Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Save Bob Lawrence Library - An open letter to Harrow Council.

The open letter below is from a library campaigner in Harrow who along with others is trying to prevent the closure of their local library.

They have also set up an online petition;

An open letter to the Harrow Council

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the Bob Lawrence Library on Mollison way was earmarked for possible closure due to budget cuts. I was extremely disappointed to hear this as it is the closest and most conveniently located library for this community.

Libraries are a resource for education, a venue for socializing, a community and cultural building establishment and a low cost channel for a whole host of facilities beyond just borrowing books.

I embarked on a campaign to save the Bob Lawrence Library two weeks ago and have been actively gathering support through signed petitions both online and offline. So far I have managed to gather over 600 signatures from people who want to keep the library.

Over the last two weeks, I have come to understand how important the library is to our little community and how many people are dependent on it.

I have come across so many people who will be affected by the closure of this establishment.

An eight year old boy comes to the library because his mother cannot afford a computer. He comes here to complete his assignments. He's not the only one.

A woman shared that she is upgrading her skills to make a better life for her family. The library staff taught her how to use the computer so that she can complete her teaching diploma. She is at the library 3 times a day. The staff are like her family.

A number of elderly people are at the library every morning. The walk to the library is their morning exercise, they spend a few hours at the library flipping through Gujarati books and socializing. They tell me that it keeps body and mind active.

A young mother of two children under 2 is a regular at Rhyme Time. It's her outlet to meet other young mothers. Her two little ones will only make it to nursery when she gets the 15 hours free. She can't afford a nursery without the free hours.

These are only a handful of stories. I have so many more heart wrenching stories to share.

Let me introduce you to our library users -

1. Between 20 - 30 toddlers regularly visit this library 3 times a week for the Rhyme Time sessions. They laugh and they sing and they stay on to color. The young mothers meet other mothers and exchange stories/ideas on parenting.

The grand parents watch as their grand children jump up and down to "5 cheeky monkeys" and many other popular nursery rhymes. Most of the nurseries in the area have a minimum age of 2 making this a popular venue for engaging and stimulating the under 2 year olds in a fun social setting.

2. There are multiple nurseries within a 10 minute walk to the library. These nurseries regularly visit the libraries, children in toll to develop an early interest in reading and a love for books. Often the library conducts adhoc rhyme time sessions and story telling specifically for the local nurseries.

3. Children from at least 3 schools visit the library after school. It provides a great resource especially in terms of literature, arts and history. In the age of technology, they prefer to skim through books. To them, digital compliment libraries, it does not replace them as a resource for knowledge.

4. Many of the older people in the community come to the library to flip through magazines and read newspapers. They socialize with friends. There is no other place on this parade of shops  for this group of people to sit indoors and connect with other people.

They will not be represented in the very expensive survey that the council is conducting because the survey is 10 pages of questions and for many of these people, English  is not a 1st language. It's an English only survey in a community that is predominantly non-English speaking! Will the feedback and information from this exercise really represent the community sentiments?

It's a poor community. They need the library to stay open because it makes a difference to the quality of their lives! Something many of us take for granted.

I went to the in-person consultation session and was told that the council needs to make these cuts. Choose between social services for the old or the library. I should not have to make this choice. The council budget should be better managed without the community having to make sacrifices on basic needs & services.

Instead of spending thousands of pounds on the library survey, it should have been invested in increasing the traffic coming through the council managed libraries.

The alternative options provided are

1. Kingsbury library.  This is inconveniently located and difficult to get to. It's also managed by the Brent council. If Brent decides to make its own cuts and close this library the community will not be able to use this as an alternative source of library services.

2. Reducing the hours open. This will eventually mean restricted access to library which in turn will result in less footfall. So a year from now, we will be having the same discussion on relevance of keeping the library open based on traffic / usage numbers.

3. Self managed libraries with access cards and CCTV. In other words, the council is prepared to invest thousands of pounds in more technology and infrastructure for the handful of libraries to be kept open at the expense of the unlucky communities which will see their beloved library closed permanently with no viable alternative in sight.

The fate of the library rests on the feedback from the survey which is not representative of the community here. I can only hope that the council weighs out all considerations before determining whether this library should close its doors to our little community!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Birmingham Update.

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"The opening hours of the Library of Birmingham are to be cut from 73 to 40 and this could lead to the loss of a 100 jobs. Less will be spent on new books and the support the LoB gives to Community Libraries will be cut. Access to the Library at Home service will continue to be restricted to existing users. The budget cut for 2015-16 is £1.5m but this rises to £3.3m in the next financial year. The current cost of running Library of Birmingham is £22m a year including the debt repayment, noting that the overhead debt repayment will continue to be paid with a much diminished service.
Community Libraries will have to contribute towards cuts of £4.2m from the budget for District services. Immediately District Committees will have to consider the opening hours of each library and make reductions in the book fund."

The campaign against library closures, cuts and privatisation in Birmingham has been brilliantly led by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham (@FoLoB_) and by Jolyon Jones (@JonesFearless) et al, see;


Kerslake Review: £188 Library of Birmingham contributing to council's debt

"The new £188 million Library of Birmingham has been identified as a factor in Birmingham City Council’s spiralling debt problems in the Kerslake Review.
The report says that a failure to secure external sponsorship or raise sufficient money from land sales led to the authority borrowing most of the £188 million construction and set up cost.
In addition the review highlights that the library costs £10 million a year to run."





Has the Tri-Borough Project improved services for residents?

At the last local elections in 2014 Hammersmith & Fulham Council switched from Tory to Labour shortly after this the new administration asked Lord Adonis to chair a review into the shared services arrangement that existed between themselves, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.
The report of the review on the Tri-Borough project, as it's called, was published at the end Oct 2014, one of the main recommendations being that in the interests of local accountability and efficiency that the 3 boroughs should each have their own CEO, well knock me down with a feather!
Risks to sovereignty and accountability
: Alongside and arising from the unaligned supporting infrastructures and the varying operating models and structures, there are some risks to the maintenance of individual borough sovereignty and accountability. Key risks have to date originated within the procurement and end-to-end commercial management of joint services, but shed light on the future risk of critical individual borough needs ‘slipping through the net’ during complex shared service implementations. These must not be overlooked particularly as the progress towards further collaborative working, on any level across London, gathers pace.
The creation of a single library card and the joint procurement of a Library Management System (LMS) are mentioned on Pages 32 & 33 but that's about it on libraries.
As for staff perspectives on the whole thing well that makes for interesting/worrying reading (pages 65-68 of main report), basically the majority of staff, especially those working for LBHF, don't believe that the project has improved services for their residents.

for more see;

Privatisation in Bromley and closures, cuts and volunteers in Harrow.



Bromley Council invites residents to have their say on future of borough’s libraries

"Residents have been asked to air their views on proposals to hand over the management of libraries to external providers.
The borough’s remaining libraries would be subject to a full market testing exercise, which would see the council examine options to outsource management to an external provider.
The council also plans to look at relocating or refurbishing existing libraries and upgrading IT services."
Proposed cuts to Harrow library services announced
"The closure of four libraries is just one of the options proposed by Harrow Borough Council to save money in next year’s budget.
They are Bob Lawrence Library, in Edgware, Hatch End Library, in the Harrow Arts Centre, North Harrow Library, in Pinner Road, and Rayners Lane Library, in Imperial Drive.
Another option put forward by the council is to cut opening hours at all libraries, apart from Gayton Library, to 22 and a half hours per week, which would save the council £250,000.
A third option put forward by the council is to give community groups the chance to run library services, with the council only paying for new stock and computer provision."
for the petition to Save the Bob Lawrence Library see;, the campaign is also on twitter @librarymuststay
Campaigner dismisses culture minister's visit to threatened Harrow libraries as 'political stunt'
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid, visits North Harrow library
North Harrow community to join together to fight for library

Save Barnet Libraries.

On the 26/11/14 I spoke about libraries at a public meeting organised by Barnet Unison. Alan Gibbons, the children's author and library campaigner, has very kindly posted my speech on his blog;

Barnet Council is threatening to decimate the public library service in the borough;

"a number of libraries in the borough either run for profit by a private enterprise, or by a mutual struggling to survive, or by community groups with insufficient resources.

Up to two in three library jobs will have gone. They will be replaced by volunteers and machines.
Most surviving libraries will be smaller, being only 540 square feet in area. Book and audio-visual stock will be reduced, cutting choice. There will be less computers for the public to use and less study space available.
Libraries will be unsafe. For most of its’ opening times a library will not have any staff (or even volunteers) on site."
see the excellent leaflet produced by Barnet Unison for more information on the library

There's currently a public consultation taking place but many see this a 'non-consultation' and a sham, for more on this read;

Barnet Unison because of concerns raised has asked for the consultation period to be extended but the Council has refused, see;

Some school pupils in the borough are so concerned they've even written to the council asking them to think again;


There's a protest against the cuts on 16/12/14 at Hendon Town Hall and i would urge every library worker, library user/supporter/campaigner to attend and show your support, there's also a petition;

see also;




Thursday, 13 November 2014

Financial literacy for library users courtesy of Tesco & Visa.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier in libraryland along comes this proposal from Darren Jones, a Labour parliamentary candidate in Bristol. (yes i did say Labour!)
Darren has written to the big supermarket chains asking if they would invest in IT equipment and training for the libraries in his area, see;

What a wonderful idea, what could possibly be wrong with this? I hear you say.

Well luckily my old mate Ian Clark has done the hard work for me and has written this beauty of a response;
"There is no place for commercial interests in our public library system. It compromises libraries and it makes them no better than profit generators for corporations who are already sucking up vast sums of money from the taxpayer with little return. The very last thing we should be doing is allowing them to turn libraries effectively into their satellites, acting as another driver for profit"

Ah! but alas we've been outdone by our compatriots on the other side of the pond with library cards doubling as debit cards. We as library workers can kill two birds with one stone by getting our library patrons/users into debt then teaching them about financial literacy.

SyrsiDynix the company behind the idea tries it's hardest to alleviate any professional and ethical fears by claiming that it's performing a social role by providing access to debit cards for 'unbanked' patrons but all i can say about the following statement from their website is YEP!

"Some librarians may find the concept of offering a prepaid card as a revenue stream unusual or possibly in opposition to the non-profit tradition of public libraries, acknowledged Eric Keith, VP of global marketing, communications, and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix."

But hold the front page I've just had a innovative idea, why don't Bristol Libraries introduce these cards so that their users can purchase goods from Tesco using their Tesco funded PC's and then staff who have attended Tesco funded training could then teach them about financial literacy, where's my 'Movers & Shakers' award?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

An open letter by Ruth Gedalovitch of Havering Libraries Campaign to local councillors.

An open letter sent to local Councillors by Ruth Gedalovitch of Havering Libraries Campaign outlining the proposed savage cuts to the library service including cuts to the Reader Development Team which could lead to the scrapping of the Summer Reading Challenge in the Borough.
Dear Councillor
I wanted to write to you to ask you to reconsider the proposed cuts to libraries. I understand that cuts are required to ensure that the council meets its own requirements for savings. However, I believe that the cuts are grossly disproportionate.
Please would you take the time to look at the job cuts in libraries compared with other departments? It seems clear to me that libraries have made many efficiencies over the years - to the point that they now have the lowest "cost per visit" out of all London Libraries - clearly they are operating at very good value to the council. It is also clear that there is nothing else to cut in libraries, hence the massive job loss (50 out of 94 jobs will go!). It would seem that other departments have been able to make efficiencies to achieve savings without job losses - thereby libraries are not only being asked to save a disproportionate amount of money, they are also being punished for being so efficient (there is no "fat on the beast" to cut away!).
Please also consider that libraries are the "jewel in the crown" for Havering. Ten years ago Havering Libraries were either scoffed at or pitied! They were never considered by top authors, they never received any additional funding and were never asked to work in partnership with national organisations or government departments. In the last ten years, Havering has seen all its libraries make great strides - they have been nominated for awards, they have been asked to apply for a number of pilots - two with the Department of Education, some with the Arts Council - they were even invited to Downing Street for the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge last year. This WILL be completely reversed if library staff are cut so radically. There will be no spare capacity to do any of this work. Havering will once again be scoffed at!
One of the factors considered for making the cuts was to ensure that the vulnerable people in our community are protected. Within this outline, libraries were considered to be a purely "universal" service and therefore "cuttable". Library staff work directly with more organisations and groups than any other council department - they work with RNIB, RNIB, HAVCO, HASWA, HAD, Age Concern, Alzheimers organisations, Rose Programme (8 employed Rose people will lose their jobs under these cuts), they have worked with Autistic groups (offering internships at two libraries to young people with autism), job-seekers, adults and children with literacy issues, local Special Educational Needs Schools, First Steps (Special Needs playgroup)....I could go on, but I hope you get the gist. Libraries work in both universal and targeted ways with our whole community. This WILL all go - the Reader Development Team is scheduled to be cut and these are the groups they work with directly to ensure that they can all access not only libraries, but other services.
The Reader Development Team also visits every preschool and primary school in the borough - not to just promote libraries but also literacy - a whole generation of children will not be introduced to books or reading via their local library! An argument could be made that either children don't read or they read on devices - neither of these are justifiable in the case of Havering libraries. Havering Libraries continue to have high visits and high book loans. In addition, Havering Libraries have invested in ebooks, emagazines, online resources, online courses etc. All of these services are free to library members - but children and young people are notorious for not accessing anything unless it is introduced to them personally - that needs someone to go out and talk in the schools. It also needs staff to bring classes into their local libraries so that they are comfortable and realise that this fantastic community resource is there for them to use. For some children, a visit to the library with their school is the first time they will come inside their library.
I was truly shocked when I saw that the Housebound Library Service would be cut! This is a great example of the library service working with our most vulnerable. The criteria for receiving a visit from the Housebound Library Service is that the person is unable to visit themselves and have no one who can collect books on their behalf. For some of these people, the library service is a valuable lifeline - an opportunity to chat (however briefly) with someone, to break up their day alone. If you read yourself, can you imagine sitting around all day without a book and no way of getting one? No, neither can I - so why on earth would the council cut such a service - it really is very inexpensive in the grand scheme of things - it just seems cruel. Of course, it is highly unlikely that you will hear from these people (or many others) until after the consultation is finished, if at all!
Some of the most popular events and activities in Havering Libraries are the preschool activities - these will go! Even if volunteers were to run these sessions, it is not possible to get 60 parents and children out of the library with one volunteer and two staff in the event of a fire. Staff have evacuation trials to ensure that everyone can leave safely. With fewer staff (and this has been discussed and agreed) there will be no way to ensure the safety of these events - therefore they will be cut.
I know that there are a number of arguments for making the cuts....that volunteers will take over the services, that we are at least keeping libraries open.
Havering Libraries already work with over 300 volunteers! They are considered to be experts at working with volunteers and have been nominated for various awards because of this. They have shared their expertise, policies and guidance within the Council with other departments (including HR who are leading on volunteers within the council!), they have also guided other boroughs and are a lead borough across London - contributing to a "Mayor of London" piece of work to share best practice. Romford Library now hosts the front face of HAVCO (our local volunteer bureau). In short, they know about volunteers!
Staff, at all levels, have said that this plan will not work! There will be insufficient staff left to run the existing volunteer programme (many of these staff are within the Reader Development Team as well as within the branches) which will lead to a demise of the existing opportunities which libraries run with volunteers - these include our Summer Reading Challenge (Havering have the highest completion rate in London!), Reading Buddies (support for struggling readers - both adults and children), Computer experts and various group leaders for Reading Groups, Knitting Groups etc.
Whilst the existing volunteers are fabulous, they ARE volunteers - recently, Romford had 4 scheduled to come in and help children but only one arrived! Volunteers can, and do, choose to do other things sometimes, they are not obliged to come in, but greatly appreciated when they do.
How could it possibly be proposed that volunteers could replace paid (experienced, trained and qualified) staff. Just because you watch Casualty (hospital programme) does not mean you could go and operate on someone - there is a lot more to running a library than giving out books!
Do you think that we would have many volunteers willing to stand there and be abused by members of the public? We have a security guard in Romford because of the drug dealing issues and staff (library and council staff in the offices) have all been concerned on health and safety grounds - in particular personal safety.
Even the Women's Institute have said that they don't want to run libraries!
The other argument that "at least libraries will remain" is also a little spurious. What happens to a service which is run down to the point of collapse? Do the council have the legal right to get rid of libraries altogether? No - they are a statutory service! However, they do have the right to run the service into the ground, deprive their local community of the service and thereby preside over its decline - THEN there will be justification to close libraries which are not being used well!
I know this is a very long email and I really appreciate that you have got to the end of it! I would really appreciate a response, I am hopeful that it will be a positive one, but even if it is negative then I would welcome an explanation as to why you will still be voting through the cuts to libraries (other than the standard " the council has to make cuts").