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.

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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.

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Always nice to be quoted in parliament

English public libraries in 2017: the key trends

Editorial

So it’s the end of 2017 and therefore time for a review of what the major trends have been. Or, rather, what my view of them are. If you think differently (or are screaming “but what about?” at the screen) do let me know … and, if you’re curious, here’s 2016 (via Leon). 2015, 2014 and 2013.

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Give yourself an early Christmas present

Editorial

Some more coverage on the dire recent CIPFA figures, which are analysed further (for yet more depression) and shown to be incomplete, meaning the real picture is (joy!) likely to be even worse than hitherto shown. The potential economic and political impacts oif this are explored (admittedly, partly by me) of this are explored in a New Statesman article. The public support for libraries was shown on Twitter by a double whammy from Dawn Finch – first the “tweet heard around the world” (see below) and then the #ThankALibraryWorker hashtag. Have a look at both if you can. Give yourself an early Christmas present.

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Co-locations, improvements and appeals for volunteers

Editorial

Some more generally good news for libraries this post, with a couple of new co-located buildings being planned and various library improvements being reported. There’s also a couple of volunteer libraries taking advantage of the season to ask for more volunteers, including one which is worried about the cost of its building becoming too much for it. Abroad, the decision by the USA to end net neutrality will start pressuring libraries (and a lot of other people) while a Canadian library takes an interestingly thoughtful stance on room hires to extremist groups.

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Public library budget for the UK falls roughly one-tenth in one year. Ouch.

Editorial

Total net expenditure on public libraries went down from £842k in 2015/16 to £771k in 2016/17, a decline of over 8% in just one year. Add in inflation and it’s more like 10% (or it would be if salaries weren’t semi-frozen). That would be awful enough if that was a one-off but it isn’t: there’s been real cuts to expenditure every single year since 2009/10 and there’s inflation in that period too (of 17%) to account for. So, that’s mega isn’t it? Brutal in fact. No surprise then that usage is falling. The surprise is that it’s not falling faster, After all, visits are down a mere 3% when the cut to funding was three times more.

So that’s one horror story. The other is, of course, how the figures themselves  are collected. Given by councils, CIPFA then collates them when the financial year finishes in April, presumably then does something else for a bit (because it’s now December), sends out a summary press release as a sales pitch and then charges an eye-watering charge for anyone wanting the full package. But, hang on, these are our statistics. Which we’re stopped from using unless we’re rich and don’t mind waiting, let’s think, more than seven whole months to see. And this is for the library profession, which should be fairly good on information. I’m glad to say that things are changing though. All of the organisations (well, apart from, presumably CIPFA but I don’t know) involved (SCL, Taskforce, CILIP etc) are keen on improving on the current mess. I hope they succeed. Then we’ll be able to tell for free and in real-time how fast budgets are declining. Hang on, that doesn’t sound fun. But at least it’s not downright embarrassing, unlike the current situation.

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“Libraries Unlimited” indeed – Devon expands

Editorial

Devon are the first of the library-only mutual to expand beyond its borders by taking over Torbay.  It’s a natural fit – Torbay is small and next-door – but signals the mutual need not just stay in their boundaries. GLL may have competition in sucking up library services, especially with the Government/Taskforce so openly backing the library mutual model. Meanwhile in Sheffield, the bizarre scheme to sell the central library to the Chinese as a luxury hotel in a £1 billion development has hit the buffers of reality: there may a £20m scheme for the library instead, although there is support for simply refurbishing the existing building. Good to see a new library – delightfully named “Cat and Mouse” opening in Islington and also that Gateshead, faced with charging the unemployed for seeking work online, ending computer charges. On the downside, another school library service – that of Derbyshire – is under threat.

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Good news and Christmas

Editorial

Good to see library news connecting with the general goodwill of the season. A news article from Warrington reports that no libraries may close (a big turnaround from the original proposals), although of course the devil may be in the detail, as yet unseen. Also – and I love this – West Dunbartonshire are putting out to consultation (rather than just voting through) deep cuts in their library opening hours due to a well-timed letter from CILIPS. Well done Scottish CILIP people. And it may be Christmas for Derby libraries every day as the council catches on, finally, that Section 106 money from new housing can be used for library projects. But the big applause must go to the library team at Plymouth who are keeping their library open on Christmas Day. It can be the loneliest day for so many so this is a really warm-hearted move. Well done those who volunteered to work that day. I hope it goes well, and the mince pies are delicious.

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Christmas for GLL, London library property boom and Japanese success

Editorial

Some interesting news stories today. GLL have officially taken over another library service, meaning they’re now running, by my count, five. In a further sign, if any were needed, that London is an increasingly foreign city compared to the rest of the country, another library there gets a new building as part of a property deal that would not have been so possible anywhere without its insanely high property prices. And then we have Christmas creeping up on us, with a story in the Guardian of how dedicated librarians are even at Christmas. This article also mentions the large number of volunteers being used, which ties in with an advert also today for a paid PhD on volunteers, describing them as “crucial” for the library service. No mention of volunteers, though, from Japan, where a new combined bookshop/library/restaurant model is apparently going great guns.

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Trustees and updates

Editorial

Congratulations to those voted in as Trustees for CILIP, especially public libraries blogger Leon Bolton whose blogging career I have watched with great interest. There’s a few ongoing fights in various library services, including an interesting suggestion from Warrington’s auditors about the need to consider other bidders for library services. The deep cuts to Northamptonshire libraries are again in the news too (and I’d like to point out they only had 36 branches to begin with, not the bigger number I have accidentally given them in previous posts), as are the final dates for some of Bury libraries to close. The long-running legal fight in Darlington will continue, with the judge saying there’s just enough evidence to move the review on to the next level.

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