Tuesday, 16 April 2013

This is a British Democracy Bernard.

At the start of the year, The society of chief librarians announced their four "universal offers" I won't go into massive detail the full thing is here but there is some good stuff in there and the competently run library services should be doing most of it all ready.

The four offers are:

The Universal Health Offer
The Universal Reading Offer
The Universal Information Offer
The Universal Digital Offer

I find the use of the word "offer" intensely annoying in the public sector. But I digress. The substance as I have said is good taken in the whole and I was keen to find out if my local authority were signed up to this new initiative and if the non-statutory "volunteer" ran libraries would be part of the "offer" and if to meet the requirements any new funding would be put into the library service. The response I got was:

"Oxfordshire Libraries will be part of the national programme.  There will be no extra funding directed at delivering the offers.  The four offers reflect service areas which modern library customers regard as integral to public libraries and largely consist of what we in Oxfordshire have already been doing.  By launching the offers as a new national approach, it is being made clear to the public what they should be able to expect from their library and, yes, this will apply to all libraries in Oxfordshire."

Which for the fully funded statutory libraries this is clearly a good thing, I'm disappointed and bemused that the volunteer groups are going to be expected to deliver all of this stuff. After my recent visit to Walcot library and seeing what happens when the staff hours are cut back (they get ten hours of staffing support) they remaining staff time gets used up by the admin and keeping the book shelves organised. My local library that is getting it staffing cut by half will be in a very similar position and I doubt there will be any staffing time left to do this stuff so its down to the volunteers (not me btw I refuse to volunteer until my library is statutory) to pick up the following tasks:

  • A network of local hubs offering non-clinical community space
  • Community outreach supporting vulnerable people
  • Expert staff with local knowledge 
  • Assisted on-line access 
  • Self-help library resources 
  • Health and care information services
  • Referral and signposting
  • Public health promotion activity
  • Social and recreational reading opportunities like reading groups
  • Volunteering and community engagement activities  (for teenager groups)
  • Books on Prescription
  • Free books and reading resources
  • Free community space
  • Supported online access
  • Community outreach 
  • Services for targeted audiences
  • Access to local and family history resources
  • Multimedia reading resources
  • Bring together government and non-governmental sources of information, which have 
  • been researched by information professionals in public libraries, giving a level of quality 
  • assurance to the user. 
  • Ensure that public library staff and volunteers are continually developing their skills to 
  • provide help to people accessing information and services. 
  • Free access to the Internet for every customer (for a minimum period of time)
  • Clear and accessible online information about library services 
  • Staff trained to help customers access digital information
  • Ability for customers to join online
  • Ability to be contacted online/via email for answers to customer enquiries
  • 24/7 access to services through a virtual library presence
  • Ability to reserve & renew items remotely via an online catalogue
Not all of the above are relevant to my point, some are existing online things obviously, but this is just the bullet points from the scheme, there is plenty more and there is lots of good stuff in there, volunteers have no business doing most of it though. If you also get volunteers to empty the bins, do some adult and children's social care and then we can scrap councils altogether. Maybe that's the whole point, the Big Society is about taking us back to Victorian times where there was no state and you provide it yourself or rely on wealthy philanthropists to provide services. Its a failed policy by a government without a mandate and the policy itself is completely without evidence. Its whats so disappointing about the SCL and their support of using volunteers to replace paid staff in libraries. If librarians of all people cannot use data and information to support their arguments and have to rely on a single, flimsy theoretical example then it means we may be without hope in winning the argument. The states should provide services where the market cannot, this is why we pay taxes. I shouldn't have to pay tax and then give up my precious free time to provide statutory services to myself. Neither should retired people, they have put into the system more than I have and should be free to choice what to do with their spare time not bounced into providing important services to themselves. In years to come, when this whole business has finally been seen for what it is, I hope those who have supported it hold there hands up and admit they should have stepped up and spoke out against it. The Big Society and Community Libraries will be remembered, by me at least with other policy failures where those in charge refused to listen like Poll tax, WMD, PFI and Beeching etc.

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