Rotherham public libraries

Tim Coates asked me to stop praising Rotherham libraries.

I pointed out that I was talking only about my own experiences, and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, I felt I should look at the broader picture. So I have looked into some basic facts about the library service- from the report on the council site.

It’s a mixed bag. Resident satisfaction levels are too low, and the number of active borrowers is very low- yet user satisfaction is high.  Stock is at the low threshhold, in terms of number of books per 1000 residents, but the service exceeds the standard for adding to stock. The cost per visit is very high.

No real context is given for these figures, so poor as some are I’d like a little more background.

So, whilst my experience has- and continues- to be good, as a whole the service could do better. I have been in correspondence with the new service manager, and will continue that correspondence; as well as my work with the Friends committee.


14 Responses to Rotherham public libraries

  1. Michael says:

    That’s the problem with using statistics to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis: there is no context. A library refurbishment could lead to lower visits (and issues) if the facility is closed for a period of time. Most of the PLSS/BV220 measures are pretty poor anyway, but that’s another rant for another time!

  2. Pete says:

    Well, this is always my concern with figures. There needs to be more rigour not only in creating evaluation tools but also in looking at how they fit in with broader figures; e.g. population movements, age shifts etc.

  3. Tim Coates says:


    if you compare the figures for Rotherham now with those of, say, five years ago you will see the context.

    I didn’t mean to ask you to stop praising what is done well. What I meant is that management is about seeking improvement. That means being realistic about what is being done well and honest about what could be done better.

    In the national context the spokespeople for DCMS. MLA, CILIP etc are often determined to present published figures as being good- they always try to tell the press how well the public library service is doing. These expressions lead a councillor to say -‘why do you criticise the service, when those in authority tell us how well it is doing?’ they provide a council with the excuse not to address the problems it has.

    The Rotherham library service has problems and it is important that the council should address them- that is what your analysis should tell you. It will say where the problems lie and where action is needed. I think that is the right approach.

    Across the country if problems had been addressed as they occured or became obvious, they would not be on the scale they are now. We would not have 1000 buildings not fit for purpose; book stocks fallen by 20m in 7 years and book lending at 50% less than it was only 20 years ago. The DCMS may not think those represent problems- but I do and so should the councillors who are responsible. Tim

  4. Pete says:

    there still needs to be more rigour and context, but point taken.

    The head of cultural services has supplied figures and I will be following up on them this week. There is an overall improvement in book spending as compared with 01/02, but there has been a past two years decline so I’ll be focusing on that.

    On the good side RMBC are building more libraries, though it remains to be seen how these will pan out with regards to stock etc.

  5. Pete says:

    Oh, and the libraries are quite possibly the least of the council’s concerns right now, what with the flood aftermath, issues with Streetpride and so on.

  6. Tim says:

    Yes, of course, there should be more and proper context. No one source is sufficient. One tries to build up a picture from all the available evidence until it ‘rings true’ and several indicators point in the same direction.

    From that one establishes a ‘strategy’ which means – ‘ this is our purpose and these are the actions we will take as and when the opportunity arises.’ Quite often a strategy cannot be carried out as soon as one would wish (because, for example, the council has other priorities) – but one still knows what the actions will be.

  7. Pete says:

    Well exactly. Libraries are getting *some* attention here, but the ‘extra’ funding they received 02-04 has now been put to other uses. It is to be hoped that the funding will now be at least kept even.

  8. Tim says:

    See where Rotherham sit in the league tables? If Wolverhampton can do it , why can’t others?.. (And don’t say ‘money’– you’ll be wrong)

  9. Pete says:

    Yes Tim I saw it. I am sure you know the answer, so why not just tell us. I have no idea.

    And as I say as yet I don’t know what you consider to be a good loans/resident figure, which would help.

  10. Tim says:

    10.0 That’s the figure to aim for.

  11. Pete says:

    Thanks. Why ten, just out of interest?
    Now, what about a good active borrowers figure- i.e how many people in the area is a good number of borrowers?

  12. Tim says:

    Just score ten — and then we can worry about the rest afterwards

  13. Pete says:

    No Tim- we need to know why ten. Any number is arbitrary, yes- but why ten? Other than no authority seems to be at that level at the moment….
    Also we need to know if 10/resident is best from a wide range of borrowers, a small group of repeat borrowers, or if it doesn’t matter.

  14. Tim says:

    Ten ! From the cats if need be. You’ll learn all the lessons as you go.

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