This is The Library Campaign submission to Baroness Sanderson:
THE LIBRARY CAMPAIGN
The Library Campaign (TLC), established in 1984, is the national charity that aims to advance the education of the public by the promotion, support, assistance and improvement of public libraries through the activities of Friends and user groups.
THIS PAPER CONSISTS OF…
1. Observations on the current situation, based on our experience.
2. Suggestions for action, based on the principles that
(a) many excellent resources exist already, so the priority should be to get them better known and used
(b) the library sector should have the necessary knowledge, skills and ethos of co-operation to organise this, with some material backing from government.
We welcome the decision to build on the work of the Taskforce, rather than start from scratch.
We do not expect – or want – fundamental reorganisation, or a re-think of public libraries’ role.
Certain long-standing issues – such as diffused leadership, fragmentation, poor management, poor marketing, staff skills/diversity, declining usage, the need to improve discovery and the online offer – are being steadily addressed. This must continue.
However, the current basic model – national concept, local delivery – has been flexible enough to take on everything from the emergence of the internet to a sudden pandemic.
It is right for local libraries to offer services tailored to their area such as local history, community languages, input from local authors, artists and performers, outreach to special groups.
But it is equally important to ensure that ALL services offer a good overall standard in key areas.
The potential of national-level policies, expertise and back-up is a strength (though diluted by CMLs) which should be better exploited.
The development model used by the Taskforce should be maintained: a large and comprehensive advisory group, a small working team or teams and a coherent framework, within which development tasks are allotted to the various library bodies. The advisory group should be expanded to represent library users, for obvious reasons, and Unison, which shares a public service ethos and could contribute much.
▪ The strategy should focus on support for library services, not extra burdens. Main target: increasing usage.
▪ Research/funding is needed to develop Friends/users as a resource to support and expand library services.
▪ Research is needed on the full effects of “community-managed libraries” and whether a national network can be restored.
▪ Investment: a change of emphasis is needed, from one-off competitive funding for innovation, to common funding to spread best practice.
▪ National standards are needed, or at least a universal checklist. There is a key role for measurable quantitative data, to identify gaps and potential, help define “comprehensive & efficient” and showcase the return on investment from well-run services.
▪ Far better collection, analysis and use of performance data is needed. Benefits as above. A fresh start post-CIPFA?
▪ National, multi-media publicity is needed for the core library offer.
We understand that this review’s remit does not envisage the restoration of lost core funding for library services. Nevertheless, we should recognise that coping with under-funding can damage the core service.
There is a need to need to scrutinise some currently fashionable alternatives to adequate core funding:
▪ one-off “funds” from various government departments, plus ACE, the National Lottery etc.
These often cause confusion or duplication; the bidding process costs time/money and is pure waste for the majority who don’t win; better-off and PR-savvy councils are disproportionately successful; funds are diverted from essentials to short term, eye-catching “innovations” available to few. Disquiet is regularly expressed by LGA, CILIP, LC, ourselves, the DLHUC select committee; even the DLUHC itself.
▪ librarians’ creativity and innovation are, too often, wholly diverted into finding ways to “do more with less” or bring in extra funding, rather than developing the service.
▪ “partnerships” must be used with very great care. Libraries’ image as safe, neutral places and sources of unbiased information is all-important, particularly now that disinformation is rife. This can be dented by working with commercial organisations (e.g. banks). Co-operation with other public services is by far the better option (e.g. BL, NHS, local FE colleges, universities) but even certain public services can lead to problems (e.g. immigration, police).
▪ volunteers are invaluable as a support for professional staff, bringing extra skills, contacts, languages etc. But they should not run services.
▪ library users and Friends groups are, however, a neglected resource. New attitudes and ways of working may be needed, possibly amounting to an “alternative model”. The potential benefits are substantial.
These vary. They may support a thriving local service (as in Suffolk), or be set up specially to oppose a threat. They often switch from the first to the second role, and back again, according to circumstance.
The library sector needs to recognise that such groups must be independent. That they do, or may at some future point, disagree with council decisions must not be seen as a reason for not supporting them.
Indeed, it is wholly beneficial to identify any opposition early, so that plans can be explained – or changed – without a damaging political row.
(NB: Many library staff/managers are grateful when the public express opposition to council plans that they are themselves barred from criticising. Our experience shows that council “consultations” are frequently tendentious. Higher standards are needed.)
Local campaigns regularly contribute high-quality research, alternative ideas, publicity, useful skills and strong local support. All these could be harnessed to fortify the local service, instead of being left to emerge only if unpopular decisions are made.
In happier times, Friends/users are good for: local knowledge, contacts & resources; finding local partners; outreach; hyper-local publicity, from putting up posters/delivering leaflets to face-to-face contacts; “stories” for advocacy; clubs and events; help with extras such as gardens, decorations, catering; expertise; feedback; community languages; funding for extras; a starting point/bridge for consultation.
Some services need a decided culture change to see service users as partners rather than passive recipients, and to see co-operating with Friends/user groups as an investment rather than just an extra task.
Proper research is needed to identify the extent and activities of these groups (TLC’s online list is the best available); ways to encourage more to form; ways to support and advance their contribution; sharing of knowledge and resources; possible training – especially for library staff. And funding is needed, of course, to implement the findings.
COMMUNITY MANAGED LIBRARIES (CMLs)
TLC must stress that co-working with the community should NOT extend to handing entire branches to volunteers to run.
TLC in no way blames people who have been forced by local authorities to run libraries, as the only way to save a public building and some kind of service. This has been all too common. But it constitutes a massive, uncontrolled experiment that has never been properly evaluated.
These 500-odd (real total unknown) “libraries” differ wildly in the degree of council support they get, what they offer, how they are financed, whether they can be sustained, the nature of the buildings, the skills of the volunteers, availability of IT etc. Most national research has effectively concluded: “They are all different. We can’t draw any overall conclusions.”
Questions not asked include: Do CMLs really save money, as they are so complex to set up and – experience shows – need support in perpetuity? How do they affect full-service libraries in the same area?
Is the public aware of any difference, and that full-service libraries (should) offer more? What is the experience of librarians who have the job of supporting them? What lessons can be learned? Above all, are CMLs effective as library services, as opposed to community centres?
Overall, CMLs have badly damaged what used to be a major strength of public libraries – a national network, where anyone can walk into any library and be sure of a certain level of service, with professional expertise, professional standards and links to national offers such as the British Library, interlibrary loans and multiple online resources. Now a “library” can be almost anything.
It is difficult to imagine how this damage can be undone, as many local people may have come to value doing certain things their own way.
To reduce confusion, one possibility might be a simple checklist – displayed by both CMLs and council-run libraries – to note what is available, where (more on this later).
Nevertheless, we need to learn from this experience. Some council-run libraries, for instance, may not offer a good level of activities, a sense of ownership or ways for the public to get involved.
ALTERNATIVE DELIVERY MODELS
We have some similar concerns about the proliferation of alternative delivery models, with a number of different structures, delivering whole services on behalf of local authorities.
We have no doubt that much good work has been done. Overall, however, this adds to the fragmentation of the national service and general confusion.
Choosing a model and setting it up is a huge job of work, causing disruption, and demanding special skills and sophisticated decision-making that may not be within the competence of all library managers. Natural links to local councils and local public services have to be re-created.
Some of the benefits – faster, more ‘agile’ working, freedom from council bureaucracy, control of any surplus funding, community involvement – might well be achieved by putting an equal amount of work into changing the culture within the council and the library service.
Access to extra funds not available to local councils, including charity funding, could more easily be achieved by working closely with strong local Friends groups and, where necessary, supporting them in becoming charities themselves.
The easiest way forward, in current circumstances, is simply to ensure better use of work already done and resources already available.
The library sector could do more to build relevant provision on a national scale. There is a bewildering amount of work by reader development agencies (e.g. BookTrust, The Reading Agency). Intensive use/promotion of a selected list would benefit them and libraries equally.
Established successes include Bookstart, the Summer Reading Challenge, nationally-evaluated Books on Prescription collections. Local library services benefit by sharing high-quality resources at minimal cost, and can forge useful relationships with other public services (health visitors, child care, schools, GPs etc).
There is a case for expanding universal provision of other, already available, schemes and sharing publicity, based on an agreed list of target populations e.g. Chatterbooks, Easy Reads, World Book Day/Night, etc.
NB: National Library Week would be more effective if celebrated by all services. However, many do not join in because they have other priorities in October. If it were re-focused on a single National Library Day, it would be reasonable to ask all services to join in (with those who choose, still free to mount a full week).
Co-operation is more efficient than competition. DCMS may have limited power to enforce improvements. But it should explore possible incentives, possibly a kitemark for compliant services. However, the obvious tool is modest targeted funding, and there should be scope for discounts on group deals.
Miscellaneous pots of money, currently awarded via competitive bidding, would be invested far more efficiently by ensuring that ALL services achieve an agreed standard of provision in defined areas – and ALL take advantage of resources already available. (Local authorities already providing any specified resource could be compensated / rewarded.)
Precedents include DCMS funding of universal internet provision (the People’s Network), comparator tables from CIPFA and wifi for all.
Examples of efficiencies:
We would urge the Minister to encourage and facilitate library services’ ability to take advantage of efficiencies that are already out there or being developed.
– electronic ordering / invoicing etc (often known as EDI)
– common shelving categories for fiction stock
– common processing requirements for new books.
This segues into…
Example of extra resources:
We are unsure how wide the current take up is of these examples, or indeed if all still exist. The library sector can doubtless suggest others.
It could agree on the best, and re-negotiate where necessary. If every authority committed to them it would save money, be a wonderful tool for users, a vital part of LibraryON, and a great basis for any national publicity effort. Subscriptions might be subsidised centrally.
– brokered agreements to buy access to digital services (databases, books, newspapers online,
key reference works from OUP etc.)
– access to academic papers
– BFI Replay
– BL Knowledge Network
– https://www.oclc.org/en/unityuk/resources.htm and/or worldcat, enabling services such as 24/7 reference inquiries, UnityUK.
– SWRLS, The Libraries Consortium etc
– information on local/national loan trends from PLR (free of charge)
– RNIB validation
– Fun Palaces
More demanding, but of great importance:
– a deal with publishers of e-books and audio-books for fairer pricing and loan arrangements
– replacement of CIPFA (see below)
– national checklist (see below)
– standard provision of specialist staff (reference, children, digital experts)
– design/development support for individual library websites
1. Libraries are of huge value (at low cost) to priorities such as levelling up, family support, digital inclusion, literacy, numeracy, employability, adult education, health information, countering disinformation, community cohesion, preventing social isolation. In particular, the DWP depends heavily on libraries to provide internet access (and costly support) to benefits claimants.
All this is acknowledged only intermittently in national policies, and almost never in material support.
The libraries strategy should send this message loud and clear to the relevant government departments.
A similar message should go to local authorities.
2. Common publicity at national level is badly needed. It should not be left to individual services, creating extra work for them and fragmenting the message. Of course, the more it could be claimed that such and such a service is available at ALL libraries, the better.
It would reach decision-makers and journalists as well as the general public.
This is not the place to design such a campaign, but we note that successful national campaigns have been run by the National Literacy Trust (twice) and The Reading Agency – and then dropped. Retrieving information on these would be a fund of useful, tested ideas.
Elements have included, at different times, major features in the national press, celebrity support, multiple social media, posters, mugs, t-shirts, national awards, a website. LibraryON could be a good foundation, but as just one part of a multi-media national campaign.
NB: Sporadic efforts are also made by CILIP and Libraries Connected – including celebrity posters, a collaboration with the BBC, and campaigns on specific issues such as election information. But these are not coordinated.
Shared branding – ?a universal logo like the NHS has
A national library card (issued to all adults joining a library and to all children at certain stages (e.g. birth registration, contact with Bookstart, starting school)
Valuable information exists in plenty, but is poorly used. Data on usage, in particular, should be harvested, analysed and deployed to measure and improve the service and demonstrate success to funders.
A mass of data was compiled on the MLA website, including research, evaluation tools, case histories, development ideas, accounts of pilot schemes and their success factors, and much more. This now seems to be completely unavailable. It should be retrieved, updated and made searchable.
CIPFA statistics have become increasingly irrelevant and are now supported by only 43% of library authorities. They come out late and are largely unavailable. Above all the opportunity is not taken to analyse them, to highlight good and bad performance and the reasons for it. (A small project under the Taskforce has already shown the potential.)
This situation has drifted for years. Reform does not seem likely. It is time for action by the library sector to replace CIPFA. Many library authorities, and LC, are already collecting their own data. This should be the basis for a co-ordination venture before more muddle ensues.
“Comprehensive & efficient” is as good a phrase as any to describe what a public library service should be. However, the service has suffered greatly by the lack of any legal definition of this term.
The loss of the Public Library Service Standards is much regretted by library users. Wales and Scotland make good use of national standards, with no apparent problems and many benefits.
The problem has become progressively worse as judgements made in judicial reviews have made further decisions on details, creating a jumble of case law. At the very least, this needs to be tidied into a single up-to-date statement.
Faute de mieux, we suggest a common checklist of all that a public library service should offer – so both volunteer and public libraries can tick off what they have, identify gaps and keep alive awareness of libraries’ full potential.
It could state a minimum acceptable level in agreed areas, plus one or two stretch levels, with some kind of kite mark for each. This could be tied in with our other suggestions for a co-ordinated national offer (above).
This is similar to the pattern already proposed by LC for “accreditation”. However, the LC draft is very elaborate, and requires a lot of work. It over-emphasises qualitative and subjective data. It relies on self-assessment, which may not convince anyone outside the circle.
Instead, the proposed checklist would simply gather information on provision. This would be far cheaper, far easier to do using LMS etc, would be far more meaningful to service users and would be a useful tool to define, improve and publicise a coherent national library offer. The LC scheme is currently becalmed for lack of funding. It is a a good time to reconsider its immediate relevance.
NB: we have carried out some research into users’ views of the proposed accreditation scheme, and would be happy to provide this.
“Parts of our sector have fatally leant into localism, and in the process have undermined the power of libraries as a joined-up, coherent and unified national service. If we want a better future, we have to rediscover our unity as a sector.”
Nick Poole, CILIP
The real issue is – how can any agreed conclusions be enforced – or irresistibly encouraged to happen?