.  I’ve not had much to do with Digital War Memorial but it looks good and let’s hope it fulfils the promise that the Society of Chief Librarians think it has.  Also, Scotland are developing a national libraries strategy.  It’s surprising they didn’t have one already, frankly, especially as there is a chance they’re going to be independent soon.  It’s going to be odd reporting Scottish libraries in the International section if so.

In terms of local changes, the main hot spots are continued moves by Liverpool to withdraw from, or close, the majority of its libraries; the determination of Lincolnshire to keep staffing levels low and abide by the letter of the judicial review against them and what may be even deeper cuts in Leicestershire than what has already been announced and, finally, cuts on the radar in Harrow.  Whoopee doo. You know, public libraries news can be a little depressing at times but I was given real boost by visiting Manchester Central Library this week.  That is a building that shows how great libraries can be (but, guys, please … bigger children’s libraries!) and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you. My review of the place is on a separate page here.

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Read On. Get On. Library On.

Editorial

Main news this post is the formation of the “Read On. Get On” coalition of several agencies (including the Reading Agency but sadly no other public library related groups) to help boost literacy in England. Being the country apparently is second only to Romania (ouch) in the EU in terms of unequal reading levels and that such problems may cost us £32 billion by 2025, this sounds important.  Public libraries are mentioned a couple of times in the report and it is hoped that the importance of the sector (dudes, literacy is what we do) will become better recognised.   Things like the Six Book Challenge, which has just announced that it is aiming for 50,000 users next year, should be a key component in all of this.

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