Sunday, 15 December 2013

SCL's Cipfa Response

The SCL response to the CIPFA statistics has got me really riled up. The text in full:

"The December 2013 CIPFA figures show that libraries are working to achieve the right balance between maintaining and building upon the service that communities depend on and the necessity to reduce costs. In the face of not only a changing library landscape but completely new ways in which people access information, public libraries have innovated and expanded the services they offer, always in tune with local community need.
These new ways of working have meant that more members of the community have the opportunity to volunteer in libraries in different roles–part of a 9 percent increase in volunteers across all sectors since 2005 as people have become more focused on local decision-making.
SCL is proud to represent a service that in 2013 saw a record number of children take part in the Summer Reading Challenge in libraries–810,089, a 9% increase on participation on 2012–and also the opening of new flagship libraries from Birmingham to Liverpool."

I have highlighted the bits that really grate. We have a huge problem if this is how the SCL really think things are or is this just dog whistling to show the powers that be they are onside with their "localism" agenda? You know, the one where you pay all the tax and have to provide a library to yourself or it closes and everything is rosy in the garden. Armies of happy smiling volunteers and retired librarians all running libraries to allow low paid library managers and assistants to be sacked saving little or no money, that one.

Councils and councillors with very few exceptions have no idea of the true value or worth of libraries, career politicians, straight from Uni, sucked into the bosom of the party as Spads, taking large allowances as councillors and who know nothing about the real world spout all the blue sky nonsense that flies in the face of reality, they'll be too busy lobbying for a safe seat in 2014 to worry about the broken communities they've left behind. They haven't seen how libraries transform lives, they've lived in a narrow ideological bubble, how would they know, its not like senior librarians have done a great job of informing them. The Guardian poll at time of writing (15/12/2013) had the answer to the question "Should libraries rely on volunteers?" at 94% no to 6% yes. In their mission statement the SCL claim to act behalf of local people, perhaps they should reflect upon that a bit. The above seems to be a ringing blue sky endorsement of the hypocritical minister and his policy of inaction and wilful ignorance. I'm all for trying to be positive about the things that libraries do, but this statement from the SCL is out of touch, wilfully dishonest and/or deluded. If the most senior librarians in the land really think communities are happy to run libraries themselves, the councils are in touch with community need and libraries have achieved the right balance then they have no business being in charge of a library service I'm afraid, they've lost the plot. I thought the SCL had started to turn the corner, but clearly the old SCL that is subservient to the unevidenced, ideological, non-money saving dogma of the current regime hasn't gone away. It has been all change recently at CILIP, seemingly for the better with regards to public libraries, perhaps the SCL board should seek a mandate from those they claim to represent, the library users and become a elected body, rather then elevation from within their own ranks. They clearly don't see the reality on the ground or reflect the views of library users.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Yes, Prime Minister

After what feels like a lifetime of emails and letters, I had a surgery meeting (he is my local MP) with David Cameron. Like I said in my last post I could have spent 15 minutes moaning about all the ills in public library world but it won't achieve much, but would have obviously been cathartic for me. I don't think I convinced him of the nonsense of volunteer libraries and how they save no money but I stressed their importance and he agreed. I showed him the ever increasing corporate recharges (not librarians! HR, property costs, etc) for Oxfordshire and told him there was similar stuff going on up and down the land where authorities geographically close together are cutting front line provision but because there's a artificial line separating them not looking to share these huge costs.

I feel guilty pushing my views to Cameron because I know they aren't shared by all campaigners, but I cannot sit quiet because of this. Labour, Lib Dems and the Tories aren't going to stop the cuts and they aren't going to reverse those that have already happened. As to whether the austerity is required I don't know, I don't think anyone really does. Certainly the national debt is historically low, the world wars took decades to pay off and the current level of debt compared to that is tiny. But would the bond market kill us if we let the debt go up? The failed and dodgy financial markets created the mess, I'd rather tell them to go bugger off. But again I don't know, economists and politicians got it completely wrong so I don't have any chance I think of getting the correct view. But regardless of my economic ignorance it isn't going away, Labour might be trying to pretend to be left wing again but there is a cigarette paper between the three main parties on policy.

Back to Cameron, he has said he is going to get his policy unit to look into what is going on in the Triborough and over in Ireland where they're standardising their IT systems and processes and get back to me, I have sent though some documents. I mentioned the complete lack of leadership from the DCMS on libraries and he said he would speak to Vaizey, I said despite the cuts, libraries could be doing loads better with some proper leadership.

We'll see what comes out of it, I have long since given up hope that a magic wand will be waved and all will be fixed. I used to keep thinking suddenly the penny would drop and people would all realise how important libraries are (not just about books dammit, a kindle isn't a library!). Politics seems to be like a big unwieldy ship (currently the Titanic :-( ) and its going to take a long time to turn the public library one turned round, and hopefully once we do it will be a constant battle to keep it on the right course.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Speak up for Libraries 2013

It was my first ever speak up for libraries conference and as I expected it was frustrating. It was nice to meet some people I hadn't met before in real life and also get a manly northern style hug from Alan Wylie. One of the messages from the panel seemed to try and sell libraries to councillors and lobby positively about all the stuff libraries do. I have and will continue to do that, but for me us having to do this points to a failure of the upper echelons of the profession more than anything. Hopefully the universal offers from the SCL can be a standard of sorts that we can show councillors and demand that level of service (sorry I still hate the phrase "offers"). The panel did have some high profile people on it including the part-time libraries advisor to the DCMS Yinnon Ezra. It was always going to be a sticky wicket for him considering the inaction of the Vaizey and he obviously wasn't really able to answer why the DCMS has done bugger all. Both Phil Bradley and Brian Ashley answered one of my questions about the lack of any evidence informing the different approaches to libraries provision and I hope ACE and CILIP can start looking into doing some proper robust research, not the cherry picked case studies/arse gravy from Locality and the LGA. We don't want another decade of pointless reports wasting public money while libraries are decimated. It was Phil's last official appearance as President of CILIP and he spoke very eloquently and passionately about libraries and for all the work he has done he has my sincere thanks. I also had a nice couple of chats with Alan Gibbons who does so much for libraries and also has a sideline as a dietary consultant, he gave a barnstorming speech at the end. The wifi failed in the morning but I did record Steve Davies excellent and funny introduction. The video of his speech, the streamed video of the Q&A and quite a few pictures are below. I have a surgery meeting with my MP David Cameron next Friday, I was tempted to just sit and shout at him for my allocated 15 minutes, it might make me feel better but it won't change his mind, I was also interested in seeing how angry I could get before the close protection officers pistol whipped me. Instead I will try and convince him of all the good things libraries do and rather than hand them over to the big society to fail and slash their budgets I hope I can convince him to take what they do seriously and try and provide some proper leadership during this crisis. Even with the funding cuts, whether we agree with them or not it could be so much better with real leadership from the top. I'm not holding my hopes up but I have to try, I owe libraries a massive debt, one I don't think I could ever pay back.

The morning introduction from Steve Davies:

The question and answer session sorry its poor quality, I don't have anything but a laptop to do a stream from:

All the pics:

Sunday, 10 November 2013

There is always a bigger fish

I was trying to put this as a comment on PLN but the captcha isn't working, for me at least:

Firstly I'm amazed that a contract can be bought and sold like a commodity and there is nothing the council can do about it. If you make a agreement with someone, you make it with them, you shouldn't end up bound to someone else. If you walk into a posh, swanky restaurant and ask for a burger and then suddenly while there a McDonalds sign appears and the place has become a fast food chain (I like McDonalds btw, mmmm) then you should be able to not buy it as its being provided by someone you didn't ask for the burger. The contracts councils have should prevent this unless the company becomes insolvent. Despite probably being to the right (I think so anyway) of most library campaigners I don't think libraries should be put out to the private sector, the neutrality and ethos aren't compatible with the goal of private companies to make profit. I have worked in the private sector when companies have bought out others, the first thing the company does is tries to strip out costs to maximize their return. This is fine in the private sector as that is how a market is supposed to work, they best and most efficient companies make the most money for shareholders, the crap inefficient go bust and cease trading,  but in libraries it isn't ok. Things libraries do don't have an apparent return on the balance sheet and a private company might not recognize the importance of this and believe its just money wasted. Of course all of this could be mitigated by a proper contracts and clear service level agreements but when the service provision is being bought and sold like this and councils are powerless (or unwilling because they have to save face or are ideological idiots) its clear these contracts aren't good enough. I have doubts that some councils are competent enough to draw up proper contracts and articulate the service level agreements to the required detail, then have the data and staff and can actually be bothered to enforce them. A private company could also go into a market and offer an apparently very good deal for taxpayers and councils but they're going in at a loss to get market share. I don't believe competitive tendering works and what we will end up is like with rail franchises/utilities and the other fake markets created by Whitehall that need expensive but useless regulators is a small number of very large players that deliver nearly all public services and because it isn't a real market they can charge what they want, deliver a poor service and there isn't much we can do about it. The private sector ends up with too much leverage as the politicians have to save face and its the taxpayer that takes all the risk. To quote Miles Jupp on rail franchises "publically funded, privately run and answerable to no one".

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hypothetical Oversight

The policy formulation and consultation of the library policy was a sham at Oxfordshire County Council. I know this, at least two Councillors have publicly admitted this, the prime minister admits to intervening yet the organisation despite many complaints from me and many others won't acknowledge this fact, you can read the details in my last post here. This is the same council that refused to listen to young girls in their care who were being used in the sex trade. My view is the the council and possibly the police turned a criminal blind eye to what was going on. Nobody has resigned over the horrendous things going on, I suspect there won't be any criminal prosecutions either because the local police have also been involved in those failings. This is obviously the worst example of the failure of the organisation and its culture. There have been many failings by OCC since I moved down to Oxfordshire in 2005, most of them costly to the taxpayer. The problem is, when you and others know the council has got it wrong what do you do? If its obviously a criminal thing you can go to the police (doesn't always help anyway), but if its not obviously criminal then what? You take your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. They exist to:

 "Our mission is to provide an independent means of redress to individuals for injustice caused by unfair treatment or service failure by local authorities, schools and care providers and use our learning to promote good public administration and service improvement."

Which sounds great, the problem as ever lies in the details. I made a complaint about the dodgy consultation, MP dictating policy and even councillors publicly admitting it was all a sham. I naively and honestly expected them to do something about it, unfortunately they refuse to act.They have been setup in such a way as to make them as useless as a marzipan hammer.

They have lots of rules that dictate if they can get involved or not. The one they used for my complaint to justify their inaction was:

"The Ombudsman will not start an investigation of Mr B’s (they keep the complaints anonymous)  complaint because he has not shown that he has suffered significant personal injustice as a result of what has happened."

So I could uncover lots of dodgy goings on (in fact I have) and because it doesn't represent a significant personal injustice they refuse to act! I obviously escalated this and got the response:

The Ombudsman has limited resources. Each year she (its just one person??) receives more complaints than she can investigate. She has therefore established a set of principles against which we assess complaints to see whether they should be investigated. This Assessment Code can be found in full on our website, but in summary we consider:
a) whether a complaint is within jurisdiction;
b) whether there is an alternative remedy available; 
c) whether there is a significant claimed injustice; 
d) whether there is any sign of fault by the Council ; and 
e) whether there is something the Ombudsman can achieve for the complainant through 
My task when reviewing your complaint is to see whether Ms XXX has properly assessed your 
complaint against these principles

Your complaint
You complained that there was fault in the way the Council reached a policy decision that local
community volunteers should work with it to maintain library services. He says 21 libraries will be 
My views
I have carefully reviewed the documentation Ms XXX used to assess this complaint, and her 
Decision Statement.In your request for review, you have said that you feel your MP and the Leader of the Council have made a decision without following proper democratic process. However, the Ombudsman’s role is not to consider allegations of this nature: her role is to look at actions and decisions of the Council that have unjustly affected an individual, who wants to complain about it. This is why Ms XXX decision is that we cannot consider your complaint as you have not suffered an individual injustice from the Council’s decision.
Ms XXX has concluded that we will not investigate your complaint Your disappointment is 
understandable, but having considered the information, I agree with her decision. I am sorry I 
could not be of more help on this occasion.

This concludes my review of Ms XXX"

So basically they have limited resources and they have plenty ways of getting out of doing anything, individuals who believe their council has acted un-democratically or improperly have no chance of getting past the criteria set down which the LGO use.

The politicians in parties are able to act behind doors however they see fit, regardless of if they were voted in to act on our behalf within that body, the council puts a veneer of pretend democracy on the decision making by ticking the right boxes at the right time but really the whole thing isn't democracy at all. Its a sham. Local government needs reform, the system has no checks and balances and the decisions are made in the wrong way and don't give the public a fair say. OCC will keep getting it wrong, expensive mistakes will be made, lives ruined and nobody, neither politician or public servant will be held to account.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Democracy Delusion 3.0

Its now clear that Oxfordshire County Council will hold the line and continue with their policy of library cuts that save no money and damage the small rural and branch libraries in the mainly Tory divisions.  I wanted to write a post showing how we got to this point and also to put some stuff online that I hadn't before because I had been pushing hard to make the current council leadership see sense and also, part of what I'm putting online was recorded in a public meeting but without the knowledge of the people I was recording. I only made the recording to take notes from and thought the councillor was on our side and I forgot about the recording until recently. What I am putting online is edited to cut the other people out but I think its in the public interest to put what the deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council said about the library consultation. The prime minister is also involved and waded in to create this mess and its important to show what David Cameron's idea of localism really is. The pieces I have pulled together show that most undemocratically, David Cameron, the leader of the conservative party and MP for Witney, intervened and the council back tracked on their first plan for cuts and came back with another flawed analysis of the data that suggested other libraries would be cut and would be ran by his widely discredited big society. The problem is Dave hasn't done anything in his life outside of politics or PR so he has no idea what libraries do, he piled in, without a mandate and prescribed a policy that doesn't save money, doesn't save libraries and he has left the mess for others who have refused to clean it up because of the shitbox that is politics. Nobody in Oxfordshire voted for Dave to represent them on Oxfordshire County Council. He admits intervening to bring about a change in policy, the Tory group weren't allowed a vote on this and the then leader of the council announced it to the media before telling even his party colleagues. The scrutiny committee made up mostly of Tories waved it through and the recording I have which I am putting on this post has the deputy leader admitting the consultation was a sham. There are a couple of the library friends groups who were previously in the position that their library would be closed and now will receive some staffing so obviously they were more than happy to volunteer to keep their library going, I wish them well. And I'm sure the council will very soon be using them as publicity stooges to sell their non-money saving nonsense as a success. I however won't give my valuable free time for something so badly and undemocratically formulated without evidence, that doesn't save money and damages one of the things I value and that has enabled me to make something of my life.

In October 2010 OCC (Oxfordshire County Council) put forward a plan to close 20 libraries based on their usage. There was outrage at the harsh cuts,  Keith Mitchell the leader of OCC was criticized by many for his insensitive handling of the cuts and for insulting authors and campaigners. Phillip Pullman gave that amazing speed to the council in January 2011.  Then in March 2011 that plan was torn up and OCC said they would think again.

The then leader of the council Keith Mitchell and the MP for Witney (Pic from Oxford Mail)

The policy u-turn was because David Cameron intervened, the big society would ride to the rescue and they would used a quantitative analysis based on indicators from the DCMS (where people live, work study etc) to rank the libraries and then draw a arbitrary line and those that fell under the line would have their staffing cut and have to rely on the volunteers to survive. The methodology they used was deeply flawed and seemed designed to favour libraries in built up areas, regardless of how close together or inefficient they are. The small rural and branch libraries with low paid, non-professtional staffing were hit. Only one of the 21 cut libraries was in the City, the rest were rural and 16 of the 21 were in Tory divisions.

Best picture I could find to fit the story

I know Dave intervened because I have been told by three difference councillors that he did, he also admits it so its common knowledge in Oxon:

"Did intervene to put the arguments"

"I  Met with OCC members to bring about changes"

Again, Dave is the MP for Witney, one of five members in Oxfordshire. He has no business dictating policy to the county council. The hypocrisy of the man who talks about localism and pushing the decision making down to communities is breathtaking. Anyway he intervened because he thinks with his fantastic experience of the world that consists of politics and getting a job at a TV company through his girlfriends mother he knows better than everyone else. But because he is PM and party leader his intervention faced no opposition in Oxfordshire from the local party publically, in fact the Tory group on the council didn't even get to vote on the proposal behind closed doors. Again I know this because I have been told, its common public knowledge, when Keith Mitchell stepped down one of the leadership candidates Pete Handley said in the Oxford Mail:

Councillor that believes in democracy, a rare thing it seems (Pic from Oxford Mail)

“I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced.
“This has happened several times over recent years.”
Keith Mitchell  the then leader is the person referred to above, when Dave intervened when he should have he was even ringing Keith at home on Sunday nights to talk about libraries. The Tories who are democratically elected to represent us didn't get a say and the policy was bounced through the scrutiny committee and nobody in cabinet opposed it. Why would they? The leader of a council can kick them out without any notice and if they have a mortgage or other outgoings they're stuffed.

Again I have blogged on this stuff above before. This final bit just confirms what a shambolic, undemocratic fudge the whole thing was. My councillor Rodney Rose, came to a public meeting in 2011 when the consultation started and to his credit spelled it all out to the people who were at the meeting. Below are some key quotes, I the transcript and recording are below, the recording and transcript are below.

 Pic from Oxford Mail
Rodney Rose: "The consultation is telling you what you're going to end up with"

  • "The feeling I have got is the consultation’s a sham, if it is a consultation. It’s stating what is going to happen on the 30 September"
  • "I mean the figures that we were first quoted when libraries were originally going to be closing was that libraries that were staffed with volunteers failed within four years the cabinet was told. Now all of a sudden they are going to last forever."
  • "My guess is that with further cuts come down the line, you know with Greece and other things happening to upset the euro who knows then it will be the community libraries that have gone to volunteers keeping them open to oh well they’re the least important so they’re the ones that will close."
  • "It’s not achievable at the moment, what was told to me point blank was what category you’re in, you’re stopping in end of story and they’ve all been told that. Now that also makes a nonsense of consultation should be able to have some impact on that."
  • "The consultation is telling you what you’re going to end up with."
  • "I’m arguing against myself and I’m part of that cabinet and it’s very difficult for me but the whole thing just smacks of erm we want to close or diminish those libraries we don’t care if they close and we make up a quantitative analysis to suit the end result we need."
Rodney was and still is the deputy leader of the council, if the deputy leader thinks the consultation is a sham then its a sham. I feel bad about putting the above online as Rodney was open and honest about what was going on and I wish all councillors put people before party but I'm not sure many do.

Democracy at Oxfordshire County Council has failed. 
  • Dave intervened to change the policy
  • The local tories didn't get a vote on the policy
  • The consultation was a sham
You except party political people to do dodgy little deals and make up policy on the hoof behind closed doors but what saddens me the most about is there is supposed to be checks and balances in politics to stop things like this happening. But they happen time and time again, not just locally but nationally, the parties poison democracy but thankfully their powers are almost spent. There has been a lot of other bad things not to do with libraries gone on at OCC in the past few years, some a lot more important than libraries, the council who is supposed to serve the people not the parties needs to up its game.

I don't know where we go from here, I will continue to oppose the replacing of library staff with volunteers and all the other stupid ideas that involve sacking low paid staff to save money. Our political system is a complete failure, local councils are in urgent need of reform but they won't, they're happy to get at least half of the 30% ish turn out and the rest of us can bugger off. David Cameron's idea of localism and democracy is to wade in and make decisions, give the local people who it affects no say and then swan off to create his next mess for others to clean up and defend.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Questions to Swindon Borough Council on Libraries

I have written about Walcot Library quite a lot in the past, looking at the data, giving my own views and putting up the views of the volunteers who run the library. I thought it would be a good idea to get the view of Swindon Borough Council whose decided to staff the library with volunteers and merge it with the charity shop. They kindly agreed to answer my questions which are in full and unedited below.

  1. Is Walcot Library still part of your statutory provision?


  1. If no, have you done an analysis of need as per guidance from the DCMS taking into account the findings of the Wirral report?

  1. Mr Mallinson, a former councillor, volunteer and one of the people behind the charity shop running the library has twice suggested he is going to close the library, has also suggested he is going to remove all the books.  Can he do this? Is there a written agreement between the council and the volunteers on what they can and cannot do?

There is no written agreement. However, the Library Service retains responsibility for Walcot library and provides IT, stock and staffing. Any changes to the library would require consultation with the Library Service and ultimately it would be our decision to agree to and implement any changes including removing stock. Currently, the Library service has no plans to remove the book stock.

  1. The book issues are massively down while there is a slight rise on average in the other libraries, does the Council consider the library since its handover to volunteers a success?

Although, we had considered suitable alternatives when discussing Walcot’s closure one of the Ward Councillors at the time, was keen that the library and community shop continued in their current location and took on responsibility for staffing the premises. This has meant that a library presence has been able to continue in the Walcot area.

Since that time the Library Service has also reintroduced 10 paid staffed hours per week.

The fall in library issues is due to many factors. For instance, the library mostly opens mornings so there are fewer schoolchildren using the library. The issues also previously included loans to home library users and we transferred these to another library. Thus, the loans are no longer counted in the Walcot statistics.

  1. If yes do you have any data (PLUS survey’s etc) that demonstrate this is a successful model of library provision?

There is no current PLUS data available for Swindon’s libraries.

  1. The volunteers in the library have spoken to me about generational illiteracy, with parents and their children in Walcot both not being able to read. What is the council doing to help with this?

The library service delivers the summer reading challenge in all libraries, including Walcot, providing staff to promote the scheme and train volunteers. There are also 10 staffed hours per week to assist with structured activities for all library users.

Initiatives, such as the Six Book challenge are run by a central team of outreach staff who work with all users and directly with Colleges offering basic skills courses.

  1. What other ways of making savings/models of service provision, rather than volunteers replacing the low paid front line staff has Swindon looked at and why were they not pursued instead?

Library staff are paid in line with national guidelines and practice. Therefore, we do not consider staff to be low paid. 

At the time of the proposed closure the alternative offered was for library users to go to the new Central Library and the refurbished, extended Park Library, both of which are close to Walcot. Library users unable to travel to those libraries were offered the home library service.

We still consider this to be a viable alternative but equally were happy to work with the community shop in Walcot in order to retain a library presence there.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Yes of course, Mr Weasel.

On the 21st CILIP members (or ILPUK depending on the voting order) will vote on the no confidence in Vaizey motion. The full text of the motion is:

"In view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of CILIP has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services"

I'm sure one of the arguments put forward by supporters of the ministers policy of non-intervention while the library service is culled is that if the professions speak out against him then the influence of the profession will be lost. The problem with this argument is the profession is already frozen out. The ACL was shut down on the premise that is was a money wasting quango but it cost almost nothing and they forgot the law needed to change to do this. In the meantime they have hired a adviser who even part time will be earning significantly more than the minimal cost of the ACL so its clear Vaizey doesn't want to hear what the professionals think, he wants it in house where he can control it. Despite the ACL not having met for a number of years now, the department will soon consult on its closure. A wonderful mix of incompetence and willful ignorance by the DCMS. You can read the tale of woe here and about when the ACL last did anything here.

I'm sure when Ed turns up for the odd event and talks of the service not being in crisis and how he is "horizon scanning" you can grab the odd word over coffee, but really you're deluding yourselves if you think he is listening, he isn't, he is probably checking his phone or thinking about when he can get back to his xbox and GTA5. 

If you think the library service should consist of super libraries in the major cities and anything else ran by volunteers or part charity shop then vote against the motion and vote to support Vaizey and his current policy of non-intervention whatever the cuts.

If you got into the profession to open people’s minds to the pocket universes that books are and help all people get the right information, expand their understanding of the world, raise their aspirations and enable them to live full and enriched lives that you have to vote to support the motion. 

Please do the right thing, restore my trust in librarians, growing up I knew they were people I could ask and they would be objective, honest and give me the right answer to any question without bias. Give us library users the right answer now.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

It takes two to quango

I'm trying to get my head round why the public library service is thriving in America at the same time the library service in the UK is declining. Book issues are on the decline in the UK but the reasons for this are unclear, the library service has had its funding quietly cut in the past few years, even before the disastrous hand over to the big society and the closure of hundreds of libraries. The few bits of information I know on the differences are the libraries in America have one library authority and in the ALA a muscular, strong body that speaks out and lobbies effectively on libraries behalf. These are just things people tell me so I hope the above is all correct. If the libraries over there are thriving, why is nobody learning the lessons from our cousins over the pond? I know there is lots about America I don't like, the lack of universal health care (until recently), the bonkers right wing tea party, their ill judged interventions in the middle east and apathy to the slow drip destruction of palestine, the terrible political process that means there will only ever be two parties and their dodgy funding via super pacs etc. These are my views obviously and I'm sure there are plenty who disagree. But there is much to admire about Americans, they are a young country still and Americans really do have a "can do" attitude that is much to be admired, they produce fantastic comics, great sitcoms and have driven the world economy for my entire lifetime. When presented with a challenge they really do rise to it and get the job done. And they have a constitution which I know some on the right skew, there is only a right to bear arms as part of a government backed militia for example, but it really is one of the most important documents in political history, written by true secular visionaries.

CILIP, The SCL, LGA etc should really be trying to learn as much as they can to try and see if there is anything we can learn from them. I don't mean sending the lazy, intellectually incurious, ideological politicians on a freebie fact finding mission, but in this age or VOIP a regular dialogue online via hangouts, web casts or Skype. I'm sure there must be stuff they could learn from us too.

There has to be more to it than the can do attitude and a vastly superior professional body, we need to take the time to find out why.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Is that gross breadsticks or net breadsticks?

The public library service is in crisis, it needs help. Large numbers of libraries are being cut, the rest are being hollowed out and handed over to volunteers. What's left might still look like a library service on a smaller scale but like the set of Coronation Street its a wooden facade, designed to look like a street but it only has two dimensions and is supported by a wooden frame and in this metaphor the frame isn't librarians is volunteers and the facade will not stand up to the wind and will fall as the volunteers are not strong enough to hold it up.

Campaigners despite legal challenges and huge campaigns cannot breach the bubble of creative inertia that surrounds the DCMS. All councils have to do is get the process right with the correct boxes ticked and they can close as many libraries as they like and hand the rest over to unwilling volunteers. The DCMS and the minister in my view are breaking the 1964 public libraries act both in spirit and in fact and we are currently unable to stop them. The civil servants in the DCMS have failed the public who they are supposed to serve. The minister in opposition was a lion in defence of libraries and was calling for intervention in the Wirral publically, putting forward a early day motion and calling for intervention and saying if it didn't happen libraries being a statutory requirement was meaningless. Now a couple of years on and hundreds of libraries closed/probably many times that handed over to unwilling volunteers later and there isn't a crisis. We know politicians can be two face at the best of times but Vaizey has really raised the bar with his contrary positions on public libraries. His line "I don't accept the public library service is in crisis" goes down in history for me with other great political lies of the last few years like:

  • Saddam Hussein's regime is despicable, he is developing weapons of mass destruction
  • I did not have sexual relations with that women
  • Read my lips, no new taxes
  • I pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees in the next parliament. 

We cannot allow him to keep repeating the lie unchallenged. The great line of Cicero that politicians are not born, they are excreted was surely meant for Ed and his conduct over libraries. I take my hat off to Jo Richardson and Tom Roper for putting forward the no confidence vote in Vaizey, they have stepped up and shown great courage and integrity in putting this motion and I hope all their colleagues can back them to the hilt, it would be very wrong to lobby on the side of Vaizey. I hope therefore CILIP can come together with one voice and make it clear to the DCMS and Vaizey that their head in the sand approach to the superintendence of the library service is a insult to the staff and users of the library service. I know things can be fractious between campaigners and librarians and we won't agree on everything but I hope we can agree on this, Vaizey isn't doing the job he is paid to do.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The first rule of politics: never believe anything until it's been officially denied

After the attempt to halt the re-brand some at CILIP have suggested it’s time for the profession to have a vote of no confidence in E-Vaizey at their next AGM in September. The exact text is:

"In view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of CILIP has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services"

I hope that the profession can now unite and put a line in the sand. Nearly four thousand staff lost since 07-08 with many more surely to go in the next few years. A thousand libraries to close by 2016 and probably as many handed over to the voluntary sector, this will be a sector on its knees and CILIP can either stand up and fight or the library sector as we know it will fall and disappear in the next decade.

Ed Vaizey while in opposition said the following when The Wirral were planning to close eleven libraries in 2009:

"Andy Burnham's refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities' responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary's door. It Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless."

Four years later and massive chunks of the library service hollowed out, decimated and culled and the best he can come up with is:

I don’t accept that the public library service is in crisis

Vaizey has redefined hypocrisy in his role as library minister and he must be held to account, his inaction is utterly contemptible and shameful. The library service which was protected by the 1964 act has been rendered completely defenceless since the government closed the MLA, ACL and nobbled the power transferred to ACE to ensure that nobody outside the DCMS in officialdom can utter a single word in favour of intervention. The head in the sand approach to superintendence is pre-planned and calculated to ensure nothing will be done, regardless of how badly councils cut their library services.

I’m sure there are those at CILIP who will not want to rock the boat, but the boat is already hulled below the waterline and at this stage it’s about getting off the boat alive then seeing what can be repaired, there is no value in playing nice and following the line of quiet diplomacy because that approach has failed. I’m also aware that CILIP isn't just a public libraries body, do you really think once the public library sector is decimated the academic libraries won’t be destined for a similar fate? Make no mistake the barbarians are coming for those libraries too, they just have to kill the public libraries first.

I really hope this vote can be supported by all in CILIP, not just because it is a vote about your very survival as a profession but because it’s the right thing to do.

A quote from Carl Sagan, a man sadly gone but worth a thousand Vaizeys:

“The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries”

If you're a member of CILIP please email: and if you're not a member, perhaps it’s worth joining if the organisation if its finally going to step up and fight for libraries.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Press statements are not delivered under oath

The CILIP rebranding nonsense is seeming to rumble on forever. With Library budgets slashed, librarians culled, spiraling PFI liabilities due to low growth and high inflation and the small rural and branch libraries being handed over to volunteers so they can sack the low paid library managers and assistants you would think CILIP would be issuing a call to arms and speaking out in defence of libraries. Nope. Instead they are going through a "consultation" exercise that reminds me of how councils do consultation, I.E badly. The options given were so pathetic I suspect the decision had long been decided behind closed doors and the consultation is just paying lip service to give the appearance of process and buy in for members. The way it has been handled is very damaging to the brand "librarian" the best brand they have but seemingly the very word is holding back the true professionals. I decided to come up with a few name suggestions since I tried this on twitter and bumbled it up:

LALALA (Librarians Against Libraries and Librarians Association)
SOILED (Society Of Information Libraians & Educational Development)
ARSE (Association of Reading Support Entrepreneurs)
FECK (Federation of Enterprise Changemaking Kindlers)

Just a few ideas to help. You may think that what CILIP do with their time and their members hard earned money is none of my business. You are wrong, CILIP is selling out the branch and rural libraries to the morons that believe volunteers running libraries is a way of saving money and providing a sustainable library service. The leadership in the library profession has failed to promote libraries to the people who hold the purse strings and instead have spent their time navel gazing and jumping on every blue sky band wagon that passes by. They are as much responsible for the mess we find libraries in as the councillors and politicians slashing the libraries budgets in my opinion.

I hope CILIP gets some leadership that actually looks to try and fight for libraries otherwise I hope they split out the public libraries part and those people can go their own way, my own view is public libraries would be better off if CILIP didn't exist.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Questions to Locality

I put in an email into Steve Wyler at Locality to try and understand their role in libraries. Steve very kindly answered my questions, the full Q&A's are below.

Why has your charity decided to involve itself in libraries?

This is not a new agenda for us. Locality has a membership of community organisations, and in many case our members have long-standing relationships with library services – hosting publicly managed libraries in community buildings (eg Zest, Sheffield), taking  ownership of library assets and securing capital investment to help upgrade public libraries (eg Prudhoe Community Partnership, Northumberland), taking over the management of library services (eg Alt Valley Community Trust, Liverpool) or calling for the establishment of new libraries and managing  them (eg Fresh Horizons, Huddersfield). 

18 months ago we began to receive requests for support as local library branches came under threat of closure and the option of community ownership/management became apparent. 

Locality members work predominantly in deprived communities, and we believe that people in those communities are too often denied resources and opportunities to fulfil their potential. We see literacy, access to learning, and education as one means of redressing this and therefore believe libraries have a vital role especially in deprived communities.   

We also believe in the benefits of community ownership and community self-determination. So where there are local community groups who want to try to save their library by playing a part in running a library service, we will get behind them to the best of our abilities. 

You have received millions from the DCLG as payment for implementing government policies, what percentage of your income is from membership fees and what from government grants?

Yes, much of our funding comes from DCLG and other government departments (eg Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice). We produce annual accounts, so we are of coursew transparent about this. Last year total government income from contracts and grants was 80% and membership fee income was 1% (NB: we have reduced membership fees because of the financial pressure faced by many community groups).   

We don’t simply implement government policy. We also draw on community experience in order to shape policy where we can, for example on policies about transfer of land and buildings into community ownership. We also challenge government if necessary, for example on the disproportionate spending cuts affecting the poorest communities, or on procurement policies which favour large private sector corporates.

What evidence does Locality have, both quantitate and qualitative that the social entrepreneur model is sustainable, saves money and produces as good a service as council run libraries?

The community enterprise model, whereby local community organisations develop and deliver services, and seek to achieve business viability, has a long and honourable track record.  Some of our members have proved sustainable for over 100 years, operating to this model.  We publish an annual survey of our members which shows that despite the considerable financial pressures, our members by and large are proving pretty resilient even in very difficult economic times.

With respect to community-run libraries, it is still very early, in terms of the range of different models which people are adopting, to be sure which will be most resilient in times to come.  We recognise that, especially in deprived areas, one or more of the following are usually necessary to ensure financial viability: an endowment fund, a transfer of assets capable of generating income, a continuing financial relationship with the library authority in the form of grants or contracts, access to professional staff and resources from the library authority, help and investment for the community group to develop associated income-generating enterprises.  

From our point of view, community-run libraries are not about saving the public sector money – they are about providing a mix of services which local people want and which they can shape.  

Do community run-libraries deliver as good a service as council-run libraries? It is probably fair to say that council-run libraries are sometimes extremely good, sometimes relatively poor, so it is hard to make any comparison in general terms.  Looking forward the questions will be whether community-run libraries can maintain or extend opening hours, whether they can maintain or increase numbers and types of people using the library service (against the current trend of decline), and whether they can deliver other added value through related enterprise, volunteer activity, and community ownership. We think the early indications are promising, but they are still only early indications so far.

What is the difference between Locality’s mission and the Big Society?  

We are still not completely clear what the Big Society agenda was - government seemed to be advocating different versions. One version seemed to be that public services and indeed much of the voluntary sector (labelled by some as ‘the usual suspects’) could be taken over by a new wave of volunteers supported by wealthy private ‘venture philanthropists’. We have spoken out on many occasions against this.  

Our mission is very different.  It is certainly not just about volunteers – it is to make every community a place of possibility, through social action, community enterprise and community asset ownership. This means paid staff alongside volunteers, community action alongside state action. We have recently published a statement about what we stand for:

Is there any statutory service that your movement and preferred model for libraries (Social Entrepreneurs) couldn’t provide? Do we actually need government at all to provide hospitals, social care etc. Where is the line?

We are NOT saying that ‘social entrepreneurs’ are our preferred model for libraries. We are saying that community-run libraries, where possible including community enterprise elements, should be a valuable part of the mix, to safeguard and enhance library services.  That mix, in our view, stills mean essential roles for the library authorities – after all our research for the Arts Council showed that the vast majority of community-run libraries are not stand-alone but rather an active partnership with the library authority retaining important functions.  

More widely in respect of other statutory services, we believe that we absolutely need government – central and local – for public services. At the end of the day, as elected bodies, they are the democratically accountable safeguard. Their broad public interest role means that they should (for example) retain the strategic overview, protect the public, and ensure that provision is of the highest quality possible. That doesn’t mean that everything need be directly delivered by government.  There is no absolute line here – we believe that the relationships and partnerships are best forged at a local level, responding to the fine grain of local knowledge.

Who is democratically accountable for services provided by the #Socent model?

I don’t know exactly what you mean by the #Socent model. But for services delivered by community-run libraries, it is worth remembering that that councils remain responsible for statutory library services (irrespective of the provider).  Last summer when we conducted our mapping exercise for Arts Council England, we found that 95% of community libraries are linked to local authorities – and to that extent they are still democratically accountable services.

Community organisations use different mechanisms to make themselves accountable to their community.  Sometimes though membership and elections, sometimes through ‘participative democracy’ where they in effect conduct a continuing conversation with users and local people, holding themselves open to engagement and challenge. But we recognise that – as with formal democracy where the voter turnout is often so low, and the extent of democratic participation extremely attenuated – participative democracy can have its weaknesses too.  For example we would not support a community organisation which intended a community run-library to limit services to a particular section of the community, or wished to impose restrictions, for example for faith reasons, on the books and other resources held by the library.

How many trained library professionals do you have advising library groups?

Locality is not – and would not pretend to be - a library service, so we don’t employ library and information professionals ourselves. Our function is different - what we do is make it easier to share knowledge and skills between community groups who are managing community libraries, and there is a great deal of expertise of all kinds within that network. And we encourage community-run libraries to engage with library professionals, in formal partnerships with the library authority where possible. Its worth noting that 55% of those community libraries we identified in the ACE report benefited from professional paid library staff in situ.

How can communities ensure that services provided by #socent are unbiased and impartial? For example, religious or political groups may running services may have views that are incompatible with the neutral space that a library provides?

As described above, the overwhelming majority of community-run libraries retain partnerships with the library authorities, which are bound by Equalities duties when entering into such partnerships.  And also as said above, Locality would not support community initiatives which excluded some groups of people or failed to respect the neutral space of a library. 

Victorian philanthropy created a lot of the public library network, is your movement not a return to this sort of service provision?

No, we are looking forward not backwards, while of course wishing to learn the lessons of the past. As said above, we do not believe that volunteers and private philanthropy by themselves are the solution: we need to build new forms of local community-public partnerships. 

What stops the library service becoming a postcode lottery under your proposed model for service delivery?

Our members experience a ‘postcode lottery’ all the time: in deprived areas in particular there are huge variations of employment opportunity, heath outcomes, crime and reoffending rates, educational attainment, opportunities for learning, access to youth and play services, access to advice, financial services, and so on.  Locality sees the goal of our movement as helping to make improvements in all these areas, and that applies to libraries as well as to other services. 

But we don’t think that is best achieved simply through standardisation, determined by centralised bureaucracies, an approach which has failed time and again. We think a shift of power and control to local agencies and local people is necessary if positive change is to be achieved.   

Should the 1964 libraries act be changed to allow councils to hand responsibility to communities to provide libraries?

As you will know in terms of libraries the Public Libraries Act (1964) requires that councils provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’. We believe that this is right, and that they should continue to be held to this.  But in our view that does not mean identikit solutions – there is always a need to take account of local circumstances and aspirations, and sometimes partnerships with community-run libraries will have a part to play in this.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Ingress and egress

Following on from previous posts on Walcot library in Swindon which you can read here and here the short version is when the volunteers took over the running of the library and it became part library part charity shop the book issues fell off a cliff:

We now have the savings Swindon Borough Council have made from cutting the staffing from the library, making it a co-location charity shop and handing it over to volunteers:
As you can see there is a small saving on building costs and a small saving in staffing which coupled with having the charity shop within the library and less choice of books has resulted in my view in the 87% drop in book issues since April 2009. Considering the current net annual budget for Swindon is 137m this is less than microscopic peanuts. Even in the context of the library service budget of 3.9 million its such a small saving and has utterly destroyed the book issues in the library its a futile, pointless saving. In the CIPFA library comparisons, the staffing costs are not above the average, the costs that are driving up their average per 1,000 pop are all the other spending areas so its odd they choose to cut the staffing rather then look for savings in service support, computing costs etc which wouldn't have impacted on the book issues like this has. The book issues in the other libraries on average have held up well (see the the other posts), its only Walcot that has dropped off a cliff like this so the experiment has failed, cutting staff and co-location with a charity shop has almost destroyed the book issues of this "library"

I struggle to understand the reasoning behind why they have done this to the library, there is certainly no body of evidence out there to suggest this works either as a cost saving measure or creating a sustainable library. I suspect the reason is the "localism" agenda and "The Big Society" those tired empty policies from the men in the empty suits with the empty brains in Westminster. Hopefully it will become clear, even to those with closed minds and open mouths that sacking low paid library assistants and managers doesn't save money in the library service. Libraries are far too important to be lost for such a stupidly small amount of money in budgetary terms. I haven't looked up the data but you can tell from just driving round the area that Walcot is an area of real poverty, they shouldn't be cutting its library they should be throwing more resources at it. Councils cannot create growth directly, but if they invest in the minds of the citizens that's more likely to help the area climb out of poverty than building endless retail parks.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Semantic resources of the English language

"Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic" - This is probably one of my favourite quotes about books by Carl Sagan. Books obviously are made up of words and even small numbers of words together can hold great power. As an outsider looking in the CILIP (chartered institute of library and information professionals) re-branding exercise, I find it odd they don't seem to recognise the two most powerful words that inspire trust, neutrality and knowledge. From the Library of Alexandria of the ancient world to Carnegie Libraries in more recent times, the word library has always has a magic to it, the profession of librarian is trusted and respected in the same way as Doctor is. For CILIP to suggest dropping library from their name is madness in my view. Library is the best brand word they can have. Yes library is derived from books and the profession and those they represent is more than that, but meanings of words can change over time but still retain their magic and power. Equally use too many words to describe something and that power is lost, cutting right across culture, short names and phrases have always stuff in the mind. Sadly there seems to be such much jargon, a lot of it long winded entering the public libraries arena. For example there is the "For all Health Living Centre Library" in North Somerset which is a hideous name, then there are other examples of where they are making things worse but pretending they're something new or exciting by doing a re-brand, things like:
Knowledge Hubs
Community Libraries
Hacker Spaces
Technology Learning Centre
Innovation Incubators

This is just some of the names that they call libraries now, there are different permutations of the above and in some cases they denote libraries that are doing other things on top of their traditional role. But really, the magic is lost for me, I just want to go to my local library and I don't care if the staff member in there is a library manager or assistant, to my mind they are a librarian, chartership, qualification or not. The problem is politicians in Westminster and some councillors and senior civil servants can be stupid people with little or no experience of the real world and they are impressed by blue sky jargon because they don't understand the power of libraries and librarians. Again this is another failure at the top of the library profession to make these people aware of the value of libraries and librarians. Knowledge is power, it’s a well-worn adage, and while things will always change, including the meaning of words, they will always retain power, we don't need all this extra jargon and blue sky nonsense, libraries are one of the most powerful brand names there is.

Hat tip to @wylie_alan as he spotted the "For all Health Living Centre Library" and has been creating a jargon glossary here

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not really a basis for long term decisions

Everybody within the bubble cheers! Everyone outside the bubble groans, “not another one “they say.

The Westminster bubble has excreted yet another bit of useless drivel in the guise of research called “Envisioning the Library of the Future” .

I wrote about some of the  issues when it was going on here:

Is this really the level of research that we get from government? You would imagine that having librarians involved, people who are supposed to understand data it would be proper robust bit of research like you'd get from a scientific paper. The outsourced part of the study alone cost somewhere between 65k and 85K you can see the tender document here.
And yet they spoke to less people that regularly use my local library which is tiny. The online thing nobody knew about (I told my local council to stick the link on their website), they told the "library relationship managers" and a few others outside of the sector but nobody else knew about it. There is a spread sheet with the email address of most of the libraries in the country on the DCMS website, have they never heard of email merge or even mail merge to let people know? I cannot find the direct link anymore but there’s a version online here.
I would imagine with all the staffing time spent on it by the various staff members, the true cost of this drivel was probably nearer a quarter of a million pounds, yet it has no hard data, offers no solutions to the problems and draws no conclusions on a proper way forward.
Is this all the upper echelons of library management does churn out one of these every couple of years at great cost but with no benefit?
The giant elephant in the room of community libraries not saving money they seem to be ignoring, we all know that sacking low paid library managers/assistants and replacing them with self-service and dozens of volunteers doesn't save any money yet nobody is properly researching this?
No wonder the country is in a mess, we need better policy based on real research not this sort of drivel.