I included in the last post, and tweeted, an open letter from an ex-member of Devon (Libraries Unlimited staff) which raised serious questions about the way Devon’s library services were being managed. There was a lot in the post that was concerning so I emailed Ciara Eastell,, Chief Exec at LU for a response on four specific questions I had from it. Ciara has now sent the following back to me, which I publish below in full. I also asked another question about why some staff have needed to sign non-disclosure agreements, but I am told this is not happening at all and so the question has not been included.

 Have the number of managerial grades gone up, and frontline staff gone down, since the start of Libraries Unlimited? Why?

Changes to staffing structures since our transition from a local authority service to an independent organisation, and the increase in management staff, have been largely due to creating a number of new roles for work that would previously have been carried out by Devon County Council. This includes HR, communications, premises, IT, security, finance, health and safety and others, plus the creation of our Creative Director role that is funded by Arts Council England through our National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status.

At the point of transfer, 34% of our staff (in FTE) were in supervisory roles or above – this includes supervisors of medium sized libraries up to senior management level. In comparison, we had 66% on lower grades (library assistant/senior library assistant levels). As at end of March 2018 (latest available figures), we have 38% of our staff on supervisor level or above and 62% of staff on lower grades. As stated above, the changes are as a result of increased support services needed to run an effective independent organisation.

Where does money received from donations go?

All money that we raise through our range of fundraising activities is invested directly back into library services. This includes investing in extra events and activities and better equipment and resources for our libraries, to enhance our core offering. >We fundraise for both specific projects and resources (such as our Adopt A Book scheme and our recent fundraising campaign for increased activity in prison libraries), as well as fundraising generally. All money raised through general fundraising is put towards specific projects and events, with 50% of local library donations being put directly into that library and the rest invested into county wide improvements and enhancements, such as improved services for children and young people.

We gained registered charity status in November 2016, and launched our first fundraising activities towards the end of last year. Many library services and cultural organisations are able to fundraise to enable greater impact within their local communities. We welcome the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from others as we all seek to ensure that libraries and cultural organisations reach and engage with more people. As a charity, we have the added benefit of being able to benefit from Gift Aid, which means the money we generate from many fundraising activities can go even further.

Is there is a route of communication between frontline staff and trustees?  

We have two staff trustees on our Board, so those members of staff are freely available to be contacted by any member of the team. We also have two community trustees who are members of Friends Groups and are therefore directly in touch with their local library and with Friends Groups across the county. In addition, our trustees get out and visit libraries as much as they can. Their Board meetings are held in various libraries across the county, and they regularly attend events and activities at libraries. Just in the last month we had an event at Northam Library which was attended by one of our independent trustees and the Chair of our Board was also at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge in Exeter Library. We also organise an annual trustee tour, hosted by library supervisors to ensure trustees visit as many libraries as possible during their tenure.

In terms of more formal opportunities, we have an Annual General Meeting (AGM) which both staff and trustees attend. Every year our AGMs have offered staff and trustees the chance to engage with one another.  However, it’s important to understand the differing roles of trustees and senior managers. Trustees, including staff trustees, are there to drive the broader strategic direction of the organisation; as with all charities, they are volunteers giving their time freely in support of the mission and vision of Libraries Unlimited. The day-to-day running of the organisation is rightly the responsibility of senior managers. As well as two staff trustees, we also have an elected Staff Forum, who meet on a regular basis with the Chief Executive and senior managers. The Staff Forum is an important route for any member of staff to raise concerns, queries, issues or suggestions, and the staff representatives on the Forum decide where and who the particular item needs to be raised with.

Is there anything else you want to say?

At Libraries Unlimited we are incredibly proud of the difference we make to people’s lives on a daily basis. All of our libraries, large and small, offer a variety of services that meet the varying needs of the communities of Devon and Torbay. Our team of over 350 staff work hard to provide support and encouragement to those who visit. They greet people with warm, friendly smiles, with knowledge and professionalism. As a charity, everything we do is focused on our core mission, to bring ideas, imagination, information, knowledge and creativity to people’s lives. All of our staff and volunteers, from customer service assistants to the senior management team and our trustees, are absolutely committed to our cause. We are proud that, working closely with Devon and Torbay Councils, we have not closed any libraries, and each one is run and managed by paid and experienced members of staff. We believe that what libraries need is positivity. They need the people that love and value libraries to help spread the word about what it is that makes them special, and for people to work together to raise awareness of the excellent community resources that libraries provide. At Libraries Unlimited, we continue to focus on our six core purposes and on delivering diverse and high-quality library services for the benefit of people and communities of Devon and Torbay.”

Changes by authority

National news

    • Book sales boom but authors report shrinking incomesGuardian. “Powering the record year for the UK industry was a 31% rise in hardback book sales income, as well as a 25% increase of income from audiobooks and an 8% uplift from exports. Income from fiction and non-fiction also rose, by 3% and 4% respectively, which the Publishers Association’s chief executive, Stephen Lotinga, said proved that people’s love of books showed no sign of waning.”
    • Cultural sector to ACE: we need support, not measurement – Arts Professional. “A report commissioned by Arts Council England finds that two-thirds of the sector want the body to advocate its value to central government, but only a minority think it should be measuring quality.”
    • Libraries Taskforce – how we communicate will change – Libraries Taskforce. “We’d like to gather your feedback on what you find useful and how you like to be kept informed, so that we can share this with the organisations who will be leading this communication in the future.”
    • The Positive and Negative Impact of Using Volunteers in Public Libraries – UCL / Gina Baber. “The following essay is a discussion on the impact of using volunteers in Public Libraries. It will focus on the experiences of Library Professionals and Volunteers; and consider
      the overall effect of Volunteers on the Public Library Service.”

      “Volunteers should not be expected to take on the responsibility and workload of experienced, trained Information Professionals. There should be a clear distinction between the role of a volunteer in supporting the Library service, and representing it entirely. Evidence shows that volunteer – run libraries are not sustainable, and cannot run in an efficient, freely accessible and wholly ethical manner. Leadership and management from paid professionals is essential in maintaining the standard of a Public Library service. Without paid information professionals working as true representatives of the service, perception of Public Libraries will be further degraded and the public may lose an important resource capable of empowering and mobilising individuals and communities.”

    • True scale of high street crisis revealed with thousands of pubs, shops and libraries vanishing since 2010 – Mirror. “Britain’s proud history of free libraries dates back to a law change in 1850 and the first opened two years later in Campfield, Manchester. Their growth helped bring about a revolution in self-education. But years of local authority funding cuts have led to a worrying fall in public library provision. Numbers in England and Wales dropped from 3,090 in 2010 to 2,864 last year. A fight to save 21 in Northamptonshire facing closure reaches court next week. The county council wants to axe the libraries in one fell swoop to save money. It would leave 700,000 people, with just eight large and seven smaller libraries. Cuts are forcing councils to make hard choices about services.”

Axiell Selflib

  • International news
  • Canada / USA / Australia – Christian bloggers are furious at the Toronto Public Library – BlogTo. A look at “drag queen storytimes” across the world and how some Christians find them offensive and even “satanic”.  see also Drag queens at public libraries: the new strategy to indoctrinate kids and sideline Christians – Life Site.
  • USA – Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money – Forbes. “Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock. [Stunning ill-informed article that reads like a paid infomercial for Amazon – Ed.].
  • USA – A Look at Library Programming at San Diego Comic-Con 2018 – Publishers Weekly. “he San Diego Public Library programming and special events manager, Erwin Magbanua, told PW a new event has been added this year: the Comics and Libraries Fair, a selection of tables featuring librarians offering presentations on how they use comics in various ways—from collection development to promoting literacy and hosting pop culture events—in their respective libraries. “
  • Local news by authority
  • Barnet – Children and adults to issue plea to new DCMS secretary over library restrictions – Ham and High. “Angry Barnet parents and children will be campaigning outside the government’s offices on Monday against the borough’s “staff-less” libraries.” … “They are asking for the new culture secretary Jeremy Wright to launch an inquiry into the borough’s decision. The children will ask him to come to Barnet personally and see the impact it’s having on them. Barnet spend £14m in 2017 to remove a swath of staff and install CCTV and pin code access into the library.”
  • Bath and North East Somerset – Designs go on show for new library and information service at the PodiumBath Echo. “ohn McLay, who has been involved in the process as Artistic Director for the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, said: “I’m really very impressed with the new designs for the space; modern, flexible and practical. I think it will increase footfall – especially for young people. “It is obviously going to be a space used by lots of different people wanting different things, but this looks like absolutely the best solution.” Around 50 members of the public were selected at random, from the respondents to last year’s public consultation, to get involved with a series of three public engagement sessions, which took place in January, May and early July.”
  • Bridgend – Libraries, swimming pools and bus station all under threat as Bridgend council warns of ‘unthinkable’ measures – Wales Online. “Senior councillors at Bridgend County Borough Council are calling for an end to further funding cuts, warning the local authority has reached a “critical point” and will soon have to make decisions previously thought “unthinkable”.”. Mentions “Closing libraries and community centres” top of the list. see also Bridgend council warns of ‘unthinkable cuts’ – BBC.
  • Darlington – Darlington’s MP urges council to pause for thought over library plans – Darlington and Stockton Times. “Ms Chapman says the authority should now “pause to take stock”, adding: “The consultation drew criticism from some, however the process has been judged to be lawful and necessary following draconian cuts to the council’s budget from central government. “There still remains opposition to the proposed move of services at Crown Street to the Dolphin Centre. This ought to be considered in the context of new challenges to Darlington town centre. “At a time when town centres are struggling across the country, our own being hit with the closure of M&S and potentially Binns, we need to use every tool in the box to invigorate Darlington town centre.” see also Letters: Darlington library closing so council can flex its muscles – Northern Echo.
  • Ealing – Save Pitshanger Library – Ealing Council. “We are very concerned at the Council’s decision not to renew the lease for Pitshanger Library when it comes up for renewal in December 2018. The Library is a vital community asset and we petition the Council to renew the lease so that the library can continue to supply its essential services to the community and call on the Council to improve and adapt these services to the changing needs of the community in order to attract new users.”
  • Northamptonshire – Big service cuts on the way at Northants County Council – Northants Telegraph. “21 of the county’s 36 libraries are under threat, many of the county’s roads won’t be gritted this winter, hundreds of staff will be losing their jobs, road maintenance will be affected and Trading Standards will be vastly reduced”
  • Reading – Reading councillors keep Palmer Park library open on Saturdays – Get Reading. “Plans to close Palmer Park Library on Saturdays as part of Reading Borough Council’s £217,000 cost-cutting scheme have been shelved. The library in St Bartholomews Road will remain open on Saturdays between 10am and 1pm. Reduced opening hours at six of Reading’s seven libraries were approved at a meeting of the borough’s policy committee on Monday, July 16.”
  • Shropshire – Healthy eating initiative launched at Shropshire libraries – Advertizer. “Vending machines packed with healthy snacks and drinks made with 100 per cent natural ingredients were unveiled on Wednesday (July 18) at libraries in Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Ludlow. The idea has come from Food4Health, from Shropshire Council’s Help2Change team.”
  • Somerset – Deadline looming to give views on Bridgwater Library and Blake Gardens plans – This is the West Country. “Somerset Libraries, Somerset County Council and Sedgemoor District Council are putting forward a joint scheme with early ideas for the library which include creating a gallery and meeting area, a new cafe backing onto Blake Gardens, an ‘innovation suite’, having a new interactive ‘digital table’ and creating an area aimed at young people and teenagers, which could potentially include virtual reality headsets and social gaming areas. “
  • Staffordshire – ‘Completely undemocratic’: Cost-cutting self-service library plan backed – Express and Star. “Controversial plans to reduce opening hours and introduce more self-service libraries have been approved by councillors – but campaigners called it a ‘bad day for democracy.’” … “The changes, which come after months of public consultation, will allow community groups to manage four Staffordshire libraries, as well as putting Cheslyn Hay Library at risk of closure, in an effort to save £1.3 million. Cheadle, Clayton, Eccleshall and Penkridge libraries will now follow the same path as 22 of Staffordshire’s 43 libraries that are already community managed.” … “Claire Geoghegan, a member of the friends group, said: “We’ve tried to work with the council throughout the consultation but we’ve found a complete lack of willingness from them to talk to communities. Penkridge library is not suitable to be community managed. ” see also Four more Staffordshire libraries set to be transferred to community groups… is yours affected? – Stoke on Trent Live.
  • Staffordshire – Mischief Makers wanted at Staffordshire libraries A little bit of stone.
  • Swindon – New Old Town Library opening hours are proving popular – Swindon Advertiser. “extended opening hours. The Devizes Road library is now open from 11am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 1pm on Saturday.”
  • Warrington – Green light for new business and community space in Cheshire – Business Up North. “The space, which will be named ‘Lymm Sanctuary Hub’, will be located adjacent to Lymm Library and is a new initiative to provide a location for local community groups as well as small businesses to base themselves. The hub, which recently received approval from Warrington Borough Council, will provide a range of community services and activities supporting those with special needs including the elderly and vulnerable members of the public.”
  • Warrington – Residents asked to donate £10 to keep library open – Warrington Worldwide. “Friends of Culcheth Library have renewed their appeal for people to make a £10 donation to help keep the library open.  They have also stressed the need to find new and exciting ways of using the facility.  In a joint statement, Culcheth and Glazebury Parish Council chairman Cllr Margaret Webber and Friends’ secretary Cllr Joan Grime acknowledge that many people in Culcheth, Glazebury and Croft have worked hard to rescue the library from closure.”
  • West Dunbartonshire – More Dumbarton and Vale stops for mobile library service – Reporter. “The mobile service will also work with community groups and attend local events to raise awareness and increase the number of residents who could be using the service. ” see also Library project bringing books to cut off areas of West Dunbartonshire – Daily Record.
  • York – Mum hits out over disabled loo at York Explore library – York Press. “Susan Brigham, of Barkstone Avenue, Acomb, said that the hoist in the disabled toilets at the York central (York Explore) and Acomb libraries have been out of action for around five weeks – although Explore York disputes that the Acomb hoist was broken. During that time, she claims she and her son Tom’s carers, Sally Godfrey and Sabine Casula, have contacted the council several times to be told that work to fix the hoists was “in hand”.”