A further reply to Mayor Winter

This is a letter from Christine Fitt to Jeff Ennis MP in reply to Mayor Winter’s letter:

 

Jeff Ennis MP

 

 

Like Alan, I have serious concerns about the Mayor’s official reply, not the least of which is the fact that Mayor Winter did not accord his correspondent the simple respect and courtesy of signing the letter himself. This does tend to hold echoes of the Queen asking a Lady-in-Waiting to reply to letters! As far as I am aware, Doncaster has not yet seceded from the Commonwealth!

 

‘The reply’ comes across as indistinct & lacking in substance, containing several empty, non-explained phrases, such as ‘the provision of a Library Service that is fit for the future’ and ‘a Library Service for the 21st century’ – this latter phrase in particular is an example of ‘management-speak’ and has been conveniently rolled out several times recently, but many people, even those within the actual Library Service, would like to know exactly what Doncaster Council means by it.

 

There is heavy emphasis on Customer Services’ (library managers have not been involved in this) monitoring of the Library Service and its opening hours, using phrases like ‘customer research has been undertaken’ ; ‘in response to customer demand’ ; ‘a comprehensive review of library opening hours has been undertaken’.  Customer demand does not state that shorter opening hours are desired, and perhaps ‘research’ needs to be done to ask non-users why they don’t use their libraries – is it that their library is closed at suitable times when they can easily access it, such as evenings and weekends? (Sunday opening of certain service points has already been under consideration by library managers, as previous customer research showed that existing & potential users would most likely welcome it.)

 

The negative message that comes across is that because library usage is low at particular times during the week, this is the perfect reason to reduce opening times. I would counter this argument by saying that investigation is necessary to find ways to increase usage at such times, and for Customer Services (CS) not to make paltry excuses to justify purely cost-based decisions.

 

As with all such decisions, library managers – i.e. still the experts in all matters relating to the Library Service provision – have not been involved. CS have been steadily eroding all management responsibilities and taking them upon themselves, thereby justifying CS’s existence, but forcing the library staff into a highly insecure state of affairs.

 

Of equal concern to me is the use of the term ‘priority’, as follows: ‘the provision of a Library Service that … meets the priority needs of our residents’ and ‘identifying priority areas for service delivery, and recognising the importance of improved literacy and targeting the right people, including those from deprived communities’. This suggests that people not in priority areas, or not from deprived communities, or who are not the ‘right people’ will inevitably receive a poorer service. All public library services regularly identify certain priorities on which to focus, but it must never be forgotten that the libraries are in place for ALL residents – be they old or young, rich or poor, house owners or tenants, well educated or otherwise – and therefore must not be seen to be concentrating on such issues to the perceived detriment of other areas of the service.  Already the branch staffing levels are having a negative impact on services to children, in that it is now less realistic for staff to run summer holiday activities (too few staff on duty), preschool storytimes have been closing (no staff consistency), and in the future I fear that class visits to libraries – to encourage a greater interest in reading – will be fewer (lower staffing levels will not allow staff to leave the counter in order to interact with the children).

 

Branch staff have already been told that in the future it is highly unlikely that they will be able to visit local schools in order to take part in assemblies or other school events.  In fact I can see absolutely nothing in the Mayor’s reply about the maintenance of the central – and traditional – role of libraries in their local communities, and the importance of enhancing and developing their position within those communities. My experience of CS so far has not led me to believe that they will be devoting a great deal of attention to this element.

 

The actual question of staffing levels has basically been dismissed in a single, terse sentence: ‘We are reducing the number of posts in the Library Service as part of a review and rationalisation of the service’.  This seems to sum up the general approach of CS to their staff. Staff are the most important asset of any company, but I am sad to say that the attitudes of various council managers have alienated 95% (& more) of the staff working within the service. The outrageous debacle over uniforms (staff – & this angered female staff in particular – were going to be compelled go against all their dress code principles by wearing totally unacceptable polo shirts), the current pressures being caused by inadequate staffing levels in branches, and the fact that senior staff are having to justify virtually everything they do are just a few examples of why enthusiasm and goodwill are at their lowest possible levels. Is it any wonder that staff are queuing up to leave, and that many are applying for whatever jobs they can find outside CS, and even outside Doncaster Council?

 

‘The main objectives are to provide a more dynamic and innovative leadership, by creating a more focused management team to move the service forward, and ensure a consistent quality of service delivery across the neighbourhoods.’ These words are, quite frankly, chilling because of the implicit condemnation and criticism of the Library Management Team. Those keen, dedicated and professional librarians have been fighting – against mounting odds & with no Head of Libraries in post – for the past 3 years to maintain the high standard & delivery of the Library Service across the borough, and have witnessed an insidious erosion of their management responsibilities, plus a growing lack of general respect on the part of CS. The ‘main objectives’, as I see them, are to replace informed, professional, keen managers with ill-informed, unprofessional ‘yes-people’ with little or no interest in a library service’s core values. In any future Doncaster Library Service under the auspices of Customer Services professionalism, enthusiasm, interest in & love of reading, and a desire to make the library a central point in the community will, I fear, barely feature.

 

On a wry note, the statement that ‘Doncaster Council are actively involved in the promotion of the National Year of Reading’ is so untrue as to be quite laughable, as up until very recently Doncaster was the only authority in the UK with no NYR co-ordinator. Other authorities have had their plans in place since last year but Doncaster, a town with nothing to boast about in the literacy stakes, is doing virtually nothing. The Library Service has been unable to take what should have been the lead role in this important initiative, as it did in 1998, primarily due to lack of support from CS.

 

And finally, these are the kind of comments that have recently been uttered – in the presence of library staff – by Customer Services’ top bods, including the Director [D], all of whom continue to insist that they are ‘passionate about libraries’:

 

·     ‘people can buy all the books they need at Tesco’ [D]

·     ‘why have a Rolls Royce service when a Mondeo will do’ [D]

·     ‘the only thing that would attract me into a library would be if it had a bar’ [D]

·     ‘I wouldn’t borrow books from the library as they may be dirty, & other people have had them’

·     ‘the internet has everything you can find in books’ (Good tool, but has created more problems than it has solved)

·     ‘the e-book is the future’ (this is the person who suggested putting a Nintendo Wii in every library as an alternative to running children’s group holiday activities…) 

·     ‘you are not paid to tell stories to children’ (this was said directly to the Early Years Librarian)

·     ‘what connection do libraries have with teaching children to read?’ (this one is totally unbelievable!)

 

These are the managers now in charge of Doncaster Library Service – is it any wonder I’ve left in disgust!  I will be continuing to work – on an independent basis – to enthuse children to read for pleasure, and will be encouraging them to make the best possible use of their local public library service. In Doncaster’s case I can only hope that the Council will fulfil its side of the proverbial bargain!

 

All the best, Jeff. Take care & have a good summer. Might bump into you in Barnsley some time!

Chris
 

One thought on “A further reply to Mayor Winter

  1. Pingback: Sintoblog: Public Libraries - what is the point?

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