Monday, 23 July 2012

PLR Raises It's Head Again.

After being away for a couple of weeks, literally cut off from Twitter and the internet, it was nice to return to this Guardian article picking up on the PLR / volunteer libraries issue and also featuring library campaigner Johanna Anderson. (Admit briefly) I don't think it's the best article I've ever read, it seems a bit disjointed, but it got my brain cells ticking again after nearly two weeks of sun, sea and tequilla!

A lot more could have been said about the issues surrounding volunteer libraries, I'm sure Johanna had plenty to say that was edited out. I have several problems with the trend, some personal -  seeing experienced ex-colleagues made redundant and replaced with volunteers is soul destroying - but also many more professional ones:
  • I believe strongly that there is no substitute for trained, paid staff, both peri-professional and professional and that as result services and stock quality will ultimately suffer.
  • I believe by expecting volunteers to run what are essentially small businesses you are asking for legal and financial issues. (Budgets, FOI and child protection being just a few) 
  • After working closely with the Citizens Advice Bureau, an organisation that relies heavily on volunteers, I have seen first hand just how patchy this service can become when said volunteers decide they have other commitments or just want to go on holiday. 
This said the meat of the article is specifically about PLR payments. Although I rarely agree with the DCMS I can see their point in the final paragraph, in brief saying that the volunteer run libraries will not alter PRL payments. If we assume that the volunteer community libraries will have a similar lending profile to those council run libraries used for the PLR sample then removing them from the PLR calculations will not alter the payments received by individual authors. I made a similar point in a previous blog post about PLR and elending.
This of course assumes that the lending profile will remain similar to that in libraries where book selection is carried out by professionals and where there is a requirement to maintain a "healthy" stock covering a wide range of subject areas. I personally think it is much more likely that where volunteers are purchasing stock it will become biased towards certain areas. I also can't help but wonder if the DCMS, in the future, will use the reduction of council run libraries as another excuse to cut the overall PLR budget which would ultimately reduce payments to authors.

More worryingly is the question of copyright infringement raised by the article and the Society of Authors. The SoA are questioning whether these "Big Society" libraries are allowed to lend books at all. If they are not covered by the blanket agreement of the PLR it would be up to individual authors to give permission for their books to be lent at individual libraries- surely a difficult and unwieldy process for the most well run of libraries to manage. If the claim is upheld, as far as I can determine, it means that these Big Society libraries will be operating illegally.
I'm sure this story will unfold, hopefully with someone actually taking the legal action threatened by the SoA. It's not that I want these volunteer libraries to fail, doing so would leave some communities with no library service at all.  But it needs to be understood that libraries have been run by paid, professional staff for years for a reason, that councils cannot expect to maintain the same level of service without professional leadership or by replacing paid front line staff with volunteers.  As with other action taken by library campaigners it also demonstrates just how poorly thought through the volunteer libraries have been in some areas. Councils have made fast,  ill informed decisions to slash budgets without investigating all the ramifications of their actions, actions which it seems, may not be entirely legal.

No comments:

Post a Comment