The following account has been written by a member of staff in a Lincolnshire library. We are immensely grateful to them for providing this honest, balanced and moving insight into what it’s like to be a library worker in this time of extreme library cuts.
The ongoing and seemingly endless saga of Lincolnshire Libraries has if we are honest inevitably divided opinion amongst librarians themselves. There are some who just want the whole sorry mess sorted out once and for all and others who think that the continuing fight is worth pursuing.
What is clear though is that the people who are the very heart of this; i.e. librarians, feel gagged from speaking out no matter what higher management might say about avenues being open to them. Morale is understandably at an all time low as some staff have been forced to take second part time jobs in order to make ends meet after being given pitifully and laughably short hours.
Staff feel undervalued and undermined as the Council Executive have not thanked them or apologised to them or acknowledged the human cost in any of this in terms of the pressures heaped upon hard working librarians who have no idea if they will have a job in a year’s time and have mortgages to pay and families to support. Not only do have staff have no respect for the Council Executive but also for Library Management at Lincoln who instead of sticking up for their staff are cravenly implementing these measures no doubt before their own positions are then put under threat.
It would seem that the Council Executive have learnt nothing from last year’s Judicial Review as they are basically trying to push exactly the same plans through as before even though the judge deemed the consultation flawed. How they think the follow up consultation was any better is anyone’s guess as you had to be a financial expert in order to have any chance of completing it. They may have allowed Greenwich Leisure Limited to tender a bid but there is no guarantee that they would be any better as an employer than the Council which is apparent from a quick internet search on them which shows that librarians in Greenwich went on strike over GLL’s attempts to reduce staffing and change their terms and conditions for the worse.
It has been made clear, after the question was asked anonymously to Library management, that an outside organization such as GLL would, if it that was the preferred source of provider, run Lincolnshire’s libraries with Community Hubs as part of the service. GLL work with volunteers already in libraries that they have taken over so who’s to say that they would not want to roll the volunteer model out to Tier One and Tier Two Libraries? Pauline Palmer’s proposal seems to have been completely ignored and very probably for political reasons. Volunteers are dropping away from coming forward to run the Community Hubs (which by definition are not libraries or why the change of name?) as they realise the financial package on offer is not nearly sufficient. Unlike the Council Executive they have also realised the immorality of it as they would be replacing paid staff despite being blackmailed into taking over. There’s been a report recently about a massive drop in visits to volunteer run libraries in the Manchester area due to much shorter opening times.
It seems somewhat ironic that £22 million has been spent on a ‘library’ to house one book that no one will actually read and it is yet again an example of how Lincoln attracts the investment at the expense of more deprived areas. The Magna Carta celebrations are of course important but in this era of austerity surely a more toned down development at Lincoln Castle would have been in order and more efforts made to secure funding for modern libraries.
Unfortunately the ruling Executive seems hell bent on the ideological destruction of libraries as they do not fit in with their idea of a compassionate society. They do not seem to grasp that libraries are not just about books but so much more and that librarians are dealing with people who have mental health issues as well as drug and alcohol problems. When librarians are being given training on signposting and referring people to other services that will help them find jobs or get help with problems it seems paradoxically bizarre that the Council Executive want to remove as many paid professional staff as possible. With the best will in the world volunteers cannot be trained to the same high standards and may not want to deal with the problems that do arise. Would a pensioner volunteer be happy dispensing condoms to a teenage school pupil or dealing with abusive and threatening behaviour? It has been said that this kind of behaviour is rare outside Lincoln but this is not the case as some Freedom of Information requests have revealed. Then there is also data protection as will the systems in place at Community Hubs be able to protect users whilst at the same time allow volunteers to provide an efficient service?
Librarians in Lincolnshire are now faced with up to another year of uncertainty which will probably lead to more having to leave the service for other jobs or even getting into financial difficulties themselves and in need of the same advice and help that they give out on a daily basis themselves. It is a false economy to close libraries as they are lifeline in so many ways to so many people. Perhaps that young mother at the end of her tether found some peace by being able to take out some recommended books to keep her children occupied or the old couple who come in like clockwork to a friendly familiar place for reading material that might well help stave off dementia. Or the jobless alcoholic who after being abusive was sensitively handled by being directed not just to books but to organisations that can help. The Council Executive will probably blame the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign for the position that librarians find themselves in but it has to be remembered that if their original proposals had been allowed to go ahead and that we are now faced with again the county’s library service would be destroyed within a few years.
As well as the Magna Carta anniversary this year it also fifty years since the death of Winston Churchill who amongst his many famous quotes said this; “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” There are many people for whom a library provides a second chance in life to learn and improve themselves and that should never be forgotten or allowed to be threatened.
HOW YOU CAN HELP RIGHT NOW…
JOIN THE PROTEST TUESDAY – County Offices at 9.15 on Tuesday January 27th, to coincide with the scrutiny committee meeting at 10am to discuss one topic, Libraries and the future shape of the service. The Scrutiny Committee is being recommended to approve the plan to cut 30 libraries out of the current network and ask volunteers to run them, to cut hours at the other libraries and to slash the mobile service. The Executive Committee will discuss their views and make a decision about the future of libraries on February 3rd.
Address: Lincolnshire County Council, County Offices, Newland, Lincoln, LN1 1YL
We’d also very much like campaigners to attend the scrutiny meeting at 10am. We do not believe the public can contribute to the debate, but your presence will let councillors know they are being watched and judged on their actions. Julie Harrison will be speaking on behalf of the SLL campaign. Please note, numbers inside the room will be limited by space.
If you cannot attend (let’s face it, it’s a working day), please do two things:
1) Tweet your support using #LincsLibraryScrutiny so the campaign can RT your message.
2) Fire off a quick email to the key decision makers on libraries Martin Hillcllrm.firstname.lastname@example.org, Nick Worth email@example.com and the chair of the scrutiny meeting firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggested message: “I fully support the Save Lincolnshire Libraries protest today (27/01/2015) at the scrutiny meeting, though I am unable to attend myself. I fully support the campaign’s objectives: to keep libraries open across Lincolnshire run by professional and paid staff, supported by volunteers. I want Lincolnshire to have a modern library service, supported by investment, that will deliver now and in the future for everyone – and in particular for future generations of children.” You are of course free to compose your own email!
Read our full story, starting at our home page https://savelincslibraries.org.uk/