Kathy Settle addresses remarks attributed to her by Private Eye and elsewhere.  Kathy Settle GDS portrait BEST

Recent articles in Private Eye and the Bookseller referred to a report by UKAuthority on a conference that I spoke at in late June 2017.  As quotes were used without the full context I provided and, in a few cases, quotes were attributed to me when the remarks were actually made by others, I wanted to provide more details here.

The conference was Connected Local Government Live – one of many where we seek opportunities to share the important messages from our strategy document, Libraries Deliver: Ambition, with key decision makers in local councils and with partners. 

The benefits of speaking at events like this was recognised by library commentator Leon in his recent blog post where he recognised that attending such events was ‘effective advocacy to those with considerable influence over the running of libraries’.

My presentation started with context about library usage, moved on to an overview of the ideas set out in our strategy, and concluded with good practice examples of what library services are doing across the country.

The question and answer session afterwards was wide ranging, including some discussion on income generation ideas.  This led to a member of the audience (not me, as described in the article) mentioning that their library service was receiving funds from their local council as it recognised that the library provided public toilets which were open to all.  I commented that this wasn’t something I’d heard of before, but it was certainly an interesting idea! 

The article reported that I’d said ‘such [income generating] initiatives “can sound unpalatable”’.  This was an acknowledgement of some people’s views that they don’t think libraries should have to undertake income generation activities and are concerned this might detract from the library service’s ability to deliver its ‘core purposes’. 

I can fully appreciate these concerns.  It is right that all such opportunities need to be carefully considered, ensuring they are relevant and appropriate to the particular library, their local circumstances and community needs, and will generate sufficient profit to make them worthwhile. 

However, these opportunities can lead to benefits to users (for example, widening the range of activities and facilities available) and to library services (for example, bringing in new members, broadening the range of local community organisations they work with, as well as providing a source of income) so are worth exploring. 

The role of the Taskforce is to raise awareness of opportunities, in particular those ideas which have been proven to work for some – whilst recognising that they may not work for all.  This was why we focused on this topic in some of our recent Masterclasses.

The discussion also led on to the pros and cons of co-location and, ideally – to maximise benefits for users and efficiencies – integration with other services. 

This included JobCentres and police services, where apparently it was said that ‘police services are already paying £30,000-40,000 a year for library front desks…’  This may well be true, but it wasn’t something I said. 

I did mention the new ‘hot desking’ Commuter Hubs established in some libraries with the Ministry of Justice, where I ‘also warned that those seeking to use space in this way should prepare for…“pushback” from the local community’. 

Initiatives like this can be subject to criticism, often due to very reasonable concerns about how the reuse of space might impact on users and the library services they can access.  The MoJ Commuter Hubs have, however, been located in back office areas that were previously under-utilised.  They have not taken space from the public areas in the library, showing that changes like this can be made without such detriment if planned carefully.

The UK Authority article concluded: ‘The overall message was that libraries are flourishing’ and quoted me as saying: ‘While people focus on libraries that have closed, there aren’t that many of those – and there are hundreds that have been opened or renovated.  That message doesn’t always get out.’ 

Commentators leapt on the phrase about libraries flourishing and commented that I was living in some alternative reality. 

What the article failed to mention was that one of the first slides in my presentation, based on the CIPFA figures, showed the decrease in library visits and book issues (and increase in website visits) over the last 10 years. 

I did build on this to reflect that, even with this decline in numbers, library services were still some of the most used services in our communities, with 211 million physical visits and 86 million digital visits in England in 2015-16, making them a hugely valuable asset in terms of their reach into, and support for, communities – an asset that we believe could be better utilised by government and other partners. 

The reality I see is that the picture is hugely varied across the country.  For example, some library services are achieving increases in users, whilst many others are seeing a decline.  And some library services are proposing to close some libraries or move them to community management, whilst others are proposing building new libraries or undertaking significant refurbishments. 

My point was that, despite this variation, the mainstream press tends to focus exclusively on reductions and cuts and closures to services.

Again, Leon’s blogpost (referred to earlier) summarised some of my previous comments on this topic well: ‘Kathy Settle… said: “I think we need to break that negative narrative.  I recognise that’s difficult because there really are cuts and closures happening.  We certainly don’t want to make it look as if everything is sweetness and light because we know that it’s not. 

‘“But equally, if we don’t turn that narrative round and collectively start talking more positively about libraries, no one else is going to.  And why would anyone want to invest in a service that sounds as if it’s failing?”’

We have a large strand of work articulated in our strategy around making the case for libraries – including getting the ‘Libraries First’ message over to government and partners.  Approaches include one-to-one meetings, speaking at events like this, sharing good practice and encouraging library workers to tell and share stories of their successes. 

I appreciate that the impacts of this may not always be easy to see, especially as some of the discussions we have with external partners are confidential in the first instance and projects can take time to get off the ground.  But we do look to showcase these as soon as we can on our blog.

We publish regular updates about the work of the Taskforce on our webpages, our blog, and via twitter. If anyone has questions or comments about our work, they are welcome to email us. 

Taskforce minutes

Leon’s Library blog

Main Taskforce site 
Taskforce blog 
Taskforce on Twitter: @LibTaskforce 
Taskforce on Email: librariestaskforce@culture.gov.uk

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One Reply to “Kathy Settle’s Reply”

  1. John Powell 5 years ago

    There are so many issues to address
    1. The effective strangling of the service by consistently reducing bookfunds.
    2. The increasing charges for requesting books, especially those outside an authority’s holdings.
    3. The extinction of qualified librarians by stealth.
    4. All the above resulting in falling usage and library services being regarded as a “soft target”.

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