SIEGHART: ACTION NEEDED NOW!

William SieghartSieghart has spoken! The long-awaited independent report on England’s public libraries is out, after sitting on ministers’ desks for over two months. 

But – so far – the most important bit is missing. The bit where the government says: “OK, this is what we are going to do…”

Until we see that, library supporters remain in a state of impotent rage.

And isn’t it odd that the report comes out on the day that MPs pack up and go home for the hols….

The report itself is brief and to the point.

The killer quote is: “Two themes have emerged, consistently and dramatically.

The first was that there have already been far too many library reviews in recent years which have come to nothing.

The second was that not enough decision makers at national or local level appear sufficiently aware of the remarkable and vital value that a good library service can offer modern communities of every size and character.”

The Library Campaign agrees.

We also welcome the report’s insight that library services – despite heavy cuts and official ignorance – are still widely used and often offer innovative, impressive services.

But all this is rapidly going down the drain.

On this government’s watch (since 2011) over 900 libraries have already closed or been dumped on to reluctant volunteers to run as best they can – or are currently threatened with this fate. Countless others stay “open” but are cutting staff, stock and opening hours.

Sieghart has a good list of what needs doing. Some of it will cost a little money. But we are talking about peanuts.

Now we want action.

WHAT SIEGHART SAYS

The report is brief, and an easy read. There are seven clearly-marked recommendations. But if you are in a big hurry…

QUOTES

The future of libraries as community hubs is essential for the well-being of the nation.

In England, over a third of the population visits their local library. In the poorest areas, that figure rises to nearly a half. It is no wonder that communities feel so passionately about their libraries.

Many local authorities are delivering impressive and comprehensive library services. … The need now is to build on and extend those practices to benefit every library in the country.

Despite the growth in digital technologies, there is still a clear need and demand within communities for modern, safe, non-judgemental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free, supported by the help and knowledge of the

library workforce. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in society who need support and guidance and to children and young people who benefit from engagement with libraries outside of the formal classroom environment.

In such a fragile financial environment as we have now, economies of scale across the country could have a huge and beneficial effect. And a national strategy could articulate what libraries are, and why they are a force for good for us all.

Our conclusions are clear, concise and practical. We make three major recommendations:

1. A national digital resource for libraries, to be delivered in partnership with local authorities

2. A task and finish force, led by local government, in partnership with other bodies involved in the library sector, to provide a strategic framework for England, and to help in implementing the following

3. The task force, to work with local authorities, to help them improve, revitalise and if necessary, change their local library service, while encouraging, appropriate to each library, increased community involvement

THE LIBRARY CAMPAIGN SAYS

This is a tactful report, clearly aimed at being nice to the government so that it does something, instead of getting in a huff.

The references to the current financial meltdown are not absent, but are pretty pallid. There is no attempt to tot up the actual damage so far, in terms of mass closures and cuts, and loss of professional staff.

As for the hundreds of volunteers left holding the baby, Sieghart just says ” …there are questions over their long-term viability”. That’s putting it far too mildly.

There’s just one real mention of money – “to enable local authorities to extend WiFi access, computer facilities and workforce training for all public libraries in England”. That’s peanuts in government terms.

There isn’t a lot said about the importance of professional library staff. For digital support they “should be recognised for the significant role they play in modern society at present”. True – but that leaves out so much of what they do.

And there’s no suggestion that actual library USERS  should be involved in the task force (which, by the way, does not get going until “spring 2015″, whenever that is).

So – it’s a sound report, but it’s Mr Softee all round.

All the more shameful, then, that the immediate government response is pretty well zero.

5 comments for “SIEGHART: ACTION NEEDED NOW!

  1. Shirley Burnham
    December 18, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    An ‘independent’ report which is what this one purports to be should not take pains to ensure that it is “nice to government, so that it doesn’t get in a huff”. It should have dared to frank and, when necessary, to be critical. It wasn’t.

    I’m sorry, but the operative word here is ‘independent’. How much editing had to go on in the long hiatus between the Report’s first draft and publication? Whose feathers had to be smoothed in central and local government while the Report sat on Ministers’ desks? What concessions and amendments were made in subsequent drafts before the final oeuvre could come out?

    Is it a watered-down version of the original or not? If it’s not, why the delay in publishing it, I ask – and so should you.

    I note you are saying it is a “sound” report”. No, it is better described as an “inoffensive” report. Had it responded robustly to the thoroughly offensive crisis besetting the service, it could perhaps have earned the accolade “sound”.

    Has The Library Campaign also opted not to ruffle feathers? Will it join in with the chorus from the professional bodies et al – who are meekly “welcoming” this and that . I want to know what Sieghart really might have wanted to say, but wasn’t in the end allowed to. Ask him, please.

  2. Laura Swaffield, The Library Campaign
    December 19, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Good questions, Shirley. I wouldn’t ask them myself because I’m certain I would get no answer.

    The report may have been doctored – such things often are – but I
    always assumed it would not be a blistering attack on the government. Sieghart wanted them on side.

    The Library Campaign has consistently been much ruder, both in public and in private letters to Ed Vaizey, and it has got us nowhere. See our evidence to Sieghart. But this is a minister completely without shame.

    I do think the report’s recommendations are ‘sound’ – in fact they are all utterly obvious no-brainers that could and should have been done years ago.

    That’s because Sieghart specifically wanted things that could be done right away – and so did The Library Campaign in our evidence.

    Thus, for instance, major local govt reorganisation might well be a good thing, but it’s not going to happen overnight. And libraries are in a state of emergency.

    Even better would be reversal of the mad policy of “austerity for ever” that is blighting our whole society. It’s heartening that the public is – at last – waking up to this.

    Meanwhile, what I mind is that Ed Vaizey has made such a rotten response, despite Sieghart’s efforts to make it easy for him.

  3. Shirley Burnham
    December 19, 2014 at 8:50 am

    It is never rude to highlight perceived weaknesses in government policy, nor is it rude to suggest that this Report is insubstantial and disappointing. Below please find 6 (six) paragraphs that are absent from the Sieghart Report, on which all its recommendations could and should have been firmly based :

    ” The Public Library shall in principle be free of charge. The public library is the responsibility of local and national authorities. It must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. It has to be an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, literacy and education.

    Freedom, prosperity and the development of society and individuals are fundamental human values. They will only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information. The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups.

    To ensure nationwide library coordination and cooperation, legislation and strategic plans must also define and promote a national library network based on agreed standards of service.

    The services of the public library are provided on the basis of equality of access for all, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, nationality, language or social status. Services have to be physically accessible to all members of the community. This requires well situated library buildings, good reading and study facilities, as well as relevant technologies and sufficient opening hours convenient to the users. It equally implies outreach services for those unable to visit the library.

    The librarian is an active intermediary between users and resources. Professional and continuing education of the librarian is indispensable to ensure adequate services.

    Key missions – which relate to information, literacy, education and culture – should be at the core of public library services ”

    Source: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/libraries/manifestos/index_manifestos.html

    A glaring absence of ALL the above points robs the Report of coherency, structure and meaning – rendering it a pretty futile exercise. Incidentally, it should also have called for a moratorium on library closures and hand-overs to volunteers.

  4. December 19, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I agree with so much that Shirley has said – and also feel that there must have been a good deal of “watering down”. If the report was held up by discussions as to how to respond then presumably the minister would have come up with something better than a task force and some platitudes about how wonderful libraries are. You are right Laura – this is a rotten response!

  5. Fiona Crawford
    December 20, 2014 at 12:29 am

    “Local authorities should continue to have the statutory duty ‘to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof’8 taking into account local needs and within available resources. It is a matter for each authority to decide on what is ‘comprehensive and efficient’ for their own area, to determine how much they spend on libraries and how to manage and deliver their service at the local level.”

    This worries me too, as it is so open to interpretation. Too vague

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