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Children's Laureate attacks Future Libraries report

The recently appointed children's laureate Julia Donaldson has condemned the "Future Libraries" report as a "cost-cutting exercise" containing among its recommendations some likely to lead to a deterioration of the service.

The report, "Future Libraries: Change, Options and How to Get There", draws on the first year of the Future Libraries programme set up by culture minister Ed Vaizey, and has been issued by the Local Government Association and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Vaizey said the scheme "has shone a spotlight on excellent examples of innovation and creative partnership working" and called the report "a hugely useful resource, inspiring local authorities to emulate the best ideas to provide a first rate library service."

However, Donaldson told The Bookseller the minister's claims read like "empty rhetoric". She said: "I find it hard to see why Ed Vaizey professes to find this cost-cutting exercise so innovative and creative. Some ideas, such as partnerships between adjacent borough councils, seem sensible enough and probably would be happening anyway, but others—such as replacing trained librarians with volunteers—would be more likely to lead to a deterioration of the service."

She added: "Above all, I resent the underlying assumption that libraries should be underfunded by local government and should have to seek alternative ways to survive in the 21st century."

Donaldson said she would be much more interested in hearing Vaizey and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt speaking out about authorities such as Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Brent and Lewisham, which are currently drastically cutting their libraries. She said: "It is the legal responsibility of the government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport to superintend public libraries. Why, therefore, have we still not been told when they intend to announce a decision on exactly which local authorities will be subject to an official inquiry? The Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries were told in April that such a decision would be forthcoming but nothing has been heard."

Donaldson made reference to the speech Vaizey made at her own inauguration ceremony on 7th June. She said: "He told us that we mustn't believe all the doom and gloom about libraries which we read in the papers. There were good things going on behind closed doors, he said. At the time I wondered if this meant that friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and the other bodies which have called for inquiries would soon be given some news. Now I am afraid that he was merely referring to the disappointing 'Future Libraries' document."

The Waterstone's children's laureate joins other outspoken critics of the report, including CILIP chief executive Annie Mauger, campaigner Desmond Clarke, librarian body Voices for the Library, trade union Unison and the Women's Institute, which has adopted libraries as a campaigning issue. Heath Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said: "Community groups should not be forced into taking over services, as many will not have the capacity, or numbers to keep them going. This will lead to private companies getting their teeth into libraries in the long run, which could lead to charging."

Wakefield said more than 30,000 children were leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or below and that libraries were key to improving literacy, especially in deprived areas. She added: "The government must act to stop local authorities rushing through changes to services with no consultation. An investment in libraries is an investment in the future generation."

However, the report has found a fan in Barnet council, which says "Future Libraries" is "along the same lines" as its own policy. Barnet library campaigners have been given until 31st October to come up alternative ways of running the service in order to keep the three libraries, in Friern Barnet, Hampstead Garden Suburb and North Finchley, threatened with closure. The authority plans to raise around £3m by selling off the buildings.

Councillor Robert Rams, speaking to the Barnet & Potters Bar Times, said: “All the way through our review we have been looking at how we can enhance our service and how we can focus on improving literacy of young people in the borough. I am delighted that the MLA is running along the same lines and recognizes that the proposals we are making show how we can improve the service at a time of austerity.”

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Of course local authorities, such as Barnet, who are implementing drastic cuts are "delighted" as the report gives them the green light, unlike the people who they are supposed to be representing who fiercely oppose this blatant desire to pass statutory responsibilities on to service users.

It is great to see that Julia Donaldson is wasting no time in speaking out for libraries and library users. She came to visit us in Gloucestershire this week. Here is the link to our report. It was a novelty to be listened to for a change. Thank you Julia.

http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/julia-donaldson-childrens-lau...

Ed Vaizey - he is the man who found a creative way to fiddle his Parliamentary expenses. Claim for antique furniture ordered by his wife and have it delivered to the "wrong" address. Extremely creative when it comes to helping himself to public money and lining his own pockets.

Yes, lest we forget: about £2000 worth of high-end and antique furniture that Vaizey apparently decided should not be delivered to his second home, in Wantage, where he claimed he intended it to go. Instead he chose to have it delivered to his main home in London so that he could then drive the sofa, chairs, table etc to Oxon himself. I mean, if I had a lot of bulky furniture being delivered, I might not feel it was very convenient to have it delivered to another address and then have to schlep it over there myself. But then I'm not a minister.

I despair of the whole feral class which Vaizey belongs to. They don't know the difference between right and wrong. The social contract is broken, and nobody will take responsibility for their actions. If you ask me, we should bring in the water cannon.

"things going on behind closed doors" is EXACTLY the problem. We have been frozen out of every conversation regarding the future of our libraries and have not been listened to because our views and needs do not fit in with the governments agenda. The "good" bit I would dispute.

Julia, how do you propose that libraries make savings at a time when the local authorities that fund them are having their funding cut, or what other council services (social services, rubbish collection, schools, street cleaning, roads, etc.) should be cut more in order to keep library funding at current levels?

Council Worker
We do not have to keep 151 separately managed library authorities when we only had 98 authorities in 1997! We can look hard at central services charges imposed on library authorities and we can reduce management and support service costs. A recent FOI request in Oxfordshire, where Mr Vaizey has his constituency, reported that the later costs represented 30% of the library budget! At the same time Oxfordshire Council is proposing to close or transfer the management to volunteers for about 20 of its 43 libraries! Turkeys may be unwilling to vote for Christmas but Members should be demanding that officers eradicate unnecessary central services, management and support costs before closing community libraries.

Council worker
Perhaps if the billions of pounds that is retained by those dodging and avoiding paying their proper taxes was spent on the country as a whole, libraries would not be under threat of cuts and closure.
Perhaps if public money was being spent on public services rather than on bailing out the incompetent and greedy bankers who gambled with our future and lost, there would be no need to cut any of the services that you mentioned.

Absolutely, James, I agree with you 100%. But that's not on the cards, is it? So until politics in this country turns completely in the opposite direction from what is going on at the moment, what do you suggest in the meantime?

Desmond, I think you'll find that's what councils are doing at the moment, and the arguments you are making are about the most advantageous size of a local authority, not library specific comments.

That is a counsel of despair. It might not be on the cards now, but it is still possible to effect political change from the grass roots. We need to stop wringing our hands, telling ourselves there's nothing to be done, and become activists.

No it's not. If a council is facing 30% cuts this year, it's a realistic response to the place you find yourselves now. By all means campaign to change the way the world is run, but don't kid yourself that it's happening any time soon and that means that people actually running these things have to do something with the resources they have been given. Unless of course you've got a couple of billion quid stuffed down your underpants.

I do not understand why Jeremy Hunt, in the name of 'Culture', thinks hours of extra television viewing via a 'landscape of local TV services' is preferable to building up our public library services. Perhaps it is an attempt to discourage reading and so ensure that even more of us become disempowered couch potatoes?

Legally you are obliged to provide a decent library service, council worker. That may indeed put you in a conundrum, but it's the case, and residents will hold you to it and refuse to accept their service being treated as a soft option for cutbacks which ruin the service.

Yes local authorities do have to provide a library service, sadly though it is up to them to decide exactly what that service is, it could just be a mobile library or just one static library in the main town or city in that area - don't fool yourselves into thinking it means what most of us have at the moment. And as for all this talk of support staff - most of these support staff are the librarians as most library based staff are not qualified professional librarians, so fine sack all the librarians but what happens to the quality of the stock being selected and placed in the libraries and being managed once it's there - volunteers can help up to a point but isnt it just another way of making those who train and work hard for years to be told - we dont need professional librarians - a volunteer can do that, then what next volunteer teachers, volunteer surgeons!!! It's the thin edge of the wedge, libraries are an easy target - and actually most of them have been limping along for years on too little budget already!!

OK, which service would you cut instead then?

Personally, the gardeners. Seriously..they even water the plants WHEN IT'S RAINING! local people can maintain these things - just to keep the place looking nice.

They spent a whole day planting up out local park - it looked lovley, for 24 hours, then it was ripped to shreds by the local thugs. A total waste of time. If they got the thugs to do the planting in the first place, perhaps they would last a bit longer.

Would that it were so simple as the contributors to the comments pages and the rentaquotes in the articles seem to think.

Perhaps all the money that is owed in library fines by people who have not taken their library books back on time could be used as well, apparently it was about £181,000 over several years in North Yorkshire. I realise some people cannot afford fines, but local authorities should surely be doing something about this? Also, make the bankers give back all the money they were paid in bonuses while they were making such a mess of the banking system, take away MPs expenses, look at every area of society where money is wasted!

Of course local authorities, such as Barnet, who are implementing drastic cuts are "delighted" as the report gives them the green light, unlike the people who they are supposed to be representing who fiercely oppose this blatant desire to pass statutory responsibilities on to service users.

It is great to see that Julia Donaldson is wasting no time in speaking out for libraries and library users. She came to visit us in Gloucestershire this week. Here is the link to our report. It was a novelty to be listened to for a change. Thank you Julia.

http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/julia-donaldson-childrens-lau...

Ed Vaizey - he is the man who found a creative way to fiddle his Parliamentary expenses. Claim for antique furniture ordered by his wife and have it delivered to the "wrong" address. Extremely creative when it comes to helping himself to public money and lining his own pockets.

Yes, lest we forget: about £2000 worth of high-end and antique furniture that Vaizey apparently decided should not be delivered to his second home, in Wantage, where he claimed he intended it to go. Instead he chose to have it delivered to his main home in London so that he could then drive the sofa, chairs, table etc to Oxon himself. I mean, if I had a lot of bulky furniture being delivered, I might not feel it was very convenient to have it delivered to another address and then have to schlep it over there myself. But then I'm not a minister.

I despair of the whole feral class which Vaizey belongs to. They don't know the difference between right and wrong. The social contract is broken, and nobody will take responsibility for their actions. If you ask me, we should bring in the water cannon.

"things going on behind closed doors" is EXACTLY the problem. We have been frozen out of every conversation regarding the future of our libraries and have not been listened to because our views and needs do not fit in with the governments agenda. The "good" bit I would dispute.

Julia, how do you propose that libraries make savings at a time when the local authorities that fund them are having their funding cut, or what other council services (social services, rubbish collection, schools, street cleaning, roads, etc.) should be cut more in order to keep library funding at current levels?

Council Worker
We do not have to keep 151 separately managed library authorities when we only had 98 authorities in 1997! We can look hard at central services charges imposed on library authorities and we can reduce management and support service costs. A recent FOI request in Oxfordshire, where Mr Vaizey has his constituency, reported that the later costs represented 30% of the library budget! At the same time Oxfordshire Council is proposing to close or transfer the management to volunteers for about 20 of its 43 libraries! Turkeys may be unwilling to vote for Christmas but Members should be demanding that officers eradicate unnecessary central services, management and support costs before closing community libraries.

Council worker
Perhaps if the billions of pounds that is retained by those dodging and avoiding paying their proper taxes was spent on the country as a whole, libraries would not be under threat of cuts and closure.
Perhaps if public money was being spent on public services rather than on bailing out the incompetent and greedy bankers who gambled with our future and lost, there would be no need to cut any of the services that you mentioned.

Perhaps all the money that is owed in library fines by people who have not taken their library books back on time could be used as well, apparently it was about £181,000 over several years in North Yorkshire. I realise some people cannot afford fines, but local authorities should surely be doing something about this? Also, make the bankers give back all the money they were paid in bonuses while they were making such a mess of the banking system, take away MPs expenses, look at every area of society where money is wasted!

Absolutely, James, I agree with you 100%. But that's not on the cards, is it? So until politics in this country turns completely in the opposite direction from what is going on at the moment, what do you suggest in the meantime?

Desmond, I think you'll find that's what councils are doing at the moment, and the arguments you are making are about the most advantageous size of a local authority, not library specific comments.

That is a counsel of despair. It might not be on the cards now, but it is still possible to effect political change from the grass roots. We need to stop wringing our hands, telling ourselves there's nothing to be done, and become activists.

No it's not. If a council is facing 30% cuts this year, it's a realistic response to the place you find yourselves now. By all means campaign to change the way the world is run, but don't kid yourself that it's happening any time soon and that means that people actually running these things have to do something with the resources they have been given. Unless of course you've got a couple of billion quid stuffed down your underpants.

I do not understand why Jeremy Hunt, in the name of 'Culture', thinks hours of extra television viewing via a 'landscape of local TV services' is preferable to building up our public library services. Perhaps it is an attempt to discourage reading and so ensure that even more of us become disempowered couch potatoes?

Legally you are obliged to provide a decent library service, council worker. That may indeed put you in a conundrum, but it's the case, and residents will hold you to it and refuse to accept their service being treated as a soft option for cutbacks which ruin the service.

OK, which service would you cut instead then?

Personally, the gardeners. Seriously..they even water the plants WHEN IT'S RAINING! local people can maintain these things - just to keep the place looking nice.

They spent a whole day planting up out local park - it looked lovley, for 24 hours, then it was ripped to shreds by the local thugs. A total waste of time. If they got the thugs to do the planting in the first place, perhaps they would last a bit longer.

Would that it were so simple as the contributors to the comments pages and the rentaquotes in the articles seem to think.

Yes local authorities do have to provide a library service, sadly though it is up to them to decide exactly what that service is, it could just be a mobile library or just one static library in the main town or city in that area - don't fool yourselves into thinking it means what most of us have at the moment. And as for all this talk of support staff - most of these support staff are the librarians as most library based staff are not qualified professional librarians, so fine sack all the librarians but what happens to the quality of the stock being selected and placed in the libraries and being managed once it's there - volunteers can help up to a point but isnt it just another way of making those who train and work hard for years to be told - we dont need professional librarians - a volunteer can do that, then what next volunteer teachers, volunteer surgeons!!! It's the thin edge of the wedge, libraries are an easy target - and actually most of them have been limping along for years on too little budget already!!