Defending our libraries

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2017 Local Government Service Group Conference
23 February 2017
Carried as Amended

Conference notes with concern the ongoing closures of libraries and worsening pay and conditions of remaining library staff. Data released last December by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) shows that spending on local libraries has fallen by £25 million and 478 libraries have closed across England, Scotland and Wales since 2010.

Furthermore, the BBC reported in March last year that since 2010 libraries have lost over a quarter of their staff due to budget cuts. Around 8000 jobs have been lost as some councils have recruited volunteers to replace trained library staff, and others have transferred the libraries to be run by community groups or ‘mutuals’.

For our members who work in libraries, the picture is bleak. Pay and terms and conditions are constantly being weakened as a result of the funding cuts, which have led to constant changes, closures and restructures as councils try to balance their books. For some their working hours will be cut, as the libraries limit their opening times. Pay is an ongoing issue as figures show that the actual pay level of library assistants mean they are 14% worse off than if past pay awards had matched inflation and for senior library assistants the figure is a massive 21% since 2009.

The creeping spread and pilots of automated library services (access with a smart card with minimal or zero staff in attendance) is an accessibility issue for disabled library staff and users. This could result in disabled library staff members working alone, which may impact on them more adversely than other staff.

When cuts to jobs are being made, disabled people are often first to be targeted for redundancy, meaning the impact of job losses in libraries are likely to be disproportionately affecting disabled workers.

Libraries do more than simply loan books and librarians do more than stack shelves. Librarians are a vital resource to disabled people. They are able to order, reserve, guide and physically direct users to books in different mediums that include audio books and tapes that are more tailored to the individual’s requirements. These specialist user friendly services help to remove the barriers faced by users with a disability. The role of our libraries as vital community hubs and of our librarians as valued trained professionals is under attack. This has a disproportionate effect on disabled library users, whose usage of our libraries is proportionally higher than the general population. As the Guardian recently reported, in the last twelve months 35.3% of disabled adults used libraries, compared to 33.2% of those adults with no disability or long-standing illness. We welcome the ‘Save our Local Services’ campaign that the service group is running as we must continue to campaign to fight further closures and cuts to our libraries, to ensure they are open and accessible to all.

Conference calls on the service group executive to:

1)Continue to provide materials that branches can use to campaign against the closure of library services;

2)Provide guidance specifically for library staff on the issues facing them and ideas of how to deal with them for branches;

3)Consider setting up library staff networks (e.g. via social media groups such as Facebook and WhatsApp) to help support library workers.