Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Avoiding precedents

Helen Goodman MP has been up to see the Save Lincs Libraries group and gave a speech to the fantastic campaigners up there. She said a lot of good stuff about what libraries are for and actually she has done what her predecessor Dan Jarvis refused to do and called for the minister to exercise his powers and intervene:

"Today I have written to the new secretary of state Sajid Javid asking him to use his powers, he's got a duty to look at whether your local library service fulfils the requirements of the law"

Goodman also said some good stuff about not wanting a postcode lottery and about having a full professional service.

I suspect the DCMS and minister will dodge and wait for the outcome of the judicial review and the results of the Sieghart Report but its good that finally Labour have come off the fence and there is no a policy difference between the two. How the Labour party in government plan to ensure volunteers are not use to replace staff and the library service is maintained is another question we'll have to extract from them before next years election

Speaking of the Sieghart Report, I put in a FOI request for the terms of reference and where the three questions came from. The answer was they obviously came from the DCMS and not Sieghart himself. The third question about community libraries clearing showing the unwritten and moronic policy direction of the government.

The link to the FOI is here

And here is Helen Goodman talking to the Save Lincs campaigners:

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pin heads

It sort of has been rumbling on twitter and on PLN over the last few days. But its wound me up enough to write something now. A couple of jobs ago I used to support self service kiosks in leisure centres as part of my job on a support desk. Despite the process being simple, the users hated them, the staff hated them and I hated them. But the need to drive down staff costs meant a lot of leisure centres were investing in them. Self service has also come to supermarkets in the last few years, again "illegal item in bagging area" as a phrase has entered the lexicon as to how annoying these things are.

Councils, with their giant pot of money that has to be spent every year on IT have also embraced self service. The system in Oxfordshire has a lot simplier interface to the supermarket and leisure centre systems I've seen and they have very simple transactions:

  • Borrow books
  • Extend books
  • Pay fines on account using cash

The only information you see on screen is the books you have out and any outstanding fines on your account. You don't have to put in your pin number you just have to scan you card. If the self service kiosk allowed access to personal information like address, I could see a argument for having to use a pin number but even then, people junk mail in the bin with their address on it, my address is on the electoral register available online if you want to find it.

Somerset County Council have recently installed some self service machines (the story here) but for some bizzare reason they've decided to force users to input their pin number to get onto the machines and use them rather than just use their cards like I do. I thought to myself they must have a system that lets you see users address etc but having done a google I found their equalities impact assessment when implementing these things and according to their document this isn't the case. Its exactly as the system in Oxfordshire: "Personal data which can be viewed on a self service unit is currently limited to user name, membership number, items on loan, items which have been requested and money owed" 

The full document is available here

So why have they done it? From a data protection point of view, someone stealing a card to look at what books someone has out or to pay their fines off for them is a nonsense. They could take books out with someone else card but really, its easier to rip the tags out of the books and stick them in your bag than to pickpocket someone for their library card.

The only reason I can think of them forcing the use of a pin code is being the council is a bit thick. I've stood and watched the elderly struggle to use those stupid parking meters that insist on the car license plate and I'm sure it puts people off going to those car parks. I once put my old cars plate in and had to pay twice once, but I am a bit thick myself.

There is no evidence that this will put users off, but really its putting a extra step in the process for no reason and the people with crap memories will probably write their pin on their card or have it on a piece of paper next to the card, or even worse, change it to their bank card pin number so making their bank card less secure.

Somerset are really silly for doing this, self service is stupid enough as a concept in libraries without putting even more barriers in the way of users.

Monday, 24 March 2014

If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong.

The new Library comparison reports were put online today. They're a bit of a double edged sword, on the one hand you can see what your local authority is spending compared to others on certain areas etc but on the other I think councils are using them as a excuse for further cuts in a race to the bottom if a neighbour spends less on something than they do. Once curious thing I noticed is there seems to be less authorities than last year, I've checked three times now and in 2012 there were 149 authorities listed but in 2014 there are only 78. I'm hoping to take off my tinfoil hat as they may be still uploading them or I've missed something. The drivel laden press release from E-Vaizey is here and the link to the 2012 reports are here and the 2013 here

I do remember once a councillor telling me that authorities hate above all things being compared with others, considering the DCMS was footing the bill for this, it would be a very, very bad thing indeed if all those authorities have opted out but as I say, it may be they're still uploading them, I've missed them on the site somehow because I'm thick or there is some other technical reason. I have emailed CIPFA asking where my local authorities report is and I'll update this when they reply or I see it has appeared on the site. 

Here is the list of 2012/2013 authorities.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Neverending Story

Oxfordshire County Council are doing another cull of staff. We've already had the following cull either already cut or in the process of cutting:

  • Volunteer library "savings":       £313,000
  • Management Restructure:         £273,000
  • Self service Staffing savings:     £256,000
  • Mobile library savings:             £84,000

And now it turns out that because of the death spiral of funding for local councils there is to be yet another cull of staff at OCC which will supposedly save another £250,000. I do feel sorry for the staff at OCC at the cack handed and botched way this has been handled. The cuts have rumbled on for years now and they must be sick of it. The dumb librarian blog, which claims to be a OCC staff member of some sort seems to back this up.

According to the councillor responsible for libraries, Lorraine Lindsay-Gale:

"These proposals, if agreed by full council later this month, will further develop the savings already identified as part of the Cabinet’s commitment of December 2011 to deliver a cost effective, high quality library service that is fit for the 21st century through:
  • Rationalising management support
  • Assessing current procurement arrangements
  • Benefitting from best practice and opportunities to review and develop services"

I don't think we're going to end up with a quality library service that is fit for the 21st century, I think OCC will keep cutting and the service get worse and they'll use that as a excuse to keep cutting further.

On the stupid non-money saving scheme to get volunteers to replace the low paid library managers and assistants, despite it being passed in 2011, there are currently no libraries fully implemented (page 377!). There are 21 to be culled of half their staffing and there's only eleven even in the negotiation stage. They all have to be up and running by April next year. There are clearly going to be libraries failing and closing despite the hollow promises of the council when David Cameron and Keith Mitchell bounced this undemocratically through in 2011.

I suspect the further culling of the staff is because they have realised the stupid scheme to use volunteers isn't going to save they money they pretended it would and now the library service has to take yet another cut. If Cameron had kept out of it and the council was competent they would have implemented the back office sharing with BucksCC and it could have been phased in over these past few years and they wouldn't have to keep going back to libraries for further cuts. Sadly this didn't happen and we're going to bounce along in a staff moral sapping/sacking, library destroying death spiral for the next decade until only the central library in the newly developed Westgate Centre is the only thing left standing.

It just needs some vision and to step away from the ideological dogma. Sadly nationally Cameron still thinks the Big Society is great and the moron Vaizey in yet another breathtaking fit of hypocrisy has commissioned yet another pointless report to kick the can further down the road and waste time and money but keep the willfully blind of the plight of libraries busy in the Westminster bubble.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Show me the money

As branch and rural libraries are spluttering and coughing, struggling to stay alive, we campaigners rail against the evil Tories (they're all Tories) and shake our fists at the sky in futility. The professional bodies have failed on a epic scale to get the politicians to listen and understand the importance of libraries. To be fair, the politicians are just ignoring the professionals and now Vaizey has a out because of the no confidence vote he doesn't have to even pretend anymore. The biggest problem we as campaigners have is there is no real opposition, Labour, Liberal Democrats or Tories. Whatever the impotient, incompetent cocktail of the three we get in Westminster in 2015, libraries still won't be on the agenda. Protesting parliament won't help, 10,000 turned out against Blairs illegal war in Iraq and it didn't make any difference, the rich even had a go and foxhunting is still on the books. We aren't going to get Vaizey to do his job whatever we do and lacking a super rich sponsor to take the DCMS on in legal challenge we have to fight this at the grass roots level.

We have to be like Christians trying to stop persecution by Romans, not by fighting but by converting councillors into library fans. Obviously, there are some councillors out there who are ideological morons, happy to accept without question any old crap in the Torygraph, Sun, Mirror or Guardian as they have fixed, narrow views. But there are lots of councillors out there who within the constraints of their local parties we can reach out to and try and get them onside. By far the best way to do this in the current climate is by getting them to understand how libraries actually save money. There isn't a great deal of evidence in the UK to support this but its blindingly obvious to anyone that uses a library who has improved their career because of the library, the pensioner who is kept out of the care system because of their frequent trips to the library, the young kid getting bashed and bullied at home and school who finds wisdom and solace in books and rather than going off the rails and getting into trouble with the police, makes something of his life because of books. We all know libraries enrich, inspire and improve anyone who steps into them but linking the sets of data together showing this in a quantitative way isn't easy. What we have to do it act like the parties do, create simple key messages and keep repeating them to councillors and everyone we meet until we're blue in the face:

This is how the parties do it, facts and evidence doesn't come into it. A simple message and we keep banging on about it. People can be naturally lazy and want easy, simple answers and ideas. I know there are lots of different opinions amongst campaigners who don't want to push the economic argument but if we're to convince Tories (they're all Tories now by the way) then it has to be a about economics, the qualitative stuff isn't on a spreadsheet fiance system so it doesn't matter. We also have to try and convince the LGA, ACE and others of this fact and try and get them to actually do some proper research rather than the endless utter crap that has been churned out on our behalf and with our money down the years. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Chromecast UK

I couldn't wait, using the HDMI cable or the xbox that sounds like ten hair dryers was getting old so I bought a import from amazon for £34. It arrived pretty quickly even using the free delivery. Not going to do a unboxing or any other type of weird techo fetish stuff. Just some observations from using it for a few days.

Only netflix, youtube, google video currently offer native support from within chrome or through apps and they all run in full HD and the video and sound is pretty amazing considering the hardware. Casting from tablet or phone is better because it runs in the notifications tray and it becomes your remote and you can let the screen lock/go to sleep. In chrome on the pc once you cast, the computer has to keep running and the tab open otherwise netflix/youtube stop casting.

You can stream your own videos by opening them in Chrome (Ctrl + O) but it won't play avi videos it starts downloading them from the source folder to its own download folder for some reason, mp4 seems to work ok though, use "any video converter" or something similar to convert them. But to be honest, it isn't that great streaming video from a chrome tab, the cpu usage is high, the video chopping and your processor fan will be annoyingly loud unless you pc is nippy and quiet. If your TV has a usb slot it probably will play the avi's if you stick them on your usb stick anyway, mine is a cheap tv and it does.

Sites with flash video seems to work better, you can start the video, full screen it and then Alt + Tab to get to the browser again and do other stuff, this also works with iplayer and is ok. Obviously native support and apps would be better as you have to leave the tab open and computer running.

The other thing I noticed is you can use the spotify web player, but if you cast the tab at its highest bitrate its choppy. I casted the tab as 480 and the sound improved dramatically and was smooth as butter.

You can cast your entire screen but it chops a bit off if your screen dimensions don't match. Its probably ok for power point stuff though, I cannot see it for anything else at the minute. I tried casting a full screen with a ps2 game running under emulation. It was horrendously slow, mostly because my laptop is slow running the ps2 emulator anyway but I think there is so much potential, imagine casting a snes emulator from your nexus 7 so you can have a blast of Mario Kart (providing you legally own the game obv) or even if games were written to run natively, Order and Chaos online is a basic MMO that has a browser version, there are lots of other games written these days that run under flash they would work well with some tweaking. I think cloud gaming, albeit with simple games is a real possiblity. Once google get their backsides into gear and get people writing stuff I'm sure it will have lots of great things on it that we cannot even think of yet, currently only naughts and crosses exists as a game on google play.

I suspect the UK release is being held up because the BBC are being slow getting their app ready, their android app has always been pants (they went all in with flash the morons) and google want some extra third party stuff to launch with other that Netflix. For £34 quid, even if it only did the things it does now it would be a absolute bargain, I cannot wait to see what people get on there in the future.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

SCL's Cipfa Response

The SCL response to the CIPFA statistics has got me really riled up. The text in full:

"The December 2013 CIPFA figures show that libraries are working to achieve the right balance between maintaining and building upon the service that communities depend on and the necessity to reduce costs. In the face of not only a changing library landscape but completely new ways in which people access information, public libraries have innovated and expanded the services they offer, always in tune with local community need.
These new ways of working have meant that more members of the community have the opportunity to volunteer in libraries in different roles–part of a 9 percent increase in volunteers across all sectors since 2005 as people have become more focused on local decision-making.
SCL is proud to represent a service that in 2013 saw a record number of children take part in the Summer Reading Challenge in libraries–810,089, a 9% increase on participation on 2012–and also the opening of new flagship libraries from Birmingham to Liverpool."

I have highlighted the bits that really grate. We have a huge problem if this is how the SCL really think things are or is this just dog whistling to show the powers that be they are onside with their "localism" agenda? You know, the one where you pay all the tax and have to provide a library to yourself or it closes and everything is rosy in the garden. Armies of happy smiling volunteers and retired librarians all running libraries to allow low paid library managers and assistants to be sacked saving little or no money, that one.

Councils and councillors with very few exceptions have no idea of the true value or worth of libraries, career politicians, straight from Uni, sucked into the bosom of the party as Spads, taking large allowances as councillors and who know nothing about the real world spout all the blue sky nonsense that flies in the face of reality, they'll be too busy lobbying for a safe seat in 2014 to worry about the broken communities they've left behind. They haven't seen how libraries transform lives, they've lived in a narrow ideological bubble, how would they know, its not like senior librarians have done a great job of informing them. The Guardian poll at time of writing (15/12/2013) had the answer to the question "Should libraries rely on volunteers?" at 94% no to 6% yes. In their mission statement the SCL claim to act behalf of local people, perhaps they should reflect upon that a bit. The above seems to be a ringing blue sky endorsement of the hypocritical minister and his policy of inaction and wilful ignorance. I'm all for trying to be positive about the things that libraries do, but this statement from the SCL is out of touch, wilfully dishonest and/or deluded. If the most senior librarians in the land really think communities are happy to run libraries themselves, the councils are in touch with community need and libraries have achieved the right balance then they have no business being in charge of a library service I'm afraid, they've lost the plot. I thought the SCL had started to turn the corner, but clearly the old SCL that is subservient to the unevidenced, ideological, non-money saving dogma of the current regime hasn't gone away. It has been all change recently at CILIP, seemingly for the better with regards to public libraries, perhaps the SCL board should seek a mandate from those they claim to represent, the library users and become a elected body, rather then elevation from within their own ranks. They clearly don't see the reality on the ground or reflect the views of library users.