Open + /Unstaffed Libraries – But it is very Different in Denmark

Open + /Unstaffed Libraries – It’s Different in Denmark

Barnet Council propose to cut library posts by 46%, alongside a 70% reduction of staffed hours at libraries. This is to be facilitated by Open+ technology which will allow some members of the public access to libraries when staff are not present. The Council claim this has a precedent in Scandinavia, particularly Denmark.

Barnet UNISON have spoken to Tine Jørgensen, the Chair of Bibliotekerforbundet (The Danish Union of Librarians*) to establish if this claim has any justification.

We learned there are clear differences between how unstaffed libraries have been used in Denmark and Barnet Council’s intentions.

These include :

· Denmark – Unstaffed opening hours are in addition to the staffed opening hours, not a replacement.

· Barnet – Staffed opening hours will be reduced by 70%.

· Denmark – Libraries have staff on site for a majority of their opening times.

· Barnet – Libraries will have no staff (or even volunteers) on site  for most opening hours.

· Denmark – The Social Security/Medical card is also used as a Library card. To obtain one, proof of ID must be provided.

· Barnet– No ID is  needed to get a Barnet Library Card.

· Denmark – Under 15s   unaccompanied by an adult cannot gain access to unstaffed Libraries (in some area the age limit is 12).

· Barnet– Unaccompanied under 16s will not be able to enter unstaffed libraries.

· Denmark – One Library in Copenhagen no longer operates unstaffed opening hours due to a high number of anti-social and criminal incidents.

· Barnet– The  Council claim that there is little risk of  such incidents occurring in unstaffed Libraries, and that if any occur they can be dealt with by “user education” or (unmonitored) CCTV.

· Denmark– The technology enabling unstaffed library access to the public is supplied, and maintained by more than one company.

· Barnet– There is only one company supplying and maintaining this technology in the UK. This company is also responsible for the self-service machines in Barnet Libraries.

The Danish experience does not support Barnet’s intended use of unstaffed libraries.   The  Council is  not motivated by a desire  to provide additional library services and widen accessibility, as in Denmark  but by a desire  to cut posts, without any regard to the resulting decline in service or for the  safety of the public.

The consequences of Open+ will not just be felt in our part of North London, as other Councils are monitoring the Barnet experiment. If Barnet and UK Libraries are to remain accessible and safe and if the skills and knowledge of library workers are to be easily available to the public, then the use of Open+ technology and unstaffed libraries requires a greater level of care and consideration than that shown by Barnet Council. Barnet UNISON call on the Council to think again, to  withdraw the current plan for Open+ and enter into meaningful and genuine discussion on the issue with us and other stakeholders in our libraries.

*Bibliotekerforbundet is also the Danish Librarians professional body, similar to the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP) in the UK