September 30, 2006
The Conservative Party and public libraries
This is the weekend of the Conservative Party annual conference and, in the world of public libraries that event has been marked by the Shadow Minister for public libraries writing a letter to the Bookseller, which I shall quote in a moment.
Since January this year when Michael Fallon MP and former Minister sought views about and then criticised the Government for its inadequate response to Sir Gerald Kaufman's Select Committee report, the Conservatives have taken extraordinary pains to acquaint themselves with the subject.
They have learned, I think, that there are two quite unreconciled and different views: the first that "libraries are much more than about books" and the second that "restoration of the book collections is a priority". They are also see two quite different camps. one that "advocates for more money, for more partnerships and seeks to underline the impact of libraries on society" and the other that says simply "there is plenty of money, but it is managed badly, without clear leadership and direction". And most important of all they have seen the two quite separate analyses; firstly that "libraries are playing an excellent role in local communities and making a great contribution to reading and learning" and the other that "the public library service is in complete crisis and unless the problems are conceded and addressed its collapse is imminent".
In each case I believe the Conaervatives agree with the second view and not the first and in each of these statements the resolution of the problem requires decisive change from the depths of the roots of the service. It is no good pretending that somehow, by some magic massage, the current institutions departments, quangoes, agencies and professional bodies and management structures are, by themselves, by some review process, going to begin to put things right. They aren't
Last week Richard Charkin wrote this article.
This week Mark Field MP has responded as follows:
29 September 2006 Tories support Charkin
I agree with every word that Richard Charkin wrote ("Library vandals", 22nd September) especially his recommendations and his final comment that the government should stop pretending things are fine in the library service.
I have not yet met or conversed with Mr Charkin, but his global knowledge of the value of books, reading and libraries will surely far exceed my own and, I suggest, most of the government's advisers.
The British public is greatly concerned that our public book lending service is being cruelly damaged through this government's lack of vision and direction. The Conservative Party can and will battle to represent the library customer in this deepening crisis. We aim to encourage local councils to review their strategies and build on the historic value of our libraries rather than reducing book stocks and closing the smaller, local branches.
Mark Field MP
Shadow Minister for Culture
September 29, 2006
The End of the Book
I am very grateful to Mr Elgar Atkins of Horatio Nelson Way, Bloggington on Sea for this article from his box.
Mr Atkins is, of course, the author of "Naval Manoeuvres in Bloggington Bay in the reign of Queen Anne" in 26 volumes. A rare complete set of these fine editions used to stand in the Naval History section of the Carnegie library on the dockside at Bloggington, but now volumes 12-16 have been removed in order to provide sleeping quarters over the radiator for Perkins the library cat.
Just now Perkins and Mr Grimsdyke, the town librarian, are on secondment to the northern city of Dumchurch.
September 28, 2006
Price Waterhouse Cooper review rejected
There is an article in today's edition of the Bookseller which reports that the "Central Buying Consortium" has decided not to join the scheme proposed by Price Waterhouse Cooper and the Government for improving efficiency of procurement of library books.
A Mr Lee Hammond of CBC, which represent about 20 large English councils, is quoted saying that the reason is that "the consortium already achieves the upper end of discounts cited by PwC. "
Mr Hammond's observation is open to question. On this blog earlier in the week I reported the evidence of one library authority which had claimed to its councillors and senior officers and the public that it was achieving "the best discounts available because of its membership of CBC" . Analysis of actual invoices showed that the maximum discount was 35% and more significantly that actual discount achieved across the whole sample was 21.8%
This is neither secret nor confidential. Mr Hammond and his colleagues are buying £12m of library books each year with public money. High discounts, which are available, bring more value for public money in an area in which it is much needed
Readers familiar with the book trade will notice that 35% is not a high level of discount and that book suppliers, being very professional negotiators, are quite able to include lots of exception clauses in an agreement.
I should add that this council is by no means exceptional. In every council in which I have worked there has been no system that measures and reports actual discount achieved on book purchases, and when I have taken samples in order to find out, the achieved discount is much less than that which appears in any library document. Moreover, my experience is that the discounts achieved by CBC are hardly different to those achieved by individual councils.
If only PwC had included some facts and details in their study, these matters could be addressed.
The article is below
Consortiums reject library supply overhaul
Plans to overhaul the library supply chain suffered a major setback this week, after the UK’s largest public library buying consortium, Central Buying Consortium, said it would not be joining the scheme.
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had proposed the establishment of a central contracting agency by 2008, supported by up to 10 regional serving “hubs”. The move followed recommendations by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and aimed to help the sector use its scale to gain bigger discounts from publishers. The MLA predicted that the structure would cost between £4.5m and £7m to set up, and would save £22m a year if all 149 English library authorities came on board.
But the CBC, which represents a quarter of the authorities, said in a letter to the MLA that it plans to renew its existing wholesale contracts into 2009, because it thinks the proposed structure may cause it to lose money. The MLA has no statutory power over local authorities and depends on them to come on board.
Lee Hammond, CBC spokesman and head of procurement for West Sussex county council, said the consortium already achieved the upper end of the discounts cited by PwC, “and could exceed that when the contracts are extended”.
The organisation said in its letter to the MLA that the new structure was likely to make book purchasing more rather than less expensive for CBC members, as servicing, transport and distribution costs would no longer be subsidised by suppliers.
“There are additional costs associated with the regional hubs . . . that may well make the model more expensive than our current arrangements,” it said. “We have no other business option than to proceed in this way [because] members cannot afford to lose the benefits that they enjoy currently.”
Frustration in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire
These are big Tory councils who seemed determined to go out of their way to deprive the public of their libraries.
In Bucks it takes the from of an anguished note "a disenchanted frequent user of Aylesbury ref library. Much correspondence enclosed re unsuitable tables (too small for spreading out papers etc.) and hopeless replies from Musset etc. and Mrs Dewar. "
And in Herts it is the decision of the county council to revert to short opening hours in a number of libraries whose hours had been lengthened as an experiment 2 months ago.. Of course the book collections remained appalling and the council can only think to chastise the public for not finding anything useful in their libraries. Can you imagine Marks and Spencers behaving in such a crass manner?-- yet believe me these council managers are paid just as much and have just as abundant resource at their disposal as anyone in Marks and Spencer.
September 27, 2006
Cumbria seeks improvement
There is a spirit of innovation in Cumbria- where the budget is very tight
Special Frankfurt book fair offer to library suppliers, publishers
This site is now looked at by more people in the UK public library service, readers in public libraries and associated government departments every day, than any other website in the solar system
Advertise here at a fraction of the cost of the front window of Waterstone's or the brown envelope department of DLA (Delay- the Department of libraries and archives)
Rates available on request. . come on liven up the Tram Lines. contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Hawtree writes from Hove
"It is books that do libraries' work for them. Word spreads that there is a good, readily available collection, new and old. There is no need of razzmattazz, word of mouth does its stuff.
Here in Hove, where we have had a celebrated struggle to keep our Carnegie library, there is palpable joy as it accumulates more stock. Every time that I look along the shelves of reserved books which readers have requested, I marvel at the spread of interests and enthusiaasms which people have. The whole point of a library.
The Library is willing to buy all manner of things, and with any institution, it responds to readers.
Across the country, readers should be alerted to the fact that the library system can provide all manner of books: ask for something, and it will come along.
The more that readers can be pesuaded to do this, the more that the powers-that-be will realize that there is a public hungry for books, which, in turn, is good for publishers hard-pressed to get their books through the 3-for-2 maw of the chainstores.
Books, not consultants!"
September 25, 2006
Longer opening hours in Swansea
Here's good news from South Wales
I was sent this, this morning, by a kind reader in the provinces:
From: Chartered Library and Information Professionals [mailto:LIS-CILIP@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Chris Armstrong
Sent: 25 September 2006 09:38
Subject: Public Libraries: Criticism and CILIP
Many of us will have read, probably with mounting frustration, the continued attack by Tim Coates on the management and policies surrounding public libraries in the UK. Recently, Richard Charkin of Macmillan Publishers was invited to speak to the National Acquisitions Group during their conference, and he has summarized what he said – and what he has since published in The Bookseller – on his blog
Broadly speaking, he is of one accord with Tim Coates, at least insofar as being appalled by the statistics of decline. Less interestingly, he also has a solution – but that, like the statistics themselves, for which I cannot vouch and which I do not recommend to you in any way other than to suggest that they need investigating and verifying if you are a public librarian, is not the point of this email.
Rather, it is to suggest that two things should be happening in the light of the ongoing publication and publicising of this issue; indeed should have been happening for some time now (can CILIP really have failed to comment thus far on the charge that “30% of [public] library buildings are no longer fit for use” (Charkin)?). AND, that they should be happening with high visibility in all the CILIP and library communities, and by all means of publication, both print and electronic.
1. CILIP should respond in a reasoned and robust way to the charges made. The response should be published widely and be highly visible. It is not sufficient to denigrate the authority, stance or the wisdom of their authors; rather it is necessary to examine the charges – in some detail – and to suggest appropriate ways forward. If, as seems likely, some of the statistics (or at least the trends) given are correct, then CILIP – as the professional body representing public librarians and as advocate for the profession – should be advising on ways to improve or rectify the situation, that is:
2. CILIP – which rightly makes much of its advocacy role – should advise the Minister, the MLA, and government in general on an appropriate policy to rescue public libraries (I use the term as a generic term as do Richard Charkin and Tim Coates, but perfectly well aware of the successes which exemplify good practice, such as the new library in Brighton which I visited recently). A strategy to “re-establish that the prime objective of libraries is to lend books and [to increase] book stocks” (Charkin) and to spend monies more appropriately than the reported £4m on MLA consultations would be a step in the right direction.
This is the reason that CILIP members pay their subscriptions – to hear their professional body speak on their behalf. Of course, IF it can be shown that the entire set of statistics, and the premises that result from them, are false then the situation is less serious… BUT we still need to hear from CILIP with a detailed corrective of each and every point.
National Councillor (CILIP)
Information Automation Limited
September 24, 2006
Richard Charkin, Public Libraries and Google
May I draw readers attention to Richard Charkin's blog this morning.
The matter of Google is particularly interesting and informative;you can see from Richard's explanation, the very serious questions that are being raised that affect a publisher's need to protect the copyrights of their authors and writers. I'm in the curious situation - (actually as we all are) of needing them both. There is a veritable bear pit into which one fears to tread-- I wonder how it will look in a hundred years time.
There is also a good debate going on about public libraries
Another librarian writes
This is from a correspondent in a medium sized library service
"There can be little doubt, from my point of view, that there is a lot of dead wood being carried by the service. But it is imperative to realise that there is no malice in these people. Most of them are not only thoroughly decent folk, but they also care deeply about the jobs they do. Most of the problems stem from them doing their assigned jobs to the letter, just as they have done for (in some cases) decades. Inertia is a natural human phenomenon - change is something we resist unless it is something we feel will actively benefit us. Resentment is easy to create when you tell people that their jobs are pointless. What needs to be done is to *change the nature of their jobs while they are still in them*. I think a surprising number would adjust quite well to more active roles, once the opportunity to make a difference was laid in front of them.
Suffice to say there is no shortage of staff in our service, yet nor is there a shortage of work needing to be done. If every single desk-based worker (middle management and accessions/bib.servs. staff) did a mere couple of hours a day either on counter or out shelving, just like most of our front-line librarians, info. assts. (and of course us assistants!) the change in workload would be astonishing. We constantly have a minimum of five trollies full of books waiting to go back out - sometimes we run out of trollies and have to pile books on the floor so we have trollies to work from. If we get a shelf check for a book that was returned within the last three or four working days, it can be anything up to an hour-long job to look for it. In the meantime, us assistants are frequently dispatched to cover empty shifts in other branches due to stress and long-term illness, which could easily be covered by the branch management team doing a bit of counter work. We are spreading a dwindling amount of margarine over an ever-growing slice of bread - coverage is suffering, as is the morale of frontline staff. We've had a library review process, and a report resulting from it, but rumour seems to support the notion that its teeth were pulled to avoid potentially upsetting people (don't quote me on this, merely oft-repeated hearsay).
As I keep saying, I don't want to see people upset and dismissed as worthless, but it is plain to see *we have to use what we have to hand in a more sensible way*. It strikes me that the way to do that would be to nudge in slight changes to the daily work patterns of staff who spend little time actually dealing with the meat of our business. Those who really couldn't stand the change would either leave or stick it out until retirement. But I honestly believe a lot of them might find themselves enjoying a change of pace, and find themselves applying themselves with the same fervour that they already exhibit for the jobs they have done successfully for years.
The staff haven't become a problem. The world has changed, and *the way the business works has become a problem*. So let's change the business, and let the people change themselves. Steady incremental change is the way to go; big restructurings will cause as many problems as they solve. One little change every week, or maybe every month if the resistance is strong. But CHANGE. Steady. And now."
September 23, 2006
More expenditure on consultants
The MLA is boasting this weekend that it has commissioned yet more consultancy work which predicts that public libraries will use wireless internet connections
I have a wireless internet connection in our house; computers work anywhere. The kit costs £60 at PC World. Councils run library services and they all have large IT departments. They may be expensive and of variable quality- but we do pay for them.. So why does the MLA need to spend this money? Is there no chief executive who says "We have priorities to address; money must produce measurable improvement; etc " ? Is this work something that councils have asked for because they can't work out the answers themselves? Are they paying for it? Or is it all just somebody's whim? Should we have a piece of research about whether libraries with resident cats are more relaxing than those with just mice?
Books in libraries
One of the measures that retailers use and that public libraries used to use was the response to question "Did you find what you were looking for, or something suitable?" of the public as they leave the premises
Big retailers measure the response to these constantly- so that each month, or each quarter, they can see a trend upwards or downwards. Typically they would worry if the answer falls below 85% saying yes.
This week I saw the figures for a similar survey for a sample of public libraries. The answer to the question "Did you find what you were looking for or something suitable?" The number who anwered yes was just less than 3%. This survey was not carried out just among library users, but (effectively by the way it was done) among "people who have read or used a book in the last year".
I wondered for a while why that measure no longer appears in the public library standards. Now I know the answer.
Incidentally, in terms of resources for carrying out this kind of work, the public library service in the UK is far larger than any retailer- with 4,000 branches and more than 20,000 staff. It shouldn't be difficult to sample the quality of the service and measure what is happening.
September 22, 2006
The society of women writers and journalists
The society of women writers and journalists, which was founded in Victorian times- and now includes men!- contacted me the other day and I am absolutely delighted to hear from Ann Hamilton:
"We at the Society of Women Writers and Journalists are very concerned about the government's attitude towards libraries in Britain today. The pro-books, pro-libraries campaign must be heard. Provision of books for all is essential for the future of Britain. One fifth of all school age children are not attending studies on a regular basis. People need to rediscover the joy of reading, hearing audio tapes or being able to view dvds at their local libraries. My library is open only 3 days a week and there are always people waiting for the doors to open. Libraries are a place of wonder for small children. Holding a book, looking at pictures, listening to a story being told. The student can find all they need through talking to an experienced librarian. Closing libraries is not the answer to the government's financial difficulties. It only makes the populace more distrustful - what will happen next? Schools being run only 4 days a week? Libraries should be the top agenda-build more and fill the shelves. to fill the brains of present and future generations. "
September 21, 2006
Philip Pettifor writes to The Guardian
Philip Pettifor is one of the leading market and communication strategists in the field of book retailing and publishing. Actually he's just a very nice rather clever person.
Here's his letter to the Guardian this week
Not by the book
Tuesday September 19, 2006
Andrew Stevens misleads us on the new library standards (Letters, September 13). True, three times as many libraries are open more than 60 hours a week today, but that makes just 78 libraries out of 4,700. True, library visits are up - by just 5% - but visits are still 5% below the number for 10 years ago. Stevens says "more books ... have been bought"; but more books have also been scrapped. The UK library book stocks have fallen by more than 12 million (10%). This misleading use of data is symptomatic of a lack of determination to address the issue. The problem will never be solved until those responsible acknowledge that there is a problem.
Richard Charkin writes
There have been 4 interesting articles in the papers in the past few days. I shall try and assemble them. This is the first, by Richard Charkin, ceo of Macmillan Here is his article in the Bookseller
21 September 2006
Last week I addressed leading librarians at the National Acquisitions Group annual conference. Here are some of the things I learned while doing my research:
1) The minister for libraries has no power to administer libraries--this is handled by local authorities; 2) Expenditure on books has fallen from 14.4% to 8.5% of the budget over the past decade; 3) The collection has been reduced in the same period by 20 million books; 4) 100 libraries have been threatened with closure this year; 5) 1,000 library buildings in England are no longer fit for use (30% of the total); 6) The Museums, Libraries & Archives Council has spent £4m on various consultants since it was formed; 7) Libraries are chronically short of books, and those with poor stock fail to attract users; and 8) In spite of words to the contrary, the government and the MLA seem bent on turning libraries into community centres, outreach posts, and IT training camps.
I also learned that the annual UK public library book acquisition budget is £90m, the cost of "selectors" is £45m, the cost of acquisition processes is £200m, and the annual revenue and capital cost of the library service is £1.3bn. During the past decade, overhead costs have risen by 5% p.a.; book purchasing has fallen at the same rate. In short, public libraries are in crisis.
The solution is not simple, but here are a few suggestions: 1) Re-establish that the prime objective of libraries is to lend books, and that stocks need to be increased by an initial doubling of the budget; 2) Work with libraries to ensure that the money is spent efficiently, eliminating multiple classification systems in local authorities and ensuring rapid dissemination of new books; 3) Use the publishing industry's media contacts and authors to generate support for libraries and librarians; and 4) Back consultant Tim Coates' initiative to work with three or four local authorities to act as exemplars for the rest of the network.
Publishers and authors arguing for higher expenditure on books will be seen as special pleaders, but sometimes change benefits everyone. I will probably get into trouble with the minister for libraries, as he has said: "I get heartily sick and tired of self-appointed, unelected, unrepresentative groups who dogmatically say that libraries are for this and not for that."
I also get heartily sick of certain things. My list includes bureaucratic waste, missed opportunities to improve education in deprived areas, vandalising a national treasure through inaction, and putting political and personal interests ahead of the needs of the general public.
The government should cease pretending things are fine, and take action now.
Richard Charkin is chief executive of Macmillan and former PA president
September 20, 2006
A real procurement scandal
Tonight I have been leaked the "procurement tender" document for a large English council. It tells me how the decision is made to appoint one supplier rather than another. There are a whole list of criteria including whether the vendors have a showroom and whether they deliver on time. The document says that just 30% of the weighting is given to the price (or the discount) which the supplier charges.
In other words, if they have a nice showroom -and lots of other features like regular meetings- that can be easily more important than the price.
That is a scandal -- when we need as many books as we can and book funds are dwindling-- the value for money- -the number of books for your pound-- has to be the dominant criterion
If there had been no other reason for this blog than to expose this scandal, it would have been worthwhile. Imagine a buyer at WH Smith explaining to his or her director --
"we gave the contract to the most expensive bidder, because they have a nice showroom"
Oh my goodness. I am really am lost for words.. I shall leak all the details to the newspapers in due course.
The Armchair Anarchist makes some big points:
This came this evening. Many thanks Mr Armchair. No crumbs here: I agree with this
"I don't know details and causes, but I'm told we lost a third of our book budget this year. I don't know where it went. It certainly wasn't on improving the buildings, though...
So, without the benefits of economic training or an insight into the arcane convolutions of local politics and council accounts-cookery, I cannot offer any great cures for the problem. It's a system that I don't understand, simple as that. But I *can* talk about why I feel that a
drop in book budget is another straw on the back of a seriously sick camel.
When library usage started to fall, the first reaction was to look for a new sub-set of customers - 'if people aren't coming for books, we'd best add more strings to the bow - diversify or die, as the man once said.' What this did was *dilute the entire concept of libraries*. The core user group who were leaving were dissatisfied with the book service they were getting. So how was paying even less attention to books supposed to get them to come back?
The focus was thrown away; and the worse the situation gets, the more the decision makers flail around for a piece of driftwood in the sea, not realising that swimming back to the solid shore of book lending is the easiest and most sensible option. *Libraries should lend books*. Stop focussing on that, and watch your users bleed away to Amazon and the high street. Simple market forces.
September 19, 2006
Here is a curious set of questions.
Answers posted here will be passed on to the biscuit factory.
2 serious points;
- These are not the questions that should be debated when book stocks have been decimated, libraries are being shut, library buildings are collapsing and the service is falliing apart
- Publishers should stop providing funds to The Reading Agency through its partnership agreemnts for any activities until The Reading Agency gets a grip on the fundamental problem of buying more books and improving book collections.
What this conference invitation describes is expensive waffle
September 18, 2006
A senior professional librarian writes
"The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act requires minister David Lammy to intervene when councils are failing to provide a comprehensive and efficient service- which he has described as meeting the "Public Library Service Standards". He is also required, by that Act, to seek and superintend continuous improvement of the library service in each council and to obtain the information to enable him to meet this duty.
It is widely recognised that in 2007/2008 many councils, especially rural ones, will face very difficult budget settlements. Thus we all expect library closures and book fund cuts. Or to put it another way many councils will be even further away from meeting their statutory obligations for libraries.
Can anyone tell us what the MLA and DCMS are doing in terms of gathering information in order to assess the likely deterioration of libraries next year? If there is no information how can the minister ever be in a position to exercise his reponsibilities?
Why also do they continue to ignore Tim, who is the only person out there suggesting a remedy?
Is there an MP, who reads this, who might start asking these questions?"
Falling down library buildings
Readers of the Daily Telegraph should be able to follow the story of the falling down library buildings in the morning.
"70% are still standing" announced DLA (Delay- the department of libraries and archives) - and that is a major achievement."
The department is playing the whole matter with a straight Bat (which is a cricketing expression) . Mr Custard Cream is driving the digger and Mr Chocolate Profiterole and Miss Jam Sponge are standing by with bags of rubbish. Lord Ginger Nut has fallen in the teapot.
All the bricks from the collapsed library buildings are needed for the ten new regional cake filling and library book processing factories. Not a clod will be wasted
The Department of Common Sense has closed for a religious festival leaving a sign on the door assuring everyone that "everything is fine". Mr Woolly Jumper and Miss bo Peep have gone out to breakfast with the Countess of Lemon Curd.
No books for Lancashire
If you read these articles from the Lancashire newspaper, no one makes the connection between book lending going down and the quality of books going down. No one suggests that in order to make the libraries useful again, the quality of the collections needs to be improved.
Yet all the evidence, of life and of libraries around the country, suggests that there is an extremely close connection
When people say, as they frequently do, that there is a lack of leaderhip from the DCMS and the MLA when enormous county councils argue in this way, as if they lived in a world of their own, this is what they mean.
Lanacashire is no different to anywhere else. Libraries need books to perform their function. A lot of relevant, up to date books.
September 17, 2006
Major new initiative on the public library service
I intend to call for a major initiative on public libraries.
The budget round which is just beginning is likely to lead to many closures and another severe reduction in book purchasing. All the problems which cause these things to happen have been identified but still lie unaddressed.
My intention is to work with 3 or 4 councils who will act as pilots and in these there will be a thorough overhaul of the practice and the delivery of the service, so that it becomes quickly, both satisfactory to the public and efficient in operation
I am writing to people indicating my intention to do this and looking for support and commitment. I have asked the MLA, who are the official body, to work with me. However my intention to proceed does not depend on their response.
If you are prepared to commit to this initiative - or would like to discuss it with me, please contact me. We must proceed within weeks not months
Since first posting this entry yesterday, I have secured the support of 2 councils, a major publisher, a senior department of Government and a few very helpful individuals. I need more, but thank you.
A voice from Llareggub
Llareggub is the village in Under Milk Wood; it is a backwards place. We've had copmmentary from Powys but It's time we had more views from Wales; here is clarity itself, from Verity Panglais- thank you, it is very good to hear from you.
"The MLA report on library buildings in England makes grim reading, and I am sure that situation in the rest of the UK is no better: but you’re quite right – there is money in library budgets which could be used for improvements.
A glance at Appendix 1 of your Libri report Who’s in charge ? gives a clue about where too much library funding goes. In Hampshire, apparently at least10% of the staff appear to have managerial or administrative functions only.
Anyone with any experience of public libraries knows that such top-heavy management structures are the rule, rather than the exception.
We know such hierarchies are expensive, but are they efficient? Given that UK library managers have presided over a catastrophic decline in book funds (the source of their core service) to a mere 8.8% of total budget and a dramatic fall in use levels, they are certainly not effective.
But there are libraries in the UK where things are done very differently. Cardiff has a population of more than 330,000, with 20 libraries, and it has had no post of ‘Chief Librarian’ since 2001. The service is run by a team of 5 senior librarians, led by a Library Development Manager.
All, except the Development Manager, have other responsibilities as well - stock, children’s services, etc - and their total salaries are less than £145k a year, from a library budget of nearly £5 million.
Since 2001, Cardiff’s stock budget has risen, although from a very low base, by nearly 300% (to more than 20% of total budget) and there has been a successful building programme, in which more than 25% of the city’s libraries have been completely refurbished or replaced. The service has one of the highest satisfaction rates in the UK for requests for specific titles.
Against the national trend, issues and use levels are rising, slowly but steadily.
There are doubtless many aspects of the service that could be improved – there is a desperate need for more frontline posts, and longer opening hours, with more promotion of the service to non-users, for instance – but it’s very doubtful whether the presence of a ‘Chief’ would make any difference at all to achieving these.
But until the local councillors responsible for running libraries have to account for the costs of their management hierarchies, these funds will remain under-used."
It costs more money to repair the buildings
"But they WILL say there isn`t enough money and people will believe them because as we all know building work costs a lot more than new books. So there will be a cry of 'We would certainly repair all these buildings if only.....'
I'm sure they will say that, but I stick to my view (and my experience). In the UK each the library service spends a total of £1.3bn - of which £100m is on capital works.
Out of that total, inefficient practice, of the kind we talk about on the blog and which people now freely acknowledge, takes £300m. If that £300m were equally split: an extra £150m for books and an extra £150m for building redecoration and repair; within 5 years the whole estate would be in prime condition
It is as easy as that. A council I know extremely well, which has a total expenditure of £4m per annum and was on the point of closing libraries, having already reduced its book expenditure to a minimum level, found, on careful examination that £800,000 that it spent, added nothing to the service received by the public. By allocating £400,000 pa to books and £400,000 pa to buildings, they, in fact will transform the service in 3 years, and at the end have some spare to give back to the council. When the programme is complete, their library service will be wonderful; second to none. They will be reading this and recognise themselves.
What did the £800,000 comprise? Join the programme and I'll tell you. They'll tell you themselves. Don't ask Price Waterhouse.
September 16, 2006
1000 public library buildings not fit for purpose
On Monday the MLA will announce that 1000 public library buildings in England alone are not fit for purpose and a lot more are in a poor condition
In all market research people ask for three things of their public libraries: good collections of books and other material for reading and reference; welcoming safe clean buildings suitable for study and opening hours that match their need.
Of all the hundred aspects of the library service upon which the MLA and DCMS have launched initiatives, produced reports, created standards, these three barely appear. The state of the buildings has never been mentioned any government report since 1997, until the Culture Select Committee (having read "Who's in charge?") asked for a review of the estate in March 2005
£80m lottery fund money announced in January this year will not be used for either repairing buildings or restoring book collections. It will instead be used for "converting public libraries space into more useful community space"
That report was written a year ago and has been filed away until I asked on this blog last week where it is. On Monday it will be published. It is, of course, appalling, but it must not become a cry for more tax payers money to be spent. There is plenty of money already in the system. Until those responsible show that they can control how it is spent and know how to allocate proper priorities, they should not be given more money-- because again, there is no need.
Intitiative on public libraries
I intend to call for a major initiative on public libraries.
The budget round which is just beginning is likely to lead to many closures and another severe reduction in book purchasing. All the problems which cause these things to happen have been identified but still lie unaddressed.
My intention is to work with 3 or 4 councils who will act as pilots and in these there will be a thorough overhaul of the practice and the delivery of the service, so that it becomes quickly, both satisfactory to the public and efficient in operation
I am writing to people indicating my intention to do this and looking for support and commitment. I have asked the MLA, who are the official body, to work with me. However my intention to proceed does not depend on their response.
If you are prepared to commit to this initiative - or would like to discuss it with me, please contact me. We must proceed within weeks not months
September 15, 2006
A significant difference of opinion between librarians and the MLA
Richard Charkin has put this comment on his blog. It is his view of the opinions expressed by his audience at the NAG conference on Wednesday
"Tim, There was a significant difference of opinion between the librarians and Andrew Stevens of the MLA. His line was and is that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The audience seemed to think that things were bad and getting worse and the the (PwC/MLA) initiatives were of peripheral value at best and disastrous at worst. I don't think the MLA will recommend a doubling of book expenditure but they should (and maybe trebling would be even better)."
Plan for libraries in Lancashire
After closing a number of their libraries, Lancashire County Council have written a plan for what to do. That already seems a bit back to front, but nevertheless it will be very interesting to see
a. Who was on the review body and what expertise was called in, and
b. What the report says.
I'll try and find it.
Richard Charkin reported in Publishing News
Here is the report of Richard's Speech to the Librarians conference..
The comments are extremely important, but it is also really crucial that other publishers see what Richard now sees clearly: the central issue for book supply is not about discounts or the supply chain, but the priority and size of the book budgets within each council. Only councils can respond to what he says, and it is the library managers within each council who have to find the right way to recommend these actions to their directors and councillors
"Books come first :Richard Charkin forthright at NAG
MACMILLAN CHIEF EXECUTIVE Richard Charkin issued a simple plea to delegates at the National Acquisitions Group Conference at the University of Reading this week: double your book purchasing budget and increase your book offering to readers before they lose the habit of visiting libraries.
“Nobody could be more supportive of digital initiatives in libraries than me and I accept absolutely the role of the library within communities,” he said. “However, books must be the first priority… I would simply ask you to review everything you do, from top to bottom, and increase your book offering to readers before they lose the habit of visiting libraries”.
He believes that the necessary changes following such a review are possible. “I have no doubt that this can be achieved and that, more than any other act, would secure the role of libraries into the 21st century.”
On STM publishing, he described copyright erosion as “probably the greatest single threat to our industry” and questioned the “unholy and short-term beneficial alliance” some libraries had formed with Google. “If only Google would come to their senses, accept that they are not entitled to digitise in-copyright material without explicit permission, and focus their attention on working with publishers to develop appropriate systems for the secure discovery and delivery of material from books.”
He also lamented the fact that book budgets have been cut back and that UK educational publishers are struggling. “Overseas governments’ support for textbooks and school libraries is seen as a top priority,” he said. “Why not here?”
September 14, 2006
Concert series: cello recitals
Readers of the blog are most welcome to a series of recitals and chamber music events. There is a concert this evening in Louth, in Lincolnshire
Who's in Charge
Just to go back to basics again: for those who haven't read my report "Who's in Charge? Responsibilty for the public library service", here is the 'executive summary' that it contained.
My view then, 2 years ago, was that about £250m per annum is essentially money that is wrongly spent in the service. From the public point of view it is wasted money. So I am not just campaigning for more books: I am urging that the whole operation be run in a proper, responsible and professional manner, which befits the scale of public expenditure. It is true that - if it were run in such a way- one of the things we would see would be a greater investment and improvement in the book collection, but as I hope is clear from the report, that is by no means all that needs to be done.
The full report is available at various places that can be found on "google", but if you want a copy please send me an email. It has been translated into several languages, but I'm afraid I only have it in English.
Executive Summary "Who's in charge? Responsibility for the public library service
1 In the past seven years, use of museums and archives in this country has doubled. Since visitors have been recorded, use of the public library service has fallen each year until 2003/4, for which figures are yet to be fully reported. In the past seven years of decline in use, funding of the library service by local councils has risen by 25%.
2 In the library service there is so much good work in progress to introduce reading to those who
are excluded and to those who are isolated. Libraries have always been a centre for learning
through life. However, today’s reality is that if we do not address the fundamental structural
problems of the library service, there may be no libraries to provide these excellent services to
readers in ten or fifteen years’ time.Those who are responsible for libraries must change what they are doing, and the way they approach their work. Change in the library service requires change in the library profession and in the way in which library professionals are managed by councils.
3 This independent report is a working paper which takes a very broad view of the issues, identifies the problems of the library service and lays out that which needs to be addressed. It cannot and does not offer a prescriptive solution to every single question raised. It is intended as a first step in what must be an urgent programme of action.
4 The report finds that those responsible in local councils for managing the library service have lost users because, while they have focused effort on some particular needs, they have not been able to
a Respond to the urgent public requirements of a library: the need for a broad range of books
and reading material; the need for libraries to be open at times when users are able to visit; the
need for the entire community to find libraries to be clean, welcoming places to visit and in
which to study;
b Devote the resources needed to meet these requirements;
c Control costs, improve productivity and maintain value for money for taxpayers;
d Bring continuous improvement to operating systems and management;
e Report to and involve their elected councillors in the need to allocate resources and measure
service in any way adequately. As a consequence councillors have not been made fully aware of
the extent of the public dissatisfaction and decline in use of the service. For this reason,
councillors have been unable to fulfil their duties and have not insisted on improvement where
they should have done so.
5 This report also finds that, while the DCMS and the Audit Commission (and the MLA) have recognised some of these problems and proposed many initiatives to remedy them, all these proposals have been
a Because they did not sufficiently recognise the decision making processes that operate within
b They did not use their authority to insist upon improvement.
6 This report recommends areas of action for the attention of councils. In particular it calls on
councils to commit themselves over a number of years, and, without increasing overall funds, to:
a Treble expenditure on books and reading material
b Increase opening hours by 50%
c Institute a programme of library redecoration and redesign.
Councils should, by careful planning, be able to achieve this reallocation of resources by improved productivity and the introduction of new systems and methods of working.
7 The report emphasises the essential role played by “friends of libraries” and other library “contacts” in the community and calls for councils to provide these groups with clearer, more understandable information about the local library service.
8. The report also proposes ways in which Government could support a programme of change
designed to bring about these improvements.
September 13, 2006
Phil Kerridge writes about Andrew Stevens' letter in the Guardian
REF Susan Hill & Libraries 11/9, Andrew Stevens Letter 13/9
For anybody like myself, who believes in libraries and books, the complacency of Andrew Stevens of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is terrifying. Last year a parliamentary enquiry described a situation where core performance indicators and gross throughput are falling as a signal of a service in distress. Mr Stevens' job should be to tackle these problems not concoct bland reassurance for your readers.
Since that enquiry libraries are closing as a result of budget cuts hitting public libraries in rural Britain. These reductions will bite deeper next year and the year after. Neither he nor the Minister, David Lammy, does anything about councils like Warwickshire or Somerset who only spend 6% and 3% of their gross library budgets on books.
Many of us have concluded that Mr Stevens' MLA does little more than conceal the truth about public libraries which is that they are experiencing damage that will place them beyond any useful purpose.
Richard Charkin calls on libraries to cut costs and to double spending on books
Here is the first report of Richard's speech this morning
13 September 2006
Charkin calls for 'united front' with libraries
Macmillan c.e.o. Richard Charkin has urged greater trust between the library and publishing sectors in order to protect both.
Speaking at the National Acquisitions Group conference in Reading earlier today (Wednesday, 13th September), he urged the sectors to build a united front to help battle "copyright erosion" by open access models, Google digitisation, and other threats.
He also called on public libraries to cut operational costs and double spending on books. "I have no doubt that this can be achieved and that more than any other act would secure the role of libraries in the 21st Century. It would also reinvigorate non-megaseller publishing and stimulate creative writing," he said.
Other speakers at the conference included MLA policymaker Andrew Stevens and Ruth Harrison from The Reading Agency.
Andrew Stevens cannot see a problem
Here is Andrew Steven's response to Susan Hill's view expressed in the Guardian yesterday.
Andrew Stevens doesn't say that his office have not been able to produce any figures for public libraries for more than 18 months. He appears not to have noticed the 100 or so library closures this year. Accounts from councils all over the country (readers of this blog see them all the time) say that because book collections are poor, opening hours are short and buildings have been neglected, people are deserting the public library service in droves. Mr Stevens doesn't report that book lending in public libraries in almost every part of the country has fallen by 25-30% in just those same five years since he introduced "library standards"
Mr Stevens has failed to publish the report on public library buildings that Parliament asked him for over a year ago and for which we, the people, paid last year.
According to Mr Stevens there is no problem. The actions he and his colleagues are taking, he believes, are quite sufficient and, presumably, the predictions made by the Audit Commission, the Select Committee and the Library and Information statistics unit that the library service will be finished in 10-15 years, are simply wrong.
What he should say is "Book collections have become poor and we will help councils address this matter as a priority". That's what Mark Wood, his boss, said on here, on Sunday. There is a fault line as wide as the Grand Canyon between the Chairman of the MLA and the management.
The biggest reason why we never solve the problem of the public library service is that Andrew, and his colleagues Chris Batt and John Dolan, and the Minister, David Lammy and his office, simply cannot bring themselves to describe any kind of problem with the service.
They are so relentlessly determined to tell everyone that everything is fine and lots of very useful initiatives are in progress, that no one ever gets to the root of any of the serious questions. you cannot go to a council and ask them to address the questions, because they simply point to the latest memorandum from MLA and DCMS which tells them that the official view is that there are no questions to answer.
It is so reminiscent of the story of the Emperor's new clothes in which the closest advisers were so determined to tell their master that everything is wonderful that they completely missed the obvious.
The truth is that the Minister, Mr Lammy, should see through all the bluff, but I see no sign of that happening.
September 12, 2006
The magic of Amazon
Amazon has transformed the possibility of books. Everything that is and was (if you include Abe in the same sentiment)available - not only to obtain, but also to read about on the screen.
We have become used to the idea of using these wonderful encyclopediae at home.
Yet if you go into a book shop or a public library, you are not given access, generally, easily to Amazon-- you have to ask and have a conversation and the person behind the counter looks up the title you think you are asking about on their own system-- a library management system or a bookshop EPOS system
It would be good to have dedicated Amazon search terminals in libraries from which you could request the book to be loaned to you - or even order it to buy and collect from the library.
I was sent a message today about someone who " has no money but loves to browse Amazon, read the reviews, dip into the books that offer that facility and make lists she knows she can't buy but can dream about. There is the argument that adults do not use libraries extensively for books. Amazon's public service in showing us what is available and what we might like, based on our orders, could have the function of showing what a big demand there is for books."
Fingerprinting children in libraries
This is an odd story from the Scotsman
America picks up the story
The United Press in America repeated the story of Susan Hill' comment about the state of UK libraries
One fact of which readers may not be aware is that the library "standards" referred to in the piece were set in 2000 after much discussion at a level whereby about half councils achieved half the standards. The truth is that 6 years later after huge investment of money and many initiatives by Government, any improvement against these scores is hard to see.
Parliament called them "low standards" and the anxiety is that in this current review they will become even lower and less relevant to the public need.
That is why asking library managers to decide what the measures should be and determine the standards that will be set, is so obviously not the decent and right way to review them.
The "stakeholders" are the general public
And here is the story in The Times of North Korea
September 11, 2006
On Wednesday at the libraries "National Acquisition Group (NAG!)" conference in Reading (of course), the keynote and first speaker will be Richard Charkin, who was outraged in the Bookseller last Friday. Richard will be followed straight away by Andrew Stevens and the consultants who caused Richard's distress.
Unfortunately Mr Grimsdyke and Mrs Sideloader haven't been invited, but we hope that the Bloggington Bugle will cover the Sharks and Sparks in full colour. Otherwise we shall have to read about it in "Downbeat" the house magazine of the SYRUP corporation.
The management of public affairs
At Government seminars discussions are held at which senior politicians and civil servants declare that
'Central and local Government agree a shared commitment to the highest possible social, economic and environmental aspirations for their communities'
These fine words are passed onwards to those, like the officers in the MLA, whose job it is to advocate the value of public libraries to local councillors and their financial controllers
These officers produce strategy papers and press releases which say 'libraries are much more than places to borrow books: they have a vital role to play in helping local authorities achieve their communities' social, economic and environmental aspirations'
The officer in question, when he is criticised in the press (as he is in the next entry on this blog) could say 'What have I done wrong? I did what you told me to do.'
Oh dear; 'The state we are in'
I have learned that irony does not work on civil servants or local government officers, therefore I feel obliged to spell out that what that civil servant should have done was explain (in detail) exactly HOW public libraries can help achieve those aspirations, when they are operated properly. Moreover, if that civil servant failed to do that (as he has)- the job of his boss, the chief executive of MLA; and then the chairman of the MLA; and the board members of the MLA; and the civil servants of the DCMS; and then the Minister of State-- is to remind him of and make him do his job: which is to articulate how public libraries fulfill that role-- viz by having good collections of books and other information; are open long hours, and are in clean respectable, safe buildings, suitable for study and spending private time. By doing these things to a high standard they make an enormous contribution to "social, economic and environmental aspirations" and a great deal more including the education and culture of the people in the country.
The Guardian this morning
Writer rues library changes
Monday September 11, 2006
The bestselling novelist Susan Hill yesterday accused senior managers of public libraries of abandoning their commitment to books and manoeuvring to turn library buildings into social centres.
"They have been actively trying for years to get rid of books and introduce almost anything else," she said.
Hill was reacting to an indication that the protection of library book-buying budgets will not be strengthened and may even be diluted in a new government review. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Authority, a government agency, has announced a review of minimum service standards set five years ago.
Among Hill's targets was a senior civil servant in charge of the review, Andrew Stevens. The Bookseller magazine said at the weekend that comments attributed to him indicated that the role of books would be further diminished.
Mr Stevens, an ex-chief librarian, said: "Public libraries have a vital role to play in helping local authorities achieve their communities' social, economic and environmental aspirations - they are much more than just places to borrow books."
Yesterday the libraries campaigner Tim Coates said the situation was a crisis. "As the council budget round begins this month, councils will read Andrew Stevens' remarks and take them as a signal that the book funds can yet again be cut and nobody minds," he said.
September 10, 2006
Susan Hill accuses the managers of the library service
I think the national newspapers have picked up Susan's comment yesterday, which has induced so much support since she posted it.
She sent me a note this morning which says 'If another manager of the library service, or a civil servant say 'libraries are about much more than books, these days'- just ask them 'WHY?'
Shakespeare writes from Buckinghamshire
Sir David Shakespeare is the leader of Buckinghamshire County Council where the library service has been melting down all year. If you enter Buckinghamshire in the 'Search' box in the right hand column you will get the story.
When the BBC came to Little Chalfont the senior library manager of the council told them that the council had decided 8 libraries must close to save 220 thousand pounds and his job was to carry out their instructions. Any attempt to re-examine the figures and search for the missing 4 million pounds lost in council overhead was not going to happen
However, in a response to a letter from a resident, Sir David Shakespeare this week blames the library service for putting up the plan in the first place.
'the proposals to close several of our smaller libraries is a plan coming forward from the Library Service itself to re-invest the money being spent on libraries under-used by the public and recycle that money into improvements to the libraries that the public does use and support in sufficient numbers to make them viable. This is not an exercise to save money, it is an exercise in making the most efficient use that we can of the Council taxpayer's money.'
I just wish, as I have said over and over again, that we could get one meeting with senior council officers- finance officers- and I know we would be able to show not only how the service can be improved, but also why there is no need to close any of the 8 libraries at all. I hear that the MP John Bercow is getting involved and that is good news - I'm sure that he would be supported by Mark Field.
Don't close the libraries
Northumberland library closures
There's quite a battle going on in Northumberland. Here is a cutting from the Hexham newspaper.
If anyone has any contacts please let me know; we might be able to help. You can see from the article that many of the sysmptoms are similar to those in other parts of the country
September 9, 2006
First correspondence with Mark Wood
As I said in the entry below, I forwarded Susan Hill's last entry to Mark Wood, who is the Chair of MLA and asked him to comment. I alerted him to the public nature of our correspondence. He knows that I regard this all as an extremely serious and urgent matter.
Here is his first response; and mine to him. He is referring to an article in Friday's Bookseller with the headline 'New library standards will marginalise books'
Thanks for passing this on. I have not seen the article you refer to but will get hold of it next week when I return from New York. I would hope there is just a mis-perception here- MLA must be fully committed to improving library book stocks and keep book lending at the heart of library activities. Rgds
Thanks for this. The article is just a couple down from the top on
www.goodlibraryguide.com/blog/ you'll see it there. I hope you'll respond to it and to Susan's comment. We'd love to hear your views on the blog-- and I think its very important that you are heard- it is a public forum but obviously, of a particular kind.
People on the blog are also aware of the figures that spending on books in public libraries last year fell to 8.5% of total funds (which in total rose rather sharply) and the budget for this year shows a further fall to 8.2%. They also (because many of them are publishers) know that the so-called efficiency gain whereby more books were bought with the money, was in no sense an improvement in efficiency in the library service, but rather the result of some healthy and painful competitive activity between library suppliers, wholesalers and publishers. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Those figures were published a week ago.
So if the suggestion is that Chris Batt and John Dolan and Andrew Stevens really believe that books are truly essential and core to public libraries; that stocks and collections have been badly neglected; that they regard it as a priority to help councils restore them and make improvements above other things that they do-- but somehow, faced with a journalist from the Bookseller, who would love nothing more than to hear them say that, they get tongue tied and say that libraries "are about much more than books" then- it's not hard to see how unconvincing they are. If there are problems of perception-- I find it hard to blame the public, readers of the Bookseller or even readers of the Good Library Guide, because they see what they see - and they read what they read, they add up the figures and they look in their local library and struggle to find something worthwhile to read.
I hope then you will find the way to persuade Susan and Richard- and readers on the blog-- that all is well. I look forward to your views-- and ask permission to publish them. I hope you will find it possible to be on the side of the public.
Have a safe trip
Susan Hill writes
Susan has just posted this, I shall send it to Mark Wood, who is the Chair of the MLA, with an invitation to comment.
"As I have said on this blog before, senior library managers have been actively TRYING for years to get rid of books and introduce almost anything else. They are the first generation of librarians who were not trained primarily as custodians of books. That is not their career-focus. Now that is fine, if there are people who want to have a career in providing public services of a different kind - whether computers, public meeting spaces, educational centres or whatever - I`m sure they have a function. Just don`t call themselves Librarians or use the Public Libraries for their activities if that means moving out the books to do so. Use other rooms. Use other buildings. There are usually rather a lot of free spaces in Town Halls.
If you had Sports Managers, a whole generation and senior and middle layer of them, saying actually, we don`t want to use our sportsgrounds for sports we want to use them for four wheel drive racing and paintballing games and meeting of the Caravan Club and we will do that and shunt football and tennis and cricket and running off to the side and give them no funding and never renew their equipment and let the grass grow - well, where`s the difference ?
The point about all of this is that the general public, which wants to borrow books from the library for which IT PAYS, do not know that this is happening, or if they do they assume it is the government or the council`s fault. What they absolutely do NOT realise is that it is the very librarians themselves which are the fundamental cause of the problem.
If it were the case that book writing and reading and buying were in decline, that all the bookshops were closing/going bankrupt/ publishers ditto, that the government said 'do not teach children from books, books are obselete, they should not bother with reading them..' then fine, I can see that libraries too would have to follow the general trend.
BUT the government is actually GIVING books to babies, it is saying all schools should focus on reading books and having reading hours. Waterstones have just added another third to their bookshop empire. Publishers - large - are making mega profits and small, are starting up. Writers are making fortunes. What is J.K.Rowling all about ? How did she come to be worth so many billions and rising ? And Dan Brown ?
Even the television and car man Jeremy Clarkson and the gardener and television man Alan Titchmarsh are selling a million of - guess what, BOOKS.
This is what baffles me. Baffles us all really. I do wish some librarian would come to me and explain their attitude in words of one syllable because I have clearly missed something somewhere."
We really now do depend on local councils to save the library service
As Susan Hill says, if the public library service in different councils allows itself to be "guided" by the MLA and the Department of Culture, then libraries are effectively finished. Following the statment yesterday (in the blog below) We will just watch an accelerating decline.
However, that doesn't have to be the end- local councils can themselves act to restore their libraries. Nobody is cutting off the funding; what matters is how they use it and that they learn to use it properly to meet the library needs of the public. As Hugo Swire and Mark Field, the Conservative shadow ministers have already said, there is no need for any council to take any notice of the MLA, and I know that directors of many councils, of all political colours, agree with that view.
However, while I shall contine to help individual councils and pursue improvement that way, I hope nobody any longer believes that the MLA and DCMS are of any value to the library service. The MLA, particularly, can have no future credibility. The statement by Andrew Stevens, entirely matches those made by his colleagues, Chris Batt, the chief executive of the MLA and John Dolan, the other library policy adviser. What Mr Stevens said wasn't a mistake-- the three of them have been saying the same thing for many years; they don't believe that the books are the essence of public libraries, and have passed by the time when they think that book collections need to be improved. That is not their view.
There is no evidence that the public- anywhere- agrees with them, but that appears not to concern them.
September 8, 2006
Books are not important to libraries
For seven years I have been trying to warn the public that there is an agenda within high officials of this Government seriously to reduce the role of books in libraries. It is not happening by chance or mistake: it is a deliberate policy.
They have now admitted it -and the policy is made clear in an article in today's Bookseller. Not only is the process explained, but the review of policy criticised last week for being given to expensive consultants is evidently meaningless - because Andrew Stevens, the official handling the analysis, has already decided what the outcome will be.
"New Standards may marginalise books"
The Public Library Service Standards are to undergo a "full-scale" review that threatens to diminish the role of books in the service.
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have commissioned Price waterhouse Coopers to reassess the standards first set in 2001, so that they "remain relevant to national and local priorities" ...and reflect the contribution that libraries can make to wider social and economic goals"
The standards were devised as a framework to help monitor libraries' performances and set targets for their improvement. Currently only two of the 10 standards focus on book stocks and MLA's senior policy adviser Andrew Stevens indicated that the number would not be increased in the revisions.
"(Libraries) are much more than just places to borrow books. It is essential that the standards reflect the much wider range of services now offered by them," he said.
Critics of the service's management go even further voicing fears that books will be marginalised by the review process. Macmillan ceo, Richard Charkin said: "It's outrageous. Libraries seem to have been hi-jacked by some politicians as outreach centres or IT retraining camps. Libraries are there for readers and for books"
The review is an internal government affair, of which the public have no knowledge. More than 70% of visits to libraries are to read or borrow books- according the Government's own figures
These "standards" are, however, extremely important as they are the method central Government uses to tell local Government what it wants to be done with the money it hands out.
Admiration for LLL
There is a long established group in London called "Libraries for Life for London" which is an umbrella group for "Friends of Libraries" groups in the metropolis.
I was at one of their meetings last night and came away with a tremendous sense of admiration for the people in the group and their devotion to public libraries.
They are so well informed and have such a good understanding of the subject you just wish that the Government, or Ken Livingstone, would hand them the job of looking after the public libraries in London. They are also very nice people and their website is full of interesting items.
This came this morning. I have the contact details
"Don't be fooled by the Council's response to queries about the Newington Ref Library closure - I have had a reply saying they will be relocating to the ground floor - which must be a joke!
I used to work in the Newington Ref library (so have inside contacts etc) and if there is anything I can do to help preserve this gem of a library, please let me know. I understand that September is the month when "a decision on how the service will be delivered" will be taken but I understand one of the key players involved has been away on compassionate leave, so there might be a bit more time available.
In their reply to my letter they re-assured me "that there are no plans to discontinue the provision of a reference and information service at Newington Library".
There is a re-structuring of staffing going on in the library service and I am not deceived by their re-assurance - trouble is staff are constrained by their employment contract and cannot publicise situation to users of the library most of whom are in the dark about it.
If anyone from Southwark council wishes to put up an entry here to explain what is happening, they would be most welcome.
September 7, 2006
Offer to councils
I'm repeating my offer to any council about to embark on the process of preparing the library budget for 2007-8.
If you see it being a difficult process- and might involve closures of branch libraries or cuts in the book fund, which councillors will not want to see-- please feel able to invite me for a discussion .
Similarly, if you need to raise your score on BVPI 220 or on the CPA scores, you are welcome to call.
There are several options of which you many not be fully aware, by which these actions can be avoided or these scores raised. I suggest discussions and seminars, rather than writing reports.
September 6, 2006
from Nick Arnold
Very pleased to receive this, this evening
I thought I'd drop you a line to update you on events in Devon where 12 libraries were under threat of closure by the County Council and especially Appledore - my corner of North Devon.
Communities have differed widely in their responses. Some have rolled over and played dead (very convincingly) and sadly one library has already closed. Other communities have organised magnificent campaigns. Regular readers of your blog will know about Colyton, for example but there are notable campaigns being waged elsewhere the county for example in Pinhoe (Exeter). Kingsteignton and Kingkerswell. In all nearly 5000 people have taken part in Devon County Council's consultation.
I've written about our experiences in my blog: Saveourlibrary.blog.co.ukAnd on the whole it's been surprisingly positive.
The Friends of Appledore Library now numbers over 300.
We mustered 504 people in an all-day downpour to protest at the Council's Consultation Exhibtion.
We have knocked on every door in town and found that 98% of those surveyed want to keep the Library open (OK, not so surprising) but more interesting is the finding that 74% have used the Library in past three years and 82% won't or can't use another Library.
We have raised £5000 and have refurbished the upstairs of the Library building to turn it into a community information and visitor centre (with the keen support of the landlords).
Oh yes, and as you so kindly noted, I launched my latest book at Appledore Library in July.
And what's more it's working. Library borrowing is up over 40% in 12 months and membership is up over 50%.
To do them justice, the top councillors in Devon have been quite positive about what we're doing.
So what about the future? The word is that Devon won't make a decision about closing libraries this month (too many objections to wade through). They might decide in October or even November but they haven't named a date.
Meanwhile we're planning to market the Library even more effectively in the community over the winter. And in October 2007 we plan to run a book festival in Appledore - based of course on the Library.
So what's the message here? Our experience is that the best way to save a library is well-planned and positive action. Marketing to improve library usage, surveys to show community need for a library, positive and on-going plans for the future are empowering for everyone. Ultimately local councils must continue to provide libraries, but positive action is a whiff of grapeshot that concentrates their minds most wonderfully.
September 5, 2006
for Graham Young and readers in Buckinghamshire
Graham, thanks for making contact, I've responded to your comment under "Theft" - do email if you need more help. Tim.
Richard and Judy and Richard Charkin
I have mentioned Richard Charkin before. He is the chief executive of MacMillan, the publishers, a notable blogger and an old friend of many years. He is also a wise bloke whose views and judgment I respect. I've also said that I wished senior publishers would understand not only the problems of public libraries (which are not about the discounts of supply but about the terrible lack of books) but also the vital role they (senior executives of publishing houses) should play in persuading the public and the Government to put things right. Bill Gates advocates the use of computers: publishers should do the same for books.
Richard has been listening and, on his blog yesterday, he came up trumps and I am extremely grateful to him - this is the way:
"At a dinner last night I was asked what the successful British TV show, Richard and Judy, could do to encourage even more new writing and enjoyment of literature. Their book club has been enormously successful in every way and it was really hard to see how they could do better what they already do. But there is one thing. They could invite their millions of viewers to visit their local public library and demand that the library stocks more books, particularly those by new authors. Libraries seem to have been hijacked by some politicians as out-reach centres or IT retraining camps. Libraries are there for readers and for books. Richard and Judy could be a huge force for good if they marshalled their troops accordingly. They could start by asking how much the library service has spent on management consultants, PwC, compared with their book purchasing budget over the last few years. Libraries are very definitely open access (see above) but there's no point having open access if the choice of books is limited and inappropriate."
September 4, 2006
A "lapsed user" speaks
As if to make the point I was trying to explain in a dull managerial style, a comment has arrived from Elaine who was a library user but now explains exactly why she has "lapsed"
"At the risk of sounding like one of those 'libraries weren't like this in my day' moaners, I would like to say that libraries are for BOOKS. They are not meant to be internet cafes, coffee shops or creches where you dump your children and go off and do your shopping. I have stopped going to my local library at weekends as I feel like going in, turfing everyone out and shouting You have made my temple into a den of thieves....the noise levels are indescribable.
I worked for Camden Libraries for ten years and loved it but the rot was setting in there by the time I left. Bring back the Brown system say I....!
Posted by: Elaine at September 4, 2006 01:51 PM"
Library Service Standards
This is my view about how library service standards should be explored.
There needs, firstly to be an honest analysis of what the previous attempts at influencing library performance have and have not achieved and lessons learned.
-There should be a standard for each library and community, not a council. The measure for a council is how many of its communities have a satisfactory library service
- The standard should contain points recognisable and comprehensible to local people
- Market research, properly conducted, will probably confirm that the most important points are a. quality of stock, particularly books and newspapers and computers; b. opening hours; c. state of the building, convenience, decor and fitness for study etc; d. ability of staff to help
- The government could add any aspects of social inclusion to which the public might not readily give sufficient weight- disability, targetted deprivation etc
Therefore the key is some comprehensive market research particularly among "lapsed users" who will identify what they think the headings are- and what the right words are to describe them
Consultation with library users will add little to this
Only when the appropriate criteria have been identified and the correct measures established should councils be consulted about the best way to conduct them
The programme proposed by MLA last Friday to engage PwC for this work is, in my view, incompetent beyond belief. It is hard to understand who could have drafted it and who could have approved such ludicrous expenditure of public funds - again.
Closing libraries on public holidays in America
I have complained a lot about UK libraries closing on public holidays, which is often when students ("learners") most need them to be open. Here is an article which reveals that the Americans do the same.
Are there any public libraries which now open on public holidays?
Let's work together
I was very pleased to see a comment this evening from John Whelan sho is a most distinguished councillor in South London.
Here is his message:
"Libraries matter and there are plenty of votes in them, especially if politicians or bureaucrats try to close them down. Many local authorities are also facing cultural services inspections by the Audit Commission. Performing well in an inspection means innovation and engaging with local communities as well as enabling people to share knowledge. I'd say let's work together to put new life into our library service throughout the U.K. but let's have enthusiasts as well as anoraks and also bring the sceptics to book."
John, I would be happy to work with you and any group you put together, at any time. Tim
September 3, 2006
The Kaufman Select Committee on public libraries 2005
Susan Hill asks
"Do Select Committees have absolutely no power then and if they do not, what is the point of them ?"
I gave a great deal of evidence to the committee, which they quote and include, and make the following personal observations:
1. The report and the analysis it contained were truly excellent and induced, in me, a great respect for Parliament.
2. However, I know the people in both DCMS and MLA whose job it is to respond to the recommendations of the report and they are truly expert in the arts of civil service management and unlikely, in my estimation, to respond to the report in the way the committee would have wished.
3. Therefore, writing a report and publishing it was not going to be a satisfactory way of addressing the problem on behalf of the public.
4. The officers of the MLA were well aware that at the impending election Sir Gerald would retire as chair and most of the committee members would change. Therefore if they delayed response until after the election, the new committee would not have libraries at the top of their agenda (the preparation for the Olympics in 2012 would be)
5. In normal process of good management the committee should have sat in open session with both officers and board of the MLA and made sure that the messages of the report were understood and if they were agreed by the Government, were embedded in the working agenda of the MLA. But that is not the practice and it certainly did not happen
6. The board members of the MLA should have ensured that they did the same thing and absorbed the messages of the select committee or had very good reasons for not doing so- and they were asked to do that-- but they did not.
7. Consequently the senior civil servants of the DCMS and the executive management of the MLA did no more, in my view, than pay pathetic lip service to the Select Committee report. I have heard it said that the view was that Sir Gerald and the committee simply didn't understand what the "new agenda" for libraries was about.
8. The response of the DCMS to this Select Committee was therefore not only inadequate and irresponsible (as MP Michael Fallon said in a speech to the House of Commons in January), but the question could reasonably be asked as to whether the response was fundamentally disrespectful of Parliament
9. The permanent secretary at the DCMS has now been replaced and, in my view, there should now be a full Parliamentary inquiry into the behaviour of both DCMS and MLA in response to this Select Committee report. I, for one, have a huge volume of correspondence between myself, the Chair and board members of the MLA and other senior civil sevants and also Sir Gerald and officers of the committee, which is contemporaneous to the events and I would be very happy to make it available to a Parliamentary enquiry. I believed, as the events unfolded that what was happening was entirely deliberate and those who should have intervened refused to do so or did so in an ineffective way. I said so repeatedly at the time, and gave warnings, which, in my view, were not heeded and have lead to the current situation.
September 2, 2006
Oh no! another initiative from PWC and MLA : More Library Standards!!
It became clear during the recent efforts on library procurement that the real purpose of a consultants' work with a government department is not to recommmend the right action for the benefit of the public but really to make sure you get the next contract.
In order to demonstrate their ability to deliver on that front Price waterhouse Cooper have just won the next contract with the MLA.
This is a project to review the so called "Public Library Service Standards" and although MLA in this press release proclaim this is "for the first time"- in fact they must have forgotten the last time they did it which is not very long ago when they reduced the number of standards from 22 to 10 and removed the notion of "books" from the standards altogether.
The MLA and DCMS would do well to re-read the Select Committee report on public libraries of last year in which they were begged not to keep producing "standards" and initiatives, but to work out why public libraries are no good and getting worse and actually do something about it that will make an improvement. The committee listed the many many initiatives of this kind embarked on since 1997 and observed it would be sensible to stop doing this kind of thing and find another way. So far, after 6 years and many adjustments the mechanism of "library standards" has produced no material improvement whatsoever (and actually- for a fraction of PwC's fee, I could tell them why).
"Don't do it"- That's what the Select Committee of Parliament said- but there is not a lot of evidence that the MLA or DCMS ever read that- or that they are able to read at all.
"This layer of middle management"
This is Susan Hill's response to Bill Neve. I want to hear from people who actually work day to day in libraries what they think of what Bill and Susan have said - don't worry, you don't have to reveal where you work (and I won't let any other commenters reveal it either), but this is an important message that can be generated by this blog. The people who think they hold the strings of influence are reading what is said here, and sense their grip to be growing weary. Their days are numbered.
"It is always, always this layer of middle management churning out reports and going to wall-to-wall meetings on non-subjects.. same in the NHS, same in Social Services.. they are in thrall to jargon mainly because none of them have been well educated. They have been just a bit educated mainly on jargon and political correctness, so that they see themselves as having a Higher Education but they know nothing. They have read little. They are uncultured. They talk in an uber-language and they have absolutely no contact with the real world, in their job-lives anyway.
It is never the front line - never the nurses,doctors, library front-staff,soldiers, teachers, social workers on the ground who actually see the families.. they are the ones who know what`s wrong and could probably put a lot of it right but their hands are tied by the middle managers and their jargon and their political correctness and the boxes they have to tick. Until power and money goes to the right people nothing will change. But it never will. The others are there until the end of time and a nice index-linked pension. They will certainly never have to leave because of stress and exhaustion."
Management of local council public library services
Bill Neve has written this. How much agreement is there for what he says?
"There are ‘back-room’ or back-office staff and there is management – and I think it is management which should be your target.
Often it is made up of people whose principal activities seem to be arranging and attending meetings in which very little of practical worth is discussed, preparing lengthy, turgid and jargon-filled reports which address all the usual politically correct targets and which few people other than themselves can bring themselves to read, and initiating fatuous initiatives such as the Liverpool ‘mini-gyms’.
Unfortunately, it is this significant proportion of the staff who also control the allocation of the library budget. These are the people who have to be persuaded that a good public library must still be judged on its book stock – not on the number of Internet work stations. But these managers are rarely seen in the library, let alone working in them. They are the equivalent of WW1 generals directing affairs safely away from the front-line. And significantly these are the people who have the ear of the Councillors responsible for running the library service.
Most front-line and ‘back-room’ library workers are devoted to books and want to provide what is so lovingly and eloquently described in all the numerous contributions to the Love Libraries web-site.
There is a malaise within Local Government of which the Library Service is only part. So many jobs are non-jobs and contribute little of practical use. "
September 1, 2006
Activities behind the scenes
During the week Jennifer Watson from the University of Tennessee wrote with a list of 'what "back-room people" do all day'.
'Some of the work performed by library staff out of sight of the public' she said, includes:
-selecting materials to add to the library's collection;
-physically processing materials to put on the shelf (barcodes, spine labels, etc.) and repairing damaged materials;
-negotiating licensing and pricing of online resources;
-maintaining the physical facility (replacing lightbulbs, cleaning, etc.);
-setting up online access to databases;
-maintaining linking and search services to facilitate easier access to online resources;
-adding information to the library catalog;
-maintaining the library's web site, computers, printers and software;
-maintaining the integrated library system, specialised software which manages everything from patron information to fines, checkouts and the library catalog; processing interlibrary loan requests;
-planning new library services;
-providing staff training.
And then Miriam Palfrey kindly responded from a public library in the UK by saying
'Looking at the above list of tasks I am fairly confident that they are not all performed by the same person.
All of the same work is also done in the library I work in (not all by me I hasten to add). Personally I also
-spend time off the public desk answering queries by phone or email,
-researching ongoing queries,
-setting up and running Book Groups,
-maintaining existing stock (weeding off old and worn books and ordering replacements, checking for stock gaps etc),
-rotating book stock throughout our branches, -
-and (because we are undergoing a service review) I seem to have spent a great deal of time describing to management types what I do on a day to day basis
'Most of these are not actually “backroom” tasks because they all involve contact with the public.'
Remember the Jennifer is writing from a university library where the classification and cataloguing needs to be quite specific to the needs of the local academic community.
My two points are going to be these
1. I believe that opening hours and rotas can be longer without extra cost-- and that most of these activities can be carried out by staff who are not 'in a backroom' but available to users of the library- and contributing to the opening hours of the library. Many of the items of work can be fitted around (predictable) busy times in the way that any good retail store would do.
2. In a UK public library there is no need for anyone to process or catalogue stock, because the work is contracted to be done by suppliers; if EDI were used there would, in any library be little need for time proceesing invoices; and the negotiation of terms for online or any other resources is minimal. I have spent many years setting up and cheering up reading groups and have never thought it was a backroom task- or even a task at all.
So while I see there is some need for work ' off the library floor' - there is not very much. The need is, for example, a great deal less than that which occurs inn any shop where cash must be counted and reconciled in a safe place out of the public eye. Libraries have very little need of this.
Am I wrong?
Book spending in public libraries falls again
If you were to trouble to read the LISU report on expenditure in public libraries published this week you would find that public libraries overspent their budget by #20m last year. But it's less than 2%, they say, and is accompanied by a phrase which says 'estimating expenditure proved difficult' They planned to spend #30m pore than the previous year and actually spent 50m more. Who cares it's not their money
None of this extra was spent on books. But I notice that Elspeth Hyams in Update uses the expression 'a staggering 20m' when she is eulogising about how much money the MLA and PwC claim they will save by opening 10 labelling factories. Nobody has still yet explained where the 20m will come from-- possibly it will turn out to be one of the things 'the estimation of which proved difficult'
Here is Katherine Rushton's, as always excellent, article in The Bookseller. I draw scant comfort from the words of the spokesperson at the DCMS. The biggest problem of all- with the public library service- is that the DCMS keep saying there is no problem. If they say there is no problem, then there is no reason for any manager in the service to take any corrective action - but the DCMS don't seem to understand that.
31 August 2006
Library book spend shrinks
Book spending by England's public libraries continued to fall in 2005-06, despite a 5.6% increase in the overall library service budget to £756m.
The findings were revealed in the latest LISU Public Libraries Materials Fund and Budget Survey, which was this year backed by Nielsen BookData after the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) pulled its funding.
Only 8.8% of the total library budget was spent on books (£66m), down from 9.3% in the previous year and 14.4% across the whole of the UK a decade earlier. That percentage is forecast to drop again, to 8.5%, in the current year (April '06-March '07).
Desmond Clarke, chair of libraries charity Libri and a former director at Faber, said spending had got "seriously out of balance". "It is encouraging that the total funding is being increased significantly ahead of inflation, but how the money is spent is an issue." Funds are being spent on staff and replacement computers instead of books, he said. "What we're ending up with is lots of buildings with lots of people working in them--but seriously dwindling resources."
Tim Coates, library consultant, warned that more libraries were entering "the danger zone". "They aren't buying sufficient books, they are losing their value in the communities, and councils have no option but to argue for their closure."
Almost twice the number of authorities had slashed their materials budgets by 6.5% or more (45) than had made equivalent increases (23). Coates predicted the cuts would force between 300 and 500 libraries to close next year.
But Andrew Stevens, head of library development at the MLA, said spending was becoming more efficient. "Although actual spending on books has declined, the latest figures from [rival survey] CIPFA show the same number of books being bought in 2004-05 compared with 1994-95. Through strategic initiatives such as the reform of library stock procurement to release over £20m a year, the MLA is actively working with local government to improve performance at every level and make the best possible use of libraries' resources."
A spokesman from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport added: "We are pleased that local authority investment in the service is growing. They, like us, recognise the valuable role that libraries play in their communities."
2,573 hits yesterday
Richard Charkin had a theory this week that if he put Jeffrey Archer and Paris Hilton in his headline he would get a lot of hits.
He should put 'CILIP' next week and see what happens. We had over 47,000 for August. . Looking for classy adverts now- if anyone wants to show off their graphic inventiveness in our tramlines.