Up All Night

I did an interview for BBC Radio 5 Live’s Up All Night programme last night. It mostly covered old ground, why libraries are important, why local and national government have responsibility for the cuts and closures etc.

An interesting question raised was “why aren’t you trying to find generous benefactors to pay for the libraries?” – my response was something along the lines of “we did, a hundred years ago, and now the government’s forcing councils to sell off what was given to them – doesn’t really encourage people to invest in the social good, does it?”

Anyway, you can listen to it here.

Radio Marathon!

Exciting! I spent two and a half hours in the BBC Leeds station this morning doing back-to-back live and pre-recorded interviews for local BBC radio stations and Radio 4’s You & Yours consumer affairs programme, in my capacity as ‘media contact’ for Voices for the Library and Save Doncaster Libraries.

BBC Breakfast ran a piece about library closures and volunteer models of provision this morning, so volunteering was a hot topic, as were council proposals, the “what do you think we should cut then?” question, deprofessionalisation, the social value of libraries, statutory provision, and if libraries would ever re-open once closed.

My schedule went something like this (you can listen if you really want to. I’ve not got round to finding all of the timings, but I did find the Leeds one!):

09:40 Pre-recorded interview/debate with Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries for BBC Radio 4′s You & Yours programme.

10:08 Luton

10:22 Cambridge

10:30 Wiltshire

11:08 York

11:15 Hereford & Worcester

11:22 Sheffield

11:38 Surrey & Sussex

12:00 BBC Radio Leeds (pre-recorded for the drivetime show: 2 hours 45 minutes in)

I also did pre-recorded interviews for Northampton, West Midlands and Cornwall.

Phew! What a morning.

Library Campaigns: are we all inside the tent?

I’ll be taking part in this event on 25th February:

SINTO Executive briefing
Friday 25th February 2011. 2pm – 5pm.  Sheffield Hallam University
£30 + VAT for practicing librarians.  Free for members of the public. Booking is required.

Library services are facing cuts and this is giving rise to a range of campaigning bodies fighting these cuts. Local and national “Save our Libraries” groups are taking to the streets to defend services and bodies such as CILIP are taking a stronger role in advocacy.

Librarians are heartened by this support – but all is not harmony and light. There are divisions and disagreements between different groups and individuals.

Library managers may find that their plans to make the library service more efficient are seen by local residents as cuts which have to be opposed. Community groups may have a view of what they want from their local library which conflicts with the wider ambitions of professional librarians.

Not everyone sees the problem, or the solution, in the same way. Tim Coates with his Good Library campaign has been one of the highest profile library campaigners in recent times. However he has been very critical of the role of organisations such as MLA and CILIP, and also of the policies of library managers. In turn, many librarians have been critical of Tim’s views and approach. At times, the standard of public debate has been less than professional.

The aim of this SINTO Executive briefing is to increase awareness and understanding of the different positions and hopefully to find ways in which we can work together more effectively in fighting cuts. It is aimed at professional librarians and library campaigners with an interest in working together. It is a controversial issue but one which the library profession and library campaigners need to engage with.

The briefing will be chaired by Alan Gibbons, author and founder of the Campaign for the Book.

Speakers will include:

Tim Coates. Former bookseller who has become a well-known advocate for improvements in public-library service.

Annie Mauger. Chief Executive of CILIP, the professional body for librarians.

Lauren Smith. Spokesperson for Voices for the Library and Save Doncaster Libraries.

All participants in this event are asked to abide by the CILIP Code of Professional Practice section 3C:

“Refer to colleagues in a professional manner and not discredit or criticise their work unreasonably or inappropriately.”

Read-Ins: A How To

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

– Rudyard Kipling

A few people have asked me what they should do if they want to take part in the national day of action for libraries on 5th February.

Alan Gibbons has given some advice on his blog, so I thought I’d give a little bit of a How To based on what I’ve learnt over the last few months, in Five Ws (and one H) form:

What: A Read-In! I described what they are in this post for Voices for the Library. Basically, they’re family-friendly, peaceful protests.

Why: A few reasons – a) To celebrate public library services, librarians and library staff and the brilliant things they do for people, communities and society. b) To raise awareness of proposed cuts to library services. c) To bring people together to fight against those cuts. d) Show the level of support locally.

When: Any time that works strategically for your library campaign. For the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, that’s 29th January, as soon as we can after the extent of the cuts in Doncaster is announced on 11th January in the Mayor’s budget, and then 5th February, which is the announced national day of action against library cuts. There’s still time for you to organise something for that day, and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise it through national media channels if you send details to him by mid-January. Pick a time to hold the Read-In. It could be a couple of hours long, or last the whole day. Make sure you check the opening times of the library! Saturdays are the best day, obviously, so that more people can get involved.

Where: Wherever there’s a library under threat. You could hold a Read-In at the threatened branch itself, or at the central library of the town it’s in, if the smaller branch itself is hard to reach. An event at the central branch might be more practical and effective. For example, Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, which means that it can be difficult, expensive and take a long time for people to get from one side of the borough to the other, hence the Read-In at the central branch on 29th January, even though the central library itself (as far as we know) isn’t set to close.

How: After you’ve picked a date and time, publicise it.

Police: The first thing it can be helpful to do is let the local police station know that there will be a Read-In. Remember, you have a right to protest and you’re not obliged to let the police know if you’re not organising a march, but it can be helpful. They can give advice about what to avoid (like obstructing public rights of way). Let them know it’s not a militant or violent protest. As soon as you mention libraries, they’ll probably laugh and say “right, so we don’t need to send a riot van then”, which is what I’ve experienced!

Communities: Make phonecalls, send emails, start a Facebook group and set up an event, give out flyers, put up posters in local shops, put an advert in the local paper, spread the word when you’re in the Post Office and ask people to mention it when they’re out and about.

Media: Let local (and national) newspapers and radio stations know. Journalists are more likely to pick up on the event if you send them a press release. There’s advice about how to write one here. Tell unions and anti-cuts organisations like False Economy, UK Uncut, Coalition of Resistance and Unison. Voices for the Library and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise your event.

It’s a good idea to designate a media contact for the event in case journalists want to interview someone beforehand or come to the event and interview someone there. They’re likely to want to know:

  • What cuts are being made
  • Which libraries are under threat
  • How many members of staff are likely to lose their jobs
  • By how much the book budget will be cut
  • Who stands to lose out because of the cuts
  • What impact the cuts will have
  • What new things are being proposed (for example, replacing paid staff with volunteers or self-service machines)
  • Why volunteers can’t and shouldn’t run a library service
  • How the decision-making processes of the council are flawed
  • How cuts to libraries are counter-productive and disproportionate

Gather together as much information as you can and be prepared to answer questions. You can use the information to make flyers with key information on them to give out at the event, too.

You need to think about what you’re going to do with people when they all turn up at the library. Some ideas are:

  • Ask people to sign a petition against proposed cuts and closures. Some councils don’t allow petition-signing to take place on council property (although most do), so it might be best to do it as people go in and out. Or, just make sure you don’t do it inside if you’re asked not to and shown the proof that you’re not allowed to 😉
  • Use the library! Browse the shelves, borrow resources, use the PCs, read the newspapers.
  • Encourage people to join the library if they’re not already members.
  • Get people to talk about what libraries mean to them, and how it will affect them if the library service is cut.
  • Hold readings of favourite books.
  • Get the kids involved – take some costumes, read aloud, get them drawing and writing, dancing and singing.
  • Have a musical interlude.
  • Get people to write to their MP and the council.
  • Maybe walk in and out a few times to really up the footfall statistics 😉

Who: Everybody. The point of public libraries is that they’re there for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation. Libraries are non-judgemental, democratic institutions that are open to all. It’s important for library campaign groups to be non-Political (with a big P) and promote the values of the public library. This means being welcoming to all and not discouraging anyone from taking part. It’s therefore important for publicity like flyers, posters and banners to be free of logos and have an inclusive tone. It may well be that your potentially strongest supporters may well have changed their mind about who they voted for in the first place, and being openly anti-whoever could prevent them from making their voices heard.

Are Library Campaigns Doing It Right?

Over the last few months, library campaigns have sprung up all over the country, aiming to prevent potentially catastrophic cuts to public library services. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m involved in Save Doncaster Libraries (a local campaign) and Voices for the Library (a national advocacy campaign to promote the value of public libraries and trained library staff and debunk library myths promulgated by the media).

I just read this post on the Liberal Conspiracy site, suggesting reasons that opposition to all cuts is unsustainable. A lot of it resonated with me, in terms of issues that have arisen at campaign meetings, planning sessions and at the meetings of other groups I’ve sat in on recently. The article made me wonder: are library campaigns are doing it right, and should other campaigns be following our lead?

Hundal argues that “the cry to ‘oppose all cuts’ is unsustainable for three reasons: tactically, economically and politically”. The relevant bits to library campaigns are the tactical and political elements.

Tactically, he says that it won’t work because you need to be for something rather than against something, and that campaigns should be seen as for well-run frontline services. This is what both of the campaigns I’m involved in are all about:

  • In Doncaster, we’re trying to make the council understand that a lot of people value library services and that they have a very important role in communities. We’re arguing that the reason library usage has declined in recent years is because book budgets, staff numbers, professional staffing, opening hours and the condition of buildings have been cut, bit by bit, to the point that the libraries are incredibly underfunded and it’s a sign of the sheer importance of libraries and the need of Doncaster communities that the libraries are being used at all. If the council would invest in its libraries, the town would reap the benefits in many areas – not just library usage statistics, but in levels of educational attainment, antisocial behaviour, reoffending, health, mental wellbeing, community cohesion, racism…and on and on.
  • Voices for the Library’s raison d’être, if you will, is “to provide a balanced view of the service and the professionals who work there, and to discuss some ideas for the way forward”. We ask for stories from library users and staff about how great and valuable libraries are, as well as guest blog posts about specific library issues and services from those who know most about them. We’ve covered topics such as information literacy, the role of volunteers, public library debates, bibliotherapy and the importance of cataloguing. These guest posts investigate issues that people might not realise libraries are involved in, and hopefully help enlighten and inform local and national government as well as the general public. We’re promoting the importance of well-run frontline services.

Politically, Hundal’s suggestion is that campaigns should “go with something like ‘Defend our services’, ‘Save the front-line’, ‘Protect Durham’s communities’ or something more imaginative”. Save Doncaster Libraries and Voices for the Library are both doing that!

  • Save Doncaster Libraries argue that further cuts to Doncaster’s already massively underfunded libraries won’t work. The amount spent on libraries in Doncaster is a tiny amount and won’t make a dent in the amount of savings that the council is expected to make. They’ve already sacked the librarians. They’ve already reduced opening hours. They’ve already slashed book budgets. There’s nothing left to take. Protecting, and even investing in the libraries, however, would make a real difference to the state of the town.
  • Voices for the Library, as I’ve said, seek to explain the value of public libraries to society, communities and individuals. Libraries aren’t expensive to run, but investing in people pays dividends: “Without education, people can’t do skilled jobs. Without healthcare, people get sick and become unable to work. It’s way more expensive to put kids and drug addicts in jail than to run youth centres and treatment programmes. If we cut the services that help people to become independent and productive members of society then we could end up having to support them forever. That would cost loads”. Among many many other things, libraries educate people; help them to develop skills; support healthcare; and offer activities for children and teenagers. Even if (and that’s a big if) some cuts are necessary, the government shouldn’t be cutting library services.

So, it’s got me thinking. In Doncaster, we’ve got the support of other local campaigns and organisations, including Coalition of Resistance, Doncaster Coalition Against Cuts, Unison, TUC, Counterfire and Campaign for the Book (which began in response to the last set of cuts to Doncaster library services). We’re not affiliated with any of the organisations – Save Doncaster Libraries is a single-issue campaign, political but not Political, making suggestions at the same time as explaining why cuts to libraries are a Dreadful Idea, but our supporters help us promote the issues of library cuts and do some of the fighting for us. Similarly, Voices for the Library have the support of a lot of organisations such as CILIP, The Reading Agency, Campaign for the Book, SLA Europe and Opening the Book. We’re explaining why libraries are incredibly important, sharing evidence of this and advocating for libraries in the national media. Hundal’s conclusion is that “our movement has to be able to absorb a range of opinions. Any coalition that takes a puritanical stance, as many socialists are prone to do, will only end up talking to itself. That spells failure.” There’s a whole bunch of librarians and information professionals busting their way out of the echo chamber as we speak. Maybe other campaigns have a lot to learn from libraries and librarians – and maybe they could help us out by supporting us, too!