Suffolk Council, in a bid to keep libraries from closure, is transferring them all to an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS).  This is the first time something like this has happened in the UK.  There is  no other library system in the country run by a stand-alone organisation, let alone one being run by an IPS.  This is experimental outsourcing on a grand scale.  So, why do it?  Basically, tax avoidance.  By turning the library service into a charity, Suffolk can avoid paying 80% of its business rates.  As if this is not enough, the council points out that it will remove Libraries from annoying council bureaucracy and remove layers of management.  All in all, councillor believe the move will save 27.6% of expenditure.  Without closing a single library.
Well, that’s the press release.  Ed Vaizey will doubtless stop reading here. Now, for the rest of us, let’s enter the darker world of reality.  With thanks to the campaign group, Rosehill Readers, and others, here’s some of the worries:
  • That tax loophole could be closed at any momentCambridgeshire were toying with a similar idea but backed out due to fears that a law change could wipe out the financial benefits, at any time.
  • Which is really bad news as just setting up the IPS is going to cost, at the council’s own estimate. £625,000.  More than three-fifths of a million pounds is a big load of money to be spending at the moment, especially if it is on consultants.
  • It’s hard to see how this is going to reduce bureaucracy.  The IPS is going to need a stand-alone boss, headquarters, legal, admin department, IT department, buildings people, personnel … unless of course they buy back into Suffolk Council (in which case…).
  • 20 out of 160 full-time equivalent staff will be lost.  Thankfully, it seems, by natural wastage.  However, 1 in 8 is too high a percentage to be done by natural wastage alone.  Presumably, that’s a lot of voluntary redundancy and early retirement.  Those things actually cost money.  This means the council will be paying staff to stop working for them. Or they’re going to sack them.
  • Then we get on to the mind-boggling bit.  You see, it does not just stop at one arms-length organisation.  Oh no. Each library is going to have its own volunteer-run group helping to run it which will be expected to eventually take over the branch and become a partner in the umbrella IPS.  That’s 44 different branches.  44 different leaders, different ways of doing things.  That’s a lot of extra bureaucracy.  That’s a nightmare of competing bureaucracies.  Add on the IPS and the Council on to that and it’s 46.
  • On top of this, these 44 different groups will be expected to raise 5% of the funding themselves.  Yep, they’re helping to run the service – presumably for free – and then they’re going to be expected to pay the council for the privilege.  The Councils justifies this by saying that “some” of the groups raise 5% per year now through fund-raising.  Not all.  Some.  That’s £100,000 every year. 
There’s other worries too.  Things like the Council losing accountability for its branches.  Things like what contract (and for what term) the Council will give to the IPM.  Things like how the IPM is going to pay for maintenance on its buildings. Things like more than twenty staff working in libraries losing their jobs and not being replaced.  Things like a Conservative run council setting up a socialist-based “Industrial and Provident Society” with an apparently straight face.  But I’m not going to worry about those.  No, the prospect of 46 (44 plus the IPM and the Council) somehow making things work for over a quarter less money per year is enough to worry about for now. 
The very best of luck, by the way, to York Gardens Library in Wandsworth which is officially opening tomorrow as a volunteer-run Big Society library.  It’s in a tough area, close to the scenes of some of the worst of the London riots this Summer, and would otherwise have been closed down by its council if it was not for volunteers.  Readers of Public Libraries News will know that there are a lot of concerns about volunteers running libraries and thus giving their councils a “get out of jail free” card.  However, I cannot help but wish the Friends of York Gardens Library well and hope that they will avoid being used as poster boys by every English council that wants to close libraries in disadvantaged areas.  We can but hope.  After all, there’d be no library otherwise … and that’s a terrible thing to wish on any community. 
428 libraries (339 buildings and 89 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below. Librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.
Things you can do today


 Andy McNab
  • Andy McNab in special mission to celebrate reading success – Reading Agency (Press Release). Bestselling novelist and former SAS operative Andy NcNab thrilled workers at McVitie’s Manchester yesterday (31 October 2011) when he visited them to sign copies of his new book Dead Centre, and celebrate their Learn 4 U Centre’s success in winning the prize draw for workplaces participating in the Six Book Challenge.” … “18,000 young people and adults across the UK registered for the Six Book Challenge this year through libraries, colleges, adult education, prisons and workplaces with potentially life-changing results. Impact research into the Six Book Challenge has found that 94% of respondents felt a sense of achievement, 88% said they gained from the experience and 60% reported an improvement in their skills.”
  • Are we going to give up looking for good staff and and go for 24/7 staffless libraries? – This Week in Libraries.   Chris Batt PhD tackles questions of “What are the opportunities that excist in all the dramatic change that is happening for libraries? Can we claim the library is important simply because it is there?”
  • eHustings – CILIP.   Candidates for elected positions in library professional association questioned by members
“Reading is about more than what’s on the page.  Holding a book prompts my mind to enrich itself”, Alternative literature, XKCD.   (with thanks to Simon Barron)
  • Just another liberal whinger – Walk You Home.  Updated.  Only around one half of children have a desk at home.
  • Notes from WalesDeborah Fitchett (New Zealand).   Summarises speech by Andrew Green, National Libary of Wales to LIANZA conference.  “Libraries are public goods. Noone should be prevented by lack of means from taking advantage of GLAM [galleries, libraries, archives, museums] institutions.”
  • Occupy libraries: Guerilla librarianship for the people – Occupy Wall Street Library (USA). Aims to: “to meet the information needs of a hard to reach group, to surprise and entertain,to enhance people’s enjoyment of an event, to educate and inform as conveniently as possible, to offer a common space for education and intellectual engagement outside of traditional spaces like universities and public libraries” 
“Most of all guerrilla librarianship is an act of resistance . . .” Occupy Wall Street Library
  • Who left a tree, then a coffin in the library? – NPR (USA).   The identity of the artist who has left exquisitely crafted paper scenes in libraries and museums in Scotland to celebrate Ian Rankin, libraries and literacy has been (sort of) revealed.  However, people prefer not to know who …


Local News

  • Brent – Date given for Brent libraries appeal – BookSeller.  10th and 11th November are the dates. “The Brent SOS Libraries campaign, run by local residents keen to keep the libraries open, said it was preparing to be asked for a further “community contribution” towards costs by  the Legal Services Commission, which administers legal aid. Residents have already raised in excess of £30,000 to fund the cost of a legal challenge to the closures.”
  • Croydon – Council “holding libraries hostage” – This is Croydon Today.  “Councillor Sara Bashford, cabinet member for customer services, culture and sport, said: “We have a responsibility to our residents to spend their money prudently and within the letter of the law, and with Lambeth boycotting its management role, this is impossible.” … “Croydon’s Labour leader, Councillor Tony Newman, said: “Councillor Fisher is holding a gun to the head of the UNJL (Upper Norwood Joint Library) and holding every library in Croydon hostage. He seems to be prepared to see the UNJL’s future threatened and is hell bent on selling off all of Croydon’s libraries.”
  • Hull – Western Library gets “long overdue” facelift – BBC.   “Much of the funding for the work is being provided by the James Reckitt Library Trust and the Townscape Heritage Initiative.”… “Hull Councillor Terry Geraghty said the library was “much loved” and the “long overdue” facelift would provide extra meeting rooms for public use.”
  • Oxfordshire – “Vital” library facing staff cuts celebrates 20 years – Henley Standard.   ““People often don’t realise what they’ve got until they are threatened with losing it but that’s never been the case with Woodcote library. It has always been so well used and appreciated, which is why there was such a reaction when people heard about the cuts. The efforts that have been put in by the support groups and the parish council and residents together show how important people feel the issue is.”
  • Sefton – Unlimited internet access will no longer be free at the library as part of £20.5m Sefton Council savings – Formby Times.   “The report before councillors told of the risks of denying free internet access at libraries, given that 30 percent of households do not have access. The council intends to introduce a tiered system of charging 50p per half hour after an initial free 30 minutes. Concessions could apply to the unemployed and elderly. Just 34 of 153 local authorities currently charge for the service, with five in the North West.”
  • Suffolk – Council reveals how it will keep every library open – EADT.   “The proposals would see Suffolk County Council create an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), an organisation working with, but independent from, the county council to support the county’s library network. The IPS would hold charitable status, be able to benefit from an 80% reduction in property rates and apply for external funding.”.  Creating a separate organisation with whole new management structure will “free the library service from unnecessary council bureaucracy”
    • Jobs to go as libraries face shake-up – EADT.   “Moves to save all Suffolk’s libraries by transferring them into a new independent body have been given a cautious welcome by one of the county’s keenest campaigners… he felt it was ironic that the Conservative-controlled county council was using a form of organisation that stemmed from the co-operative movement.” … “Suffolk would be the first county in Britain to transfer its libraries to such a body”

“If it means all the libraries have a secure future then that would be something to be welcomed. I’m not sure it has a great advantage over the current arrangement, but if the service is safeguarded then that’s got to be good.”  James Hargrave, Campaigner

“Eventually, every library will have a community group involved and having a direct say in its day to day running. Supported by the IPS, community groups will be able to opt for a level of responsibility they feel able to take on. Seven pilot projects are currently being developed and will, from April 2012, be the first of these arrangements in action. Organisations running local libraries would become members of the IPS and elect its board.” Suffolk Council press release.

“Arts Council England is grateful to Suffolk’s library service for their positive and innovative approach and for working in partnership with us on the Future Libraries Programme.” Nicky Morgan (previously of the MLA), Arts Council England

  • Surrey – Max Clifford backs New Haw library volunteersGet Surrey.   ““There’s an awful lot of people suffering because of cutbacks generally around the country, and a lot of people can justify complaining about that. But in New Haw, people are doing something about it and that speaks volumes. Libraries are an incredibly important part of every community, and everybody from children to the elderly all benefit so much from them.”

“While we remain disappointed that Wandsworth Borough Council singled out this library, initially for closure and now to be its ‘Big Society pilot’, we are pleased at the way the community has come together and that today the library remains open,” said Sonia Francis­Mills, Chair of the Friends of York Gardens Library. “We continue to face significant challenges in recruiting enough volunteers to keep the library going, raising revenues and – most importantly – increasing community engagement so that York Gardens can continue to be a place that offers local people a safe place to read and to learn.” Wandsworth – Wandsworth’s Big Society Library reopens: local people step in to keep library in deprived ward open – Friends of York Gardens Library (press release).