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CONTENTS

If you are burning to have your say, here's your opportunity to get into print!

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DOES A BEST VALUE INSPECTION HAVE TEETH?

Haringey Library Service bear the marks of a full-scale series of biting remarks by the Audit Commission Inspectors in their recently published Report on the Best Value review of 1999. A savage indictment of the service was offered, with a bleak view of "poor service and no possible improvement" as the final word. Haringey Council stood condemned, as well they should have been, and FORE! (the umbrella group of user groups) which had published a strikingly similar report in 99 felt vindicated.
Smarting from the attack, the Chief Executive of Haringey Council, David Warwick, consulted the majority Labour group and took immediate action: the library service was moved to his office, and he took charge of it. Then he arranged for a library consultancy, Instant Libraries Ltd., to come in for six months to administer the service. There was no consultation with FORE!, but the Lead Member for Libraries, Judy Bax, felt this was the way forward and kept us informed. After an initial period of confusion-in which letters flew about-Instant Libraries came in and began work.
From the beginning, and continuously ever since, Diana Edmonds (the Managing Director) has met with FORE! and has consulted weekly on most issues. This is so unusual as to produce both euphoria and fear of the future-but we are enjoying it while it lasts.
What has happened-what have they done? Is it going to be worth the money (not coming from the library budget!)? Is it possible to change a stagnant demoralised service?
We have found that the most important factor is that this consultancy is made up of librarians with wide experience-and of people who have modern techniques in a usable package. They started by revising the finances-so that everyone from the top down knew what money was available and what costs were being incurred. (previously money was not spent by the end of the year, effectively throwing it away). Then they looked at Stock Management-"libraries need attractive books"--central buying on a regular basis, shelf-ready stock, ordering from cdroms , bringing in extra staff to deal with the 5 month backlog of cataloging. Then they looked at the state of the libraries-"…in attractive surroundings"-and ordered window-cleaning and general spring cleaning. (Amazing results.) Now they are into the staffing-another study of the new re-structuring system is underway.
That is the first 6 weeks! There are also moves to publicize the new changes ("Haringey Libraries on the Up and Up") via posters, etc. and they have moved the website from between lesbians and lice on Haringey's site to the main page and uplifted it. They are applying for grants. They have reinstituted overdue letters….following an Amnesty for borrowers.
Each user group has been asked to make a "wish-list" of improvements, and the money set aside for maintenance, which usually goes into emergency repairs, is to be spent on those. Two libraries are earmarked for special attention and will be used to act as showcases for the improvements. This is yet to be developed-grants are being sought--but as FORE! is involved from the start, pressure is building with expectation.

Is this consultancy a worth-while exercise? On present view: absolutely. Will other boroughs have the chance ? Most likely. If your borough has a bad Best Value report-look at the Audit Commission site to see how many have already been made-they may well consider it after seeing what Haringey does. Ealing is also undergoing this process (but before the Inspectors!).
What has been most encouraging is that the users have been consulted at every turn. Our comments and criticisms have been attended to and respected. After years of soft soap and no lather this is unbelievably welcome. So await your inspection with bated breath and hope it is a bad one!
Note: Diana Edmonds would welcome an opportunity to talk with user groups about her work!

Susan Chinn - FORE!

Txt - nlish, nt a 4n lngwg

Nglish is a 1dfly pwrfl tl wth 1 lrg drwbk - rkic splng. The gr8 advntg of nglsh is its smpl grmr, so y nt smpl splng? Thnk of the +vntgs of usng txt in nrml lfe - no mr hvng 2 lf thru dkshnrs, nuspprs & bks 1/3 sz (1/3 cst, 1/3 sps). All u nd is a teengr 2 tch u the lngng 4 < 1 hr. Perhaps txt is a little extreme, but should we not do something about the illogical spelling of english English? After all, english English is a minority language in the English speaking world. The English have always made use of any useful foreign word or phrase that they have stumbled across, so it would not be a very great change in practice to steal the simplified spelling of awkward English words from the outside world. The cost to the country of continuing with the present system is enormous and, eventually, the rest of the world may become completely out of step with us.

BTW - Aplgs 2 SMSrs 4 ne txt splng mstks.

ADDENDUM (12th July 2001) Well, well. We now have positive proof of the power of the LLL website. The new Concise Oxford Dictionary, published today, has TXT words included in it. Surely not a coincidence. A.T.

PUBLIC LIBRARY STANDARDS

In the early summer of 2000, when the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published its consultation document "Standards for Modern Public Libraries", hopes were raised that there was a major change in attitude taking place to the way public library performance was managed. The DCMS had, at long last, noticed that the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act contained the statement that it was the duty of the Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport "to promote the improvement of the public library service provided by local authorities". That this duty has been totally ignored by successive Secretaries of State since 1964 is obvious from the continuous and universal decline in the library service provided by those local authorities. The DCMS dictionary must have a very strange definition of the word "duty".

Against this background of long term DCMS failure and a rising concern in the general population (ref. Culture Media & Sport Select Committee Report No 6, May 2000), the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, has to be applauded for last year's initiative. This produced the wide-ranging consultation document and, after a short response period, a long gestation period, when a committee considered the responses. This committee was made up of representatives of those groups defined in paragraph one of the consultation document as "the principal stakeholders" in the public library service, namely library professionals, local government bureaucrats and DCMS civil servants. It will be noticed that the users of public libraries are not considered to prime stakeholders and it is not clear how far down they come in the hierarchy of groups associated with public libraries.

It is obvious that the composition of the library standards committee, or steering group as it was known, must have dictated the outcome of its deliberations. Just how likely was it, from day one, that it would strongly promote "the improvement of the public library service", as required by the 1964 act?

Although the library professionals would be, to varying degrees, in favour of raising standards, they would be ranged against the battle hardened bureaucrats of local government, dedicated to cost reduction above all else. The DCMS civil servants would, theoretically, be the driving force for improvement. However, this pro-active role is not one in which they have any noticeable track record. It is unlikely that the passive habits of decades can be changed overnight. Therefore, it would seem that the views of the local government heavyweights would be bound to bias the committee towards setting targets which are fairly easily achieved from the debased levels that currently exist.

In February, at the end of the gestation period, the DCMS produced a draft standards document, "Comprehensive Efficient and Modern Public Libraries - Standards and Assessment" (accessible on the DCMS website www.culture.gov.uk ). A companion document was also issued at the same time which analysed the responses to the consultation document.

Unfortunately, provisions of these library standards tend to support the predicted committee bias. They do not represent a new, bright vision for the future of public libraries. In this respect, it is an opportunity missed. But this does not mean that the exercise has been a total waste of time. A floor has been set to the continuing decline in library service. It is true that the pain inflicted on most local authorities will be low, but some of them will need to consider how they can raise the standard of service from bad to mediocre.

Is there anyone out there who believes that these comments are wrong?

What do you think about the individual requirements of the draft standards?

What do you think of the one mile travelling distance to a library?

What do think of the suspicion that it is possible to meet the library standards and still significantly reduce book stocks (allowing the installation of ICT equipment perhaps or just reducing buildings and staff down to the absolute minimum)?

Let us know.

Alan Templeton
Treasurer LLL; CPLUG and Friends of West Hampstead Library

From: Andrew Coburn National Secretary The Library Campaign

The Library Campaign is pleased to see LLL officially off the ground and especially the turnout you got.
People were asking what they could be doing to put pressure on and I would suggest using Best value reviews (which require consultation with users), Annual library Plans, and the Standards. Imperfect though they may be Peter Beauchamp was right that they are better than having nothing and authorities might as well get used to having people look at and react to them.
In terms of Modernising local Government where I sympathise with Tom's view, we can and must encourage use of the scrutiny committee system. councillors must realise that they have some power there and if they don't use it may lose it. In my authority (not in London) Councillors have also just 'called in' to full Council a decision on a library issue made by the Executive board. this is another weapon. The Campaign hopes to run a seminar in the late summer or autumn on how to use the Modernising agenda and structures.
There was a point also about the different kinds of user / friends groups. We (and I hope LLL) would encourage both the partnership kind, and those who have had to be more antagonistic, to join LLL and the national Campaign. you can learn from each other. When the threats have 'gone away' you can learn how to keep going for the next time. Alternatively if partnership turns sour you can get tactics and support from other groups. As Susan said the beauty of all these groups is that someone somewhere will have the expertise or know someone who can. it is about networking.
I hope that all local groups who join LLL will also consider joining the Campaign and in congratulating you on your website I would also thank you for the link to ours.... Andrew Coburn