Speak Up For Libraries Conference November 14th 2015


These are notes made directly on the day at the conference.  As such, they are my view and understanding of what was said and meant rather than the official view.  Errors are always made.  Please read these notes in that light.


The conference was held at CILIP HQ in Ridgmount Street on a wet day in November.  As I entered at 9.30, key people from CILIP, Library Campaign, Unison and other campaigners were already discussing things, although it’s fair to say that, in the light of the news of cuts almost every day, there was very little jollity but much determination expressed.


Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, started the conference with one minute’s silence for those killed in France.

NB. This speech is notes from listening to the speech. Nick has provided his notes which are produced in full on this page.

He then started the conference proper with noting that David Cameron appeared to become a library campaigner with his letter decrying library and other cuts to the boss of Oxfordshire Council.  Nick noted that there are many great libraries but that the cuts are happening seriously and continuing more.  He said that the word solidarity has never been more important and stated his solidarity and that of CILIP with public libraries, fighting together about something that we all care so much about. Nick has visited many libraries and says that the overwhelming principle is that libraries help people to help themselves.  Nick has no interest in criticising volunteers for volunteering but decries those forcing the loss of paid jobs.

Nick talked to a librarian who is about to become a volunteer in a library next year.  She is being confronted with the stark choice of saying no and seeing her local library fail or to work and keep the library.  She said “whatever happens is that we have got to keep the kids reading” and this is important to keep this in mind.  He also expressed solidarity with library managers who are, very largely, trying to keep plates spinning at a time when it’s very hard to do so.  The words “comprehensive and efficient” are being stretched very thinly.  We should never have to defend the inalienable right to libraries, especially as to how wealthy the country is.  So this is more about ideology than money. Michael Gove said “this is not a spreadsheet exercise”.  At some point, everyone benefits from a public library and in all sectors.

“whatever happens is that we have got to keep the kids reading”

CILIP will ensure that it will hold authorities and politicians to account for cuts and make sure that everyone knows what is at risk if libraries are lost.  We need to strengthen the 1964 Act and be realistic in our aims.

Consider other acts of solidarity as well:

  • The first is between all library and information professionals, private/public/academic.  Whether you call yourself a librarian or a knowledge manager, we are united by our skills. Too often in CILIP I hear people say we are spread too thin over too many sectors.  I don’t believe that. Our strength is in unity.
  • The second is the difference between young and old. Some older people will realise that “this too shall pass”. Other, younger ones, need to be assured that there is an optimistic future in libraries.  It’s the best career that you can choose, committed to the communities we serve.  I ask the old guard of librarianship to be patient with the new professionals.
  • Finally, and this may be the hardest, is solidary with CILIP.  Being a chartered professional isn’t about the subs you pay but your commitment to the profession. There are some very important principles here. I know what many people want is for CILIP to be a campaigner. “I don’t care what your strategy is, just fight”. Others still don’t understand CILIP is not a trade union so we can’t defend individual cases.  CILIP is underway now with preparations for the November budget statement. CILIP will be more vocal and more visible “because that’s our job”.  We will engage directly with MPs and directly with elected officials to show the moral duty of leadership. We will provide facts and information to arm librarians. We have an advice line and will provide financial assistant to those who find themselves in hardship, including CV clinics. We will work with the English public libraries taskforce.  We have secured pro bono legal support on what the 1964 Act means, looking at the law as a national framework. CILIP will produce a white paper on the public library service want.

Nick wants to show that CILIP has given leadership when it is needed most.  This is an important moment, one of the last opportunities to bring everything together.  Thank you for your attention.


The day split between two workshops: one on volunteers and one on the taskforce. Kathy Settle and Paul Blantern will be here this afternoon to discus the taskforce. Kathy really wants to know what short term and long term actions, top priorities for the taskforce.  What would success look like for you? Is it all libraries stay open? Fewer but bigger and better?

Workshop one: volunteers

Laura Swaffield intro: Precious little research has been done.  Work in Wales has found volunteers neither workable nor acceptable, a sketchier one from Scotland which has found the same. There’s a wide spectrum between desperate libraries and well-supported by the council branches. There are some very strong feelings pro and con.  I think we’re all in agreement there’s not enough information.

There was then a deeply scary list of introductions with people listing changes in their library service:

  • one authority: massive campaign to save libraries a few years ago.  Some are rising again, especially in two.  The dilemma is that they want a professional service but the only option is volunteer community libraries so at least there is something there for the future. One branch hopefully reopening in the Spring 2016.
  • Another authority is being hollowed out.  Ten senior staff are leaving in November and the rest are very worried.
  • Another authority is having 2 libraries with “supported staffing” with one member of staff for some hours and volunteers for others. This may be rolled out to another three. This is due to budget reductions.
  • Another authority is having libraries under threat, with volunteer standalone libraries, one taken over by church school.
  • Another authority is having cuts but campaigner wants to stress the need for accessibility when fighting cuts. Looks at the schools and which ones walk kids to schools – if library closes then that ceases to happen.  Bourdillon Report says a library should be no more than one mile travelled not one mile in a straight line. Many councils think it is a straight line but it is not.
  • Another authority: undergoing consultations.  Libraries may become remote controlled by Open+ but not 24/7.  Children under 12 will not be allowed.  Half of the staff to be removed. Volunteers to be used, with paid staff supervising. Industrial action is being taken.
  • Japan: more and more libraries being run by private companies.
  • Another authority: lose five libraries (half): three in deal with leisure company for gyms combined with libraries.
  • Another authority has lost substantial amount of hours. A couple has different trusts involved in those buildings which have taken over staffing when libraries would be otherwise closed. Losing senior staff, with some staff being reduced in responsibility and pay.
  • Another authority: outsourced to private company.  Many staff lost. Council could have done this itself, seems strange to have to get another organisation to do it.  More volunteers.
  • Another authority: one branch may close as community group know it won’t be financially viable to take it over.
  • Another authority: no cuts last time as strong library chief but that boss has now gone.  Review next year. Feels like the library service is dying on its feet. Money for buildings but not for resources.  Very different and a lot worse in the last five years. But public does not seem to notice any difference yet.
  • Library supplier: not many of us left. These cuts being listed are our customers. We’re trying hard to be sustainable. Tenders being put forward which concentrate on price, not quality. Volunteers will phone the book supplier and ask to buy books: but budgets are so small (two or three hundred pounds) it’s not sustainable for them or for the supplier. Library authorities are reducing budgets but expect the same discount: not going to happen.
  • Another authority: campaigner supporting libraries countywide. Our county is wanting to close all but one. Massive no from the consultation. Council really rattled by this. Main library now has asbestos and it’s going to be closed for months so shows that it cannot just have one library. Council seems to be realising libraries are not a luxury. So many different reasons why people come into the library, including a farmer that needs broadband to keep his books. Useful to ask the public why they’re using libraries: powerful way to persuading council.
   Points raised:
  • Question over trustworthiness of volunteers: often volunteers don’t turn up.
  • Councils know that staff will continue unpaid if sacked.
  • Sometimes public say they’re satisfied when they’re not, thinking they’re supporting the service.
  • Very low level in training and investment in staff.
  • Volunteers are often inexperienced and learn on the job what it is they need to be doing.
  • How do you use volunteers properly?
  • Hollowing out: caught with austerity cutting budgets and councils need to be keep up appearances. Blanket mandate from government to outsource library services. Moving services to where it is no longer government’s problem. Sustainability almost doesn’t seem to be the issue. So should we be trying to make it sustainable.
  • Danger is the vision that there’s no longer a national library network but 2000 independent libraries run by volunteers.
  • Great reduction in the number of people willing to volunteer in civic society: not sustainable. What is the turnover of your volunteer staff? That’s a key indicator of whether it is sustainable or not.
  • Evidence is received by councils on how many volunteers don’t turn up / are late but how is it used? Suspect it is all confidential and not shared with others.
  • Volunteers will do only what they want.  Working age people will only volunteer short-term so they can put it on their CV. Some will just stand there and do nothing: but they’ll put it on their CV. Concern is what the same people will do when they’re not supervised.
  • If we accept the new reality and make the best of it, how much does it give it legitimacy? We should oppose it tooth an nail.
  • Understandable if you’re from the community and you want to keep it – but you’re not saving it, you’re “managing its death”. Councils sometimes not actually willing to close libraries but threaten it: if you don’t volunteer then it may stay open.  Bad publicity if you close a library, it’s almost good publicity if you pass to volunteers.  However, another member of audience did a big fight against closures and then only volunteered when it was clear the libraries were being boarded up.
  • Definition of what a library is: is a volunteer library a public library? What do people want? Masses of books? Yes, libraries should be run by professionals but we’re keeping it open and we aim to get them back.
  • Will volunteers give the library back when austerity ends and the money comes back? Because if so, who is arguing for austerity? Who is arguing for volunteer libraries? Government doesn’t care how long term the solution is. And the public won’t when it forgets how important their library was.
  • The narrative of austerity and volunteers needs opposing strongly.
  • Campaigning: need to make this something that a large number of people will complain to their councillor about.  Otherwise the councillor will brush it off. However, those in the poorest most needy areas may not be the ones who complain.

Workshop 2: What should the Task Force do?

Started beginning of 2015. Steering group has met, now has chief executive Kathy Settle and small staff. SUFL keen to tell them what the priorities are.

  • Need to have to champion accessibility. Distance standard used in a few councils. Social impact also important.
  • Privatisation is not the answer to save libraries. Work with neighbouring authorities to save resources. Private companies are just a way to pass on the dirty work to someone else, giving them a profit in the process.  David Cameron appears to genuinely believe private is inherently more efficient than public.
  • Important points in the pyramid: Top of pyramid is (a) law has been undermined. Below that is (b) policy: but there’s no national policy any more. Below that is standards (c) but no standards any more (d) ethics have eroded as profession has been eroded (e) skills have been reduced with job losses.  Now we’re just running on library culture, which is the weakest of them all.
Taken from notes from flipchart at workshop.

Taken from notes from flipchart at workshop.

  • Needs to be done quickly.
  • What does quality look like? We need to know that, quickly. But then quantity (number of libraries) is also important. Quantity is part of what the quality looks like.
  • Often library services are being run by the boss of another department e.g. customer services who do not understand what a librarian is, with wages of customer service staff being above that of far more skilled library staff.
  • Task Force is collating existing research.
  • Best practice: MLA had tons of best practice but has now been lost.
  • Training: very little left now.  Lack of training and investment in staff is undermining staff. Sector recognises this: SCL working with ACE on how to train staff better.
  • Digital literacy; not just about online access. People don’t know how to use the tools they have properly.
  • Reading attainment levels of children going to school is terrible: libraries have a real role to play. No legislative requirement for school libraries. Task Force meets with Education but no-one from them on, or from other departments.
  • Need to link with other libraries: impoverished library systems have seriously less stock than the wealthiest ones. Interlibrary lending: but where did you get it from? Some authorities don’t use interlibrary loan any more.
  • Strategic marketing campaign needed. Can be done nationally, often with pro bono assistance.  We already have a brilliant product. This may be something that is being looked at. This needs to focus on the commonalities between libraries, not in a “campaigning” way.
  • Libraries are more relevant than they’ve ever been: Universal Jobmatch at libraries means losing services if not.
  • Task Force is having conversations with DWP: libraries are helping the DWP with jobhunts etc but not getting any money from them.
  • Perspective from librarians being seen but we need perspective from library users not just from the profession and from agencies.
  • LGA is the key in much of this, not the Government.  Localism is something that is protected strongly by the LGA and it is them who may be the barrier. Need to engage the LGA to demonstrate the way we’re meeting council aims: can Task Force say that Standards would help us do that even better? Task Force has done a very good job with the LGA. Tightrope needs to be walked between the Task Force saying what should be done and the LGA not liking being told what to do.
  • It is not Ed Vaizey who is responsible for Libraries, it is the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale.  He is the one that needs to be held accountable.
  • APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Libraries is currently in abeyance: needing someone to lead it. CILIP trying to find one.
  • Legal side: CILIP looking at what “comprehensive and efficient” means. Secretary of State has responsibility, connectivityand has best practice.  Is anything breaking the law at the moment? CILIP will find out shortly. Danger that legal side is being decided by individual court cases? Possibly not as much about it is about the correctness of the process not about what a public library is or should be.
  • Question over if libraries should be run by local councils.  It’s a great thing in the USA that they are more independent and can fight for themselves.
  • Libraries are the only bit of the council that people don’t hate.
  • Hundreds of millions of people use libraries and that’s a strong case.

*Lunch occurred*

Leadership for Libraries Task Force

Task Force resulted from the Sieghart Review.  Alan Sieghart coined the phrase “Leadership for Libraries Task Force” to re-energise the public library service. Paul Blantern (Chief Executive of Northamptonshire and chair of the task force) and Kathy Settle (chief executive of Task Force).

Kathy Settle introduction.

Task Force jointly reports to LGA and DCLG, thus Central and Local Government. Temporary, not permanent, but we will pass on documents/work for others to do at end of project.. No agreement whatsoever about what success for public libraries would look like. Some aims:

      • Libraries have strong role in digital literacy as well as in literacy. Basic things that need to be delivered include wifi for every branch. That is going to happen by end of March (well, 99%). We’re mindful some of the old computers are not good so that needs upgrading. Need to show people that libraries are fit for 21st Century.
      • Most people nowadays don’t know what libraries do. Many senior people have never been in a library for twenty years. How do we promote and articulate about libraries?
      • Best practice.  I’ve seen some great things in libraries but we’re not capturing the best practice of what’s going on.  How do we share that?  We’re producing one package of material for portfolio holders talking about best practice. We’ll then be providing documents for people who are taking on a public library, saying what needs to be done.
      • Workforce: professional or volunteer. How do we ensure those people are trained?
      • Communications and promotion: media narrative is very negative. Sometimes that narrative becomes too dominant. Need to stress importance of libraries and what they do.
Please engage with us on social media, letters etc.
Paul Blantern introduction
We are doing a ton of stuff. There is much sheer ignorance amongst senior council staff and politicians about libraries. I have met no-one who actually wants to close a library.  But the biggest pressure on public libraries is adult social services and safeguarding. Extra 20 primary schools in Northamptonshire by end of this decade means a lot of money is needed elsewhere. How do we balance this?  We need to tell councillors how libraries can help their agenda: put it in bit size chunks so councillors can do something with it. Virtually every government department we’ve seen (and we’ve seen them all) need to understand what is going on in libraries: e.g. Iain Duncan Smith needs to know libraries vital for digital skills vital for Universal Credit. We then say to them, by the way, please can you help fund libraries to deliver your agenda. The success of that will be difficult to measure that we have been given a significant audience. The other thing we have been doing on your behalf – and I need to stress I’m including work done by SCL etc. – is to talk to Foundations and others about philanthropic funding. We’ve also been out listening to librarians and campaign groups. We need to constantly reinforce positive message about libraries.
The game in town at the moment is merging council services. The main decision maker agenda at the moment is combing local authority services: how do public libraries play a role in that or in delivering personal health? There’s a massive change going on in local authorities and so we need a national framework to give a context to positive messages about libraries. We ignore other council priorities at our peril. Fighting the system is not a thing that the Task Force will overtly do but we do make points you make to us.

“We ignore other council priorities at our peril. Fighting the system is not a thing that the Task Force will overtly do but we do make points you make to us.”

Open for discussion
      • Is there a contradiction about discussion and doing things behind closed doors?  We have to be realistic about how we do things appropriately. As a Task Force we are open transparent but embarrassing people in public is not what we want. So it is better to talk behind closed doors when necessary.
      • Why should we as library users have faith in the Task Force that is keen to deliver alternative library models and outsourcing library services? If councillors choose different models then our role as a Task Force is to give pros and cons and say what is legal. A lot of it at the moment is reinventing the wheel and that’s not optimum for them, let alone nationally. Outsourcing: Northamptonshire Libraries are moving into a CIC with county council, NHS and University as guarantors. But let’s be realistic that we do need to cut costs and outsource. If you didn’t have the Task Force then you’d have one less signicant tank in your armoury. When a library is in the headlines then we go to them and talk to them, including hassling them if they don’t take the WiFi offer.
      • Why should I pay the same level of tax if I am getting a reduced council service? There’s no real challenging of the “shrinking of the state” agenda so what’s the point of you?  I am not the Prime Minister or a politician so getting national debt under control is not the thing I do. I am by definition apolitical. My libraries are all open six days a week, family friendly hours, even though there has been major cuts. Question is how do we innovate? ? There’s no real challenging of the “shrinking of the state” agenda so what’s the point of you?
      • There’s a lack of data available about public libraries. Different systems even to see who is taking out books, ebooks and audiobooks sometimes. That’s hard individually and it’s even worse nationally. Many of these systems don’t talk to eachother. How do we make good decisions if we don’t know what is going on? We need to improve that. Cipfa data is eight months late and the world has moved on. See gov.uk/performance for real time data about how the government is doing.  That’s how you manage a good service.  So we’re looking at how best to manage the data we have, to look at those authorities that are doing well and learn from them. We’re also looking at what data we actually need and how do we get it easily accessible?
      • Transparency of Task Force / can you sit in public? No. We cannot increase the size of the Task Force as it would be unwieldy but we d record everything that has been decided and we do come out and see a lot of people. We’ll consult all the way too but it won’t work being more open.
      • People know exactly what success looks like but politicians don’t. But at the moment public library service is being smashed and that is the crucial issue you need to take up. We do acknowledge that libraries are being closed. The messages about that need to be balanced with positive messages. Our reason is to support the service but we are not a lobby group. Challenging the decision makers is not our role.
      • We need to reintroduce library standards and tighten up the Act. Are you making that one of your aims? The Task Force can and does recommend to central and local government so one of the discussions is about framework at national level. Mix between wanting to strengthen Act and those who fear doing anything will mean the Act will be abolished. Decision is that we should not push for a stronger Act but to publicise what the Act actually says. Standards are something people have pushed for (we still have them in Wales but even there they’re not a panacea and they’re open to interpretation) but the current Government, which people have elected, focus is on devolution not on introducing new standards.  Don’t expect to see any movement on Ministers on this on. The LGA would resist it more than the Government.
      • Why is Unison not included on the Steering Group? It’s not that we’re anti union but we need to deliver things and Sieghart has talked to the unions. We will have open dialogue with the unions.
      • Libraries are keystone amenities for local communities and we need to reinforce the message about accessibility to a local library. Centralised libraries are ridiculous if local ones close. It’s possible to co-locate services so to distribute libraries better. Geography is changing and so some libraries need to move location.
      • Are you seeing Lambeth where half our libraries closing? There’s not disagreement about what a public library service looks like. We all agree that libraries should be good and local. You’re telling us that not’s possible but that’s telling us we can’t have success, not that we don’t know what success is. We have talked to Lambeth. We take the point about success. But we need to be realistic as we don’t have the money. So there are trade-offs I’m not particularly thrilled about.
      • You should do your job as a Task Force and tell politicians what libraries should have.
      • Co-location means we lose our identities as libraries. People won’t trust us then. In Northamptonshire, children’s centres have gone into libraries and have failed. Complete rubbish about Northants. The judge of if those things work or not are the regulator. You’re right, though, that libraries should not be damaged in the process. Job is making sure that people understand libraries can play a real role in council agenda. Libraries absolutely have to be safe and trusted. Aware that if it is more work for library staff then that needs funding: you can’t have it for free..  You need to pay for the space and ensure it does not affect the brand and values of libraries.
      • Very many libraries in my authority will be “community-led”.  Each branch should maintain a paid core staff member. We’re under serious threat. Experience seems to count for nothing. Media says “volunteers have saved the library” but they’re only in for two afternoons a week. It’s unfair to expect the community to take on library services under duress. We know volunteers are a complete failure but we’re not allowed to say anything.
      • I thought the Task Force was neutral but you seem to be pushing the volunteer line. We talk to portfolio holders and always touch on volunteer libraries. We are very clear about the pros and cons of those. In some circumstances it may be appropriate if that’s the only solution to use volunteers but the onus is still with the council to be responsible for volunteers.  I have publicly said it’s unacceptable to cut volunteers adrift with libraries. It works well with Harbury in Warwickshire and with others. The council still supports Harbury. The community has a clear agreement with the local authority, which is important too.
      • The Task Force is absolutely not pushing volunteer-run libraries. Ideal would be entirely paid staff. We don’t know how long-term volunteer libraries will be – they may be great in five years or not, we don’t know.  But we can advise on tax etc.
      • It’s only a minority of people who voted for this government.
      • It’s great to visit libraries but can you take Mr Vaizey and Mr Whittingdale with you? They need to stand and see how great libraries are. Absolutely agree, we’ve had Mr Vaizey out to three libraries and we encourage all to do so, including encouraging councillors to hold surgeries in libraries.
      • Hollowing out is a big problem. We need trained staff with good bookfunds. We also need to move on to learning strategies/MOOCs etc. Well done to SCL for doing the work on this. If you think about the library as a shop and the books are the product along with IT and by the way there’s less hours then miraculously usage is reduced. There are places who are doing all the opposites of that and doing well so we need to share that with others.
      • Savings in the community: staff salaries are a pittance and can’t be saving much money. If you look at marginal costs of closing libraries it’s not all that much. What savings do people really make? Actually, closing one does not save much money.
      • Contact the 151 public library services and ask how many volunteer libraries there are? Survey Monkey sent out to all authorities asking this. Julia has been mapping all this and will be putting it on public domain.
      • In my authority, the council invests in buildings but my view is that councils should invest in people. They’ve also outsourced a library to the NHS and the library size will be reduced there. Defend local libraries. Full Stop. The whole reason is we invest in prevention in order to reduce demand on the state.
Tea Break occurred
Conference closure
Andrew Coburn did the closing remarks. What will happen next is SUFL will take the flipcharts away and will be written up. The most important thing happening next is Tuesday 9th February where SUFL will organise lobby of parliament.  A room in Westminster Central Hall has been booked and as many people as possible should be encouraged to come along as possible to lobby MPs and Lords. More information soon. There will be a debrief meeting from this conference soon for SUFL members to see what can be done next, including some local elections next year.
Thanks to CILIP staff who have been here today to ensure building is open.  I hope they’re being paid, not as volunteers. Thanks also to Kathy, Paul and Julia from the Task Force for coming. Thanks also to the organisers.  These conferences are a good way to talk about what is happening and to meet eachother.
John Dougherty
A children’s author, singer, port and library campaigner. Really nice to be here, sorry could not make it for all day. I came in just a few minutes into the last session with Paul and Kathy. Questions from the floor to them showed that I had come to the same place.
John read from Stinkbomb and Kettleface in the bit where they visit the library. Libraries are much more important than palaces. Talked about a ninja librarian called Mrs Butterworth, who is definitely not the stereotype.  In It’s A Wonderful Life the librarian is seen as a sad profession, with the love of James Stewart’s life become a librarian as an old maid.  And suddenly, oddly, she needs glasses. How did that happen? That just doesn’t work and I am not sure if that has ever been the case.
I’m fed up with people saying libraries need to modernise.  People who say that have never been in library. It’s your ideas about libraries need to modernise.
I lived in Gloucestershire when they were wanting to cut libraries.  They launched a consultation that was both patronising and made clear they weren’t going to listen to anything that was said, I queued up to speak to a councillor about the cuts and said that it was important to keep the librarians. It really seems to me that the people in power just don’t care.  They don’t care enough to hate libraries. They don’t care enough to find out about them. When David Cameron complained to Oxfordshire, he actually got a unique reply. I know that this is not normally the case as the letters seem to be centrally produced.  I don’t why David got a special reply but I suspect it was because he was Prime Minister. The six page letter he got back was very carefully writte, saying there was nothing suggested that had not already been done that was not illegal.  Even the PM does not care enough to actually know. We have to conclude David Cameron has not bothered to find out what his policies would actually do.

He then ended with a rousing live rendition of “What’s Wrong With Ed Vaizey?” to rapturous applause.

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