Tag Archives: ed vaizey

Society of Chief Librarians Re-Imagining Libraries Seminar

Today The Society of Chief Librarians held the first day of a two day seminar entitled “Re-imagining the public library offer”. Without any information on the UK SCL site about the event, we imagine it is focused on the recent introduction of the key offers supported by SCL.

The keynote address was given by Ed Vaizey, and thanks to the tweeting of a number of attendees we were able to follow the key points from it. He:
  • Commented on the idea that good news stories, such as new libraries and initiatives don’t make it into the headlines. Yes, it’s true that stories about closures and cuts feature in the news (as they should, because people are rightly annoyed by them), but on the other hand there were also plenty of headlines featuring the flagship libraries such as those in Birmingham and Liverpool and other celebratory headlines.
  • Indicated that there should be annual accountability for libraries in England.
  • Said the Public Libraries Act wouldn’t be replaced, but statutory duty must remain.
  • Mentioned that extending PLR to ebooks loaned off-premises was being considered.
  • Expressed how difficult it was to engage other ministers in the work of libraries.
  • Saw the benefits of leaving public libraries under the umbrella of Arts Council England as a way reinforce the cultural focus of libraries and leverage funds.
  • Dreams of a development agency for libraries.
Questions that were raised throughout the sessions today included:
  • Do CIPFA library statistics measure all that is needed to be measured in public libraries? We would say not – not only because people are now accessing library services in new ways that aren’t accounted for in the statistics, but also because the qualitative value of library use isn’t currently measured.
  • Should we reintroduce library standards, and what role should they play? We would highlight that as other countries in the UK have library standards why shouldn’t English libraries? Without them public library authorities are testing how far they can abuse the “comprehensive and efficient” “for all” aspects of the 1964 Act.
Many of these issues could be addressed with the reintroduction of the Advisory Council on Libraries (or a similar pro-active body) and public library standards. ACL could act as a single development agency for libraries in England with a holistic approach to libraries, rather than the current situation where a number of agencies, with their own limited focus take responsibility for developing different strands of public libraries with limited effectiveness. The reintroduction of appropriate library standards would help ensure that citizens are provided with a library service that does not aim for the lowest common denominator under the banner of “comprehensive and efficient”.
Other sessions highlighted the value of libraries across society, and even though they were all worthwhile and many did sit well with a library perspsective, some of them were attempting to shoehorn libraries into roles that would need more development, consideration and research before being recommended. It makes us wonder if the core aims of libraries are being lost by those in power in an attempt to redefine the purpose of a library at all cost?
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Major concerns over government inaction and lack of leadership

The following press release from UK public library campaigners highlights major concerns surrounding library cuts and the current inaction of the government and its partner organisations to address the issues or provide any leadership in this situation.

DANGER: 1,000 LIBRARIES TO CLOSE

That’s a full quarter of the total in England – all of them small
branches that cost peanuts to run, & are located where people need
them most.

HOW DO WE WORK OUT THIS FIGURE?
201 library service points were closed last year.
A further 336 are threatened with closure (to date) this year.
Arts Council England predicts a further cut of at least 40% by 2016.

WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT TELLING YOU THIS?
These are figures you will not see on any official website or press
release. They are compiled by a librarian in his spare time* from
local press reports.

That’s just one example of what is NOT being done by the bodies

responsible for public libraries – the government (DCMS, Department
for Culture, Media & Sport) and Arts Council England (ACE).

AND CLOSURES ARE NOT THE ONLY BAD NEWS
Many libraries have been dumped on to local communities, to run as
best they can.

Many more stay open under council control, but are losing books,
opening hours and skilled staff.

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Yet, say library campaigners, the government simply denies there is
any problem. It points to a handful of new library openings, as if
these compensate for mass closures and downgrading.
It ignores all evidence presented to it.
Even worse, it has powers to help – but chooses to do nothing.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING
Many campaign groups and hundreds of reports in local media show that
the real situation is bleak. Check the website for yourself*.
For instance….
= Lincolnshire plans that 32 of its 45 libraries, plus an unspecified
number of mobile units, will either close or be passed on to
volunteers. That means losing 170 highly-trained staff (55 FTE) and
177 public access computers.
= Herefordshire decided to close ALL except its one central library –
and is now dealing with a huge outcry from the public.
These are only the latest to see their library service dismantled.
Mass closures have already taken place, from Newcastle to the Isle of
Wight, Gloucestershire to Brent. And about 3,000 professional
librarians have already lost their jobs.

QUOTE
Library campaigner Shirley Burnham says: ‘The Minister, Ed Vaizey, was
vociferous in defence of libraries when in Opposition. But he has
been frozen into inaction since coming into office.
‘He and his officials are in denial, muttering “What crisis?” as
hundreds of libraries are closed, or the keys handed to volunteers –
with no support.’

QUOTE
The Library Campaign is the national group for library users.
Laura Swaffield, its chair, says: ‘Library users have appealed time
and again to the minister to intervene against mass closures. He has a
legal duty to “superintend and improve” the service**. But he does
nothing.
‘And he does nothing about libraries that stay open but now provide a
far worse service. Scotland and Wales have national minimum standards,
but not England.
‘Finally, many communities are now trying to run their own libraries,
as the only way to save them. They get no national help or advice. Not
from the government, not from Arts Council England (ACE).’
At the recent Library Campaign conference in London, Jim Brooks of the
Little Chalfont volunteer-run library in Buckinghamshire reported that
130 volunteer groups have found their way to him, desperate for help.
Laura says: ‘Jim is the only national resource giving advice. It’s absurd!’

FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE?
Brian Ashley, who holds the libraries portfolio for ACE, admitted at
the Library Campaign meeting that libraries face a further 40% cut in
funding. But ACE has no shared plan to help local authorities manage
their resources – or focus on users’ needs.
At most risk are rural
areas and deprived urban areas. If a local library closes, travel to
another one is difficult and expensive. And few have the time, money
or skills to take it over themselves.
Yet libraries offer a lifeline to many people in need – especially to
those with no internet access, families with small children, those in
education and older people. Libraries are the last refuge of a
civilised society and cost next to nothing.

WHITEHALL FARCE
The government’s refusal to intervene verges on the farcical. Bolton
campaigner, retired solicitor Geof Dron, says: ‘The council did not
believe volunteer-run libraries would be sustainable, and simply
closed five libraries.
‘Local campaigners and the Civic Trust asked the Minister to use his
legal powers (ii) to intervene. First his officials lost part of our
submission. Then they refused even to meet with us.
‘The Minister, from the comfort of his Whitehall office, has refused
our request for an inquiry. He expresses no interest in the needs of
the young, the elderly and the disadvantaged of Bolton for literacy,
education and access to computers. He is not prepared even to talk to
us.’

WHAT’S MISSING?
At the same time, many libraries still under local authority control
have lost much of their bookstock, professional expertise and ethos as
cost-free, neutral places of study, reading for pleasure and access to
information (both physical and digital). 
A multiplicity of
consultancy studies and official reports are gathering dust in
Whitehall.
What is missing, however, is any plan by government or its partners to
address the issues or to provide an iota of leadership.
This is despite pleas by the All Party Parliamentary Group, senior
politicians and the professional bodies that represent librarians. As
a speaker at the recent Society of Chief Librarians’ conference said,
the Minister ‘needs to smell the coffee’.

WHAT’S NEEDED?
Campaigners say that much can – and should – be done to halt the
hollowing out or collapse of public libraries. Destroying libraries
signifies incompetence, not necessity.
Notably, a handful of local authorities are protecting or even
enhancing provision under the same economic constraints as others. The
DCMS ignores this evidence of best practice and refuses to contemplate
national standards for libraries, a postcode lottery of service
provision is inevitable. The minister (or ACE) should find out what
works, where and in what circumstances, and use his powers.

DIVIDENDS
Other countries are investing in libraries – from Australia and New
Zealand to China and South Korea.
A high quality public library service that serves the common good and
underpins the nation’s literacy will, campaigners insist, reap
dividends for the national economy.

But only if those responsible for libraries take their heads out of the sand.

===========================================================

www.publiclibrariesnews.com gives a daily breakdown of news reports,
and summaries by local authority area.
No official source does anything like this.

** The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 makes it a legal duty for
every council to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library
service. The Secretary of State at the DCMS has a legal duty to
‘superintend and improve’ this service – and legal powers to intervene
if council libraries are failing.

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.

Who is advising Ed Vaizey?

On 26th January 2012 the following written question was raised in Parliament by MP Dan Jarvis (Shadow Culture, Media & Sports Minister).
Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport who in his Department is responsible for identifying and advising him on potential problems with the provision of library services by local authorities, including whether a library authority may be in breach of its statutory duties under the Libraries Act 1964. [91892]

Ed Vaizey: Public library services provided across England are monitored by this Department’s officials who engage directly with library authorities. They also monitor correspondence sent to the Department, monitor websites and press articles, and engage in meaningful discussion with organisations that have current information about public library service provision. These include Arts Council England, the Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201212/cmhansrd/cm120126/text/120126w0001.htm#12012677002292

In light of the current state of affairs regarding ongoing library cuts and closures throughout England we would be very interested to know:

  • What engagement are DCMS officials having with local authorities?
  • What advice are Ed Vaizey and the DCMS being given by these named organisations?
  • What are the DCMS and Ed Vaizey doing with that advice?
At the moment it seems that any advice being given is either being ignored or is advice that continues to help the dismantling of UK public library services.

Statement on the Future Libraries Report

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the Local Government Association (supported by Ed Vaizey, the Minister with responsibility for libraries) have released their long awaited Phase 1 report on the future of our public library service.  The ‘Future Libraries: Change, options and how to get there’ report unveils proposals that they claim will ‘bring libraries into the 21st Century and meeting the needs of a new generation of library users.’

 

However, Voices for the Library believes that the set of proposals outlined will lead to serious damage to our public library network, and be counterproductive to efforts to modernise libraries and meet the needs of the UK public.It has been clear throughout the process that recommendations would be made for volunteers to run libraries.  As early as January this year, when Ed Vaizey chaired a round-table discussion on volunteers in libraries, it was clear that volunteer run libraries would figure in the proposals.  In fact, the idea was initially floated as early as June last year by consultancy firm KPMG (who are one of a number of consultancy firms that have seconded staff to work with the Conservative administration).

 

As we have stated repeatedly, volunteers cannot and should not replace paid professionals and staff.  Even volunteers involved in running existing community libraries have explicitly stated that volunteers should not be seen as a solution. The suggestion that libraries can co-exist with unrelated or non-council run services is also a cause for concern.  Placing libraries in sports centres, shops and village halls raises more questions than it answers.  Will there be trained staff on hand to provide the level of service that the library users will demand?  Will the staff be able to assist in providing access to the resources the users require?  A room that is merely full of books is not a library, no matter how the councils dress it up.  Most importantly, how will authorities determine whether a ‘library’ in a sports centre has been a success?  Without being able to provide data to prove its usage, how long will it be before the council seeks to withdraw funding altogether?  After all, if they do not know its level of usage they will see it purely as expenditure they can no longer afford. As the mission of the public library is lost, councils will fail, or continue to fail, to understand why they should provide a library service to their citizens.

 

Finally, proposals to place libraries in shops or to work in partnership with the private sector also provides cause for concern.  We have seen already the impact that the private sector has had on libraries in the United States.  LSSI (one of a number of companies looking to take over libraries in this country) have made cutting overheads and replacing unionised employees central to their plans.  The implications for those who work in libraries is clear.  In terms of libraries in shops, again there are implications that are cause for concern.  Libraries and librarians are bound by a commitment not to restrict access to books on any grounds except that of the law.  Retailers are not bound by such commitment and are subject to the demands of their customers.  As has been seen before, retailers will not hesitate from removing a book if it is seen to cause offence.  How will a library based in a shop manage this?  How will they reconcile the needs of two different sets of customers?  Will they be pressured by the potential impact on their revenues if they continue to provide access to a controversial text?  And what then for those that wish to access such resources?

 

Unfortunately, at a time when real leadership and vision is required to outline a truly 21st century library service, the government is found lacking in imagination, short-sighted in its approach and blinkered by ideology.  These proposals do not outline a positive future for libraries and will only further their decline.  We strongly urge the government to tear up these proposals and truly listen to the needs and demands of local communities across the country.  Furthermore, we recommend that library users express their concerns regarding these proposals by emailing the Arts Council, the department that now has responsibility for libraries, at museums.libraries@artscouncil.org.uk.