Tag Archives: democracy

Time to vote for libraries

Vote for libraries on May 3rd (image c/o Alan Cleaver on Flickr).

Thursday May 3rd sees local elections once more taking place across the UK.  Once more, this is a chance to hold to account those politicians who have been behind moves to close libraries or forcing communities into running them themselves.  This is a chance to send a strong message to politicians who have not listened to library users and hold them to account for their refusal to engage or listen to the concerns of library users.

Take, for example, Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris.  As a result of his leadership, five libraries were closed across the town, including Oxford Grove library in his own ward of Halliwell.  Secretary of the local Save Bolton Libraries campaign, Ian McHugh, will be standing against Cllr Morris representing the Green Party.  We wish Ian the best of luck in his efforts.

In Doncaster, a referendum will be held to decide whether Doncaster will be run by a mayor or by a leader of the council.  This is an opportunity for the people of Doncaster to reject their mayor, who has wreaked havoc across the borough and seriously undermined the principles of democratic accountability.  In the past couple of months, Mayor Davies has defended his decision to veto £380,000 worth of investment in libraries and has overruled a majority council decision to reopen libraries at Denaby and Carcroft.  We very much hope that the people of Doncaster reject their existing system and choose one that is more democratic, backing the clear will of the people of Doncaster to provide a properly funded library service.

Campaigners in London also have an opportunity to remove those that have been hostile to public library provision.  Voters in Barnet and Camden, for example, have an opportunity to reject Brian Coleman as their representative in the London Assembly.  Coleman has been a key inspiration behind attempts to close libraries within the borough, despite being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.  In Croydon and Sutton, library users will be alarmed to know that candidate Steve O’Connell recently claimed that he “does not care who runs public libraries…All that matters is that they are kept open.”  So replacing paid staff with volunteers seems to be very much on the table as far as O’Connell is concerned.  Furthermore, campaigners in Brent will be looking very carefully at the record of their current representative Navin Shah, who has done little to support campaigners in the fight against their local authority, supporting Brent’s claims that the authority was in an “impossible” position and had no choice.

Come May 3rd those concerned about library closures have a clear choice.  Now is the time to vote for libraries and make sure your local authorities get the message loud and clear: Save Our Libraries.

We will Speak Up For Libraries #librarieslobby

A rally and lobby of Parliament will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 13 March) in Westminster to highlight the value of public libraries and the important role they play. The event aims to persuade MPs to take action to protect public library services during these times of public sector cuts. Anybody who supports public libraries is welcome to attend.

The rally will take place from 12 noon, at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm. Prior to the rally and lobby, Ed Vaizey’s evidence session for the Inquiry into library closures will be screened live from 10.30am in Central Hall Westminster.

The lobby has been organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition, an alliance of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff. Voices For The Library are part of this coalition.

Since forming Voices For The Library, we have constantly had to defend public libraries against those in power who do not seem to understand their value. We’ve seen local campaigns emerge throughout the country in response to these cuts – campaigners fighting for their own local libraries against authorities who do not understand the purpose of libraries, and do not understand how libraries and trained library staff benefit library users, the local community, local economy and the UK as a whole. Many of these campaigners have been put into a position where they are effectively acting as superintendent to their own library service, despite this being the responsibility of Jeremy Hunt & Ed Vaizey. Local authorities have not listened to local campaigners concerns. Neither have Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey or the DCMS. So now, as part of Speak Up For Libraries, we must take this to Parliament to ask MP’s to make a stand and help protect the future of the nation’s threatened public libraries.

We feel it’s important to attend tomorrow to show those who dismiss public libraries as irrelevant just how important they are and why they are essential. We would urge you to attend if you can – the more people there are there, the louder our voices will be and the clearer the message will be that we will continue to fight and Speak Up For Libraries. If you are coming please sign up on the Speak Up For Libraries site.

However, if you can’t attend, you can still show your support by doing the following:

However you chose to do it on the day, please Speak Up For Libraries!

Evidence sessions for Parliamentary Inquiry into library closures

The second evidence session for The Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures will take place on Tuesday 21 February (Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster).

The Committee will hear evidence from representatives of Arts Council England, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Isle of Wight Council, Leicestershire Library Services and the Local Government Association.

Further details of the session can be found here.

The session will be screened on the internet via Parliament.tv

The first session saw Abby Barker (Voices for The Library),  Sue Charteris (author of the report on Wirral library closures), Andrew Coburn (The Library Campaign) and Miranda McKearney (The Reading Agency) give evidence.

Below are some of the comments and points raised during that session (paraphrased).

  • Miranda McKearney: The passionate work of campaigners over the past 18 months has started to shift the debate about what libraries mean to us all.
  • Abby Barker: A lot of people making these cuts don’t understand what a library is, or what it does, or what librarians can offer.
  • Andrew Coburn: In local areas libraries offer a social place to build communities, based around services they provide.
  • Abby Barker: Local libraries are important. Not all people can get to the central library branch. There is room for both large ‘destination’ libraries and small libraries to provide services. They complement each other.
  •  Abby Barker: The cuts are focused on books & buildings. Librarians aren’t just there to stamp books. Librarians are there to enhance your experience of the library.
  • Andrew Coburn: A lot of what library staff do is about direction, mediation & assistance. The fewer library staff there are in the system the more difficult it is to get an answer from anywhere in that system.
  •  Miranda McKearney: Even though ‘you clearly have access to the things you need to live your life. Lots of people don’t’. (Response to MP about why libraries are needed)
  • Abby Barker: If comprehensive & efficient could be more clearly defined, local authorities may be able to make better decisions.
  • Abby Barker: Library consultations are being run from the top down and local authorities are not listening to or taking into account users needs.
  • Andrew Coburn: What’s the point of the Secretary of State having powers of intervention if they aren’t used? He needs to “grasp the nettle.”
  • Andrew Coburn: How will volunteer run libraries affect the statutory duties?
  • Abby Barker: Volunteers can add value to a library service, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement service.
  • Miranda McKearney: Partnership working on a national level with librarians is difficult because there aren’t enough of them.
  • Miranda McKearney: There are some things you can only do nationally to improve library services – we need a national strategy!
  • Sue Charteris: Local authorities need to look at equalities assessment of local needs.
  • Sue Charteris: Isn’t keen on having more regulations, but feels local authorities need guidance from Secretary of State & Arts Council England.
  • Sue Charteris: Library services need proper communications teams to sell their benefits.
  • Sue Charteris: There has to be a prominent role for librarians in providing public library services. They are key.
  • Sue Charteris: Volunteers are well-placed to do certain things in libraries, but a sound policy on volunteering by local authorities is key.
  • Sue Charteris: The Secretary of State role needs to be more pro-active nationally.
  • Sue Charteris: Current public library legislation needs to be looked at, because it is “cumbersome” and out-of-date.
  • Sue Charteris: Believes that some kind of peer review would be useful to ensure library services are heading in the right direction.

Parliamentary lobby & rally 13 March 2012 #librarieslobby

An important Parliamentary lobby and rally organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition will take place on 13th March 2012.

The rally will take place from 11.30am at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm.

We urge everyone to find out more and sign up to attend via the Speak Up For Libraries website.

You can also follow Speak Up For Libraries on Twitter and on Facebook.

Speak Up For Libraries are a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future.

Library campaigners meeting with Ed Vaizey #savelibraries

At the end of 2011, Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson asked Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey,  if he would meet with her and a delegation of UK library campaigners. He agreed and that meeting took place yesterday (1st February) at The Houses Of Parliament.

As a representative from Voices For The Library I was fortunate to be part of that delegation, and along with Julia Donaldson, author and Campaign For The Book founder, Alan Gibbons, and Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner, John Holland, we met with Ed Vaizey – arranged through MP Jo Swinson (MP for Julia Donaldson’s constituency).

The four delegates were given an opportunity to present our views to Ed Vaizey with regard to the current situation in UK public libraries. We had just under 20 minutes for all of our presentations.

Julia Donaldson focused on the importance of public libraries for children and the benefits of having both librarians and good stock in providing a good library service.

Alan Gibbons highlighted the lack of intervention by the Government in local library closures decisions and asked what it would take for Ed Vaizey or Jeremy Hunt to intervene?

John Holland covered the situation in Gloucestershire Libraries and the lack of response by Ed Vaizey, The Secretary of State, and the DCMS to Gloucestershire campaigners requests and questions about the cuts and closures.

I focused on the national perspective and the fact that those deciding the fate of our libraries don’t appear to understand the value and importance of them.

Following on from this, we had between 25-30 minutes, in which Ed Vaizey responded to some of our concerns and discussed both national and local situations with us.

Ed Vaizey IRGlover

Ed Vaizey (c) IRGlover/Flickr

From my perspective, the key points in Ed Vaizey’s response/discussion were:

  • He doesn’t agree that library services are being decimated.
  • He has challenged library closures in the past, but has also supported closures of some libraries.
  • He felt it was up to the local authority to run library services, not his department.
  • The Government have no intention of removing statutory duties.
  • Community/volunteer run libraries have a place in the provision of local library services.
  • He acknowledged that some volunteer run libraries would be outside of a local authorities’ statutory service.
  • Local authorities could provide “cut-price libraries” – every library in a local authority shouldn’t be all singing, all dancing.
  • The comprehensive and efficient aspects of a local authorities duties should be focused on the way they were interpreted in the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act. “Comprehensive” equates to stock; “Efficient” equates to reduction of 400+ local library authorities. The 1964 Act did not focus on buildings.
  • He felt that the situations that led to Judicial Review’s in Brent, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Surrey recently were not linked directly to the need for intervention by The Secretary of State in a local situation and, using his skills as a barrister, he argued a fine line in how these two situations do not overlap.
  • There was no plan to re-introduce library standards. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that they were out of the question.
The use of volunteers in libraries was also discussed and, as Alan Gibbons highlighted, volunteers have always played a part in libraries, but there needs to be a clear balance/focus between the roles professional staff play and the roles volunteers take on, rather than an assumption that volunteers can provide a service as good as a trained professional.

It was agreed by all that it would be of benefit if examples of best practice for public libraries plans could be formulated, so that at least some guidance could be given to local authorities. Ed Vaizey pointed out that the Charteris Report (Wirral Inquiry) was seen as a good example of best practice, but as the delegates highlighted this was not a legally binding document, so did not need to be adhered to by local authorities when looking at library services.
From my perspective, one of the main issues that was highlighted at the meeting and has continually cropped up in other discussions, is the woolly and hazy area around who should take responsibility for libraries and how an “efficient and comprehensive” library service (within the scope of the 1964 Act) should be interpreted. As many of us have seen, some local authorities have interpreted the 1964 Act and statutory duties in a way that suits them and would leave their users with a substandard service, rather than a properly funded and resourced one that they should expect to have.

I should also mention that there wasn’t a single mention of the Future Libraries Programme… A flagship programme for libraries up until last year! How should we interpret this?

At the end of the meeting I don’t believe we persuaded Ed Vaizey to change his stance overnight on public libraries. But then again, I don’t think any of us believed that he would. However, it did give us the opportunity to raise the issues face-to-face with him that were our main concerns and we hope this was another of those tiny steps we keep taking that brings us a step closer to saving libraries.
Update
Below are Alan Gibbons’ and John Holland’s perspectives on the meeting.

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.

Libraries are not free market choice

Writing Public Libraries News, I come across lots of good, and not so good quotes from people.  Recently, I was going to call one blog posting “free market choice” after an unfortunate comment from a Bexley councillor but another quote, that called libraries “weapon of mass instruction“, so beautifully summed up what a library is that it won the game hands down.
The whole point about public libraries, of course, is that they offer the complete opposite of the free market by doing such a wonderful job of “mass instruction”.
When I do junior school class visits – and I do a lot – there is a little bit of fun that sums this up.  I get two children to come up.  One play-acts taking a book from Asda (my town has no bookshops) without paying for it.  As they almost leave, I shout “beep beep beep” and “stop thief!” to general hilarity.  The other play-acts taking a book from the public library without paying for it.  I shout “thank you” and “come back again”.  This is the difference.  One does not pay to take out a book.  One can take out twenty books retailing at perhaps £8 per book for free, as many times as one likes.  The High Street or Amazon alternative is simply not an option for many of the people I deal with.  £160 every three weeks on books?  I think not.
Libraries are not a “free market choice”.  There’d be no free access to books if it was left to the free market.  In a pure market driven economy, one would not be able to read a book without having the means to pay for it.  Believe me, there’s a lot of families who would never buy a book.  A lot of children denied the greatest chance of all life chances: that of a love of books, of a love for literacy and all the advantages that that gives.  Ladies, Gentleman and Councillors from Bexley, it’s the public library or nothing for a lot of the kids when it comes to reading.  The free market would just leave them with nothing.
Ian Anstice

Lobby for libraries over literacy timebomb (13th March)

UNISON, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign, Campaign for the Book and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have today announced they will hold a joint lobby of Parliament calling on politicians to protect vital library services.

During the lobby, on 13 March, the campaigning group will highlight the importance of libraries in providing access to learning and as a vital lifeline for many communities.

The lobby will take place at:

Midday
Tuesday 13 March
Central Hall
Westminster

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:

“Cutting libraries is not an easy solution for councils to save cash – it is a literacy time bomb for deprived communities.

“Community groups are being held to ransom by Government plans to force them to take over the running of services, or lose them. These groups don’t have the time, skills and resources to take over the jobs of experienced library staff.

“A shocking 30,000 children are leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or below and libraries are a vital lifeline for community groups. We need a national vision of a modern library service, as an investment in the future generation.”

Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI said:

“The NFWI is delighted to support the lobby of parliament. A threat to local library services is a threat to a community’s education and as champions of libraries for the past 96 years, WI members are gravely concerned that so many local authorities are riding roughshod over educational resources while the Government watches in silence. It is simply not good enough to assume that volunteers will step in to continue providing services previously supplied by professionals; the Government cannot rely on community-minded individuals to step into the breach to bridge the gaps, and the loss of professional expertise is irreplaceable.

“Local libraries are a fundamental information and education resource. Whilst in their essence, libraries facilitate access to books and resources, they play a much wider role in promoting shared knowledge and equality of opportunity, facilitating community cohesion, and enabling life-long learning and literacy from cradle to grave.”

Abby Barker, from Voices for the Library, said:

“Voices for the Library are urging anyone concerned for the future of the library service in the UK to get involved on March 13th. This is your chance to tell your MP how vital your local library service is, and to ask them to call the Secretary of State to task over his noticeable lack of involvement. The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act very clearly puts public libraries under the superintendence of the Secretary of State, however, Jeremy Hunt has yet to intervene on any level, even in the most extreme cases.”

Andrew Coburn, Secretary of The Library Campaign, said:

“Public libraries still have a wide-ranging role in encouraging literacy and education as well as providing literature for leisure and information. MPs need to know what a real 21st century library service can provide – so that they can join the thousands who are trying to prevent their branches being closed and services mutilated.”

Alan Gibbons, Author and Organiser of Campaign for the Book said:

“A reading child is a successful child. The National Literary Trust has found that a child who goes to a library is twice as likely to read well as one who doesn’t.  The UK currently stands at 25th in the PISA International Reading ranking.  Libraries are vital to improving this position.  We have to fight for the defence and extension of public library services.”

Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP said:

“The professional skills and expertise of library staff are core to providing the public with a quality library service. Volunteers should supplement and enrich a professionally led service, not replace the knowledge and skills of staff. We are concerned that public library services in England are being damaged; the impact will be felt now and in the long term. We urge the Secretary of State to use his powers of intervention where there is clear evidence that the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) has been potentially breached. It is wrong to view public libraries solely as a cost; by providing opportunities for learning and literacy development libraries are an investment in communities, families and individuals.”

You can follow the lobby on Twitter  using the #librarieslobby hashtag.

Why won’t Kent release library meeting minutes?

During a meeting earlier this year, proposals were put before the 73 Conservative members of Kent County Council regarding the future of libraries across the county.  It is alleged that these proposals included the potential closure of a substantial number of libraries across the county.  The Kent Messenger’s political editor, Paul Francis, wrote at the time:

“Precise figures are hard to come by but at least one source has mentioned over 40.”

There are presently over 100 libraries across the county, meaning that the proposals suggested the closure of nearly half of all the libraries in Kent.

Interestingly, not all the councillors were enthusiastic about the proposals:

“Sources say that many county councillors were aghast at the proposals, not least because some of those identified for closure were in Kent’s Conservative heartlands. Others pointed out that they had made various election commitments that local libraries in their areas would be safeguarded.”

Perhaps recognising the strength of many campaigns across the country, one councillor allegedly remarked:

“You can do more or less what you like to any other service and not many will care, but not to libraries.”

The potential for libraries to be taken over by parish councils or volunteers was also raised during the meeting.  It appears, however, that a revolt by councillors has meant that these proposals have been shelved.  Or have they?

Since we were made aware of the proposals put before the council, Voices for the Library submitted a Freedom of Information request regarding the detail of the meeting.  As these proposals were quashed and the public were aware of the fact that this meeting took place, there seemed little reason to suppose the request would be rejected.  But it has.

The council refused to provide the information requested on the grounds that:

“KCC is currently exploring and considering the future of the library service. If the information is disclosed at this time, the effectiveness of that important process could be compromised. The provision of advice and exchange of views by KCC members and officers is likely to be more reticent and circumscribed rather than the necessary full and open discussion to allow us to fully explore relevant options.

“Given that exploring options for the future of the library service is an ongoing piece of work and that no conclusions or clear proposals have yet been reached, and taking into account that we are committed to working closely with local communities to develop our ideas once we have decided upon an overall approach, we strongly feel that releasing the requested information at this time would inhibit the decision making process.”

County Hall , Maidstone , Kent

County Hall , Maidstone , Kent (c) john47kent / Flickr

It is difficult to see how, as Paul Francis also commented, that their disclosure would inhibit the future decision making process if these plans have been shelved.  Furthermore, given that the fact that a meeting took place has been made public, it is hard to understand how further disclosure would cause any further harm to the council’s procedures.  Indeed, given that there is now some confusion and concern amongst library users in Kent, full disclosure and assurances that these proposals have been abandoned would be broadly welcomed.  Needless to say, we appealed against this decision.

Towards the end of last week, we discovered that the council has once more refused our request for information.  Again this raises more questions.  The appeal was rejected under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act on the following grounds:

“The nature of the information is such that she [the Managing Director] concurs that its release would undeniably prohibit the free and frank exchange of views and discussion of ideas in the future which is essential to the effective conduct of business within the County Council before matters come into the public domain. It would also cause unnecessary public concern over a number of ideas that were discussed that may not come to fruition and have not yet appeared within any blog or in the public domain.”

And yet Section 36 makes no reference to information being prohibited, rather about whether it would inhibit the ability of public bodies to discuss such proposals.  It is also the case that some of the detail from the meeting has already made it into the public domain.

Consequently, we feel that this judgement is flawed.  The release of the minutes will simply allow the concerns of library users to be addressed, with regard to the implications this would have upon libraries across the county.  Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the disclosure of this information could possibly inhibit future discussions if they have been shelved by the council.

Update on legal action for libraries

Library campaigning moved up a gear recently, with announcements about legal challenges coming in from a variety of locations throughout the country.

Brent : Campaigners in Brent received legal permission to have a judicial review in the High Court in just a couple of weeks’ time.  This, if the funding for the case is found by the campaigners, will be the first into court and will set the vital “precedent on library closures across the country.” The review will start on July 19th.

Isle of Wight : Campaigners on the Isle of Wight have been told they will receive funding to go to court and there apply for a judicial review. The case will be funded on grounds that cuts breach the “comprehensive and efficient” requirement of the 1964 Act and also that an equalities impact assessment was not done. Leigh Day solicitors say “We have advised our client that she has a good case and expect the Court to grant permission for a full judicial review.”

Somerset : A local library user  is taking legal action against Somerset County Council’s move to close 11 libraries in October, unless volunteers step forward to run them.

The above information was taken from the Public Libraries News site and further details of the campaigns can be found there.

Gloucestershire : Voices For The Library were pleased to hear yesterdays announcement that there will be a judicial high court review of cuts to Gloucestershire library services. The review was granted on all three of the grounds made by the claimant. Delighted Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries commented that “This scrutiny has never been allowed within GCC’s own procedures, where party politics has appeared to be prioritised before the needs and concerns of service users.”

(More details here)

Not only are these actions giving hope to the above campaigners, but also to campaigners throughout the country. The cases highlight the fact that in some cases there are enough grounds to question library closures and that local authorities should take note and consider their actions with them in mind. As Doncaster campaigners stated, in regard to cuts being proposed by their local council:  “At the very least, DMBC ought to put a halt to its plans to close libraries, make staff redundant and cut opening hours until a precedent has been set by these legal challenges.”

(More details here)

On Sunday “The Politics Show” (BBC1) will be discussing the implications of these legal actions for campaigners and local councils around the country.