Thursday, 26 June 2014

Wil Iam Sieghart on PUBlic Libraries

Wil Iam Sieghart has given a snippet of his thinking with regards to the future of the library service in England. Its on the LGA (Local Government Association) site and you can read it here.

Short version so far

  • Not considering changing local authority structures
  • Digital network for libraries
  • Single management system with one card valid in all libraries
  • Library services delivered in pubs and local shops

Anyone in charge or involved in the profession who thinks that books in a pub, phone box or other static building without a library manager or librarian there shouldn't be involved in libraries because they clearly don't know what libraries do. Taking away a proper library and having "Pub is the Hub" and pretending its a some how better thing is cloud cuckoo land.

And I'm not sure about the single LMS systems with one for all authorities, if he really means that then great, but I doubt it, probably another national system on top with councils allowed to opt out if they wanted. Not sure how he could force the introduction of one LMS across all authorities, the suppliers of these systems would probably sue and it may not even be legal under competition law. The old phrase politics is the choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable spring to mind.

I don't know which library users he has spoken to but, obviously only speaking for myself I don't want a pub with some books on a shelf replacing my local library. One LMS replacing all the others makes sense but I doubt that's possible or what is intended. The direction of travel seems to be more of this nonsense localism where services are cut and local authorities are encouraged to make it up as they go along. But you know what? Sometimes one size does actually fit all, its called library standards and that is what is needed as well as less library authorities to get rid of the elephant in the room that is the elephant sized service support costs, localism is just smoke and mirrors for the cuts.  I'm saddened that a supposedly independent report seems to echo the views of the minister almost as if he'd dictated it himself.

To speak to Mr Sieghart you can pay £640 to attend a event put on by the taxpayer funded quango the LGA in Bournemouth here. We pay for them via council subscriptions and its basically us paying for one part of government to lobby another and it means lots of senior staff and councillors can have lots of jollies (to the seaside in this case) and training away days at our expense but producing nothing of worth. Where is the taxpayer funded national conference for library users?

With the opposition almost non existent, the library minister without a brain getting seemingly everything he could wish for from this independent report and the upper echelons of the profession refusing to speak out about this nonsense then it is even darker days for PUBlic libraries.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Post Library Campaign AGM thoughts

It all felt a bit fractious and there was some differing views about volunteer libraries. I think the triumph of the day was me working out how to switch on the air conditioning. One of the contentious views was should we help library users who in the face of closure are trying to save their library by volunteering.

Alan Templeton was of the view that we have to support them and help advise them on how to run a volunteer library otherwise we're responsible for the library failing/closing. Given the example of Brent campaigners trying to get their foot back in the door of their closed library to see if they can reverse the decision of Brent council by showing there is a need for a library, then on the surface it the point is valid and straightforward. If we're about saving libraries we should support volunteer run libraries. I've paraphrased but I think this was the gist of his point. I disagree, for a few reasons.

There are so many different configurations of volunteer library out there, nobody really knows what works and what doesn't. It seems from the example in Bucks, if you have a library in a affluent area with lots of wealth retired professionals then the volunteer library has a chance, but if you're in a deprived borough then its less likely it will succeed. How can I or the library campaign or anyone else claim to know what it best to advise the poor souls trying to save their library? Locality is getting large amounts of taxpayer money and has set up some resources to help, as is Little Chalfont in Bucks. If either of these aren't providing enough support, they users should be complaining to their local authority, DCLG and DCMS, its their ideological solution not mine. I know Jim from Little Chalfont thinks volunteer libraries isn't a great idea but he chooses to help others put in this difficult decision and while I disagree with his choice I won't criticize him for it. Its a horrible choice to have to make and we're all entitled to do what we thinks best.

The other point is, I shouldn't be made to feel guilty or feel responsible if I choose rather than to help I devote my limited free time to campaign against the actual concept of volunteer libraries which nearly all library users/campaigners (but not all in the profession!) are against. The blame lies with your local councillor, cabinet holder for libraries, the council officers and the national government for failing us and particularly Vaizey. Despite still being one of the richest countries in the world they tell us that library managers, the lowest paid, in the smaller branch and rural libraries are a luxury that cannot be afforded, but we can still afford millions (2 million in Oxfordshire in fact) on self service machines, giant vanity PFI libraries in the big cities with websites alone that cost millions.

My final point and I said something along these lines in the meeting and its a harsh reality. If volunteer libraries are seen as succeeding (even if they aren't) then this will be the de facto choice for councils looking to make more easy cuts. We've seen what a meal they've made of the Bucks example, they're quiet about the failures, Walcot in Swindon I would put forward as a example of this, I'm sure there are many others.

The apparent short term success puts at risk more libraries as they spread like a cancer across the library network. More library managers and librarians will lose their jobs and eventually we'll have a library network that is a complete postcode lottery of provision, some failing, a small number managing to stay open, some libraries losing their neutrality and being taken over by groups with agendas to promote. In the middle you will likely have a old central library desperately in need of a refurbishment or replacement or a central PFI library the council can barely afford the monthly payments on.

I wish it wasn't so, those blackmailed into saving their library by feckless councils short sighted cuts I'm not attacking. Given the option of volunteering or my local library closing I'm sure I would probably do the same thing. I hate the position they've been put in and I wish them luck but its not my responsibility, we all know who is responsible and its the councils, Vaizey and the politicians and officers and some in the profession promoting this agenda.

My biggest concern is Labour aren't going to be any different in power if they win or form the coalition next year. Despite their warm words in opposition I suspect they'll not intervene to enforce the act or get the councils to work together to save costs rather than cull the library managers. Most councils out there are Labour and once they've got power again they'll be no different to the tories. We'll have co-operatives as the savour of libraries rather than the big society.

Again, my viewpoint isn't attacking volunteers, I'm dead against volunteer libraries and will use my time to fight that failed idea rather than support it.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Power to the people

The consultation that came out yesterday from the shadow minister for libraries Helen Goodman MP isn't a public consultation. I emailed to clarify this today as the questions don't look like they're intended for the public, rather those in the councils. I got the surprise response that Helen wanted to have a chat with me on the phone, which she did. She is very nice and pleasant but the consultation isn't for library users, I told her how we're sick of sham consultations and our views being ignored and how I was disappointed. Her reasoning is what they are consulting on at this stage is too detailed for users. I don't know if this means Labour are going to consult users before they come up with their manifesto for the next election or not but I suspect not and once again the people who use and pay for libraries are ignored. How are you supposed to represent people when you haven't asked them for their views? If this wasn't meant for public consumption they just had to put that on the document, it was shared with the world but not specifying who should respond. I'm very cross obviously and will write my own submission and put it on my blog so they can safely ignore it at their leisure.