Meeting between library campaigners and the Society of Chief Librarians, 20th November 2013

These minutes have been agreed amongst all parties. Items in large quotes have been emphasised by myself (Ed.) alone.


  • Janene Cox (President, SCL:  Commissioner for Tourism and the Cultural County Staffordshire County Council)
  • Ciara Eastell (President-Elect SCL: Head of Libraries, Culture and Heritage; Devon County Council)
  • Desmond Clarke (Campaigner)
  • Ayub Khan (Customer Service Manager Face to Face in Warwickshire)
  • Elizabeth Ash (Library Campaign)
  • Laura Swaffield (Library Campaign)
  • Trevor Craig (Campaigner, Oxfordshire)
  • Ian Anstice (Public Libraries News)
  • Elizabeth Elford (SCL)
  • Alison Bramley (SCL)


  • Tony Durcan ( Assistant Director, Customers, Culture and Skills Newcastle)
  • Rachel Barber (WI)
  • Alan Gibbons

The Universal Offers 

Janene started by discussing the Universal Offers. There has been “really good progress on these”, launched in January 2013. The Offers have given a framework around core areas of service and emphasised the things that make the library service unique. Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) take up was very good (9% up on 2012/13). The audit of skills of library staff showed gaps amongst the 8,500 participants, with the SCL going out to tender shortly to employ training to fill these gaps. This work means libraries can bid to be included on the Assisted Digital Framework. Once this is achieved, libraries can apply for funding so that they can be paid and acknowledged as a recognised provider.

Campaigners asked when the library workforce and councillors will be involved. Ciara replied that South West England successfully piloted it in May for frontline staff. Training will be cascaded down to others. The initiative allows libraries to apply for extra funding: for example, it gave librarians in Devon the tools necessary to have conversations with partners like the NHS, resulting in the Reading Well scheme there being funded by Public Health.

Each of the Offers is being approached slightly differently by local authorities. All are expected to do Books on Prescription and SRC but SCL not expecting everyone to do everything. SCL are also talking to the Local Government Association (LGA) to ensure it is  included  in seminars so relevant councillors are aware of this initiative, It is worth noting that the 550 staff trained represents the largest training programme since the Peoples Network and carried out on small resources. It is also the first time that there has been LGA representation in a SCL seminar and they (inc Flick Rea) fed back into their organisation.

“the largest training programme since the People’s Network”

There will be Offers Workshops in all of the regions by March 2014.  Janene is going to all of them. The aim is to share best practice and be able to say to stakeholders “this is the cross cutting nature of library services. This is the difference a strong vibrant local library service makes”.

There is an expectation that all library authorities provide at least some free internet access.  The given amount of free time is to be decided by each local authority.

Libraries in the South West successfully bid for Arts Council England (ACE) funds (nearly £10,000) for SRC. This in part was responsible for the average increase in the region being 15% rather than the 9% it was nationally.

The SCL has produced posters/calendars showing the universal offers and outlining what could be done in each month. Each authority will have copies of the poster.

Campaigners asked if councils will be asked to report back if they are talking part in the Universal Offer Programme. SCL replied that “critical success factors” will be produced and Heads of Service asked to collect relevant information and feed this back. This will enable SCL to monitor the success and progress of the offers. 


The research into E-Lending has started, with four pilot authorities identified. The SCL is meeting with publishers and pilot authorities on 6th December. There were lots of good applications, with the successful applicants being Peterborough, Newcastle, Derbyshire, Windsor and Maidenhead. The reporting back will be in stages so there is not a wait of a whole year for results. The publishers are keen on a year timescale to provide robust outcomes, as are the Society of Authors.

 The SCL will soon announce what titles will be in the pilots and in what terms. This e-lending research is being seen as a positive step forward, with the Sieghart Review in particular effecting “huge change”. The Pilots are all different, with variations in terms of technical solutions. One is offering e-readers for elderly people.  Part of the research behind the pilots will include MTM (London) investigating  Patron Driven Acquisition and this will be included in the evaluation.  Campaigners noted that e-readers are transitional technology that is fading out now due to adoption of tablet PCs and that there is a danger that the pace of things is moving so fast that the review may become outdated. Desmond said there had some criticism about communications to authorities on copyright etc.

“SCL noted that 80 % of authorities providing eBooks.  Campaigners noted that this meant 20% still were not providing any even now in November 2013”

SCL noted that 80 % of authorities providing eBooks.  Campaigners noted that this meant 20% still were not providing any even now in November 2013 and that the range of e-books offered was small and the access to them (often involving very complicated procedures) was off-putting.  However, all accepted that the situation was improving.

All agreed that library services needed to “challenge the market” much more effectively and get better deals.  There had been much more informed debate about library management systems and it was felt that libraries were starting to dictate what they wanted from provider companies rather than the other way around.

Desmond said that SCL should be in driving seat so all library authorities meet international standards. He noted that £1m spent on various research into standards with little result. SCL replied that they intend to hold more conversations with suppliers so that library staff can begin to shape and drive the market.


There has been a first meeting with DCMS, ACE, CILIP, SCL, LGA and British Library. Campaigners pointed out that no users were involved in this and that this was a major weakness.  All agreed that hearing the customer voice is essential but no detail on how to do it.

“Campaigners pointed out that no users were involved”

SCL are working up some key areas where they can make a significant difference if they have the resources. It is hoped that these resources will be provided by funding from ACE.

SCL do talk to Brian Ashley, Alan Davey and all levels from ACE.  The chief of ACE, Sir Peter Bazalgette, has taken an interest and has had conversation with an SCL Executive member in Hull. SCL “feel like they’re pushing at an open door” with them.

The Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL) 

The consultation on the abolition of the ACL should take place soon, although delayed. The SCL will take part in the consultation. Campaigners were very concerned that ACL was closed down and Yinnon Ezra put in place as an advisor instead at more cost and less independence. Campaigners asked how ACL members were appointed.  SCL responded that previously some Heads of Service applied through a recruitment process.  

Desmond noted that SCL has a public duty to draw attention to statutory implications of the loss of ACL.

What does accountability look like with the DCMS? SCL is having conversations with them, with monthly and quarterly meetings with Ed Vaizey to raise points. The SCL is making up for lost ground here as eighteen months ago they were not even invited to talk to the DCMS select committee on library closures.

“The SCL is making up for lost ground here as eighteen months ago they were not even invited to talk to the DCMS select committee on library closures. “

Ayub said that the SCL had to be careful not to be acting in a way that could be perceived as being political. Campaigners accepted that but said that this was not political: a potential breach of statutory responsibilities should be treated seriously regardless of which political party or parties are in power.

Meeting with All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) 

There was a discussion about the briefing paper produced by campaigners for their meeting with the APPG the next day.

1. Volunteers: Freedom of Information requests show that neither DCMS nor ACE were consulted about the pro-volunteer site. Laura has sent detailed questions about volunteers to DCMS but was told that this all being handled by DCLG, Locality etc with no input from DCMS. 

There was also confusion about support, help and advice for volunteer libraries.  The Cabinet Office appears to be paying Little Chalfont Community Library to give advice to other volunteer libraries.  Campaigners noted that there was a question whether volunteer libraries, if supported by the council, saved any money. 

Campaigners said that SCL should be banging on the door of the DCMS to ask for answers.  The lack of adequate research and planning for volunteer libraries may be a breach of statutory responsibilities. In addition there were simple legal questions: for example, Buckinghamshire allowed volunteers access to the library management system while Oxfordshire said that this was a breach of data protection: they can’t both be right.

“Buckinghamshire allowed volunteers access to the library management system while Oxfordshire said that this was a breach of data protection: they can’t both be right”

SCL said situation regarding volunteers was dynamic and ad hoc. Solutions were being found relevant to local need but it was accepted that there was a need for best practice. The SCL is sharing knowledge of what is going on: Leeds gives one approach, Warwickshire another.  SCL has been neutral about whether volunteer libraries are a good or bad thing.

Campaigners said that DCMS have statutory duty to superintend and ACE have too. Both should be involved. Again, campaigners said this situation should be raised by SCL to government.

It was noted that there was likely to be a big acceleration next year as shire counties go through the next, tough, budget round.  SCL said that Defra are producing a report on the impact of rural libraries and have commissioned Locality and OPM for this task. Campaigners asked Ciara to send terms of reference to them. Warwickshire and Devon are pilots. Defra concerned about sustainability of rural communities. Defra will hopefully ask volunteer libraries themselves.

“there was likely to be a big acceleration [in volunteer libraries] next year as shire counties go through the next, tough, budget round.”

SCL have raised the issue of volunteer libraries on a number of occasions. Janene said we can’t ignore volunteer libraries and we need to put some mechanisms in to support them.  Trevor said “you can’t crowdsource this” and that someone needed to put down proper minimal requirements.

“you can’t crowd source this”

SCL reported that they are doing peer to peer support on the subject, with members talking to each other. They said that volunteer libraries should be under a professionally managed framework.

2. Shared services.

SCL said that this was difficult in practice because of central support costs which meant it was unclear as to what budget was actually for libraries. Trevor said that Oxfordshire appear to have randomly increased central costs included in libraries budget. SCL said that central support costs are to support infrastructure. Libraries budget is thus not necessarily the libraries budget. Ian replied that cutting out central support costs seemed to be perfectly feasible when councils wanted them to be: it seems to have not been a barrier in some cases.  Agreed that central costs are a big issue as more and more services, not just libraries, are being outsourced.

“cutting out central support costs seemed to be perfectly feasible when councils wanted them to be”

SCL said that they had limited capacity at local level and developing shared services has the potential to absorb significant management resource.. When questioned about whether there was an element of turkeys never voting for Christmas, the SCL replied that so many chief librarians have gone in the last couple of years that there’s no self defensiveness as all jobs are in danger.  Accepted that the time may be the best for more shared services but said that so much happening in so little time with less and less resources in which to do it. Laura was concerned that SCL and campaigners knocking themselves out while ACE and DCMS are doing fairly little on the big national things.


Ciara noted that SCL putting in a bid to ACE for a digital war memorial of Great War. This will have strong intergenerational and technical elements, initially with a testing of concept in ten authorities.

Actions agreed 

  • Universal Offer posters will be sent to stakeholders attending the meeting (EE).
  • SCL will send the Universal Offer critical success factors to the stakeholders
  • SCL will seek a meeting with Sir Peter Bazalgette 
  • Defra rural libraries review: Ciara and Ayub to emphasise practical advice needed.  Ciara and Ayub to share what they can with campaigners.
  • ACE doing a review of cultural services in rural areas: Ciara will be attending that.
  • SCL will do full and proper response to consultation on ACL and will raise with Ed Vaizey if not already sorted by then. Will raise statutory etc issues of volunteer libraries too.
  •  All to push the ACE to fund SCL initiatives.
  •  Campaigners agreed to raise need for training on universal offers:  need properly skilled workforce to supervise volunteers.


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