January 29, 2011
The people of Somerset are paying £7.5m in the current year for their public library service.
This is £6.4m of their taxes allocated to libraries by the county council, £800,000 from libraries income (fines, fees etc) and £300,000 from neighbouring councils for whom they provide some supply services as the lead in a consortium.
The £7.5m will be spent as follows
£3.3m on the operating and staff costs of 34 libraries and 6 mobiles
£1.1m on support service costs of the council
£2.9m on the head office costs of the library service (the exact split between these latter two costs is not clear)
£200,000 on the book fund.
In other words considerably less than half the funds available are spent on the libraries themselves
In a consultation document published by the council in December the council said the the 'net' budget for the library service is £5.4m and that a reduction of 25% of that (ie £1.35m) needs to be made for the budget for 2011-12.
(The £5.4m is £7.5m, less the income and less the support services charge and it reflects only that part of the budget for which the library service has direct control)
In order to meet this budget 'pressure' the council proposes to close 11 libraries and reduce opening hours in several others, while seeking other ways to raise income from the public.
They had taken advice from the MLA and from the consultants 'Shared Intelligence' in the preparation of their proposals which came from council officers.
In a presentation to the residents and council in Abbey House, Glastonbury last night I made the following recommendations for a different way to proceed.
1. Instead of taking the £1.35m from the operating cost of the library buildings, the council should seek to make the savings by reducing the cost of the library service office and non-library based costs. I made a number of suggestions for areas to explore to achieve this.
2. The figures should all be clear, consistent, complete and comprehensible otherwise it is not possible for the councillors to make informed decisions or for the residents to understand how those decisions are made.
3. The council should take this opportunity to create a library improvement programme, rather than just make cuts in the service to the public.
Although my method of presentation of the figures in this way is unconventional (because I believe the normal methods are not comprehensible to the public) no one has denied that the figures are correct. They come directly from the county council themselves.
I call upon and challenge the library profession, the Government and council officers to support this call to Somerset County Council and make similar analysis in other places. In my view this is the approach that the Library Futures Programme should have been taking. It is unlikely that there is a need to close a library anywhere for financial reasons in order to meet the requirements of deficit recovery.
For having been off air for a while. Back now
January 10, 2011
Are libraries about books or about creating social opportunities?
In a typical feisty email this morning, circulated to librarians around the country, Roy Clare, the head of the MLA writes
Public libraries will not be preserved by wishful thinking and aspic. Strive to thrive; recognise the width and breadth of the social opportunities and fight hard to nourish change and embrace development that can serve the whole community, not simply the privileged, mainly white, middle class. These are perspectives that too few commentators – whether journalists or campaigners – care to hear about, still less to understand.
This was in response to a rather good article in The Guardian on Friday in which the journalists had reported a public meeting they attended in Brent at which local people were asking the council to withdraw their proposal to close half their libraries.
The view of this blog is that it is the books and the chance to read them that create the social opportunities- and that is what Mr Clare and his cronies fail to understand. That is why we need libraries full of them to remain open and that is why so many people in different places are campaigning to keep them open. To call people who read 'preserved in aspic' is not really the right way to promote the use of public libraries, and to label people as 'white and middle class', is nasty inverted racism of a kind ill-becoming anyone in high position. It is language of a kind we could all do without.
I am reminded of when the London Borough of Merton closed several of its libraries claiming that the move allowed them to conduct more 'outreach'. That just doesn't make sense to anyone, of what ever colour, age or selected preservative. You can't outreach for a library which is shut.
For the record Perkins is small, black and furry and feels priveliged to be so.
It might be more true to say, rather than what Mr Clare said, that Public Libraries will not be preserved so long as he is going around the country, abusing his position, telling councils that it is ok to shut them. It is time he was removed from his expensive post.
January 8, 2011
Persons desiring to make use of the public library service
People often write at length about the possible meanings of the words 'comprehensive' and 'efficient' as they occur in the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act. They aren't difficult words, even for a small cat, but they do seem to cause terrible difficulty among those who are responsible.
Councils and even state officials from bodies like the MLA refer to the word 'effiicient' and nudge and wink quietly to each other saying that it would be much more 'efficient' if we only had a few large libraries, and that would satisfy the requirements of the Act and all the statutory responsibilities it carries
However there is a deal of correspondence circulating about ways to test the Act and Perkins took the trouble to read it carefully again. It doesn't say that the public library authorities should provide an efficient service.... it says that public library authorities should provide an efficient service for those who desire to make use of one. In other words if it is inefficient for a user to travel 5 miles on the bus- or less efffcient than a current arrangement in which there is a small local library- , then the authority isn't doing what the Act asks of it.
This battle is far from over.
Incidentally it isn't just local authorities who, for years have been trying quietly to argue that we can do without hundreds of small local libraries, Roy Clare and the MLA say it all the time and so indeed have CILIP and the SCL, unless they want to deny it quickly.
Where is the statutory Advisory Council on Public Libraries while all this is going on? Perkins found lots of references to that in her reading of The Act. It is hard to agree with senior figures who write to The Times protesting that nobody is ignoring The Act when they and others are certainly turning a blind eye to that bit of it.
January 6, 2011
Eric Pickles is right to insist that councils explore their highest level costs before closing libraries, reducing book funds or shortening opening hours.
These costs lie both in the library service itself and in the corporate structure of the council. These are the areas in which radical change is needed, and a reduction in costs.
It is rarely possible for a chief librarian or a head of cultural service to propose or manage changes at this level, it has to be undertaken either at cabinet level, or lead by the chief exec and finance exec of the councils.
Time is running out now and we will soon hear the results of all the deliberations and initiatives of the last 6 months.
I still believe that we should be looking for a public libraries improvement programme, even if fundamental costs are reduced by 30%. I see no reason why this cannot be done, except that the people in position to do it just won't unless someone forces them to.
Mr Pickles looks like the man who can