Tag Archives: gloucestershire

Data protection and volunteer-led libraries

In 2011 the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries raised privacy and data protection concerns,via their blog, regarding the use of user records by volunteers in ‘community libraries’:

“Library records contain information about people’s addresses, details about vulnerable people – for example the housebound, and exemptions such as exemptions for foster children, fines and borrowing history.

As paid, trained, library staff who are CRB checked, are set to be replaced by volunteers, alarms bells started to ring. I wrote to Library Services Manager, Sue Laurence, several months ago (21st April) asking if volunteers in the community libraries would be able to see these public records free because if so, unless a suitable policy was in place, then they could potentially use the record for nefarious reasons.”

Further concerns have been raised in terms of the role of volunteers in administrating the ‘Books on Prescription’ scheme. These books are prescribed by local GPs to patients with mental health conditions which are then collected from the local library. There is the potential for both embarrassment and raise issues around privacy, particularly if the person picking it up lives next door, or just down the street from the person issuing it.As Catherine Bennett noted in her recent opinion piece for The Guardian:

“In the short-term, this might be less of a problem than the embarrassment, anticipated in smaller community libraries, of ordering from a local volunteer with a hazy grasp of data protection a title such as Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Overcoming Binge Eating, or Break Free from OCD. All the above, with many other frank self-help titles, feature on Books on Prescription, a collaboration between GPs and libraries – and 33,000 volunteers. Is the service confidential? Totally, of course. But if in doubt, just ask the untrained and inexperienced librarian at the desk.”

Some councils may have allowed full access to user records on their Library Management System (LMS), but others like Warwickshire have restricted it because they obviously have concerns in terms of their obligations under the Data Protection Act 1988.

Many, or most councils, now see volunteer-led libraries as sitting outside their statutory remit and offer varying degrees of support or none at all. This support could initially include training on data protection, but who knows how comprehensive and ongoing this is?

Paid, trained and experienced library staff are given constant reminders, briefings and training on data protection and other related matters. Paid staff must also adhere to a ‘code of conduct’ which includes ensuring that they respect their obligations towards maintaining confidentiality. Furthermore, they are bound by ‘customer care standards’ which cover all aspects of communication, including the sharing of information. They deal discreetly with personal details and enquiries on a day-to-day basis, it’s the way they are wired, part of their ethos if you like.

Now, we are not saying that public library workers don’t make mistakes or abuse their trust – some do, but the vast majority do not. If they were to abuse this trust, and if such activity is discovered, they would be held accountable for their actions under relevant legislation and could potentially lose their jobs. Of course, this is not to suggest that the majority of volunteers are anything but trustworthy.  But they are not subject to the same scrutiny as paid, trained and experienced staff. And the implications for this could be very serious indeed.

These issues remain a serious concern, as illustrated by this recent comment on an article about proposals to extend the use ofvolunteer-led libraries in Swindon:

“Presumably all the training that you refer to has gone on bringing volunteers up to speed on IT…What does this training involve exactly? And are all volunteers CRB checked, up to date with health and safety procedures, confidentiality, data protection and so on?”

We suppose the only way we’ll ever find out about the extent to which volunteer-led libraries meet their obligations under the Data Protection Act is if something goes wrong or someone blows the whistle.  Until then, many library users will just have put their trust in a fragmented and unregulated service.

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.


“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:



Key Library Service Judicial Reviews Underway

It’s an important time for UK public libraries. Following on from severe proposed cuts by local councils’, a number of library campaigns have managed to force the decisions to Judicial Review. Brent library campaigners were the first to go through this process and are waiting for a decision to be made on their claim. Following on from this, Tuesday of this week saw the start of the second Judicial Review in the High Court for Gloucestershire and Somerset libraries. Gloucestershire and Somerset claims are being heard together in a joint procedure. So far, the QC representing Gloucestershire and Somerset claimants has presented the case against both Councils’ and tomorrow the defence QC will present the case for the Councils. Further details from the Gloucestershire perspective can be found here.
The challenges raised in the judicial reviews’ can be summarised as:
  • Brent: “Brent Council has closed its mind to alternatives to closure, did not assess community needs or the impact of closure properly, made significant mistakes about the facts, misunderstood its legal duty to provide a library service and acted unfairly.” (Further details here)
  • Gloucestershire and Somerset: “The Councils have breached their legal obligations to residents by: 1. Failing to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” as required by the Libraries and Museums Act; 2. Failing to adequately assess and have due regard to its statutory equalities duties; and 3. Failing to consult residents in a fair, effective and open manner and to take into consideration the results.” (Further details of Gloucestershire campaign here; and Somerset here)

Even though there are differences in the challenges raised, the common ground is that claimants and campaigners all want to ensure that legal duties to provide a library service aren’t ignored; and that they want their local council’s to listen to the opinions of local residents and communities… The people they represent… The users of the library services they are destroying.

Many other campaigners, besides those in Brent, Gloucestershire and Somerset, are in much the same position – still fighting to get themselves heard by their local councils, who are forcing them down a similar route.
The outcome of these reviews may well have an impact on other campaigns throughout the country – at this stage they are giving hope to those who aren’t as far down the campaigning route; and we imagine they are making local council’s think twice about cutting services so drastically and removing paid staff. Once the decisions of the judicial reviews are announced they are likely to influence any future decisions around libraries throughout the rest of the U.K.
We’re unsure when the decisions will be made at this stage, but we hope that all the campaigners’ hard work and efforts pay off, and that the local communities who will be affected by the cuts, get the library services they deserve and are entitled to.

Voices for the Library in the Press

The Telegraph’s Martin Chilton mentioned Voices for the Library in yesterday’s piece Library campaigners helped by Nick Cave. The article highlights the success and celebrity endorsements of campaigns against public library cuts in places such as Gloucestershire, the Isle of White, Brent, Kensal Rise, and Oxfordshire.

For more information on National Libraries Day in February 2012, please see our National Love Libraries Day page. You can also find links to local campaigns on our website’s Campaigns page.