WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
Throughout London the last fifteen to twenty years of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century have seen a steep decline in the quality of library services. The previous hundred years had been notable for the introduction and continual improvement of universal education, the growth of public libraries, and the blossoming of a range of social and cultural services. In recent years much of this progress has been reversed. Libraries in particular have suffered repeated cuts in opening hours, staffing, and bookstocks. In several boroughs closures have left large areas devoid of library services, depleting both quality of life and cultural standards.
WHY AND WHEN?
In response to these circumstances, and further severe threats to public libraries all over the capital, LLL was set up in late 1999 as an alliance of London user groups to be a concerted voice for library users Londonwide.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
We call for a comprehensive, high quality, well-managed, and accessible library service for all Londoners: and we seek to emphasise the social, educational, economic, and cultural importance to every section of the community. We want to see libraries higher up the political agenda
LIBRARIANS - Professional requirements:-
Local authorities are responsible for the statutory provision of libraries under the 1964 Act. Their mandate is to provide a constitutional framework for their libraries., financial control and compliance with legal requirements. They are required to secure best value.
A library service needs librarians capable of providing a borough wide library service, running individual libraries and associated tasks. They need training to provide:
1 the necessary financial skills to draw up a library business plan, propose policies and set priorities. The costs of replacing outdated or worn out stocks must be explored. Experience in stock maintenance, annual monitoring and evaluation is essential in identifying areas and items which need replacing and developing.
2 awareness of the needs of the community they serve, taking account of equal opportunities, social inclusion, cultural diversity and the problems of adult literacy.
3 the ability to manage ongoing partnerships with other organisations e.g. schools, charities, other Council departments and library consortia.
4 technical skills including accessioning, cataloguing, classification and reference work for library users and other organisations.
5 marketing skills for non-profit making institutions as in arranging of events to encourage reading and raising awareness of libraries. These might be author readings, book clubs, writing clubs (for all ages), events for children in school holidays and links with national events such as National Book Day.
6 IT skills. Libraries now have computers for library management and for public use. Staff must have the technical ability to provide required information, and the interactive skills to help users, some of whom have never used IT, to understand systems new to them.
7 expertise in children's services. The informed choice of resources for children is essential. Knowledge of the reading needs of children of all ages from the very young, to young teenagers is important, which is why some librarians specialise in the area. Baby rhyme times are as necessary as homework clubs.
8 Adequate legal knowledge. Copywright law is relevant to the conduct of a library service.
9 the skills to make libraries welcoming, interpersonal skills, managing a public space, visible clear signage, knowing where to shelve stock, where to put its children's area, its IT and printers and its service counters - to the advantage of users and staff.
10 experience in organising outreach services i.e. books for the housebound and care homes and visits to schools to explain and foster library services.
BRANCH LIBRARIANS are responsible for service delivery in the branch, junior staff management, the use of IT for library needs and staff and user training (including volunteers) as well as taking part in all the activities listed above.
LLL recognises that in local authority libraries the use of volunteers is becming a way of cutting costs in library services. TRAINED LIBRARIANS are needed to carry out these functions. They must be aware of the needs of the local community and be equipped to deal with them. LLL maintains they are vital to the maintenance of an efficient libray service. It is key to good library provision. Councillors, politicians, the library world and the public need to know, understand and appreciate exactly how much is involved.
WHY DO WE WANT IT?
TO FIGHT SOCIAL EXCLUSION Libraries are a major force in combatting social exclusion. They often provide children's first experience of being a citizen: of belonging to something, having a ticket, taking advantage of a public service, having responsibilities. Children from the deprived concrete estates and children from the leafy areas come on equal terms and mix happily together. The under-fives services help to close the gap between children from homes without books and others. It is a safe place where many children are allowed to go on their own Books on parenting and dealing with crises often make a difference.
Ethnic minority communities can be well served by public libraries. Many of them value learning and education very highly. Ethnic minority women feel safe and unthreatened and welcome in the library and can be aided both by the availability of material in their own languages and by help with their command of English. The same applies to their children who may get access to dual language books.
For people in poverty the library is a many-faceted resource. Many areas of London have high concentrations of people on benefits who cannot afford books, newspapers, or computers. The library offers all these, with newspapers being of particular importance to the unemployed seeking jobs. The bookstock and other materials give the opportunities to discover and pursue new interests. For people in cramped accommodation who need to take their children out the library is the only interesting place that does not cost money.
Elderly people read more than most age groups and value their libraries. Isolated and frail elderly people appreciate not only borrowing books which are their main pleasure but enjoy the feeling of being part of the community which visiting the library gives them. It is also a source of information about local meetings, courses, or entertainment that is cheap or free.
The library provides information and guidance on lifelong learning opportunites, it stimulates readers to want to take courses, and supports their studies by providing background reading and reference material in all media. For all these groups the library is important in lessening their degree of disadvantage: an accessible service which does not involve using public transport [diffficult to get on for the old, and expensive for families] or crossing fearsome main roads is important and necessary.
THE PROVISION OF ALL THESE LIBRARY SERVICES IS EXTREMELY LIMITED. IF THEY WERE MORE AVAILABLE LIBRARIES COULD BE A REAL POWER FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION.
WHAT ELSE DO WE WANT?
NEW TECHNOLOGY We welcome the government initiative in promoting, and to some extent financing, new technology in public libraries. In view of the fact that there is already so much information that is available only on the internet, and that many people cannot afford the hardware, we consider it essential. We hope, however, that it will not be allowed to usurp precious resources such as staff time, shelf and floor space, and quiet study areas, from traditional library services. With the The ever growing demand for electronic services has not in any way diminished the libraries' obligation to provide a high quality book and periodical service. It should be acknowledged that the library service's responsibilities have doubled and adequate provision should be made.
WHAT COULD BE DONE BETTER?
OPENING HOURS Opening times should cater for the working population and for people who need to use the library in daylight, such as the elderly and parents with young children. Lunchtime closing has been very unpopular, and there is a big demand for Sunday opening. Libraries in London which are open on Sunday are well-used. Most religious groups consider visiting the library to be a suitable activity for the sabbath.
CLOSURES Threats of library closures always bring fear and fierce opposition in equal measure. Closures are certain vote losers. Where some London boroughs have closed libraries they have left great swathes of territory where the resident communities have no access to libraries. Easy access is essential.
BOOKSTOCK We are concerned at the preponderance of cheap and 'popular' fiction and non-fiction on the shelves, the dumbing down of the service. Quantity and number of issues should not be the only criteria when stock is selected. Classics and literary fiction should be available as they once were.
STANDARDS We look for definable standards that are monitored and enforced. It is important that user representation contributes to the setting and monitoring of standards. Performance indicators should include levels of user satisfaction, and should be published.
WHAT ABOUT PAYING FOR IT?
We are in an age in which a nation's prosperity depends on a well-educated workforce. Education, literacy, and lifelong learning are government priorities. Libraries have an important role to play at pre-school and every other age. The Secretary of State's street corner universities can be effective only if properly funded. Funding the the public library service is a good investment. It brings returns on capital in terms of the quality of the workforce. Even the present run-down service is well used and much valued. It is the one elective local authority service that is used by the whole community; people of all ages, all levels of education, and all ethnic origins. Libraries are good value for money, and lack of them causes additional burdens elsewhere - education, social services, etcetera.
WE CONSIDER THAT CENTRAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ENSURING THAT PROPER FUNDING IS AVAILABLE FOR LIBRARIES.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT LONDON?
ANOTHER MONEY PROBLEM London has many commercial and business centres where employees flock in each day and use local services. Libraries have a statutory responsibility to cater for working populations but are not funded through the SSA for the cost of doing so.
A PAN-LONDON VIEW We should like to see the Greater London Authority take an active strategic role in the provision of library services, in promoting co-operation, and in preventing waste and overlap.
LONDONWIDE CO-OPERATION We welcome the recent setting up of the LLNG [London Learning Network Group] which fulfils a recommendation in the Comedia report LONDON LIBRARY CITY and the LPAC [London Planning Advisory Committee] report LIBRARIES IN LONDON.
We also welcome the LLDA [London Library Development Agency] and its extensive programme.. As far as we know the recommendation to give more prominence to the economic, planning, and commercial importance of libraries has not been put into effect.
WHERE DOES LONDON LOSE OUT?
One of the disadvantages London has suffered because of its local government structure is that although it has rich and unrivalled library resources, particularly in the non-local authority sectors, it lacks a beacon centre of public library excellence such as the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and Manchester and Birmingham central libraries.
Now that our capital is a single entity with its own representation and personality we should aspire to having such a central service.