Monday, 21 May 2012

Everybody fights nobody quits (except CILIP)

Forgive the silly title, its a quote from Starship Troopers and it popped into my head when I read the CILIP letter. I have had a response from John Dolan chair of the CILIP council as I sent my last blog post to all the council members asking whey they had betrayed library campaigners. This is the email I sent:

Dear CILIP members,

My name is Trevor Craig, I am not a member or a librarian. I am a campaigner in Oxfordshire campaigning to retain professional staff in libraries. There are various reasons for this. I have written a blog post on your recently discovered policy change on volunteers:
Can you please explain why you as the professional body for librarians are undermining efforts of campaigners like myself to retain staff in libraries? 

With kind regards,

And here is the full response which although I'm not happy with the content I'm glad they have responded since I'm not a member:
"Dear Trevor,
I am writing on behalf of CILIP’s Council members in response to your request for information. CILIP Council’s policy on volunteering was agreed in 2010 and is kept under review, as are all CILIP policies. Our policy states the following:‘CILIP acknowledges the contribution that volunteers make to libraries, enriching the services they provide and helping to sustain their viability. In order to optimise the value of that contribution it should form part of a professionally managed public library service that has at its core sufficient paid staff to ensure the direction, development and quality of the service provided. Volunteers are not 'free' and need proper management, training and development. In many cases a volunteers’ coordinator should be appointed to ensure appropriate management and recognition of the value of volunteers.’This policy has been public since it was agreed and the discussion about it earlier this year was in the public meeting of CILIP Council in March. Papers were published and are still freely available. The policy acknowledges that volunteers have for many years been a part of the work of public libraries and have had a great contribution to make. The difficulty for everyone is that now they are being asked to take on more of the delivery of the core service rather than ‘added value’ aspects of it.CILIP has consistently refused to publish advertisements for volunteer jobs where it is clear that they are substituting for paid professional roles, or to deliver training courses to volunteers, despite a steady stream of requests. We have said that libraries must be managed and run by sufficient paid staff. However, at the same time we are dealing with harsh choices and realities for local communities. In many cases, if volunteers do not come forward to support the library services, the libraries will be closed. These volunteers cannot provide a library service as we all know it as they are not skilled and trained. We have made a clear stand against this and against any local authority that considers this acceptable.
CILIP Council members are honestly facing a dilemma about their professional feelings and those of our members and at the same time, the good of a community who may lose all library provision unless volunteers are part of the equation. We are committed to listening to and discussing this situation with our members, many of whom work in these libraries.Volunteers, and CILIP, are not ‘the enemy’. The enemy is ignorance of the value and the importance of library services to a literate, healthy and prosperous society, and that is the enemy that we are trying to combat.Best wishes"

It doesn't really answer any of my concerns sadly, I believe the stance of CILIP however well intentioned is (has) sent the wrong signal to the ideologues running councils that they can save money by replacing paid staff with volunteers. It doesn't make financial sense and CILIP have taken this stance without any evidence, they have just bowed to the perceived political wind.  I fail to see how job substitution is a good thing for libraries, CILIP or its members. If I were a CILIP member paying £19.40 a month I be asking for my money back.

The fight goes on, CILIP sadly for now stay in my enemies of libraries venn diagram.

Here is a link to the letter:

Link to Johanna's blog which has all the details:

Friday, 18 May 2012

The "Librarians Against Libraries And Librarians Association" CILIP changes its name to LALALA

I wasn't going to write anything on this but sadly I am far too angry after days of thinking about it that I have to vent. In my head I have a little Venn diagram of the enemies of libraries and it has who you what you would expect in it: David Cameron, Big Society, Keith Mitchell, LGA, Ed Vaizey and the DCMS etc. In the past few days CILIP has crept into the enemies box. The reason for this is their stance on job substitution and using volunteers in public libraries.
They have changed their policy on job substitution as to not be too rigid. Here is the text:

“However Council agreed at its meeting in February 2010 that this policy was too rigid and failed to reflect present day realities where significant expenditure reductions had to be made. Some authorities had already introduced a number of voluntary-managed libraries (e.g. Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire) and there was also a strong policy steer to increase community engagement in the running and management of libraries that had emerged before the recession, for instance as part of the Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme. “

CILIP are the chartered institute of library and information professionals. The vision of clip is:
"A fair and economically prosperous society is underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge.”
And their mission and the reason they exist is to:

“Promote and support the people who work to deliver this vision.”
“Be the leading voice for information, library and knowledge practitioners, working to advocate strongly, provide unity through shared values and develop skills and excellence.”

CILIP’s membership is libraries in all sectors not just public libraries and they provide lots of expensive training and courses. I’m not a librarian so I have no idea how good they are at this stuff. Sadly their main goal to promote and support the people who deliver their vision they have betrayed.
This policy only applies to public sector libraries and despite their vision to promote the people who pay their membership fees they are happy to allow those people to be replaced by volunteers like me. There is so much wrong with this stance that I have to make it into a list:

1.       Rural libraries are mainly the ones in the cuts firing line, replacing a couple of part-time library managers (not librarians) doesn’t save actually save any money because of the number of volunteers required. I can prove this is the case in Oxfordshire and I think the same applies elsewhere.
2.       How will CILIP continue to exist when its fee paying members are replaced by volunteers?
3.       Cameron himself is quoted as saying “the big society isn’t about cuts, it’s about making existing services better”
4.       Volunteering England is specifically against job substitution of paid staff with volunteers, quote from the chief exec: There is a danger that volunteers are seen as a way of reducing costs, and that undermines staff jobs and is extremely damaging to the perception of volunteering.”
5.       You have handed the ideological morons who live in a bubble of simplicity a massive weapon to sack your members. However nuanced and pragmatic your intention this has severely undermined the library campaigners up and down the country.
6.       When the economy recovers will you reverse this stance, this seems to be the only reason for it?

I feel like I have been kicked in the teeth by this, so much time campaigning to keep professional staff in the rural libraries against the misguided ideological attacks and its completely undermined by the professional body for librarians who believe its ok to replace their members with volunteers. I’m going to email the current members of the CILIP council and ask them why they are against libraries.

I'm also going to volunteer to be chief librarian of Oxfordshire County Council, this should save about 5 of the threatened libraries.

Some links if you want to read a more coherent and well-argued dissection of this nonsense:

Ian Clark’s storify:

The volunteering England policy:

And the ill-advised nonsense from CILIP:

Friday, 11 May 2012

If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong.

Ed Lazy closing his eyes to closures

In March I put in a FOI to the DCMS asking what advice (if any) the minister for libraries Ed Lazy had received on whether he should intervene because a local authority isn't fulfilling its statutory duty under the 1964 act:

"It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,"

The last 8 words of which are always conveniently ignored by everyone in the debate I feel.

I put the original request in on the 15th of March 2012 and the department responded on the last possible day asking me to clarify my request.

I did clarify the request and again they waited until the last possible day to again respond but this time saying they wanted another month because they have to apply a "public interest test" on whether they should release the information.

Considering they are supposed to reply promptly to requests by law, the fact that in both cases they waited until as late as they could to respond means I think they are not following the law or at least not in spirit. 

The exemption they have used to delay further is section 36 of the act which is "Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs." which did make me laugh because Ed Lazy hasn't conducted any public affairs in regards to libraries, his head has been firmly in the sand since he took office.

I’m sure there are further holes I can pick in the evasive and obfuscating response so far but I will leave that until June to see where the “public interest” lies in seeing what advice if any the minister has received from his officials. Sadly we don’t yet live in the utopia of transparent government though. And as Sir Humphrey Appleby remarked “If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong.”

Slightly off topic, as a non-librarian, FOI is the only real weapon I have to hold these buggers to account. The LGA, CILIP, SCL and the political parties are all failing to protect libraries and in some cases are complicit. Some (if not all) of these bodies receive public money in one way or another and I think they should hang their heads in shame, sorry if you belong to any of these organisations but as a non-library person its how I see it.

They are too busy wasting public money on poorly licenced new technology or doing what Sir Humphrey would call useful work. But no amount of toolkits, partnerships, conferences or other management double speak detracts from the fact that these organisations are not stepping up to the plate to protect libraries. They are too busy with their creative inertia to realise the ship they are on is sinking and unless they act soon the vocation of librarian won’t exist in public libraries in ten years.  I am happy to volunteer to make the service better for others but I’m not volunteering to replace librarians and library managers.

I do however get a sense that the political wind is changing, but its already too late for some libraries.

Link to the foi:

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Apathy is the greatest evil

The most shocking thing about elections these days is the low voter turnout. The most recent council elections had voter turnout at an average of 32%. For a candidate to be the winner they only need to get just over 16% of the vote to win. This would mean that potentially, 84% of the electorate could have a councillor that they didn't vote for. You can argue this is their own fault for not voting and I have sympathy with the argument. During 2010 15.5m people managed to vote for their favourite "singer" on X-Factor. I'm not suggesting politicians should have to sign on telly for votes but making voting easier would obviously increase the very poor turnout. The politicians having policies based on evidence and not coming up with stupid ideas on the hoof then scrambling to find the evidence would help but I have covered that in other posts on libraries. Putting my annoyance with the policy process to one side I have been having a think about how this could work technically. Sally Bercow retweeted one of my tweets the other day on this and I had lots of good arguments both for and against. Below is what came back plus as many for and against arguments I can think of off the top of my head, regardless of how factual they are. I will add to this as and when I think of more or people suggest any.

Possible issues against:
  1. Open to hacking and mass vote rigging, dos attacks to bring down system (dos = denial of service)
  2. Expensive
  3. Government absolutely hopeless with IT project management
  4. Databases always raise data protection concerns
  5. Any single mistake will be jumped on by special interests who want to keep current system, politically difficult to sell to voters and party members.
  6. Existing system is tried and trustworthy
  7. Trust in the new system
  8. Access to the system, not everyone is online 

Possible issues for:
  1. Would increase the very poor voter turnout
  2. Counting would be instant or even real time
  3. Would stop the fraud with the current paper system
  4. Would if successful actually save money, current system has lots of costs to taxpayer
  5. If voting systems change PR etc then this system the counting will be just a quick. For paper systems, long winded and difficult to count alternative vote, second preference etc.
  6. Electoral register already an online process and has been for some time, that could have just as easily been hacked to create fake voters.

I'll just quickly whizz through my thinking on the above, then set out how it could work.


1. Modern encryption is stronger than it ever has been, see the link below on 128 bit SSL to see how hard to hack it is. The current paper based voting system is also open to mass voter fraud. There have been cases of mass postal vote manufacturing in the UK and various other issues with ballot boxes going missing or being tampered with. Lots of the volunteers who collect the boxes are party volunteers and with the best will in the world there will always be problems with any system that is used.

2. It would be expensive to develop, probably millions I would imagine. Just for context, millions is a tiny figure compared to the government spend of 722(ish) billion pounds every year of our money. The cost of counting the ballots also costs money each time, the counters get paid (I think), the returning officers and their staff are paid and the facilities have to be hired to count the votes. As we moved away from FPTP because of devolution and hopefully Lords reform then the manual counting only gets more complicated. The London Mayoral count was a bit of a shambles judging by how long it took and ballot boxes going missing and re-appearing.

3.This is the biggest one against for me, The government have a awful track record on IT. The IT companies always get the blame but I can assure you the bulk of the blame belongs with the politicians and civil servants. Procurement is very poor, requirements are ill thought through and because of politics are liable to change a lot which leads to cost overruns and delays. Technically this is a very simple thing though, I'm sure the government could muck it up but I wouldn't want them directly involved, it should sit with the electoral commission.

4.Thanks to poor data handling and the scare stories in the Daily Mail people are very concerned about this one. Considering this system would form part of the already existing electoral register then I would hope people wouldn't be unduly concerned. For the actual voting online process the data would only need to be a random unique identifier and probably date of birth, postcode and gender. 

5.This is more political than technical, there will be problems with any new system and a trial would pick up more problem and these would have to be addressed. As much planning as you put into any new process there will always be issues. The people who want the status quo to remain will jump on this and denounce it as a failure regardless of what happens.

6.The existing system isn't tried and trustworthy though, in nearly every election I can remember there has been issues with voting, especially with the more recent introduction of postal voting. I do have sympathy with people who like to vote in person at the ballot box, the two systems can quite easily run alongside though.

7.This is again more political and with any new IT system it needs to build up trust with the users. You use more IT systems everyday that are far more complicated that simply counting votes. Banking, online food shopping, LovefilmItunes etc are all sophisticated in how they work. They all have a good track record on security, I do amazon orders from my phone quite regularly and have never had a problem. Convincing non technical people of this will be very difficult though.

8. The speed of our broadband is one of the worst in Europe, but what we lack in speed we make up for in users. 77% of homes in 2011 have internet access according to the ONS and 45% of the internet household users have mobile phones with internet access. Both of these numbers are a higher percentage than the voter turnout for local elections. Plus for those without access we have libraries, community centres, internet cafes and family members who could get any without internet online to vote, as time goes on this small percentage not online is only going to decrease.


1. This speaks for itself, politicians have no mandate to do anything when the vast majority don't vote for them. Anything that increases voter turnout can only be a good thing.

2. This is just the nature of technology, the benefits would be more for the media and the returning officers who could be done and dusted by 10:30.

3. The current system can be nobbled, any system can. I personally think a online voting system would be more secure than a paper based one. Both would have to run along side for quite a few years though until people build up trust in online voting.

4 & 5. As we saw last night, it takes a huge operation to count votes, even more so when systems other than first past the post are used. In programming terns counting is what computers basically do and in the long run if we moved over to a completely online system this would save lots of money.

6. There is already a online system in place to register to be on the electoral role. To my knowledge this has been successful and there hasn't been any issues of the system being hacked or used for electoral fraud. Online voting would be a addition to this system.

I'm sure there are many issues I haven't thought about both for and against. The overriding thing again though is voter turnout. We have a democratic deficit in this country and increasing voter turnout will mean the politicians have to listen more and cannot rely on their core 16% of voters to get them over the finish line. 

The technical side.

As I have said above, it isn't a complicated thing to count votes. The database would have to audit the votes and could track when the votes happened, the ip address of the voter (if it needed to) and any other fields of data that would satisfy the electoral commission. Currently when you are eligible to vote you get a polling card, this has your information on it and a unique code which is in a database and is tied to you and various other bits of information on where the polling station is and normally a little map etc.

The information we need therefore is already in a database, we just need to tie it to the data on who is up for election in your parish/division/constituency/referendum and then allow the user to vote online with it create their own rows in a table using these two sets of information. In database terms it is very, very simple.

The voter would then go to the site (or app) that would be written for online voting, stick in their unique code and also a couple of bits of information not on the card to verify who they are. Date of birth would be enough but the more you use (NI number, mothers maiden name etc) the more secure this side of it would be. Bearing in mind with the current system just having someones polling card is enough to vote, you are not asked for ID. Once you are securely logged in and verified you would be presented with the elections you are eligible to vote in, you pick your candidates, click submit, are asked to confirm your choice and then its done. The database is updated with your choices and your unique id is flagged preventing you from voting more than once. This can all be tied into the electoral commissions existing site. The voting choices could even have bio's and pictures with links to what each candidate stands for and promises to do if elected. Once the voting period has closed, the votes are already counted and we know who has won. The database will hold who voted, when and from what IP address. If there were any issues of voter fraud, the IP addresses can be tracked to the service provider and the person who pays for the connection. The database  and webserver would both have a fall over cluster (like a car with two engines, one as backup that seamlessly takes over if one fails). And the reports will already be predefined to show the results. Sample checking could be done to check the voters did vote when they said they did. 

Over 40 years ago we put a man on the moon, we cannot do online voting, really?

I will probably draw up a diagram on how this will work and a database schema when I get time, below is a few links on things I have mentioned.

Registering to be put on the electoral register database online:

Article in the independent on voter fraud, specifically the postal votes:

A article on the maths side of 128bit ssl encryption: