Library Jobs Under Threat
A Tameside Council report (Strategic Planning and Capital Monitoring Panel - 30 November 2015), sets out Tameside Council's 'vision' for a "modern, progressive library service." The report says that although the closure of fives libraries in September 2012 and cuts in opening hours led to savings of £1 million, the council now wants to achieve further savings of £15o,000 a year.
It may surprise some people to learn that not so long ago, Tameside had at least 22 libraries (see below). Many of these libraries were closed by the council long before the so-called financial crisis in 2008. It now runs eight libraries with 45.2 full-time library staff and 59 officers (more chiefs than Indians) and recently closed both the Hyde and Denton library buildings. Alternative library facilities on a much reduced scale, have been squeezed into rooms at both Hyde and Denton Town Halls.
Central to the council's 'vision' of a "modern, progressive library service", is to have 'self- service' unstaffed libraries and to replace remunerated library staff, with unpaid volunteers. The report says:
"Self service (via Radio Frequency Identification - R.F.I.D. ) should be promoted as the channel of choice both within libraries and digitally." It is envisaged that the majority of library transactions will be undertaken independently by customers, including self-booking of library PC's, either in person or via a mobile device. The report also says:
"Customers who wish to use the library independently will be able to visit during advertised unstaffed hours by using their library card and pin number to gain access...Investment in a technical system will allow use of libraries by customers when no staff are present." It is the introduction of a new Library Management System at a cost of £77,415 and R.F.I.D. technology which is seen as the key to self service libraries in Tameside.
Although the report points out that theft of library materials is 'considerable', it says that better security technology could prevent this happening. However, one glaring and obvious omission, in this report, is that it does not deal with the health and safety implications of running unstaffed public libraries in Tameside. For example, who would be responsible for dealing with a tipsy miscreant hell-bent on annoying library users or a library user, who racially abuses a library customer, or a male library user annoying a female library user? Who would be responsible for dealing with incidents like this in unstaffed public libraries?
The report also seems to assume that most people have access to mobile technological devices and internet access. A cause for further concern, is the way in which Tameside seems to want to replace paid library staff, with unpaid library volunteers. While volunteering can be beneficial to some people, isn't voluntary work just being used by the council to get rid of staff by displacement and substitution using volunteers? No doubt the town hall unions will have something to say about this.