Empower_ inform_ enrich

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inform, enrich
The modernisation
review of public libraries
UNISON response
                                    Many library services
                                    throughout the UK have
                                    adapted very well to the
                                    changes impacting on them
                                    from both government policy
                                    and the diverse communities
Introduction                        they serve. There is little wrong
                                    with these services. Their main
UNISON welcomes the                 problems arise from many
opportunity to respond to           years of underfunding and
the Empower, Inform, Enrich         resourcing. It is necessary to
consultation document. As the       be clear about the origins of the
trade union that represents the     current problems in the library
majority of library members,        service so that appropriate
we clearly recognise the            solutions can be applied.
importance and value of a
public library service.             UNISON is holding a People’s
                                    Inquiry into the Public Library
The library service is an           service on 11th February. We
essential local government          believe it is an essential and
service. However, libraries risk    unique Inquiry that will give a
getting lost within the broader     voice to the least heard: the
remit and competing priorities      library users; the public and the
of leisure and culture functions    workforce. We hope that DCMS
within which they are often         will consider the findings of the
placed. The DCMS and their          Inquiry to inform it’s thinking on
equivalents in Cymru/Wales,         Empower, Inform, Enrich.
Northern Ireland and Scotland,
set policy and standards and
have responsibility for the
service but have no direct
executive authority at local
level. The lack of co-ordination
at Government level and lack
of authority at local level gives
a green light to local councils,
wanting to reduce services or
service standards, and see no
threat in doing so.
Response                                      and efficient but this can be done via       We remain unconvinced that these                What services should be
                                              Regulation or Statutory Guidance and         ‘models’ would be appropriate for a             available for users
In our response we will not answer all        would not mean a lengthy process             public library service.
the questions posed by the consultation       of implementing a primary piece of                                                           There will be always be a need to
but focus on the key areas for UNISON         legislation.                                 In order for libraries to deliver a             accommodate different local needs
that are raised by the document.                                                           professional service, under-funding needs       however a clear national ‘offer’ to library
                                                                                           to be addressed to ensure adequate              users is essential. The Model of Impact in
                                              New ways of working                          resources. This needs to occur in a             Appendix A shows both the complexity
Local Authority Provision                     /new models?                                 context of agreed high standards and            and simplicity of library services, very
                                                                                           vibrant leadership. Despite the lack of         clearly and this would need to be
Without doubt local authorities are the       Or not so new ways of delivering local       funding, libraries continue to deliver a high   reflected in any ‘offer’. Book borrowing
only agency which can provide public          authority services? The spectre of           quality service and are valued greatly by       and Peoples Network free at the point of
library services that complement and          commercialisation and outsourcing has        the communities they serve. One of the          use should be maintained.
support councils’ broader aims for            haunted the library service for decades      strengths of the service is that it is not a
local communities and ensure co-              and each time it has been proposed it        commercial service. It is an integral part of   There should be one standard ID
ordination across service delivery areas.     has then been rejected. UNISON’s report      local public services and should remain so.     requirement nationally whilst a national
They should be responsive to rapidly          ‘Taking Stock’ reviews these proposals                                                       library card is a great idea in theory
changing societies and communities.           and their most recent manifestation –                                                        but would in practice require a uniform
Local authorities are best equipped to        the PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ report           Digitalisation                                  library computer system. This is likely to
co-ordinate with other public services,       that was commissioned by CLG in                                                              cost a disproportionately large amount
especially in their roles as place shapers    2006. It concludes that PwC’s model          New technology must be embraced and             of money.
and as facilitators of Local Strategic        would “push the library service into the     funded, while not losing track of the core
Partnerships. Libraries should reflect        orbit of the private sector and change       library business. Many digital services are
the society that they serve and should        irrevocably the character of the service”.   already provided by Libraries. We have          Consultation/involvement/
be welcoming places to all sections of        Only a publicly run service that is fully    a long way to go before we see the end          decision making
the community. The very best already          democratically accountable can be            of the physical book and we must not
do this, but more should be done to           sufficiently responsive to the rapidly       alienate the large majority of library users    There is a clear lack of staff and public
ensure that the library is firmly rooted in   changing needs and aspirations of            by ignoring what people actually come           consultation within most library services,
the locality.                                 local communities. And only the public       into the library to do – borrow books.          which makes staff feel undervalued,
                                              sector can resolve the problem of                                                            fails to build on their experience and
The central government role is still          chronic underfunding faced by the library    The delivery of virtual reference               commitment and ultimately overlooks
necessary and required. It is essential       service, which is often the motive for       resources should be a core aspect of            community needs. The CLG places great
that the provision of the library service     seeking market solutions.                    what libraries do, as should be online          emphasis on community involvement
remains a statutory service. In order                                                      catalogue/reserving/renewal etc. The            and empowerment. Where better to
to do this UNISON does not believe            We would like to see the evidence            delivery of the Ebook should also be part       start than with the library service? The
the 1964 Act needs revision or                DCMS or CLG has on how well existing         of the service, but to do this effectively      findings of the Wirral Inquiry show how
replacement however there is a need           Library/Leisure Trusts, Academies and        there does need to be a national                vital it is that Authorities better engage
for definition and guidance for library       Foundation Trusts perform, both in           approach to the development of digital          with staff, users and non users about
authorities on the terms comprehensive        terms of affordability and accountability.   services and their use in libraries.            developing or changing their services.
Failure to do so has a significant             the workforce. The poor treatment of          procurement – should be part of local          Conclusion
impact. Detailed and comprehensive             staff is manifested in the way that pay       negotiations with the union, whilst also
consultation needs to take place before        and conditions do not reflect skills,         being mindful of involving and informing       In order to maintain public library
decisions get taken.                           qualifications and responsibilities. With     the community on relevant issues.              services and raise standards in general,
                                               further cuts and closures, staff are also                                                    UNISON would like to see:
Libraries should be at the heart of            becoming deskilled and undervalued.
communities and it is vital that local                                                       Volunteers                                     •	 Adequate resources and funding for
people are engaged in service planning         There is a distinct lack of training and                                                        library services, staff and premises
and delivery. They are valued and trusted.     career development opportunities for          Whilst many see volunteering generally
Much more could be done to involve             library staff. This would be particularly     as a positive action in communities and        •	 Improved cross-governmental
both the staff and the local communities       beneficial to library assistants, to          can play a very important role in a library,      co-ordination and partnership
in the shaping of the service. Whilst          enhance their skills to meet the demands      UNISON has a number of concerns                   working between central and local
co-production is the way forward, it           of the service and assist them to follow      such as instances where volunteers are            government to define objectives and
cannot be achieved without library staff.      a coherent career path, while qualified       effectively running libraries on their own,       standards and requisite funding for
Library staff are integral to engaging         librarians also need to be able to update     with absolutely no support or resources.          the library service
with, supporting and informing library         their skills and knowledge. A lot of          Volunteers should not be used to do
users,” Friends of the Library” and, as        responses from our library members            something that a paid member of staff          •	 Empowerment of staff and
importantly, with local user groups,           and activists stated that library courses     would normally do – for instance stock            communities to shape services
schools and children’s groups who also         offer a largely irrelevant curriculum, with   work or counter work.                             together
use libraries. There has to be effective       most new applicants needing complete
engagement with service users, and             training on the job. Librarians need to       Volunteers should however be properly          •	 Partnership working between libraries
choice should be user-led but should           know about stock management, search           supervised and definitely not be used             and councils across the UK to share
also involve reaching out to those who         strategies, display and promotion and         for core parts of the service. We are             information and good practice
currently do not use the library. There will   – above all – customer service. Library       concerned about where staff have to
be many conflicting views and differing        staff need good communication skills          manage volunteers, volunteers who              •	 Responsiveness to library users from
needs and priorities from different parts of   for both public speaking and one to one       may not always turn up when they                  all backgrounds
the community. Staff have an important         communication and ICT skills, a deep          say they will, volunteers who may not
role to play in reaching communities and       understanding of how to use search            be suitable and volunteers who may             •	 Provision of staff training and
should be specifically trained to engage       engines, online databases and traditional     actually be taking work from library staff.       professional development
with user groups. To ensure this, they         sources of information (such as a             There needs to be agreed volunteer
should also reflect the communities within     reference library).                           procedures at local level that set out         Public libraries are an integral part
which they work.                                                                             clear boundaries and guidance for staff.       of local public services and should
                                               It is appreciated that opening hours and                                                     remain so. No amount of outsourcing
                                               working patterns have to be adjusted                                                         can deliver a responsive library service
Training, leadership and                       to suit the needs of communities.                                                            much-loved by the public from the
services for staff?                            Along with building improvement and                                                          cradle to the grave.
                                               development, this will have a cost
It is disappointing that yet again within      impact. All changes – whether to
the consultation there is little focus on      staffing arrangements, cataloguing or
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