Speak Up For Libraries panel, 23rd November 2013


The following notes were taken from the Speak Up For Libraries conference, held in CILIP headquarters.  The opening remarks were kept to five minutes each …

Heather Wakefield, UNISON

I head up the local government police and justice bits which, as you can imagine, keeps me busy at the moment. The Local Government Association have recently reported there is going to be a £14.4 billion shortfall in funding by 2020. There will only only be money for statutory services by then. So, these are difficult times. UNISON are planning a campaign to publicise the UK wide picture of the cuts so it becomes national and not hidden. Latest poll shows more satisfaction with local services but that the same people think cuts will cause widespread social unrest. Privatisation is worrying development and the union sees it as waste to public money. This is because money gets wasted in scoping, procurement, profits, fat salaries and huge amount of fraud. Employment practices leave much to be desired. Serco and Carillion are currently both in court. Unison provide guides on how to understand and oppose privatisation. Two thirds think rail, mail and energy should be nationalised. Unison has a lot of members in privatised and voluntary services so do join unison if you’re service is privatised. The Damage report on library cuts was recently produced by the union.

Phil Bradley, President of CILIP

I spend a lot of time teaching librarians. The current cuts have nothing to do with austerity but everything to do with political expediency. Government ideology is anti-thought. Vaizey is doing what he is told to do. None of the parties are immune to criticism. Campaigning is not going to work on the national level, Vaizey is clearly not interested. Far better to look at local situation and pressure local councillors. Consider libraries in terms of services and activities and not artefacts. Promote value of the library within a community. Libraries help job seeking, legal issues, health issues, universal credits access, info and resources access. Stress the positive contribution of libraries. Ministers don’t care about libraries as a “good thing” so we need to make a strong economic basis. We need to go out into the community, not stay in our building.

Yinnon Ezra, DCMS

I have had 37 years in local government and my personal passion is public libraries and in ensuring people know what they do and they keep pace with the change. I have been in post half time for a year. I concentrate on local government as they run libraries. We quietly give them support. During my time, I have spoken to nearly 46 councils. Of those seven gave me cause for concern and four took my advice and, I believe, are now of less concern. By getting to them early, one we can influence them. Leadership is important in that well managed authorities tend to have thriving libraries . They should be seen as integral to a council. Tell the council what the library service can do eg. If the council cannot afford children’s centres then put them in the local library. Get people to share resources and have IT that talks to each other. Theres no reason why smaller unitary councils can’t share things. Campaigns have been successful when they focus on what library is doing and working with them. There is now the worst pressure and fatigue he can remember in local services. One authority is having half of its budget taken out. I feel for those who have followed on since I left.

Janene Cox, Society of Chief Librarians

The SCL is a volunteer network on top of our day jobs. We stand up for core values. Share ideas and celebrate best practice and give advice and support. Developed Universal Offers … Reading, information, digital and health. This is in partnership with the Reading Agency and the Arts Council and with support from the DCMS and the LGA. Most us want health, wealth and to stay connected to friends and families. Libraries do that, they provide access to business and jobs. They promote and generate community prosperity and memory. Think innovatively, act collaboratively and manage creatively. We cannot say as heads of service to leave libraries alone: we need to advocate. Universal Offers provide framework to do that. Ensuring authorities have offers embedded in them. We’ve been at forefront to move e-lending forward. Engage key people is essential.

Brian Ashley, Arts Council England

ACE has been the development agency since October 2011 in collaboration with others. As well as libraries staff (Brian is half time, with five regional libraries officers), many from ACE engage in libraries. Our view was presented earlier this year, clearly and publicly saying what our view of libraries is. Libraries speak to people in different ways and their reach is wide. We provide core funding to e.g. TRA and SCL. We and the MLA before us provide funding to test models for shared services, securing fund channelled through commissioning, uses of new technology and testing new ways of generating income. We have spent three million so far of a six million pound programme for activities in libraries. We support libraries to support business, run peer review and leadership academies for councillors. Fund schemes that benefit from national deals like Reference Online, Enquire and IFLA. Project nearing conclusion on automatic library membership. We are now encouraging and supporting research into the impact of current conditions in rural areas, new business models (with NLGN), capturing case studies on Culture Hive. Envisioning provided the basis for development work with partners. Will bring benefits to libraries, not least in the areas of skills and digital. Constantly in conversation with councils, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging. We’re not part of statutory framework, which is why we don’t comment on the relative merits of what individual library services are doing or plan to do. New tech and rising expectations are driving change in libraries … Leaving aside substantial financial pressures. Successful services remodel and redesign and reposition services. Strategies and solutions have to be developed in local context and council will decide what it looks like. What works in one place may not work in another,

Brian has kindly provided his full notes for his speech here.


Steve Manley, UNISON Derbyshire. Libraries ARE a statutory service. The 1964 act definition of comprehensive has been recently decided in court to include computers and e-lending. 

Peter Richardson, LIbraries for Life for Londoners and Lewisham: The difference between being statutory and the national decision not to be minded to implement it is worrying.
– Yinnon – one council argued that a comprehensive and efficient service could be provided by just one library. Depends on what people think. There is a difference seen in councils between “hard” and soft statutory services. Libraries are a “soft” statutory service. But there is no clear interpretation. Wirral showed it was important to have processes to consult etc … Councils need to be open and honest about what is being proposed. Ideas can sometimes come out of the blue from the council leader and not be properly considered,

Yinnon: “There is a difference seen in councils between “hard” and soft statutory services. Libraries are a “soft” statutory service.” “

– Alan – what do people think constitutes a comprehensive and efficient service?
– Phil – we cannot rely on this as it can go really quickly by act of parliament. If it costs you money to use computer then is it comprehensive? Should be free.
– Julie Boston – book provision is important.
– Janene – children’s books are hugely important. Area of biggest growth. Children’s figures holding up well esp. SRC. Shows need to invest and ensure they grow into library users. What happens is children’s use often fall away when they get older,
– Alan – what about closures and loss of children’s librarians?
– Janene – we should look at the library footprint in local community. Colocate or relocate? Is the infrastructure still relevant?
– Phil – if you want a literate and intelligent society then every school should have a library.
– Julie – money spent on SATS examinations could be spent on libraries instead.

“David Owen: It’s a political situation, we see what is coming but we’re still going to be cut. Time and ideology is against us.”

“Heather Wakefield: It’s worse than that … There won’t be money even to commission services”

David Owen, Unison Northwest England: We make sensible arguments and have knowledge but the Government is continuing to cut no matter what. Commissioning authorities are growing and can sometimes be down to 200 people as a target. It’s a political situation, we see what is coming but we’re still going to be cut. Time and ideology is against us.
– Heather – it’s worse than that. The plan is for eternal austerity. Nothing to do with the deficit, this is an ideological war on state provision. There won’t be money even to commission services. The answer is a new government. Shortcomings of Labour accepted. Volunteers – is fine but not at the expense of good state services. Courts are very loathe to intervene on political decisions so statutory nature defence questionable. Need to mobilise people and speak up louder.

– Yinnon – DCLG role when it comes to councils and their finances  is complete non intervention and that is worrying. Some Authorities may go to the wall. Current model for finance just isn’t working. Austerity is disproportionately worse in the northern authorities. All three parties want more progressive councils but never open discussion with local councils. LGA could be more proactive. “everything is political”

Yinnon – Some authorities may go to the wall

– Brian – “Common sense is a very uncommon thing” is a well known quote. Making the point is not sufficient. Find the right people to convince the decision makers … This can be done in many ways … Megaphone, petition, quiet conversation, meeting. Keep plugging away and don’t give up.
– Janene – positive messages important.
– Phil – we don’t live in a sane society any longer. Politicians are thinking solely in terms of money. We need to prove libraries make money. Talk to the people who talk to the people who make decisions. Librarians go to local businesses to save money and say, by the way we’re about to be cut. Businesses can then go to politicians.

Phil: we don’t live in a sane society any longer

– Brian – Coventry: I remember years ago Debenhams would only relocate if it was next to the library as it would ensure footfall. We’re looking very seriously about research of economic impact of libraries but this is not a firm commitment yet. We need to if a a model of economic impact of libraries in terms of learning etc.
– Alan – advocacy argument in favour of libraries should be made to all parties in time for next election.

Ann Smith, Reading Libraries: Need better joint negotiation to purchase items … A national body to negotiate on behalf of libraries?
– Brian – reference online is being sustained, working with SCL. New agreements …? ACE does not have the expertise, MLA had a lot more. What would benefit from such an agreement? Happy to have a conversation with appropriate people.

Jo Bromley, Kent. Libraries, Registration and Archives. Every child registered in a library. Lobby politicians and promote positive messages. Take the public with us. Many people don’t use libraries. Challenge the traditional view of what libraries are, People don’t know what we do now and they didn’t 40 years ago. Need people using libraries. What’s the single message to engage people to use libraries?

Heather: “I’ve been at meetings where some councillors make jokes about libraries and do not think they are useful except for bookworms and eccentrics.”

– Yinnon – need strong marketing. Says who is using service, who isn’t and finding ways to get to those who aren’t. It’s a relentless process. Do it again, improve the message, do it again. New audiences then appear. there is so much libraries do for other people but we don’t get funding from them … We should.
– Heather – I’ve been at meetings where some councillors make jokes about libraries and do not think it is useful except for bookworms and eccentrics. Have conversations with non users. Tell us what you want.
– Phil – a hospital is not about beds. One of my posters says “libraries are dangerous places” and they should be. Push the idea that it’s the activities, third place, new things.
– Janene – stress the difference libraries make to lives of the community. Need a really good experience of using our services. Get people saying how fantastic their experience is of using libraries. Need more advocates. Volunteers possibly.

John Dolan, CILIP: (1) you don’t have to be a user to want to pay for something e.g. Hospitals. (2) government seems to intervene all the time in hospitals and schools. Why not in libraries? (3) – views on leadership and on staff. Cross sector networking.

– Brian. Convey the same message but be aware how the message can be seen or misused by others. Get a clear positive message that can be shared. SCL calendar of advocacy useful in this. We’re not going to have the funds of big companies to advertise. Harness people instead. Leadership – seems several leadership programmes invested only I people who are already leaders. We need to invest I people who are not necessarily leaders. Embed it in sector so doesn’t disappear when leader moves on.

Brian: Get a clear message that can be shared.

Julie, Cambridgeshire. How come SCL is not a campaigning group? Why not?
– Janene – we’re not constituted as a campaigning organisation but we do work with councillors to have positive messages. We’re not like Voices for the Library but we do get message across.
Alan – is there going to be firm move for all authorities to encourage National Libraries Day.
Janene – yes. all authorities are being asked to support it.

Delegate from Lincolnshire: What would make a good consultation?
Alan – Lincolnshire council was a brick wall of cuts when I was in a radio debate with them: and the consultation was a total fig leaf.
Yinnon – best way to survey people is to get someone independent to do it. Lincolnshire used a a corrupted sample by asking only those interested, Sample across the whole piece. Invite people to respond only gets the grumpy …. Ipsos/MORI have the science. Need to list options and survey honestly. Costs money but is worth it. Need to profile every library using objective research.
Brian – no one blueprint. Critical factor is the attitude. Honest? Transparent? Very rare there is no restrictions funds and councils need to be upfront about that.
Yinnon – equalities. Need to construct consultation properly. We get stuff after decision has been made. It’s not something the dcms gets involved on much.

Yinnon on DCMS and consultations: “it’s not something we get involved in much”

Elizabeth Ash: Yinnon, that’s not an acceptable answer.

Trevor Craig, Oxfordshire. DCMS gives the impression it is sitting in its hands.
Eluzabeth – Yinnon, that’s not an acceptable answer. 20000 people responded in Croydon. I was criticised for trying to skew the result by handing the survey out. Not enough copies. Council ignored the results. Shambolic.
Alan – Lincolnshire – 5000 people on demo was called paltry by councillor. That’s not democratic.

Gary Green. I got this from twitter just now : “Dear DCMS what if local politicians don’t attend? Don’t respond or laugh over you when you read your statement?”
Bristol – this panel has been depressing.
Diana Edmonds – I know one authority when large libraries had quota to fill questionnaires as much as possible. Smaller libraries had been told there was a shortage and the public had to ask for one which was then brought from out the back. No publicity was given.

Diana Edmonds – “I know one authority where large libraries had a quota to fill questionnaires as much as possible. Smaller libraries had been told there was a shortage and the public had to ask for one which was then brought out from out the back. No publicity was given.”

Yinnon – noted, get a neutral professionally produced ones. Consultations run by authorities themselves cause more problems.
Brian – open consultation and honest open description of what cuts / options there are. However cuts do have to be made and they’re not always comfortable.

Brent campaigner: DCMS not good. Brent terrible consultation. Wirral report says local authorities have to look at local needs. Massive response showed libraries want to stay open. DCMS could have responded but did not.
– Yinnon – there is a feeling in the DCMS that it does not intervene, I’ve put what I think should be in a consultation on the web. It needs to be Independent. It’s then up to local councillors to decide. Interventions by the DCMS are only personal.

Brent – DCMS needs to take some responsibility. This is outrageous.
Laura – don’t get at Yinnon so much. The DCMS has made it very clear they won’t do anything about anything. Are there are accepted guidelines on how to do the consultation? Is there really nothing enforceable? Some very good things have been said but I leave more confused than ever. Lots of nice little things done in places … Uncoordinated muddle. Someone needs to do it. There are two national scandals: one that the only service for volunteers is Jim at Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire. Two that the only national information service is Ian at Public Libraries News using a laptop with a key missing.

Alan Wylie – What does panel think of Carillion with it’s recently announced redundancies? Are trusts etc Trojan horses for privatisations?
– Phil – consultations don’t go down very well. If we’re not having them, what can we have instead? Agree with need for independence. Dcms should define what a consultation should have and do so etching about it.
– Janene – Carillion. Difficult issue. Surprised Laing changed to Carillion. Not sure what else can be said. It’s early days with Mutuals to see if they’re going to be successful. What is it going to look like in five years time? Something lots of us are not going to be comfortable with
– Brian – I said a the start that ACE does not get specific so inappropriate to comment on Croydon. Trusts etc very early days. Don’t knock people trying to find new ways of doing things. We are expected bye everyonee to find solutions. Some will be not satisfactory or sustainable.

Brian: Don’t knock people trying to find new ways of doing things

– Alan – dogmatic pressing of case for free schools, academies where malpractice and fraud. This is what we will see in public library service.
– Yinnon – commissioning model comes up all the time in conversations.  I need to be neutral.
– Phil – it’s wrong. Libraries are not there to make money. Libraries are there to help people and get them on their feet. They’re not there to make money. If people stand between library and community then there is a disconnect. Libraries only work well if they listen to the public and not to money.

Unison – privatisation is always a bad idea. They all depend on profit. Trusts and Mutuals – co-ops are so fluffy! Government says co-op is eight people out of two hundred. That’s not a c-oop. Terms and. conditions get cut. Means when the incubation period is over then the new co-operatative will have to compete in private sector which is really good at competing. Not so good in delivering. It is a Trojan horse,

“when the incubation period is over then the new co-operatative will have to compete in private sector, which is really good at competing and not so good in delivering. It is a Trojan horse,”


Trevor, Oxfordshire: Will there be research into what models work? Will agencies research if volunteer libraries actually save money.

Campaigner Libraries for Life for Londoners: I’d like to speak up for volunteers. Many people can contribute who are retired. Volunteers are not second rate.

Croydon … We’re seeing an increase volunteers. Any govt officials invited today? No MPs.
Laura –  We wondered if should invite LGA and TRA but thought five person panel enough.
Alan – In 2008, Ed Vaizey spelled out how he would defend libraries.

Yinnon- Do connect with the LGA. Most successfully campaigns focus on what is happening locally. I am a huge supporter of libraries, welcome everyone and change all the time. Libraries are essentially local.

Yinnon: Do connect with the LGA. The most successful campaigns focus on what is happening locally.”

Brian – We’re big fans of  the TRA which is why ACE funds them. ACE may do research in future as to effectiveness of different models in libraries etc. ACE response to Envisioning in May 2013 said there is a clear and compelling case and a continuing need a for a publicly funded library’service. They need to be free and for all.
Janene – future will be different and challenging. Huge need in communities for libraries to respond to. Hold on to underpinning values. Literacy, reading, learning. We need to be flexible enough to meet changes. We also need to be ambitious and positive about the future. What can a public library be? They must reflect community need, physical or virtual.
Phil – There’s nothing wrong with volunteers if they supplement. But you need professional librarians. DCMS seems to think librraians can be replaced with volunteers. Libraries are based on their communities, an attack on a library is an attack on their community. Why should we vote for you if you’re not supporting libraries.


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