Wednesday, 10 August 2016

UK library data in PowerBI

Having had to put up with those god awful cipfa returns in FOI requests, sometimes as PDF's scanned in from horrible, blurry black and white print outs. I'm looking forward to whatever this data is that the libraries task force is going to put into the public domain. I'm a big believer that all data paid for by the public purse, should be available to the public as a matter of course, rather than having to put in FOI requests. And ideally the data should be as current as possible. Hopefully the data will have issues, visits, costs etc and also the number of libraries and if the library is statutory or not and some sort of time element on the datasets to trends can be shown. Having not being involved in this I've no idea what this data will contain.

Where I work, we've recently gone over to Office 365, and as part of this we got a new bit of BI (business intelligence) software from Microsoft called PowerBI. I don't work for Microsoft or have any friends or links to the company. I much prefer doing most of the BI work at the database level as the thing I'm most experience in is writing T-SQL statements for stored procedures and functions etc. If you know how to write t-sql well, you can throw data about much easier and in much more complex ways than you can in excel/access etc. The front end to all this of course has to be some sort of BI software to expose this data to the users. Down the years I've used: Excel, Access, Crystal Reports, Cognos, Business Objects and SQL Server Reporting Services. PowerBI as a tool, both for ease of use and the things you can do is so much stronger in my view than all the other stuff. You can configure more with some of the others, there's not a lot of tweaking you can do but the software is only a year old and they're adding new features every month.

Below is something I've thrown together from some very old libraries data that contains nothing in the way of measures other than the number of libraries per authority:

Nearly all of the visualisation in PowerBI can act as filters (or not) on the other visualizations within the report. This means on one page, you can click on a category on a bar chart and the data everywhere else on the page can be filtered. There's also slicers (the library authority names at the top of page four) which act as filter buttons, you can select one or many (ctrl + left click) and these will filter the data down as well. The example above isn't that great, because the data isn't great. There's a lot more you can do with this software, there's a library of user created custom visuals: and other examples online showing the sort of stuff you can do. It can take data from flat files, excel and most types of other database/datasource. There is a free version and a paid for version, if you use office 365 at work, you probably have access to the free version already. I've offered already to the task force to do some stuff with their data already, I'll probably want to do something with it myself even if they decide to use something else. Its important that we use this data to hold those to account who are failing to provide us with a proper library service.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A load of old cobblers, Minister.

"If 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." - Ed Vaizey 2009

Vaizey was the best shadow minister for libraries, but the worst minister for libraries. The massive hypocrisy of his words after what he said in opposition, sat on his backside doing nothing in office while the library service was dismembered will be his legacy. His record of non-intervention during a time of massive cuts to the sector speak for themselves. He bottled the debate with Alan Gibbons and wouldn't speak to users or campaigners. Preferring to only interact with those who had nothing but praise for his ineptitude. 

It took a while and a name changing fiasco, but the leadership of CILIP saw the light and started to actually challenging his record while in office, but sadly the SCL ("advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people") still seem to see it as their job to ignore Ed's hypocrisy and bizarre policy of non-intervention and claim Ed was a "champion" of libraries.

I mean honestly. The SCL seem as deluded or duplicitous as the former minister himself. I know they've done a lot of good work on the universal offers, but how can they be advocates of users when they allow politicians to get away with not doing their jobs. I know they claim they have to be impartial and can't criticise government or ministers (doesn't stop the LGA or CILIP or any other body) and if that was the real reason, they should also stop blowing smoke up the backside of the minister who has so obviously failed the people they claim to represent.

The new minister Matthew Hancock I know little about, I'm not a fan of the PPE/SPAD type of MP, but he does seem to have a bit of experience outside of politics. Hopefully with his economics background, he'll understand that money spent on public library provision gives a great return on a small investment for the nation. I'm sure he can't be worse than his predecessor and I'm certain that whatever he does or doesn't do, the SCL will think he's a champion.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Difficult, like asking which lunatic should run the asylum.

I emailed Oxfordshire county council how they believe they can still be providing a service that meets the requirements of the act by having no mobile libraries and also asked if they're investigating joint working with other authorities to try and save money on the huge back office costs. The portfolio holder Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale responded: 
The decision to cease the Mobile Library Service whilst it is something the Council regrets does not impact upon our responsibilities under the 1964 Act.  Comprehensive has been taken to mean delivering a service accessible to all residents using reasonable means and an efficient service must make the best use of the assets available in order to meet core objectives whilst recognising that there are constraints on council resources.  Whilst regretting the closure of the service,  the council feels that it can offer those service users affected by the withdrawal of the service alternative library provision using other reasonable means.  This includes access to a Home Library Service, our branch network of 43 libraries and digital technology. 
Any further  proposals that might emerge in the future would of course be consulted upon and we will ensure that we continue to meet our statutory duty. Clearly the future structure of Local Government and opportunities for partnership are very much part of current thinking and planning.

They've clearly taken the guidance published by the DCMS here  The phrase highlighted is almost word for word taken from the government guidance. There is nothing in the original act that defines what is "reasonable" or that talks about constraints on funding being as a factor on what is comprehensive and efficient for all. The rural city divide on service provision is only going to increase further with the end to mobile libraries, compounded by the cuts to bus subsidies.  Since the county council is run by the tory group with a handful of complicit independents, you would have thought the tories would be doing more to shore up support in their rural divisions.

Slightly off topic, with the tories nationally forcing all schools to become academies, abolishing local authority control and David Cameron wanting to see Oxfordshire County Council abolished and replaced with smaller unitary authorities, then perhaps time is up for OCC and slashing libraries doesn't matter as most of the councillors will be losing their "allowances" soon. Certainly Dave has no qualms in wading in to decide policy on local matters where he has no electoral business doing so, and I suspect when the local government minister Greg Clark makes his decision on Oxfordshire, it won't be contradicting what Dave has already stated as his preferred option.

Despite hating all the political parties equally, its hard to ignore what a massive mess the tories are intent on making of things in local government, schools and the NHS. They are mostly a continuation of failed policies from Labours last stint in government, but with added ideological zeal. I'm sure there'll be plenty work for the consultants and blue sky bullshitters while the services are slashed.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

Now that Oxfordshire County Council has passed its latest budget cuts, they're going to completely abolish the mobile library service. This is completely at odds with their responsibility under library act. But we've known beyond doubt for a long time now that Lazy Vaizey won't lift a finger. I suspect even if the councils decided to set fire to all our libraries, he'd not be "minded" to do anything. I've asked the councillor responsible how they still think this is a statutory service, I await the answer with interest.  There has been lots of handbags over the cuts between the tory councillors and Call Me Dave. And now the latest twist in the saga is the PM and other local MP's have said they back the idea to abolish the county council and have the district councils become unitary authorities, its in the local paper here. Whether this is really revenge by Cameron or not I've no idea, the districts who have very little to do would love the chance at more money and power. Oxford City Council are so bored that they even tried to bring in a bylaw saying buskers have to smile when performing last year. (ffs!)

Councils procure most of their services these days in supposedly competitive tendering. Having the roads, schools, libraries and fire service etc, all split out into more bodies to have to procure these services is completely stupid. Anybody not motivated by getting more power for their own little empire or having half a brain would realise that its a stupid way to proceed. Sadly there seems to be little political appetite to have one unitary Oxfordshire authority. The political vested interests are against it. But if people was put before party, the clear way is on unitary with a elected mayor and a pr voting system to give proper representation to voters and have one body for the area delivering all the services and sweeping away the bored and restless tier of local government.

In Swindon down the road, a FOI was put in to see how Walcot library was doing on book issues and you can read stuff I wrote here detailing how the book issues fell off a cliff when the library was handed over to volunteers. The latest data is here and it short here is the trend:

From 16,269 in 07/08 and 14/15 figure is 1650. So if you spread this level of "success" across the library service in Swindon, I cannot see it being anything other than a huge disaster. The other libraries between 07/08 didn't have this catastrophic drop, only Walcot. Again where's the DCMS and the minister riding in to the rescue? Its clearly a hugely diminished service for very little saving. They're not going to solve the inter generational illiteracy in Wiltshire by less people reading books.

The final thing I wanted to briefly talk about, now the taskforce has been given more money and time to deliver whatever it is they're supposed to be doing. Its a scandal there's still no user representation on the taskforce. Same old faces from the same old bodies kicking the can down the road, purely with the purpose of giving Vaizey a defense when he's accused of doing nothing for the library service. I've suggested they ask the TLC to suggest someone to go on there. The comments on the taskforce blog are better and more insightful than the jargon filled content they're currently producing. These are particularly good

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

This is a British democracy, Bernard!

Lot of stuff flying round about the SCL and its decision to not support the CILIP My Library My Right campaign and Halifax teaching people computer skills. The things CILIP are campaigning for:

  • The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
  • Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
  • Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession

Which seems pretty straight forward, it seems to just be that libraries are recognised as the statutory service they are. So many times the LGA, councils and others have keep pushing the line that libraries aren't really statutory and they can be cut. I find it very peculiar that the SCL don't support this rather basic recognition of libraries. The president of the SCL has came out and defended the line yesterday in PLN. And I don't think anyone doubts the hard work the SCL and the task force are putting in, but whose agenda are they following? I keep coming back to the line on the SCL website: 

"advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people."

How can they not support My Library My Right but supposedly advocate for improvement of the library service on our behalf? They are in the odd position of having the Universal Offers (not a campaign) that says what your library service should provide, in great detail. But won’t support the user’s right to an actual library. To me they are both campaigns.

Is it because the offers were cleared by Vaizey and the DCMS so that campaign is ok? But because CILIP and library users have a low opinion of the superintendence of the library service by Vaizey and the DCMS, then SCL if it wants to remain in the tent can’t support it? Perhaps it’s not what you campaign on, it’s who you campaign with is the issue. Obviously I have nothing factual to base this on as we only see what’s minuted between the SCL/Taskfoce/DCMS etc and I suspect like what happens in government now to prevent FOI later on, any really meaty discussions never get written down. 

When I think of the LGA, SCL & the taskforce I’m reminded of the great Tony Benn quote:
“one can ask five questions:
  • what power do you have;
  • where did you get it;
  • in whose interests do you exercise it;
  • to whom are you accountable;
  • and, how can we get rid of you?
Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."

Again, just to stress, no one can doubt the hard work and hours put in by the SCL and Taskforce. But in whose interests are they really exercising the power they have? 

On the Halifax thing, no private company does anything unless there’s something in it for them. Subtle marketing, good PR. The private sector doesn’t do things for free. I think David McMenemy nailed it with this tweet:

How utterly, utterly awful it must be to lose your job, or have your job under constant threat because of “austerity” then have the banking sector leveraging ailing libraries for a bit of good PR.  Vaizey popped up to say when launching the digital champions "we couldn't do that job without companies like Halifax".

So they you go, Ed either doesn't think library staff know how to show people how to use computers or its a back handed recognition that libraries are losing staff fast and only the good will of the banking sector can save them.