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An open letter to Libraries Unlimited South West, library staff and library members…

Reproduced here with permission from the author:

An open letter to Libraries Unlimited South West, Library staff and Library members – some observations following the DCC Scrutiny Committee of 12th June, 2018.

To whom it may concern,

I would like to say thank you to my friends and (ex)colleagues.  Over 12 years I met and worked with wonderful people.  I truly appreciate knowing you.

“The library service has lost its way.  Every charity has a purpose which it must fulfil.  Libraries Unlimited has forgotten this and has become focused, instead, on growing their organisation.”

The library service has lost its way.  Every charity has a purpose which it must fulfil.  Libraries Unlimited has forgotten this and has become focused, instead, on growing their organisation.  Their mission statement lists six core purposes:

  • Promoting and encouraging a love of reading
  • Providing free access to information to help people in their everyday lives
  • Inspiring people of all ages to learn, imagine, create, succeed and realise their potential
  • Guiding and supporting people to explore and connect to the wider world
  • Offering a welcoming space to meet, socialise, learn, read and enjoy new experiences
  • Supporting the health and wellbeing of individuals and local communities.
  • I think these should once again become their priority.

Growing up loving libraries I have been dismayed by the changes to a library service I have known and been a part of since childhood.  I worked at Barnstaple Library (and other North Devon Libraries) for more than a decade until my redundancy last year.  I understand the need for cuts and I would not be writing this if I did not see my local library services being unnecessarily eroded and destroyed.  This redundancy puts me in the unusual situation of being interested and in touch with staff from many branches and removes me from the internal pressures forcing members of staff to be silent.

“I would not be writing this if I did not see my local library services being unnecessarily eroded and destroyed.  This redundancy puts me in the unusual situation of being interested and in touch with staff from many branches and removes me from the internal pressures forcing members of staff to be silent.”

The Library is being taken to breaking point and resources are being mismanaged.  This relates to staff as well as to stock and hardware.  As Barnstaple is the library I know best, let me use their example to explain.

Included in the changes which started a year ago “library assistants” (amongst others) were deemed unnecessary and were replaced with “customer service assistants”.  In this case, 12 people who had worked there successfully and competently for years had to apply for 12 jobs at the same level.  This used interview resources and stressed a strong team. Only 11 people were appointed.  Most immediately applied to change their hours.  In situations like this in the past, the hours had been fairly shared between the appropriate staff.   Now only 10 people are filling those 12 roles.  In January they could not afford to fill a role they had deemed necessary in August – they still have not.  However, at the same time they created and filled another management role.

Libraries Unlimited are increasingly management heavy.  At Barnstaple, there are now 5 managers managing 11 frontline staff.  Unfortunately, there are increasing examples of managers at Libraries Unlimited being too keen to look after their own interests than to do the job or look after their staff.

“Unfortunately, there are increasing examples of managers at Libraries Unlimited being too keen to look after their own interests than to do the job or look after their staff.”

In the resulting redundancies, they lost 178 years of experience.  (I have included some of the social media reaction to just one of those people below.)  One of the consequences of this is that they now have no-one who has a direct responsibility to specialist sections like Children’s or Local Studies.  It is unclear how they will fulfil their Local Studies commitments with so little time, interest or knowledge.  The experienced Supervisor of Local Studies was one of the redundancies.  They also made redundant the role equivalent to Children’s Librarian who would proactively engage with children, both at school visits and in the library.  No-one now working at Barnstaple Library has a keen interest in children’s books.  Previously there were several.  These people all had knowledge, dedication and passion for their section and the Library Service.

At the same time, nearly half of the non-fiction shelving on the first floor open to the public was removed, including almost all of the publicly accessible reference.  Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific or accurate about how much shelving space or how many books because Libraries Unlimited has refused to answer questions about how much has gone.  As the library charges to order books, removing so many from North Devon is likely to result in more fees or fewer loans for North Devon borrowers.  This free library space has been filled by a “fablab” which runs as a business and charges users.

A new, untrialled computer catalogue was introduced at this point which has brought staff to tears on several occasions and does not work well with their outdated computers and software.

Libraries Unlimited describes itself as “open” and “transparent”.  However, it is not clear what public donations described as going “directly towards library services” are being used for.  My understanding is that library services cannot be paid for by donations and must be paid for by core funds.  Members of staff who have asked managers what it is being used for have received conflicting answers.

“The odd secrecy and lack of information Senior Management insists upon runs throughout the organisation.”

The odd secrecy and lack of information Senior Management insists upon runs throughout the organisation.  While I was there we were discouraged from open communication with our colleagues and often not permitted to talk freely with the public.  Current members of staff have told me that they are frightened of saying anything that could be construed as negative because they fear being “got rid of” and others have described themselves as “gagged”.  Some members of staff have had to sign non-disclosure agreements.  Libraries Unlimited (in at least one case) eventually offered an apology for their unprofessional and potentially illegal behaviour but on the condition that the individuals signed a gagging order.  

“Libraries Unlimited (in at least one case) eventually offered an apology for their unprofessional and potentially illegal behaviour but on the condition that the individuals signed a gagging order.”

Managers rarely answer questions – from staff or members of the public.  I have found it takes weeks and multiple emails to get a reply (if at all) which then contains no answer to the question asked.  There is no way for staff or members of the public to contact the Board of Trustees directly.  After more than two years of asking I have still received neither answer nor explanation of why we are not allowed to communicate directly with the Charity’s board.

“Staff are micromanaged and squashed, wasting their intelligence, knowledge, experience, ability and potential.”

Staff are micromanaged and squashed, wasting their intelligence, knowledge, experience, ability and potential.  It has taken me (and other redundant staff) months to stop checking and requiring unnecessary approval from our new employers.  Previously dedicated and happy staff are demoralised and describe working there as “just a job now”.  For years the Library has relied on goodwill from staff.  I have seen it stripped of goodwill.

Alongside this, there is a lack of care.  Despite problems being brought to their attention they continue to discriminate against disabled staff and borrowers.  Members of staff are expected to work without appropriate training, in some cases leaving them open to personal prosecution.  They do not prepare their staff for clear changes like GDPR and Universal credit.  They continue to retain unnecessary extra data and regularly display personal information on publicly visible screens.  They have had serious data breaches – I have received other members of staff’s payslips on more than one occasion and believe that mine have been sent elsewhere too.  Members of staff have repeatedly warned them that by not investing in current computer hardware they lay themselves open to attacks and data breaches.

I am ashamed at how the management of the library has behaved and of what they are continuing to do to our Library Service.  It is not in our best interests, nor is it in the best interests of Libraries Unlimited.  Their behaviour also includes petty things like refusing to mention me and my colleagues redundancies in the internal bulletin (where announcements and goodbyes are normally made) or my manager, Jude, not speaking to me since the day of the phone call telling me that I no longer had a job despite my continuing employment for another 6 months.  This is indicative of a persistent lack of consideration for staff as people.  Is it any wonder that this callousness is considered normal and acceptable when the Library is led by Ciara Eastell who told frontline staff receiving pay cuts that because She worked hard She did not deserve a pay cut, and Julie Dent who publicly referred to cuts, which included multiple redundancies of dedicated staff members, as taking “all the low hanging fruit out”?

“Is it any wonder that this callousness is considered normal and acceptable when the Library is led by Ciara Eastell who told frontline staff receiving pay cuts that because She worked hard She did not deserve a pay cut, and Julie Dent who publicly referred to cuts, which included multiple redundancies of dedicated staff members, as taking “all the low hanging fruit out”?”

Please ask Libraries Unlimited for clarification and answers.  I am happy to provide specifics and examples if they will not.

Please do not let our library become empty shells consisting of only managers, self-service machines and volunteers.

I know this is long!  Thank you for your time,

Emily Sibthorpe.

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 13.00.34

Below is the response on social media to a positive post regarding the personal circumstances of just one of the eight redundancies from Barnstaple Library

Perfectly put. I almost hate visiting the library, now that you and X are no longer there

Well said, and thankyou for making me feel so welcome. X

It has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside you for the last 2 years as both a friend and colleague. You will be missed by many but I know that we both, plus x and our other friends have memories to make elsewhere. I hold a lot of admiration and respect for you and I know that you will continue to be simply fantastic in all that you do! Xxxx

Couldn’t have done it without you and everyone else

Still can’t believe they’d do this to someone after 31 years, someone who loved what they did, who’s respected by many local families and who put 100% into their work. Its been wonderful to have collaborated with you, and I’m so glad we’ve become friends.

Sending love and hugs and friendship to you xx  I have enjoyed every second working with you in the last few years xx I particularly enjoyed the fashion show where much fun was had!   And adults only storytime!   Hold your head high chuck because you are amazing!

You will be sorely missed! The management are utter fools for losing this much experience and knowledge. Outrageous behavior.  x, have you heard this horrible news?

And they are now advertising Xs job! I put on the post.

My children spent many an evening, after school, enjoying your enthusiasm for children’s literature. I have to admit that as I passed the library last week I had to remind myself that both you and X were no longer there. Here’s to new beginnings  X and X   Thank you both for your friendship xx

x says she still vaguely recollects that conversation; it’s further testament to you, as a librarian, that you remember such detail

How very, very sad. I’m coming to Appledore in October and had hoped I might see you then. You will have left a lasting legacy of inspiring whole generations of children to read. Children you’ve switched onto reading or nurtured their passion will pass that love of books onto THEIR children, and so on and so on, and so it will go. Never underestimate your contribution… so a great big congratulations and thank you for all you’ve done. Sod the ‘restructurers’ and I hope you find a satisfying way to spend your days. *Big hug* #SaveLibraries

You’re still the first person x would let sit him on your lap during Bounce & Rhyme that wasn’t Adam or I. You’re loved so much in this town & I don’t think those in charge know how much you have done throughout the many years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you through WBD quizzes, author events & Bounce & Rhyme with x. I think I can speak for all the Bounce & Rhyme Mums when I say you’re going to be missed by the adults & the little ones.

X – you are fantastic! To me and to many people you are the life and soul of the library they are absolutely ignorant to do this to you and as a result even the atmosphere at the library will change! You will do wonders wherever you go next. Much support! X

So sorry to hear this X. I moved to Devon as a 7 year old in 1988 and you’ve always been part of the children’s library, right up to move recent years when I’ve been in to research for my class as a teacher. Good luck in your next adventure. X

Honoured to be on your author list, X, and so sad that you are going the way of too many librarians. Good luck with whatever comes next. x

Well said X, we miss you, library’s just not the same without you. Wishing you all the best xx

The library won’t be the same without you X. Love and best wishes for the future. X

*Big sad sigh* Dear X, it’s been an honour and an education working with you, not to mention brilliant fun being your friend. You have given so much happiness to so many children over the years, often to the ones that needed it most of all. You made a difference. I’m looking forward to seeing what your future holds because I reckon it will be as special as you. I’ll miss that 100 watt library sunbeam smile  ️ ️xxx

Shameful and disgraceful action by libraries unlimited. I am glad you have made this public. I wish you every success in the future but I personally will be questioning this restructuring exercise with libraries unlimited.

I have had the absolute pleasure of working alongside you for 31 years and find myself in the same position. You’re always so enthusiastic and inspirational X, I’m sure you’ll soon find an employer who will appreciate your many talents and onesies! Xxxx

Well you may be feeling thankful – and what a gracious and wonderful post you’ve written – but I am incandescent with rage! You ARE Barnstaple Library. I can’t imagine the place without you. Such a sad, sad day. xxx

I echo x’s sentiment. You and X WERE Barnstaple library to my family. Libraries Unlimited have made a very unwise decision.

X, that is awful! Can’t believe you have been forced out, when you have put so much energy and enthusiasm and wisdom and experience into what you do! You will leave a very big hole. Much love and good luck with whatever you turn your hand to next – and hope to bump into you here and there… x

It’s an honour to be on that list of authors to have worked with you, X. So sad you won’t be at Barnstaple library for this year’s Book Festival. I’m betting your talents will soon be put to great use elsewhere though – wishing you the best of luck x

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that every experience I have had with Barnstaple library has been the better for your presence, and your leaving will leave a huge hole, no matter how good the other staff are.

I told you no-one would notice if you posted this!!  Seriously, so sad that your enthusiasm, experience and hard work have been lost to the library but I am sure that you will find something else and be appreciated. The same goes for others in the same position. X xxxx

So many of the things I do at Ilfracombe are built upon your ideas, I’m still going to pick your brains though misses xxxx love you loads X, great friend and inspirational loon! Xx

I agree with x you have been a great support to us X thank you xx

We still can’t understand how this has possibly come to pass, X, and even more so when you look back at all you have achieved over your 31 years there…what a huge loss to the library service, to the vast numbers of children who already know and love you at the library, and to those who will now never get to experience the passion and enthusiasm for books and reading that you brought to every day of your job. A sad day indeed 😦

This is really sad news for the x clan – for us, and me in particular, you have been the lovely face of Barnstaple Library through all my children’s childhood so far, not to mention your wonderful hosting of the schools World Book Day Quiz each year, and the Gold Booktrack author visits, Bump and Rhyme time etc etc etc. I’m sure your colleagues are fab, but for me, the library will be a poorer and less vibrant place without you. All the very best wishes for whatever you decide to do next, X. You are a legend! Xxx

Very sad to hear this X, I brought both of my children along to your sessions in the library, a ray of sunshine in our week! I’m now running Book Bug sessions on The Isle of Mull where we now call home and I often think back to how wonderful you were with my children – a real natural and an inspiration xx

X, even as a 16 year old school leaver we could spot your potential. These lovely comments demonstrate that at least we made the right choice and you’ll be sadly missed.

Sad to hear that X. I’m positive that the good work you’ve done over the years will live on through many readers for years to come. x

X you taught me how to be a librarian. Not a customer service assistant but a librarian. You recognised my skills and nurtured me in a way no one would have or could have done. I can’t thank you enough. I will try my utmost to ensure that while I still work at Barnstaple Library the children’s library is still a vibrant and wonderful place for our borrowers. You are very much missed by the children and parents who ask me daily where you are. I tell the truth although some days I have wanted to cry. The library is not the same without you and never will be. But I know you will spread your unique magic somewhere else and those employers will be very lucky to have you! I know I am very lucky to count you as my friend. x

I would like to endorse everything x posted above

Libraries Unlimited has let us all down by making you redundant, but they’ve given you the opportunity to shine doing something new and exciting, whether you choose to be employed or self-employed. Here’s to your brilliant future!

I’m honoured to be counted as an author friend, and the icing on the cake is to be listed ahead of Michael Morpurgo.

I think this is a great shame, to us at the zoo you were the library and we have been encouraged by you to do some excellent things. Why restrucutre something that had such a good team and worked so well for all ages and abilities. We will all miss you at the zoo. Somewere there is an organisation that is going to get a brilliant member of staff 🙂 Keep well x

You will be hugely missed X! You were great to work with in my Ottakar’s days and contributed in making x the book lover he is today. Best wishes for the future and stay in touch! X

Your amazing inspiring so many children and adults alike. The place wont be the same without you but look forward to hearing about your next adventure and hopefully seeing around huge hugs from me and x x

Wow X, this is the longest thread I’ve seen on Facebook! You are a legend! X

So sad X   I’ve also been made redundant after 24 years with DCC not even a Thank you letter!!! So I know how you feel !!!

We will miss you greatly. You have always been so great with the kids and so enthusiastic and helpful! Good luck for the future.x

Dear X me x x and x all miss you so much they have grown up with your fabulous stories you made the books so much fun and we had many lovely adventures you made reading so much fun you made us all feel as if we were special because of your enthusiasm you have a very special talent especially with children and your interaction with them that takes talent and empathy we had lots of laughs and I love your shoes and your gorgeous nails the soul has gone out of the library and I apologise if that offends some people but that is how I feel
We miss you so much it isn’t the same without you but I wish you well in whatever you do next with much love x x x x  please keep in touch pmm xxxx

So many library users are missing you X. Many are in complete shock, and actually angry that this could have happened. However, it is also a great opportunity for you to expand, you will discover even more talents and skills. Branching out will be very exciting for you and your next employer – celebrate. You have a huge following and I bet they follow you on your next adventure. What you have done for hundreds of children, mine included over the years, is beyond measure. You were a great colleague and remain a great friend – to so many. Xx

Very sad, always found a friendly face and sometimes much needed chat with an adult with you in the library. Always creative positive and great fun. I wish you well for the future and whoever gets you next will be a lucky employer. Xxxx

Ahh X so sad the library’s loss it won’t be the same place without you or your knowledge or personal relationships with families.i feel really sad for you all our love xxxxx

I think that you have all the ideas and imagination to write that book. I know an illustrator should you need one. She too has time now that she is no longer with the library.
It is just so wrong that you are gone from the library.

This is a sad day indeed, what are they thinking ..you have given so much to our library. Your passion and enthusiasm for reading has encouraged children( and adults) to explore the world of books. The hours of fun we have all had in the library with your wonderful workshops . Coming down to the library with the school children to meet the author and you coming to school to read magical stories with all the fabulous puppets. .. oh you will be sorely missed……A big thank you for everything you’ve done and lots of best wishes for your future adventures …hugs and kisses

I always knew you were very highly thought of in the library, but these comments just cement what a invaluable asset they have thrown away! But, I also know that you will come out of this smiling on the other side & the libraries loss is some lucky future employers gain! Personally I have you to thank for nurturing your niece & nephews love of reading & introducing them to so many authors they wouldn’t have heard of. I also have you to BLAME for the 65 million books in our house & loft (saved for grandchildren!)
Keep smiling little x & look forward to new beginnings xxx

You are our very favourite librarian- my children always look for you to do their book track books with and we will miss you hugely.
Thank you for making the library such a fun and friendly place for us

Oh my God X! You were the lynchpin of that Library. No more laughs when we come in now. Very sad to hear this. X

I’m so furious (and sad) about this.

We are devastated and just can’t quite get over the stupidity of this action.
X, you turned x’s reading, and writing, world around, from those first book track days when she reviewed her books whilst literally spinning on the chair, and finding her inspiring reads in large text when her eye tracking was so poor. She was so proud when you came to school to award her gold medal, and again when you were there to award her first published story for the Devon libraries competition. Between you and x Bookaneers kept her love of reading going just when so many dyslexics give up. You took her on for community action with so many other of our Girl Guides and now she’s still there doing her DofE! We can’t thank you enough for our aspiring author. I feel sure you are going to find further outlets for your fabulous talents and legendary enthusiasm. Plus onesies! Much love as ever.

So sorry to hear your redundancy x be creative and enjoy X keep well x

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this. It’s just not fair   xx

You were good at what you done and it was a pleasure working with you! They are fools for letting you go all the best for the future

I’m sad to hear we’ll no longer see you on our library trips. Wishing you all the best for your future 🙂

X we’ve had a great time working with too at WOW

You have been a favourite in our household from the moment the children were tiny and new to the library, through to the times they were representing Swimbridge school at the book quizzes. You have always been enthusiastic and welcoming and it’s shocking that you have been made to leave.

Sorry to hear that it has come to this X. I know exactly how it feels having been there myself. Time for you to write your memoirs methinks; ‘The Life and Times of a Rogue Librarian.

 

To see the original post and any future responses, click here.

 

What is your experience of Libraries Unlimited?

Feel free to leave a comment or send an email to elizcro@gmail.com

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3 thoughts on “An open letter to Libraries Unlimited South West, library staff and library members…

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