Thursday, 24 September 2015

A letter from Camden Unison re proposed library cuts.

Dear Camden New Journal,
Whatever the truth of Cllr Angela Pober’s allegations against her former Labour group colleagues regarding the campaign opposing the closure of West Hampstead library, the accusations pose serious questions over the current public consultation over the future of Camden library servicesThe current consultation is set to run until Tuesday 6 October, and Camden UNISON was already concerned about its weighted design that can only prove divisive.
If this were, in fact, a genuine exercise to gauge the views of service users, how can West Hampstead already be safe (at least for now)? And if West Hampstead is secure, what other services face the prospect of further cuts or complete closure?  
The Council is urging the public to choose what services should go, setting library against library. The survey offers no opportunity for service users to state what they value about the service as a whole. UNISON strongly encourages library users toconsider the service in its totality. Each library has a unique role to play, some serving their immediate neighbourhood and others the wider Camden community.
The alternatives to library closures offered in the consultation range from more services run by volunteers through to more self- service and even outsourcing.  UNISON fails to see how staffing our remaining libraries and home library service with volunteers, handing  our libraries over to an outside organisation, cutting opening hours  or opening buildings without staff is either  practicable, sustainable or accountable. And the consultation document provides no indication of how management has calculated the projected savings from any of these options.
In UNISON’s view libraries and the public are best served bykeeping the service entirely under council control and staffed by .We oppose the cuts outright.
As well as the vital role libraries have in supporting literacy and learning, they are the hub of our communities and the loss of local services would inevitably lead to a reduction in community cohesion and an increase in social isolation, so impacting on other already overstretched and threatened services.
UNISON urges residents completing their consultation forms to question the necessity for these cuts. The service has already been sliced to the bone.  In the last four years spending on library services virtually halved. There have been the usual calls to make “backroom” efficiencies but there is no “backroom” work left to cut! The required £800,000 cut is a relatively small amount in terms of Camden’s overall budget crisis, but comes to another18% of the library budget. Such a cut would do massive and irreversible damage to Camden’s library service.
Please sign our petition to resist these cuts
Yours sincerely
George Binette Camden Unison Branch Secretary
Claire Marriott Unison Convener Culture & Environment
Jan North Unison Library steward

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

'Read It and Weep'; UNISON inquiry into Scotland’s libraries

"Fine words and ideals no substitute for investment: UNISON inquiry into Scotland’s libraries

UNISON, the trade union for Scotland’s library staff, has published a report 'Read It and Weep', which outlines the experience of those working in Scotland’s libraries. It raises the concerns and difficulties of staff who are simultaneously being expected to expand services while being in the front line of cuts.

The report is based on qualitative research from UNISON members working across Scotland’s libraries. The frustration on the part of staff is clear. They are well aware that the services they provide are not as good as they could be and they highlight the impacts that cuts are making. Library services have been undergoing massive change in recent years yet staff numbers have been going down, buildings are closing and opening hours reduced

Gray Allan, UNISON Falkirk council branch spokesperson (and a librarian), said “There is no shortage of people willing to say libraries are a good thing. But what our libraries need isn’t just fine words and ideals but proper financing and investment. The Scottish Government has endorsed a national strategy for public libraries that talks of libraries being part of a shared civic ambition.
"There isn’t much point in giving every child in Scotland a library card if their local library is being closed or its hours have reduced so much it isn’t accessible.

" Staff are keen to see their service move forward but that isn’t happening.”

For the full report click here;

Barnet Children's March for Libraries 12/9/15

A call to arms to all London library users, staff, campaigners and trade unionists. Please show your support and solidarity and join the march on 12/9/15.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Solidarity to Unite members on strike in Bromley Libraries.

Solidarity to Unite members on strike in Bromley Libraries.

Last week Unite members in Bromley Libraries took further strike action against plans to privatise and amateurise the service.

One of the Unite Stewards very kindly sent me some photos and had this to say;

"We have over 1200 signatures on our surveys which just shows the massive support for our campaign. The Council must accept that they cannot go on with their plan to cover up the glaring truth that Bromley residents do not want private companies running their services. They do not want volunteers in their community Libraries, the volunteers who run the WRVS (home delivery library service to the housebound) don't want volunteers running the service! 
We will continue with our campaign to inform people of the  unnecessary  destruction that this Council is doing. We need people to write to their ward councillors and let them know how they feel. 
Steven Carr leader of Bromley council told one of our members in the high street that Bromley Libraries were under no threat but you only have to research what has happened in Croydon to see that once the private sector get hold of a service they will drain the life out of it for profit." 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Labour's Policy Review on Libraries; a lost opportunity?

In 2011 I was contacted by a Labour Party researcher and asked to input into their newly emergent policy review on public libraries, I gave my views freely and didn't hear anything more but with the launch of
Innovation, Co-location and Partnership

Dan Jarvis was re-shuffled in 2013 and Helen Goodman was handed the remit, Helen then held a consultation in 2014 with interested parties including a meeting with Unison at which I was present.
For an outline of the consultation see;
both I and Voices for the Library submitted responses but don't ever remember getting feedback.

To give Helen her due she did at least talk to people and also took part in a panel discussion on libraries at the 2014 SUFL conference but many of us expressed concerns about her insistence that volunteers could in certain circumstances run a library, see;

Helen was then re-shuffled and Chris Bryant drew the short straw. Chris didn't exactly endear himself to library users and campaigners with his comment re volunteers when he met with Barnet users/campaigners;

“Discussing the use of volunteers, he said: “They are brilliant, but they don’t replace librarians. I am not completely opposed to a volunteer-run library. If that’s the only solution to a particular area, then fine.”

Labour has struggled with its libraries remit, especially the role of volunteers, and instead of formulating a strong policy which clearly states the need for publicly funded & managed libraries run by paid & trained library staff it has instead partly mimicked the Tories. Off course it’s the Tories who are slashing the funding but why aren't more Labour Cllrs marching shoulder to shoulder with their residents in opposition to austerity and the 'Localism' agenda, both of which have caused huge damage to library provision? If the Labour Party had taken a strong and clear position right from the start and had listened to users, staff, campaigners and union members then maybe some or many local Labour Cllrs would have taken the lead.

As for the future who knows? I haven’t yet managed to speak to Jeremy Corbyn re libraries but since he’s a fellow Islington Unison member I'm sure the opportunity will arise and I hope he’ll appoint a Shadow Culture Minister who’ll actually listen to library users/campaigners/staff and then act to promote and protect public library services and the paid and trained staff who work in them.