I am writing in response to Councillor Taylor's letter of last week regarding library cuts.
This is an unusual step for UNISON but I feel I cannot allow the inaccuracies and misrepresentations contained in the letter to go unchallenged.
Cllr Taylor states that the cuts are to enable Ealing Council to staff new libraries at Jubilee Gardens and Northolt Swimarama. Jubilee Gardens, of course,is not a new library but rather a redevelopment of the existing site,albeit with extended opening hours.
The planned library at Northolt Swimarama has not been included in the new structure and staff for this site will have to be found and funded separately when it opens.
The library service has used ISBNs and bar codes since the 1960s. When computerisation was introduced in the late 1970s the requisite staff cuts were made.I fail to see how this is relevant to the service in 2009.
As anyone who has visited the new Central Library will attest, RFID/self-service technology does not reduce the number of staff required to any serious degree, and in any case this is not currently in place in the other branch libraries.
This has not been suggested to staff or trade union reps as a rationale for the cuts in any of the consultation documents or meetings which have been held so far,so it is interesting to discover this reasoning in the pages of the Gazette.
Ealing does not employ 29 char-tered librarians. Cllr Taylor has clearly failed to grasp the distinction between a professional librarian (someone with a first degree in librarianship) and a chartered librarian (someone with a further qualification and ongoing membership of the organisation CILIP).
Ealing has not supported or funded its staff to become chartered for many years, though some professional staff retain their chartered status at their own expense in the interests of continuing professional development.
Ealing does currently have over 20 posts for which a professional library qualification is required. This will be reduced to zero in the new structure.
While it is perfectly acceptable to have a dialogue about alternative training routes and the necessity or otherwise of that quantity of professional posts, to delete every single professional job in one go will just mean losing the skills and expertise which staff have gained through their training and built up over years within the service.
This will inevitably lead to a worse service when your readers walk into their local library.
Cutting services does not have to be 'a feature of the world we live in'. Choices always need to be made, and Ealing Council has chosen to cut budgets and staffing levels in its libraries for each of the last three years.
Some of the 'back office' roles which the latest cuts will remove include those which organise and run author talks and other events such as holiday activities for children, run the borough's popular and successful music service and liaise with and buy books for the borough's many diverse ethnic minority communities.
Ealing's taxpayers can make a decision to cut or downgrade these services, but they do at least deserve to be given accurate and truthful information about that choice.
Dumbing down to save money
IT WOULD appear Mr Taylor thinks that appealing to people's pockets rather than their common sense is a way to persuade us that 'dumbing down' is a good idea.
He states there are only 12 staff to be lost, yet also mentions that 29 librarians are to go. So he is admitting librarians are being removed and being replaced with cheaper staffing. At the same time - as he states - RFID (self service) is introduced, enabling what most people would imagine is a reduction of frontline staffing rather than the back offices.
It is clear that anyone who refers to ISBNs and barcodes as new technology isn't in touch with innovations over the decades. But perhaps he imagines that with all the cuts to libraries and education over the last few years we have all dumbed down enough that we won't see the inconsistencies of his argument. Ealing libraries already provide a mix of staff with a range of qualifications. Us readers would like this to continue. This way we might have a chance at finding someone who can answer our more difficult questions when we are trying to do research. It looks like this service is another one Ealing Council has decided to axe without consulting the public. I remember a couple of years ago when library members were consulted and we said we wanted more librarians and more events. So now they take away the librarians and events get sparser. I suppose what the people want doesn't matter when we might be saved a penny or two off our council tax.
A LAYNE Ealing
Taylor has a forked tongue
COUNCILLOR Phil Taylor's letter about the library cuts does not reassure me.
This current restructuring will be no more successful than the previous three (since 2003). Why? Because it is finance driven and designed to save money. The right premise would be to ask what the service needs and then build a structure appropriate to that need. I think it's safe to say that in a couple of years either the council or a new head of service will start tinkering again and restructuring number five will be unveiled, either to a great fanfare or an embarrassed silence.
As a council tax payer I am in favour of efficiency,reducing waste and improving value for money. But I'm also in favour of having decent services, and if more has to be paid in order to fund them then I'm not opposed to doing so. I suspect that there are other people who feel the same way.
I'm also amused by Cllr Taylor's reference to new technologies like ISBNs etc.The ISBN has been with us since 1970, bar codes appeared on Ealing's books in the mid-70s and security tags appeared in the early 80s. The RFID tags are a newer development and are essential to the self-issue system at the Central Library.
It's worth putting this in some historical context and reminding the library users of Ealing what they have lost over the years. Working with some retired colleagues we came up with a list including the closure of Hanger Hill Library and the Schools Library Service,reduction in the number of mobile libraries, loss of the learning centres, destruction of the reference services and community information, downgrading of the ELIS database and the reduction in the size of book stock at Greenford and Pitshanger.
Cllr Taylor's remarks about the chartered librarians also cut no ice.For a start, while we do take pride in our professional qualifications, that wasn't the reason we took them. We undertook the course in order to learn skills that would enable us to be good librarians. Sadly those skills seem not to be valued by those in charge as once they were.Despite Cllr Taylor's reassuring tone I have to ask why is it that former colleagues who are qualified feel so despondent? One reason is that they have seen a reduction in the number of qualified staff in each of the previous three restructuring.Another is that they get no sense from those in charge that they are valued. On the contrary they feel that they have no future in the new order being constructed.
It seems to me that mixed messages are being given out. I'm reminded of those Hollywood westerns of my youth wherein a native American would frequently observe that 'paleface speak with forked tongue'. Substitute the word 'bosses' for 'paleface' and you're close to the truth.