Manifestos – stage one accomplished

Well, we’re into the final run-up to the election. SLIC is, of course, looking forward to working with the next administration and it’s an exciting time, full of promise and anticipation. No matter the outcome, libraries will continue to figure large in the media, because of the value which the public ascribe to them. The Scottish Greens, the SNP and the Scottish Labour manifestos pledge support for libraries. By this, they mean public libraries failing to take on board the messages about the work of the wider profession. Getting a mention into the manifestos was the result of a sustained campaign by SLIC which involved chief executives, COSLA, local councillors, PR and lobbying specialists as well as librarians themselves. Starting first with a DVD which promoted the Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix to chief executives and councillors, SLIC worked with PR specialists GolleySlater and members of the public as well as Councillor Andrew Miller of West Lothian Council to convey a modern image of libraries. This included Rhymetime, skills development, information and education. The challenge is rebranding an already loved and trusted brand, without Sir Stuart Rose and the massive resources of Marks and Spencer.

The next stage was a round of conferences talking to people who are responsible for libraries. In Scotland it is local government who are charged with the responsibility for the delivery of public library services. The England legislation is different and there’s no DCMS responsibility and vigilance role. The Scottish culture ministry has an interest and is supportive of libraries but it’s difficult to get ministers from other departments like education to take any active role. They fund education via local authorities and the Scottish Funding Council, expecting them to sort out the fine detail within the National Performance Framework. Throughout the autumn it was a long slog of going round individuals putting together the manifestos. The political landscape is such that all parties could have pivotal power and you never know when you can be used to trade, or be traded. The 1:1 meetings provide anything between 30 minutes and an hour to get the elevator pitch across and convince the person opposite that libraries are such a vote-winner that they must figure in the manifesto. When you strike up a conversation most people recall library experiences from their earliest days and often this is very stereotypical. The exceptions are young political researchers who recall their recent student experiences and the valuable resources they’ve been able to access; and the young parents who comment on Rhymetimes and then look at you dryly and says how they’d be happy to pay for that.

As part of this process you need to have something to talk to – an agreed party line. In SLIC’s case this was the library policy briefing, Libraries connecting people and communities. This was put together focusing on three main strands – skills and employability, Curriculum for Excellence and individuals and families. Each section was cross-sectoral and featured a few statistics and a short case study. The introductory section brought it all together (in case the reader only looked at the first page) with the ‘big asks’ at the foot – what is it SLIC wants to help libraries to do and what stakeholders can do to help. The full policy briefing was widely circulated to chief executives, library portfolio holders in councils and councillors. The shorter version with the introduction went to CILIPS members asking them to go to surgeries and ask for a positive ‘vote’ for libraries.

A successful Garden Lobby event was held at the Scottish Parliament in January, promoting library excellence and presenting awards. The cross-sectoral local library managers were asked to write to their MSPs inviting them along and asking them to pick up the award. This brought about 20 of them out to the event (photo opportunity) and several local councillors also attended.

CILIPS worked with its members to develop a new website which gives the background and encourages the public to register their ‘vote’ for libraries and also to say why libraries are important to them. The media picked up on this and there were a few radio appearances and a group of local authors led by Julia Donaldson and Theresa Breslin lobbied at the Scottish Parliament handing in a petition of public support. Much of their interest was about school librarians and their support for literacy development. It was interesting to see Edinburgh City Council back off the day before the rally at the Parliament from their proposal to cut school librarians’ hours to term-time only a decision the Council leader and portfolio-holder for finance later told me ‘it was an easy decision to make’. East Ayrshire Council softened its proposal to sessional hours from wider restructuring and de-professionalisation.

The net result was two parliamentary questions, encouragement for schools and pupils to make use of public libraries, support for the role of libraries as cultural ‘hub’, support for the NLS and NAS online heritage resources, support for the Literacy Commission, widened access to superfast broadband, wi-fi for workers on the move and e-book lending, protection for mobile libraries and the Glasgow Women’s Library.

The efforts to advocate for libraries have paid of on the face of things but the clever bit will be seeing what happens in the next few weeks and converting the pledges into specific support. We also need to widen our advocacy across the sectors so that health, education and digital inclusion start recognising the contribution of librarians to their outcomes. The public support has been terrific and CILIPS will be working to optimise this through Planning is already underway for the next set of election, local government in May 2012, and the autumn budget round will see all the same issues being raised again as councils fight for savings to balance their books. Plus ça change, ça change rien!


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