An advocacy idea in the run up to the general election

Standard

There’s a suggestion on the Voices for the Library site about raising the issue of public libraries with candidates in the run up to the general election:

Candidates will be going door-to-door over the next few weeks and we think the cuts to public libraries should be one of the issues that canvassers are confronted with on the door step. It is for this reason that we have created two posters for you to post in your windows to highlight the importance of public libraries both to the politicians out canvassing for your vote and to your friends and neighbours.

The posters can be downloaded from here.

vftlelectionposter

Advertisements

One Week In My Librarian Life #libday8

Standard

This is a blog post for the “Library Day In The Life” Project. This project is a semi-annual event where librarians, library staff and library students from all over the globe share a day (or week) in their life through blog posts, photos, video and Twitter updates.

As a bit of a background, I’m a Technical Librarian for a public library service in England and also a founder member of the Voices For The Library campaign.

Monday (30th Jan)

A day off work, but still I’m doing library based stuff. I’ve got a few things going on at the moment around Voices For The Library, so I’m trying to keep on top of them. This includes:

  • Preparing for a meeting on Wednesday about public library cuts with MP Ed Vaizey, the Government minister responsible for libraries. Julia Donaldson (Children’s Laureate) arranged this and, as a representative of Voices, I will be part of a delegation that includes Julia, Alan Gibbons (children’s author and Campaign For The Book founder) and John Holland (Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner). I’m currently trying to condense all that Voices For The Library want to put across into a 5 minute slot.
  • Helping plan the Parliamentary lobby/rally on 13th March – got to admit I’m not doing as much as I’d like to with this, as other much closer deadlines keeping popping up.

Activities I tend to do daily with Voices, includes:

  • Keeping an eye on the news, blogs, Government related sites and Twitter for anything of interest and posting it on Twitter. It seems like a bit of a slow news day today for libraries in the UK, but plenty of stories about libraries in Canada and USA! I tend to feed all my news into Google Reader, as I can share it in a variety of ways, but I also use Newsnow.co.uk as well, because that also picks up more news that Google news doesn’t.
  • Adding or writing the odd blog post for the site. (Added one today)
  • Responding to email discussions.
Tuesday (31st Jan)
August 20th 2008 - Inspiration pt3 by Stephen Poff

August 20th 2008 - Inspiration pt3 (c) Stephen Poff/Flickr

Not in the office again today. This time I’m on a half day “Writing for publication” course at CILIP, organised by the LIRG (Library and Information Research Group). I do a lot of library focused writing for this blog, the Voices for The Library blog and on rare occasions for other sites. However, I feel I want to improve/develop this side of myself  and I’ve also got a thought in the back of my mind that I want to do some formal research around public libraries – to put my efforts to wider use. So, this course seemed a good starting place. I was hoping that it would help me write more clearly, get focused and get those ideas written down more quickly, and, as my brain is sometimes like a sieve, I hope that it helps me remember what I’ve written too!

After the course I worked on a Prezi to promote an event for National Libraries Day. Hopefully it will get tweeted a few times by our library service Twitter accounts over the next few days.

I also tweeted a few relevant library news stories and finalised my thoughts for  the meeting around library cuts on Wednesday.

Voices For The Library were also given permission to publish our response to Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into library closures on our website today.

Wednesday (1st Feb)

A day’s leave again, but still doing library related work.

Bit of a strange day really – as a representative for Voice For The Library, along with Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson, author and Campaign For The Book founder Alan Gibbons, and Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigner John Holland, I’m going to meet Minister with responsibility for libraries, Ed Vaizey to discuss the mess public libraries are in and if he or Jeremy Hunt ever intend doing anything to sort them out?

I posted two reactions from myself to this meeting.

Here’s my personal “:-O Is this really happening to me?” reaction.

Here’s my professional Voices For The Library blog post.

As I say in the Voices blog post, I hope the meeting made a step in the right direction to sort things out, even if it just seems like a tiny one.

The rest of the day/evening was spent finding/tweeting library related trying to catch up with Voices For The Library emails, etc.

Houses Of Parliament by wendyfairy

Houses Of Parliament (c) wendyfairy/Flickr

Thursday (2nd Feb)

I’m actually back in the office today and I spent the first part of it dealing with emails. These included:

  • Preparation for our library service conference
  • Tying up the loose ends so that we can implement our new public facing catalogue/circulation system. It’s nice a whizzy and I’m particularly excited that it will include RSS feeds for search results! I know that sounds sad, but I really want to mashup some of our catalogue data.
  • Got a thank you for putting together the National Libraries Day event Prezi. 🙂

At lunch time I signed up for “Brighton Lib Teach Meet 2012“, which is “a fun and informal way for librarians and information professionals to share new ideas.” The focus of this event is ‘Outreach, marketing and promotion’. I’ve never been to one of these before, but it sounds a bit like a Library Camp or Mashed Libraries style informal event. It also sounds interesting and I thought I could share some ideas around its focus (especially as Voices stuff crosses over into that area), so I put myself down to give a 5 minute presentation too.

Today was my monthly one-to-one with my line manager. We covered what I’d been working on in the past month and what I need to focus on in the coming month. Mostly e-books; downloadable audio apps; the Arena project (the public catalogue I mentioned earlier); future business plans; and marketing/promoting the library service online in a new way (for us).

I also took the time to fill in the survey for stage 1 of the CILIP Body of Professional Knowledge consultation. When I joined CILIP I wanted to get involved with what was going on, because I feel that if I want the organisation and profession to develop I’ve got to make an effort to get involved. I’ve not had the time to do anything with CILIP groups, but at least I can get involved in other ways and this is one of them.

Friday (3rd Feb)

Before work I put together a short pre-National Libraries Day (Saturday 4th) blog post for the Voices site. It was really just to remind people that N.L.D. was happening, how it came about (a follow on from Save Our Libraries Day last year) and that even though it was a day of celebration of libraries, library services were still under threat.

I spent 99% of my “day-job” today in a meeting with representatives from our library system supplier and our local authority web team ironing out outstanding issues with our new public facing catalogue/circulation system. We got most things sorted out, but it isn’t yet ready to go live. I typed up the log to highlight the outstanding issues and circulated it to those who attended the meeting and the broader contract team.

For the rest of the day (about an hour) I dealt with some emails and was also given another project to think about – an assessment of wi-fi in libraries.

When I got home I had an email discussion about the oral evidence Voices’ Abby Barker will be giving to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures at the beginning of next week.

Saturday (4th Feb)

National Libraries Day logo

National Libraries Day

National Libraries Day. This is what I got up to – a librarithon!

Whilst out and about, being with a couple of techy type librarians, we ended up discussing social media, websites and cuts in relation to libraries… as well as other things.

I tried to retweet what others were saying about National Libraries Day, but the sheer number of tweets made it difficult.

Came back after a couple of drinks in the pub and typed up a blog post about my day.

Sunday (5th Feb)

Retweeted quite a lot of post-National Libraries Day tweets and news. It was great to see so many people getting involved.

I also worked on an article I’m putting together about ifttt.com and how it can be used for information sharing and productivity.

The rest of the month

Other aspects of my role include dealing with cataloguing, classification and EDI issues; assisting in the running of social media workshops for staff; liaising with data suppliers; current awareness of technology and I.T. in libraries.

Even though it hasn’t been a typical week for me –  I generally spend more time in the office and have never had a meeting like the one on Wednesday before – it’s a good example of the variety of work I do.

Thoughts On Library Membership Charges

Standard

This article about the introduction of membership charges at Bexley Village Library caught my eye today.

The article states:

BVCL is planning to introduce three levels of membership to the library.

– Reader’s Ticket – Free membership and free loans of stock, with some limits to the numbers of items which can be borrowed. Due dates and fines will apply.

– Library Member – A £24 annual fee will see people join as full members of the wider charity. Benefits will include being able to borrow a higher number of books, keeping books for an unlimited time, a free period of use on the public computers, discounts in the cafe and priority booking for events.

– Gold Membership – Customers can join as a ‘patron’ for a £75 annual subscription. Members would be making a donation to the running costs of the library and attracting additional funds to the charity through Gift Aid. BVCL will reinvest income earned through membership in new library stock. 
Two things (Edit: Three things now) struck me about this membership scheme and membership schemes in general:
  1. I’d consider free access to online information as part of the core functions of a comprehensive public library service – a large proportion of reference material you would regard as trustworthy that was previously held by public libraries in hard copy and was accessible for free, has now been replaced by online  resources, some of which can’t really be accessed by casual users – due to high cost of subscriptions.
  2. Apart from  Central Government funding cuts, another reason local councils are having to save money is because Council Taxes were capped. This ensured local residents didn’t have to stick their hands in their pockets any deeper to pay for local services. Membership schemes like this mean that residents are still going to have that money taken out of their pockets anyway.
  3. (Edit) If you have more money you’ll receive more library services. This is at odds with the ethos behind public libraries, which provides services for free because it’s recognised that some people can’t afford or don’t have access to these services/resources via any other means.

I’m not pointing the finger at Bexley Village Community Library for doing this. At the end of the day they have stepped in to provide a service the council has a responsibility to provide free of charge.

Comment on “Campaigners launch £1m Chalk Farm library plea”

Standard

Campaigners launch £1m Chalk Farm library plea | News.

Campaigners are trying to raise £1,000,000 to secure the long-term future of their community library.

When I read this article in The London Evening Standard my mouth just dropped open in disbelief.

It’s wrong that Camden Council have forced campaigners into this situation, just so they can use a service they should automatically be receiving from the local council in their area. I know Camden haven’t said to them, “Go out and raise £1m and we’ll give you the library,” but if campaigners feel they have to raise this sort of money to keep it running, then they have basically been forced into it.

Is it even possible to raise that amount of money in a local appeal, even if you live in a wealthy area?

…and just imagine if every volunteer run library throughout the country had to raise that amount of money to provide a long-term local library service in their area? How many millions of pounds would that be?

It’s seems particularly ironic that local Council’s are saying they have to save money on library services because they aren’t allowed to increase Council Tax by a significant amount, and yet, some local communities may end up paying more by contributing to this sort of fundraising appeal.

Decentralised Power Via The Localism Bill

Standard

The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament via the House of Commons in December 2010. Its aim is to decentralise power “back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”

Here are a few things to consider about the Bill in relation to the provision of local services, including public libraries.

1.) The plain English version states that central government currently imposes too much bureaucracy in the form of centralised decisions, targets and inspections, which “leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon.”

It’s true that the removal of Central government bureaucracy would allow development of services at a local level, but at the same time Central government bureaucracy also serves to ensure that local councils/authorities continue to provide essential services they are expected to.

2.) It also states that Central Government should be there to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own 
ambitions.”

This would be beneficial, as long as the local people and representatives who get their voices heard are (1) representative of all local people and (2) that their wishes ensure this does not affect the lives of those whose voices aren’t heard – commonly people in society who are in most need of public services.

3.) The Bill indicates that “Local authorities can do their job best when they have genuine freedom to respond to what local people want, not what they are told to do by central government.

In an ideal world this would be a great opportunity for councils to work with local communities and I’m sure some will, but as we have seen in some library campaigns, local councils do not always listen to what people want. Campaigners throughout the country have raised petitions containing over 15,000 names asking councils to stop closure of libraries, but councils still appear to do what they want, rather than what the communities ask them to do.

4.) The General power of competence in the Bill states local authorities should be free to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.” and that this power “does not remove any duties from localauthorities.” Alongside this, the Secretary of State will have the authority toremove unnecessary restrictions and limitations where there is a good case to do so, subject to safeguards designed to protect vital services.”

It is important that local authorities are free to be innovative, as long as they don’t break the law and their duties are not removed. However, if the Secretary of State can over-rule restrictions, how will this affect councils actions and duties? Could this over-ruling have a negative effect on services that are provided to communities, as well as a positive effect?

5.) “the Government will abolish the Standards Board regime. Instead, it will become a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints, while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions.”

Even though some complaints may be seen as trivial by Central Government, often it is the only way for an individual citizen to address concerns they may have about a councillor.

6.) Even though a councillor is there to represent his/her local community some are warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge. The Localism Bill will make it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions.”

It’s important that in the future councillors will be given the opportunity to get involved, rather than shying away from involvement and discussion and saying “I can’t do anything. I’m not allowed to.”

7.) “The Localism Bill will give more cities the opportunity to decide whether they want a mayor.”

Having an elected mayor could work either way. A mayor who has not been elected by his/her political peers would have more freedom to go against party lines, but at the same time the elected mayor does not necessarily need any experience of local politics to become mayor, which in itself could lead to problems via a lack of understanding.

8.) “We want to pass significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

Hopefully this will give campaigners fighting council decisions a stronger voice than many of them have at present.

9.) The Bill will allow groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service.” Local councils must respond to this interest and where it accepts it, run a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can bid”

This will obviously give local communities an opportunity to be involved in the provision of services they receive, but wouldn’t this increase bureaucracy and expenditure by local authorities who have to run a procurement exercise and assess any bids? Will it also mean that co-ordinated groups of small numbers in the community may have a louder voice than a larger local population who are happy with the services as they are?

10.) “When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, community groups will have time to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset when it comes on the open market.”

It is important that assets are kept in the community they belong, but at the same time this may also give some local authorities the notion that selling off its assets is a good idea.

11.) “The Localism Bill will give local people the power to initiate local referendums on local issues that are important to them. Local 
authorities and other public bodies will be required to take the outcome of referendums into account and consider what steps, if any, they will take to give effect to the result.”

Where we have seen local library campaigners wishes ignored, even with overwhelming support from the community, the ability to raise a local referendum may be more effective in highlighting support for an initiative.

12.) “Right to approve or veto excessive council tax rises”

The current situation in this country has seen council taxes capped by Central Government, even though a minimal rise may allow vital services to be developed in a local area. The ability to vote on council tax rises may ensure vital services are kept in the future.

13.) “Reform to make the planning system clearer, more democratic and more effective.” Currently “planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are taking.”

This will allow communities to have a greater say over planning in their area. This could mean that communities put together a local development plan that includes the services/facilities they want, such as a local library.

14.) Finally, the Localism Bill enables the removal of duties for local authorities to inform citizens about how local democracy works. If this happens it would mean local communities are at a disadvantage in ensuring that their voice will be heard.

So, in summary, the Bill will enable local communities (people, councillors and local authorities/councils) to have a greater impact on the development of services in their own area, but at the same time the Bill proposes the removal of restrictions that are currently in place to ensure local councils continue to provide essential local services.

The next stage for the Localism Bill is the report stage in the House of Lords (September 2011), which gives members of the House of Lords the opportunity to consider changes to the Bill.

(Thanks to Lauren Smith for input on this post)