December 14, 2010
The end of a terrrible empire
Earlier in my life I had the enormous fortune and privilege to have been in Prague on the days and nights when the Soviet rule of a puppet Government in Czechoslovakia came to an end. I was working with some very good friends who were the members of the Czech PEN club, who by their fortitude, resilience and tenacity brought about the momentous changes. I remember and will never forget the moment at which Ivan Klima, in the front room of whose flat much of the campaign was being organised, quietly said, "It is over." Within a few days not only had the Government in Prague collapsed, but so too had the Berlin Wall and other tyrannies across Eastern Europe
For many years now in this country we have campaiging for the very simple idea that public libraries are essentially about books for people to read. It has astonished, not only my friends in Europe and America that we have had to do this, but even the friends of my children's generation who find it hard to believe that those closest to the operation of libraries had decided that 'libraries are not really about books' . Those people, who include many in senior positions of both Government and the Library Profession, have been tyrannous and mad, if not to quite the same extent as the Soviets, in the same thoughtless, power hungry way.
To get that changed has been a struggle of 12 years. I have lost much that I had and many friends because of it, but made better ones. Many have wondered if it was worthwhile. Having spent so much time and thought on it, I cannot think otherwise
But when I read this document yesterday from the MLA, which comes directly from the simplest market research that should have been conducted years ago, then I began to believe, as Ivan Klima could have said in November 21 years ago, "It might be over" . The Government of England has announced and explained that public libraries are about books.
The sad truth is that because it has taken so long, the damage this stupidity has caused will be long lasting, but nevertheless there is a moment to be pleased.
There is no doubt where the idiocy has been and who has perpertrated it. Their names are wirtten somewhere in this blog and as people keep telling me, what has been written here is fairly permanent
December 11, 2010
There is no need to close a library
I despair because the simple and really important message is not being heard, and obviously is not going to be.
We could achieve all the budget reductions that are needed in the library service and not close one library. In fact with the money that would be available after all the cuts, we would be able to increase book funds and opening hours. There is plenty of capital funding available to refurbish most of the community libraries in the country.
The cuts that need to be made should be taken in the so called 'corporate' structures of local councils, and in the back office and library administration where there is a huge waste of money. But they aren't being, because that is where the senior management work and they are clinging to their jobs. They have been handed the right to decide where the cuts will come and it is they who are deciding it is better to close libraries than lose their own income.
I despair when I see councils like Doncaster proposing to close dozens of libraries, when they were given the opportunity to go through this analysis, but refused. The same is true all over the place.
I know I am repetitious, but Hillingdon is the model where this work was permitted to be carried out and it should be being promoted everywhere.
But I regret it is all too late now. After ten years of saying what was needed- and showing that it worked- ears are still firmly shut, jobs will be lost, libraries will be closed and there is nothing more that Perkins can do.
There is devastation and it is sad to see, but it could all so easily have been avoided if only the key people had not been so stubborn and so ..... well, stupid, I am sorry to say.
If there is any council who will listen... . bla, bla, we have said it here so often, it isn 't worth saying again. And it is too late. The last chance was in the summer, but that was booted out by the Library Future Programme.
December 10, 2010
A glaring example of the difficulties caused by the failure to make CIPFA stats freely available is the recent appeal by an RNIB librarian for copies of the statistics in order to research the availability of talking book material in public libraries.
How can libraries be effective if they are denied access to basic information? It is even more scandalous when the information is collected by publicly funded organisations, which also pay for the 'packaging' of the information.
December 7, 2010
To councillors everywhere -please don't close the library service down, just change the management.
Please don't close the public library service down
The management has been so bad that it puts people off. That's the reason why libraries are not used. If we change the whole approach, it is worth saving the buildings. They are really useful and important.
People would love a wonderful public library service. Please don't shut them - but for goodness and everyone else's sake, change the management quickly: the people in offices, not the people in the libraries themselves.
We can reduce the cost by 30%, easily, but don't close the buildings. Once they are gone we will never get them back. Please.
December 5, 2010
The 'Library Profession'
"I am the manager of a small community library greatly valued by the locals as one of the few amenities in the area. We are waiting to see what will happen to our service.
I attend meetings of my fellow managers at which there are often references to "the professional staff". We see "the professional staff" in our library for about 12 hours per year when they come round and weed the books. We have several e managers and e librarians who are never seen and seem to preside over an ever worsening IT system (every new release slower and buggier than the last). To give credit to the council the book budget is good although I wonder about the selection that we have in our library.
I have followed Tim's blog for some time and see that he is right, to everyone who will listen I say that there is no need to close libraries and that we can easily continue the same service to the public within the budget cuts proposed.
However the council cannot continue with the sort of double amateur(= front line)/professional (= back office) organisation it has at present. Some hard decisions will need to be made by senior officers. I fear, however, that these will be avoided by recourse to such complicated schemes as trusts, charities, outsourcing and devolving libraries to voluntary groups. There is of course a basic conflict of interest in that they are hardly likely to want to make their professional colleagues redundant.
Few of the senior people like books or buildings. I can confirm this from snippets of conversation (councillor so and so likes old buildings - yuk) and was always struck by the way one of our professional librarians with glee ripped out the first few pages of deleted books to make it easier to scan the bar codes.
To be fair - if the professional librarians want to come back and run the libraries directly perhaps we should draw lots for who will have the remaining jobs.
Keep up the good work Tim/Perkins, Many Thanks."
If these libraries were any good councils wouldn't be closing them
Councils are closing a lot of libraries, but they aren't closing them all.
If they were all as good as the good ones then councils and councillors wouldn't think of closing them.
Why are so many libraries so poor? Because they don't have what people want when they go to them.
Why is that? Because the people operating them and responsible for them either don't know what people want, don't want to provide what people want, or haven't had enough money in the past to run them properly.
It is strange that, latterly, nobody really argues that libraries have been short of money in the past ten years. So that boils down to them having been badly managed.
It would be a terrible mistake to save the libraries and then leave them in the hands of managers who either didn't know what people want in them, or didn't want to provide what people want.
We must not just fight to save libraries, but also to improve them. The library profession get very cross with me for saying it, but, in regard to public libraries, they have an awful lot to answer for, and instead of looking in my direction, it would be better if they faced and tackled their own problems. They insist they have a monopoly of know how, but that is hard to believe and there is not much to show for it.
They don't even seem to think that libraries need books and buildings. Some days I wonder why we fight for them.
They need to smarten up their act or there will be no jobs.
Some will be very quick to pour petrol over me, but just look at Hillingdon, where we were able to overhaul the whole library service. There are many other good services, but the councillors in Hillingdon now know the value of the libraries they have created. So far as I am aware, it is the only council in the country that has not only announced no closures or cuts, but is continuing to invest in more improvements. They listened to Perkins, not the Profession.
In fact I will go one step further and say that if it had not been for the idiotic self serving and self centred behaviour of senior public librarians, and their colleagues who got into posts advising government, over fifteen years, we would not be faced with this struggle to save our whole public library service. If those individuals had understood and focussed on books and reading, the library service would now be fine.
I accuse them all. They should not be part of the future of our public libraries. It would be deeply unfair to all the thousands of people fighting to save our public library service for them then to be told that 'libraries aren't really about books any more' , by so called professional busy bodies. We must not let this happen, but it could.
December 4, 2010
An X Factor nation
I am a huge believer in talent and energy and bravery of the kind that is on show in the X Factor each week.
But I also believe in the values of experience, respect, understanding, teaching, discipline, wonder, humility and education that come from reading.
If we close all our libraries our generation shows that of our children that we are an X Factor nation. People of my age have done enough damage in the past decade, don't let's do this, too.
December 3, 2010
Localism and the Libraries Alliance
I listened to Frank Field talking about poverty on the radio and the role of local councils in addressing the family problems. He referred to localism and I believe he was trying to make a point that I am keen we make through the new Libraries Alliance which is being formed.
It is right, in my view, to depend on local councils to operate all their services intelligently and perceptively, with the best standard of management. In order for that to work, they cannot be 'micro managed' or constantly told what to do. There is a balance between leaving them alone and ensuring a high standard of service and diligence. Local authority management will not improve unless it is released from central government stricture. I also believe this theory. But there is an extra dimension that needs to be emphasised.
If the controls on local government are not from central government, then they must come from local people. Local people can only exercise this control if they are fully and properly informed and have access to all the intelligence that is relevant to the operation of the service.
At present local councils are not good at localism because they are poor at purveying information honestly and clearly to the public and often even to councillors themselves. The public are not in a position to participate with their intelligence. Localism cannot mean just getting the locals to do the leg work. It has to mean that policy and action derive directly from the public need.
In the case of public libraries, Library Alliance is being set up to try to improve the quality of the dialogue between local councillors, specifically and local people. It wants to cut through all the various forms and stages of advice that are given by others unless there are genuine reasons why those are needed. That is our ambition
I am looking for moral and financial support to do this - if anyone reading this has access to means. This project will in the end replace CIPFA and the MLA, and all those bodies and it will replace them with a properly informed dialogue between people who read and local councillors who provide libraries.
If anyone can and wants to help, please let me know and pass this on. We are about fund the first stage of reader and council research and I need all the support I can find.
Libraries Alliance is now a CIC (Community Interest Company). We have identified that we need about £50,000 to achieve the first stage of our work and we have pledges which amount to about half of that. We need the rest as soon as possible.
What the lawyers might say.
It looks increasingly likely that a council - one can't tell which - will be taken to court by their local residents under the simple accusation that they have failed to meet their obligations under the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act.
At the same time an action could be brought against the Secretary of State for Culture for similar failures and against those bodies and persons appointed under the Act to advise him and those bodies who exist to advise councils and councillors.
The body of evidence is accumulating on a desk somewhere in a solicitors' office, both of statements made in councils and of statements made by officials in national positions.
Yesterday the spokesperson of the Local Government Association said this on the public record:
"Quote me as 'a spokesperson'. Obviously we are not in a position to comment on individual libraries. In the wider scheme, library services are a non-statutory service - councils are not legally obliged to provide a library in every town. Protecting vulnerable children and adults they do have to do, and that is very expensive. Popular non-statutory services like libraries and leisure centres are being reduced. But it is very much a local decision. All councils will consult with local residents as much as possible. We have to be honest with people. We can't pretend we will be able to provide the same level of service in future. It will vary from place to place. There is a requirement to provide a library service but it doesn't need to be a library - you could provide a mobile library."
Another official is reported praising the 'political courage' of a council proposing substantially to reduce the scale of its library service.
For those who haven't read it the Museums and Libraries Act says, in very clear English, that local councils, as library authorities, do have a statutory obligation to provide an efficient and comprehensive public library service for all those who wish to make use of one.
No one denies the need for efficiency and contraint in the public expenditure, but regular readers of this blog know full well that improving the efficiency of public libraries does not have to mean closing them. There are many other costs that can be tackled first (not just those of superfluous government agencies and quangoes)
These statements above by official voices appear to amount to advice given to both the public and councils. One just wonders what a lawyer might say to a judge about all this, when the day comes.
One doesn't know where this will take place, but, to coin a phrase one hears frequently "It might be you"
December 2, 2010
Close the Local Government Association
Perkins is rarely roused to such a level of crossness as she is today.
Some jam sandwich called Darran Hickey, who apparently holds the salaried role of Senior information officer at the the Local government associaton has written about public libraries that Benedicte Page of the Bookseller is 'a journalist who does not understand the subject'
I'll say his name again, in case the search engines missed it first time round: Darran Hickey, LG senior information officer, you should know a thing or two. The Bookseller is far better informed on the subject of public libraries than anyone in the LGA and most people in most local councils. Benedicte has followed, researched, understood and written about this subject - I hope no one will mind me saying it, but it is true- better than any politician, civil servant or journalist. And she is deeply and significantly supported by her editor and proprietors, when sometimes she has to say things which are difficult to accept, even though they are true.
On the other hand the LGA is a parasite organisation. It is neither elected nor accountable, it is an organisation whose only function is the invidious role of lobbying for government officers to parliament. It campaigns for the end of the very important 1964 Libraries and Museums Act, which protects the public against the not infrequent lunatic and incompetent management of public services by local councils.
It is a waste of public money, hidden from the public gaze. It should be shut. Nothing would be lost. Much would be gained in the relationship between councils and local people.
When we talk, as people do, of the reform of our democratic systems, we should include an appraisal of the accountability of Local Councils to local people, which is currently poor and the LGA is one of the reasons why. There are too many bodies pretending they speak for the people, this is one.
I suspect there are a lot of councillors who agree with me.
Darran Hickey, you should apologise publicly to Benedicte Page, hang your head in shame, and go home and tell your mum that you are an oaf.