April 25, 2011
What the public library service could have done
While they whinge their way into oblivion and deny the British people a decent public library service, it is worth reflecting on what those who manage the our libraries could have achieved over the past decade
- They could have used the £864m of capital that has been spent on public libraries renovating the entire library estate. In 2005 the estimate for doing that was only £600m - but we have spent nearly 50% more than that and wasted most of it.
- They could have standardised and simplified the book ordering and distribution service so that we don't still have nearly 200 local distribution centres and 170 different specifications for turning a printed book into a library book for lending. This would have saved at least £100m of needless expense every year that could have been spent restoring the book stocks to something like the quality that is needed. It would also have revived the moribund interest of the UK publishing industry in what is potentially one of their largest customers
- They could have created one national, fascinating and abundant public library catalogue listing the amazing extent of books that are mostly stored away hidden from any public gaze and made them readily available
- They could have created one national public library website that made available untold reference resources that have magnified as more and more expert content becomes available in digital form
- They could have identified and obtained writing and publishing from around the world to meet the needs of the extraodinary international population that has come here to live, work and study
- They could have initiated a national training programme for public library assistants removing the need for archaic working practices and demarcations
- They could have digitised and created a network of local history material that would have earned public adoration for giving access to valuable personal and social information
- They could have ridden the wave of advancing equipment, providing a ready market for new technologies of pc's, downloading, searching and all the other progress we watch almost daily on the web.
- They could even have replaced the library light bulbs that have gone out in almost every library in the country.
- In short they could have made a wonderful public library service- instead of which they have made it so miserable no one wants to do anything but close it down and in which all we see is highly paid people explaining the minimum they can do to get away with not being found to have broken a law which only asked them to be comprehensive and efficient. How pathetic can they be?
So how many MBE's and OBE's and hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have we handed out to get this far? They deserve only scorn. Who were they?
"Framework for the future" - don't make me laugh.
April 19, 2011
Where is the Culture Select Committee?
I think it's fair to say that the DCMS has made a complete hash of the so called Libraries Improvement Programme that they inaugurated last July.
This follows on from the botched Libraries Review of the two years previous to that and a shelf full of the daftest reports on the public library service to be found in the Western Hemisphere.
And indeed there can't be many people apart from those who claim to have worked in them, who would have many good words to say for the entire life span of eight years of the MLA or the sponsorship of it by the DCMS. Any pretence that either were sincere in their endeavours to do something to public llbraries have been utterly washed away with the imminent disappearance of the MLA executives. They, in contrast to Perkins the cat, might be accused of being more interested in their careers than in the preservation and improvement of the public library service, which is now being stoned to death by councils around the country just at the moment some of them choose to leave its shores.
So where then is the House of Commons Culture Select Committee whose job it is to scrutinise the DCMS on behalf of all of us? It is now five and half years since they last sat. On that occasion they produced a marvellous report which was totally ignored by DCMS and MLA alike. Now is the time for them to sit and reaffirm the role they should always have played. The need is urgent -- before we begin the next and possible fatal final round of budgeting the public library service in England.
April 13, 2011
Embargoed until 2030 hrs BST 13 April 2011
Contact: John Harrison, Head of Communications at MLA on 020 7273 1402 or email John.firstname.lastname@example.org
MLA Chief Executive to move on
MLA Chief Executive Roy Clare has announced that he is leaving the Council at the end of May to become Director of the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand.
His announcement comes as the MLA finalises plans for the October 1st transfer of key responsibilities to Arts Council England. Roy Clare was a member of the MLA Board in 2006-07 and has led the Council since September 2007.
MLA Chair Sir Andrew Motion said: �Like all Roy's colleagues at the MLA, and those who know him in the wider world that our organisation has served, I feel very sad to know he is leaving us. But this sadness is contained and off-set by very many other feelings. By admiration: for the amazing transformation that he achieved within the MLA; by pride: at having been a part of the vibrant and effective organisation he so crucially helped to create; by gratitude, for the exceptional blend of diligence and consideration and visionary clarity that he brought to his work; and by affectionate hopefulness that the next very adventurous and exciting stage in his career will bring him all the opportunities and the satisfactions he so richly deserves.
In a message to staff, Roy Clare said: It has been a unique privilege to work with the MLA�s talented and dedicated staff through very fast-moving and challenging years where much has been achieved. It was never in my game plan to see the MLA fall victim to the NDPB cull.� After a far-reaching cost-cutting overhaul and a relentless focus on supporting the sector in improvement, the MLA was in great shape to support progress in museums, libraries and archives across the country. In their recent report Parliament�s Culture Select Committee agreed, commending our work.� However, the MLA Board and I also accept the rationale for the reduction in NDPBS generally, and we foresee potential benefits for museums, libraries and collections to be a part of a holistic model for culture and the arts within Arts Council England.
So far the signs are promising � the Arts Council has shown great enthusiasm for the task and considerable skill in managing recent decisions about funding for the arts. I am confident that the principles MLA has advocated will go from strength to strength: sharing collections; putting the public first, exploiting the power of stories for learning, working with elected local government because they are best placed to use culture to shape local places; planning service change around public need for the long-term even in severe financial times.
I will be very sorry to say goodbye to staff in MLA and to be leaving professional colleagues and many friends who I have worked with across the sector in Britain over the past decade. But I will do so conscious that digital technology really does make this a small world. There is a lot to be shared between countries � my objectives for teamwork, success and learning are the same and I am looking forward to meeting new people and taking with me to New Zealand the many things I have learned from people here.
In Auckland I will have an exciting opportunity to learn about the Kiwi lifestyle, starting with building up a strong understanding of Maori culture and learning to speak the language. I will be helping the Board of Auckland Museum to deliver their ambitious plan of action, which foresees their great museum and its unique collections thriving at the heart of the city.
Auckland is a vibrant, confident place with international prestige and a global perspective. Last year the Auckland region joined up its several cities and territorial authorities to make one �super city� under a single Mayor. There is now a vision for culture and the arts at the heart of a fresh and stimulating strategy for developing commerce, tourism and well-being. I look forward to leading the team in the Auckland Museum to make a major contribution to these ideas, engaging people in the stories of the city and of New Zealand as a whole.
Roy will stay at the MLA until the end of May at the time the current period of consultation with staff ends. The Board has decided that this is a naturally appropriate time in the transition to move to new arrangements and that it will not be necessary, or value for money, to continue with a full time Chief Executive Officer role.� Corporate Services Director Paul Lander, who has been leading planning for transition, take charge of the MLA as it completes the transfer of key functions and moves towards closure and wind up. Under his lead, Executive Board members will assume lead responsibility for the MLA�s residual sector-facing activity and engagement.�
Andrew Motion added: �This is a hard act to follow, but I have every confidence that the MLA will be very efficiently and effectively run under the leadership of Paul Lander, with the expertise of the Executive Board, during the last months of its existence.�
Roy Clare flies out to take up his new role in July.
April 7, 2011
What the public don't want to see in public libraries and the public library service
2. Unspecified "Colocation projects" which they believe mean 'closing our local library and promising to open a new one somewhere in 5 years time'
3. Local libraries closing without seeing a clear and improved replacement in the same area - or equally convenient
4. Presumption that ebooks, the internet, RFID etc, will provide a library service of the future
5. Reduced book funds
6. Reduced opening hours
7. Library staff working in offices with salaries over £50,000
8. Public library staff working in offices, warehouses, bibliographic centres at all
9. Volunteer run libraries with no permanent experienced staff at all.
10. Library services delegated to 'for profit' trusts.
11. Library services delegated to charities who have no experience of running libraries
13. Consultations that are deceitful
14. Incoherent statements by Government or Councils and budgets that are incomprehensible
15. 'Joined up' library services where there is no local accountability.
April 3, 2011
The Library Futures Programme
There is an unwritten rule in the public library service that every report that is published will have no figures in it, commit to no firm observable action and be 84 pages long. There must be 35 reports on the DCMS shelf that conform to those requirements at least since 1998, when I first looked. Reports are a waste of time and money -we don't need them, we need action and improvement
Imagine my astonishment when I opened the Library Future Report. It is true that it contains no comprehensive and understandable figures and no commitment to firm observable action, but miracle of miracles it is only 18 pages long.
Hold the front page because, as I quickly realised it is mysteriously accompanied by one document which is called Appendix 2. And Appendix 2 is - wait for it - 68 pages long! I can't see Appendix 1 and have to suppose that is because it is minus two pages long, and therefore invisible.
The problem with the librarians and officials who write these things is that they simply cannot cope with the idea that there is a public out there.
Anyone in the country, having noticed that public libraries have been in the news and who wonder how those responsible react to what has been said and what they have decided to do about it, will, I'm afraid, not find any answers here.
During the summer, when the Programme was being discussed, we who campaign for improvement, begged and implored the Government and MLA to find out and take note of what people want from their library service, so that when they talk about future improvement, what they concentrate on is what people will want, even when times are austere
Consequently each of the projects described in this report starts out by asking the local authority "What do people want" . I counted eleven times the same question is repeated
The problem is that not one of the councils involved went to any trouble to find that out (even though the MLA had published a reasonable answer to the question in December and several people people published charters that make it plain) and as a consequence the whole 84 page volume is full of the usual tish tosh that we always get from these people about -well - I can't bear to go over it - it's the same old rubbish. Whatever it is, it isn't about what people use and need a library service for.
No surprises - no one really involved their councillors; there is no commitment from councils about what they will do; there are no clear budgets; and all the meetings were lovely and inspiring. It is the same old rubbish and most of the people seem to have been totally taken by surprise by the cuts that came with the Comprehensive Spending Review in December : as if they never read a newspaper. No wonder they all think they haven't had time to respond. they had their eyes and ears shut. None of them offers an explanation of why so many libraries are being closed in some places and not others and why the local people are so cross and angry about it.
Even Westminster, Chelsea and Hammersmith - where the commitment to join forces has come from the very top of the councils - could not produce a coherent statement of their budget - which I can reveal is almost £30m per annum - a ludicrously large amount to run just 25 libraries. They only identify £1.5m savings and I'll tell you for nothing that I could find £5m in an hours work without shutting a library or reducing a book fund. I bet I could find £10m annual savings in a day with all the figures. The cost of Kensington and Chelsea library service on its own is a joke which many of us have laughed at for years. Hammersmith is almost as bad.
Marks out of ten -not many I'm afraid. But I have read the whole thing, honest. All 86 pages this time.
Should we take it seriously. No.
However what the sharp eyed will quickly spot is that in a country which claims to have no money for this kind of thing, a huge amount was spent on - bless my whiskers - consultants, with each project being given £10,000 to hand out to the cheery folk who facilitated a few meetings. That's £100,000 which appears to have been supplemented by quite a lot of money from councils which they keep telling us they haven't got.
Even more remarkable is how much of this money has gone to Sue Charteris in the guise of her small consultancy company which is called Shared Intelligence. Somebody should ask how much money they have earned in the past 18 months from library projects and I guess it will be somewhere between £100,000 and £150,000: maybe a lot more. Improvements to be seen as a result? - someone else can say.
And that reminds me: whatever happened to the £70,000 that was spent last Autumn on even more consultants for the London Libraries Change Programme?
Are we being conned? I'm afraid so. Cuts- I'd cut the whole bunch if it were up to me. Every single one. Don't weep for the MLA
So long as state officials (and local politicians) continue to act as if they live within a citadel outside which the mere public are just an irritating nuisance, we will get this kind of low quality administration. That is, for me, the big problem with our country.
As for the public library service-- well what this report really demonstrates is that there is no vision and there is no leadership - and they are badly needed.
What about the Minister? He's had a year now and he should not try to defend the weaknesses of this low level uninspired document. What he has inherited is a quagmire. It's time he showed some strength. I don't know what the Oxfordshire word for it is-- but in Yorkshire they call it Welly - and they mean Iron I believe it is a reference to the Duke of Wellington. .
April 1, 2011
DCMS Taking Part Survey shows yet another fall in library use
The last time I wrote this, when the figures last came out, I was subject to hysterical abuse from the library profession claiming that my calculator didn't work and that just because people didn't visit libraries didn't mean that they didn't love libraries and librarians etc etc
So I merely refer people to the DCMS website and they can sort it out for themselves.
Whatever librarians have done to libraries they haven't made people want to use them. So there - and if management (and investment) isn't about worrying about that kind of thing, I don't know what to say
Except that until we put the books back in libraries, make them attractive and open them for proper hours, these figures will continue to go down - and councils will, rightly, think they are a waste of money and want to close them. It's simple.
Rural libraries to offer horse sharing
The DCMS announced last night that in an effort to save rural libraries they will be encouraged to participate in a horse sharing scheme similar to the bike sharing scheme in operation in London.
Farmers will be able to tie their spare horses up at a new rail installed by councils at the front of village libaries and local people will be encouraged to bring along their grass cuttings to help provide fodder.
Librarians training in horse care is to provided by the librarians National Aquisitions Group at their regional seminars.
The scheme will be known as 'Huntsman's horses' and the Minister said that he regarded it as an innovative step the product of which could help to line the empty coffers of many council strong boxes.
A spokesperson for the library profession joked that it would provide 'A twist in the pony tale' - but added more seriously that it would prevent people saying that of the library service that the horse had bolted before the door was shut.
The Reading Agency called it a 'Spiffing' idea. "Riding will be the new reading" she said
Campaigners complained that they had not been consulted and called for a meeting "We'll come to a rodeo- if that's what it takes to get to the horses mouth" said one. William Hill are offering odds on the number of closures in the next round of the circuit. 'There are several high fences and low ditches still to jump'