August 26, 2012
Waiting for CIPFA
For those new to the martial art of library campaigning a word is needed to explain who 'CIPFA' are.
I am sure they have their own way of describing themselves, but for us they are the company that gathers and publishes figures about the public library service.
The CIPFA figures come out once a year and are compiled from data provided by councils following the end of the council finanacial year in March
CIPFA presents these in the form of tables - both printed and on a large spreadsheet which lists all the library authorities in the UK and gives a set of numbers against each authority, with totals for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some other headings like Central London etc
The table is difficulty to decipher, the headings are confusing, there is no comparison with previous years and it is hard to work out what conclusions can be drawn. In print the information is more or less useless; in a spreadsheeet in can be manipulated and useful calculations made from it
Worse than that, while the printed edition is to be found in some reference libraries for free, the spreadsheet costs £400 to buy, if you are a member of the public. Goodness knows why. Councils pay for it, so they should have enough money to let the public see it for nothing.
One of the few amusing things about this publication is the annual press release in which CIPFA and some official or minister announces how wonderful the public library service and picks out one figure to demonstrate that. It is not until the spreadsheet is properly analysed that one can normally see how awful things are actually getting, or what is going on at all. The minister - normally- has never looked at the figures, when they come out, nor has anyone in Government actually analysed them at all.
We await the figures this year with extra frisson for several reasons. One is that we should see for the first time the effect of the great budget cuts of the current government on the first year that local councils had to cope with them. The second is that earlier this year the Minister promised us that CIPFA would this time publish 'helpful' comparisons so that people and councils can look at the performance with some information to help them understand what they are looking at
We can only hope that they make all the data free this time in all its forms
I shall be looking for the figures for London particularly because everyone keeps telling me that the libary service in London is improving and has made wonderful efficiencies. We will be able to see how true, or not, that is.
Posted by Perkins at August 26, 2012 10:28 AM
Yes - the timeliness, summary statements, availability, and usability of the current public library statistics are all dire.
The CIPFA trustees state on the Charity Commission website that “CIPFA aims to work in the public interest to promote high standards and deliver excellence in governance and financial management throughout the public services.”
Perhaps one of the 38 trustees of CIPFA might like to explain on this blog how the current lack of effort in providing and communicating public libraries information to the public works in the public interest.
Posted by: libraryvolunteer at August 26, 2012 9:40 PM
True, there have been some improvements in London's libraries, however, they had been allowed to descend into a tatty state. The refurbishments, whilst good, have highlighted just how bad the situation was previously. They've also rediscovered the idea of "purchasing new books".
Posted by: Londoner at August 28, 2012 3:12 PM
Just back from America, which is facing much the same set of problems, and I think the brutal, pivotal fact is that once you've built your civilisation, then the jobsworths move in. People stop caring about what they do, soft meaningless phrases become the norm, and the walls come tumbling down.
I've no doubt CIPFA is about as much use as the MLA and CILIP (anyone remember them, I don't!) but where there is someone who can act with clarity and decisiveness, I don't know. It was once said we were a nation of shopkeepers, but at least shopkeepers did something practical and respectable. Now we are a nation of accountants and malcontents. We count up what other people do and moan about it, but we do not stand up for ourselves and that is the unforgivable sin.
Posted by: James Christie at August 29, 2012 1:26 AM