Friday, 10 September 2010

Could Launceston One Stop Shop be moving to the Library?

One of the points made at yesterday's meeting to discuss the Tourist Information Centre (see below) was about a potential move for the One Stop Shop to the library.

I should stress from the outset that this was mentioned just as a possibility and that no decision or even firm proposal has yet been made.

I know I blogged a while ago saying that libraries are about more than books, but I am firmly opposed to the concept for a number of reasons:

  • I believe that the library is inconveniently sited. It is up a steep slope, making it difficult for some people to walk there;
  • It has very little parking (I know the same is true for the current OSS, but any move should have to bring an improvement);
  • I do not believe that there is sufficient space in the library for all the OSS functions;
  • Although the library is open on Saturday mornings (and presumably the OSS would be too), it is also closed for one day a week and so there would be a net reduction in OSS opening hours.

But there is also an additional reason why such a move is simply wrong in concept. That is that library staff will be expected to handle OSS work (and OSS staff will be expected to undertake librarian duties). This is because, in a bid to save money, the two staff currently employed at the OSS will be cut to just one.

The OSS staff are very well trained to do their job. Librarians are also very well trained to undertake their role. But neither is trained to do the job of the other. Our One Stop Shop is extremely busy and, by cutting down to a single member of staff, I can foresee librarians having to spend lots of time doing OSS work. They will therefore be able to do even less of what they are trained for and what they are good at - promoting literacy, reading and information.

In theory, there is no reason why a library and One Stop Shop cannot be sited in the same venue - and I know it works elsewhere. But such a venue should be genuinely big enough for both operations and their staffing should be kept separate. In Launceston's case, the library is simply not the right place to site the One Stop Shop. If this becomes a serious proposal then it will be being made purely for financial reasons and the people of Launceston will be getting a worse service as a result.


Phil said...

As a supporter of the Lib Dems who are nationally in the process of planning 25% cuts in public spending with the Tories you are in an especially weak position to whinge when your chickens come home to roost in Launceston.

This compared to the real pain around the corner is relatively minor. If you took the trouble to visit Bude, Saltash, Looe or Fowey you'd see one stop shops in libraries that are as good if not better than any others in Cornwall. Library staff have shown themselves well able to adapt to a new role without worsening the library service.

If you selfishly fight this proposal the impact will be to make library closures in towns like Camelford more likely.

Alex Folkes said...

Thanks for the comment Phil. I have visited two of the One Stop Shops that you mention and, whilst the staff there do a good job, I don't think that the situation is ideal and I consider that the circumstances in Launceston are wrong to consider a similar set up here. My reasons are given in the original blog post.
I am sure that our library staff are capable of coping with new responsibilities. But I believe that this would be to the detriment of the library service as it should be. Library staff should be running events and groups aimed at boosting reading and understanding. They cannot be doing this whilst they are taking council tax payments.
If I thought that a direct consequence of such a move would be the closure of Camelford Library then I would not be taking the stance that I am. Whilst the Conservatives might want to use that as an excuse (should it go ahead), I do not believe that the two need be linked. There are plenty of areas for savings that can be made without touching one of the highest performing value for money services.

Phil said...

I doubt you have any hard evidence for claiming that staff in the one stop shop libraries are running less events etc. Firstly because when the Lib Dems set up one stop shops they gave these libraries extra staff. Secondly and more importantly the number and quality of events in any library is most closely linked to the enthusiasm and skill and of its manager. The managers of the one stop shop libraries are amongst the best in the county and I would be astonished if they under-perform in comparison to other libraries. But if you can prove me wrong from an analysis of numbers taking part in something like the Summer Reading Challenge then please do.

I see you are a great enthusiast for library activity that promotes literacy. I am more sceptical and would welcome real evidence that it's really centered on the parts of the population that most need it and is properly co-ordinated with work done elsewhere in the council.

It's good that you recognise that libraries are high performing and value for money. Unfortunately this is appreciated by a small minority of councillors and an even smaller minority of officials in County Hall who guide the spending decisions. As a Liberal Democrat you are in a weak position because their administration cut library services when they were in control of the council and made little or no effort to preserve the budget in any way. One of your portfolio holders even had the desire to slash libraries above and beyond the norm by looking for cuts of £1 million. Fortunately he backed off.

Managers of the library service like everyone else have probably been asked to investigate cuts amounting to about a third of their budget. This is probably around £1.5 million.

You probably can't get there by doing the less painful stuff: sharing buildings with other council services, sharing resources with libraries in Devon and Plymouth, implementing technology to reduce work, deploying staff in libraries to match workloads or stripping out administrative and back-office functions.

If councillors like you oppose the easy stuff then more cuts in an already inadequate book fund, scrapping mobile libraries and closing small libraries like Camelford will come into play.

If you are to have credibility in the real world rather than taking the Ed Balls position that cuts are unnecessary then you will have to identify where else you save £1.5 million. That will have to be above and beyond the impact of cuts in government grant and growth in the cost of waste collection and social care. If you could do that your blog would really be worthy of winning an award.

Alex Folkes said...

Thanks for your comment. I think all libraries (in all parts of Cornwall) could be running more events and giving librarians non-library work to do will simply lessen what they are able to do to promote litaracy and reading.

I understand that the libraries budget is likely to face cuts of around £250,000 - according to Joan Symons, the responsible Cabinet Member on Radio Cornwall. This is far below the 25% mark and I think that is the right approach. I recognise that there need to be cuts in Cornwall Coun cil above and beyond the like for like cuts which have been made in response to grant cuts. My skepticism is not Ed Balls-like. It is skepticism about the additional amount of cuts that are being talked about above and beyond those which are likely to be imposed by the Government in their October spending review. Fundamentally, I am opposed to simply imposing 25% (or whatever the figure turns out to be) cuts across each and every department. Some are already far more efficient than others and Joan Symons comments about a £250k cut in libraries tends to indicate this. Good for her if this turns out to be true. Compare that with the bloated bureaucracy in other services and a level playing field for cuts would be massively unfair.

Phil said...

Yes but the point about the one stop shop libraries is they got extra staff to cover one stop shop work. So any loss in library staff (incidentally there are very few librarians left in Cornwall's libraries not least amongst those in charge of the service and its budget) doing one stop shop work is compensated by one stop shop staff doing library work - not necessarily the events (whose real impact I think you over-value) but routine stuff like shelving books which you probably don't want in libraries any more - but some of us do!

If the library cut is to be as small as £250,000 (still damaging and not the end of library cuts in the lifetime of the council) then it's possibly because they are making savings by co-locating one stop shops and libraries. If you oppose this then libraries risk facing bigger cuts.

The alternative is to enforce larger cuts in other services which you claim are bloated. With the Lib Dem legacy of cutting libraries more than these "bloated services" you have to be more credible. Where would you make the cuts that would preserve libraries? If you are not prepared to be specific you'll whistle in the wind.

Alex Folkes said...

Hi Phil
Please don't make accusations or assumptions about my views about which you have no evidence. Books should, in my view, be at the heart of a library's provision and I would be opposed to a cut in the book budget.
The promised £250k cut limit is separate to any co-location, which is not yet a definite proposal in any case, and so opposing co-location will not mean increased cuts.
The OSS currently has two members of trained staff. Co-locating will mean dropping to one member of staff for a very busy service. My prediction is that library staff will do far more OSS work than vice versa.

Phil said...

Unless you can say where you would specifically make cuts in the "bloated services" you cannot with any degree of certainty maintain saving one stop shops would not risk more cuts in the library service.

Your prediction that moving the one stop shop would reduce library work is just that and not based on evidence from what has happened in Bude and elsewhere. I am sure that the Summer Reading Challenge (and other events) worked just as well in these libraries as the others.

It's good to see you believe that books should be at the heart of library provision. It's just that when most people bang on about libraries are about being more than books it's a cover for the fact that they have slashed the book fund - just like your predecessors.