July 30, 2007
Am I alone in being wary of the enthusiasm for the expensive installation of RFID in public libraries? (RFID stands for "radio frequency identification" of books and means you can read a barcode from a distance etc). It is a fashion of the moment.
Going back to my repeating note-- what people want in libraries are better stock, smarter more modern better designed buildings, wifi and loads of computers and longer opening hours.
I see that Cornwall have forked out a load of taxpayers money on RFID machines etc. Just how has it improved the three things the public want? Not in theory, but in reality? Are all their buildings already modernised? Is there stock immaculate? do they close for lunch- or on market days etc, or Sundays? do they accept payment by credit card yet?- and has RFID changed those things?
Or is this just another of those "we love spending money on technology" projects "because it makes us feel a tingle"
To use everyone else's jargon-- what is the impact it is supposed to have? What will the councillors in Cornwall say if their next budget round is difficult and they start talking about closing libraries, when they have just spent money on all this stuff (which I hardly believe is of much interest to the public)
It is quite typical of public libraries to say that they "put the customer first" and then spend a load of money of toys to play with. I was told I ought to be pleased that CILIP have organised a conference about RFID; when did CILIP ever organise a conference about more books in libraries- or how to avoid closing at lunchtime?
How to check stock
There is an interesting discussion going on below here on the quality of stock in libraries.
Here is a tip from someone who has 'checked stock' for a long time--
Step 1- Before you go into the library/bookstore write down a list of ten items. They can be specific titles or topics (like Egyptian pyramids or Fuchsias). But they want to be something that would be of interest to or useful to you or someone in your family. If you pick authors, be specific about one title. You must make this list on paper before you go in.
Step 2 - try and find them.
Step 3 - Give the library/bookstore a score out of ten
You will find that it is an infallible measure of the quality of whatever stock the library/bookstore holds. It is very interesting and very revealing. Compare the score with another library bookstore. That will be even more interesting and revealing.
July 29, 2007
Libraries in India
The National Knowledge Commission of India has recommended that their government should set up a special body to oversee the improvement of public libraries in their country.
I should love to help them - and I wish our Government would do the same.
July 26, 2007
Fiction in public libraries
For those who believe that there is no longer a place for fiction in public libraries I draw attention to the heart warming thread on Susan Hill's blog.
July 25, 2007
People are so frightened to speak
One thing I have seen over and over while writing this blog and while campaigning to save public libraries: people who work in or depend upon the public sector for their employment are so frightened to speak when they see serious wrongdoing or deliberately poor public service. They are scared for their jobs and scared of their seniors so they prefer to stay silent.
They write to me and say "please don't say my name". I had another long letter tonight which I cannot, at this time, divulge. This person, like many others, has been bullied terribly because she wanted to put right something at her work that she believed to be wrong. There is no one she can go to. Perhaps the time will come that I can describe her story, but not now.
The state sector is so big- that is what gave rise to the expression "totalitarian". It is very scary to see.
Ealing central library
Ealing central library is in trouble. Readers of this blog will remember the difficulty local residents had with obtaining the plans for the redevelopment and how really concerned they were that it was being turned into a bookless community space. Now this
July 24, 2007
MLA "Better Books, Better Libraries" - don't do it
My advice to councils would be not to join this initiative for the following reasons, upon which I am happy to elaborate
1. There is a substantial amount of money to be saved in most councils, part of it is from stock supply work but the major part is from arises from the demarcation between professional and non-professional staff which causes over-manning. It also comes from indulgent processes and failure to adopt EDI etc. Councils can and should address these matters without any action by the MLA. The management and librarian structures are the areas to look at. Unfortunately the service can only afford to operate if most of the expenditure is in the library buildings themselves to keep them open and provide access to the public. We cannot afford to employ people in offices, warehouses and distribution centres
2. The discounts and proposed economies of scale in the Better Stock, Better Libraries programme are already available from suppliers. Councils aren't achieving these discounts at present because the specifications for processing are too variable and too complicated. It is individual councils that have to grasp this problem-- the MLA cannot. BIC can provide guidance on standards but the resolution to conform has to come at a senior level in the council and with political leadership- it's no use passing papers around at a conference of librarians. That has never worked.
3. There is no need to create an extra layer of Government owned infrastucture at a cost of £4m-£7m. What is needed is less structure not more and there needs to be clearer accountability for performance.
4. The local government communities White Paper of last autumn suggests that more resource and management control should reside in individual community libraries. Of course that means that it is invdividual libraries that the responsibility for the stock available to the public should reside- not in some distant MLA office in the home counties or Birmingham.
5. The MLA role should be to help councils achieve their own improvements, not to tell them what to do. They are not responsible for the performance of your libraries nor are they accountable to anyone for the actions they recommend. Their current programme is a recipe for the service to become worse.
6. The parts of the programme which are about common catalogues, standard formats and interoperability are right, but they will only be achieved if they are driven by collectives of councils, not by the MLA.
7. Everyone knows that the argument to persuade a council to move funds from efficiency savings to being spent on improvements to the service is a hard one and a local one. When the MLA glibly write "the money saved can be spent on longer opening and better stock" is a bit like saying "if you have a tin can and some petrol you can fly to the moon". It's true, but not a lot of help.
Don't depend on them to do your job for you. They can't and won't. They never achieved it themselves when they were working in councils, so there's no point in thinking they know how to do it for you.
The MLA should go back to the PKF report and make sure it is implemented. They were charged, jointly with the Society of Chief Librarians, with doing this work in 2005- and failed miserably. They need to work out what they need to finish that work, and do it as quickly as possible.
July 23, 2007
A publisher writes
I retired from Pan Macmillan in March and live in Basingstoke. On my retirement I joined the library and indeed visited it yesterday after catching up with Richard Charkin's blog.
The display, as alluded to one of your posts, is appalling. The new books section is abysmal with a very poor to non existent selection.
It is in my own interest you challenge these comments/proposals re fiction buying. Therefore, I happy to do what ever you suggest to provide some resistance.
Chief Librarian needs a new calculator
There is (another) good piece in the Bookseller this week reporting that Tony Durcan from Newcastle, who is Chief Chief Librarian, calls for 15% of library budgets to be spent on books.
At the end of the article he has obviously told the Bookseller that Newcastle is nearly virtuous and has spent between 12% and 13% of their budget on books.
My calculator doesn't show the same figure : for Newcastle the CIPFA data show
2000/01... book spend £173k; total net spend £6.3m; total gross spend £7.2m; % of gross 2.4%
2004/05... book spend £370k; total net spend £7.9m; total gross spend £8.8m; %of gross 4.2%
2005/06... book spend £385k; total net spend £7.7m; total gross spend £8.2m; %of gross 4.7%
These figures place Newcastle-upon-Tyne library service among the worst in the country.
It is quite difficult for councils to raise the percentage to 15% and takes a great deal of rigorous review and planning. The first step is to buy a calculator that tells the truth.
The second is for someone to set down exactly what they mean by this percentage and others and for all councils and the MLA to parade statistics in a consistent manner. Perhaps that is also something that the Chief Chief Librarian could organise.
In his interview Mr Durcan recommends, absolutely correctly, that councils which have obtained capital funding should make sure a large portion of it is used to buy books. If he had been doing this prior to 2005/6, it would have made the percentages above higher than they otherwise would have been. Perhaps he can tell us how much of the total expenditure for the new library in Newcastle is being spent on books?
Chief librarian calls for increased book spend
21.07.07 Katherine Rushton
Libraries should spend 15% of their annual budget on books, according to Tony Durcan, the newly elected president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL).
"Instead of getting into angst about defending the 9% [average currently spent on books], we should be aiming for 15%," he said. "The reaction should be positive, not negative." According to the latest set of figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA), books in 2005–06 accounted for just 8.9% of library funding.
Tim Coates, library consultant and former m.d. of Waterstone's, strongly welcomed Durcan's stand but said the target should be closer to 25% to prevent decline in the service. "If current library stocks were very good, then 15%–20% may be enough to keep them in good condition, but the stocks we have are so awful that even 15% would make very little difference." Andrew
Stevens of the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council (MLA) praised Durcan for "setting such a bold aspiration" for libraries, and pointed to its Better Stock, Better Libraries proposals as a way of getting better value for money.
Durcan, who is also head of culture, libraries and lifelong learning for Newcastle City Council, added that cash-strapped authorities under pressure to cut their library budgets should look laterally for extra funds, and include investments in book stocks in their renovation budgets.
"We have to look creatively at ways of increasing our spend on stock, even if it's different every year," he said. "If you can't get an increase in base funding, you have to look elsewhere." Newcastle City Council currently spends between 12% and 13% of its annual library budget on books.
Library Katherine Rushton
July 20, 2007
Central Buying Consortium
The Central Buying Consortium do not achieve the best discounts in the library supply book market- by a long way.
Those quotes that we read so often in the trade press and in council papers to councillors which insist that CBC do achieve the highest discounts are incorrect.
The buyers at CBC obviously have no way of knowing what is achieved elsewhere - so their claims are based on assumption - and they are wrong.
I've just been looking ar figures which show that in major purchasing areas CBC get 5% less discount than some small individual authorities.
July 19, 2007
MLA in chaos again
The reason I couldn't find a copy of the proposed document about a search for The strategic Partner to operate the library service on behalf of the MLA was because the MLA were trying to keep it a secret!!
They thought they had sent it out only to their friends -- and not to councillors etc who are the people actually responsible for operating our libraries.
It was yet another attempt by Andrew Stevens etc to try and decide how public money shall be wasted, without telling everybody who needs to know.
But they have been found out. Why does the Minister put up with these bungling hoodlums? What will the Admiral do? Get out the short plank and the shark tank.
What the MLA and the DCMS seem either to ignore or not understand is that if the public library service is to improve, it is local councillors who have to take responsibility and the bring about the appropriate actions.
It is no good for ever passing plans and expensive consultancy documents around professional and chief librarians; they are not in a position to and do not have the means or authority to make changes. Improvements need to involve indiviodual and a concensus of councillors-- the actions need to be made at their behest of councillors- not officials of the MLA
It's not hard to understand - but no one seems to.
"Outrageous, illogical, counterproductive and wrong"
This is Richard Charkin's comment on the book policy being operated by Hampshire County council public library service.
July 18, 2007
The MLA have replaced Chris Batt with a ship's captain. Ahoy there etc
I'm sure he will inspect the fleet in Bloggington Bay
July 16, 2007
The heart of the matter
So poor have the collections of books on display in our public libraries become that not only do the public show no interest in them, but those people who work in the library service find them boring, too. They now believe that books cannot be sufficient to interest members of the public into libraries.
That is what a doctor would call a terminal illness. Even major surgery and huge revival expenditure will probably be too late.
Richard Ward of Hampshire says that now that people no longer want books in libraries, the library profession have to provide them with something else- otherwise they may not want to carry on paying. You will find him saying that on this podcast. I fell off my chair in surprise when I heard it. This, he explained is the thinking behind his "discovery centres". Of course, of course: the purpose of the public library service is to pay for the people who work in it-- the public can go and screw themselves.
Time to abandon this effort - and write a book about it, now that truth and humour have prevailed. If only someone would pay.
Libraries in the Cotswolds to close
That is the story in the Gloucestershire newspapers.
"Book Lending is in inevitable decline"
This is the repeated statement of Hampshire County Council- who have used it as an excuse to reduce the emphasis and the expediture on books in their libraries
Happily it is not true; out of 149 Library authority councils in England last year, 53 increased their book lending.
Unhappily for Hampshire, since they released Southampton and Portsmouth from being operated by the hapless county council library service, both those cities have made great improvements. Last year, Southampton improved book lending figures by 30% and Portsmouth by 18%
Book Lending is only inevitably in decline, Yinnon, Richard, Margaret and Ken, if you take away the books- as you have done.
In Hampshire last year book lending fell by 8%; in the past five years it has fallen altogether by 37%-- that is the worst fall of any English county. Expenditure on books is now less than 6% of the money spent in total by the service. Most of the remaining 94% of the funds go to staff and management who do not actually attend the library counters themselves but sit in an office.
Needless to say, the stock of books available to the public is awful.
July 15, 2007
I am pleased to report that the advert in the right hand tramline for my book about the sad affair of the British Army in Aghanistan in 1841-2 has produced quite a few sales and some income!
I can see that the Amazon sales figure does not seem to support that assertion- so there's a mystery, is all I can say. Maybe the sales are coming through another route. That would please Clive Keeble, I hope
The internet and book lending
The battle for public libraries in Hampshire goes on and on. Here is a piece of propaganda put out by the Hampshire Press Office.
Notice the glib statement "book lending is in decline because we access information via the internet" - as if that was such an obvious thing to say that it could underpin a whole argument.
For those councillors, politicians and local government officers who haven't noticed
- The content of books is not available on the internet- except in a tiny handful of cases- and those have to be paid for. The exception to this is books which are out of copyright- which broadly means they were written more than 100 years ago.
- Information was generally not loaned- it was in reference sections. While much information is now freely available on the internet, authored, edited, published works of reference are not. They are in books or in e-books which also have to be paid for.
Can you believe the sentence "Fiction is being knocked off the shelves as most people choose to buy books?" This, of course, as we have often seen on here, is an invention that comes directly from the Heads of the Hampshire Library service, Yinnon Ezra and Richard Ward. What would you think if you were a parent trying to encourage their children to read and make use of the public library? Could you believe it if you were told that these are the two people in Hampshire charged with, and extremely highly paid for, the job of promoting reading in their libraries?
Book spending, undr the direction of these two men has fallen to such a low level in Hampshire libraries that barely anything is spent on adult books at all. Now they tell us that the fall in lending is because of "changes in society" - and has nothing apparently to do with their deliberate actions. You have to laugh-- except that they believe it.
In the Gosport Discovery Centre, despite the expenditure of more than £2m -which is a huge amount for one library building- book lending has fallen dramatically since it reopened. The place can hardly be regarded as a public library any longer.
Hampshire has spent over £100m in the past 5 years on its library service and in that time visitor numbers have declined and book issues have fallen by 40%.
But if you can always decide where the goal posts are- and you have no team playing against you- you can always claim to have won the game and draw your enormous salary.
And- believe it or not- in contrast to the mocking tone of this article- for some people studying at the so called University of Street Corner, which is what public libraries aspire to be- requires some dignity and silence.
Andrew MacIntosh was dismissed as Minister for Libraries not long after making the quotes attributed to him. It's time that the same fate befell Ezra and Ward and those elected councillors who support them.
Do we have any readers in New Hampshire? What do you think? Should libraries cease to stock and provide access to fiction ?
July 14, 2007
MLA, Supply Chain and all that stuff
I read again yet another report by council officers to their councillors about the MLA project "Better Books, Better Libraries"
It was grandstanding and the final sentence of the officer's report says "Many questions remain to be answered and it will be interesting to monitor developments"
If councils continue to behave like this there will never be any progress- and many more million pounds will be wasted. It is childish and irresponsible.
What the officer should say is "What WE need this project to achieve for us are the following advantages"- and then he should evaluate where such a programme could provide either economy or improvement which the council are not able to obtain on their own
By doing that we would begin to have some sensible discussion, then we would know what a council can improve and how and when it can be done. We would have an agenda for the MLA to tackle knowing it was working in response to real need. Councillors need to take a stronger hand.
At the moment the MLA programme is nonsense. It is too complicated and the benefits are too small, too distant and too unlikely. There are much simpler improvements readily available - but only for those councils who know what they want to do and will seek improvement with purpose.
I called for this work to be done a long time ago- both in the Audit Commission report "Building Better Libraries" and in "Who's in Charge". I was pleased that the Government decided to take action, but since then they have rambled incoherently and expensively. I offered again last week to advise them what to do and was, of course, turned down. It's a shame because great improvements in public libraries are readily available - we just seem to do everything else but take hold of them
The MLA needs a new direction and new urgency-- quickly. There are already too many committees and partners. It's a faff. Come on Mrs Hodge-- show us what you are made of. If you need, I'll tell you what to do.
This blog has saved a lot of libraries from closing in the past 18 months (and no one in the MLA or DCMS has done that)-- now give us a chance to show that we can make them all into really good ones.
July 13, 2007
Conwy libraries saved
The people in Conwy believe that their local council has withdrawn the threat to close 6 libraries out of 13.
It was not a popular proposal - and it was important that there was general awareness that it had been made.
Well done Conwy!
I don't want to mislead my readers but I confess I am not totally certain who is the Minister now responsible for public libraries. It might not be Margaret Hodge in the ministry of culture-- but could be someone in the the department of education. It could even still be Mr Lammy.
I'm sure somebody knows
July 12, 2007
Libraries in Gloucestershire under threat
This article explains that the library service is under threat in many ways. I hope they can all be resisted
There is, of course, no need for any reduction in service. As with most library services there is an adequate amount of funding- the question is how to spend the money to best effect. If the residents of Gloucestershire would like to ask their councillors to invite me to explain how to address these matters in a different way, I would be delighted. There are now a number of Conservative councils which have done so and are very pleased with the results.
July 11, 2007
MLA says there should be no more fiction in public libraries
Yinnon Ezra, board member of the MLA and head of leisure services in Hampshire has publicly questioned the need for fiction in public libraries
""we have to ask whether fiction should remain in libraries when most
people buy books"..... he is quoted in the Portsmouth News
1984? - apparently not
MLA takes the plunge- but is it legal?
The MLA is proposing to appoint a strategic partner to assist in its continuing efforts and has published a "Specification" - (for which I am trying to find a link on the MLA website)
It is a major and expensive step forward along the Price Waterhouse Cooper/ Andrew Stevens road to Nirvana and central control of the public library service.
Basically the proposal is that the MLA should choose the books for every library in the country.
I'm not sure that this is what the MLA ought to be doing. There is a role-- but not this one
It misses the central point to me-- the law says that it is local councils who are responsible for the public library service- not the MLA or any "partner" they may employ. And it is a multi million pound plan even though, at this stage, it only covers a small number of libraries mostly in the North West .
Library suppliers must be wondering how legal it would be for Andrew Stevens and his gang to destroy their livelihood, in the act of providing a service for which he is neither accountable nor responsible.
It is true that Margaret Hodge, the Minister, has a duty to "superintend" the service. But that is hardly the same thing as attempting to run it.
I see no concensus of those councillors who have the responsibility asking Andrew Stevens to do all this work. In fact they are nowhere to be seen on any of his many committees. Such projects should be under their control- shouldn't they?
July 10, 2007
Dorset libraries destruct
Please look at the Dorsetforyou website. This is the official website of Dorset county council.
This week a proposal about the library service is going to cabinet to reduce the opening hours at all 34 service points, cut 1 mobile library, and as many as 46 staff to be made redundant. Full DCC meeting will ratify next week - 19th .
Amazingly, last Monday July 2nd, the library service was reorganised after 12th months work. By Wednesday staff were told this reorganisation would have to be done again!
At the end of all this the service will have 18 core libraries, all the rest, though still open, will largely be run by volunteers.
Morale among the staff is rock bottom, nobody there seems to know what to do.
July 2, 2007
Appears to be the new Minister for libraries
Good luck to her. I have no knowledge of her previous achievements other than what the press say. But I do know she has occupied sufficiently senior positions to be able to take a brief from her civil servants without being completely fooled by what they say.
It seems to me that in the case of the previous three ministers, the DCMS were so anxious to persuade the new incumbent that the library service is wonderful, that an opportunity was missed to set about solving some of the problems.
I hope she shows leadership and places due emphasis on the traditional role of libraries as repositories of that which has been thought and written - and also as places of dignified private reading and books. No more juice bar and community centre mentality.
I wish her well- there is a tremendous need to put the public library service back on track and that seems to me to be an honourable ambition for a minister