Private companies could take over libraries


1:19 pm - February 15th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Independent reports:

The Independent has learnt that LSSI, an American firm which manages 13 public libraries across the US, has set itself a target to manage libraries in eight British local authorities by the end of the year and to capture 15 per cent of the market within five years. Libraries could house coffee shops and bring in self-scanning technology.

Ministers say they are relaxed about having “a Starbucks in the library” if that keeps libraries open. Nearly 400 are threatened with closure, a figure that could rise to 800 by the end of the year.

Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, said that private-sector firms “cannot guarantee the same level of transparency. Local authorities have to be absolutely clear on the terms of contract when entering into these deals. British taxpayers risk losing their own tax pounds to American firms.”

The last quote is the most worrying.

On balance I have no problems with libraries being kept open, if the only way to do that is by bringing in outside money.

But firstly, its not clear that is the only fate for libraries now.

Secondly, these companies would inevitably try to recoup their investment by charging higher for services – further limiting access to the poorest in society.

Lastly – its not even clear this is a successful business model. Borders, which attempted this across the USA and UK, is going bust. Will councils step in to save libraries if the companies managing them go bust?

(via @FalseEcon)

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


How many people still use libraries for financial reasons i.e. because they can’t afford books?

There is understandably a great fuss being made about saving libraries but I wonder how many people actually use them these days?

1 A lot of people use libraries, and a lot of retired tory voters use them.

Not everybody has a selfish, ” I’ve got mine , fuck you ” attitude that is so symptomatic of the tory trolls on here, who revel in other peoples hardship, and misfortune.

But no surprise to see the tories trying to flog them off. Conservatives hate anything they can’t own.

Less than in the past maybe but still quite a few. In 2007-2008 there were 1.5million loans of books by James Patterson from UK libraries. Libraries offer more than just books, they offer computers, music (when I was young they even used to have an art library where you could borrow paintings for a small monthly fee). Librarians are skilled workers as they have to know what all those funny little numbers mean and where the books go if they want to find them again. They also know about which books to recommend. They can order any book from any library branch in the country for a small fee which is great news if you want a rare title and don’t want to pay ebay prices. A lot of people either want a book for a short time to read for entertainment or reference, they don’t want to own it or simply can’t afford to. Libraries are one of the hallmarks of a civilised country, no wonder the Tories hate them

For the 2002 Federal Elections in Germany I wanted to look up some of the finer points of the electoral system there so I visited the central reference library in the London borough where I live and asked the librarian on duty for assistance in searching for texts on current politics and government in Germany.

The computer search turned up with just one book on modern German politics – a thoroughly respectable academic textbook – along with several dozen texts relating to the history of the rise and demise of Third Reich.

In the week that followed, I wondered for comparison what a similar search for a text on modern French politics and government would turn up so I went back to the library. The search turned up just one text on modern French politics along with several dozen texts relating to the history of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

It seems to me these priorities for the library shelf stock are completely misplaced but I guess I will be told the stock reflects user demands, namely, a greater interest in the past history of Europe than in the present and current affiars.

If the policy of the libraries is just to reflect popular demand – as best I can tell, the local libraries sold off most of the heavyweight reference stock years back to save on storage costs – I can’t think of any strong reason for retaining the libraries in the ownership of the council.

As a boy, I used to borrow books from a commercial library in the locality where I lived then, popular light reading of the kind that most public libraries wouldn’t have considered stocking at the time. But then I also used to borrow heavyweight textbooks from the Clapham public library – located near where Graham Greene lived at one time and the setting for his novel: The End of the Affair. Popular commercial libraries have been crowded out by public libraries catering for popular demand just as many of the local video hire shops have been driven out of business.

It’s not transparently obvious why the council should strive to provide a service that can easily be provided by the business sector or via the internet. I cringe when I recall what happened in the autumn of 2008 when I asked at the issue desk of my local public library for any advice on books to borrow about the current financial crisis – they had no advice to offer. I rate the collection of economics texts available in the library stock as no better than A-level standard at best.

It will not be long before Private Companies are given the oppertunity to Bid on running The House’s of Parliament, even Downing Street, imagine that.

We had better hope that David Cameron and the Tories dont get to carried away with their Fixation on selling off all our National Assets.

“British taxpayers risk losing their own tax pounds to American firms.”

The last quote is the most worrying.”

Ahahahaha.

I never took you to be an economic nationalist Sunny, alongside the BNP.

Secondly, these companies would inevitably try to recoup their investment by charging higher for services – further limiting access to the poorest in society.

Really? It looked to me from that article that the companies would provide the basic service – that of being a lending library – free of charge as part of its remit for running a library. Costs would then be recouped by charging for peripherals – such as leasing space to a coffee shop. I can see drawbacks with the proposal, but it looks like an interesting one nonetheless.

On a more general point, I was invited three or four years ago to a focus group in Westminster about libraries. Did I use them (no), would the ability to borrow dvds make me use them more (no), would I go if libraries had other community functions (probably not) and so on. My feeling then was that I’d only use a library when I had young children, and that the actual adult audience for lending libraries was really quite limited.

If this is what we get from a taxpayer funded public service with a verging-on monopoly in the supply of national healthcare services, maybe there is a good case for privatising the NHS healthcare providers and funding personal healthcare services by a state run social insurance scheme:

“The NHS is failing to treat elderly patients in England with care, dignity and respect, an official report says. The Health Service Ombudsman came to the conclusion after carrying out an in-depth review of 10 cases.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12464831

The usual mantra: public supply = good, while business supply = bad, really doesn’t wash when we look at the evidence.

@Sunny: “Will councils step in to save libraries if the companies managing them go bust?”

Er, no – isn’t that the whole point of the Big Society project?

Lastly – its not even clear this is a successful business model. Borders, which attempted this across the USA and UK, is going bust.

IIUC, Borders is screwed* because it’s competing with (1) supermarkets now selling books, (2) internet retailers, and (3) eBooks.

(* the rest of the books industry isn’t great, either)

@10

The extent and variability of discounts on books sold in supermarkets and by internet sellers are an indication of the massive competition failings in this market. The regular high street booksellers attempted to stick with the Nett Book Agreement for far too long so the business simply migrated to sellers who refused to go along with the agreement.

No one here has remarked that the volume of public library lending is in decline:

Annual book issues from UK public libraries have been decreasing since 1980, due mainly to decreases in issues of adult fiction and, to a lesser extent, adult non-fiction.
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?issn=0022-0418&volume=60&issue=6&articleid=864264&show=html&PHPSESSID=7scogo3o2f0e93s4k8k941soi4

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 11 Bob B

“The extent and variability of discounts on books sold in supermarkets and by internet sellers are an indication of the massive competition failings in this market. The regular high street booksellers attempted to stick with the Nett Book Agreement for far too long so the business simply migrated to sellers who refused to go along with the agreement.”

Aha! I always wondered why books were always sold at the marked price unless specifically presented as being on special offer.

“No one here has remarked that the volume of public library lending is in decline.”

It’s been said elsewhere, and I’m guessing it’s due to competition from VHS, DVDs, an increasing number of TV channels, video games, and the internet.

@12:

“No one here has remarked that the volume of public library lending is in decline.”

It’s been said elsewhere, and I’m guessing it’s due to competition from VHS, DVDs, an increasing number of TV channels, video games, and the internet.

Mostly the internet, which has essentially superceded libraries as a reference source.

If libraries want to stay relevant, it would make sense for them to offer more internet services. Not just letting people browse using library computers (which often run Windows, and are very slow), but by haing free wifi on the premises, so people could use their own laptops/iPads/smart phones etc.

If they continue to be mainly a book lending service, they will wither away and die.

14. Chaise Guevara

@ 13 Phil Hunt

Interesting. The mooted idea of them adding coffee shops (whether run in-house or outsourced to Starbucks being an obvious point of contention) seems viable to me as well. I could happily sit in a library with a hot drink and a bit of cake – and I’d presumably have made a small profit for the library by buying those things, too.

@14: “The mooted idea of them adding coffee shops (whether run in-house or outsourced to Starbucks being an obvious point of contention) seems viable to me as well.”

My local library already has a coffee and snack shop as well as well-used internet terminals.

Unfortunately, when I asked at the issue desk for advice in the autumn of 2008 on books I might read relating to the financial crisis it had none to offer – although it had published reading lists on history topics to hand. For some reason, the local libraries seems to have an almost obsessive preoccupation with history but verging on no interest in current affairs. My deep suspicion is that the council hierarchy regards current affairs as potentially subversive.

16. Just Visiting

Some libraries not a good place to use a PC:

Hardware keyloggers found in Manchester library PCs

“…would have enabled baddies to record every keystroke made on compromised PCs. It’s unclear who placed the snooping devices on the machines but the likely purpose was to capture banking login credentials on the devices prior to their retrieval and use in banking fraud.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/15/hardware_keyloggers_manchester_libraries/

@16: “Hardware keyloggers found in Manchester library PCs”

Evidently, only weak and ineffective security software had been installed on library computer networks in Manchester, which is an argument for improving the management of the networks – and perhaps that of libraries too, not for withdrawing the facility.

IMO library resources are often seriously under-utilised. Libraries have responded to declining volumes of book lending by opting for soft options – like lending out videos and providing computer networks for internet access, albeit with inadequate security, two activities which were provided by the business sector and which still are in some localities.

Opportunities being missed by libraries:

– Boosting adult literacy: “Up to 12 million working UK adults have the literacy skills expected of a primary school child, the Public Accounts Committee says. . . The report says there are up 12 million people holding down jobs with literacy skills and up to 16 million with numeracy skills at the level expected of children leaving primary school.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4642396.stm

– According to official statistics, about 9 million people in Britain have never accessed the internet, of which a substantial percentage are pensioners. Computer networks installed in libraries can provide hands-on experience, an ideal means for helping pensioners to become computer users.

– Boosting the skills of computer users by providing short courses on security issues and how to use internet search engines to dig out information from the web

Besides help in using computers, pensioners and older adults also often need of help in using the new generation of smartphones:

“Mobile phones in the future will be able to monitor our health, alert us to nearby sales and ‘do things that we haven’t even begun to think of’, Google’s chief executive and chairman Eric Schmidt told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday evening. . . ”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/feb/15/eric-schmidt-smartphone-future

19. So Much For Subtlety

3. Schmidt – “Libraries offer more than just books, they offer computers, music (when I was young they even used to have an art library where you could borrow paintings for a small monthly fee).”

And that is why libraries are so damned expensive – they are moving out of their core competency to compete with the more expensive areas dominated by the private sector. We have internet cafes. There is no need for the local library to waste our money trying to go head to head with Starbucks.

“Librarians are skilled workers as they have to know what all those funny little numbers mean and where the books go if they want to find them again.”

Something that takes about three days to teach part-time students.

“They also know about which books to recommend.”

Although they almost never have a clue.

“They can order any book from any library branch in the country for a small fee which is great news if you want a rare title and don’t want to pay ebay prices.”

Another skill that can be taught to children on work experience.

“A lot of people either want a book for a short time to read for entertainment or reference, they don’t want to own it or simply can’t afford to.”

Which is what libraries ought to be for. A service they are moving further and further away from. Look, we know being a librarian is thought of as boring and a suitable topic for mockery. But I don’t see why we should be paying so that they can pretend to be IT workers. Libraries ought to be serving the same old function for us as they did for Karl Marx – a quiet place where people can read, think and do their research. Not an indoor high street.

The only reason for a private company to take over the management of any public service like this one is that the public sector lacks the balls to be in any way effective managers. That is why wages have exploded. That is why the patently insane and incompetent cannot be sacked. That is why services are so bad. We hand over libraries to private management and they will pay librarians what they are worth, they will sack the useless, they will manage effectively. This is, of course, stupid and even outrageous. We need a public sector with the balls to sack people who need to be sacked. And keep down wages.

How many people still use libraries for financial reasons i.e. because they can’t afford books?

There is understandably a great fuss being made about saving libraries but I wonder how many people actually use them these days?

I do and so do many others but it’s also a meeting place to chat, it also a community computer center. They were never made to make a profit, you can see the yanks demanding more money from the councils, sure Blair will be around this somewhere shouting yes yes yes before he shots his load.

For god sake make Tesco pay some of it profits or better still make it pay all it’s tax to help keep these places going.

I wonder what will take over from small rural libraries or mobile libraries which serve rural areas, perhaps they could sell fish’n ships from the back.

Or even fish’nchips

@Bob B

“I cringe when I recall what happened in the autumn of 2008 when I asked at the issue desk of my local public library for any advice on books to borrow about the current financial crisis – they had no advice to offer.”

WTF? In Autumn 2008 the financial crisis had barely got going and books about it’s causes haven’t even been punished. The librarian should have pointed you in the direction of the newspaper stand.

“I rate the collection of economics texts available in the library stock as no better than A-level standard at best.”

LOL, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

” My deep suspicion is that the council hierarchy regards current affairs as potentially subversive.”

ROFL!!! Are you for real?

“Opportunities being missed by libraries:”

All the services that you list are available at my central library.

My council this morning stated a £3.5 million refurbishment of the Library will take place and the council says it has no issues at all about keeping it open, but the public swimming pool is to close unless funding can be sorted out with private groups.

There is a rather strange underlying presumption on this thread (/site/internet…) that one size fits all. It seems to be envisaged that all libraries should be the same (or at least have the same options) – but there seems to reason for this to be the case. Leaving aside the much better-stocked central libraries and specialist reference libraries many councils provide, we do not then have an amorphous mass of libraries with identical demands. Rather the library in Govan and the library in Shaftesbury are two very different beasts (even ignoring the fact the Govan library has a dedicated heritage reference section – amazing what you can find on the internet), with different demands and clientelle. Trying to force them to fit an ideal image is just going to harm everyone (unless there is an average library somewhere…).

Libraries are in effect merely another service offered by local councils. What the exact services are, how they are offered and indeed who runs them is surely therefore a local matter – the sort of thing which local councillors should be able to decide, and which they will have to answer to the electorate (service users) over. This debate seems purely academic on that basis.

With regard to the original article, why Sunny thinks that a company seeking to run (not own) libraries will push prices up to maximise profits is beyond me. This is not a good way of getting contracts renewed (generally less contracts mean lower profits, unless you have bad contracts) and surely the best way to make money from a service from a library is not to maximise prices but to maximise participation in the library – thus making more people likely to spend money. A sensible contract for a company might even have bonus clauses (or penalty clauses) about user levels, borrower levels or the like thrown in.

“This is not a good way of getting contracts renewed ”

It is an excellent way of making money once you get the contract and are able to establish relationships with the key decision makers, employ their relatives, get the incumbancy advantage etc 😉

But you are correct, there is not a one size fits all approach, because not all libraries are the same. Even within the same local authority, there will be a mixture of libraries that provide essential and vital services, and those that are unused and not needed. Currently the best libraries provide: books, PCs with internet access, classrooms/meeting rooms, and good staff. This last point really isn’t appreciated by people, library staff can help people choose get online for the first time and use a computer, encourage them to enrol on courses, and in some cases act as social workers. The question is really how can we have a mechanism for ensuring the good libraries are funded and located where they have maximum impact, and the ones that are a waste get replaced/removed. We should always remember that when services are cut, they tend to be services located in the areas that don’t speak up, or are not politically sensitive (safe seats) etc. Not the services that do need to be closed.

Also notice how, despite the fact the state would continue to fund the private companies providing the service, nobody has popped up to say these aren’t real private companies. one rule for one sector…….

Planeshift,

The decisions should be being made by elected councillors, who have to answer for their decisions – so if their relatives start getting jobs with companies winning contracts, the voters should start asking questions (I appreciate in some places this will not happen – but if people want to vote for a corrupt mafia, who are we to stop them?). Anything else is just plain wrong.

And as to not real companies – of course they are real companies. They invest and seek to make a profit. The not real charities thing is because they get most of their money not from charitable donation (which is how I define charities) but from the state – no-one is saying they are not real voluntary organisations in some respects. That said, I don’t like companies that get most of their money from the state – they are real companies, but parasitic rather than productive in my view – hence my idea that no company earning more than say 30-40% (figure varies) of its income from government should be allowed to bid for government contracts. This should basically ensure an open market (perhaps it should also apply to charities as well – which would be fair and equitable and stop the development of one charity which monopolises funding for certain issues and becomes indebted to government).

Watchman,

You’ll have to forgive me for this, but I have no faith whatsover in the ability of the average councillor. I know it’s an unfair thing to say, but my general impression of them is of party hacks and little hitlers who are too thick to turn their interest in politics into a career. The turnout in council elections is so low that anybody with a gift for the gab could get a seat simply by drinking in more than one pub regularly. Even the various trot parties are capable of winning them. To some extent this is down to the fact that they don’t really have much power, but also I think there may be a small element of truth in my prejiduces above.

Planeshift,

What is to stop my low regard for most of the current crop (or at least the previous crop – the new intake are so far pretty interesting) of MPs making me regard it as sensible to give all power to a compotent Prime Minister?

Bluntly, if councillors start to make a real difference, then people will start to take notice – so yes, I think this is at root a lack of power (and also an example of the horrible media fixation on central power to the exclusion of much local politics).

@Bob B

Your library probably stocks few books about current affairs because the topic is, by definition, ephemeral. For the same reason, your library probably stocks few books about diet fads, yoyo tricks (a child craze twenty years ago) or Lady Gaga. There’ll be copies of cheap, popular fiction that have mass appeal, but few libraries will buy replacements for their Dan Browns when they wear out.

Will Hutton had a minor current affairs hit with The World We’re In (2002), but post 2008 economic events, it has little relevance except for historians wishing to understand the boom years. However Ian Kershaw’s books about Hitler will keep historians interested for decades.


On coffee shops in libraries: Libraries are very expensive buildings to build and to maintain. Conventional book shelves are heavy and the stack collections found in academic or major libraries are incredibly so. Thus, if you have built a dedicated library it makes sense to fill it with books. And it makes sense to use other space for lower density activity — internet terminals, coffee shops — which can be accommodated outside of a library. I’m not arguing for zero terminals or social space in libraries, but that it is technically and economically wise to consider alternative locations.


On hardware key stroke loggers attached to PCs: Evidence that they have been used in public libraries does not demonstrate any technical incompetence by IT staff or negligence by library managers. The only way to prevent installation of hardware key stroke loggers is to physically deny access to the USB or PS/2 ports to which the keyboard is attached. A typical corporate spec PC costs ~£500; a metal entrapment case (which can be used once in most scenarios) costs ~£120. There are a few companies that sell software that can allegedly detect hardware key stroke loggers, but your money would be better off spent on an astrology package to identify perpetrators.

@23: “WTF? In Autumn 2008 the financial crisis had barely got going and books about it’s causes haven’t even been punished. The librarian should have pointed you in the direction of the newspaper stand.”

At least that pointer would have been something to go on but the international financial crisis is generally considered to have started in the autumn of 2007, a year earlier. Quote:

“The financial crisis from 2007 to the present is considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was triggered by a liquidity shortfall in the United States banking system . . . ”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_(2007%E2%80%93present)

“People with accounts at the Northern Rock have withdrawn almost £2bn since Friday [14 September 2007], the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston has learned. And the firm is bracing itself for more withdrawals in the coming days.” [16 September 2007]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6997264.stm

“Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the UK’s second-biggest banking group, is asking shareholders for an extra £12bn to shore up its finances. . . ” [April 2008]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7359940.stm

“Underwriters to HBOS’s £4bn rights issue have been left with almost £3.8bn of shares after investors shunned its cash call in one of the biggest fund-raising flops in UK history. [July 2008]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/jul/21/hbosbusiness.rightsissues1

Some professional advice on digging information on the financial crisis from the web using internet search engines would have been welcome, timely and constructive. There were already heaps of articles appearing in The Economist which the library takes and which is available on line. Much the same goes for the FT.

“The battle to save the financial system has now become part of the presidential race”
The Economist of 25 September 2007

But the library was and is more focused on its reading guides for historical themes.

@30: “Your library probably stocks few books about current affairs because the topic is, by definition, ephemeral.”

Really? Only ephemeral?

“In 2008, Fortune magazine wrote, ‘In 2005 Roubini said home prices were riding a speculative wave that would soon sink the economy. Back then the professor was called a Cassandra. Now he’s a sage’. The New York Times notes that he foresaw ‘homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt’. In September 2006, he warned a skeptical IMF that ‘the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence, and, ultimately, a deep recession’. Nobel laureate Paul Krugman adds that his once ‘seemingly outlandish’ predictions have been matched ‘or even exceeded by reality.'”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouriel_Roubini

“Minsky’s model of the credit system, which he dubbed the “financial instability hypothesis” (FIH), incorporated many ideas already circulated by John Stuart Mill, Alfred Marshall, Knut Wicksell and Irving Fisher. ‘A fundamental characteristic of our economy,’ Minsky wrote in 1974, ‘is that the financial system swings between robustness and fragility and these swings are an integral part of the process that generates business cycles.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyman_Minsky

The recent systemic crisis in financial services – verging on a global scale – is a hugely magnified version of the earlier Savings & Loan Association crisis in America in the 1980s and 1990s which I originally learned about on reading Donald E Campbell: Incentives (CUP, 1st ed 1995 )

“The US Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s was the failure of several savings and loan associations in the United States. More than 1,000 savings and loan institutions (S&Ls) failed in ‘the largest and costliest venture in public misfeasance, malfeasance and larceny of all time.’ The ultimate cost of the crisis is estimated to have totaled around USD$160.1 billion, about $124.6 billion of which was directly paid for by the U.S. government, which contributed to the large budget deficits of the early 1990s.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savings_and_Loan_crisis

If only we had taken heed of this warning in 2003 about derivatives from Warren Buffett:

“The rapidly growing trade in derivatives poses a ‘mega-catastrophic risk’ for the economy and most shares are still ‘too expensive’, legendary investor Warren Buffett has warned.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2817995.stm

But all that had escaped the attention of our local library – as well as others, it seems.

@Bob B

“but the international financial crisis is generally considered to have started in the autumn of 2007, a year earlier.”

It is now with the benefit of hindsight but in 2007 Northern Rock was dismissed as a one off failure due to NR’s business model of relying heavily on interbank lending. The history of the wikipedia article you linked too shows this as it was only started on 17/09/2008, two days after Lehman Bros collapsed.

“Some professional advice on digging information on the financial crisis from the web using internet search engines would have been welcome, timely and constructive.”

You seem perfectly able of finding info on the web yourself but did you ask? Maybe you caught the librarian at an awkward time, they could have been desperate to take a sh*t or something.

“There were already heaps of articles appearing in The Economist which the library takes and which is available on line. Much the same goes for the FT.”

So the library covers current affairs rather broadly then. If you wanted info on the then unfolding financial crisis periodicals and newspapers would have been the place to go, books about it were only just being written let alone published.

“But all that had escaped the attention of our local library – as well as others, it seems.”

Plenty of economists had warned of the problems in the US housing market, Dean Baker had asserted there was a bubble in the US housing market as far back as 2002, but they were dismissed as doom mongers. It is more than a little over the top to beat a library up for not stocking books on this as it was dismissed even in the highest circles, RBS bought ABN AMRO in 2007 specifically to get hold of its US operation which were in fact toxic, as rubbish.

Library lending remains strong http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-12503052 80% of 5-10 year olds use public libraries

Give them to the public use lottery money so they can open up a café within the Library it may well work, but allow the yanks in , this smells of new labour.

@Chris
“It is now with the benefit of hindsight but in 2007 Northern Rock was dismissed as a one off failure due to NR’s business model of relying heavily on interbank lending. . . ”

Several high profile professional economists had warned years before about the house-price bubble – I can post press reports . . . Bursting asset-prices bubbles often have unwelcome consequencesces.

“You seem perfectly able of finding info on the web yourself but did you ask? Maybe you caught the librarian at an awkward time, they could have been desperate to take a sh*t or something.”

Always excuses for library staff – the local libraries aren’t short of handouts with reading guides to historical themes. Of course, I was testing them but library staff are supposed to be more computer literate than the average library visitor and they do regularly use the internet to seek out professional information. They could have offered helpful advice on accessing The Economist and the FT, either the hardcopies in the library or online.

Part of the particular librarian’s problem is that she perhaps thought I was just another old buffer . .

“Plenty of economists had warned of the problems in the US housing market, Dean Baker had asserted there was a bubble in the US housing market as far back as 2002”

Compare this report in the British press from 2002:

“CHARLES GOODHART, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee [and economics prof at the LSE], warned yesterday that the Bank is failing to take sufficient account of the house price boom in setting interest rates.

“His warning comes amid growing fears among economists that house prices, fuelled by the lowest interest rates for 38 years, are getting out of control. Yesterday, new figures showed that homeowners are borrowing record amounts against the rising value of their homes. . . ”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2002/04/06/cngood06.xml

@Bob B

“Several high profile professional economists had warned years before about the house-price bubble – I can post press reports”

Press reports not books!!!

“Always excuses for library staff”

Maybe it was your fault, maybe you phrased your question in a snotty way or sneering tone of voice or have appallingly bad breath. Or maybe the librarian was a bit thick but really you’re just looking for an excuse to bitch.

“the local libraries aren’t short of handouts with reading guides to historical themes.”

So? History is an important part of libraries do especially local history which isn’t done by any other organisations. The library had all the current affairs coverage in the newspapers and magazines, libraries spend a chunk of money each year subscribing to them for that very reason.

This is the problem with public services in general, tax payers want something for nothing. Then along comes some moaning clown who will bitch about anything and everything.

@37: “Maybe it was your fault, maybe you phrased your question in a snotty way or sneering tone of voice or have appallingly bad breath. Or maybe the librarian was a bit thick but really you’re just looking for an excuse to bitch.”

Naturally, the standard public service reaction: it couldn’t possibly have been the poor quality of library service – it’s bound to be the bothersome public for asking awkward questions. The public services could be run so much more efficiently if the staff didn’t have to contend with the public.

Advice on accessing and searching The Economist and the FT would have been professional, timely and appropriate as well as, supposedly, well within the scope of the skills of most librarians, not least because the library took and kept copies of The Economist and the FT.

As I keep saying, the library is not short of guides to reading on history topics but it manifestly is short on current issues. Not a few folk at that time were worried about the security of their savings – even now, offline, I’m still asked questions. It’s reasonable to expect libraries to be able to offer help on searching current periodicals for information on current issues. Instead, the library is obsessively preoccupied with the past.

@Bob B

“Naturally, the standard public service reaction: it couldn’t possibly have been the poor quality of library service – it’s bound to be the bothersome public for asking awkward questions. The public services could be run so much more efficiently if the staff didn’t have to contend with the public.”

Yawn, anybody whose worked in customer facing role in any sector knows that customers are the most annoying part of the job. But sure maybe the librarians are right nasty dumb bitches however you were inquiring about books on a subject that even the highly paid analysts at some of the worlds biggest banks hadn’t realised had started. I’m all for public services of the highest quality but I don’t think it would be the best use of public money to have Nouriel Roubini hanging around in your local library to help you research the financial crisis he had predicted.

“Advice on accessing and searching The Economist and the FT would have been professional, timely and appropriate as well as, supposedly, well within the scope of the skills of most librarians, not least because the library took and kept copies of The Economist and the FT.”

Did you ask? After enquiring about books on the financial crisis did you then ask where else you might information? Unless you look and talk like a total moron the librarian probably wouldn’t want to treat you like one. Really you’re flogging a dead horse here, first you moaned that they didn’t have any books on the crisis and now you’re moaning the librarian didn’t spoon feed you information on current affairs.

“As I keep saying, the library is not short of guides to reading on history topics but it manifestly is short on current issues.”

Well, that may well be the case. Why don’t you write that down and put it into the suggestions box, even better why not talk to your local councillor about or stand for your ward on a platform of widening the reading lists available in your local library.

“It’s reasonable to expect libraries to be able to offer help on searching current periodicals for information on current issues.”

But did you ask? Librarians, all public sector workers in fact, are mere human beings and aren’t capable extrasensory perception.

“Instead, the library is obsessively preoccupied with the past”

Clearly it isn’t otherwise it wouldn’t bother with the expense of buying the selection of newspapers and magazines all dedicated to covering current affairs.

My experience of public libraries suggests that their main stock of books appeal to the majority eg popular fiction, as far as specialized areas go such as economics and politics ect, there is usually a small selection which appear to reach the standard of A levels and possibly first year degree level. As libraries are constrained by budgets it isn’t surprising that the books they acquire appeal to the many and a smaller amount of the budget spent on specialized areas. I can’t see that a private company would, sensibly, do anything different, particularly as most people who seek specialized information generally have access to the internet either at home or in a library.
The quallity of service may differ over many areas, especially individual librarians and their people skills, but this is the same when I visit different branches of my own bank, some are very friendly and helpful and a few are downright stroppy.
I live out in the sticks and the area is served by a mobile library, which appears to be used mainly the elderly. I wonder what will happen to this valuable service if private companies take over, would it follow the fate of the small rural railway stations that are not on a main route?

Lots of fiction as well Blair’s book is in mine so is Prescotts, so is Campbell so you do get to read and then be sick at the same time.

@39: “Well, that may well be the case. Why don’t you write that down and put it into the suggestions box, even better why not talk to your local councillor about or stand for your ward on a platform of widening the reading lists available in your local library.”

A sad fact of life is that a percentage of public service workers regard those of us around pensionable age as passed it and definitely not worth bothering about.

As for when the financial crisis started, try this headline in the FT on 28 June 2006 – a year before the financial crisis started: “Fears over surge in high risk mortgages”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e8f9d3b2-060e-11db-9dde-0000779e2340.html

And try this BBC report in September 2007:

“A BBC investigation has found evidence of serious mis-selling in Britain’s sub-prime mortgage market. Industry insiders have described how people have been advised to lie about their incomes to take out loans far bigger than they can afford.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/file_on_4/7010415.stm

And this from The Economist in April 2008:

“In the latest World Economic Outlook, Roberto Cardarelli of the IMF calculates the share of the increase in real house prices between 1997 and 2007 that cannot be accounted for by fundamental factors such as lower interest rates and rising incomes. This ‘house-price gap’ is greatest for Ireland, the Netherlands and Britain, where prices are about 30% higher than can be justified by fundamentals. France, Australia and Spain have house-price gaps of around 20%. In America, where prices were already falling in 2007, the gap is just over 10%. . . ”
http://www.economist.com/finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10974135

Unfortunately, all that in easily retrievable public sources escaped the notice not only of the librarian but also that of Yvette Cooper, who was the housing minister 2005-08 in John Prescott’s department.

Btw I was a librarian as a school boy and in the course of a career, I’ve been an elected member of two local authorities, a senior official in a third and worked as a civil servant in central London.

@Bob B

“As for when the financial crisis started, try this headline in the FT on 28 June 2006”

You previously quoted the wikipedia article saying the financial crisis started in 2007, now it started in 2006, make your mind up. The fact remains that the financial crisis didn’t break out of academic and industry circles until the collapse of Lehmans and the worldwide bailout of the banking system in 2008. You were asking for a books that haven’t even been published, let alone ended up in your local library.

“Unfortunately, all that in easily retrievable public sources escaped the notice not only of the librarian but also that of Yvette Cooper, who was the housing minister 2005-08 in John Prescott’s department.”

Why specifically Yvette Cooper? Currently analysts are warning of an asset bubble in China, the need for a second bailout of the banks in 2013 and massive default on US municipal debt. Will one or all of these things happen? F*ck knows but if they do everyone will wonder why they didn’t see it coming.

“Btw I was a librarian as a school boy”

Ah that explains a lot.

@chris: “You previously quoted the wikipedia article saying the financial crisis started in 2007, now it started in 2006, make your mind up. ”

Do try to avoid being entirely silly.

The essential point is that there were plenty of early trailers for the UK’s financial crisis which broke in the autumn of 2007 with the run on Northern Rock – and which make the inability of the librarian at my local library to offer helpful guidance on accessing reading sources – on or offline – the more inexcusable, not least since the library is very ready with its guides to reading on historical themes.

With the run on Northern Rock in the autumn of 2007, many regular, ordinary folk became worried about the security of their bank accounts and savings. It was reasonable to expect the local library to have some guidance to offer on reading about the crisis.

“The fact remains that the financial crisis didn’t break out of academic and industry circles until the collapse of Lehmans and the worldwide bailout of the banking system in 2008. ”

That is just demonstrable rubbish – as my many cited links above show, there were umpteen trailers in the regular daily press and weeklies for the forthcoming financial crisis. And by media reports, the financial crisis had already featured in the US presidential race back in 2007.

“Why specifically Yvette Cooper? ”

Because she was the Labour housing minister from 2005 through 2008 and because she is an economist educated at Oxford, Harvard and the LSE. By 2007, never mind 2008, there were plenty of reports in the regular media about the surge in dubious mortgages in Britain as well as in America.

“Ah that explains a lot.”

Yeah – I knew about the Dewey system an’ all that when I was a mere school boy.

@Bob B

“Do try to avoid being entirely silly.”

Will you try and been less silly in your criticism of libraries?

“The essential point is that there were plenty of early trailers for the UK’s financial crisis which broke in the autumn of 2007 with the run on Northern Rock – and which make the inability of the librarian at my local library to offer helpful guidance on accessing reading sources – on or offline – the more inexcusable, not least since the library is very ready with its guides to reading on historical themes. With the run on Northern Rock in the autumn of 2007, many regular, ordinary folk became worried about the security of their bank accounts and savings. It was reasonable to expect the local library to have some guidance to offer on reading about the crisis.”

Many local libraries have advice leaflets from CAB and others covering financial services but advice about whether your bank account is secure is not a current affairs issue. Will you make your mind up about what you’re complaining about because it now seems you wanted the librarian to start offering you independent financial advice. Did you ask the librarian if they had resources on personal finance?

“That is just demonstrable rubbish – as my many cited links above show, there were umpteen trailers in the regular daily press and weeklies for the forthcoming financial crisis. And by media reports, the financial crisis had already featured in the US presidential race back in 2007.”

Firstly, putting the phase “The battle to save the financial system has now become part of the presidential race” into google comes up with a Economist article from 25/09/2008, a year later than you stated and after Lehman Bros had collapsed. Secondly, while you’ve put up many of the links from the wikipedia article where is the link that shows somebody connecting all the dots and stating in 2007 that we’re in the biggest financial crisis since 1929? It is only with the benefit of hindsight can you trawl the internet and realise how obvious it all was. And even then while the subprime crisis was known about for quite a while before Lehmans, what nobody realised before Lehmans was the extent of how many banks were holding CDOs off balance sheet in shadow banks.

“Because she was the Labour housing minister from 2005 through 2008 and because she is an economist educated at Oxford, Harvard and the LSE. By 2007, never mind 2008, there were plenty of reports in the regular media about the surge in dubious mortgages in Britain as well as in America.”

Well off the topic of libraries but that is why after Northern Rock the government were getting UK banks to have massive rights issues, RBS had the biggest in British corporate history in April 2008. However, post Lehmans everything went tits up because suddenly, like Wile E. Coyote, global investors looked down and realised they’d run off a cliff.

“Many local libraries have advice leaflets from CAB and others covering financial services but advice about whether your bank account is secure is not a current affairs issue. Will you make your mind up about what you’re complaining about because it now seems you wanted the librarian to start offering you independent financial advice. Did you ask the librarian if they had resources on personal finance? ”

I asked the librarian if the library had any guides to reading on the financial crisis. In the absence of any suitable handouts – unlike all those guides to readings on historical themes – it would have been easy, let alone intelligent, to offer signposting advice on accessing The Economist or the FT which the library takes and keeps.

The run on Northern Rock was in the autumn of 2007, a year earlier, so it wasn’t as if the topic of the financial crisis was novel or of only marginal significance – we have to refer back to the 19th century for any comparable bank run in Britain. The security of bank accounts was – and still is – a regular topic of conversation, especially among those of pensionable age, so it was reasonable to have expected the library to have anticipated public interest in an issue of topical importance. But the library just gears up to advise about reading on historical themes.

All decidedly cluless. I’d expect privately managed libraries to be more tuned to anticipating and responding to public demand. From my own experience, the local library is no longer much use as a source of reference books so I mostly dig out information from the internet by googling and, if necessary, amazon can often supply ordered books by the next day.

Proposals in the news to close public libraries didn’t come as much of a surprise so if some business venture wants to take them on that could prove an imaginative solution for providing the communal meeting places libraries are claimed to have become.

As it is, they have tended to drive internet cafes and video rental shops out of business as well as the commercial libraries of my boyhood which rented out popular fiction. With the savings from selling off local libraries, perhaps districts could afford to maintain decent central reference libraries catering for those who want access to heavyweight reference sources and costly textbooks.

Or of course you could buy your own books and not bother using the library. Save you a lot of writing and moaning.

@Bob B

Fair enough they didn’t provide you with a reading list but you’re blowing this out of all proportion. However, we’ll see what interest there is in running commercial libraries but with commercial book and music shops already struggling I’d like to that business plan. Given the numerous times outsourced public services has been shown to be worse than publicly run public services I doubt your bibliographic utopia will come to pass.

“As it is, they have tended to drive internet cafes and video rental shops out of business as well as the commercial libraries of my boyhood which rented out popular fiction.”

Yeh, I’d like to see the business plan for an internet café when 3G phones and city wide wifi are the norm.

“With the savings from selling off local libraries, perhaps districts could afford to maintain decent central reference libraries catering for those who want access to heavyweight reference sources and costly textbooks.”

Why would the council want to replicate what is already on offer at university libraries? But this is the heart of the problem, you want that sort of library whereas other library users want something on historical themes.

@Chris: “Fair enough they didn’t provide you with a reading list but you’re blowing this out of all proportion.”

No. Recall that the financial crisis following the run on Northern Rock in the autumn of 2007 was the most serious crisis to hit the British economy since the depression of the interwar years. And the local library had nothing to offer by way of guides to reading or how to access such periodicals as The Economist, the FT – or any of the rest of the press which the library takes and keeps. But the library had all sorts of other handout guides to reading on historical themes.

I call that pathetic. Not least because many ordinary folk wanted insights into what was going on when there had been trailers galore in press reports going back to early in the decade that the market for mortgage finance was in a state of shambles, with the surge in high risk, high loan-to-value mortgages, and the monitored ratio of average house prices to average earnings had reached unprecedented heights by late autumn 2007. But all that hadn’t impacted on senior library staff or the chief officers ensconced in the council offices. The local libraries had nothing to offer – except the regular handout guides to reading on historical themes.

@Bob B

“No. Recall that the financial crisis following the run on Northern Rock in the autumn of 2007 was the most serious crisis to hit the British economy since the depression of the interwar years.”

No, it was following the collapse of Lehman Bros in September 2008 that the financial crisis really kicked off. Only after that did people begin to realise the full extent of the problems with the financial system.

“And the local library had nothing to offer by way of guides to reading or how to access such periodicals as The Economist, the FT – or any of the rest of the press which the library takes and keeps. But the library had all sorts of other handout guides to reading on historical themes.”

How or why would your local library need to produce a guide to reading newspapers and magazines? Unless you’re a total cretin it is a simple operation to go to the shelf and pick up the magazine or newspaper you want to read.

“I call that pathetic. Not least because many ordinary folk wanted insights into what was going on when there had been trailers galore in press reports going back to early in the decade that the market for mortgage finance was in a state of shambles, with the surge in high risk, high loan-to-value mortgages, and the monitored ratio of average house prices to average earnings had reached unprecedented heights by late autumn 2007. But all that hadn’t impacted on senior library staff or the chief officers ensconced in the council offices. The local libraries had nothing to offer – except the regular handout guides to reading on historical themes.”

LOL, okay now you’re complaining that library staff failed to spot a looming financial crisis several years before it happened and that the highly paid city analysts at banks and credit rating agencies failed to predict. First you were complaining about books that hadn’t even been punished, then you wanted a reading list. And now you think the librarians should have set up their own mini financial forecasting unit in about 2005 to predict the oncoming storm and compile reading lists. When did you first predict the financial crisis?

Like I’ve said before you’re blowing the whole thing out of proportion, presumably because of an ideological dislike of public services, the worse the librarian did was not point you to the newspaper stand.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/dZtq8P

  2. Emily Goodhand

    RT @libcon: Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/dZtq8P

  3. luckycow0

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  4. meulop

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  5. Jon Squires

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  6. hustongilmore

    RT @libcon: Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/dZtq8P

  7. tamarisk

    RT @libcon: Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/dZtq8P <= great so all they'd contain is the latest pulp fiction?

  8. Nick H.

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  9. kevinrye

    RT @libcon: Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/dZtq8P

  10. Andy S

    Private companies could take over libraries http://bit.ly/gk6qg2 < the real Big Society, privatise, privatise, privatise…





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