Campaigner meeting with Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group 20/11/13

The following are my minutes from the meeting.  They have not been agreed by the others attending and are intended as a guide only.


Desmond Clarke, Elizabeth Ash (Library Campaign), Laura Swaffield (Library Campaign). Ian Anstice (Public Libraries News.  Also Voices For The Library), Guy Daines (CILIP)’ Justin Tomlinson MP (Conservative: Swindon North – Chair APPG) and Helen Goodman MP (Labour: Bishop Auckland: shadow minister) for first half hour. Dr John Pugh MP (Liberal Democrat: Southport) is interested but could not attend.

A briefing paper agreed by campaigners had been circulated beforehand.  The main points arising from it were;

  • Volunteers. page very positive on volunteer libraries had been set up without reference to Department of Culture Media and Sport. No advice on how to set up volunteer libraries from government. The pre-existing volunteer run Little Chalfont Community Library is being funded by cabinet office as a de facto guide on how to do it.
  • Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL) had been abolished without awareness that it was a statutory obligation under 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Its cost was very small ( a few thousand in expenses). It has been replaced with Yinnon Ezra part- time at presumably more cost. DCMS gives no answers as to when the legally necessary consultation on its abolition will be carried out.
  • Need to have technical standards and sharing of back offices to cut costs. But nothing happening on this and does not even appear to be on Arts Council England ( ACE) agenda. It’s predecessor, the MLA, had come up with suggestions but these have been ignored by ALA.

There was then a general discussion:

Ian raised that Culture is not the strongest case for funding at the moment (education, literacy and Digital By Default, health all have more pull) and it is a shame ACE was the body that libraries we’re put into. The priority given to libraries by ACE could be questioned, brought to the fore recently by their decision to part fund the turning of two- thirds of the ground floor of Bury Central Library into a sculpture centre.

“The priority given to libraries by ACE could be questioned, brought to the fore recently by their decision to part fund the turning of two- thirds of the ground floor of Bury Central Library into a sculpture centre.”

Desmond pointed out that the EBooks average offer amongst authorities is only a thousand and only 80% of councils who actually are doing it. Amazon etc must be laughing at us.

Helen said she fully understood the need for professional staffing, not least because two of her relatives were librarians. However, both Justin and Helen thought volunteers running libraries in “small villages” was acceptable.

Helen used to be head of National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries eg. Swiss cottage. Co- location seen as a very positive thing by all as an alternative to cuts. Further cuts expected from April 2014 are worrying … could well be worse than anything seen so far.

Ian pointed out that the 1964 act is as weak as the minister wishes it to be. No interventions since Wirral is sending out the signal that libraries can be cut. Justin said that cuts had to be made and if Ed Vaizey did intervene, he would be asked where the extra money was coming from. Ian said that that was understood but currently some cuts are disproportionately affecting libraries. General feeling was that interventions would not be made.

Justin said that cuts had to be made and if Ed Vaizey did intervene, he would be asked where the extra money was coming from.

All agreed that councils need to run more efficiently. Tim Coates has been invited into Swindon and made suggestions. 10% efficiencies possible in many places nationally. Not enough to avoid impact on services but still worth going for. No one encouraging this though.

Agreed that moving libraries into ACE was an odd decision. Libraries need to be in a more commercial context. A way forward would be to have volunteers running libraries in the hours in the week when they were normally closed, more independence for branch managers and individual branch figures published so problems and best practice can be spotted.

Library usage in terms of book issues is going down which makes it easy to cut more. Library staff and libraries need to be flexible : get shelving in wheels so space can be used (at a rent) when the library us closed. The move away from “shh” culture seen as positive. Justin said he was himself a “library geek” but there was a need for more councillors to be aware of, and be members of, libraries. ACE need to work on that.

“Justin said he was himself a “library geek” but there was a need for more councillors to be aware of, and be members of, libraries. “

Helen asked who uses libraries. Adult use is falling (apart from unemployed) but children usage not so : Summer reading challenge played part in this. Poor buildings in many areas put people off. Cheap supermarket books, eBooks and cuts reduce usage. Google replaces a lot of traditional enquiries. Public libraries not famous for good marketing.

Campaigners sad that a national libraries agency needed at minimal cost. Waterstones shows it is possible to transform a service. Justin noted that Section 106 money means some capital investment possible and this could transform buildings.

One of the key factors in safeguarding libraries is to stress that closing one in one’s own electoral ward is a good way of not being voted in as a councillor next election.

“All too often Councillors only realise the importance of communities libraries when they face the wrath of the local electorate.  This quote wrongly gives the impression it is a reason to defend libraries, when in fact libraries themselves are good enough reasons!” Justin Tomlinson MP

Justin sceptical about performance of ACE. He said that users should be aske d what was wanted rather than paying consultants.

Justin defended the record of Ed Vaizey but said he would suggest he meet with users. Sadly, many librarians are not business minded but that this is what is needed at the moment, Justin to ask Ed to use campaigners as free consultants. Librarians often don’t have the expertise on tech and so experts ( eg. Mick Fortune) need to be used, Ed should be kicking ACE about their performance. Best practice should be shared online to maximise knowledge at minimal cost. Prizes for best practice in libraries should be given to encourage sharing.

“Justin defended the record of Ed Vaizey but said he would suggest he meet with users. “

Justin said that Libraries should be offered to volunteers before closing but only as a last resort. Ideally, they should be there to enhance. Volunteers can target areas with less membership and leaflet them. Libraries should concentrate on books and reader development.

Justin said that Ed cares about libraries. He did set up the eBooks task force which has been positive and needed. Ed, he feels, needs to do more good things.  Ed rekindled the APPG and asked Justin to chair it. Justin said Swindon was an exemplar when it came to libraries, with 17 branches. However, adult social care is in danger of eating all the budget.

“adult social care is in danger of eating all the budget.”

Desmond pushed patron driven acquisition of eBooks. National eBooks scheme would be preferable to individual authorities doing it. Laura said that there was great frustration about lack of leadership. All nit impressed with current “distributed leadership” model where no one takes responsibility,

Actions agreed

  • Justin said he would speak to Ed about involving library users/ campaigners more for advice/ consultation.
  • Justin will also talk to ACE about concerns about it. All to let Justin know what we think ACE should be doing.

Post meeting discussion between campaigners and Guy Daines.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is seen as important due to localism but they’re not leading either. LGA Needs to recognise libraries are a national issue not just a local one. How is a national service going to survive and progress?

Wales working towards a national library management system. Eire looking towards moving towards one too. Its national library strategy being helped by John Dolan and open to consultation until end of year. Scotland thinking about the same.

Sharing of library services is being undermined by chief execs etc … Need hundred percent agreement of all partners or it falls apart e.g. in Manchester. So very difficult to achieve but economies of scale via outsourcing being achieved, with both GLL and Carillion being multi -authority,

Cuts to library services could be even worse in 2014 than anything else seen so far.

“Cuts to library services could be even worse in 2014 than anything else seen so far.”

  • #1 written by Ian Anstice
    about 10 years ago

    “It’s a bit sad that Helen Goodman had to ask who uses libraries – but even sadder that no one seems to have made a strong case for the role libraries play in social justice.” Comment from John Vincent

  • #2 written by Ian Anstice
    about 10 years ago

    – the low, limited vision, the lack if any expression of *why* we need public libraries, what libraries achieve
    – the inadequate representation of users, usage, and the benefits they get. Agree with John Vincent (unemployed users passed over as if incidental) and the benefits to communities and the economy.
    – no reference to the critical need for parents to get children reading in early years
    – Nothing about libraries in the digital age. The meeting makes no reference other than e-books, to the digital age we are in. So out of touch with the world outside. See
    – nothing about libraries for learning, skills for work, life skills, public information, health …
    – no reference to cuts in staff training (pace
    – the assertion that “librarians don’t have the expertise”. While Mick Fortune is certainly expert there are hundreds of others working in the library services who have done it (shared systems and web services: SELMS, Libraries West, Triborough etc)! Not to mention other sectors where technological expertise abounds (academic, government, private) all accessible through CILIP’s skilled community of library and information professionals.””

    Comment from John Dolan,

  • #3 written by Ian Anstice
    about 10 years ago

    Mick Fortune in response to John Dolan:

    “Pleased to see my name in lights but slightly aggrieved at your suggestion that someone who is occasionally paid for possessing expertise is less worthy of hire than the full time salaried members of CILIP’s “skilled community of library and information professionals”.

    In my defence (if I need one) I’d like to point out that much of this expertise is in fact freely available on my website, through BIC and via other agencies (including in the past CILIP itself).

    Indeed at the height of what I call “RFID mania” (in 2009-10) I wrote best practice guidelines for the MLA (freely available until removed from their website by ACE) and subsequently produced an RFID procurement guide (together with Mark Hughes) for NAG and BIC that now seems to form the basis of most UK RFID procurements (and has even been translated into German!).

    One of the greatest obstacles to resource sharing is the continuing use of systems that offer little in the way of interoperability. Certainly there are examples of consortia that have managed to reach agreement on common systems to facilitate co-operation but most of them are effectively separate entities operating in isolation, and for the most part the creation of LMS and RFID suppliers working in partnership.

    Whilst I agree that there are plenty of experts in CILIP membership I don’t think that librarians can really afford themselves the luxury of spurning free advice from a fully paid up member of both BSI and the ISO.

    It seems to me that some might consider it complacent and possibly arrogant to reject international library standards that have been developed by librarians, commerce and individuals like myself working together to overcome the very problems that currently prevent us from delivering the vision expressed so eloquently in the recent Irish strategy document for their public library service.”

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