Hereford Library Users' Group

11/30/2011

Surrey scales back volunteer-run libraries – a victory for common sense?

The following piece is a salutary reminder that volunteers are fine up to a point.

News has appeared in the Bookseller (organ of the booktrade) and other local press that Surrey County Council has ditched plans for nine of its libraries to become volunteer-run.

Apparently, nineteen of Surrey’s 52 libraries were under threat of closure unless volunteers stepped forward to run them, but yesterday (29th November), leader of the Conservative Surrey County Council, councillor David Hodge, announced that nine of the libraries would remain council-run.

However 10 further libraries, including Ewell Court, Stoneleigh and Tattenhams, will still become community led. Hodge gave a “guarantee” that an experienced member of the council’s library team would be present in all community-led libraries for at least 20% of their opening hours.

Councillor John Orrick, the Liberal Democrat communities’ spokesperson on Surrey County Council, said: “Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for many years that all of Surrey’s libraries should remain open. “We have argued against two tiers of library, with no second class libraries, and we want professionals at the heart of Surrey’s library network.” He added that the change of heart was an admittance that the idea of community-run libraries is “disastrous” and urged for the whole plan to be “scrapped”. He added: “Throwing the 10 threatened libraries a crumb from the table of one member of staff for one fifth of their opening hours will do little to remove fears of a downgraded service and eventual closure.”

Speaking at the council meeting, Hodge referred to the “world [economic] situation” and added “if at times we are being asked at some stage in the future to cut back on what we have already planned we may have to revisit things again”.

However, it seems that many Councils are becoming alarmed, not just by the strength of the public opposition to library closures, but also by some of the High Court judgements (Gloucestershire and Somerset being a case in point) and also by the fact that Council member are being forcefully reminded that there is more to running a library and being a professional librarian than meets the eye. The Councillor in Yorkshire who thought that librarians only stamped books out has been well and truly put in his place – not least by Lauren Smith on her blog when she compiled a list of at least 96 tasks (it has probably grown by now!) that Public Librarians and Library Staff do – see http://laurensmith.wordpress.com and scroll down to October 6th. I bet some local Councillors got a shock – I doubt if their CV’s could stand up to scrutiny in the library world! Or readers could refer back to the entry of October 17th on this blog to find out what volunteers need to know about running a branch.

Well, it’s all good stuff and in a couple of weeks time, my friend from Gloucester will be over for lunch, and as she is a leading light in the campaign for Gloucester Libraries, I will no doubt be given the low-down on the state of play in Gloucestershire. We already know about the High Court judgement. Of more anon……

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11/28/2011

Stop Press! Proposed Library Closures in Somerset & Gloucester are Unlawful

16th November 2011

Proposed library closures in Somerset and Gloucestershire are unlawful.

At the High Court Judge McKenna ruled that neither county had properly fulfilled its data-gathering and analysis duties before planning their cuts. Gloucestershire had intended to cease funding for 10 of its 38 libraries; Somerset for 11 out of 34. Mobile libraries in both counties were to be either reduced or withdrawn.

No council can risk ignoring this High Court ruling – that catering for the needs of all residents must be at the heart of every decision to cut libraries and similar important services.

11/27/2011

Libraries are facing a disproportionate level of cuts…

In Herefordshire we are fortunate that the Council has committed itself to keeping open all the county’s permanent libraries (Herefordshire Matters Autumn 2011 p23) – but there will be changes aimed mainly at cost cutting. However, the new Ledbury library is to go ahead in the Master’s House, which is good news for that town.

As our library vans made their last journeys, many people regretted the passing of the mobile libraries in the county. The home delivery service is not affected and is to be enhanced for those with the greatest needs.

But HLUG continues to have serious concerns about the continual downgrading of the social contribution made by libraries, at both local and national levels, and the consequent starving of resources. We welcome the:

WI Love your libraries campaign

which has the potential to widen support and bring libraries forcefully to the attention of government. We do believe that politicians of all persuasions fail to understand the many long-term benefits of libraries to the population as a whole. The benefits in health terms alone are set out in a previous blog on this website.

The National Federation of Women’s Institutes has started an e-petition in support of public libraries, with the aim of securing 100,000 signatures and triggering a debate in the House of Commons. The campaign follows their 2011 AGM in Liverpool, when the resolution below was passed at with a 98% majority.

The Closure of Local Libraries: “This meeting urges H.M. Government to maintain support for local libraries, as an essential local educational and information resource.”

See the WI website: http://www.thewi.org.uk/standard.aspx?id=24427

Or go direct to the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1269

If you are not on-line, find a friend who is, and talk them into signing up with you! Or try the computers in your local library.

An Active Brain defeats Dementia

We’ve long suspected that people who read, research, or attack crossword puzzles are all maintaining alert and active brains. Within the last decade it has been scientifically confirmed that keeping one’s active brain defers the onset of dementia and may help to retard its progress. In particular, high levels of literacy can slow age-related memory decline. What’s more, people can enhance their literacy throughout life, regardless of their formal education. Learning to read and write can ‘rewire’ the brain, allowing it to compensate for age-related changes. Clearly, therefore, opportunities to exercise the brain in a pleasant and stimulating manner can avoid the dire consequences often predicted of an ageing population.

Fast-forward 10 – 15 years, however, and it is likely that a costly government think-tank will recommend a new network of ‘brain gyms’. But these already exist – they’re called LIBRARIES. How short-sighted it is to allow such a valued and long-established asset to be pared down and starved of investment.

Any local authority – such as Herefordshire – with a high proportion of senior inhabitants MUST take on board the proven benefits of maintaining a thriving public library service. The costly long-term social and economic effects of short-term decision-making will create an unaffordable legacy for the future.

Reference: Manly, J.J. et al. (2003) Jour. Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, 25 (5), 680-690.

11/23/2011

Future Libraries Programme… how this might affect Herefordshire…an update

Late in 2010 Herefordshire together with Shropshire participated in this programme initiated by the MLA on behalf of the DCMS – it was one of the first initiatives of the new Coalition government with respect to libraries. Members of HLUG and other library friends took part in some of the discussions. A report was published by the MLA in the spring of this year, but oddly, no version of it was ever made public locally. However one can look at the report on the MLA web page:

www.mla.gov.uk/what/publications and then search under “Future Libraries Programme” for the report on Herefordshire and Shropshire dated March 11th 2011

The ‘Headline’ improvements are listed as follows :

RECOMMENDATIONS

Taking account of these different options (as listed in the full report), the recommended way forward for a future library services framework in Herefordshire and Shropshire is, in summary to:

1) Develop/continue to redesign library services to be at the heart of ‘community hubs’ in Hereford, Shrewsbury and market towns to drive and support the local policies.

 Library services have submitted a list of improvements, which, we are told, is not unlike that prepared by HLUG. Outside Hereford, Ross has been refurbished and work starts soon on the Masters House in Ledbury.

2) Consider redesigning rural library services, including through restructuring/reducing mobile services to focus on those communities and individuals most in need (i.e. with least alternative access to library services).

 Mobile library services in Herefordshire have been discontinued but the number of people now receiving the Home Delivery Service (identified by social services) has doubled to about 200.

3) As part of the localities approach, and led by localities managers, encourage and enable community organisations and resident volunteers to become involved in running libraries and supporting access to library services, through a partnership approach.

  Herefordshire has now embarked on discussions with a number of village communities/parish councils about setting up community library centres, staffed largely by volunteers (as in Peterchurch). Several schemes are in the planning stage, and some are applying for external grant funding to aid start-up. The Council’s Funding Development Officer has confirmed with “Awards for all” that schemes will meet their criteria for applications. Concerned about stock being spread more thinly, we have been assured that extra stock will be bought for each new community library – which will be supplemented by local contributions. Some schemes are looking at the book element as being an additional part of what is already being offered. For example, one scheme may operate in a village hall, to overlap with an Age UK lunch at the start of the afternoon and hometime at the village school later in the afternoon with tea and coffee available. Another may operate from a room in the village shop which already has a coffee machine on-site. The schemes are clear that they will offer access to books but will sign-post people to the main Herefordshire Library Service for further details.

Also see entry of October 17th on this blog entitled “What do the Council mean by Community Libraries?” HLUG are very wary!

4) Set up a digital project task group to improve user services and reduce back office costs. This would work up proposals for shared back office and specialist functions, around the introduction of new digital front-line and support services (i.e. on joint LMS/Stock management/RFID system) with joint procurement to deliver these.

  Library management is exploring this with a number of adjacent authorities, not necessarily Shropshire.

5)  Improve ongoing collaboration through sharing emerging localities approaches and other good practice, and improving ad-hoc arrangements across boundaries for joint activities and promotion.

  Similarly – early days, but enquiries and discussions are taking place.

6) Establish a Library Services Partnership Board across Herefordshire and Shropshire to provide strategic leadership and oversee the implementation of the above recommendations for a future library services framework.

   This will realize the benefits of joint working through:

  • Ÿ  On-going collaboration through the development of common localities approaches, sharing learning from these and other good practice, and instigating formal and ad-hoc arrangements across administrative boundaries for service improvement
  • Ÿ  Agreeing, commissioning and monitoring specific shared service(s) on joint LMS/Stock management/RFID systems to support new digital and joint library membership arrangements
  • Ÿ  Member involvement and strategic leadership, with the ability to link to other cross authority governance arrangements e.g. The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), supported by joint officer group.

The Library management tells us that service and staff development, improved efficiency and improving the library service are to be their guiding principles. The focus is to be on eBooks, learning events and activities, local history provision, work clubs and volunteering. Joint library management systems, and joint or dual use membership are also to be considered.

What the list of recommendations for Herefordshire did not mention is, however, one of the key features of the Future Libraries Programme overall recommendations which, having the full approval of the DCMS looks like being the way forward for many library services.

This is the hiving off of libraries, together with other cultural services into a non local government body. The favourite route that is emerging is the setting up of a so-called Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), which is registered as a charity and therefore escapes taxation not least local business rates. Suffolk County Council has just announced that they propose this scheme for all their libraries, despite considerable unease from local users and experts. A number of other authorities are exploring this route, including Herefordshire.

A senior officer of the council is currently conducting an enquiry into ‘Options for Cultural Services’.  Amongst the options being considered are:-

  • A merger with other local authority services – as, for example, with the Local Enterprise Partnership mentioned above.
  • Conversion to a charitable trust – this might ‘externalise services to an outside organisation’.
  • Set up a private company or social enterprise operating as a business.
  • A joint venture company or partnership with an existing operator. One such company, American owned, is currently talking to a umber of local authorities, claiming that it can run library services cheaper that the local government, i.e. cutting cost by reducing labour costs.
  • Retain within the local authority, but, perhaps with ‘rationalization’.

This investigation aims to reach a conclusion by the end of the year so that it may be submitted to the Herefordshire Council Cabinet, for implementation in 2012.

For those who may be interested in the background to these proposals, the Public Library online website is recommended for its very useful summary of  Trusts and Social Enterprises,  which spells out the pitfalls in these developments. HLUG Members are very uneasy about some of the above proposals.

Libraries have long been protected by the Public Libraries Act of 1964, which asserts the requirement for local authorities to provides a library service, adequate to local needs. This has been the bulwark that library users stand by in defending local library services. However, in a recent high-profile confrontation leading to a case in the High Court, Brent Council wishing to close down a number of their branch libraries, were resisted by local library users, backed by some very well know authors (Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett) who took to the law. A High Court Judge deemed that Brent Council were within their rights in closing the libraries because they could show that they were still intending to fulfil the terms of the Public Libraries Act by providing an adequate service from fewer libraries, the central library being enhanced to meet needs.

Taken as a precedent this could be interpreted in a county like Herefordshire as closing down, not just mobile libraries, which they have already done, but some branch libraries.  Of course the Council’s option of improving the Hereford Library is severely limited by the nature of the Broad Street building which does not allow much scope for improvement.

These are turbulent times for readers, and library users. Bookshops are closing at a faster rate than in any previous period.  Library closures are threatened – some have already taken place, or have been transferred out of local government authority (notably in Lewisham)**. Book stocks in libraries are declining, with purchases well down on previous years. And currently there has been a dramatic fall in book sales through retail outlets. Of course, commentators point out: e-books usage is rising quite dramatically and online access to information is replacing the need to use books.  But the fact remains that reading for information education or just entertainment is as important as it has ever been in this increasingly complex world.

Libraries continue to demonstrate that they can be crucial community hubs. CIPFA, the local authority statistical source, whilst reporting on declining library figures, has highlighted that children’s books are ever more popular and that the role played by them in spreading literacy is vital, with the Reading Agency reaffirming that the library plays a central role in this. And just look what happens when a city or town puts its mind to opening a really first class library that is also a vital community centre: visitor figures in places like *Birmingham, Newcastle and  Norwich continue  to rise and show that library visiting is a vital part of community life.

The Hereford Library Users Group still believes, even in these straightened times, that the city’s regeneration would be magically enhanced by a striking new library/community centre, fit for a 21st century purpose.

** Previous entries on this site explain a little about the situation in Lewisham, Gloucestershire and Somerset as well as Suffolk.

* See items on this website on all of these three Libraries, plus authorities such as Manchester. Shows what can be done with a bit of imagination and good planning.

 

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