October 27, 2013
Local libraries in a national framework
If I were writing a manifesto for public library services for the next general election (don't worry Phil, it won't happen) I would call it 'local libraries in a national framework'
We need to set some kind of ambition for every little local library - and then resource it properly and allow a local manager (paid, experienced and professional) to let the library provide everything that a library can do for local communities - books, staff, opening hours and energy
There needs to be a national infrastructure and framework of technical support- so that local libraries don't have to create their own.
And there needs to be accountability and responsibility at council level, to make sure that each library does its job and that every community is properly provided for
There don't need to be management structures or systems operations in each council -and it is by saving on those that we can create a new environment for a new library service
Among other things this would remove the practice of councils handing the contract for running libraries to a commercial body - there would be nothing to contract except responsibility - and they cannot do that even now
October 20, 2013
The English Public Library Service is beyond repair
Old Perkins has, in recent years, become a devoted and regular needy user of the National Health Service
I can report that A&E departments are far far better than the press reports tell you. They are wonderful - capable, competent, kind, efficient and often make for quite a good evening's entertainment. I know of several very good ones and no bad ones. I am alive to tell you.
If the Health Service (or the Army, or the school system) ever gets into the state that the public library service is in we would certainly all be doomed
With all the endless library arguments about large or small, professional or volunteer, more books or less, private or public, overheads or cuts- we never make any progress of any kind,
It is - as Desmond Clarke and now Alan Gibbons keep telling us - all about the need for strong leadership . Someone who knows what to do (and it isn't hard to say what to do) - who can tell loads of people to shut up - needs to be put in charge - so that urgently and quickly we can actually change things
There is a lot of shutting up required - and a lot of hard graft and facing down self interest. But there is fundamentally plenty of money and the public want to make it work (how many times have we said this on this blog?) - so the essential ingredients are still there.
I was with a not-for-profit technical company during the last week who have within their capability the solution to all the issues about merging services, simplifying overheads, offering ebooks in libraries - everything. They are keen to help and they are big enough for England to be a drop in their ocean. Libraries are what they do
Who could we talk to and offer our help? They asked me.
There is no one - I answered - no minister, no MP, no quango, no department, no manager, no CEO, no chief anything, no council, no professional body, no charity, no person with whom you could talk about what might be possible. There is no one.
The only people you could approach will all be more concerned about saving their own jobs - so they will be nice, but they won't want you to do anything
And until that problem is resolved the English Public Library service is beyond repair
Posted by: Trevor Craig at October 20, 2013 11:25 AM
September 27, 2013
DCMS figures show dramatic decline in reading in English libraries
It isn't just this Government that has failed libraries
Ten years ago I wrote a report called 'Who's in Charge - responsibility for the public library service'- in which I had been asked by two charities to frame the national state of the library service by looking in detail at the policies of one council - which was Hampshire
At the same time the Audit Commission research department wrote a report using a wider base of information
We both came to almost exactly the same conclusions which were that unless the library service focussed its resources on reading material it would continue to decline in use . Both of us predicted that unless there was radical change in management approach the service would not survive twenty years. - We were simply looking at the same graph of use of libraries for reading and we are now ten years down the same slope
As a result of those two reports Gerald Kaufman - who was then Chair of the Culture Select Committee - called for a review of libraries and their operation. The Select Committee came to exactly the same conclusions and made a set of extremely sensible recommendations for improvement that would have cost nothing at all. The problem was never about money - it was about the management of the service by those responsible - in the profession, in councils and the various bodies of central government - all of which needed to change direction
Resistance to those recommendations came from exactly those bodies and they were never implemented . By and large the Audit commission, the Select committee and my report all called for an increased focus of books in the library service - and that is the opposite of what was being done and what has been done since
It is getting a bit late now - but the analysis then was, I believe, right, and is still right, and in those library authorities where it has been understood the library service does still flourish - but they are increasingly a minority .. Fashion in Government thnking has driven out common sense
The problem is NOT about money - it is about a clear consistent determination to stock libraries properly with comprehensive and useful collections of books and other reading; making them agreeable properly equipped spaces in which to read or study; opening them for long hours so people can use them and having a base of knowledgeable experienced staff who can provide good service . There is still plenty of money to do those things if they are done with some efficiency - and when they are done properly libraries are well used and an asset - and councillors who are responsible for them get re-elected
A good library is in itself socially inclusive and helps people who are deprived of resources - it does not have to be made into some kind of social help centre in order to be a useful resource. Nor is there a need to preach to or 'develop' people - that is not the role of the library - the library is the resource to which people turn in genuine sensible need . They are incredibly cheap to run, most of the buildings were paid for a long time ago - and the staff in the libraries themselves work for small money and a little love . We shouldn't close them down.
Posted by: James Christie at September 27, 2013 7:51 PM
Posted by: Sally Long at September 28, 2013 11:58 AM
Posted by: James Christie at September 28, 2013 2:49 PM
September 23, 2013
Lincolnshire public library service
The last published CIPFA figures for Lincolnshire show that the County Council allocated £11.0 million pounds for the operation of the library service
Out of that amount they took back £4.2 million pounds as a contribution to paying the council overheads - the general HR department, tax collecting, council systems etc
That means that in reality they tried to operate 59 libraries with £6.8 m - and that has to pay for all the library management and some quite large libraries as well as small ones
in seeking to make savings of £2m instead of examining and reducing the overhead charges they propose to close half the libraries
You don't have to look further than these few figures to see the problem - and the solution -
-It has nothing to do with 'The Cuts'
-It has nothing to do with 'Central Government enforcing austerity'
-It has nothing to do with Trident Missiles
-It has nothing to do with The Bankers and their bonuses
-It has nothing to do with party politics - Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or Green
-It has nothing to do with reminiscing about the libraries of one's childhood
-It has nothing to do with Co-location of resources
-It has nothing to do with reducing the number of library authorities
-It has nothing to do with the Arts Council and their visions
-It has nothing to do with privatisation, or outsourcing or ringfencing or volunteers
-It has nothing to do with the internet and ebooks
-It has nothing to do with The DCMS
-It has nothing to do with Ed Vaizey
It has everything to do with the management of Lincolnshire County Council which is - on this data alone - clearly incapable of doing its job - and has been for a decade
Posted by: Ros Jackson at September 23, 2013 4:14 PM
Posted by: perkins at September 23, 2013 5:47 PM
Posted by: Trevor Craig at September 23, 2013 8:37 PM
Posted by: libraryvolunteer at September 24, 2013 12:57 AM
Posted by: perkins at September 24, 2013 5:51 PM
Posted by: Ros Jackson at September 26, 2013 1:49 PM
Posted by: perkins at September 26, 2013 8:33 PM
September 8, 2013
The Key Financial information in a library service
We hear about library closures brought about by financial necessity in councils. And we ask questions about how the money is being spent and where savings might be made
For someone not used to the way councils present financial information it is very difficult to obtain the key information to answer those questions. The style of reporting is quite different to anything that someone used to commercial accounting would recognise and the documents are not readily available and when they can be found they are hard to understand
What one needs are
1. CIPFA data. This is the annual return made about libraries to a body called the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accountants - a body which holds data about public services. The presentation of the data is very hard to understand and is not much help unless one can make a comparison both with previous years and with councils as a whole... but it is a report of costs and important performance data
2. The budget book for libraries. In each council there is a spreadsheet which gives detailed analysis against budget headings of how the money allocated to libraries is spent . The budget book is also generally very unclear about what the headings mean - but it is an account of proposed expenditure
3. A reconciliation between the CIPFA figures and the budget book. On first inspection it is generally very hard to see how both can be an account of the same thing- because very often CIPFA includes costs that the budget does not. Therefore one needs to see how that council has produced both
4. A management structure chart showing the libraries themselves and the other functions that are carried out in the library service. This will not be clear from any of the previous documents, but is needed to identify where money is spent .. It needs to explain the headings in the budget book
5. An account of the 'Council Service Charge' - which is the recharge made by the council for various services of which the libraries make use and can go under a variety of names (HR, systems, tax collection etc)
It is only with these pieces of information clearly presented that one can have an intelligent discussion about what the priorities are and where savings can sensibly be made that damage the service to the public.
I have never seen a council in which this information is available to the councillors responsible for making budget decisions- but perhaps there are some somewhere
Posted by: libraryvolunter at September 8, 2013 4:44 PM
Posted by: perkins at September 8, 2013 7:23 PM
Posted by: Hazel Robinson at September 10, 2013 9:59 AM
Posted by: libraryvolunteer at September 10, 2013 8:58 PM
Posted by: John Walker at September 11, 2013 11:47 AM
August 26, 2013
Chief Leisure Officer and the Chief Librarian
When a council finance officer needs to prepare for how to handle reductions in expenditure and the suggestion is made that the library service has to reduce its budget, the job of preparing a plan falls to the Chief Leisure Officer and the Chief Librarian
These are not elected people, they are generally well-paid officers of the council
There is no guidance given - no stated purpose for the library service - no rationale . It is at this point that the plan must interpret any 'local' need - and therefore where an argument for cutting expense may lie.
There is no accepted way of presenting financial information , no usual process of analysis, no tradition of what the libraries are for
It is only when a plan has been written with perhaps a few minor alternatives for how it might be implemented, that it gets to be seen by elected councillors - and, if they are the governing party, it is their job to defend what their officers have proposed
So when councillors find themselves defending a plan to close libraries, it is very hard for them to have understood or even to have influenced what is going to happen
It is a strange and rather amateurish system - given the amount of money it costs
Posted by: An ex-chief librarian at August 26, 2013 9:51 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 27, 2013 9:48 AM
Posted by: Amanda Field at August 27, 2013 8:41 PM
Posted by: Steve of North Ealing at September 1, 2013 9:38 PM
August 16, 2013
Ebooks in libraries are half the price of ebooks on Kindle
The argument goes simply - ebooks are an important factor in reading - use of them is growing- public libraries need to offer ebooks in order to satisfy the reading needs of the public- there is a legal/ technical need to allow libraries to join in the ebook revolution
But there is more to it than that
Amazon and Kindle have invented the ebook market - there is no doubt about that. Lots of people tried before them, but it was they who succeeded
And one of the main arguments they used is 'there are a lot of ebooks free' and they made them available on Kindle
Having captured the imagination of the world by doing that they moved on to say 'and proper books are available as ebooks - and they are cheaper than print books'
This horrified publishers - but it is true and Amazon are big enough to have prevailed
These aren't technical or legal arguments - they are market strategies
All the committees in the world might find some legal formula for public libraries to carry ebooks - but that won't persuade people to use them. And if people don't use the libraries they will be closed down
The argument we need is someone who will say " ebooks in libraries are half the price of those on Kindle"
Publishers are never going to allow libraries to give ebooks away for free - unless the library pays the full price every time . So there has to be a half way house - if we believe in subsidising reading then we have to pay for the books
"Library funding makes that possible"
It has to be more about paying for books and less about paying for library staff.... but I have been saying that for fifteen years
Then people would use the library service to get their reading more cheaply
That is the kind of persuasion that actually works
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 16, 2013 9:24 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 17, 2013 8:20 AM
Posted by: John Walker at August 17, 2013 1:27 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 17, 2013 5:16 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 18, 2013 10:54 AM
Posted by: John Walker at August 19, 2013 9:07 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 19, 2013 9:34 AM
Posted by: Ian Clark at August 20, 2013 9:41 PM
Posted by: John Walker at August 23, 2013 2:34 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 23, 2013 7:33 PM
August 10, 2013
James Christie's book is called "Dear Miss Landau"
And mine is called "Aldeburgh - a song of the sea "
If you can't find them in a library, they are both available on Amazon
Posted by: James Christie at August 11, 2013 9:44 AM
August 7, 2013
A message to CILIP management -- from a librarian - give me my money back
Yesterday James Christie, who is a published author and an Asperger's' sufferer, who comments regularly on this blog asked Annie Mauger if she would meet him to discuss, among other things, CILIP's policy on local library closures
She declined very quickly - and Perkins view is that as CEO of a large national charity she should have taken a different course, especially given James' background and circumstance. Kindness and conciliation are virtues to be sought. They were notably absent from her response, in my view
There was much that could have been gained from a meeting of the two - and still could be - and it should be reasonably public
James has posted here again this morning - he often writes in strong language - but he is a wonderful writer ....
I've been getting digests of library-related news for some time now and I don't think I have noticed any strong, bold statements by CILIP regarding the current closures and the increase in volunteers.
In Post-Lib 66, Frances Hendrix stated that "CILIP ... has changed, slimmed and become, well I am not really quite sure what it has become. It is supposedly for all librarians and libraries, but its reach, effect and influence seems to have waned."
"The real issue facing the profession is whether the professional bodies, SCL and CILIP, are actually trying to get across the message that librarians provide real value..."
And, most simply and devastatingly:
"Perhaps as a profession we need to challenge our professional bodies to do a lot more and a much better job at standing up for librarians and library assistants. You don't change national and local government policies by 'quiet diplomacy' or by having very infrequent meetings with a junior minister!"
I was a member of CILIP for nearly twenty years and nearly died from reading all the overwritten drivel spewed up in the LA Record and Update. I never got the sense of any vigorous powerful leadership doing anything very much and, again, when I actually faced a CILIP focus group in Newcastle-upon-Tyne three years ago, came halfway and offered to speak on behalf of CILIP, they couldn't even be bothered to respond.
No, I do not think you're doing your job, Annie, and I have no respect for CILIP, especially as you've now made it clear you personally won't even sit in front of me and answer me. The CILIP rebrand is the worst kind of wasteful spin, designed only to place a sticking plaster over the massive problems what's left of your "profession" faces, and it will do nothing, nothing at all.
Just like CILIP, really.
I could say quite a lot more, but it would not be nice.
A few years ago, I said I actually felt ashamed to be a librarian, and I was reminded of that last night. Worse, I am ashamed that I ever gave one red cent to CILIP. You weren't worth it and I'd like a refund, I have no respect for you and do not think you are being of any real help to your membership. The best thing that membership could do is simply stop paying their dues.
God, I'm glad I did.
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 7, 2013 8:06 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 7, 2013 8:40 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 7, 2013 10:49 PM
Posted by: Barbara Band at August 8, 2013 10:01 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 8, 2013 10:38 AM
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 8, 2013 11:27 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 8, 2013 11:36 AM
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 8, 2013 11:54 AM
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 8, 2013 1:57 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 8, 2013 2:14 PM
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 8, 2013 3:14 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 8, 2013 5:31 PM
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 9, 2013 11:55 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 9, 2013 12:28 PM
Posted by: Tom Roper at August 9, 2013 12:50 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 9, 2013 4:58 PM
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 10, 2013 5:51 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 10, 2013 9:40 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 10, 2013 10:02 AM
Posted by: James Christie at August 10, 2013 7:56 PM
Posted by: Andy Smith at August 11, 2013 10:50 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 11, 2013 11:18 AM
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 11, 2013 5:46 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 11, 2013 8:07 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 12, 2013 7:40 AM
August 3, 2013
There are still taxpayers paying for the library profession - that needs to be stopped
We are all watching the comic death throes of the library profession
The organisation ought to be put out of its misery but from somewhere it is still obtaining funds
Some of those funds come when publicly funded bodies -like local councils - pay the membership fees for belonging to a professional association . This is the kind of payment that rides forward in a budget from year to year without the scrutiny it needs. An accountant will assume that a professional body is ok (because they probably belong to one themselves and get their own membership paid for )
But CILIP - or LIPSUK or SYRUP or whatever they will become is not OK
And most certainly no public money should be used to pay for it
Councillors please take note
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 3, 2013 12:31 PM
Posted by: Tom Roper at August 3, 2013 2:43 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 3, 2013 4:03 PM
Posted by: Marie Macfarlane at August 3, 2013 9:20 PM
Posted by: Tom Roper at August 4, 2013 8:45 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 4, 2013 10:52 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 4, 2013 11:06 AM
Posted by: Karly at August 4, 2013 11:29 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 4, 2013 1:12 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 5, 2013 12:20 AM
Posted by: perkins at August 5, 2013 9:23 AM
Posted by: Ian at August 5, 2013 11:29 AM
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at August 5, 2013 12:08 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 5, 2013 2:23 PM
Posted by: Ian at August 5, 2013 2:56 PM
Posted by: perkins at August 5, 2013 8:25 PM
Posted by: James Christie at August 7, 2013 7:42 AM
Posted by: Andrew at August 8, 2013 12:43 PM