Sunday, 19 March 2017

A strike in Bromley and staffless libraries in Canada.

After recently fighting off Carillion (blacklisting builders who run 4 other London library services) Bromley library workers/Unite members, backed by community activists, will now take further action, from April 1st, to stop GLL, and any other private firms bidding for the library contract. 

Unite backed by community activists have led an inspirational campaign against cuts and privatisation. Massive solidarity to them and their inspirational organiser Onay Kasab.

And worrying news from my CUPE comrades in Canada, it seems that the spectre of staffless libraries is about to make an appearance in Toronto.

Maureen O'Reilly the President of Toronto Public Library Workers Union CUPE Local 4948, another inspirational union leader, has raised, just like IMPACT in Ireland and some Unison branches in the UK, safety concerns;

"Under the pilot project, people will be able to enter the library using a swipe card system, likely tied to a library card. Once inside, O’Reilly says, it will be an “empty building” equipped only with security cameras.

O’Reilley says a library without security and without librarians isn’t a library.
“Technology can’t replace staff on the ground with their eyes and ears,” she says. “Having security cameras is not going to be acceptable.”

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Charitable (or not so?) Mutuals, 30% pay cuts and "misled" in Pembrokeshire. (oh! and a 'Conservative Home' contributor)

A 'charitable?' Library Mutual (and a petition)

Libraries Unlimited, one of the flagship library 'mutuals' run by the ex-head of the Society of Chief Librarians and Libraries Taskforce board member, recently announced that it would be cutting 'weekend enhancement' pay for it's staff, but it seems that in the 'Brave New World' of worker owned mutuals not all workers are equal.

"The pay cut will only affect lower-paid staff while the senior management team and those above Grade E will take no share of the cost-saving measures."

Ciara Eastell, a recent OBE recipient, apparently responded to the suggestion that she and the rest of the senior management should face the same cut by saying;

"she 'worked hard' and 'didn't think she deserved [one]'.

Whilst those at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder (who obviously don't work hard enough and thus don't deserve a proper salary) face up to a 30% pay cut;

"A library assistant joining the organisation now would earn £8.35 pr/hr, less than the UK Living Wage, and a relief library assistant would earn even less."

Library staff are so concerned that they've set up a petition which is very brave of them as I've heard they've been gagged from speaking about the cuts.

"But councils are cutting terms and conditions and gagging their staff" I hear you say and yes you're right but councils don't claim to be charitable worker-owned social enterprises do they?

Unison have raised serious concerns that mutualisation often leads to cuts in workers T&C's and the creation of a two-tier workforce;

"UNISON believes that alternative delivery models are not a panacea for cuts and in reality, significant savings would only be achieved through the denigration of workforce terms and conditions and/or the creation of a two-tier workforce"


Another day in libraryland and another Libraries Taskforce blog post, this time pushing the governments agenda on spinning out public libraries as mutuals or to give them their full title 'maude's mock mutuals'.

'Could an alternative delivery model be right for your library service?'

The piece was written by Fiona Williams, Chief Executive of Explore York Libraries and Archive and outlines how they became a mutual, plugs some DCMS workshops in March and introduces to us a new consortium, Optimo.

Optimo consists of York Explore, Suffolk Libraries, Inspire (Nottinghamshire), Libraries Unlimited (Devon) and Mutual Ventures.

Mutual Ventures is a consultancy firm fronted by David Fairhurst and Andrew Laird, they claim to;

"support public service commissioners, organisational leaders and front-line staff who are seeking to identify, develop and grow the right delivery model for their services"

not only that but they also state that;

"The missing element from traditional delivery is the power of public service entrepreneuralism"

One the directors, David Fairhurst, in 2012 was appointed by the government as one of its 15 'mutuals ambassadors'.

And the other director, Andrew Laird, is a regular contributor to the 'Conservative Home' website and recently wrote a piece for them in which he states;

"Theresa May has expressed a desire to see a more diverse public service market place with more public service mutuals. The Prime Minister has also spoken of the Government stepping up to repair markets where they are not working. So where better to start than by releasing the inner entrepreneur of our nurses, social workers and librarians? It’s the best way I can think of to kick start public service productivity."

So basically they're just another bunch of neo-liberals who've found a way of making money out of the government's ideological agenda to undermine and offload public services. Just another example of consultants circling the public sector carcass looking for bones.
Doesn't this and the 30% pay cuts in Devon bring the mutuals and co-operative movement into disrepute?

Winckworth Sherwood

"Aren't Winckworth Sherwood just a firm of solicitors?" I hear you say well yes they are but they've also found a way of making money out of the library crisis by advising councils on spinning out their services.

"The team has particular expertise advising on charity options for leisure, culture and heritage projects."
"To date the team have established over 75 arts, leisure and culture trusts operating successfully throughout the UK."

But it looks as if things haven't quite gone to plan in Pembrokeshire with the council asking for it's money back claiming that the firm "misled" them, oh dear!

"The council paid private consultant Winckworth Sherwood £20,000 to advise on how to save money by outsourcing libraries, leisure centres and sports pitches to a charitable trust."
"I think we were very much misled by Winckworth Sherwood and I ask that we make this known to the consultants."

See for more on Winckworth Sherwood and their lead partner on spinning out public services, Joanna Bussell.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Public Library usage stats down again, hmm I wonder why?

Before i start i'd just like to make it clear that i think footfall/usage stats are a noose around our necks and we should be concentrating more on social impact but sadly these blunt figures are what senior managers, council officers and councillors like to see on graphs.

According to a recent Guardian article and the latest DCMS data In 2005/6 48.2% of the population had used a library within that 12 month period and now it's down to 33.8%. Without getting too bogged down in detail the possible reasons for this decline, especially since 2010, can be laid out as;

8000+ paid/trained staff culled. (inc many qualified and specialist staff)
350+ libraries closed.
12-15% vol-led.
Opening hrs and budgets (inc book funds) slashed.

I'll also add to this;

No public library standards in England.
An ineffective distributive leadership model.
5yrs wasted on an Inquiry and then a report/strategy that some say is already out of date and only re-enforces government policy.
A minister, Rob Wilson, who has, like his predecessor Ed Vaizey, done nothing to intervene to halt cuts and closures.
A government agenda to undermine and offload the public sector.

I would further add;

An increase in self-service and staffless libraries.
An escalation in privatisation and commercialisation.
An erosion of the public library ethos and mission.
An over-focus on leisure.

But putting in its most simple terms if you have less staff and less libraries that are open for less time with less books then you have less usage, simples!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

There's a fightback taking place in Ireland against staffless libraries but why not in the UK?

While we (apart from resistance in Barnet, Calne etc) in the UK roll over and seemingly die re staffless opening in our libraries, in Ireland there's a fightback taking place.

In Nov 2016 members of the union Impact voted 9 to 1  (Over 1,200 library workers backed industrial action by a margin of 9-1, with a voting turnout of 83%) in favour of blocking the introduction of staffless opening in 23 libraries across the country. Concerns have also been raised by campaigners and political representatives.

Very recently an FOI found that 111 library members of one of the pilots in Offaly had seen their memberships temporarily withdrawn for "breaches of terms and conditions", these included drunkenness and tailgating. Exactly the same concerns can be seen in a video made by Barnet campaigners.

So why the lack of concern and fightback in the UK?

Could it be that we're too cosy with the firms who push the product? After all we give them space at professional conferences/showcases and in our journals.

Could it be that we fall for the doublespeak and spin from councillors, politicians and the library establishment? We're regularly told that staffless opening is innovative and inclusive when it's really just another cost-cutting exercise that excludes children and young people (and possibly the elderly and those with disabilities)?

Could it be that those in power have lost sight of the core ethos/mission of public libraries and the true worth of paid/trained library workers, or just don't care?

We need research/data but i suspect that the only real way of doing this would be by submitting FOI's otherwise we'll be reliant on info supplied by those who have a vested interested in introducing the model.

But more than anything we desperately need our unions to step up and to oppose this latest attack on libraries, if Impact in Ireland can do it then why can't Unison et al?

Friday, 16 September 2016

UNITE and Fight! (and build for the national demo)

Recently out of the depths of the normal library doom and gloom came a real glimmer of light, Unite, the union, shoulder to shoulder with community activists won a victory against Bromley Council and the local volunteer centre, Community Links.

"The ongoing feud over Bromley’s library services took another turn this week, as Community Links Bromley announced it would not be taking over a handful of libraries.
Following strike action in July, Unite has called the move “a significant victory against the fragmentation of the borough’s library service”.
Onay Kasab, from the union, said: “Bromley council’s plans to break-up and run-down a key public service is in disarray. Now the fight is on to keep Bromley’s libraries in public hands, but library workers will be able to campaign as a single united force rather than a fragmented one.
“Workers have been fighting against the cuts and the privatisation since April last year. Many have taken over 30 days of strike action in the long campaign. It’s a testament to their determination.”

Just goes to show what unions, library workers and community activists can achieve when they unite and fight. That's why it's crucial that we build support and solidarity for the national demo on 05/11/16, we need a show of strength with thousands of library workers, library users, library campaigners and community activists marching shoulder to shoulder against the destructive, savage and ideological Austerity and Localism agendas.

Follow on Twitter at @5thNovDemo
Register you interest at

Friday, 22 July 2016

Library Workers of the World Strike and Fight!


There's a saying in libraryland that if library workers are on strike then things must be really bad, well things are really really really bad!
For the last 3 or so weeks library workers in Mississauga, Canada, have been striking for a better pay deal and terms and conditions. For the last two years they've been offered 0.5% and with 50% of the library workforce on part-time contracts with no holiday or sick allowances their union branch CUPE Local 1989 decided emough was enough and brought their members out. With wonderful support from their local community and library users they've managed to secure a better deal albeit a tentative one.

Their CUPE Local 4948 comrades in Toronto, lead by the wonderful Maureen O'Reilly, won a similar battle earlier in the year.

Library workers in Bromley started a weeks strike action on 16/7/16 against the mass privatisation and amateurisation of their service. With 87% YES vote in a ballot and a brilliantly organised community campaign they're taking the fight directly to the doors of the hard-right Bromley Council which seems more interested in investing money in commercial property than properly funding statutory services! The strike culminates in a March through Bromley on 23/7/16.
 Members outside Petts Wood library

Library workers in Lewisham also took strike action recently and held a magnificent march in which i was proud and honoured to be asked to speak at. They went on strike to try and stop the Council from making more cuts and handing their libraries over to volunteers, a disastrous policy which has resulted in drops in usage at the existing volunteer -led 'libraries' of 60-90%.

 Image result for lewisham libraries strike

And not forgetting my comrades at Barnet and Lambeth Unison who're still leading magnificent campaigns/strikes/marches/protests/occupations etc against cuts and privatisation.

Image result for barnet libraries strike
Image result for barnet libraries strike