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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Lies, damn lies and statistics... A working model?

An article by campaign group Voices for the Library is particularly relevant to Croydon Libraries.  You can access the article in full here.

It outlines how statistics can be used to inform decisions taken by a council and how some councils are
"willing and able to manipulate the statistics where required to tip the odds in their favour..".  
The article goes on to demonstrate how the provision of activities in libraries and their effective promotion draws people in, which has a positive impact on the visits.

This is particularly relevant for Croydon as we've already covered the decline in service, lack of promotion of activities and other difficulties experienced in Sanderstead Library here and  here.  We know that Sanderstead is not alone in this either.

The article makes one key point in relation to the the lack of promotion of activities and limiting the nature and scope of activities on offer, which they state is all the more disturbing when set against the backdrop of the 1964 Libraries Act.  
"The Act clearly states:
“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…. of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service.” [emphasis mine]
If library authorities are not promoting activities or events within your library network, they are not ‘encouraging’ adults and children to make full use of the library.  Encouraging people to use the library requires promotional activity and this is fundamental to the delivery of a comprehensive and efficient library service."
Croydon has already experienced this decline in the breadth of activities on offer and in the promotion of its activities.  Calls to have events better advertised have been ignored so far.  Wrong or incomplete information is in circulation.

Here are just a few examples:
Thank goodness Croydon adults were not queuing up to learn to play board games listed such as Battleships. Cancelled event as the board games did not turn up on the day but there was still the chance to enter the Great Croydon Quiz competition to win the grand prize - a free DVD rental!  WOW!...enticing!

No dates and wrong time advertised - In a matter of months the waiting list for the oversubscribed Chatterbooks group is exhausted and the group is run with only a handful of children in attendance.  Children in the library only minutes before the event started not told of the event. 

Possible to provide date and time details, but only in some libraries, apparently? No hidden agenda here.  Look away now!

CLOSED! The welcome greeting offered to library users on more than one occasion since the 'Internal Reshuffle' aka 'drastic loss of  librarians and experienced staff' when the library could not open for two reasons: Only one staff member and no key to access the building! 

Welcome children....If you move to the front of the building and perch on tippy-toes you can look at the books..Enjoy! 

If you wish to follow Voices for the Library find them at:

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Croydon libraries under threat of LSSI take over

The truth about the possible fate of Croydon's network of 13 libraries has been revealed in today's Sunday Express articleThe Sunday Express writes,
 "The company (LSSI)...believes it can make a profit by redesigning services and cutting costs. It pledges to keep libraries open and shelves stocked but critics claim it will reduce staff and introduce charges"
Campaigners have always maintained that there is no profit in running libraries.  If there are efficiency savings to be made they should be made by the Council itself and used by the Council to work more cost-efficiently.  For a Council who proclaims to have efficiency embedded in their DNA outsourcing is a clear admission of failure to tackle these inefficiencies themselves.
In fact Tim Coates, a national campaigner for Libraries who was the key speaker at Labour's shadow Cabinet meeting on 6th June, has made astonishing claims about the level of inefficiency in the Croydon libraries service. He spoke of the enormous amount spent on libraries in Croydon.  Overheads were currently running at around 40% and should be drastically reduced to around 10%. He went on to explain that Croydon have the highest overhead costs not only in London but in the whole of the country, and then went on to speculate – possibly the highest in the world.
The Sunday Express article goes on to detail that, 
"...LSSI has faced public outcry and lawsuits in the US over claims that experienced staff have lost their jobs and traditionally free library services have attracted charges. While Mr Fitzgerald (LSSI's UK vice-president) denies charges had ever been introduced on free services and insists staff working terms and conditions would be respected, with savings coming from best practice and economies of scale, opponents say it is “ridiculous” to hand over a public asset to a profit-making company which has a balance sheet as its prime concern."
Croydon library campaigners are already aware of these concerns. As Ian Anstice, a member of Voices for the Library, writes on his blog Public Libraries News
 "LSSI has been accused of reducing the numbers, pension, terms and conditions of its employeesWhen taking over a service, LSSI re-employs staff on new contracts. Recent research shows it retains the minimum of qualified library staff. It is worth noting that, for its size, 100 "qualified" staff it promotes as being employed by the company is fairly low when compared to the industry standard. Also, there is the question as to what level these staff are qualified to. It appears that LSSI de-unionises its libraries in the USA."
Croydon Library campaigners and residents have already flagged up the loss of service due to the loss of qualified librarians and highly experienced library staff in a recently undertaken Library Reschuffle,which has also resulted in unqualified staff being 'rebadged' as Reading and Learning Librarians.   
The Express also reports, 
"LSSI, which runs 16 public library systems in five US states, is currently wooing authorities with an attractive business model that promises increased community activity and invites Starbucks to set up inside branches. LSSI has spoken to “dozens of local authorities” over the past three years and held meetings with five councils last week, with Croydon becoming the latest borough to consider a deal. LSSI’s first contract is expected to start next May in Wokingham."
Only this week the Council have denied that they have been in contact with any companies or groups, merely floating the idea of 'market-testing.' A direct question from a member of the public regarding whether the Council had any involvement or approaches from companies such as LSSI was denied by Cllr Sara Bashford, who heads up the libraries consultation. Yet already it is being reported a deal with LSSI is being considered, a deal on the table before the majority of Croydon residents are even aware of the move to 'market-test'.

The Express article goes on to quote Jonathan Hood, a company director who led the Friends of Summertown Library campaign, 

“We have seen the council’s plans off, which is a great triumph for the public, but they will be back. It is all part of this new barbarism where cost is more important than culture. We did have contact from a US action group who said that LSSI’s claims to improve services did not always hold up."
Mr Hood says the campaign to keep libraries public and free had support from all political parties, from “banner-waving Trots to totally blue Tories”.

Croydon Labour offered to set up a cross-party commission on Libraries but this was rejected out of hand by Croydon Conservatives at the Cabinet meeting on Monday 13th June, where they opted for 'market- testing' of the whole network of libraries. Croydon Library campaigners supported this commission and feel sure that the offer of a cross party commission into libraries would have been welcomed by residents they represent.

Learning of dealings with LSSI being made so swiftly will only serve to raise residents' suspicion and concerns in Croydon. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Croydon's plan to privatise its Libraries

Public Libraries News: Croydon and Wandsworth join Wokingham in wanting p...: "Comment In a week, three different London boroughs have signalled they will probably be privatising their libraries. They join a fourth, H..."

Details of the proposals can be found here.

Decision to be made at Cabinet Meeting, which is open to the public.

Monday, 13th June
Town Hall
Katherine Street
at 6.30pm

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Privatisation of ALL Croydon libraries? ACT NOW!

There has been little word of the latest turn in events on Croydon libraries.  Despite only consulting on potential closure of six of the twelve branch libraries in Croydon residents are expected to believe that the analysis of the responses has lead the Council to arrive at the plan to consider privatising the whole network of libraries; 13 in all.

Residents who have heard of this plan have already expressed their dismay that privatisation of the Croydon's libraries network is now being proposed and question how this idea has arisen. Despite speaking to thousands across the borough those leading various library campaign groups in Croydon have not heard support for this idea from residents at any point.

The papers for next week's full Cabinet meeting in Croydon, including 'Review of Library Services' are now up online.  You can find them here.

The cabinet meeting will be held:

Council Chamber
Croydon Town Hall
 Katherine Street

Monday 13th June 2011 

6.30 pm start.

The Council have done little if anything to advertise this.

Members of the public are welcome to observe the meeting from the Public Gallery and hear the debate on the important issue of the future of our libraries.  Please spread the word!  

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Croydon Libraries report to Cabinet is out!

A public shadow Cabinet meeting was held last night.  Residents expressed their dismay that privatisation of the Croydon's libraries network is now being proposed.

The papers for next week's full Cabinet meeting in Croydon, including 'Review of Library Services' are now up online.  You can find them here.

The cabinet meeting will be held:

Council Chamber
Croydon Town Hall
 Katherine Street

Monday 13th June 2011 

6.30 pm start.

 Members of the public are welcome to observe the meeting from the Public Gallery and hear the debate on the important issue of the future of our libraries.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Shadow Cabinet meeting on libraries TODAY

Looking at the future of Croydon’s Library Service:

Council Chamber
Croydon Town Hall
 Katherine Street

Monday 6th June 2011 

6.30 pm start.

Interested residents are invited to attend a public meeting of the Croydon Shadow Cabinet.

Speakers include:
Tim Coates, library campaigner and consultant (and former managing director of Waterstone’s Bookshops),
Cllr Sara Bashford (Croydon Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for libraries)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Council’s announcement on the future of libraries looms closer

There are yet more snippets of information via the local Guardian this week regarding the long term future of the six Croydon branch libraries under threat.  

Apparently the Council may look at negotiating libraries out of the council’s IT contract with Capgemini.  This is all very well but surely it will depend on the buy-out clause in Capgemini’s contract as to whether this is a truly viable and cost-saving activity.  And who is going to look after and service all the IT equipment in these libraries once this contract has been terminated?

Mike Didymus of the Croydon Guardian reports that,
 "it is believed all six (libraries) will be kept open by the council but will see their opening hours reduced by one or two days a week, with volunteer staff also being used to keep down costs."
Despite this, and the uncertainty such a change might bring in terms of service provision, and in reference to the long-awaited and eagerly anticipated paper to Cabinet,  Sara Bashford is of the belief that library services might even be improved.

So that’s good.  But hang on.

Fewer hours and the use of volunteers? And let us not forget the 23 library positions that have already been slashed in the recent 'Internal Reshuffle' in April, with at least one further staff loss since.  

Let's also not forget that it was Sara Basford who assured us that the loss of these staff would not be noticed, in her words,
 “It’s going to affect the libraries, but I don’t actually think people will see a huge difference."
 But we did notice and continue to note the decline in service on offer and all the problems this reduction in staff has caused, let alone the negative impact of the loss of highly qualified and experienced staff who know their libraries and the communities that they served so well.

Another local reporter claims that Croydon Council are now considering privatising libraries.

We therefore wonder how all these factors make for a comprehensive and efficient library service for the community, let alone an improved one.

It seems Councillor Sara Bashford, who is heading up this consultation, is out of touch with the community she serves or perhaps does not recognise the value and worth of libraries, despite 20,000 responses to her consultation from residents. The manner in which she has conducted the consultation, the lack of transparency and comments made on libraries have done little to engender confidence.

Let’s stop the spin, the half-truths and constant drip feeding of information via the local press of what might or might not be for our local libraries.

Let the Council make a definitive announcement on the fate of Croydon’s well-used and much-loved libraries and let us see how much and how far the Council has truly listened to local residents, been mindful of their responses in the library consultation and have genuinely gone some way towards showing their support in building and valuing not only local communities, but also the invaluable public and professional services provided by libraries that serve those communities and which those communities hold dear. 

It is now expected, due to these leaks and quotes from Sara Bashford, that the Libraries Consultation will go to next Cabinet on Monday 13th June for a decision; a meeting where local residents may not table questions, which is probably pure coincidence.