Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Library Systems and Services UK Ltd (LSSI)

1. Summary

LSSI is the world’s foremost library management company and is the only specialist library management provider active in the UK public libraries sector;

LSSI is delighted to make a formal submission to the Committee;

LSSI has a unique understanding and unrivalled experience and expertise in providing comprehensive and efficient 21st Century library services across a wide range of local authority clients in the United States. We are seeking to do the same in the UK;

in our view, many of the planned library closures in the UK are unnecessary and many local authorities have simply resorted to closures for fiscal reasons of expediency rather than properly consider all the available alternatives to closures;

however the main legitimate critique in the Charteris Report on Wirral BC’s decision to close branches in 2009 was about the lack of robust consultation throughout the process, rather than whether the decision arrived at was the most efficient use of Wirral’s assets. Councils must make their own decisions, based on proper democratic consultation with their electorate as to how it works within the Public Libraries Act, 1964;

LSSI is concerned that library closures can have devastating long term effects on communities. By taking away libraries’ capacity to develop early literacy skills in our children, educational attainment will suffer. In turn, these children will be less employable as they mature and as a result society will be less able to benefit from their contributions—instead the health and welfare systems will suffer from their reliance on the State. Closures are NOT the only way to secure the necessary savings; and

LSSI believes the existing powers that the Secretary of State has to promote the library service and the benefits of literacy from a young age are not being effectively used.

2. LSSI—An Introduction

2.1 LSSI is the world’s foremost library management company. Founded in 1981, we operate libraries for 18 public library authorities in six US states—California, Oregon, Tennessee, Kansas, Texas and, since 1 January 2012, Florida. We employ some 900 staff in our 76 library branches which total over 1 million square feet of space—more than the Kent and Essex county services combined. In terms of branches managed, LSSI is the fifth largest library service in the United States. Of our 900 staff members, some 110 hold Masters Degree qualifications in librarianship.

2.2 In addition to these public library contracts we supply library management services to world renowned organisations such as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution; to federal departments of state and to a number of corporate bodies.

2.3 In short, libraries are WHAT we do; aside of also managing archives and museum services for some of our clients, libraries are effectively ALL we do. As such, we have to get our services therein right, first time, every time, every day, in every branch for every client.

3. Background and Context

3.1 Nowadays the private sector helps deliver a considerable proportion of almost every local government service. Private companies have always worked alongside in-house provision, but the role of the commercial sector expanded in the 1980s prompted especially by the introduction of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT). As a result, there is healthy competition between the in-house and commercial providers. In some sectors such as housing and leisure not-for-profit organisations are also major players.

3.2 It is now unthinkable that the private sector should not be involved in waste management and recycling, education, highway engineering, adult social care and a myriad of back office functions. However, one area where the private sector has until now been almost totally absent is library management. Libraries were, for some reason, exempt from CCT and few councils have bothered to market test this service. Why should this be?

3.3 The reasons given are many and varied. Some authorities argue that there are no established and competent contractors, others that it is difficult to see how the private sector could make profits from a free service and others that they are sufficiently efficient not to need the commercial sector. Many members of the library profession take a more purist line, that the provision of an information service free to all is too pure to be tainted by any suspicion of the profit motive.

3.4 Not one of these arguments is new—all were used against the introduction of the private sector into education, social care, housing and other services. All have been shown to be unfounded by experience over the years. Why should libraries enjoy a privileged and protected position?

4. LSSI’s Experience

4.1 LSSI’s longest standing public library contract is with Riverside County, California—a contract we’ve managed since 1997 (see attached case study). At some 7,000 square miles in area, Riverside County is slightly smaller than Wales and involves a range of challenges including high levels of Hispanic populations and significant tranches of desert. When we were commissioned to manage the service, the County had just 24 library branches—LSSI has worked closely in partnership with the County to add a further nine branches so that we now manage a total of 33 Riverside County branches.

4.2 We bring to library management a combination professional expertise and business discipline married to a total commitment to the concept of a free library service available to everyone and awareness of the power of libraries to change lives.

4.3 People often ask what our model library service is—the truth is, there isn’t one! LSSI believes in utterly bespoke libraries and so in each of our 76 branches, in full consultation with the local community and local authority, we have designed and run services tuned entirely to local people’s needs and wants.

4.4 We have won awards for our literacy programmes, our work with minority communities and our outreach. We see our libraries not only as important places to read, work and study but as community hubs providing access to a wide range of information and services and as gathering places for the community. Increasingly, these gatherings are virtual through the internet as well as being sited in physical buildings.

4.5 We take a positive and outgoing approach to encouraging use of our libraries by individual customers and local community groups.

4.6 In each of our 18 public libraries contracts, LSSI owns none of the local library assets. The council always retains ownership of the buildings, books, mobile libraries, shelves, furniture, fixtures and fittings. Our council clients also retain ultimate responsibility for setting library strategy and policy—local authorities merely delegate the responsibility for managing the service to LSSI and transfer the staff to our employment.

4.7 So, commissioning LSSI to manage their libraries is not about “selling off the crown jewels”. Instead, a partnership with LSSI, is actually about appointing the globally foremost specialists in library management to develop and maintain excellent, bespoke services which will benefit their local communities.

5. LSSI UK

5.1 We at LSSI are looking to bring our experience, skills and expertise to the benefit of the UK public libraries sector. To this end we have established a UK subsidiary, LSSI UK Ltd., and we are actively seeking contracts in this country. We can envisage a situation whereby within five years up to 15% of all libraries will be run in partnership with the commercial sector. This competition will be good for all concerned with an increased emphasis on customer service, increased opening hours, higher stock levels and greater investment in on-line access to information. Again a clear analogy can be drawn from the UK municipal leisure sector in which a mixed market economy has evolved, driven by the competition, imposed by CCT in the 1990s which in turn led to a massively improved fitness and leisure offer to the public. The leisure industry now features strong and attractive offers from the municipal, private and not-for-profit sectors.

5.2 There are now two library management contracts open to tender in the UK. We are currently bidding for one contract in Berkshire, are hoping to be shortlisted for a second in London and are in discussion with a small number of other authorities.

6. State of the UK Public Libraries Sector

6.1 However, this current market activity comes after almost five years of us marketing to individual local authorities, the profession and to central government. During this time we have generally met scepticism, sometimes hostility and only occasionally enthusiasm. Not one authority has taken the trouble to visit any of our sites in the US or to contact any of our clients.

6.2 In this time of financial pressure when one might expect ALL avenues to be considered, too many local authorities have simply closed libraries; reduced opening hours; cut book funds and dismissed library staff without conducting due diligence work to consider how commissioning LSSI might help to produce the savings they require.

6.3 Other councils are pursuing the “trust” option hoping that simply re-spraying the in-house team will result in financial savings—yet there is plenty of evidence to illustrate that the Trust option cannot and will not work without significant subsidy (as at Luton where the Cultural Trust is essentially funded via the Council’s income from its ownership of Luton airport.)

6.4 Still others are chasing the “Big Society” chimera hoping that local enthusiasts will overnight acquire the necessary purchasing, cataloguing, IT and financial skills necessary to run a successful library service.

6.5 The number of authorities who are genuinely testing the market and fully exploring the options available to them is frighteningly small. The library professional bodies are doing little to counter this. DCMS is silent.

7. What Should be Done?

7.1 We at LSSI would like to see more being done by central government to promote the benefits of strong literacy levels and the use of libraries by society as a whole. We would also implore government to encourage local library authorities to explore what the private sector has to offer and to market test their services in an open and transparent manner. Both CCT and Best Value required councils who run in-house services to demonstrate openly and transparently that this was the best way of operating. We regret that at present there is no similar method by which local residents can be confident that this is indeed the case.

7.2 There are many excellent library services in the UK where we would be pressed to make improvements and financial efficiencies. It would be to their benefit to be able to demonstrate this. On the other hand, there are many authorities where we are confident that we could both improve services and save money. We regret that the residents of these areas are being denied the opportunity.

7.3 One common factor amongst the good authorities is that they view libraries not only as venues equipped with books and computers but also as the gateway to a range of other services. As previously stated, LSSI is also convinced of the value of libraries as community hubs—seven day a week buildings offering access to advice and information on health, childcare, planning, crime prevention, school applications and a range of leisure and social activities. The good ones also act as the base for a range of outreach services including meals on wheels, literacy programmes, fitness for the housebound and good neighbour programmes. Making better use of the libraries to deliver these services is central to the LSSI approach to management. It delivers more value for the money invested in libraries and can generate income in its own right.

8. And Finally…

8.1 UK library authorities are responsible for annual spending of around £1 billion of public money to deliver their services for the benefit of local people, and, in the end, society as whole. As such, this is no peripheral service and if local authorities and central government are loath to do it for whatever reason, LSSI takes this opportunity to cordially invite a delegation from the Select Committee to travel to the United States to visit some of our libraries and to explore with us the work that we do, the significant successes all our clients will speak of and the way we can help local communities.

8.2 At the Chair’s behest, we would be delighted to attend a Committee hearing or to present a more detailed paper responding to any queries the Committee’s members may have.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012