June 30, 2012
What happened to the 600 libraries that were going to close?
At present it is probably true that very few libraries have actually closed in the past two years -despite the endless talk of drastic budget cuts to library budgets. It may also be true that the actual cuts themselves have been small relative to the predictions that were made. We shall know the answers when the governemt CIPFA figures for public libraries are produced for 2011/12 in the next few months
The assembly of library campaigners - a wonderful group of hundreds, even thousands of individuals from all over the country- intelligent, articulate, dignified, well read, these are people with proper values of decency and the importance of education and fairness. This loose gathering of the worthwhile and like minded. of all possible political inclinations, have saved 600 libraries from closure by their persistence, truth telling and rather clever use of the press and the internet. They are heroes
They do not have to thank the minister, the government, the political parties, civil servants, local government officials or councillors, or jobsworth, gutlesss bodies like the Local Government Association, for helping them- for none of these people have provided help at all. They faced firmly away when the call was made to show their own courage.
The campaigners have been joined by people working in libraries- who do understand the importance of the work they do and who have feared for their jobs, of course, but who have spoken up where they can
They have not been supported at all by the so-called 'Chief Librarians' and heads of the library profession who should have provided clear leadership - and have signally and obviously failed to do so and have shamed their professional status and body by their appalling misunderstanding of their role and responsibility.
The libraries were saved mainly by a headline that said '600 libraries will close' which scared councillors and made them realise that they might easily lose their precious seats (who cares about local councilllors? - for goodness sake) if they allowed council officers to close libraries to save a few pence.
All this might be a fair analysis of the past- but it is a cautionary tale for the next year.
There is still no money- bankers are still behaving like criminals, government finanaciers are still as incompetent as ever they were- the budget cuts are bound to go on
So the campaign has to hold its nerve and gather wind in its lungs and strength in its keyboard fingertips -- whatever misleading information comes once more from councils and from our government - the libraries must now improve. To be safe from closure is not enough - we want the book stocks restored, we want libraries that are clean and dignified to work in and that are open all the day long; we want equipment that works properly- and we want staff who know the answers to the questions a child or an older person or anyone might ask of their local librarian - and paid to be able to do so .
We don't want Arts Council theories about the future of culture on the planet, or inquiries, or reports or analyses or hearings of any kind - we want proper, sensible, responsible, grown-up action and we want it now.
If ever the Big Society might have meant anything - what library campaigners everywhere have achieved (nearly everywhere, unfortunately) has been an ideal: a triumph - and an honour for those who participated. They are the gold medallists we really need.
It is deeply sad that in our country honest, respectable people find themselves excluded from and in fundamental opposition to the ruling group on such a straight forward matter as the value of the public library service, but that has happened and it should not go unmarked
June 27, 2012
The 'Local Government Association' costs £56m per annum
Hands up anyone who doesn't work in local government who has ever heard of the 'Local Government Association' (the 'LGA') ?
It is hard to believe but this is a body who lobby one part of government on behalf of another part of government to ask for more money and to ask that it be given less onerous tasks to conduct. It is the ultimate useless quango - tha last back office of the back office.
This is the body that tries to persuade central government that they shouldn't be asked to provide public libraries: that libraries don't need books, don't beed buildings and don't need experienced staff
Most of the people who draw expenses from it aren't actually elected to be in power and responsible positions - they are councillors and council officers who have no actual role in the governance of their own councils -and are just job fillers of non jobs, expensively rewarded
And the cost of this negative, unproductive, useless body turns out to be £56m per annum- and that includes about £27m of consultants' fees and a stonkingly expensive huge building in the dearest part of London
It should be shut down - it does nothing for the public and the money could be far better used.
If we have managed without the Audit Commission for two years, we can most certainly manage without the LGA
June 16, 2012
Libraries are for the people who want to use them
We watch with amusement the meanderings of Liz Forgan at the Arts Council, Ed Vaizey and the nunkies in the DCMS, the LGA, endless local govt officials, and library professionals even their brainless honourables and worshipfuls in the House of Lords as I saw last week and so many others
The most important phrase in the 1964 Libraries Act is the one that says that Libraries are to be run efficiently for the benefit of those who wish to make use thereof
They are not for the benefit of local government, national government, the people who work in them, the library profession, political parties, government agendas of inclusion, crossing the digital divide, trade unions, ... or anything else- including people who don't want to use libraries.. libraries are not for people who don't want to use them
Their purpose is to provide a library service to 'those who wish to make use of them as libraries'
So the most obvious starting point in any review of the library service is to ask those people what they want and provide them with it. How many more decades and reviews will it takes before someone does this?
Actually we already know the answers, because those kinds of questions have often been asked and, much as government officials, strangely, hide away what the answers have been, we know what people say. Simply they want - more books (newspaprers etc), longer opening hours, cleaner more attractive, more dignified buildings, silent space to work in, helpful, friendly, staff and equipment, like computers and printers, that work. It's easy. If you go through the needs of different age groups, it quite readily provides a list of what the library service and councils ought to do ........ no need for more reviews!
The 1964 libraries Act was a very good and well written Act - and such a shame that no one does what it says, It would work perfectly well in this century and probably the next
June 10, 2012
How decisions about public libraries are made
The key strategic decisions about libraries are made, in my experience, by a small group within a council; that normally comprises the elected leader (or Mayor); the councillor with responsibility for finance; the councillor who has libraries in his or her portfolio and then the Chief exec and financial director.
How that strategy is implemented will involve a couple more of the directors - property, IT and whichever department the libraries falls in and ultimately the chief librarian.
Whenever I see discussions raised by the DCMS about libraries, they never involve these key decision makers -- for example the conference this month at which Ed Vaizey is speaking has some Chief Leisure Officers and some Chief Librarians - but none of the really important figures - leaders and those responsible for finances in councils - will be there. So there is no effective discussion of the issues with the right people.
I don't let Ed Vaizey off the hook - but I think we have to understand that it is council leaders who actually decide what happens-- indeed that is what the 1964 Act says-- and I do blame the civil servants in the DCMS for never having created a framework within which the 1964 Act could work effectively - so that council leaders knew what criteria the minister would use in order to judge that a council had fallen outside the Act.
I don't think councils have been given nods and winks that the DCMS won't intervene- I think there has never been meaningful discussion betweeen the right people at all. The MLA never had anything sensible to say because they never had any genuine expertise or experience that could have been useful to a council leader - ask any council leader and they will concur. The Arts Council is in no better position -- why on earth would a council leader listen to the Arts Council about budgeting of libraries - what could they possible know that a council doesn't already intimately understand?
A council leader would welcome guidance about how to deliver a good library service when their funds are severly restricted and budget pressures are very real -- but they never receive such help from anywhere. It is no good asking chief librarians, because all they will do is prioritise the importance and security of their own roles - and that is no help to anyone - and it is all they ever do, along with adding some outdated philosphy about information science that is meaningless and incomprehensible.
Instead of a practical discussion along constructive lines - which we need - we get idiotic consultations about the future of libraries in 10 years time, which help no one and do nothing at all except waste time and raise blood pressure.
In fact I think the only person in a position to do anything about the library service now is the Minister for Local Govt (currently Eric Pickles) because he could elevate Ed Vaizey's role into one which council leaders take note of and require the DCMS to identify some practical and sensible budgetary advice... but there is no sign that such a move will happen (I argued for it very hard at the start of this Government, but clearlly the DCLG had larger priorities)
That's why I conclude that Ed Vaizey simply cannot do anything now -- if there was a moment it has gone past. His role is not credible - not just to those of us who campaign, but more importantly to those in councils who make the decisions we so deeply dislike. And there is nothing the DCMS can do - it has to be down to others
June 2, 2012
Education and libraries are more important
This is just an observation
Education is certainly and clearly more important than Religion, Sport, Media investment, the corporate structure of local government, the institutions of banking,finance and insurance, the cost of political parties, the Monarchy and the extent of our civil service.
We should sell assets and be clearer about our priorities if we find ourselves neglecting education and, as part of our educational service, our public library service.
These are the kind of decisions that one would really mean by hard
Instead of the Olympics we should have spent the money on the library service. ... it would have been better.
We have become one of the most ignorant. gauche, brutal, unkind and uncultured countries on the planet - with no apparent aspiration or ambition to improve. We should not have let that happen