September 27, 2013
DCMS figures show dramatic decline in reading in English libraries
It isn't just this Government that has failed libraries
Ten years ago I wrote a report called 'Who's in Charge - responsibility for the public library service'- in which I had been asked by two charities to frame the national state of the library service by looking in detail at the policies of one council - which was Hampshire
At the same time the Audit Commission research department wrote a report using a wider base of information
We both came to almost exactly the same conclusions which were that unless the library service focussed its resources on reading material it would continue to decline in use . Both of us predicted that unless there was radical change in management approach the service would not survive twenty years. - We were simply looking at the same graph of use of libraries for reading and we are now ten years down the same slope
As a result of those two reports Gerald Kaufman - who was then Chair of the Culture Select Committee - called for a review of libraries and their operation. The Select Committee came to exactly the same conclusions and made a set of extremely sensible recommendations for improvement that would have cost nothing at all. The problem was never about money - it was about the management of the service by those responsible - in the profession, in councils and the various bodies of central government - all of which needed to change direction
Resistance to those recommendations came from exactly those bodies and they were never implemented . By and large the Audit commission, the Select committee and my report all called for an increased focus of books in the library service - and that is the opposite of what was being done and what has been done since
It is getting a bit late now - but the analysis then was, I believe, right, and is still right, and in those library authorities where it has been understood the library service does still flourish - but they are increasingly a minority .. Fashion in Government thnking has driven out common sense
The problem is NOT about money - it is about a clear consistent determination to stock libraries properly with comprehensive and useful collections of books and other reading; making them agreeable properly equipped spaces in which to read or study; opening them for long hours so people can use them and having a base of knowledgeable experienced staff who can provide good service . There is still plenty of money to do those things if they are done with some efficiency - and when they are done properly libraries are well used and an asset - and councillors who are responsible for them get re-elected
A good library is in itself socially inclusive and helps people who are deprived of resources - it does not have to be made into some kind of social help centre in order to be a useful resource. Nor is there a need to preach to or 'develop' people - that is not the role of the library - the library is the resource to which people turn in genuine sensible need . They are incredibly cheap to run, most of the buildings were paid for a long time ago - and the staff in the libraries themselves work for small money and a little love . We shouldn't close them down.
Posted by Perkins at September 27, 2013 12:41 PM
But I fear we're probably going to...
Barbara Band from CILIP's been great, but I'm stuck with feeling the rejected rebrand means at least £35,000 has been wasted. If this was Annie Mauger's idea, I am utterly unimpressed. I'm also unsure whether Ed Vaizey will be very bothered that CILIP has no confidence in him, and in the end the bolshie will to do something just doesn't seem to be there. They'd rather have review after review...
Basically, libraries will always be synonymous with books and reading, and unless they stick with their real brand they'll keep on trying to appeal to everybody and end up interesting no one.
The situation (I now suspect) is so bad that marching on London and hanging Vaizey at Tyburn (think of the favourable Press!) is literally about the only way left to fight back, but while I've jokingly talked of this in the past, it is partly illegal in reality. Fun, but illegal...
Posted by: James Christie at September 27, 2013 7:51 PM
Coming at it from another angle, what about the contribution libraries make to the wellbeing of the community? There must be a value, including a financial value, in that. Doesn't Tower Hamlets part fund their library service with funds for mental health?
Posted by: Sally Long at September 28, 2013 11:58 AM
Of course there's a value! It's just not one you can pin down. Who knows which budding Einstein might be inspired by what book? I haven't got mental health issues (I do have a learning disability), and I've spent some months trying to show how some Aspergers made incredible contributions to society (Newton and gravity, Jefferson and US independence). The ability to research and get that vital spark of inspiration cannot, by its very nature, be pinned down, but try telling that to an accountant or councillor.
There are days I am really weary of this world.
Posted by: James Christie at September 28, 2013 2:49 PM