January 24, 2009
Warming letter from Shirley Burnham
Shirley is not related to the Secretary of State for Culture, but she is an articulate voice for public libraries firmly focussed on saving the library in Old Town, Swindon.
She has a cheering letter in The Independent this morning
"As someone trying to save a much-loved branch library in Swindon's historic Old Town, I have discovered a great network of people working to keep libraries throughout the country. I am horrified that Wirral Council plans to close half its libraries. But it is heartening that many people are writing to Andy Burnham to call in that decision, thanks to the Libraries Act, which enables the Secretary of State to intervene when a local authority fails to provide a comprehensive and efficient service.
Swindon, Wiltshire "
Posted by Perkins at January 24, 2009 9:42 AM
The key words here are "comprehensive" and "efficient". Many peope from all walks of life would claim to know what being "efficient" means, especially accountants, but when has the word "comprehensive" ever been defined by a judge or anyone else in order to clarify the force of the 1964 Libraries Act? How does the Secretary of State know when to act: to intervene on behalf of library users? All this strikes me as completely arbitrary. A new Act of Parliament is needed, at the very least.
Posted by: Frank Daniels at January 24, 2009 3:13 PM
I have often heard senior library managers and librarians moaning that the 1964 Act is not satisfactory because there is a need to define 'Comprehensive' and 'efficient'. If professional librarians and council officers don't know what these words mean they should go and find out. There is no need to rewrite the Act of Parliament and not being able to understand these words should not be used as an excuse for not doing a perfectly straightforward job.
In the case of The Wirral closing 11 libraries anyone there should be no difficulty for the Secretary of State being motivated to undertake his responsibility to superintend and intervene.
The law was clearly never intended to be used to send people to prison but to make sure that councils did their job in a sensible and grown up manner and to give them something to aspire to. It is a perfectly good act and we should not waste the time of parliament or civil sevants in trying to frame a new one.
I am afraid it is arguments like this that do amount to dusting the deckchairs as the ship goes down- and they will be used against those who are desperately and justifiably seeking positive urgent action to save libraries. They mustn't be; they are not clever. I'm sorry.
Posted by: Perkins at January 24, 2009 7:18 PM
Two sets of DCMS "Standards", some counter-productive, were meant to define this word for the Act.
Instead, they gave the Ministry an excuse to NOT enforce the Act for the last nine years!
Posted by: No Brain at January 26, 2009 11:30 PM
No Perkins, I can well imagine a chief librarian closing down 11 libraries (because that is what his library committee have instructed him to do) and still claiming as he executes this order that the remaining libraries still provide a "comprehensive" service. Motive? To hold on to the lucrative salary that comes with the post.
There are problems with the 1964 Act other than the lack of a definition of "comprehensive". My point is that the definition should come from professional librarians, endorsed by CILIP, and should not come from any national or local politicians. I do not have the details, but the case of Derbyshire Libraries, where a decision was made re the meaning of "comprehensive" should be looked at again, to see whether it might provide a template. I am saying that librarins should have the power to control their own profession, and that they be listened to where conflict arises, be it The Wirral or elsewhere. Looking around though, this seems like a pipe dream.
Posted by: Frank Daniels at January 27, 2009 9:23 PM
Thank you Frank, sorry to have been slow to post this, I was away from the computer.
Sadly, what you have said explains exactly why CILIP, Chief Librarians and public servants in general in this field are sometimes held in such low regard. For those whom you characterise the notion of self sacrifice for the public good is, as you so vividly describe, no longer even thought of. That is indeed what one has come to observe and explains why the trust, which you seek, to make responsible judgments about how to conduct the service, could not possibly be given to such ' professionals' as they so cynically call themselves. The worry is and has been for a long time, that they put their own personal interests first in everything they do.
Thank goodness there are a significant number who have more courage and honour.
Posted by: perkins at January 29, 2009 9:53 AM