Ssshhh! The noisy US revolution coming to British libraries

Public libraries could be set for a radical overhaul that could see books offered alongside coffee, murder mystery nights, poetry evenings and open mic sessions, should the plans of a private US company be given the green light. Library Systems & Services, a Maryland-based firm, runs 13 public libraries in the US. Its aim in Britain is to manage 15 per cent of public libraries within the next five years.

LSSI is in consultation with local authorities across the UK, proposing to transform libraries into "multifunctional spaces". It hopes to have won contracts in at least four local authorities by the end of the year.

The company's entry to the UK is being managed by Stuart Fitzgerald and Jim Lynch, former inspectors for the Audit Commission. "There is an inefficiency that has crept into library services," Mr Fitzgerald says. "It's wrong. And it's not how public money should be spent."

LSSI's entry into the UK could also mark the start of a fierce transatlantic bidding war. Its main UK rival is John Laing, which manages libraries in Hounslow. The two have already competed head-to-head in a number of tenders, including the £10m contract for Slough's libraries which was eventually awarded to Essex Council last year.

The revenue model will differ for each council, although LSSI claims it can run public libraries at a fraction of the cost of local authorities.

The "slacks and trainers mentality" among librarians will be abolished, Mr Lynch says. In its place will be "a rigorous service culture".

Mr Fitzgerald adds: "We will work with local partners: the health services, the police, the fire service and business to get their messages across. Those agencies will pay to keep the library building open, people will come in to get books and at the same time these events will be happening in the libraries with these agencies as our partners."

But it might not be a smooth transition. In California two lawsuits have been filed to block local authorities from withdrawing from the state system and outsourcing to LSSI. Roberta Stevens, the president of the American Library Association, warns: "One of the biggest risks is the long-term nature of these contracts and their lack of transparency, particularly for librarians. Local authorities have to be absolutely clear on long-term commitments before signing these deals."

Peter Allenson, Unite's national organiser for local government, said: "The prospect of libraries being taken over by private companies, which will invariably be seeking to make profits, will lead to a much diminished service for the millions of people that use libraries in the UK."

Mr Fitzgerald insists that book borrowing will remain free, while peripheral services, such as coffee shops, IT centres and bookshops, could be added. "This is not selling off the crown jewels," he says. "It is about putting the library in the hands of experts who will remain answerable to the council at all times."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas