On the last day of the consultation into the future of Lincolnshire’s public library service, campaigners at Save Lincolnshire Libraries have asked UK libraries commentator Ian Stringer to give his views on the Lincolnshire situation. He has kindly agreed.
Campaigners believe that Ian Stringer’s considerable knowledge of the UK library system, coupled with his independence from the campaign, council or any other Lincolnshire group, will give a fresh insight into to the crisis.
In particular they have asked Ian to look at the consultation questionnaire put together by Lincolnshire County Council on the proposed re-structure of the library service.
Ian Stringer (MCLIP Hon FCLIP) was a committee member of the Branch and Mobile Library Group for 25 years, being editor of the group magazine from 1999 to 2010. He has given presentations about libraries in 24 different countries, on all six continents. He was information co-ordinator of IFLA Public Library Group from2007- 2011 and is now a committee member with International Library and Information Group. He was awarded CILIP Honorary Fellowship for work on mobile libraries. He is based in North Yorkshire.
Ian’s experience is not just academic, as he explains: “I have personally had to deal with shutting down libraries. In all cases this saved far less than anticipated. Making staff redundant can cost lots in redundancy payments. In my own case the final equation was that they actually paid me more in redundancy than I would have received in the last two years of my employment. They also incurred the costs of tribunals and medical examinations. On top of that a closed library doesn’t go away. If sold the profit goes into the estates department, if unsold the library service has to continue maintaining it and there’s no budget for it.
“Another question is where do you put the books from closed libraries? There is a lot of staff time involved, even if you just dump them, but even more if you sort them with any sense of order. Also to consider is staff time in sorting out all the utility disconnections. There is a loss of utility bonuses when you have less premises and there can also be compensation to providers on long term contracts such as cleaning and photocopying.
“All the branches I had to deal with were paying about 40% internal recharges, such as rates fees to departments like finance, HR and transport. This is lost income to other council departments, putting them into difficulties.
“Councils always think of cutting library staff to save money. They use volunteers to replace the library staff , but why not use volunteers to say clean the library, do the finances, handle human resources etc? When you see a library in a village next to a pub and say a post office, what makes it a library is the staff and books not the cleaners, plumbers, finance people. Keep the core people and get volunteers for the rest.” *
As part of his commentary on the Lincolnshire situation, Ian worked through the questionnaire put together by the Lincolnshire County Council as part of the consultation. As he is based in North Yorkshire, he looked at the online version available here: http://apps.lincolnshire.gov.uk/snapsurveys/llc/lincolnshire_libraries_consultation.htm
“The first thing I noticed was question one where you are given the option to tick ‘I am a library customer’. There no box to say you are a ‘library user’. Many people see a ‘customer’ as someone making a purchase. They will not see themselves as a customer when borrowing a book. This also shows a prejudice in how the council sees its users – they are after money!
“Question two asks how often you visit the library, but if your mobile only visits once a month that is the maximum you can use it! When all the usage figures are computed this is going to distort the figures suggesting there is less use, which – if you are limited to one mobile visit – is due to poor service levels not how much you want or need to use the library. To supply poor service and then say it is poorly used is an old trick first used by Dr Beeching.”
Now onto the Tier One section.
“The questionnaire asks how important you think opening hours are. Surely this should refer to ‘long opening hours’? It’s self-explanatory that a library must have opening hours. This question is difficult to understand.
“Section Three gives mobile or volunteer as options but not professional librarians and paid expert library staff. So it’s pre-judging the answer. If you tick all the boxes below the saving of library staff is a minute saving in terms of the whole.
“Then there is the question ‘If a community chose to run their library, aside from book stock, what support do you think should be available to them? Please select all that apply.’ The question goes on to list: specialist advice (about the legal structures of voluntary organisations, for example), budget advice, Information about funding streams, help to complete a business case, financial support from the library service, training and other. There is no mention of being tied in to the new Spydus system [a web-centric, automated information management system for academic, public, government and corporate libraries]. Four of these tick-boxes cover finance, but there is no mention of health and safety, human resources, insurance, liability, online access and pcs maps, local material, etc. The library will have subscriptions too – for example Britannica online – is this to be available?”
Next section: Tier Four
“This says ‘Under the current proposals 66 communities of between 100 and 549 households will be offered ‘Tier 4’ library provision. This means that a smaller mobile library vehicle, offering lending services and internet access, would stop there for one hour per month.’ This does not have to be arbitrary. You can have some of each depending how close the halts are. Mobile libraries earn their keep when stopped. The routes must be scrutinised to see that time is not wasted. If a chosen halt is 20 miles from base it may be better to choose nearer halts to maximise usage.”
Ian joins many national voices in his concern at the Lincolnshire library situation including Melvyn Bragg, Michael Rosen, Malorie Blackman, Mary Beard, Minnie Driver, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
* Save Lincolnshire Libraries are pro-volunteer, so long as those volunteers do not replace any member of staff associated with a library. For more on this see our page: About the Campaign.
The cuts planned for Lincolnshire are the worst in the UK to date. Libraries under threat include many around the city plus rural libraries at the heart of communities: Alford, Birchwood, Boultham, Bracebridge, Bracebridge Heath, Branston, Burgh le Marsh, Cherry Willingham, Coningsby, Crowland, Deepings, Donington, Ermine, Holbeach, Keelby, Kirton (Boston), Metheringham, Nettleham, North Hykeham, Pinchbeck, Ruskington, Scotter, Skellingthorpe, Spilsby, Sutton on sea, Wainfleet All Saints, Washingborough, Welton, Wragby & Caistor. The plans also mean mobile stops would be reduced by 70% and 170 jobs lost.
20,000 Lincolnshire people have signed petitions against the cuts, and on September 21, 400 people marched in Lincoln as the ” Big Library March” protest. The Save Lincolnshire Library campaign has also published 900 comments from their online petition on its blog.
It’s now down to nine (the council executive) to decide what happens after motions to involve the full council were narrowly defeated by a slim Conservation-Lib Dem majority in the County Council’s full meeting on September 13. The Cabinet members are:- Martin Hill (Cons), Patricia Bradwell (Cons), Colin Davie (Cons), Peter Robinson (Cons), Richard Davies (Cons), Sue Woolley (Cons), Barry Young (Cons), Nick Worth (Cons) Reg Shore (Lib Dem).