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The DCMS, Arts Council England and the Society of Chief Librarians need to take their heads out of the sand and confront the crisis facing the public library service.

The public library sector is desperately in need of leadership, effective advocacy and imaginative solutions. The only bright spot at the moment is the government's Sieghart Review which is seeking a solution to enable people, whatever their postcode, to borrow e-books from their library. But the fundamental problem is considerably reduced funding. That demands solutions that allow councils to better utilise and manage their resources. So what can be done?

Top of the list is to reduce the number of library authorities. We do not need 151 separate authorities in England, each with its own management structure, systems and different ways of operating the service. If we can have a single police authority for London, why do we need 30 separate authorities to deliver a library service in London?

There is now real evidence that the merging of library authorities can deliver significant savings without affecting frontline services. The triborough service for Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham has already delivered £1.2m in annual savings. Reducing the number of authorities in England by a third would deliver annual savings of at least £50m.

But the most obvious area to seek savings is from the corporate service charges imposed on library authorities by councils, which can equate to about 15% of a library authority's income. No one disputes that some allocation of these costs is necessary but there is no explanation why such costs should have escalated as a proportion of gross revenue by 70% in just a decade.

All this and more suggests that the public library service could deliver annual savings in excess of £100m without closing a single library. However, the scale of cuts being demanded is much greater and it is inevitable that public libraries will have to rely increasingly on volunteers in order to help keep community libraries open. But such
libraries must not be cast off without resources, professional support and a blueprint for a sustainable model. To do so is irresponsible.

It has long been obvious that the public library service is facing a crisis and urgently needs leadership and imaginative solutions to be able to deliver a "comprehensive and efficient" service for all who want to use it as prescribed in the 1964 Act.

However, that requires the minister and his officials, Arts Council England and the Society of Chief Librarians to face up to the problems. What we want to know is what they are doing to ensure that the residents of towns and villages from Kirklees and Cumbria to the Isle of Wight and Somerset retain access to a public library service without having to
take long and expensive bus trips to the central library.

The public library service is in real danger of falling off the cliff unless we all confront the crisis and put in place the effective leadership and imaginative solutions that are so badly needed. What really worries many in local government is that the situation is likely to get much worse from 2015 onwards as the funding crisis deepens.


Desmond Clarke retired as president and c.e.o. of International Thomson Publishing Services Group and is a former director of Faber and Faber. He is a library campaigner.

 

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Excellent!
This would not all be easy to achieve - but it IS a plan. And every word makes sense.

What we get, instead, from the 'official' bodies responsible for libraries – DCMS, SCL, ACE – is (1) assurances that everything is just fine, and/or (2) bright ideas how this or that individual service might improve its service a bit, despite the yawning financial abyss.

The problems - fragmentation, lousy leadership - have been well known for decades.
Nothing ever happened.

Now it's a crisis.

It seems to me the only group who realise this is library USERS and staff. I wonder how we might take charge and bang some heads together...

"There is now real evidence that the merging of library authorities can deliver significant savings without affecting frontline services. The triborough service for Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham has already delivered £1.2m in annual savings." Really? I take it you haven't read the open letter from the Westminster Library staff then? see http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=2792

While I agree that "the public library sector is desperately in need of leadership, effective advocacy and imaginative solutions", this isn't a plan but a one-dimensional proposal to merge local authorities. Apart from the unproven claim that such mergers would save money, which is what all local authority reorganisations promise, there is no evidence that any savings would be redirected into library budgets.

Personally I cannot see that there is anything to gain from increased centralisation of administration and control, which would effectively make management even more remote and less accountable than at present (and make fighting cuts even more difficult).

Transforming our Public Libraries

Public libraries should be seen as the street-corner universities they have always been, and not as entertainment and leisure centres. This does not mean that public libraries should cease to cater to people’s leisure needs in terms of books, music and film, but that those things should be seen as a part of the library’s role, not its only function. It is important to strengthen its role as a commons open to all.

There is a need for greater subject promotion, through lectures, talks, reading lists, online forums, videos and other forms of outreach,backed up by staff subject specialisation.

Volunteers – It has to be recognised that volunteers are already involved in greater numbers than ever and should be more closely integrated into staff training programmes etc. Volunteers in all libraries should be encouraged to join Unite Community Union.

Improve/ speed up inter-library lending between library authorities, so that supply times match those of competitors (eg) Amazon. Renewed emphasis on ‘archiving’ older, and out of print items, local items and non-book materials eg films, music etc. to ensure proper ‘long tail’ provision through the library service. End the 'ban' on stocking ‘academic’ publications.

Libraries should become workers’ co-operatives, run by the people who work in them and their readers.
They should continue to be financed and governed by the 1964 Public Libraries Act and financially supported from local taxation. Local authorities should continue to have a role co-ordinating specific services across a geographical area (eg catalogues and stock management systems) and as inspectors.

There should be much closer and active working links with universities and further education colleges, schools, Hospitals and health outreach organisations, Citizen Advice Bureaus, youth clubs, local press and community and voluntary groups. Providing services that support these organisations, but also promoting the library and the idea that library skills and resources can help them

Extension of online academic resources to public libraries (eg JSTOR), greater promotion of online resources, through publicity and public instruction. Extension of the BFI Mediatheque service to all public libraries. Greater use of social media to promote online resources.

Renewed promotion of local studies (ie not just local history) as a more prominent feature of library identity.

Libraries should provide local publishing facilities and support the establishment of local publishing networks and co-operatives. Promotion of local, photographic and oral history projects. Promotion of local environmental and community studies. More active promotion of local and national ‘consultative’ documents. Operation of local online ‘current awareness’ services.

Greater emphasis on staff training, introduction of library apprenticeships, and an end to professional/ non-professional divide by establishing a ‘professional’ career path for all workers. All library staff should be encouraged to join a union.

Local authorities should take advantage of the recent rule changes allowing Local Government Pension Funds to be used to finance construction, to ensure that all Library buildings are brought up to the highest standards in terms of Health and Safety, Access and utility.

Renewed emphasis on the Library as providing a space which brings together different resources – a commons which provides books films, music, online materials not available elsewhere, staff skills, quiet resourced study space, help and guidance, as well as contact and interaction with other users/ user groups/ study groups.

These are only small steps but taken together could make a real difference to the quality of public libraries.

There is one other change which needs to take place, however, and that is for central and local government to realise that they are inflicting serious damage to the public library service through their programme of cuts - cuts which incidentally are doing nothing to resolve the financial problems that face the country. Without an end to the cuts everything else is just window-dressing.

There is no need for Martyn Everett's fears to be true.

If such resources as are available to a council are concentrated on the branch and community libraries, with experienced staff and their own control over a proper book fund, then the service can still be very good and democratic and responsiblility can properly lie with local councillors

But this means not spending money on the distribution facilities, the bibliographic services, the management systems and the management structures - and all the attendant overhead costs that have grown up in the library service of each council

And, in addition, as Desmond says, it means thoroughly challenging the overhead that is apportioned by councils for the use of property management, further systems, and council administration.

Merging council costs in the library service, should actually also mean liberating each library so that it can have its own local management and be able to respond to its own neighbourhood. It should mean much less management imposed by individual councils. Good individual local library managers are a key.

By this route tremendous savings can be made and the service can be improved. It is a method that has been shown to work- but it does mean councillors in each council being capable of some very innovative approaches, and it does mean challenging the status quo of many senior council officers in a way they do not relish

Excellent!
This would not all be easy to achieve - but it IS a plan. And every word makes sense.

What we get, instead, from the 'official' bodies responsible for libraries – DCMS, SCL, ACE – is (1) assurances that everything is just fine, and/or (2) bright ideas how this or that individual service might improve its service a bit, despite the yawning financial abyss.

The problems - fragmentation, lousy leadership - have been well known for decades.
Nothing ever happened.

Now it's a crisis.

It seems to me the only group who realise this is library USERS and staff. I wonder how we might take charge and bang some heads together...

"There is now real evidence that the merging of library authorities can deliver significant savings without affecting frontline services. The triborough service for Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham has already delivered £1.2m in annual savings." Really? I take it you haven't read the open letter from the Westminster Library staff then? see http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=2792

While I agree that "the public library sector is desperately in need of leadership, effective advocacy and imaginative solutions", this isn't a plan but a one-dimensional proposal to merge local authorities. Apart from the unproven claim that such mergers would save money, which is what all local authority reorganisations promise, there is no evidence that any savings would be redirected into library budgets.

Personally I cannot see that there is anything to gain from increased centralisation of administration and control, which would effectively make management even more remote and less accountable than at present (and make fighting cuts even more difficult).

Transforming our Public Libraries

Public libraries should be seen as the street-corner universities they have always been, and not as entertainment and leisure centres. This does not mean that public libraries should cease to cater to people’s leisure needs in terms of books, music and film, but that those things should be seen as a part of the library’s role, not its only function. It is important to strengthen its role as a commons open to all.

There is a need for greater subject promotion, through lectures, talks, reading lists, online forums, videos and other forms of outreach,backed up by staff subject specialisation.

Volunteers – It has to be recognised that volunteers are already involved in greater numbers than ever and should be more closely integrated into staff training programmes etc. Volunteers in all libraries should be encouraged to join Unite Community Union.

Improve/ speed up inter-library lending between library authorities, so that supply times match those of competitors (eg) Amazon. Renewed emphasis on ‘archiving’ older, and out of print items, local items and non-book materials eg films, music etc. to ensure proper ‘long tail’ provision through the library service. End the 'ban' on stocking ‘academic’ publications.

Libraries should become workers’ co-operatives, run by the people who work in them and their readers.
They should continue to be financed and governed by the 1964 Public Libraries Act and financially supported from local taxation. Local authorities should continue to have a role co-ordinating specific services across a geographical area (eg catalogues and stock management systems) and as inspectors.

There should be much closer and active working links with universities and further education colleges, schools, Hospitals and health outreach organisations, Citizen Advice Bureaus, youth clubs, local press and community and voluntary groups. Providing services that support these organisations, but also promoting the library and the idea that library skills and resources can help them

Extension of online academic resources to public libraries (eg JSTOR), greater promotion of online resources, through publicity and public instruction. Extension of the BFI Mediatheque service to all public libraries. Greater use of social media to promote online resources.

Renewed promotion of local studies (ie not just local history) as a more prominent feature of library identity.

Libraries should provide local publishing facilities and support the establishment of local publishing networks and co-operatives. Promotion of local, photographic and oral history projects. Promotion of local environmental and community studies. More active promotion of local and national ‘consultative’ documents. Operation of local online ‘current awareness’ services.

Greater emphasis on staff training, introduction of library apprenticeships, and an end to professional/ non-professional divide by establishing a ‘professional’ career path for all workers. All library staff should be encouraged to join a union.

Local authorities should take advantage of the recent rule changes allowing Local Government Pension Funds to be used to finance construction, to ensure that all Library buildings are brought up to the highest standards in terms of Health and Safety, Access and utility.

Renewed emphasis on the Library as providing a space which brings together different resources – a commons which provides books films, music, online materials not available elsewhere, staff skills, quiet resourced study space, help and guidance, as well as contact and interaction with other users/ user groups/ study groups.

These are only small steps but taken together could make a real difference to the quality of public libraries.

There is one other change which needs to take place, however, and that is for central and local government to realise that they are inflicting serious damage to the public library service through their programme of cuts - cuts which incidentally are doing nothing to resolve the financial problems that face the country. Without an end to the cuts everything else is just window-dressing.

There is no need for Martyn Everett's fears to be true.

If such resources as are available to a council are concentrated on the branch and community libraries, with experienced staff and their own control over a proper book fund, then the service can still be very good and democratic and responsiblility can properly lie with local councillors

But this means not spending money on the distribution facilities, the bibliographic services, the management systems and the management structures - and all the attendant overhead costs that have grown up in the library service of each council

And, in addition, as Desmond says, it means thoroughly challenging the overhead that is apportioned by councils for the use of property management, further systems, and council administration.

Merging council costs in the library service, should actually also mean liberating each library so that it can have its own local management and be able to respond to its own neighbourhood. It should mean much less management imposed by individual councils. Good individual local library managers are a key.

By this route tremendous savings can be made and the service can be improved. It is a method that has been shown to work- but it does mean councillors in each council being capable of some very innovative approaches, and it does mean challenging the status quo of many senior council officers in a way they do not relish