Author Archives: Tom

No confidence in Ed Vaizey

CILIP’s AGM tomorrow at the Library of Birmingham will be more interesting than most AGMs. Though much ink has been spilt over a proposed name change to ILPUK, which is not a matter we in Voices for the Library take an official view on, (though you could do worse than to read Ian Anstice’s post on the matter) there is a much more important question before the meeting, a motion of no confidence in Ed Vaizey.

Proposed by Jo Richardson, and seconded by Tom Roper, both members of Voices for the Library, it reads as follows: “In view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of CILIP has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services.”

There are detailed arguments for the motion on the No Confidence in Ed Vaizey blog. We’d urge support; it will show that CILIP is outward-looking, and wants to work with campaigners in practical ways on the ground. The debate will take place at roughly the same time as Save Lincolnshire Libraries‘ #BigLibraryMarch. The best support CILIP can give them is to pass the motion.

Marching for a future that works

Members of Voices for the Library, along with supporters of the Speak Up for Libraries alliance, library campaigners and supporters, will be joining the TUC demonstration in London on Saturday, A Future That Works. Library campaigners will also be represented at the Glasgow and Belfast marches.

Why are we marching?

  • public libraries have a key part to play in getting people back to work and building a modern economy with jobs for all
  • libraries are under attack;  so are schools, hospitals, housing, transport, industry…everything that makes us a civilised nation

Library supporters will be meeting under the Speak Up for Libraries banner at 11 am on the Embankment opposite Middle Temple Lane. Map here. It’s going to be a big march; if you can’t find us, make sure you have some library-themed placards. A good turn-out this Saturday will be a boost to the Speak Up for Libraries conference three weeks later, on 10 November. Registration is still open.

 

Help RNIB protect the Talking Book Service for blind and partially sighted people

Imagine for a moment that your choice of books is reduced to just 7%. That is the reality facing blind and partially sighted readers who rely on books in braille, audio and large print.

Blind and partially sighted people in Brighton and Hove are now facing another battle to continue reading. The City Council is proposing to stop paying the subscription fee for their Talking Book Service run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). And their situation is not unique. Increasingly, local authorities across the country are threatening to cut back support for the Talking Book Service, giving people no option but to pay for themselves or use other services which do not offer the same high standards of choice, quality and reader support.

Sound familiar? This erosion of commitment to a quality library service for blind people is exactly the same as cuts and closures to local public libraries. In fact, it’s a double blow for blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are elderly, on disability benefits and housebound. Even if they are able to get out and about, cuts to local branch libraries and reduced public transport means getting to the nearest library is impossible, especially in rural areas. Not to mention cuts in the amount of money libraries have to spend on audio and large print books.

Reading brings pleasure and enjoyment and is essential for work and education, literacy and lifelong learning. RNIB believes that people with sight loss have the same rights to access the rich world of books as anyone else. And they should be able to choose the books they want to read from a library service which best meets their needs.

Local authorities may view books as a luxury item but they are not an optional extra. The Talking Book Service plays an essential role in reducing isolation and loneliness for blind people, providing companionship and contributing to good health and a sense of well-being. As Diane Fazackarley from Brighton says: “I can’t go to the library on my own but I can make it to the post box to return my Talking Books. Most Talking Book users are older people who don’t get out a lot and don’t have a lot of money and the Council wants to take away one of their only few pleasures.”

In Brighton and Hove, the annual savings that would be achieved by cutting the Talking Book Service (£22,000) are very small indeed when seen against a savings programme of more than £80m over the next four years. Thanks to generous public donations, RNIB subsidises each Talking Books subscription, thereby reducing the amount we ask local authorities to contribute. We do this because we understand the importance of reading to blind and partially sighted people but we can’t do it all by ourselves.

RNIB’s Talking Book Service is a lifeline for blind and partially sighted people and we need your help to protect it from the bureaucracy of budget cuts. Please join our campaign in Brighton and Hove today to ensure that this vital service continues to be provided for those who would not be able to afford to access it on their own. The consultation closes on 10 February and you can respond at http://consult.brighton-hove.gov.uk/portal – thanks for your support.

 

 

Our evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

Following our submission of evidence earlier this month to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into library closures, we have been given permission to publish it on our website.

In summary we felt that:

  • A comprehensive and efficient library service should be accessible, should be adequately resourced, should have a wide range of services and content, should have sufficiently skilled staff, and should be available to users at their point of need.
  • The English public widely value libraries as a force for social good which should be provided free.
  • Many planned library cuts and closures are incompatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964: removing qualified and trained library staff will result in a failure to provide adequate services under the terms of the Act and in many cases, councils are making decisions to close libraries based on misleading statistics, an inadequate definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’, and the outdated Act itself.
  • There is strong evidence that communities value local public libraries and that closures would therefore have a negative impact in several ways: on children; on the physical, mental, and emotional health of communities; on lifelong learning; on community cohesion and inclusivity; and on local economies.
  • The powers of intervention given to the Secretary of State are not deficient. The failure lies with the Secretary of State’s lack of willingness to exercise these powers, coupled with lack of guidance from senior ministers and appropriate Government departments.

Our full response to the Inquiry can be found here.

We have also been invited to give oral evidence to the Committee leading the Inquiry.

Ian Anstice named as Information Professional of the Year 2011

We were thrilled to learn that Ian Anstice, a member of the Voices for the Library team,  Librarian in Charge of Winsford Library in Cheshire and proprietor, editor, sub-editor, journalist and everything else at Public Libraries News, has been awarded Information Professional of the Year 2011. It’s a rare honour, as the award is not often given to public librarians.

Ian singlehandedly keeps the site going, with daily updates of news from a bewildering variety of sources. HIs Stakhanovite work has helped support campaigns around the country, as well as national organisations. Everyone, even enemies of libraries, goes to Public Libraries News to find out what’s going on. Well done Ian, congratulations!

For the official announcement, see: http://www.iwr.co.uk/professional-and-library/3011175/Public-Library-News-man-wins-IWR-award

Victory for Gloucestershire and Somerset

Gloucestershire and Somerset library campaigners heard today that they have won their claim over library cuts and closures. The judge ruled in favour of their claims regarding the councils’ neglect to consider or address the findings of the Equality Impact Assessments that had been conducted. A quashing order means that the campaigners have put a halt to the council’s current plans for libraries – both local authorities’ plans will have to be rethought.

We would like to congratulate both Gloucestershire and Somerset campaigners and their lawyers on their success. We know it has been a long battle and their determination has paid off.

Regarding the councils’ failures to comply with the public sector equality duties, His Honour Judge McKenna ruled:

“The real question on this aspect of the case, it seems to me, is whether there was a conscious directing of the mind by the decision makers to their obligations under the legislation and in particular to the need to exercise the duty to have due regard in substance and with rigour and based on sufficient information, appropriately analysed.
“In my judgment, on the preponderance of the evidence, no such due regard was had in substance.  In order to discharge their respective duties, GCC and SCC should have undertaken a sufficiently thorough information gathering exercise and then properly analysed that information.  In this case I conclude that both GCC and SCC failed to comply with that obligation, accepting as I do the substance of the Claimants’ criticisms made of their respective information gathering and analysis to which I have referred above.”

Image from The Bookseller

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries write:

“We are delighted with the outcome of the judicial review. This outcome follows the proper scrutiny of Gloucestershire County Council’s library plans in court; scrutiny which was never allowed under the councils own processes. The judge’s decision to rule in the claimant’s favour on equality grounds is a real vindication of our campaign, which has long argued that the removal of public library services from the most disadvantaged, deprived and vulnerable members of our community is grossly unfair. We are also pleased to learn that the council have been denied permission to appeal the decision.

“However, as Gloucestershire tax payers we regret the inevitable expense that will now be incurred by the county, and which could have been avoided if only the council had listened to and engaged with service users – they have seriously let their taxpayers and electorate down. Over the last year library users and retired professional librarians have repeatedly warned the council that they were in breach of the law, but party politics was always placed before these concerns, which were again and again dismissed.

“Gloucestershire residents should never have had to go through this stressful, upsetting and expensive process and serious questions now also need to be answered by the secretary of state Ed Vaizey.  It is Mr Vaizey’s duty to intervene when authorities are not meeting their obligations to provide a library service available to all who wish to use it. Why were Gloucestershire County Council allowed to continue down this destructive path? In opposition Mr Vaizey was a vocal critic of library closures yet our many pleas for help have been ignored whilst library users were left to fight this alone – it is clear that he left his convictions at the door on entering office.

“We would like to thank supporters of the campaign locally and nationally, and urge all Gloucestershire library users to keep a close eye on the county council’s activities in the coming months to ensure they do their job properly this time round. We also need to be vigilant to cuts which may be planned for the future. Libraries are more important than ever in times of financial crises, when education costs are rising astronomically and many people are losing their jobs.  We hope that come the next county council elections, voters will remember the arrogance displayed by the Gloucestershire County Council administration on this issue.

UPDATE

“It has been brought to our attention that Cllr Hawthorne has told the press that the council “lost on a small technical point”. This is absolutely NOT the case. The judge said “the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government” hence the total quashing of the library plans and telling them they have to start again.  It was VERY serious that they lost on this point.  The judge said it was a “substantive error of law” and a “substantial breach”

“We should receive a full transcript of the judgement in due course. That Cllr Hawthorne still considers his public sector equalities duties as a “small technical point” is extremely worrying.”

See also:

 

 

Birmingham City Council’s library cuts: from world class city to mediocrity

This is an open letter from John Dolan, former Head of Libraries at Birmingham City Council, to Cllr. Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council and Cabinet Member, Culture, copied to Randal Brew Cabinet Member, Finance and Ian Ward, opposition member for Culture.

Dear Councillors Whitby and Mullaney,

The Birmingham Post sets out cuts planned for Birmingham Libraries http://bit.ly/sFdMAC .This comes out one day before the last Council public consultation meeting on its budget plans. There was no mention of libraries in list of cuts up for public consultation. In all the public papers (at http://bit.ly/hhBqvJ); the words ‘library’ or ‘libraries’ are not used anywhere.

This is actually about dismantling the service through the back door while pretending to fix the front door. Birmingham has already dismissed most of the senior and middle management.

Previous cuts: What is the financial value of cuts and savings already made this financial year? Managers and staff? Bookfund? Other resources? The closed Children’s Mobile Library? The closed Schools Library Service? Maintenance budgets? Training budgets? Reduced hours? Libraries closed “for repair”?

Investment: What is being invested in library buildings, their maintenance, on re-opening libraries closed “for repair”? How many libraries already require repairs over say, £50,000? How much will be spent on self-service machines? What’s the timescale? Who will be charged with installing them and training staff?

People: Why does this report not say that, already, nearly all senior and middle management have been made redundant, that the majority of librarians are being made redundant? Why are you deliberately getting rid of librarian skills? How will you provide library services of any quality?

Volunteers: You talk of using volunteers. What skills will they need? What will be their responsibilities? Who will manage volunteers? How will they be trained? Will they be able to do information searches, tell stories to children, advise on reading, assist with homework, show people how to use the computer, plan and run summer reading/literacy programmes? Will they have access to my personal information?

Bookstart: Who will distribute the Government-funded ‘Bookstart’ books for babies as the ‘Bookstart’ librarian has been made redundant?

Income: Where’s the business plan for leasing rooms? How many rooms? Rooms are already ‘leased’ – so does this mean the end of reduced / free room use for voluntary community groups? What is the additional income forecast?-

Co-location: Which buildings are you planning to share with others? Aston has already moved to smaller premises; which others are to move?

Library of Birmingham: You have a chance to do something special to put Birmingham on the map. How much are the “savings being made on the £187 million Library of Birmingham”? Are you still planning for the LOB to be a “world class” library – in services as well as architecture?” How will the LOB work with and support local libraries in local communities? Do you have a revenue budget for the LOB? Will it be what was envisaged or will you downgrade the world class vision to the provincial ordinary

Community libraries: How do you envisage a community library will play an active part in community life if it’s only open “two days a week”?

Birmingham Library Services: This was an historic, outstanding and innovative public service. Will the library service be reunited as one service or remain divided across constituencies, duplicating and wasting resources? How much does each constituency have to save? What if some agree and others don’t? Or what has already been agreed out of public view?

Total savings: These savings were not in the list for consultation with the total savings target. Why were they omitted? Are they extra to those announced?

Public consultation: Why has there been no public information about these proposals? Why was this information deliberately omitted from the presentations at the public meetings? Why is there no public consultation about library service cuts? What does the council intend to do about that?

Would you accept that there is actually no strategic thinking here about public library services? There has been no meaningful consultation on library service cuts or its future. Isn’t your real intention to neglect and downgrade the service to be, at best, mediocre? How therefore, do you intend to meet your duties under library legislation? You must provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” to everyone who wishes to use it. How will you do that?

Finally, you need to be told that the budget consultation papers are in such complex language and layout as to completely shatter the Council’s own rules on plain language.

I await your comments and explanations.

John Dolan OBE

Culture Media and Sport Committee: a quick account

Reproduced with thanks to the Library Campaign:

Until the official transcript of this morning’s Culture Media and Sport Select Committee session with the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, appears, here’s a version in note form put together by reviewing the live television stream. Note that we were incorrect to tweet during the session that Hunt had said that the Isle of Wight and Somerset court cases were due to report before the end of the month; he said that it was Gloucestershire and Somerset. Nevertheless, Brent campaigners will be surprised to hear this, as they believe their Court of Appeal case will come first.

Hunt was asked three questions by the committee, all by the chair.

Q: How does he understand the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act requirement for a comprehensive and efficient service?

A: Original definition of comprehensive and efficient in Roberts Report of 1959. Comprehensive = good selection of books, when books more expensive, efficient = reducing no of authorities. He takes responsibilities seriously, modernisation yes, vandalism no. Has had extensive discussions and engagement with Brent, Lewisham, Somerset, Gloucestershire and IoW about their programmes, not appropriate to comment in detail on individual cases as judicial reviews in progress,  Somerset and Glos this month, Brent from Court of Appeal next. 151 library authorities, 140 are modernising, dealing with cuts without large library closure programmes. What we are here to protect under 64 Act is services not buildings, not to stand in way of sensible modernisation, make sure local authorities doing everything they can through library plans to maintain good library services

Q Website says closure of one or even small number of branches not necessarily breach of Act. Suggests closure of larger number is. A number are making substantial cuts. Do you think some without naming names are in breach?
A: monitoring closely. Five authorities spoken to, IoW has found way forward for community to run five libraries its withdrawn funding from , Lewisham is finding community led alternatives, Somerset and Gloucs are trying these, Brent has taken different approach but extending weekend opening to seven days at the six it is keeping open. Not about number of buildings closed, but about availability of service, going through proper process and DCSM satisfying ourselves that councils are taking responsibility
Q: Physical books still important?
A: I personally have great emotional attachment to books, grew up reading books think they’re wonderful. As world changes, commitment must be to reading. People exploiting and enjoying literature, in broad sense. Will have less commitment to an individual way of reading, but libraries have important part to play in new digital world, not a reason for not having good library services.
Hunt’s performance was disappointing, but that was expected; and protestations by politicians about how much they love books are always to be treated with suspicion. What was worse was the lack of interest from the committee members. It demonstrates an anti-library consensus among the political class, whatever party label they may espouse. No wonder people are cynical about MPs.

Library Campaign Conference: 22 October, London

Voices for the Library are proud to support the Library Campaign’s conference on 22 October at the University of London Union. This is the first national forum for campaigners since the onslaught against public libraries began after the general election. Philip Pullman is speaking. More details here

Alan Gibbons at the Libraries Change Lives awards

Alan Gibbons introduced the Libraries Change Lives awards ceremony  on Wednesday 13 July with a passionate speech for the value of libraries. He learnt to read thanks to Gladstonian liberalism, the socialist and trade union movement, and the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, introduced by a Tory government. However, Gibbons argues, the political class has now forgotten the importance of  libraries. As South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, opens 180 new public libraries, local authorities around the United Kingdom are closing over 400. A child who reads is a successful child. In a world driven by information, the child who can’t read can’t access the print or the digital worlds.

For this reason Alan started Campaign for the Book, and helped to co-ordinate Save Libraries Day on 5th February 2011. 110 simultaneous demonstrations were held around the country; at one small library in the Cotswolds,  with a capacity of 30, seven hundred people were in attendance .

Libraries have never been in such danger, yet never talked about so much. There is a disparity between what librarians do and what they are often perceived as doing. Librarians are not shelf-stackers, said Gibbons,  they should tell the world what  they do. If we allow libraries to close, they will be impossible to rebuild. We must go out and tell the people who are not yet convinced of the value of libraries about why they are so important, he concluded.

From a shortlist of three, the winner was Kent County Council’s ‘Making the Difference’, an innovative project which welcomes adults with learning disabilities into libraries. Alan commented, “libraries and librarians provide gateways to learning for all members of our communities; access to information, narratives and self empowerment regardless of their personal circumstances, income or background. I congratulate Kent County Council, and salute all such innovative projects. In difficult times such as these, the role of library and information professionals can’t be overestimated.”

At the end of the ceremony, he was given honorary fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the organisers of the event. Congratulations, Alan, from Voices for the Library. This recognition of your tireless advocacy is well deserved.