It’s not all fine: Trafford remove all late fees from 1st April

Editorial

Trafford has shocked the UK public library world by announcing that they will be removing all library fines from 1st April. The reasons put forward for that by councillors is that fines are off-putting for customers, no fines will increase usage (and indeed will increase returns as people know they won’t get fined if they’re late) and that there should not be any barriers to accessing libraries. Children were especially mentioned as benefitting from no fines and Trafford will also be giving a library card to every child. One suspects as well that it will be a nice thing to say the council has done if local elections are coming up.

This is not the first library service in England to remove fines – Rutland does not have fines and I understand from Twitter that there’s one or two in Scotland (West Lothian and West Dunbartonshire) – but it is the first major (sorry Rutland) or metropolitan library service in England to go down this route and so will inevitably be noticed more. It also ties in with a global trend I’ve been noticing for a while (especially in the USA and Australia) where libraries have been removing fine due to it being a barrier (after all, we’ve removed physical ones years ago), inequitable and no longer needed now we have the power to automatically online renew.

The big barrier to this in the UK is of course where the money is going to come from if we get rid of fines. Charging people for late books does bring in some money that will need to be replaced in another way. There’s also – no surprise in the library world this – a fundamental lack of research of shared data on how effective removing fines are. We need that evidence shared in order to spread good practice and identify bad. Personally, I am tired of seeing people arguing over fines in libraries and I know that fines are a reason people tell me socially they no longer use libraries. So I really hope this is a successful experiment. And an experiment that produces what a good experiment always does: actual shareable data on the result.

There’s more information on pros and cons on fines (and the thorny problem of fines recovery) on this page.

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Well, that can't be safe - the Library Lion in action. Credit: Graeme Braidwood

Bring on the authors

Editorial

It’s a strange thing about Arts Council England. I’ve seen pretty much everyone else nationally and locally being criticised over the years for their stance on public libraries but almost nothing about ACE. The reason I suspect is they’re a bit out of context and also a bit like, well, Father Christmas, albeit one with an interest in culture rather than presents and carefully written bids rather than who’s been naughty and nice. They’re also somewhat limited in what they can fund. So we don’t hear much from them other than seeing the results in lots of shows and artworks going on in libraries such as the “Library Lion” below and also some of the projects that Time To Read runs (also below). It’s good therefore to hear from them and this week we have none other than the boss, Nicholas Serota, talking libraries to CILIP.

He comes across as an intelligent chap and he is to applauded for the post, with thoughtful comments, although it’s clear his expertise in other sectors. For example, he wonders why authors aren’t as involved in libraries as artists are in galleries. Well, the reason is that they’re qualitatively different – people read the books at home while art has to be seen in the gallery. However, there’s always more space for authors to be involved in libraries, especially as they’re just such supporting people and the e-book revolution hasn’t really taken place as many thought it would. It’s my pleasure in Time To Read to help this process and it’d be great to see more of it nationally as well. Bring on the authors.

National news

  • Building The Literacy Library – Crowdfunder. 1 in 8 children don’t have a book at home. Over £50,000 raised for new library to help teachers and schools.
  • Entries now open for the Libraries Change Lives Award – CILIP. “Applications are open for the 2018 CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award for innovative library and information projects and services that have a positive and demonstrable impact on their user community and reflect intelligent service design or best practice delivery. “
  • Fake Non-Profits – lies, damned lies and Carillion’s non-profit companies – Ed Mayo’s Blog. “When we look at the accounts submitted to Companies House, the story becomes visible. Cultural Community Solutions made no profit because it looks as if it has paid all of its profit out to others including companies in the Carillion family. From year to year, gross profit is simply eaten up by the ‘administrative expenses’. In 2016, they were exactly the same figure.” … “As a non-profit, they could also do something that other commercial, or indeed in-house services, could not, which is to claim discretionary relief on business rates payable on library premises. As with the big fostercare companies financed by offshore venture capital, designed to escape taxation, the financial profits this non-profit passed through to Carillion were in every possible way a gift from the taxpayer.” … “Anyone can call themselves a non-profit, just as many can claim to be a social enterprise, but there is an underlying first principle that needs to be recognised, as in the International Statement of Co-operative Identity, which is that of independence.”
  • Making sure there’s time to read – Libraries Taskforce / Time To Read. [This is a post by me in day job – Ed.] “Time To Read is a unique collaboration between the North West library authorities to promote reading for those aged 16+ via shared projects, promotion, news and best practice. Its origins can be traced back all the way to 1996. Membership of the partnership fluctuates but currently numbers 22 out of the 23 eligible services, each paying in an annual subscription which covers a part-time co-ordinator and such things as meetings and promotions.”
  • A progressive professional body for a global sector – Research Information. Ayub Khan, president of CILIP: “four-year plan to 2020 is shaped around the central goal of putting ‘library and information skills at the heart of a democratic, equal and prosperous society’ … “anything else – so keeping libraries on the agenda will be a challenge. I will focus on libraries’ future potential, as well as their proud traditions.”

Dear Librarian

Just a quick note to remind you to nominate for the CWA Dagger in the Library 2018. It’s very easy to do: just go along to  http://daggerreads.co.uk/dagger-in-the-library/ and submit your nomination. Up to three staff members of each library can nominate. Please note this year we’re looking for a mainstay of crime writing; someone who has published more than 10 books and whose first book was published before 2008. In 2018 we want the Dagger in the Library to reward those authors (crime fiction and non-fiction) who have given most pleasure to library users over the years. The deadline is February 28, and we are pleased to have the support of The Reading Agency. Please pop to the site and nominate before the deadline – it takes about 2 minutes.

’d also like to remind you about the Margery Allingham Short Story Competition. That’s for a short story up to 3,500 words loosely around the Golden Age writer’s definition of what makes a mystery. That definition, and other details, are on the CWA website here. Entry fee is £12, and the prize is £500 plus books and two passes to CrimeFest 2019 – a fabulous mystery writers convention in Bristol not to be missed. You can download a poster on the Short Story page or here from DaggerReads.

I’ll be writing to you soon about National Crime Reading Month in May.  Meanwhile, please do send in those Dagger in the Library nominations! There are so many authors who have given pleasure to library users for years, and this is a great chance to say thanks on the readers’ behalf.

Yours

Dea Parkin – Secretary of the CWA

  • Some thoughts on ‘Library Lion’ – Untied Artists. “I started to wonder if it would be possible to create a site specific performance of the book that drew on my experiences as a parent at storytime, captured and shared the magic of the book, and was somehow able to comment on the fact that libraries are nothing less than essential to a thriving, caring, enlightened community.” … “after quite a lengthy process of grant bids and negotiations with libraries, schools, publishers and venues, I’m really pleased with the results, and we’ve been able to bring the show to some quite ‘low engagement’ areas. This week, before performing to a small group of SEN students in Gornal Library, I had a quick chat with the wonderful librarian there. Note librarian in the singular.” see also Library Lion – Untied Artists. “Dudley Libraries, Untied Artists and Birmingham Rep bring this beautiful children’s book to life in celebration of an endangered species – the local library.”
Well, that can't be safe - the Library Lion in action. Credit: Graeme Braidwood

Well, that can’t be safe – the Library Lion in action. Credit: Graeme Braidwood

  • Special agent for library development – CILIP. “The Arts Council England is the development agency for public libraries and Sir Nicholas Serota, its chair, believes the sector could use the experience of other cultural organisations as it builds a public library service fit for the 21st century.” … “The extent of his influence not only depends on the priority and resources that ACE directs towards libraries, but also on the extent to which the sector and local authorities are prepared to listen.” … “I think the core of the library activity remains freeing imaginations through access to literature, knowledge in its broadest sense. But I think we’re really talking about reinventing what that dog is rather than adding something to” … “Libraries are places that are trusted, they are places that are regarded as safe. That’s often not true of some arts ­organisations, which can be regarded as being elitist and separate” .. “Becoming entrepreneurial is not a comfortable process” … “Writers have probably been less engaged in the development of libraries than they might be”

“I think libraries and ­librarians have a responsibility to try and build a service that is ­inspirational as well as simply offering cover for basic needs. And that’s probably where the Arts Council has a part to play.”” Sir Nicholas Serota

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The paradox of outsourcing: gilded ghouls versus cold-eyed austerity

Editorial

Still more fall-out from the collapse of Carillion. Both Harrow and Ealing have confirmed that, at least for the moment, their library services will be in-house rather than simply farmed out once more. Moreover, there are suspicions that Carillion was not the only private company to be worried about out there. Capita too, which although it does not directly run libraries does provide various support systems up and down the country to them, has also come under the spotlight with big drops in share prices and people worried that it too may collapse. What seems to have happened with Carillion was that it went in with the lowest possible bids for services, spent as little as it could on services, and hoped to make money by ever expanding, collapsing when its debts got too big to hide this way. Well, that’s a classic pyramid / Ponzi scheme. The hope is Capita shows itself not to be in the same category.

It would not have been such a big problem if councils weren’t so starry-eyed about the private companies. The now ex-boss of Northamptonshire and erstwhile chief of the Libraries Taskforce is on record as saying he would outsource anything. The weird mix  of the trust that ran his libraries (part university, part NHS, part council) will be a devil’s web to unravel if it proves necessary to so. And it may, because the council has warned it will likely get rid of many of its libraries. Last week it also said it may be bankrupt soon as well.

This love-in with outsourcing seems sharply at odds with what Philip Pullman has last week called “the cold-eyed dogma of austerity”. Carillion has shown that if it seems too good to be true, then maybe it is. And watch out for your pension too. Why the paradox? It seems to be down to blind adherence to  ideology and pro-profit bias (leaving aside the possibility of quasi-accepted semi-corruption in some form e.g. becoming a Director in the private company when no longer in post ) that can square this circle.

However, it is important not to tar everyone with the same brush. Library trusts are obviously very different beasts to the all-devouring too-big-to-fail Ponzi schemes. Similarly, it’s hard to see GLL in the same category. True non-profits do not ultimately act or behave the same as profits, even though sometimes (as in Lambeth below) there’s bad news stories about them. It is to be hoped that the current crisis will mean politicians are more clear-eyed when it comes to privatisation and non-profits see this as a warning not to copy the gilded ghoul Carillions of this world. Cross your fingers something good will yet come out of this trauma.

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No-one can accuse Sajid of being long-winded

Amazon show a future, but it’s probably not the one for libraries

Editorial

The history of public libraries over the last few decades has been one of automation. There was Browne Issue tickets (row after row of cards) being replaced by computers then the internet replacing much reference work followed closely by self-service machines and, now, in over one hundred buildings, card-and-pin entry so no staff need to be present at all. Amazon have just apparently gone one further even than this by not requiring a bank card (or in our case, library card) at all. I’ve often thought that the ultimate conclusion – as long we have buildings and stock that is – is the doors scan you as you leave, recognise the library card (or app) in your pocket and leave with books but with no swiping. Amazon have brought this day closer but there are major problems with their approach when it comes to libraries. First off, libraries need to recognise not just the type of good (e.g. the book) but the item (e.g. that particular copy of the book). Secondly, the system apparently requires little cameras everywhere – well, there goes privacy then but, then again, many libraries have CCTV all over. Finally, the system requires on everyone to have a mobile phone and an app. Well, that goes against a couple of key library things right there, not least of which is being open to all, regardless of ability to pay. So if such a system comes to public libraries it will be in radically different form, or it will be a radically different library.

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With the main question being "how do you define a library"?

Ealing and Harrow likely to outsource again, deep cuts in Somerset.

Editorial

Ealing and Harrow have both responded to the collapse of Carillion by temporarily continuing library services in-house. Reading behind the lines, and despite having had their fingers burnt, it looks to me that both councils – who have been sold on outsourcing once – are likely to go that way again. Who this is (hello GLL?) remains to be seen and precumably tendering would need to be done.

Elsewhere, more details have come to light about deep cuts to Shropshire and Somerset. In the former, only 6 libraries are going to be run by the council in six years, with the rest being euphemistically called “cost-neutral”. This apparently means that someone else has to pay for them, be it lower-tier councils or volunteers: so there will be a deep drive to cut costs (i.e. paid staff) and increase income (e.g. parish taxes, grants, fundraising). The timescale for this was originally wildly unrealistic and a brush with consultation has meant that the council has extended the time limit a bit longer, possibly even long enough in some cases., if Shropshire library users are lucky, for another national government to come in and reverse the deep austerity that necessitates such damage in the first place.

I am sorry to see Somerset is once more up against it, with 15 out of 34 libraries due to close or pass to volunteers. The county was one of the first to face deep cuts when I first started PLN and it was only a court case that got them to stop closing libraries that time. Five years later and it looks unlikely that such a court case would happen again, given the generally lower levels of service now expected in council services and the lessons learnt from what went wrong last time. This time, the hope must be that the consultation is taken seriously by the public (I am sure it will be by the council – one bitten twice shy and all that) and the reaction helps persuade the council to lessen the cuts. Again reading between the lines, it seems unlikely that the new revolving-door libraries minister will intervene in either case.

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National news

  • Arts Council England announces new director of museums – Arts Council England. “Sue Williamson joins ACE as director of libraries and Birmingham from St Helens Library Service, where she most recently delivered its award-winning Cultural Hubs Arts in Libraries programme and oversaw the successful application to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. Williamson also represented public libraries as part of a DCMS in a recent discussion on the future of digital technologies in arts and culture. “I am thrilled to be joining Arts Council England as Director: Libraries and Birmingham and to have the opportunity to support and champion the role of Libraries in delivering the wider cultural offer to the communities they serve. With the recent announcements of Coventry as the next UK City Of Culture and Birmingham as host for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, this is a time of great challenge and opportunity for the whole of the cultural sector in this area.””

“Three library services [out of 151] in England – Croydon, Ealing and Harrow – are managed for these local authorities by Carillion through its subsidiary, Cultural Community Solutions Ltd (CCS Ltd).  We [Libraries Taskforce and DCMS, through the Taskforce’s Chief Executive Kathy Settle] have made contact with the library services. We are available to assist and discuss with the library services if needed, however they have confirmed that contingency plans are in place and that they are proceeding with next steps. The library services are in contact with PWC, which has been appointed as special managers for the insolvency of Carillion, and discussions are underway about plans for the future. The Councils have been working with library staff and managers and the services have been opening and operating as normal. ” Libraries Taskforce

  • Library groups call for inquiry after Carillion collapse – BookSeller. “CILIP chief executive Nick Poole believes the Carillion collapse exposes flawed government thinking that private outsourcing provides the best quality services and highest efficiency. He called for a public inquiry into whether local and national government continued to knowingly to issue contracts for the delivery of vital public services to a failing company. “The current policies of austerity and privatisation are putting statutory services like public libraries at risk,” said Poole. “This is why CILIP is actively lobbying for a fair financial settlement for local authorities which enables them to meet the current and future needs of local communities and for standards which ensure that people receive the quality of service they have paid for.””. Also includes views from myself, Laura Swaffield of the Library Campaign and Tim Coates.
With the main question being "how do you define a library"?

With the main question being “how do you define a library”? With thanks to Mike Bedford

  • London libraries assess impact of Carillion collapse – Guardian. “Croydon council has reacted to the service provider’s liquidation by taking the service in-house again, while Ealing and Harrow are laying contingency plans” … “On Tuesday, Croydon council announced it would immediately terminate its eight-year contract with Carillion, which was set to run the borough’s 13 libraries until 2020, and take on the responsibility itself, rather than outsourcing to another firm. All 73 staff positions were guaranteed, it said.” … “Councillor Timothy Godfrey, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said that the council had been considering parting ways with Carillion for years, and claimed that the firm had failed to provide a satisfactory library service” … “The cost to the council to take on the borough’s library service would be slightly higher than paying Carillion, because Croydon council was a living wage employer, admitted Godfrey”. … “Harrow council is set to consider its future plans for its six library branches at a cabinet meeting on Thursday night, but a council spokesman said that it was business as usual, and maintaining consistency for residents and staff was its priority. Under Carillion’s care, no problems in the library service had been reported to the council, he continued, and while the current contract was working, it expected to need a new provider after Carillion’s liquidation.” see also Public sector looks for ways to plug gap left by Carillion – Public Finance.

““They hadn’t fixed the issues flagged when Hounslow left. They hadn’t been paying paper suppliers and photocopier engineers. Their annual library plan was always behind schedule. It’s been really unfair on the staff on the front line because they were the poor souls holding the service together, and they had no managerial support. There were staff paying out-of-pocket for things like for craft materials for activities with kids.””

  • Michael Ellis confirmed as new libraries minister – BookSeller. “Michael Ellis has been confirmed as the new libraries minister at the department of digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), following Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle last week. Ellis was formerly the deputy leader of the House of Commons. He is now parliamentary under secretary of state for the arts, heritage and tourism with responsibility for libraries”
  • On borrowed time? – BookSeller. “Meanwhile at Westminster, we have the third new libraries minister in 18 months: Northampton North’s Michael Ellis—an MP whose chief claim to fame thus far is persuading the government to put more money into pothole repairs. With the constantly rotating door of ministerial posts, will he stay in the role long enough even to master the brief? Waterstones m.d. James Daunt decried the “disgrace” of library cuts in an interview this week, saying the decline of the service will damage the future of British society; a view widely shared in this industry. If between them Khan and Ellis can push the case for libraries up national and local agendas, that assistance is badly needed; but the chronic threats to the service must be acknowledged, and whatever the digital opportunities for the library service, books and reading must stay absolutely at its core.”
  • Want to tackle loneliness? Stop closing libraries – Politics. “The knitting group changed all that. It arranges trips to garden centres and market towns. They get together for meals out. My mum now not only regularly visits the library but she also volunteers there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed her life. But all that could soon come to an end. Northamptonshire county council recently opened a consultation on its library services. Three options were put forward. The first would require local groups to run many of the county’s libraries to keep them open. The second would see 21 out of 36 libraries closed. The third would see 28 out of them closed. Option two and three would see my mum’s library close its doors. Even the mobile library would be axed. This isn’t an isolated case”

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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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