Speak Up For Libraries Conference, 22 November 2014

The following are my noted from the 2014 Speak Up For Libraries conference, held at CILIP HQ.  They should not be taken as a true and accurate record but rather should be used as an approximation only. 

Opening speech

Delivered by Barbara Band, CILIP president. She said that she represents those who qualified and studied and are passionate believers in what they do.  You cannot replicate the skills of a librarian by a volunteer, “make no mistake about it”.  The “decimation and deprofessionalisation of our libraries is inexcusable”. What are we here defending? Schools can obtain outstanding without even having a library. Large number of closures and threatened libraries. When is this going to stop? When there are no libraries left?

With regard to Vaizey, she asked who is this team of DCMS library experts to who he refers: she’s never seen them,  He’s not  looking at each library service which is having closed libraries, unlike what he claims. Libraries are about literacy, wellbeing, economy, upskilling and safety. Argument is that they’re not used is not borne out by research. Last year, 92 million children’s books were issued, 160m adult fiction … And many visit libraries who don’t even borrow a book. Each generation does not want to see things moving backwards. We are now looking at the real possibility of the next generation growing up without the benefit of libraries.


There were five workgroups, of which I attended one (Workgroup 5).  The aim was to work out the best question to ask politicians with regard to the General Election, what should local campaigners be doing and what should the national campaigns (e.g. Library Campaign) do to help.

Questions to ask politicians

  • Do you intend to keep a statutory library service? Thoughts included whether there should be a radical rephrasing of it as the current law is about books and times have moved on.
  • How much money will you invest in local libraries? .
  • What do you think personally about libraries? What is the party opinion on local libraries?
  • Which libraries are you a member of?
  • How old were you when you took their first book out?
  • Give us your elevator pitch on libraries? Another suggestion was “how do we convince you to support local public libraries?
    Why doesn’t government look at academic evidence to support libraries?
  • What would your party do nationally to prevent a local postcode lottery?  Most wanted a national agency and standards. To what level should they be prescribed? Worry about ridiculous number crunching.
  • What is the main purpose of the Library?
  • What do you think about outsourcing?
  • It would be interesting to have exchange of views about the mutualisation of libraries. Suffolk have published their deal with the mutual; useful to read. York decided not to have volunteers replacing staff.  Can get things a lot cheaper. Wigan may be cheaper back int the council.  Volunteers are not necessarily cheaper. Shifts the blame.

What should local campaigners be doing?

Some said that local councillors have their strings pulled by the officers: officers in the group said that it was the other way around. Some councillors are hostile. Some think they’re just drop in centres.  A hallowed place actually but it seems as long as there is just a corner for books then we can co-locate the heck out of it. Worry that heads of service do not do enough table thumping. Ignorance amongst councillors on what libraries actually do. There should be an education system for councillors on what libraries do. Ensure they all have a library card.

Local friends groups. What can they do? Advocacy stuff. Share details of other groups. Educate campaigners about equality impact assessments, make it difficult for councils to close libraries. Go to ward committees and make a right fuss, that’s very effective. Public meetings.

How do you stop locals becoming volunteers? You can’t really. Educate to say don’t become volunteers.

Be politically aware,  most successful campaign was to send info to local residents saying your councillor wants to close your library. They then  backed down. Hold the councillors personally accountable. Encourage users to participate in what is going on… Friends groups are very useful for this. Squatting worked in Friern Barnet.

At the end of the separate sessions, the groups then re-assembled in the main room. The questions that were decided to be asked were:

  • What should the public library service look like in 10 and 20 years time?
  • In light of how libraries contribute to the delivery of numerous key government objectives, why isn’t the Secretary of State intervening in closures?
  • How do you see an entirely voluntary service being sustainable in the long term?
  • Shouldn’t there be standards and legislation that clearly define measurable service levels of the library service in the 21st century, and make sure funding levels are in place to achieve this?
  • What do think public libraries do?
  • What do you think professional library staff do?
  • What is your party’s action plan for public libraries in the immediate future
  • What would your party do nationally to prevent a postcode lottery in library provision?

Panel debate

Alan Gibbons introducing Martin Francis of the Brent Greens., Helen Goodman MP; Shadow Minister for libraries; Justin Tomlinson MP, Conservative.

Martin Francis said libraries are not just for borrowing for books, to enhance and perhaps change lives. Social cohesion.   In favour of a paid staff, adequately resourced and available for all. Labour in a rent closed six out of twelve,

Helen Goodman: between 2010 and 2015, one quarter of all libraries under threat in that period. Support comprehensive public library service. Practicalities : four big things – reading, information, digital inclusion and health and wellbeing. The Government fund of £150m on super connected cities is largely not being spent so we should spend that on libraries instead. Labout not happy with putting whole system out to voluntary sector. Maintain legal framework. The Government made a mistake when abolished MLA.  Need to have independent professional advice.  Take some of £6m from ACE to re-establish an independent library body.  Every library authority must employ some professional librarians.

Justin Tomlinson: After some confusion, Justin made it clear he was speaking only for himself and was not describing Conservative policy [This went down like a lead balloon – Ed.]. We should empower local library managers and entrust local managers to run it. Use section 106 money to fund libraries.  Acknowledge cafe.  Wifi for all branches.  Need to have more info on books. Need to look at some of the shared facilities. Uniforms for staff. Should publish stats on usage. Opening hours and location should follow footfall. Crying shame that spend only 7.5% of budget on stock. Look at commercial sponsorship. Volunteers should provide additional services, including marketing and recruiting. Enthusiastic about libraries but embrace challenges.

Should ministers intervene in library closures?
– Justin – every local area is different. Should be up to us in the local community. The key is to persuade politicans: drag MPs into the local libraries.  Real challenge of lack of engagement in libraries by elected officials. At a general principle the secretary of state should not run local libraries. We’re meant to be devolving powers not dictating them.
– Helen – there should have mobile libraries instead if close small branches. What this government has done on funding is completely inadequate. Labour will restore the needs element in the local authority funding formula so a redistribution that would tackle problems e.g. Liverpool.  Share back office facilities. Digital inclusion. Extraordinary that Ed has not intervened anywhere.  He is so incapable of saying what he thinks libraries should be.  You need to have some overall vision .Helen went to Lincolnshire and asked Ed to intervene there. Some sense of access is important. No point giving local authorities terrible financial settlements.
– greens says libraries are a service and not a profit making company. Greens say Ed is never going to intervene so we need to take them on.  Michael Gove intervened all the time so this Government does intervene when it feels like it.

– The audience were clear in saying that the  ultimate responsibility is with minister.  Ed allowed Lincs to do something illegal that cost £100k to the council. Ed Vaizey has simply hidden behind the local authority.


An audience member sais that volunteers cost far more than it ever could save,  volunteers can’t run libraries themselves and rely on paid staff from other branches. What’s the justification for this? Some councils are falling apart in the paid branches but everything is brand new for volunteers. This is a slap in the face for paid staff.
– green … There should be a professional librarian in every branch. Volunteers in any branch is the thin end of the wedge
– Justin … Role of volunteers should be additional. Matter of last resort only.
– Helen … DCMS website advice is to push people into volunteering and running libraries. Professionals should have formalised advice role. Paid staff feel undermined.  There should be a formalised code.

The role of digital in libraries
– Justin said there was never a greater need. Library is very good vehicle. But on the other hand, he doesn’t want library staff to be IT staff.  At this point there was a tumult from the audience who pointed out that they are IT support already.  Justin thinks that other departments should finance library staff when asking them to do their work for them. [For my point of view, I don’t think enough library staff have got the IT skills required of them and there needs to be a lot of training – Ed.]
– Helen. Digital divide growing all the time. It’s unfair to push everything online when some don’t have access.
– Martin. Role yes but cuts mean difficult.

– Helen.  Yes, we need them but 24 standards is too many. Some sense of what works needed.Resourcing and standards should run in tandem
– Justin. Every service is different so difficult to set standards.  EBooks need to be sorted. Justin says not loans and visits but that’s completely missing the point. Each local community sets trends and so it’s up to each local community. Justin says everything too fast evolving. Make sure not wasting money on Betamax options.  Justin happy with a Swindon standard, but not a national one. Wants local authorities to set their own standards only.
– Martin. Comprehensive and efficient meets sweet Fanny Adams without funding.

What should a public Library service in ten years time?
Helen … Core offer of four public library universal information offers, professional staff, leadership, agreed common standards. Libraries are not past, libraries are the future.
Justin … Use section 106 money to invest in libraries. Need more stock. Priority is frontline.
Martin … Libraries are a social space.

Expert Review of Public Libraries in Wales 2014

Claire Creaser spoke about Wales. Libraries are well supported and subject to 1964 Act. Standards have contributed to more funding and more use and have been used to alleviate cuts. But Wales not immune to cuts. The was a short inquiry which reported in July 2014, which the Expert Review took into account.  Report published this month. Available online. Resistance to charging. Verging consultation quality and significant impact of reduced charging.  Wales under threat of local government reorganisation.  Suggested ten rather than 22 authorities in the next three years.
Collaboration will be very important, between and within local authorities. Also, community involvement is there to stay, whether we like it or not.
Do nothing is not an option. In the long term nothing left if do that.
Managing change is important. Training specifically for libraries.
Think about costs of changes. Think of timescales, impact assessment and taking notice of it. Wales was not looking at collaboration enough.
Need evidence and outcome based strategy. Need joined up thinking with libraries and local authority plans. Workforce development plan. Relative lack of Welsh language skills.  Many authorities didn’t know how to handle volunteers, should have tailored training.
No formal interventions but some rapping over knuckles by minister.
Volunteer library evidence very mixed. Libraries we spoke to asked us for guidance and whether they’re statutory or not. Not appropriate.
Many wanted consortia, nationally coordinated service seen as ultimate goal.
Standards should be statutory. Scope for updated legislation. The world would not be the same without libraries

Sue Charteris on Sieghart Review
A year ago since it started. Will be published soon. Priority clear from everyone asked was please do not give another report that will just sit on a shelf. Therefore practical.
– importance of digital offer. Must not forget those not online. Intense demands on frontline staff to help individuals reliant on library.
– wifi fundamental. Infrastructure is either under too much pressure or just not there.
– leadership – championing role. But difficult to convince decision makers.
Argument for buildings is being won, just not the service in them. Councils need to be genuine partners for volunteers.  Satisfaction for local people have increased in some authority volunteer libraries. Panel had misgivings about volunteer library long term sustainability. Concerted push for training. Consistent message that talks the service up.  A to Z is great. SCL has made huge progress on digital skills. Libraries have a key role in promoting digital inclusion … Shouldn’t take a judge to say this.

Alan Gibbons closing speech

There’s lots of evidence for libraries  … Enjoyment of reading has greater impact on their development than their parents economic status. Lots of evidence for libraries, none for austerity, yet we’re cutting the former and continuing with the latter. Cheapskate short term cut to service transforming lives makes no sense.  One in six children do not read a book per month. It’s the poor and the young and elderly and the vulnerable that use our libraries and need them the most. Libraries are very popular and if they’re not used then it’s normally because of cuts. This is not 1816, you cannot cut us down with sabres. Local authority spending has been cut by a quarter in real terms. Austerity is not permanent, to say otherwise is ideological. Labour cuts as badly as the Tories. Justin does not understand what a standard is. There’s no point training librarians if they don’t have a job. You don’t know what you’ve got to they’re gone. Yes we’re library geeks, yes we don’t have a life and no we’re not going to give up.
We are proud to be the despicables, we stopped you Mayor Anderson [Mayor of Liverpool]. We will not stop until we’ve won.

Further reading

  • Lost libraries make UK international loser – Library Campaign (press release). “England’s destruction of its public libraries is making it the loser in the global race to build digital, knowledge-based economies.” … “A constant theme throughout the day was the crucial role of libraries in supporting a wide range of government priorities, including literacy, education, health, business support, combating social isolation and building cohesive communities.”

“Alan Gibbons summed up: ‘A library without a librarian is a room. Libraries are cheap. In total, they cost less than a billion pounds, when trillions is wasted on Trident, the banks and a failed austerity project that has given us almost permanent economic crisis since the 2008 crash. ‘Shutting them costs a fortune, not just in redundancies but in the damage to society.'”

  • Resources Speak Up For Libraries. Includes six page “lobby pack” and links to resources on various UK public libraries issues.
  • Sieghart Review to recommend task force for libraries – BookSeller. “”The argument for saving [library] buildings has been won, but not for a [library] service able to deliver its promise,” she told the conference. “The case has not yet been made for libraries to be the delivery point for a number of key services. The time is now – if most local authorities are somehow managing to hang on to the building infrastructure, how are we going to make this work?”” … “The report will argue for a dedicated task force with all the key players to work together to deliver changes at a fast pace…and promote a consistent message that talks the service up”
  • Some thoughts written on the train to the Speak up for Libraries conference – Alan Gibbons. The notes for Alan’s closing speech. “The only real friends libraries have got are Friends groups, users, staff, communities, unions, authors and illustrators. We have to build the strongest coalition here in the real Big Society to fight the greatest ignorance and neglect….up there in the Small and Small Minded Society also known as the political ‘elite’ (another word that proves language can be misappropriated).”
  • Speak up about the hidden consequences of library cuts – Informed / Alan Wylie. Looks at the consequence of losses in library staff, not of buildings. “In my opinion outreach is crucial to the relevance, integrity and survival of public libraries without it we are in danger of losing touch with those in our communities that need our services most. It helps to ground us and to break down the ‘professional in an official building’ barrier, it also helps to loosen the ‘footfall & issues’ noose put around our necks by those only interested in quantitative data.”
  • Speak Up For Libraries – UStream.  Video of each of the sessions of the conference.
  • Speak Up For Libraries – the website.
  • Speaking Up For Libraries, each in their own way? – Public Libraries News. Editorial.


  • #1 written by Liz Waterland
    about 9 years ago

    One or two points I understood differently from this report; our group, and the tone of the day, didn’t seem to me to support the view that volunteers should be ‘educated’ not to do take part in libraries. I felt the conference was largely sympathetic to groups who felt they wanted to support or save their library – even though everyone deplored the need.
    I also didn’t think that Martin Francis said, ‘Libraries were just for borrowing books’. Quite the contrary; I thought he expressed his view that there was a wide range of services that libraries provided.
    It seemed a shame that the question about how libraries supported key government objectives wasn’t put to Justin Tomlinson to try to pin him down further about the Secretary of States’ refusal to intervene in closures. I collared him at teatime and asked what should be done if local authorities act illegally to shut down the service if the SoS won’t intervene; he said we can vote them out at the next election and then re-open any libraries which have been shut previously to that. What to do if the buildings and stock have all been sold off in the interim? No answer!

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