Society of Authors on our public libraries

16 Mar

The Government has set up a special panel to look into the future of libraries and is inviting written submissions and requesting views on the following issues:

  • What are the core principles of a public library service into the future?
  • Is the current delivery of the public library service the most comprehensive and efficient?
  • What is the role of community libraries in the delivery of a library offer?

The Society of Authors response can be read here.

Volunteer stock advisors

13 Sep

Suffolk Libraries looking for new staff

De-professionalisation of librarianship and library provision in Suffolk libraries has been going on for years. At the major restructuring (one of many) of around 1990, librarians – that is, those who have studied to achieve a professional qualification, often a degree in the subject – were taken out of branches. ‘Library Managers’ were created to run each branch, usually recruited from the existing ranks of Enquiry Officers. This made some sense as day-to-day management was largely taken off the shoulders of professional librarians, so that they could use their skills as part of a team, serving a number of branches. What it meant in practice, of course, was that there was a marked drop in the number of professionals employed as they left/retired and weren’t replaced and this process has continued. In the CIPFA (The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) statistics which provide comparative provision and measures of service across the country, Suffolk has occupied a very low position in this regard.

By around 2006 after other restructures the largest number of professional librarians in Suffolk libraries could be found in middle and senior management posts (they’ve all gone now), which didn’t seem to require many librarianship skills. The only librarians actually using their professional skills were a handful scattered across the Schools Library Service, Surestart, doing website, information and reference work and under four posts in the Stock Team. Since then, professional stock selectors have been cut in Suffolk and their functions exported to commercial companies employing librarians who select remotely according to formulas. The last we heard there were one-and-a-half professionals in the Stock Team. Now we see further evidence that professional work is being passed to non-professionals and, worse still, unpaid non-professionals. One wonders what would happen if you pitched up at your doctor’s surgery and had a consultation with volunteer “Health Advisor” about your hernia. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, the public’s educational, recreational and cultural enrichment via public library services is different from their medical condition, but the point is still valid.

The driver in all this is, needless to say, cutting costs – “efficiency savings” sounds better. Saving the rather modest salary of a professional librarian is always going to be tempting for senior managers. However, the ‘innovative’ and ‘imaginative’ use of unpaid, unqualified ‘stock advisors’ does have its problems. Someone has to train and manage the output of the people who are offering suggestions for stock. Presumably the one-and-a-half Stock Librarians. Does the introduction of unpaid volunteers imply that the stock procurement process put in by the county council is inadequate?

This looks like an example of volunteers replacing paid staff, something the IPS said it wouldn’t do. Indeed job losses as illustrated by this example mean that fewer salaries are being paid to properly employed staff and therefore no proportion of their salaries is available to be transferred to others in buying local goods and services. This policy prolongs the recession. If volunteers can do this work, how many of the other paid jobs in Suffolk libraries will disappear? Perhaps we’re being paranoid in thinking that:

volunteers choosing stock = poor choices = fewer loans = good reason to close a branch?

Money saved!

SCC: Round in circles

31 Jul

Round, like a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel… It’s Suffolk Libraries designed by someone with a sense of humour.

chart

SCC Councillor Alan Murray (Conservative member for Bixley ward) has paid £500 towards the ‘Community contribution’ for Rosehill library from his Locality Budget. Oops! Sorry, he has paid £500 to Rosehill Library for ‘Community engagement’ (see the table below). Click on images to make them readable.

Suffolk County Council allocates an amount (£12,000 in 2013/14) to each elected councillor. Councillors are able to make recommendations about funding from this budget for local projects in their division, which should benefit the community. Last year groups and projects that benefited included village halls, sports and social clubs, and toddler groups.

So, in 2012 we have SCC divesting its public library services to an external Industrial & Provident Society on the basis of a 27% cut in the overall funding. It then withheld an additional Community Contribution of £130,000 for the period 1/8/2012 to 31/3/2014 from the remaining budget from the IPS with the expectation that the IPS would set up a ‘community group’ or ‘friends group’ for each of the 44 branches. The Community Contribution was factored into the IPS (700 page) contract model by Suffolk County Council.

The deficit funding has been shared out among all those 44 branches with amounts to be raised by friends groups in amounts ranging from £9,750 for the three biggest, then in bands of £5,200 (seven branches), £3,250 (five branches), £2,275 (seven branches), £1,950 (seven branches), £1,625 (seven branches), £975 (eight branches). Rosehill Library is expected to raise £3,250 on the threat of missing out on ‘service enhancements’ if it fails to pay the money to the IPS. One can only imagine the additional pressure this puts on the Rosehill staff at a time of major changes and uncertainty.

So, the public is being asked to raise £130,000 to finance the libraries (1 August 2012, when the IPS took over the libraries, to 30 March 2014), having already paid for the whole service via their national and council taxation. Now we find that a county councillor from a neighbouring ward to Rosehill (not the local councillor) is funding the deficit from his Locality Budget which comes from public money: that’s our national and council taxation.

In fact it is not only Rosehill library that is in receipt of public funds. In the table below we show all the library-related payments made by councillors in 2012/13 (click on images to make them readable).

table1

There are a few interesting features of Locality Budget funding of divested libraries in 2012/13.

1. Cllr Judy Terry gave £720 to the Industrial & Provident Society itself for e-readers, which is a surprise. Does the IPS qualify as a beneficiary of Locality Budget funding? If Suffolk’s library service has been fully divested to an external IPS on an agreed reduced budget with an integral funding deficit (‘Community contribution’) to be raised by friends groups, should that IPS be applying for funding from a councillor, albeit the architect of that divestment?

2. ‘Aldeburgh Steering Group’, presumably the forerunners of Clive Fox’s ‘Aldeburgh Library Foundation’ – that most enthusiastic of library friends groups – obtained £2,100 for ‘Drawings/specs, works / catering equipment’. This sounds very much like building works (as does the purchase/installation of an automatic door at Westbourne Library by the Friends of Westbourne). Surely Suffolk County Council – which retains ownership of the library infrastructure, notably the buildings – is responsible as the legal Library Authority for repairs, improvements and extensions?

3. Friends of Westbourne Library had the most money at £5,708 from four county councillors. Westbourne library has already raised more to meet the IPS deficit in less than a year by accessing SCC Locality Budgets i.e. “core SCC finance”, than its entire IPS requirement of £,3250.

4. Friends of Westbourne library have more recently bid for ‘up to £2,500’ for internal automatic doors to Ipswich Borough council’s separate “ localities budgets”; this would be further funding for building works.

5. So far, in only 12 months (1 April 2012 to 30 March 2013), £25,560 has been allocated from 2012/2013 budgets by county councillors to local library groups to assist the funding problems caused by the county council itself. That’s about 20% of the total deficit of £130,000 sought from local groups by SCC.

If the same pattern is repeated for  the 2013/14 budget period, we could see the majority of local community fund-raising being supplied from SCC core finance. Bizarre?

If library groups then follow Westbourne’s example and successfully push forward applications to District/Borough councillors, funding for “divested local groups” would be being provided from the “core finance” of other local authorities who do not have legal powers or responsibilities to run libraries at all! Even more bizarre.

SCC’s Funding & Procurement Scrutiny Committee (6.7.2005) reviewed the council’s guidance for assessing/awarding Locality Budget funding. It added to the criteria a clause that said:

“…in particular where an organisation has failed to obtain county-wide funding for an initiative, Locality Budgets should not be used as a substitute unless the initiative to be funded meets local priorities.

…and the revised guidance should include the requirements that the Locality Budgets should not be used to support core business which the council should be doing anyway.”

Rosehill Readers have argued consistently that a library service is, and should continue to be: “a core local authority funded service”. SCC and the IPS have argued that local communities must fund some of the services.

We think we have shown that we are now in a very peculiar situation where SCC having made cuts to core funding of libraries and having required local communities to meet that deficit themselves or face consequences, are now actually funding library “community” fund-raising from SCC core finance which appears to be against its own guidelines. Furthermore, other local councils like Ipswich are being asked by some friends groups to contribute to library “community” fund-raising from their “core” finance to compensate for SCC cuts in spending.

“ Has anyone seen the Queen of Hearts?” said Alice.

Talking Books withdrawal: SCC found guilty of maladministration

17 Jun

The RNIB’s (Royal National Institute of Blind People) Talking Books is a subscription audiobook CD loan service, delivered by post, offered to the blind and partially-sighted. Until recently Suffolk County Council funded subscriptions for 250 recipients. This is distinct from the Spoken Word CD loan collections in the public libraries.

SCC decided to remove the Talking Books service*, (which cost up to £82 per year per person); that’s around £20,000 in all. Complaints were made by recipients and the RNIB represented them to the Local Government Ombudsman (rather than going through the Judicial Review process). The LGO eventually found SCC guilty of maladministration in her report of 11 October 2012. But in the end, only 30 people took up the ‘community care assessment’ offered by SCC, and 7 had the service reinstated. We assume that, as a result of the original funding cut, some 243 people are no longer receiving the service that they had in 2010. So after being found guilty of maladministration by the LGO, SCC continues to “save” virtually all the money that it set out to save.

The danger of tampering with such a vital service is all too evident in this example. Instigating a plan to enable all previous users of Talking Books to resume the service should be an SCC priority.

The Audit Committee of Suffolk Council met at Endeavour House on 12 June 2013. Access to all the relevant agendas, attachments and minutes of previous meetings can be found on the SCC website.

Agenda item 10: Audit Committee meeting 31 January 2013. Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) report on complaint about withdrawal of Talking Books service. “8(e): The Council failed to have regard to the duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service with reference to the needs of blind and partially sighted people;”

One hopes that the EADT/Star Local Government correspondent, Paul Geater, is aware of this and should be following up on this story. [*We assume that SCC initially made the Talking Books cut before the IPS took over Suffolk's public libraries in August 2012.]

Michael Rosen defends libraries

18 May

In My View column by Michael Rosen, February 2011

In the article Defending libraries, Michael Rosen makes some interesting and powerful points including a refreshing perspective on schools and the library service. It’s sobering to think that this article is still relevant more than two years after publication.

Begging bowl libraries

18 May
People interested in the library service in Suffolk will no doubt be aware of recent ‘Letters to the editor’ from Jennie Pink, a very general defensive response from Shona Bendix, Chair of the IPS Board and a counter-blast from Gareth Jones, Chair of the Friends of Westbourne Library (these three have appeared on this blog). There followed a quite detailed and specific response to the Jones letter from Sue Gleave, Support Services Manager at Suffolk Libraries Industrial & Provident Society. It would seem that Sue Gleave, has deemed it proper to respond exclusively and in some detail to Gareth Jones’ Letter to the Editor (EADT/Ipswich Star) on an Ipswich ‘political gossip, comment and intrigue’ blog. We can’t find any other source of these statements from the outsourced organisation running our libraries. If true, it is surprising that the IPS sees this as a professional way of working; one wonders if local journalists are aware of this by-passing of the customary local media.
The substance of the remarks is also of interest; Sue Gleave states that:
‘We have to manage within the budget that has been set; this includes an overall Community Contribution of £130k for the period 1/8/2012 to 31/3/2014. It is therefore essential, if we are to manage within our allocated budget, that we receive the Community Contribution funding, or we will have to make savings from somewhere in our budget. It would seem equitable that if a library does not provide the contribution requested, where other libraries have, that savings are found from funds allocated to projects to enhance the services locally. This would mean that some planned additions to the core service, such as Wi-Fi, may not be available to libraries that do not deliver their allocated contributions.’
This statement of potential penalties for those branches not achieving their ‘Community Contribution’ couldn’t be clearer and even quotes the example of missing out on the installation of Wi-Fi broadband. The danger of creating a layer of second-class branches in Suffolk is the logical outcome.
There is an additional ‘reassuring’ comment from someone at the IPS at the end of the blog entry which suggests a damage-limitation measure.
One commenter to the blog entry quoted says:
‘Libraries should never have been outsourced; the IPS was simply the County Council’s way of a) pretending to save all the libraries and b) trying to guard against a possible loss of Conservative seats in the elections we have just had.
The £130,000 sought from the community has been spent many times over in this ridiculous re-organization. The whole library service across Suffolk has been compromised and not a penny has been saved. All that has happened is that closures have been cleverly postponed by this smoke and mirrors “solution”.’

A full list of the amount of money each branch is expected to raise can be found in the PDF document Routes to membership which is linked from a page on the IPS website, along with the statements that:

‘… the Community Contribution was a concept adopted by Suffolk County Council as an integral part of the funding of the contract with Suffolk Libraries.’ And to Friends groups who are considering signing up: ‘You will use your best efforts to fulfil any Community Contribution set by Suffolk Libraries.’ This by: ‘fundraising, obtaining sponsorship and donations’. Pete Rowberry commenting on this blog says: “I endorse the view that the library service is deteriorating since the inception of the Libraries Charity. Money is being requested for services which were at one time free and a box for donations is now a permanent feature on the Library desk.”
N.B. A look at the thirteen ‘friends groups’ who have joined the Industrial & Provident Society so far reveals that it includes three town councils (Leiston-cum-Sizewell Town Council, Needham Market Town Council, Sudbury Town Council).

Local press coverage: is all well?

7 May

These ‘Letters to the Editor’ of the local newspapers (The East Anglian Daily Times and The Ipswich Star often carry similar content, it seems) are in response to Jennie Pink’s letter to the press which you can find on this blog on the entry dated 15 April 2013.

Ipswich Star 26/4/2013

Headline: “We’re proud to have kept all county’s libraries open”

Sir, -I want to reassure readers about the future of the county’s public libraries, as they may have read some confusing and misleading information about the service recently.

Suffolk Libraries is an independent and charitable organisation which took over the running of all the county’s libraries in August last year.

We have a 10-year contract with the county council and our priority is to maintain and improve what we know is a well-loved and vital community service.

Everyone involved in running and managing Suffolk Libraries is very passionate about libraries and we are proud that so far we have been able to keep all of the county’s libraries open, maintain opening hours and spending on new stoick and act to fill staffing gaps. Through creating a sensible structure and efficiency savings, we are delivering the service for much less than the original budget.

Of course all public services face challenging times and we do need to raise some additional money to support our libraries.

Therefore we need the support of the people of Suffolk – and this is already happening. Nearly a third of all our libraries now have their own community groups, which are made up of dedicated and enterprising local people who are supporting their library with consultation, events and fundraising activities.

We are always pleased to hear that people are supportive of their library and are happy to answer any concerns which people have. It’s easy to post a direct question via our website at http://www.suffolklibraries.co.uk

The best way of supporting your local library is to make sure you use them. If you’ve not been for a while, please drop in and find out about the services and activeities our 44 libraries provide.

SHONA BENDIX,

Chair, Suffolk Libraries Board.

————————————————————————————————

Ipswich Star 7/5/2013, page 8.

“Concerned for future of the library”

Sir, -With reference to Shona Bendix’s (Chair of Suffolk Libraries Board) assessment of the future of Suffolk Libraries (Your Letters, April 26).

Suffolk’s libraries are in [sic] no doubt in a less perilous position under the IPS arrangement. Library friends groups, of varying strengths, have popped up to defend and support their libraries.

Suffolk Libraries was set up on August 1st, 2012, with no reserves, to deliver the libraries service for Suffolk County. The contract includes specified opening hours for all Suffolk libraries. They also have to manage within their budget an overall “Community Contribution” of approximately £100,000 p.a. The public is perhaps not aware that to bridge this gap the IPS is seeking a [sic] “Community Contribution” funding from each library (or its friends group).

At a meeting in Bury St Edmunds on April 22, the IPS invited all libraries to join its “club” but unveiled an individual contribution from each library to ensure services are mainained.

The average contribution is £3000 p.a. However there was no explanation at how figures have been arrived at, so as an example Westbourne Library must find £3,250 and County Library Ipswich £9,750.

What is also concerning is that only a third of Suffolk libraries have a friends group (13 out of 44 libraries) so it is unclear how they will find their contribution.

Some libraries have signed up, others such as Central library or the bigger town/villages may feel that there is enough local support or town council support to find this figure each year, but for a library such as ours serving an urban district of a large town it will prove enormously difficult to turn hard support into hard cash.

Our friends group has painted our library inside and out, and paid for the materials (est. £10,000 worth of work), and we have secured locality funding and third party funding to buy new furniture and a projector (£1,500).

But to raise £3,000 p.a. through public contributions/fundraising is a full time job. Quite simply, third party funders and the public will not contribute to our cause, or become paying members if they know it is to plug a gap in local government spending.

We are extremely concerned over the future of our library, and the fate of other libraries, and we are extremely uncomfortable with the unwelcome responsibility and task being forced upon us.

Gareth Jones,

Chairman, Westbourne [Library] Friends

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