Wednesday, 12 August 2015

He can talk in clichés 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.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Wil Iam Sieghart on PUBlic Libraries

Wil Iam Sieghart has given a snippet of his thinking with regards to the future of the library service in England. Its on the LGA (Local Government Association) site and you can read it here.

Short version so far

  • Not considering changing local authority structures
  • Digital network for libraries
  • Single management system with one card valid in all libraries
  • Library services delivered in pubs and local shops

Anyone in charge or involved in the profession who thinks that books in a pub, phone box or other static building without a library manager or librarian there shouldn't be involved in libraries because they clearly don't know what libraries do. Taking away a proper library and having "Pub is the Hub" and pretending its a some how better thing is cloud cuckoo land.

And I'm not sure about the single LMS systems with one for all authorities, if he really means that then great, but I doubt it, probably another national system on top with councils allowed to opt out if they wanted. Not sure how he could force the introduction of one LMS across all authorities, the suppliers of these systems would probably sue and it may not even be legal under competition law. The old phrase politics is the choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable spring to mind.

I don't know which library users he has spoken to but, obviously only speaking for myself I don't want a pub with some books on a shelf replacing my local library. One LMS replacing all the others makes sense but I doubt that's possible or what is intended. The direction of travel seems to be more of this nonsense localism where services are cut and local authorities are encouraged to make it up as they go along. But you know what? Sometimes one size does actually fit all, its called library standards and that is what is needed as well as less library authorities to get rid of the elephant in the room that is the elephant sized service support costs, localism is just smoke and mirrors for the cuts.  I'm saddened that a supposedly independent report seems to echo the views of the minister almost as if he'd dictated it himself.

To speak to Mr Sieghart you can pay £640 to attend a event put on by the taxpayer funded quango the LGA in Bournemouth here. We pay for them via council subscriptions and its basically us paying for one part of government to lobby another and it means lots of senior staff and councillors can have lots of jollies (to the seaside in this case) and training away days at our expense but producing nothing of worth. Where is the taxpayer funded national conference for library users?

With the opposition almost non existent, the library minister without a brain getting seemingly everything he could wish for from this independent report and the upper echelons of the profession refusing to speak out about this nonsense then it is even darker days for PUBlic libraries.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Post Library Campaign AGM thoughts

It all felt a bit fractious and there was some differing views about volunteer libraries. I think the triumph of the day was me working out how to switch on the air conditioning. One of the contentious views was should we help library users who in the face of closure are trying to save their library by volunteering.

Alan Templeton was of the view that we have to support them and help advise them on how to run a volunteer library otherwise we're responsible for the library failing/closing. Given the example of Brent campaigners trying to get their foot back in the door of their closed library to see if they can reverse the decision of Brent council by showing there is a need for a library, then on the surface it the point is valid and straightforward. If we're about saving libraries we should support volunteer run libraries. I've paraphrased but I think this was the gist of his point. I disagree, for a few reasons.

There are so many different configurations of volunteer library out there, nobody really knows what works and what doesn't. It seems from the example in Bucks, if you have a library in a affluent area with lots of wealth retired professionals then the volunteer library has a chance, but if you're in a deprived borough then its less likely it will succeed. How can I or the library campaign or anyone else claim to know what it best to advise the poor souls trying to save their library? Locality is getting large amounts of taxpayer money and has set up some resources to help, as is Little Chalfont in Bucks. If either of these aren't providing enough support, they users should be complaining to their local authority, DCLG and DCMS, its their ideological solution not mine. I know Jim from Little Chalfont thinks volunteer libraries isn't a great idea but he chooses to help others put in this difficult decision and while I disagree with his choice I won't criticize him for it. Its a horrible choice to have to make and we're all entitled to do what we thinks best.

The other point is, I shouldn't be made to feel guilty or feel responsible if I choose rather than to help I devote my limited free time to campaign against the actual concept of volunteer libraries which nearly all library users/campaigners (but not all in the profession!) are against. The blame lies with your local councillor, cabinet holder for libraries, the council officers and the national government for failing us and particularly Vaizey. Despite still being one of the richest countries in the world they tell us that library managers, the lowest paid, in the smaller branch and rural libraries are a luxury that cannot be afforded, but we can still afford millions (2 million in Oxfordshire in fact) on self service machines, giant vanity PFI libraries in the big cities with websites alone that cost millions.

My final point and I said something along these lines in the meeting and its a harsh reality. If volunteer libraries are seen as succeeding (even if they aren't) then this will be the de facto choice for councils looking to make more easy cuts. We've seen what a meal they've made of the Bucks example, they're quiet about the failures, Walcot in Swindon I would put forward as a example of this, I'm sure there are many others.

The apparent short term success puts at risk more libraries as they spread like a cancer across the library network. More library managers and librarians will lose their jobs and eventually we'll have a library network that is a complete postcode lottery of provision, some failing, a small number managing to stay open, some libraries losing their neutrality and being taken over by groups with agendas to promote. In the middle you will likely have a old central library desperately in need of a refurbishment or replacement or a central PFI library the council can barely afford the monthly payments on.

I wish it wasn't so, those blackmailed into saving their library by feckless councils short sighted cuts I'm not attacking. Given the option of volunteering or my local library closing I'm sure I would probably do the same thing. I hate the position they've been put in and I wish them luck but its not my responsibility, we all know who is responsible and its the councils, Vaizey and the politicians and officers and some in the profession promoting this agenda.

My biggest concern is Labour aren't going to be any different in power if they win or form the coalition next year. Despite their warm words in opposition I suspect they'll not intervene to enforce the act or get the councils to work together to save costs rather than cull the library managers. Most councils out there are Labour and once they've got power again they'll be no different to the tories. We'll have co-operatives as the savour of libraries rather than the big society.

Again, my viewpoint isn't attacking volunteers, I'm dead against volunteer libraries and will use my time to fight that failed idea rather than support it.