Category Archives: team blog posts

Francis Bennion dies

The Voices for the Library team were saddened to hear of the passing of Francis Bennion on 28th January 2015. He drafted the bill that led to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which makes the provision of public libraries statutory in the UK, and is an Act to which many campaigners are holding their local authorities to account during this period of extreme public spending cuts. He was a supporter of Voices for the Library and kindly wrote this article describing the intent behind the provisions of the Act, and expressing his belief that the way in which local authorities and national
government are neglecting their statutory duties. He also wrote this letter expressing his concerns about the legality of public library cuts.

We are very grateful for the work Mr. Bennion put into the Act and his support for public libraries.

Send a letter to your local MP

Image c/o Sarah Price on Flickr.

We’ve often been asked if we have a template letter that people can send to their local MP, or if we can point to somewhere that does. With the general election coming up and the likely outcome being further cuts to public services (with libraries undoubtedly bearing the brunt of the cuts once more), we thought it was about time we put a template letter on the site that you can use.

The letter is designed to be sent to MPs and whilst they are not directly accountable for libraries within their constituencies, we think it is important that pressure is applied to central government as both the lack of will to intervene in library closures and the likely cuts to the local government grant in the next parliament will push the library service to breaking point. Without government intervention or a reversal of the cuts programme, we could be left with a threadbare, inefficient and sub-standard public library service that is not fit for purpose.

Template letters work best if they are personalised. If you can add in details about your local situation, then do so. The impact will be greater if it is personalised rather than sent as a generic letter/email.

You can view and download a copy of the template on this page. It’s also worth looking at this in conjunction with our manifesto, which is available here.

We want to hear your voices for libraries!

Image c/o Martin on Flickr.

We are delighted to learn that the Mirror is supporting our campaign to highlight the importance of our public library network. Whilst the situation has been bleak for sometime, the picture looks set to get worse, with further spending cuts due from central government putting the squeeze on already tight local authority budgets.

Over three hundred libraries have closed since 2009/10. Further cuts to services could result in up to 1000 libraries being lost in the next five years. This decline in libraries results in a self-fulfilling prophecy; as libraries are cut or closed altogether, so decline the number of visitors to our libraries which is then used as an excuse for further closures. It is a death spiral that we can only escape by stopping the cuts and increasing library funding.

Libraries play a crucial role for many in levelling the playing field. They help develop children’s literacy skills and ensures they are not left behind; ensure those without internet access (over 6m people in the UK) can get online, access vital government services and seek employment; provides a safe neutral space free from commercial influences and provide free access to information for all.

We know that those who use the service understand why this statutory service must be protected. We want to hear from all of those who use their local library every day, from those who benefit from the services they provide, from those whose lives have been changed because libraries offered them something that would otherwise be out of reach. This website aims to highlight all your stories, providing evidence of the continued importance of the library service to so many in our communities.

We want to hear from you. If you’ve got a story to tell, if you want to share your experiences of public libraries or tell the world how your public library inspires you, drop us a line!  Our contact details are available here, we look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s hear your voices for the library!

 

National Libraries Day – What are you doing for it?

National Libraries Day logo

Tomorrow is National Libraries Day. A day of celebrating and showing your support for all types of libraries in the UK. Around the country many libraries and their supporters are sharing the library love in a variety of ways, including read-ins, craft sessions, author visits to libraries, story times, service promotion events and taster sessions, and promotional campaigns on social media. The hashtag on Twitter is #NLD15.

Unfortunately many library services are facing cuts again – yes, it seems never-ending – and library supporters around the country are also showing their support with rallies and protest events. On a day like National Libraries Day it is the perfect opportunity to get their voices heard. In fact, National Libraries Day originally started out as Save Our Libraries Day in 2011, and as well as celebrating libraries on this day, it is also important to challenge the cuts and closures facing libraries. It’s probably the biggest day of the year for the media to take an interest in libraries in the UK.

Members of the Voices for the Library team are going to be taking part in their own ways.

Alan has been asked to speak at the rally outside the Library of Birmingham. This flagship library was only opened in late 2013, but is already facing severe cuts and reduction in services. Here is the text of Alan’s speech.

As part of the friends group Jo has been involved in organising a fun event at Bristol Central Library, and will be there supporting it.

Ian Anstice is supporting a National Libraries Day craft event run by his library service and will be helping out with promotion on social media.

Gary is also helping with his library service social media and getting out and about to promote libraries via the Library A to Z.

Ian Clark, Lauren and Tom are all visiting libraries in their areas and making use of the services and resources on offer. Don’t forget that every extra visit to a library and use of its services helps increase the CIPFA statistics, a key indicator of how valued libraries are.

So, you can see that supporting libraries on National Libraries Day is something that you can do in whatever way you want and whatever way suits you – it doesn’t matter how you show your support on National Libraries Day, but it is important that you do.

A stark warning about the future for public libraries

The release of the Sieghart report the day before the Christmas recess speaks volumes about how this government views the public library system. It is viewed by ministers as an irrelevance, as a service that provides no ‘value’ (mainly because it is not income generating). Of course, to the millions of people who rely on their public library service, they provide a valuable and highly treasured public service.

For the children needing extra support developing their literacy skills, libraries help them, to realise their potential and give them hope of a better future.

For the elderly who find themselves lacking the skills and ability to get online, libraries help them connect with their families and learn valuable new skills.

For the unemployed, demonised by the government and told to “get a job” using online services they often do not have access to, they offer the glimmer of hope that they can get a job that offers them dignity and security.

For society in general, they offer a space that is free from commercial influence. A space where they can escape from the constant pressure to buy buy buy. They can relax secure in the knowledge that the space is theirs, not that of a private company that sees them as pound signs walking through the door rather than citizens.

And yet, the future is bleak. Under the current government we have seen the rapid decline of our library service. And there is worse to come. A government who argues that everyone should have the opportunity to get on in life is pulling the ladder away from those who need it most. What hope to join the ranks of hard-working families if the mechanisms to get you there are no longer available?

What is clear is that a Conservative government in the next parliament would be a disaster for the public library service. With cuts returning spending to 1930s levels, local authorities will be under even greater pressure, resulting in services being outsourced or abandoned altogether. It is clear that the government either do not care, or view this as part of their long-term strategy. The release of this report now demonstrates how little they care about what happens to our public library network.

It is up to all of us, librarians and library workers, library users, professional bodies, trade unions, writers, to keep the pressure up on our elected officials. We understand the difference library services make. We understand how they provide opportunities for those cast adrift. We understand that for the isolated, the left behind and the cast aside, public libraries provide the chance to help them grasp the opportunities that so many of us take for granted. We understand that our cultural life is much diminished with a weakened public library network. We understand that they do have value. We need to remind our elected representatives of this every single day. We must not let them get away with the ultimate destruction of a valuable and cherished public service that levels the playing field and enables opportunity for all.

Library A to Z launches today

P
It’s just over a year since the Library A to Z was first put down on paper – a list of words that reflected the wide range of library services and positive outcomes those services generated. We wrote about it here. Since then, after teaming up with Andrew Walsh to run a crowd-funding project to expand on the original idea and turn it into something more than just a list of words, a set of great promotional and advocacy materials has been produced, including fantastic illustrations by Josh Filhol, posters, cards and a book emphasising the message of the the Library A to Z. The book features a chapter written on behalf on Voices for the Library, along with library users quotes taken from the Voices for the Library site. The Voices team are very pleased that these quotes are being shared outside of our site, as they will help spread the important message that libraries remain relevant in the 21st century.

The Library A to Z is now officially ready to launch and it wouldn’t have been possible without a large number of people helping it reach this point. This includes those who helped create the original list of A to Z words; the 155 financial backers (including major sponsor The Library Campaign); everyone who has shown their support in promoting the A to Z and encouraging people to get involved; the Voices for the Library team; Josh who created the fantastic illustrations that are the centre piece of the A to Z; Aidan who helped with the poster design; and most importantly Andy, who has put in so much hard work from the original discussion we had at Library Camp last year up until the launch.

Even though the materials created by this project have been available for anyone to freely download for a few weeks from the new site at http://libraryatoz.org, the Library A to Z is officially launched this week (17th November).

To highlight the intentions for the launch take a look at the beginning of the book chapter. It leads with:

Over the past few years we have witnessed severe cuts in library service budgets resulting in the reduction of services, most notably by closures, shorter opening hours, staff cuts and the replacement of library staff with typically unsustainable and fragmented volunteer-run services. Cuts are often made in the name of austerity measures, yet in austere times libraries are of particular importance to the disadvantaged in our communities.

For many people the word “library” conjures up images of books and not much more. Although books remain a core feature and are beneficial in many more ways than commonly understood, libraries have a much wider and more significant reach than books alone.

For these reasons politicians at both local and national level (including leading ministers in Government) will be receiving copies of the Library A to Z book and other campaign materials during launch week. The intention is to show them that properly funded and professionally run library services help transform society in many ways, including the improvement of literacy and reading skills, enabling access to digital services, supporting economic growth, promoting wellbeing and education.

Supporters of library services have also been encouraged to send copies of the Library A to Z book and other A to Z materials to their local politicians and media to help spread the message.

At this stage around 90 books have been sent out to politicians and media organisations.

As well as using the materials in this context, the intention is also to encourage library services and their supporters to use them for promotional purposes. For example, editable posters have been created for each letter, so that local information can be added to them. As I have mentioned earlier all of these materials – book, posters, cards, illustrations – are available for you to download and re-use for free.

Whether we are encouraging support from politicians and policy makers or using the materials for promotions in libraries the message remains the same – libraries have so much to offer that most people aren’t aware of. This is a great opportunity for you to let them know.

The launch is being promoted to national and local news and media organisations to raise the profile of libraries. Social media is also being used during the launch to spread the word about the Library A to Z. The hashtag is #LibraryAtoZ.

It would be great if we could encourage you to help spread the message about the Library A to Z during this launch week in whatever way you can.

Abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries to go ahead

In 2010 the Government announced the intention to abolish the Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL). The ACL was established as part of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, its duty being “to advise the Secretary of State upon such matters connected with the provision or use of library facilities whether under this Act or otherwise as it thinks fit and upon any questions referred to it by him”. However, almost 4 years later (early 2014) DCMS held a public consultation on this proposal and the Government response to the consultation was published last week.

The summary response from the Government appears below:

the Government notes that almost all respondents, i.e. six out of the seven that answered the individual questions, do not think the advisory function of ACL should be transferred to another existing body and that a slight majority i.e. four out of the seven respondents consider the ACL should be retained and improved.  While noting these comments the Government preferred option remains to abolish the ACL. The Government considers that the function of advising the Secretary of State does not require a statutory body and in the absence of the ACL, DCMS works closely and meets on a regular basis with relevant stakeholders to discuss library sector issues

We are extremely disappointed by this decision to abolish ACL, especially in light of the responses highlighting the role an improved and re-invigorated ACL could have performed in relation to England’s public libraries. We believe that the development of the ACL role could have provided independent strategic leadership and guidance for the development, support and sustainability of public libraries in England, as well as a means to enforce statutory duties and ensure comprehensive and efficient service requirements were met.

The full government response can be found here: ACL_Govt_Response__final_version_.

Voices for the Library response to the consultation can be found here: VFTL response Abolition of Advisory Council on Libraries

 

Response to the Rural Libraries Report

Another week and another libraries report lands on the VFTL virtual desk.

‘Rural library services in England: exploring recent changes and possible futures’

http://www.opm.co.uk/publications/rural-library-services-in-england-exploring-recent-changes-and-possible-futures/
looks at the ‘experience’ of rural libraries, especially those that are volunteer supported or led, and was commissioned by DEFRA & ACE and researched and written by Locality and OPM:

“Following the 2013 reports Envisioning the Library of the Future and Community libraries: Learning from Experience, this research explores what the experience has been – and could be in future – for rural libraries specifically.”

Basically the report paints a picture of a free for all based on your ability to access funding streams and your success at raising income and attracting and retaining volunteers. If you have the skills, time and knowledge then you win and if not you don’t – in other words the rigours of the market place. It’s no longer a ‘comprehensive’ county or country wide service, it’s a post-code lottery service.

The researchers conducted a ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA)’ of “recent and relevant documents” which they sought to “capture key messages” in order “to summarise recent evidence as it has been presented to date”. Interestingly or worryingly they “did not set out to consider the full range of arguments, ideas and possibilities relating to library services in rural areas”. Why not? With widespread cuts, closures and divestment wouldn’t it have been better to rigorously assess “the full range”, or does conducting a REA cost less?

“Given the gap between the speed at which policy development moves, and the time it takes to conduct research (including reviews), being able to pull research together quickly, in time for policy deadlines, is clearly desirable. The idea of Rapid Evidence Assessments (REA) is therefore seductive: the rigour of a systematic review, but one that is cheaper and quicker to complete. While a few short-cuts are taken, the quality of the review is not compromised. In this situation, the only difference between an REA and a systematic review is speed.
Does the reality of REAs meet their promise though?”
http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/rapid-evidence-assessments-a-bright-idea-or-a-false-dawn/

They then held a number of workshops which brought together service staff, volunteers and other stakeholders, with no implicit mention of service users being consulted.

 

But enough of the methodology.

 

The report uses 8 authorities as case models, these being;

 

Buckinghamshire
Cumbria
Devon
North Yorkshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Wakefield
Warwickshire

 

An interesting bunch we’re sure you will agree but they’ve shied away from assessing Lincolnshire and Herefordshire. Did the REA not pick these two up or are they too challenging?

 

The report goes on to makes some bold claims about volunteer involvement in supporting or managing rural libraries;

 

“Where communities have become more directly involved in supporting or managing their rural libraries, they can evolve into more effective, positive and well-used venues than their predecessors.”

 

We have absolutely no problem with the statement that libraries can ‘evolve’ with the support of their communities, this is what we all strive for, but where is the evidence to back the claim that they can become more “effective” when volunteer-led? More effective at what and as what? Maybe the following excerpt from the report will help to shed light on this;

 

“The level and nature of support provided to rural libraries in future will depend on the outcomes those services and venues are able to contribute to. These may be far-removed from the traditional function of a library, yet hugely valuable to a community (and to public agencies seeking to reduce demand on their services).”

 

So rural libraries are expected to become volunteer supported or led one-stop-shops, a ‘Big Society’ shared services ‘hub’ if they are to tap into the full range of funding opportunities. The authors choose to call this ‘economies of scope’.


And what about poorer communities that may not have the time, resources, skills and knowledge to do this? Add to this the fact that over 4,000 library staff have lost their jobs in the last few years and you have a very fragmented, under-resourced, under-staffed, de-skilled post-code lottery of a service.

 

“The thinktank Civil Exchange said a “big society gap” has opened up with levels of charitable giving, volunteering and social action strongest in wealthy areas and among privileged professional middle-class groups.”
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/09/big-society-deprived-david-cameron-charitable-wealthy

And how will the ever growing number of volunteer-led ‘libraries’ (according to this report 300 in England alone and 5% of those completely cast adrift or ‘independent’) deal with a myriad of public service type enquiries and transactions? Will they receive Universal Information Offer training or/and a kiosk or two loaded with ‘My Community’ software?

The report however does raise some concerns in relation to the sustainability, viability and integrity of ‘community libraries’;

“The marked increase in community involvement in the running of rural libraries is clearly a headline change witnessed in the last three to four years. Around 300 community libraries are known to exist in England at present. Some of these are truly independent of their local authorities, with book stock and support systems entirely self-sourced, although these only account for around 5% of the total. The vast majority can be categorised as either community-managed or community-supported, with access to varying degrees of continuing council support – usually including advice and expertise, and retaining connectivity to the library management system and book stock. That commitment to support community libraries has frequently been resource-intensive for councils.”

“Where communities have become more directly involved in supporting or managing their rural libraries, they can evolve into more effective, positive and well-used venues than their predecessors. This can involve the nurturing of a library’s role in supporting social interaction, strengthening community ties, hosting events and activities to appeal to a wider range of people and creating space for clubs and societies to flourish.
 
In other cases, however, library friends groups might save a branch but bring with them very limited perceptions about what that facility will offer. As such, library service managers are sometimes concerned about the inability of some of their community libraries to live up to what should be expected of a local library from the point of view of standards / consistency of service and inclusivity.”

 

Along with the need for better indicators on the social benefits of libraries and the importance of showing this if they are to attract resources and generate income from a wide range of funding sources;

 

“Workshop participants reflected that the most successful, sustainable rural libraries will contribute to a wide range of local outcomes and, in so doing, should be well-positioned to attract resources and generate income from an equally wide range of sources (e.g. from public health, adult education and employment support).
This will demand better capturing of data on the usage and benefits of libraries beyond traditional measures such as book issues – which workshop participants agreed underestimated the value of role their libraries played.” We agree with the need for better qualitative indicators but not in the context given in the report. Public libraries in our opinion should be about empowering communities and promoting social equity not propping up the localism agenda or creating more opportunities for private investment or entrepreneurs.

As you would imagine in a report partly written by Locality and partly commissioned by the Arts Council there is lots of talk of income generation, sharing services and collocation with shops, pubs and post offices. This fits neatly with the ‘Enterprising Libraries’ programme;

“a partnership between Arts Council England, the British Library and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), is looking to fund a number of projects in which libraries will use their role as community hubs to spark local economic growth and improve social mobility in communities across the country.”

The report also fits neatly into the ‘innovate don’t save’ agenda which is often used as a stick to beat campaigners and supporters with;

“we can move away from the idea that libraries are failing, or that they have to be ‘defended/saved’, to one where they become invigorated and attract investment and support because they are part of what makes rural communities tick”

Voices strongly believe that public libraries as a statutory service shouldn’t be opened up to the market and shouldn’t have to attract ‘investment’, if they were properly tax-funded, resourced, supported and staffed then they would flourish. As for volunteer-led libraries our view was clearly laid out in our submission to the Sieghart review;

“We believe that volunteers play an important part in assisting library staff in delivering specific library programmes when properly supported and trained, but that they are increasingly used as a substitute for paid and trained library staff. We believe that this is unacceptable for both library users and existing library staff. Under the pretext of funding cuts from central government, local communities are being forced into running their local library, with the threat of closure by the local authority if they fail to do so. We still hope that true localism will prevail and the wishes of local communities, often blackmailed into providing library services, will be respected by both local authorities and national government.  But our hope is diminished by the clear intentions laid out by the government and we greatly fear what this means for the future of our public library service.

Job substitution and service fragmentation is creating a two-tier library service and a post-code lottery for the public, with poorer communities, who often do not have the time and resources to volunteer, receiving an inferior service to those in more affluent areas. The result of this is often no library service at all, or one that is little more than a book exchange. In our view this is neither ‘comprehensive or efficient’.

The “role of community libraries” in the context outlined above is, in our opinion, to further the government’s aims to shrink the state through its ‘Localism’ agenda. The role of “community libraries” in delivering library services is, therefore, to undermine the statutory requirements of the 1964 Act and the principles of a comprehensive and efficient library service. Their purpose appears to be more ideological than practical in the long term, with the consequence being a two-tier, post-code lottery, library service casting adrift those in the poorest communities who rely on the many varied information services provided by appropriately funded public libraries, from claiming social security to improving literacy standards. The social and economic consequences of this division should not be underestimated.”

IFLA launches Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development

Today we welcome the launch of the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, which was announced at the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) World Library and Information Congress in Lyon. The declaration was drafted by IFLA along with its strategic partners and “calls upon United Nations Member States to make an international commitment through the post-2015 development agenda to ensure that everyone has access to, and is able to understand, use and share the information that is necessary to promote sustainable development and democratic societies.” The declaration emphasises the importance of access to information in empowering people throughout the world. IFLA are encouraging organisations and institutions who share the vision of the declaration to sign it to show their support, alongside the 134 information and library focused organisations from around the world that have already signed. The intention is to use it for advocacy purposes to influence the United Nations development policy framework to be launched at the end of 2015.

The full declaration can be read here.

Library A to Z update

It’s been over a month since the Library A to Z Kickstarter was funded and we just wanted to update you on how things are progressing. So far, the illustrator Josh Filhol has finished the art work. In the end he managed to produce illustrations for every letter, even those that didn’t have many words against them. The illustrations are vibrant and are going to look great in the book and on the other advocacy resources. Content for the book is also coming together nicely and Andy is in contact with designers for promotional items such as posters. We don’t have a definite timescale for when the resources based on the illustrations will be available for download, but we’ll make sure we announce it when it happens.

"W" (by Josh Filhol)

“W” (by Josh Filhol)