Authors protest 'axing' of Haringey children's librarians

Authors protest 'axing' of Haringey children's librarians

A group of authors are campaigning against changes to Haringey’s library service with a “day of action” planned for Saturday (9th September).

Writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Rosen and Kaye Umansky have added their names to a campaign concerned over the alleged “removal” of all dedicated children's librarians in the North London borough.

However, a spokesperson for Haringey Council refuted the allegation, saying it has "retained the same level of children’s expertise across our libraries and customer services team" with no librarians losing their jobs, but instead having different, more “generic” job titles.

The campaign group, known as ‘Save Hari’ is calling on local residents to join in a protest on 9th September outside Wood Green Library from 10.30am.

YA author and campaigner SF Said told The Bookseller: “Haringey Council deleted all their specialist children's librarians positions in a staff restructure last year.  It is true that they retained the existing staff, and so technically have ‘the same level of children's expertise’, but they have asked their specialist children's librarians to take on duties which do not relate to their specialism, and so do not allow them the time or space to be dedicated children's librarians. 

“Instead, they are now part of the general customer service team. [This] seems both a terrible waste of resources, and a failure of the council to meet their duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to run a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service.”

Said added: “Without dedicated children's librarians, a library service cannot be comprehensive or efficient, because its children's library will not be managed by a specialist who can deliver everything that the job needs.”

Said also told The Bookseller that no new children’s stock was bought for many months following the restructure which “speaks for itself as to what kind of service Haringey residents are actually receiving”. A council spokesperson has said that stock is bought "in cycles" which may explain the apparent gap.

Fellow campaigner and author Fiona Dunbar supported Said’s concerns. She said: “As well as choosing stock, reading widely and advising teens, younger children and their parents, these librarians coordinated author visits to local schools, ran mother and baby groups, and Chatterbooks children's reading groups. All this requires specialist knowledge, expertise and dedication.

"What Haringey has done is something akin to replacing a heart surgeon with an overstretched part-time GP.”

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, shared a letter on the subject to John Glen, junior minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, with her 18,000 Twitter followers, from her @CatherineWest1 account.

She said that many constituents had written to her concerned about the loss of all children’s librarians in the borough. “As you will be aware, there used to be five children’s librarians across the borough; now there are none. Given the support that these specially trained librarians provide for young people in our community, I am writing to ask if the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will review funding to help fund children’s librarians.”

A Haringey Council spokesperson said they had seen West’s letter and were in the process of writing a response to address her complaints.

According to the council, the concerns come down to the different job titles, rather than the jobs themselves being lost or changed. While there was a restructure a year ago with new “generic” job titles encompassing the words “customer service and library representative or assistant” none of the children’s staff lost their jobs and continue to focus solely on children without general customer service responsibilities.

The council said of the four library services manager roles, one of those is designated to children’s provision and another has oversight for children’s activities.

The Bookseller was also told by the spokesperson that there has been no loss of staff, no reduction in opening hours and all nine libraries have been kept open. They said the borough has invested in new technology and training for library staff.

Councillor Bernice Vanier, cabinet member for adult social care and libraries, said: “We are committed to maintaining and improving all of Haringey’s nine libraries, including a commitment to keeping them all open and to investing in new facilities and stock.

“We know how valued our children’s library services are, which is why we have retained the same level of children’s expertise across our libraries and customer services team, as well as offering staff training in areas such as children’s story telling. At each of our main library sites (Hornsey, Wood Green and Marcus Garvey) there are still staff dedicated to children’s library services, while many staff at local libraries also have children’s expertise.”

For more information on the campaign, visit savehari.com.