Public library administration

Tim Coates takes it to the streets. Well, Readers’ Digest.

Management is one of his regular targets. He feels there’s too much of it, and that it adds an unacceptable cost burden. Also, ‘managers’ are seen to be distant and distanced from the public.

What can be done? Well, firstly it is not a universal problem. In my authority professional librarians do work issue desks, enquiry points and they do shelve and tidy. As do I in my college.

That said, where there is too much management, how can it be efficiently and sensitively bought to a more effective level?

As hinted by one correspondent, there could be a return to City Librarians. One Librarian to represent the service to the council and the public.

Other librarians would work in strategic positions- planning, purchasing etc- but would also take responsibility for branches. This could be achieved by redploying librarians working in purely ‘back office’ functions. In some areas, librarians could rotate round a circuit of libraries, as they do in Brum.

There will still need to be time for strategic thinking and planning; a total removal of back office functions will not lead to an improved service. However, deploying more qualified librarians for more time to the ‘front line’ will. Savings on ‘top-heavy’ management, if they can be made, will lead to more money which if given to libraries for that purpose would lead to improved stocks.


3 Responses to Public library administration

  1. Miriam says:

    I’d like to see some actual figures about librarians and public contact. I know that some authorities have a very small group of professional staff who have responsibilities for a large area and I can imagine that this might be done most effectively from a central point but is this the exception or the rule? Cutting down on professional staff, which may or may not be becomming a trend :), would surely only make that worse.

    Reader development, outreach and community work are probably not regarded as “frontline” tasks but they involve a great deal of contact with “the public” and often in more depth than working at a public desk.

  2. Pete says:

    Indeed. Running a reading group, or going into schools, will involve both ‘back office’ planning and meeting ‘the public.’

    But, Miriam, we know that such activity is not needed 😉 Libraries are for library users of the now, you see 😀

  3. Miriam Palfrey says:


    That fits in very well with what you are saying above about who “the public” really are. If public librarians only listen to the people who shout loudest are we really listening to “public” opinion?

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