Tag Archives: professionalism

Will Lewisham bidders focus on library services?

Lewisham Council recently ran an event (12th April 2011) to showcase organisations who were proposing to take over the running of four of their library buildings at Crofton Park, Grove Park, New Cross and Sydenham. The event was advertised with the following statement on Lewisham Council’s website.

Lewisham Council is currently inviting bids from enterprising organisations that are interested in taking on the management of one or more of four library buildings earmarked for closure.

…before a decision on which organisation should be recommended to take on a lease for each building, the Council will assess the proposed use of the building and associated community benefits including plans for community library services.

(See “Lewisham Libraries – Community Interest Event” for full details)

The emphasis of the wording in both of these extracts is worrying, as it implies the building itself (the bricks and mortar) and community use of the building is the most important aspect, rather than the library services provided within it. Library services appear to have been tagged on as an afterthought.

In an earlier statement, released some time before 11th March 2011, Lewisham indicated that they intended to run library services within the premises.

Lewisham Council is looking to grant leases for four library premises in order to secure their continued community use. Anyone submitting a proposal for a lease will need to grant appropriate rights to the Council so that part of the premises can by used to provide community library services.

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal would need to address whether they intend to offer any community use in addition to the community library provision to be facilitated by the Council.

(See “Council seeks bids on library leases” for full details)

The two articles covering this issue seem to contradict each other. In the initial statement, the Council is suggesting that they will run the library service at these libraries and in the subsequent statement they imply it will be the organisations making proposals for the building who will be running the library service. Is the Council intending to run the library service or not? Is it a case of, “Let’s wait and see”?

Moving on from this point, the event happened and an article, “Lewisham’s library bidders meet the public” was published in “News Shopper” providing details of the organisations bidding to run the local libraries, along with their proposals. We have summarised key points from the article below.

We Think : a Community Sports not-for-profit group, whose ideas include

  • Having at least three full-time staff along with volunteers. 
  • Libraries will be called “literary learning centres”
  • Book stock will be halved initially.
  • Representative quote: “It’s about redefining what a library’s role in society is going to be.”

Eco Computer Systems: Computer recycling firm, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a library manager plus volunteers.
  • Book stock could be cut by 5,000
  • Funding from computer recycling, book recycling, sponsorship from housing associations. 
  • Representative quote: “This is just about giving people somewhere to sit, relax and read a book.”

Omega: Part of the New Testament Church of God, whose ideas include

  • No plan in place for staffing.
  • Omega promises no overt religious aspect to the library
  • Book stock stays same
  • Increased opening hours

 Family Services UK: Charity, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a council-paid qualified librarian plus volunteers.
  • Looking at funds from Lottery and Capital Community Foundation alongside other funding.
  • Library would become a new base for the charity, which offers therapy to poorer communities
  • Book stock would remain the same
  • Representative quote: “The library is like a missing piece of the puzzle for us. Staff will work in partnership with our services.”

It’s admirable that so many organisations are willing to play a part in providing library services, as Lewisham no longer wish to take responsibility for them. However, it is worrying that none of these proposals are coming from organisations that have an emphasis or background in providing library services. Have they involved experts in their discussions? There is a sports group, a computer recycling company, a religious organisation and a charity proposing to run libraries. Their main focus is not about providing a library service. The library service is an add on to their core business. Just by reading some of their quotes above it seems there is no common consensus about what a library service should be. Are these organisations basing their ideas on their own personal experiences about what they and their peers believe a library service should be, but with it coloured by their core business focus?

Surely organisations whose core focus is not libraries are not the best people to run the service. Organisations need to be impartial if they are to provide services that address the needs of the entire community: how can they provide a comprehensive and efficient, legally compliant service if they don’t have an expert understanding of methods that have been tried and failed? How can they be innovative if they don’t know what services a library should provide its users with?

Roger Taylor – Somerset

This post comes from Roger Taylor, a librarian in Somerset who has just been made redundant.

I work currently as Performing Arts Librarian for Somerset Libraries. This involves management of the sectoral department responsible for all library matters (loans, information, research) relating to music and drama. In April 2009 I voluntarily reduced my working hours from full- to part-time (37 to 24 hours weekly). I have worked as a professional music librarian since December 1974, since March 1976 for Somerset. My post has recently been identified as no longer necessary, its deletion contributing to a general target saving of £330,000 from “senior professional and backroom” staff ostensibly without frontline duties. [For myself this is wrong: I regularly work frontline direct with the public. My loss is immediately causing timetable difficulties staffing my sectoral department.] Threatened with compulsory redundancy sometime after 1st April 2011, when redundancy terms are due to be halved, I have elected to take voluntary redundancy with effect from 31st March 2011 at terms that are slightly more advantageous. Somerset offers minimum terms of 60 weeks of final salary: I will be 63 in June, two years away from entitlement to State Pension, therefore facing financial survival with a lump sum half the salary I would have earned by my 65 birthday. I had in any case signalled my intention, health permitting, to work beyond 65.] My last day of employment will be Thursday 24th March.

I am sad that my post (albeit part-time) is being deleted, so that I will not be replaced. There will therefore be no professional sectoral input within Somerset Libraries. The knowledge I have accrued over many years of specialist work will be lost, and no-one with be recruited to replace this. Sectoral users will therefore loose my expertise. My staff team will continue without my specialist knowledge, supervision and management. It is in this respect that I submit that the economies imposed, which have resulted in the deletion of my post, are incompatible with the provision of a “comprehensive and efficient library service”.

KPMG – The driving force behind library closures? – Ian Clark

VftL team member Ian writes about KPMG and public policy. This originally appeared on Ian’s blog.

Last June, a report by the accountancy firm KPMG was published on public sector reform. That report caused uproar amongst librarians and library staff across the country as it claimed that:

“…giving councils total freedom on libraries could mean that they create huge social value from engaging a community in running its own library, backed up with some modern technology, whilst also saving large amounts of money on over-skilled paid staff, poor use of space and unnecessary stock”.

Since then, perhaps unsurprisingly, talk has grown of so-called ‘community libraries’ or ‘unfunded libraries’ if you prefer. It is fairly clear that the report has been wholeheartedly embraced by the current government. In fact, it is hard to see the difference between the policies being adopted in authorities across the country and the paragraph above from their report. It is certainly not difficult to imagine that central government is advising local authorities to take heed of this report and implement its recommendations. Particularly given the links between this government and KPMG.

A report back in July 2009 in The Independent claimed that:

KPMG, which also holds many public sector contracts, gave the [Conservatives] donations-in-kind worth more than £100,000 since the start of last year. A single KPMG consultant working in the Department for Children, Schools and Families costs the taxpayer £1.35m over three years, a parliamentary inquiry found. The company said it donated to all three main parties and had done so for many years. However, its gifts to the Tories were up in value from £17,200 in 2007 to £74,500 last year.

Furthermore, The Times reported that:

The Conservatives have received hundreds of thousands of pounds of free accounting advice as they prepare for government, raising accusations that they are too close to contacts in the City of London.

Britain’s biggest consultancy firms — which include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG — have seconded some of their staff to Tory MPs as the Conservatives attempt to work out how to cut Britain’s £178 billion budget deficit and decide on a new tax framework.

They certainly appear to be quite close (although it is worth pointing out that KPMG had close ties with the previous government too). Indeed a recent meeting at the Houses of Parliament suggest that KPMG’s recommendations are being taken very seriously by this government.

On January 25th this year, a round-table discussion was held in a private room hosted by Ed Vaizey. The discussion (entitled “Libraries and the Big Society”) had the following items on the agenda:

Models for community libraries
Volunteering
Asset transfer
Philanthropy
Libraries role in empowering communities
Alternative suppliers for delivery including Mutuals and Outsourcing
Future Libraries Programme

You can actually read the full agenda here. I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request for the minutes for this meeting which was rejected by the DCMS. They weighed up the pros and cons as follows:

Public interest considerations in favour of disclosure

  • Public Libraries have potential impact on everyone and the greater the public interest may be in the decision-making process being transparent
  • Greater transparency makes government more accountable to the electorate and increases trust
  • As knowledge of the way government works increases, the public contribution to the policy making process could become more effective and broadly-based, particularly in this area where communities are being encourage to be involved in local services such as this
  • The public interest in being able to assess the quality of advice being given to ministers and subsequent decision making

Public interest considerations in favour of non-disclosure

  • The withheld information relates to the future guidance relating to libraries, which is not yet complete and subject to change. Releasing may misinform public debate because we have not finalized our proposals. The evolving nature of the information means that incorrect conclusions may be drawn, and undermine the policy formulation process.
  • Ministers and officials need to be able to conduct rigorous and candid risk assessments of their policies, including considerations of the pros and cons without there being premature disclosure, particularly regarding contentious issues, which might close off better options
  • Good government depends on good decision making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure
  • The impartiality of the civil service might be undermined if advice was routinely made public as there is a risk that officials could come under political pressure not to challenge ideas in the formulation of policy, thus leading to poorer decision-making
  • Advice should be broad based and there may be a deterrent effect on external experts or stakeholders who might be reluctant to provide advice because it might be disclosed
  • There needs to be a free space in which it is possible to ‘think the unthinkable’ and use imagination, without the fear that policy proposals will be held up to ridicule
  • Disclosure of interdepartmental consideration and communications between ministers may undermine the collective responsibility of the government. Unless these considerations are protected there is likely to be a negative effect on the conduct of good government. If the public interests outlined above cannot be protected, there is a risk that decision making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately.

Quite why public interest doesn’t trump the concerns of the DCMS in this case I am not really sure. I shall, of course, be appealing this decision.

It seems fairly evident where this policy of unfunded libraries originates. Whilst the government refuse to step in when local authorities engage in disproportionate cuts (unless it is in the Prime Minister’s backyard of course), it is also seemingly advising councils to make libraries a central part of the “Big Society” experiment. This certainly seems to be reinforced by the appointment of Paul Kirby as No. 10’s new head of policy development. According to The Guardian:

Kirby, who was appointed by Cameron on Friday, is one of the main minds behind a public service reform white paper due in the next fortnight, which the prime minister has hailed as the biggest revolution in the public sector since the 1940s.

He claims it will end a “state monopoly” of public sector services by opening contracts to outside providers.

Kirby set out his blueprint for reform in Payment for success, a paper written last year while he was at professional services company KPMG. He claims an aggressive programme of liberalisation is necessary and shares Cameron’s view that payment by results should be introduced right across the public sector “even if there is likely to be a bleeding edge in getting it right”.

Kirby proposes “the boundaries between public, private and third sector provision should melt away” and suggests “this empowerment agenda will have to be forced on to public sector organisations in the early stages to break the tendency to structural inertia”.

With one of the masterminds behind the ill-thought through KPMG report now directing policy development, it seems obvious that not only will the government not step in to halt authorities disproportionately cutting libraries, they will most likely be encouraging it and, even more worryingly, quite possibly seeking to overturn the Public Libraries Act. They should know that librarians, library staff and library users will not allow this to happen without a fight.

Guest blog – Liz Chapman: professional librarians

Today’s guest blog post comes from Liz Chapman. Liz worked as a library assistant in Cambridgeshire prior to undertaking her MA in Librarianship, and subsequently as an adult, young adult and children’s librarian in the London Borough of Enfield.  She is now working on a PhD at the University of Sheffield.

Back in 2006, when I told people I was studying for an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield, I would nearly always get one of two reactions.  Some people just looked bewildered.  “But isn’t it all stamping books and going shush?” they would ask.  Others would put on a knowing look.  “Ah,” they would say conspiratorially, “I expect there’s more to it than just stamping books and going shush.”  But nobody seemed to know what that might be.

It can be difficult to sum up what librarians do, because they do such a variety of things.  This includes finding information using a variety of specialist sources; organising events such as reading groups, school visits or full-scale literature festivals; teaching people how to use computers; creating websites or online portals to provide access to information; cataloguing; stock selection; and of course the full range of management activities required for any large organisation to run smoothly.  (See here and here for more information on what librarians do.)

So, do you a degree in librarianship in order to perform these jobs?  Not necessarily.   There are many dedicated professionals without a qualification in the field who have gained their knowledge through years of library experience and on-the-job training.  However, many more opt for a Master’s or Diploma in Librarianship.  The common ground in all cases is that librarians put a great deal of time and effort into learning how best to provide and facilitate access to information, knowledge, literature, culture and learning of all kinds.

While recognising professional skills, it is important that we do not devalue the work done by library assistants and other paraprofessionals.  Many paraprofessionals have years of experience, and carry out, or contribute to, many of the activities listed above (see Gareth’s Story).  But – and this is a big but – this is not to say that librarians could be replaced by library assistants.

I started my library career by working as a library assistant for three years, and in this role I carried out a number of ‘librarian-type’ tasks, particularly once it had become apparent that I wanted to go on to a professional career.  I was very lucky to have excellent managers who allowed me to do this, increasing my job satisfaction and allowing me to contribute more to the service.  However – after completing my MA in Librarianship and working as a librarian in London – I now realise how well the MA equipped me for a professional post.

While the MA provided me with skills and knowledge in a number of disparate areas – from finding and assessing high-quality information resources to basic web design – its key advantage for professional practice was that it provided a wider and more strategic overview of librarianship than it would have been possible to gain from working in an individual library service.  This gave me the ability to consider the relative merits of various competing demands, and awareness of the different ways in which things are done in different library services.  I learned about the laws and professional ethics governing librarianship and information provision, and gained a greater awareness of the socio-cultural value of libraries and their contribution to other agendas, such as education, employment and quality of life.  While the course included more abstract and philosophical elements, it was – like much librarianship research – primarily geared towards professional practice.

To give just one example: stock selection.  As a library assistant, I knew about the reading preferences and information needs of those people who were already coming through the door – and this helped me when I was given the opportunity to purchase new stock for my branch library, under the guidance of a mentor.  But, unlike the professional librarians who usually did the job, I didn’t have a strategic overview.  Following the MA, I now know that public libraries have a legal obligation to provide a comprehensive service to meet the general requirements and any special requirements of anyone who wishes to use them: a vast remit.  I learned about the need to consider the profile of the community as a whole, and to address the requirements of less visible communities.   I learned that it might be necessary to look beyond the selection provided on approval by the supplier, in order to acquire less mainstream materials.  I learned what a stock management strategy was, why it is important, and how I might go about drawing one up.  I learned about the need to monitor issue figures once the library has the stock – and, conversely, about the many ways in which issue figures fall short of even beginning to represent what a library really does.

In my library assistant days I would probably not have done too badly at choosing the mainstream stock: the family sagas, the Orange prize winners, the books recommended by Richard and Judy, whose book club was in its heyday at the time.  But what about the less obvious books?  The books which (still) often don’t appear on mainstream suppliers’ lists: the LGBT books, the books in community languages, the graphic novels and manga, the materials for adult learners?  In a time when many authorities are moving towards supplier selection, librarians’ knowledge about collection development and management is far from redundant: indeed, it is essential to ensuring that libraries continue to provide high-quality collections.  And so far I have talked only about books: what about music and DVDs?  What about ebooks?  What about negotiating provision of such materials in a downloadable form?  The internet provides huge opportunities in the realm of information provision, but also raises huge challenges; here again, the expertise of librarians is more valuable than ever in guiding information seekers through the maze of content.

In the current environment of economic hardship, libraries potentially face harsh cuts.  Elsewhere on this website, and beyond it, many people have argued eloquently for the value of libraries: for their contributions to knowledge, culture, quality of life, a cohesive society and, yes, to the economy – research has shown that libraries provide economic returns of many times the capital invested.  I would like to argue in addition for the value of professional librarians, of all those people who put their learning and their commitment to work in order to meet the information, knowledge and cultural requirements of every member of the public.  Cutting professional posts will inevitably lead to a fall in service quality, and will make it more difficult for libraries to reach out to those communities who need them most.

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