The Industrial and Provident Society: its role in Suffolk libraries, Part 2

28 Mar

A ‘Library News’ column in the current issue of Private Eye sheds a sorry light upon the reduction in professional staff in the U.K. ‘The jobs of one in five properly qualified librarians were cut from public libraries in the past year, and a total of more than 2,000 library staff have been chopped, according to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).’ Reduction in opening hours, closures of libraries and the running of them by volunteers are identified as contributory factors.

‘CILIP says 700 of the nation’s 3,500 professional public librarians have lost their jobs in the most recent cuts.’ The positive influence of good, professional librarians on levels of literacy among children is hardly in doubt. Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw has confirmed that literacy progress has stalled since 2005 and that Britain is slipping down international league tables with 100,000 children a year leaving school without reaching the target standards for 11 year olds.

So how does Suffolk measure up with other library authorities? Since it introduced ‘Enquiry Officers’ and ‘Library Managers’ (as well as the foot soldiers: the Library Assistants) to run branches in the early 1990s there has been a concerted drive to eradicate professionally-qualified librarians from the payroll. After the hollowing-out at the centre of the Suffolk library service in recent months and the current headlong charge over the cliff of the external Industrial & Provident Society, it is interesting to ask just how ‘professional’ the library service actually is. Taking it from the end of June 2012 (when the Suffolk library service is supposed to be handed over to the IPS), of the 496 Suffolk libraries staff members reported to be TUPEd over to the IPS, we count only seven professional librarians left in the whole workforce. This isn’t counting two branch managers who we think have library qualifications. Judging by the Private Eye coverage, where Suffolk leads the rest of the country is now following.

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2 Responses to “The Industrial and Provident Society: its role in Suffolk libraries, Part 2”

  1. Anonymous May 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    The deprofessionalism of suffolk staff has been going on for years and in all honesty the service is still excellent. Of more concern to me is the issue of community groups needing to fundraise a % of the costs of the library. Surely this is not only against the spirit of the 1964 act and certainly contrary to what 83% of consultation respondents said but is also surely divisive. For example the brunt of the cost will be shared by those in places with libraries so it is highly likely that people who use a library say where they work for instance are likely to be less involved and thus contribute less (especially with the big society meaning they are probably contributing to something else that needs saving in their town or village. It also will favour those places with wealthier residents who can afford to contribute more. And what about mobile library users who clearly can’t come together in a community group. Whilst they might well be happy to contribute they are not being forced to like us users of static libraries which is hardly fair is it. Finally if we are fundraising to kep our library open then we are going to be spending most of our time raising money for something that adds no value to our library. Surely the ips should be doing a countywide scheme such as museums do (I.e friends of Ipswich museum) so there is fairness in the community generated contribution. Then community groups can fundraise if they wish to or are able to with that money going towards things that would genuinely add value to the library such as getting authors to visit for children as but one example. I wold be interested in rosehill readers thoughts on this as campaigners because the battle against divestment has clearly been lost though thankfully all libraries are at least safe now so the campaigning worked. maybe some of the issues that are still live like the community contribution can be campaigned against still.

    • Rosehill Readers May 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

      This anonymous commentator seems a little complacent, if we may say so, in the view that “the battle against divestment has clearly been lost though thankfully all libraries are at least safe” and that “the service is still excellent”. At the risk of being accused of ‘talking down the economy’, the cuts at the centre of Suffolk libraries staff are only now working through. Waiting times for reservations are growing (the two or three days’ wait of a year ago has now become two or three weeks, if the borrower is lucky to obtain the book at all) because the van service across the network has been reduced and branch staff often don’t have time to find a reservation because of all the additional jobs they’ve been told to do. Loss of professional staff is already producing a less professional service with poorer quality stock provision and coverage of non-mainstream material. Cutting ‘back office’ and protecting ‘front line’ is a convenient politician’s way of covering up damage to the service to the public. It sounds good in the media, but the ‘back office’ often does essential work which enables the front line to deliver an efficient and comprehensive book service, as required by the 1964 Act. There are plenty of other examples, but we don’t wish to labour the point.

      Rosehill Readers will comment on the unreasonable demand that communities are pressurised to raise funding to ‘keep their libraries open’ at a later date. In the meantime, RR wonders what will happen if an unelected ‘community group’ raises the cash required by the IPS – cash they will have to find each year – and takes on the running of their local library (the responsibility in human, financial, fixed assets and material terms is heavy), only to fall apart when willing volunteers realise that it is unsustainable. Will the IPS take back the running of that branch: surely the last thing they want to do if they’re intent on cutting overheads? Similarly, were the IPS with its board of volunteers fall apart under the pressure to maintain a public service with insufficient funding and expertise, would Suffolk County Council take back the service and run it in-house? Again, surely this is the last thing the Tory group running our council want to do, having got rid of the responsibility for library provision. The IPS has become the mantra of a new breed of TINAs (“There Is No Alternative”), which harks back to the worst actions of the Thatcher governments of the 70s and 80s.

      Anonymous: do think about joining us at Rosehill Readers if you consider that you share our concerns.

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