Tuesday, 26 January 2016

This is a British democracy, Bernard!

Lot of stuff flying round about the SCL and its decision to not support the CILIP My Library My Right campaign and Halifax teaching people computer skills. The things CILIP are campaigning for:

  • The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
  • Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
  • Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession

Which seems pretty straight forward, it seems to just be that libraries are recognised as the statutory service they are. So many times the LGA, councils and others have keep pushing the line that libraries aren't really statutory and they can be cut. I find it very peculiar that the SCL don't support this rather basic recognition of libraries. The president of the SCL has came out and defended the line yesterday in PLN. And I don't think anyone doubts the hard work the SCL and the task force are putting in, but whose agenda are they following? I keep coming back to the line on the SCL website: 

"advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people."

How can they not support My Library My Right but supposedly advocate for improvement of the library service on our behalf? They are in the odd position of having the Universal Offers (not a campaign) that says what your library service should provide, in great detail. But won’t support the user’s right to an actual library. To me they are both campaigns.

Is it because the offers were cleared by Vaizey and the DCMS so that campaign is ok? But because CILIP and library users have a low opinion of the superintendence of the library service by Vaizey and the DCMS, then SCL if it wants to remain in the tent can’t support it? Perhaps it’s not what you campaign on, it’s who you campaign with is the issue. Obviously I have nothing factual to base this on as we only see what’s minuted between the SCL/Taskfoce/DCMS etc and I suspect like what happens in government now to prevent FOI later on, any really meaty discussions never get written down. 

When I think of the LGA, SCL & the taskforce I’m reminded of the great Tony Benn quote:
“one can ask five questions:
  • what power do you have;
  • where did you get it;
  • in whose interests do you exercise it;
  • to whom are you accountable;
  • and, how can we get rid of you?
Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."

Again, just to stress, no one can doubt the hard work and hours put in by the SCL and Taskforce. But in whose interests are they really exercising the power they have? 

On the Halifax thing, no private company does anything unless there’s something in it for them. Subtle marketing, good PR. The private sector doesn’t do things for free. I think David McMenemy nailed it with this tweet:

How utterly, utterly awful it must be to lose your job, or have your job under constant threat because of “austerity” then have the banking sector leveraging ailing libraries for a bit of good PR.  Vaizey popped up to say when launching the digital champions "we couldn't do that job without companies like Halifax". 


So they you go, Ed either doesn't think library staff know how to show people how to use computers or its a back handed recognition that libraries are losing staff fast and only the good will of the banking sector can save them. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Government figures are a nonsense, anyway.

A copy of the cipfa dataset that shows all the library authorities visits and issues paints a really grim picture for the library sector. Even during the good times of New Labour when the public sector was awash with money the service was declining alarmingly. It doesn't matter which of the trends you look at, for most of the library services it has been all downhill:

Wales and Northern Ireland are doing significantly better on issues than England and Scotland. I don't think our friends in those countries have different reading levels and habits than us in England and Scotland. There really is a lot of fail to go round. I can't blame it all on Vaizey this time.

Even more interestingly some of the library authorities have completely bucked the trend on the issues/loans. Below are the ten worst and ten best on percentage change on loans from 03/04 to 13/14:

The Southwark figure looks iffy, but I'm not sure why. I know there are potential disparities in how visits data could be collected but the numbers for issues/loans should be consistently collected and we're looking at like for like.

What I don't understand is, councils up and down the land have gone to great trouble to submit this data and what have the DCMS being doing with it? Nothing it looks like. I presume they know how to used spreadsheets in that department. I know the department of transport has trouble making calculations for rail franchises, perhaps the DCMS are scared in case they get a formula wrong or something?

There is clearly lessons to be learned and bollockings to be given based on this data but because there's zero leadership in the sector as Vaizey is always non-minded, I suspect nothing will be done by the DCMS. Perhaps the Libraries taskforce can look into what the formula for success is and try and spread this best practice around publically so we all know what works and what doesn't.

The full data is here, if you have any idea why some authorites are doing well and some seem to be completely useless please let someone know.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

He can talk in clich├ęs till the cows come home

I haven't written anything on libraries for a while. But today a couple of things got me riled up enough to commit finger to key. The first is the super amazing Birmingham library service have stopped purchasing books, presumably to service their grotesque PFI monstrosity of a central library. Their website alone cost over a million! The second is Alan Gibbons has reissued his debate challenge to the libraries minister Ed Vaizey.

On the first point, on the library service not buying books. To me, this seems on the surface of it a clear breach of the act. It makes specific reference to "of securing, by the keeping of adequate stocks" and if a library authority isn't buying books, then to me it seems a breach of the act. Of course we know already that anything that isn't adhered to in the act isn't going to cause Lazy Vaizey or his minions at the DCMS to batter a eyelid. And my big concern is like we've seen with volunteer libraries, once one starts getting away with it, the others will and not buying books will start to spread across the 151 library authorities. This horrible race to the bottom will end up meaning library services do become nothing more than volunteer run book exchanges, with one central library building sucking up the library budget to service the PFI. Its actually a step worse than the hospital without patients episode of yes minister. This is a hospital without patients or beds.

On the second point, from what I've seen. Vaizey is a blustering coward. He's like Boris Johnson without the Latin or charisma. The DCMS has clearly tried to dodge on his behalf by suggesting a panel debate or having the debate when nobody could turn up. The man's record is awful and I'm not surprised if he's scared to defend it. A kitten with a hernia would wipe the floor with him based on his record. Alan would make mincemeat of him. If Vaizey isn't going to enforce any part of the act or hold library authorities to account for their incompetence and mismanagement and he himself refuses to submit to any form of scrutiny then what's the point of him?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Everything is at risk

Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) is preparing for another round of cuts and seems to have forgotten that libraries are a statutory service. At a meeting yesterday Cllr Lawrie Stratford painted a bleak picture for services, using the phrase "Some services may have to be removed and we have to be upfront about that"

OCC designated 21 libraries non-statutory in the last round of cuts and supposedly saved 313k by cutting the staffing in these libraries. The decision was taken most undemocratically by David Camoron and the then leader of the council. Even the deputy leader of the council admitted the consultation was a sham. See here for the sorry history.

But despite the dodgy decision making and the fact it doesn't really save any money (they continue to ignore the costs) the direction of travel seems to be more volunteers in libraries, presumably making more or all libraries non-statutory or cutting the funding and staffing to the non-statutory libraries altogether.

The current leader of OCC was at No 10 today:

I've blogged before about the ever increasing service support costs and yet again they've increased:

This time by £575,306, in one year far exceeding the supposed 313k savings. The council have said this is because the library service is taking a increased share of the fixed costs as other services have shrunk. I've no idea if this is true or not but you can throw as many volunteers at you want at services and sack the low paid library managers, it isn't going to solve the problem of increasing property costs every year. I've also blogged before about how OCC should be looking at shared services with BucksCC to pool this back office costs to save the front office. You'd expect the Tories as the party of supposed small government would have went here first but it seems clear the tail is still wagging the dog and the front line is yet again going to take the brunt of the cuts in the library service. It all looks very bleak and I feel sorry for the staff in the library service having to face this uncertainty yet again. Despite "everything is at risk" and how bleak things are, in the height of hypocrisy, the council still managed to vote for a 19% increase in allowances a few months ago. If things are so bad, I think that should also be on the table and the average cuts to services should be applied to the councillor "allowances".

Thursday, 7 May 2015

If a library closes in the New Forest, does Vaizey make a sound?

Tomorrow or over the next few weeks we may have a new minister responsible for libraries. Considering the three main parties are uninterested and have no real policies for the library service, very little is likely to change. What is important, is if and when the current post holder Vaizey leaves office, we make sure his legacy for hypocrisy and inaction sticks with his name. Much in the same way Beeching is linked to the destruction of the branch lines, Vaizey's name must be linked to the destruction of the public library service.

We know how good he was in opposition, his now famous quote about the Wirral in 2009:

"Andy Burnham's refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities' responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary's door. It Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless."

When compared with his inaction in office during the closure of hundreds of libraries, book stock cut and large numbers of libraries dumped on volunteers, the quote will go down as one of the biggest bits of hypocrisy we've ever seen from a politician.

This is also from the man who admitted that he was "completely useless" and got more exercised and angry by the fact he wasn't allowed a Xbox in his office than the destruction of the library service, which he is bound by law to superintend.

The fact that he has a very safe seat and is unlikely to ever be voted out is particularly annoying for those of us who have watched his mixture of inaction and incompetence and want to hold him to account. I do hope that he isn't in post after the dust settles from the election, I cannot imagine anyone else doing a worse job. We just have to make sure that his name is always linked to the destruction of large parts of the public library service.

Bye bye Ed, don't let the door hit you on your lazy arse on the way out.

Update 09/05/15

Despite the clear majority win by the Tories, hopefully we may still have a different libraries minister who can tell the difference between his arse and elbow and actually cares about his job:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Samaritans Radar

Disclosure: I am a Samaritan volunteer, the views below are my own, I don't represent the organisation and I've not sought permission to write this. I really, really didn't want to come out publicly as a Samaritan in case people who know me are put off from ringing. I didn't want to come out against the organisation I volunteer for but I've felt I have to speak out.

The reason I become a Samaritan are partly personal, but mainly because they're non-judgemental, listen, don't try and tell people what to do & respect peoples views. I'm a bit of a left libertarian and these views chime with mine very strongly. They're also completely confidential, you can tell Samaritans anything and we duty bound to not disclose it unless we have permission or with a couple of common sense exceptions (court order, bomb warning etc, see here)

I heard about Samaritans Radar like everyone else on social media and was immediately concerned. I wasn't able to understand how a app was conceived by us that doesn't come near to what the Samaritans are trained to do. 

The legal rights or wrongs don't concern me. The ethics of this and refusal to listen do, even to not admit there are people who are concerned about this has been very upsetting, for me personally, but more importantly the people we are supposed to be there for the callers both past, present and future. Those who come to us because we don't judge, we don't pass on their details to others, don't give them our personal views or advice. We listen. Two tiny words but for me its what Samaritans are supposed to be all about and they're two very powerful words, we listen.

Sadly the organisation for reasons I don't understand is refusing to listen and I understand peoples fear, angry and frustration over this. I don't want to be stalked by this app either, I want to choose to use it and have control over who uses it on me, not others I don't know harvesting my darkest tweets.

Please, please don't link this app to what Samaritans volunteers do on the phones, text and email. 

The contact details for the Samaritans are here, please don't let this app stop you from using the service. For a view of a Samaritan who isn't dead against this app see here

Sunday, 6 July 2014

When all three parties agree, something must be wrong

The SCL are now thinking about stepping in to help the volunteer libraries. In SCL stakeholders meeting, I made the point that there's still no evidence to support the sustainability or effectiveness of libraries ran completely or supported by volunteers. They seem to want to help keep them going, as once a library closes its going to be harder to open it. It seems this vital piece of research on if they actually are a good idea isn't needed, all the parties seem to think this is the solution to the funding cuts to local government. You volunteer to run the library and pay for it twice, if you live a area with a volunteer library, you're likely to get a different level of service to another area, despite having paid the same tax. The whole thing is loaded with jargon and new speak to try and make them sound like they're actually a good idea. One thing is clear to me, if a volunteer library somehow manages to keep going for a couple of years and the library service gets a bit of extra budget for staffing, the last place they'll put it is back into the volunteer libraries. They'll waste it on whatever the current fad is.

Having a skim through the meeting notes on the SCL website, it seems the role of libraries advisor is to continue. Someone called Colin Gibson has taken over the role temporarily as libraries advisor. I presume once they've rubber stamped the closure of the Advisory Council on Libraries this will be a permanent role. It would be unthinkable for someone paid by us the taxpayer to have a independent public view outside of the department. The ACL should be brought back and users given a say on what is happening and if the minister is failing to enforce the act or not, the civil servants have failed us.

The SCL website has had a redesign, lots of new areas like position statements (currently empty). I thought they didn't take positions on issues, perhaps they'll give their official view on volunteer run libraries?

With the Sieghart report seemingly showing very little positive, the SCL considering wading in to support the failing idiocy of volunteer libraries and the main parties all in complete agreement on it being a great idea then its very grim times indeed for public libraries in the UK. I feel sorry for the librarians that remain that are tasked with making a success of the volunteer libraries. The huge back office recharges remain off the table as does the clearly obvious approach of having less library authorities to drastically reduce these huge recharges.