Tag Archives: libraries

The Privatisation of Public Library Services

The following guest post about the privatisation of public libraries was kindly sent to us by Alan Wylie.

At the moment a storm is raging in California over the privatisation of public library services and the proposed introduction of Bill AB 438, a Bill that would require a city/authority to hold a referendum before handing its libraries over to a private firm to run. What has this got to do with the situation here? – well the biggest private provider in the US, Library Systems and Services (LSSI),   just happens to be looking for business in the UK.

LSSI are currently talking to a number of authorities in the UK including Wokingham and Croydon; they have stated that they are looking for a 15% share of the sector but have not to date signed any contracts — as far as we know?   It is also worth pointing out that another private firm John Laing Integrated Services currently runs Hounslow Libraries which have latterly suffered significant staff cuts and threats of closures .

Clearly the issue of privatisation is one that polarises opinion, especially in the US where most commentators are pro-privatisation with the counter-protest coming from places like Santa Clarita and the ‘Privatisazation Beast’ campaign set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

In the UK there is evidence that the majority of opinion is “anti”.  Reasonable people of all economic backgrounds and political colour do not welcome the piecemeal destruction of their valued public library service.  Some of my own reasons for opposing the privatisation of public libraries are listed below :


  • Private companies are accountable to their shareholders.  They exist to make profits and this, to me, in relation to running a public service is a fundamental conflict of interests. (LSSI are majority owned by the private equity firm ‘Islington Capital Partners’)
  • There is always a real risk that a private company could fail, leaving the service and users high and dry.
  • Public Libraries are perceived by most to be a ‘haven in a heartless world’ that offers a ‘neutral’, ‘public’, ‘non-judgemental’ and ‘safe’ environment.  Privatisation introduces a commercial element into the equation which radically changes this status.
  • LSSI, the main player, has a reputation in the US for using non-unionised staff, not paying pensions, cutting terms and conditions, deprofessionalising the workforce and paring the service back to the bone.




If the reader does not find the above arguments persuasive,  then the following quotes from LSSI’s founding father, Frank Pezzanite, and Jim Lynch, Vice President LSSI UK, might be a wake-up call :

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

The “slacks and trainers mentality” among librarians will be abolished, Mr Lynch says. In its place will be “a rigorous service culture”.

Need I say more?

Alan Wylie



The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library

What a valuable community resource

Sutton Coldfield library user John Pedder has kindly given us permission to reproduce the letter he wrote to his local newspaper about library services in his area. This was written in response to the Editor’s piece about Birmingham City Council’s apparent reluctance to reinstate Sutton Coldfield’s Library, which has been closed for several months since asbestos was discovered in the building.
Dear Sir, 
Ross Crawford’s View point last week should warn us of Birmingham Council’s lack of commitment to Library services in the community; for a town centre the size of Sutton Coldfield not to have a Library would be disgraceful.
Also, the Council’s latest cost-cutting proposal would see staff at the main Library in each constituency cut to 4 full time staff plus Saturday and  lunchtime assistants. This, together with an increase in opening hours to 6 days a week, would reduce the average number of staff on duty from about 6 to less than 2.5. It is ridiculous to expect a busy Library with typically 400-600 visitors per day to operate with so few staff.
The Council may claim that volunteers can make up the numbers, but as each volunteer is unlikely to work for more than one day a week, it would require at least 5 volunteers for every staff member lost – needing at least 25 volunteers for every main Library.
It would be better if the people making these decisions on the Council had actually worked in a Library and knew what a valuable community resource they provide.
John Pedder, Erdington.

Successfully spreading the online campaigning message

We were very pleased to see that “Voices For The Library” have been mentioned in a blog post about successful real-life online marketing campaigns for small organisations. We were listed alongside a variety of enterprises from across the commercial sector and across the world.

A group of volunteers uses social media to form a voluntary group. Volunteers across Britain launched Voices for the Library a campaign group promoting the value of public libraries. Another interesting fact is that the volunteers never met for a number of months after launching of the group. They used TwitterFacebookFlickrYouTube and Delicious and they developed their website using WordPress.

It’s particularly encouraging to read an article like this when it is written by someone who is outside the library sphere, as it shows that the message about what we, and other library campaigners are trying to do, is getting out there to a wide audience. It would be great though if we could expand on this, spread the word even further and get even more people involved in campaigning for libraries on both a local and national level.

You can help us achieve this by continuing to highlight the dreadful cuts that are happening to public libraries in this country – share campaigning links via Facebook and Twitter; share images via Flickr, Photobucket and Youtube; or simply just talk to someone face-to-face about it.

It all really does help to spread the word.

The Library Helped Me Believe In Myself – Sarah’s Story

Sarah Childs provided us with a copy of a letter she sent to MP Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport), which we wanted to share with you.

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I am writing to you regarding the cuts that are being proposed to library
services across the country. I should begin by stating that I am currently
training to be a librarian, but my objections to these proposals are as a
citizen, not as a library school student.

I am fortunate enough to be from a household where there were plenty of
books, and as I grew older, an internet connection. However, I still used
the library service widely as it allowed me to make my own decisions about
what I wanted to read, rather than my parents making those choices for me.
As a somewhat shy child, whose lack of confidence held me back at school
early on, the books I took out of the library helped me believe in myself,
and my school marks quickly improved.

When I grew older, and I was applying to university, I used my local and
school libraries to do the extra reading to help me clinch a place at the
University of Cambridge. I was the only person from my state school who got
a place at Oxbridge, and I firmly believe it was due to* *not only the
reading I had done specifically for the interview, but also all the
information I had imbibed from a young age in the library.

As you will know from your own education, the libraries at Oxbridge are
absolutely outstanding, and I remained amazed and fascinated by all the
information at my disposal. Additionally, the money I saved from barely ever
having to buy a book could be used for other purposes, such as a trip to
Sweden to assist me with my dissertation.

However, whilst at university, it became clear to me that not everyone had
this same reverence for the libraries at our university. I remember speaking
to a boy in the year below who had been at a private school, and was just
about to start his first year of his degree. He said to me, “Well, *of
course*, ALL the key texts on our reading list were in my school library, so
I’ve read them already…” It had never even occurred to me previously that
anybody at any school would have such high level sociological and political
texts in their school library.

I do not want the above story to read as an attack on private schools.
Rather, I think it shows the massive disparity between different groups in
our society in terms of their access to information. Last year, I lived in
the London Borough of Hackney and it became clear to me whenever I used the
public libraries, that there were some people there who were very dependent
on the library service. I often saw people in there who appeared to be using
it to support their businesses, such as selling things on the internet.

I feel that it is very easy to dismiss the importance of libraries in the
digital age but in fact the access that libraries are providing to e-books
and the internet are all the more vital. In difficult economic times, these
resources, alongside the help of trained, paid and dedicated staff can make
all the difference in someone’s life. Just like that boy I spoke to at
university, I worry that some of the people making these decisions about
libraries do not appreciate what it is like to not have all the information
you could want within easy reach.

I therefore urge you to do anything in your power to stop library cuts,
whether they are in the form of charging for internet use, a decrease to the
book funds, or outright library closures. Thankyou for reading this email –
I only hope you act upon it.

Yours sincerely, Sarah Childs

Guest post – response to Justin Tomlinson’s speech

Please welcome our first guest blogger Karen, a public librarian from Wales.

I write as a chartered public librarian with nearly 20 years of experience working in the sector in Wales and although not yet a “cocktail waitress in a bar” I am hearing the Human League in my head at the moment I was feeling particularly forlorn after reading Toni Franc’s article in the Gazette last week. Although there was some optimism in this article this was followed up by reading Justin Tomlinson’s speech to open the debate on the future of library provision at Westminster.

I was disappointed to read the approach that Justin Tomlinson seems to be taking in such an important speech. In his vision he seems to support the publishing sector model for public libraries and I fear that putting the management of public libraries in the hands of the individual site staff could leave libraries as vulnerable as community centres and small independent book shops which I see disappearing all around me.

The speech also over looks the huge amount of modernisation which has been taking place in libraries at least since I have been involved in it. Public Libraries are using EDI for stock acquisition, using consortium buying of stock, regionalisation and shared catalogues, standardisation of MARC Records, RFID self service, BIC categorisation. I have visited Sutton library to learn about its excellent Front page management of stock and space and Bristol’s collection management tools. Gloucester has an amazing branding and marketing approach and Westminster has taken RFID in libraries hugely forward. Gateshead has a fabulous online music service and the Enquire and Ask Cymru enquiry services show how we work collectively as a profession.

All of these developments require a management structure, which support local library site managers not “undermine” them. They require standardisation and library specific knowledge to provide the cost savings and efficiency Justin Tomlinson and others talk about. Libraries provide a whole range of services but because some are invisible to the casual observer they are often overlooked. How could individual libraries afford subscriptions to online newspapers and reference services, subscription services and licenses to BDS records? How do these aspects fit into the vision of the future library provision in UK? Where else can customers go to look up specialised information such as historic shares data, gather business information, investigate and research if libraries are not there to assist in a free and un-biased capacity? Is the Waterstone or Amazon or Tesco approach to managing library services really appropriate to the community centered library development that is proposed? How can tightly controlled stock processing really meet a communities need? There is so much more to learn about these ideas and they have not been fully researched and without huge investment I doubt if they now will.

All this will be familiar to most library customers and staff but how can we address the misconceptions about what libraries are about? We have so many important and valuable services which ones do we shout about first to be heard above all this mis-information?

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.