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All change: responses to the public libraries crisis in England 2010 to 2013

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ALISS AGM Minutes 2012
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All change: responses to the public libraries crisis in England 2010 to 2013

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Includes reductions in usage, closure of libraries, protests, campaigns, co-location, outsourcing and the Government response. Produced for the Assocation de Bibliothecaires Francais conference in Lyons, June 2013.

Includes reductions in usage, closure of libraries, protests, campaigns, co-location, outsourcing and the Government response. Produced for the Assocation de Bibliothecaires Francais conference in Lyons, June 2013.

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All change: responses to the public libraries crisis in England 2010 to 2013

  1. 1. 44% Visits drop and from 340 million 2005/6 to 315 million 2010/11 300 less libraries 1999/00 to 2010/11 Decline before 2010 fewer borrowers 2000/1 to 2010/11
  2. 2. 146 libraries closed 2010/11 201 closed 2011/12 Source: Cipfa 293 under threat out of surviving 4265 in May 2013 Source: PLN
  3. 3. 28% cut to overall council budgets over 2011/15 Source: BBC 2010 Another 10% cut expected 2015/16 Source: LGA 2013 The biggest cuts to peace time council budgets in modern history
  4. 4. Local protests Spontaneous Big petitions Demonstrations All ages and political views Impact on elections?
  5. 5. Local protests
  6. 6. National protests Voices for the Library librarian group but otherwise individual librarians silent for fear of being disciplined CILIP speaks out but chief librarians implementing cuts are also senior members of it UNISON trade union fighting cuts everywhere WI limited impact so far Speak Up for libraries umbrella group
  7. 7. “Hollowing out” Shorter opening hours (third less in Hertfordshire, no protests) Less books Less staff Vicious circle of decline “We’re not closing them”
  8. 8. Volunteers “In some areas if people don’t want to safeguard them it will be very difficult, it would perhaps suggest that they don’t want their libraries as much as we thought.” Nick Harris, Head of Culture, Southend Council, May 2013
  9. 9. Volunteers Bradford volunteers one year after taking over their library 5% now Some kind of volunteer involvement 170Volunteer-run libraries by end of 2012 12% soon in “near future” All figures from Arts Council England, 2012
  10. 10. Legal 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act says library provision must be “comprehensive and efficient” No clear definition and No court victories using the Act DCMS refuse to intervene in each and every case. Councils learn to be more cautious, sometimes. 3 campaign “victories” 2011/2 3 campaign groups win. 1 council stops closures, 2 others change things slightly and go ahead anyway. All others fail.
  11. 11. Government Ed Vaizey Minister with responsibility for libraries Two letters written to local authorities to be aware of legal responsibilities No interventions of any kind £6 million over two years for Arts projects (cf. total libraries budget of c. £1 billion Providing better data so library services can be compared Report by end of 2013 Libraries are “thriving”
  12. 12. Big spending on big libraries Birmingham £188m Started January 2010 Manchester £170m Started January 2010 £50m Started Summer 2010 Liverpool 112 other libraries new or refurbished 2011 to 2013 inc. Hive £60m and Canada Water £14m (started 2009)
  13. 13. Co-locations Sharing the building with other services or providers in order to save costs or to boost the usage of both. Arts, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, community centres, council services “one stop shops” / customer contact centres, dance, day care centre/flats for those with learning difficulties, florist, health, housing, housing office, leisure centres, Mental health services, museums, older people’s housing, parish councils, pharmacy, police, post office, registration of births, marriages and deaths, retail, theatre, unemployment advice/training, volunteering, schools, tourist information, universities.
  14. 14. Costs c. £6,000 for each machine Replaces from one half to one paid person per library Extend services or cut staff? Popularity with users is questionable everywhere?
  15. 15. “Non-Profit” organisations running libraries on behalf of the council, normally with leisure centres too. The private company Laing has succeeded in winning the contracts in four authorities, GLL two, LSSI none.
  16. 16. Merging library services “Tri-Borough” 3 councils combine £1.2 million saving 151 Authorities 36 jobs cut as services merged
  17. 17. Linking with government “National Offers” 1. Health “Books on Prescription” 2. Reading “Summer Reading Challenge” 3. Information
  18. 18. Linking with government “National Offers” 4. Digital: Government Services will all be online including benefits. All libraries have computers, unlike a sixth of UK households. All unemployed need to frequently register online E-Books are having significant impact on usage. National strategy being formed
  19. 19. Conclusion What we are looking at now is the of libraries under conditions of great stress Questions? For details of the owners of images please contact Ian Anstice at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk forced evolution

Editor's Notes

  • This presentation produced for the Association de Bibliothecaires Francais conference in Lyons, June 2013. It aims to summarise the “crisis” in public libraries since the take over of the Coalition Government in 2010
  • There was a significant decline in many forms of usage of public libraries before the current cuts. Increased investment in libraries in the years of the Labour Government, notably via the People’s Network and the Private Finance Initiative led to some improvement (and a stalling in the decline of items taken out) but decline was still very much evident. These were years that could have been of opportunity but was, instead, perhaps of stagnation.
  • Map is the original one created from myself from media reports in 2011 using Google Maps. Blue = threatened library closures, red = closures taken place, green = libraries saved. As many libraries are under threat in 2013 as were closed in their entirety 2000 to 2010.
  • The reason for this increase in closures is very simple – the deepest cuts in peacetime modern history in council expenditure. In some places though, it is far worse than average – the background map shows the different cuts in different areas, notably with the biggest cuts in the most urban areas.
  • Wherever a library has been threatened with closure, it is likely that a local protest spontaneously starts. Such protests are not organised from the outside but still tend to be some of the biggest ever seen in a particular local authority. Petitions of over 5,000 are not unusual. Marches through towns have also been known (some being the first protest marches since the Middle Ages) as have, most commonly, protests outside council HQs and in council chambers. Campaigners tend to closely follow the political make-up of the local area and it is not uncommon for Labour and Conservative supporters to make common cause. There are some unproven reports of library closures making a significant impact on election results, notably in the Isle of Wight.
  • Some of the protests have made national or international news. The take over of the closed Friern Barnet Library by squatters significantly increased its visibility and was instrumental in turning it over from being closed to being volunteer run. The campaign to empty the shelves at Stony Strafford Library made international news.
  • Although mainly local in nature, some national organisations have taken part and supported the campaign to keep libraries open. The Women’s Institute voted for it to be their main campaign and has led to them being on the same platform as the Unison trade union, despite them being traditionally being seen on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Loose-knit campaign groups like Voices for the Library have made an impact greatly stronger than their small numbers (often less than 10 in Voices, all unpaid and very part-time) would suggest.
  • Protests against closures are easy – they’re black and white and encourages people to see it in the traditional terms of good and evil. Cuts that deeply affect libraries but don’t close libraries gain a lot less publicity but can be no less damaging in the long term.
  • One step on from hollowing out, is the strong encouragement of volunteers taking over libraries. This means that libraries stay open and co-opts those most likely to campaign into being the supporters of the council. Even more, if a library closes, the council can put the blame on its community rather than on a decision made by HQ.
  • Volunteer-run libraries have been a major success story, with some being more effective than their council-run predecessors. This may be due to a short-term rush of enthusiasm at the start. It also seems to depend on if the area is prosperous and has a large number of retired professionals. The number of volunteer run libraries appears to be increasing in speed.
  • Although public libraries technically have statutory protection, this is often forgotten by councils and appears to have little impact in practice, although there is significant evidence (Newcastle, Herefordshire) that it stops the very deepest cuts that would just have left one library standing in whole authority. Where legal action has been taken, the debate has not been about the 1964 Act but about other legislation such as the Equalities Act. Where this has been successful, council have almost always simply re-imposed the cuts but having taken care to redo the point that the Court has rules against them on. Legal action cannot be seen as an effective long-term tool to save libraries, especially as the Government has shown a total reluctance to back any such case or to take legal action itself.
  • Speaking of the Government, it has taken a highly optimistic view towards the current libraries situation, emphasising the positive and the fact that decisions are best made at the local level. In practice, this means that they have been able to claim credit for the successes while at the same time being able to blame councils for the failures. The political imperatives towards localism and the Big Society have also made the Government view libraries in one particular way.
  • The Government can point to a large number of new and refurbished libraries, including some of the biggest in Europe. All of these mega libraries were started before the Coalition Government took over.
  • Councils have responded in many imaginative ways in order to keep libraries open while at the same time cutting budgets. One of the most effective ways is to share buildings and staff with other services. This can have positive impact in increasing footfall and in securing the future of libraries .. Or it can play the same role as hollowing out.
  • One of the most obvious changes that the public has seen is the introducation of self-service machines. This have sometimes blatantly been used to replace staff or, sometimes, has been used to free up staff for other activities or increasing opening hours. The worry is that, with budgets being how they are, self-service is being used more for substitution than as complementary.
  • Councils have been dividing off their leisure and library operations to non-profit organisations for some years. This has been accelerating as there are tax and other advantages. The private company Laing has, through its non-profit subsidiary JLIS, won four contracts and GLL has won two.
  • Another approach to the cuts has been to merge library services for economies of scale. The most obvious example of this is the Tri-Borough, although it is worth noting that Laing’s combined operation will soon be one authority more numerous. This leads to a large cut in behind the scenes staff and some confusion on the ground but has reportedly saving large amounts of money and kept libraries open.
  • One of the most positive developments of recent times has been an attempt to create national “offers” that mean that all libraries offer similar services that tie in with national objectives. However, member library services are under no compulsion to join any of the “offers”, some of which may involve money authorities simply don’t have.
  • The most hopeful has been the move towards having libraries as a chief provider of online facilities and training for those who do not have online access at home. The move towards a compulsory benefits/government regime where access is online has meant libraries suddenly have a vital part in the agenda. However, no money has been given for this. E-books are also, frankly, one of the most important things to hit public libraries in their history – they could, by themselves, make or break library provision. However, that is beyond the scope of this presentation.
  • The cuts came at the worst possible time, with stagnation and decline in tradition usage eroding support. A lack of a national libraries agency or strong government support means that public support is not enough to ensure the provision of a strong local public library framework. Bear in mind as well that I do not mean that the Government or anyone else has a plan or that this forced evolution is deliberate – it is not. What we are looking at is forced evolution at a time of malign neglect, a time red it tooth an claw where only the strongest library animals will survive.
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