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
Posted by Perkins at June 30, 2012 4:25 PM
According to the best source of information, Public Libraries News, to be found at http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/ 275 libraries (234 buildings and 41 mobiles) are currently under threat or have been closed/left council control since 1/4/12. No fewer than 121 libraries were lost in the financial year 2011/12. Perusal of the aforementioned website's 'tally by local authority' , classifying the threat in each area, is enough to make the hairs on the back of one's neck stand up. As you so rightly suggest, there is NO doubt that the efforts of campaigners from all walks of life, whose ranks swell daily, will continue to fight for a quality *public library* service. No-one is resting on any laurels whilst the philistines continue battering at the gates, that is for sure.
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at June 30, 2012 5:57 PM
Libraries have been saved from closing but you can definitely tell where the cuts have been made! The library service in Croydon is not the same as it was a year ago, before the cuts. All our libraries are open, but with less staff, fewer books, less activities, library staff no longer visit schools and events like the Summer Book Trail rely on volunteers.
Posted by: Teens4Libraries at June 30, 2012 8:41 PM
We have a long way to go and now the councils are threatening to cut libraries unless they get more cash (they always want more) then more pressure will be put on the library service. These people with the power don't understand evidence or data, these are just tools they can spin to argue for some ideological nonsense they have already made their mind up on. They do however understand the ballot box. Come the local elections in 2013 I will be knocking on doors and delivering leaflets for whoever promises me they will protect libraries in Oxfordshire. These buggers are supposed to work for us after all. And on the waste of space that is the LGA, the 53 million figure is their over £500 spending data, the true cost of that waste of space is likely to be much higher and I will hopefully have the full answer soon: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/annual_expenditure#incoming-292219
Posted by: Trevor Craig at June 30, 2012 9:11 PM
The Isle of Wight removed all funding for 5 of our 11 libraries, these have been taken over by voluntary groups. At the same time all our Tourist Information Offices were closed and staff sacked (on an Island that relies on tourism) and almost half our public toilets were closed. Now, the council have announced that they have an underspend of £2.3 million, how can a local authority be allowed to operate with such crass financial inability? The general feeling among Islanders is that with a local election due next May, they are building a 'war chest' to try and buy votes! The council have said that they intend to spend this cash windfall on building new beach huts!
Posted by: Dave Quigley at July 1, 2012 7:29 AM
Beach Huts indeed!
and so local government reflects the stupidity of central government. We have no money but Gove can find £375,000 for new bibles in each school and Osborne 80 billion for the IMF.
Posted by: Fiona Kirton at July 1, 2012 7:42 PM
Some very welcome comments Tim especially about the total lack of support shown by the SCL for library services,workers and most importantly users! The SCL, the LGA, the DCMS and ACE haven't listened and are just making the same mistakes as the MLA did, we are not moving forward and will end up with a much poorer service, it's a tragedy!
Posted by: Alan Wylie at July 1, 2012 8:54 PM
Also, Vaizey is able to massage the figures because it is easy to do so with these volunteer run "community libraries" that are being cast adrift from an authority's statutory provision. Here in Gloucestershire 7 libraries are effectively closing. Does Vaizey include them in his "closure" list? Probably not. The county council are washing their hands of them. It is very difficult to explain to the public (and indeed I think ACE, Vaizey and DCMS fail to understand these issues also) that although these libraries remain open for now they are not public libraries, they are unaccountable, undemocratic, private reading clubs.. It is easier to protest and get press interest for closures than it is for the downgrading of these libraries. The press and public like things in simple terms. I am not being rude here but it is difficult for the layman to get their heads around the issues - if Vaizey et al can't do it then how can everyone else be expected to? So he might not have counted these 7 as closures but that is what they are. GCC itself said "no library needs close". This is totally disingenuous. The number of public libraries that would have closed in Glos would have been 11 if it had not been for our hard fought campaign over the last two years and our successful legal challenge. The fact that the number is as high as 7 still, not to mention 5 of the mobile libraries (which I suspect Vaizey has also not included in his figures) is a disgrace. How will the 6m he has pledged benefit these cast adrift libraries? It wont. They are outside of the network. A functioning national network is being broken up and a two tier system is going to be the result. Bizarrely we found out this week that these community libraries would not be able to loan books because they were not covered by PLR. People who were set to take on community libraries after being blackmailed by GCC were only alerted to this because campaigners had the sense to point out that the practicalities of such ventures had not been considered by GCC. We saved these "libraries" from the potential law suits GCC were setting them up for. A "library" which can't loan books? this is the madness Vaizey, DCMS, ACE et al are reigning over and the only people who are injecting any sanity and rational thinking into the awful mess are campaigners who as you say are being ignored
Posted by: Jo at July 2, 2012 10:42 AM
Perkins' next post is going to be called "A letter from Dempster Marples" - it just occurred to me that readers here might like to make a contribution.
Posted by: perkins at July 2, 2012 10:58 AM
There are some very good points on this site!
'although these libraries remain open for now they are not public libraries, they are unaccountable, undemocratic, private reading clubs'..
'community libraries would not be able to loan books because they were not covered by PLR'.
'A "library" which can't loan books? this is the madness Vaizey, DCMS, ACE et al are reigning over and the only people who are injecting any sanity and rational thinking into the awful mess are campaigners who as you say are being ignored'
Posted by: June Jones at July 2, 2012 11:14 AM
I feel so sad when I see this constant "library bashing". It may appear to be in support of libraries, staff and users - but as someone who works in libraries, I feel completely fed up with it!
Our libraries were not shut, their hours were not reduced. This was a position that our lead member took prior to cuts being announced (prior to the last election) and he has kept his election promise.
Yes, we have had cuts - and many have been painful - but once you are up in the top 5 for good value (won't say our exact position so that I don't name our authority inadvertently) there is very little left to cut. We have made massive savings in the last 5 years, streamlining, removing processes - re-providing services to save huge amounts of money - which was reinvested in the service. Our stock processes ensure that our stock works exceptionally hard - we use Smart SM to ensure books don't sit on shelves, but are circulated to where they are needed most. We can even provide figures on how much this has saved us - we don't need to buy popular titles in one branch because we can just supply them from another branch where they are not popular - this means that the book fund gets spent where it should be!
So, where are we? - a very lean and efficient library service, a modern library service (all our buildings have been refurbished or reprovided in the last 5 years or so), a service which has invested in online resources to ensure that we are providing up-to-date information, we are part of a large consortium which provides significant savings via stock and LMS contracts. We even share key staff members with another authority.
It seems like we are doing just about everything that Tim says that libraries are not doing - but yet, he still generalises and includes all libraries in his statements.
Cut us some slack Tim - we are doing what you suggested and more! But you never give us any recognition for a job done well.
Yes, there are authorities which don't do half of what we do and cost twice as much - but unfortunately, your readers, the press, politicians and public don't know this - and you do nothing to educate them otherwise.
You criticise decision makers for not supporting libraries - but when you go around telling everyone that we are wasting money, inefficient, unorganised etc etc then they would be foolish to even consider investing in us! It feels very much like you are talking us out of a library service!
As I said, right at the beginning, I work in libraries and feel very demoralised when I read your comments, especially when I see that the opposite is true in our service!
Big Hugs to Perkins!!!
Posted by: Ruthie at July 4, 2012 5:44 PM
Perkins is very grateful for her hug
It is amazing over the years how often people have said 'this is unfair criticism' and I have suggested that they visit a few other library authorities and they come back and say 'my goodness - you are right- they are awful'
If everybody was like you then - as in the USA where I work mostly now- use of libraries and circulation of books would be going up cheerfully in national figures.
In Hillingdon the library service is popular because it is good and as a consequence the council continue to invest even during this recession. Visits and book lending rise all the time
And I must say I am not so impressed by a stock policy that depends as heavily as you describe on moving things around. My view is that moving books is far more expensive than buying more copies- it all sounds a bit too lean to me in your libraries. There are an awful lot of people who would rather they found stock on the shelves than have to go asking to order it (especially those customers who would be nervous to make requests)
The purpose of criticism is to seek improvement- that is what management is paid to understand. There is a huge amount to do - or do you think I am wrong to imply that things are not as good as they could be, for all the money? i have watched the book funds decrease year after year- am I wrong to point it out? Because, for a long time, no one else did
Posted by: perkins at July 4, 2012 6:14 PM
Perkins, agreed that Hillingdon have maintained steady investment in libraries, but do you know what local services they have cut instead?
Posted by: Ruislip Pete at July 5, 2012 1:14 PM
I don't. I haven't followed Hillingdon politics apart from watching the library service, now from afar. At the outset there was plenty of slack in the library budget that could be used to make the improvements but that is now 6 years ago and I don't know the position about overall financing.
Posted by: perkins at July 6, 2012 7:45 AM