Information and communication could quite easily be considered foundational cornerstones of the modern Library Service. It would be no exaggeration to say we are purveyors and facilitators extraordinaire of both, and that they form a significant part of our raison d’etre! Taking a step back and looking at Plymouth City Council’s core values, we can see that their commitment to being democratic to both the city and its employees simply cannot be fulfilled without information and communication. Both personally and professionally they are two things I care very much about, and so I have been thinking about how I can better incorporate the two with being the Unison representative for Libraries. This is especially important given how spread out we are, and how easy it is to remain unaware of what is going on in other libraries, or the concerns and issues of our colleagues more generally. The overwhelmingly pervasive twin challenges all libraries in the UK face, the continued impact of austerity and technology’s influence in changing society’s habits, means we are all working in perhaps one of the most, if not the most, turbulent times of the modern Library Service’s history.
So, in a moment of decidedly sub-genius brilliance (my brain seems to allow me one or two of these a month, and normally at least a day after I needed it! Also, I’m using ‘brilliance’ in the same manner Hollywood use history) the idea of a monthly newsletter type thingy was birthed!
The general idea is to keep you all up-to-date with any issues the union may have raised, any campaigns and events that are going on, and to pass on any relevant news and information. I’d also like to explain why we are raising these issues where possible, as, although we all work in the same service and will likely be experiencing the same issues, we all view things differently through our individual lenses, and consequently allocate different values to different things; where someone sees a big issue, someone else may not see an issue at all. This can be especially true in an environment where we are continuing to implement change at an unprecedented rate. Knowledge and information are power, and the better we understand workplace issues, or why people are having issues in the first place, the better we can all work together to find a solution and make the Library Service an even better place to work in than it already is.
Of course, this newsletter will never include any personal or sensitive issues raised though Unison, and these will always remain strictly confidential.
I’d also like to extend an invite to members who would like to pass on any information, or make any requests themselves. So, if you’re doing something for charity and would like to ask for sponsorship, or you’re planning a carboot sale, or even want to advertise an event your band are playing at, just let me know and I’ll pop it in!
Before I get on in earnest, I would just like to add that I’m dyslexic (and so is every single spellcheck I seem to use!), and while I try to proof read things I send out, I invariably miss some mistakes, so please keep that in mind if you’re trying to make sense of a particularly garbled sentence.
I have already sent out an email this month updating you all on the pay negotiations currently going on between the unions and PCC, so I won’t go over that gain. I will send out an update next month though!
The other issues Unison have raised this month are regarding safety concerns in the workplace. This is an area unions have historically played a key role in, and the working conditions we all take for granted today were hard fought for by people like you. While we no longer shove small children into lethal machinery (at least in the libraries I’ve worked in!), or have to work gruelling sixteen hour days, and we’re fortunate enough to have weekends off (well, every other one at least ;-p ), there are still numerous safety issues that all frontline library staff face.
By and large, we are very fortunate that we work in safe environments and in roles that don’t put us in obvious danger. However, the simple fact is that library staff have been physically and verbally attacked in the recent past, and the risk of this occurring again very much remains a potential in all libraries. With the changing roles of libraries, and the ever increasingly diverse services we offer, this risk, while remaining small, is set to potentially increase in line with the changes we implement. The more libraries change in order to remain relevant and survive, the wider the demographic of our customer base become, and the more services introduce us to circumstances and duties that would have been unimaginable to library staff not long ago…
…A typical day in the life of a frontline library staff member can now see them shelfing one moment, helping a customer with mental health issues the next, then completing a Blue Badge for a disabled customer, dealing with an angry borrower, waking up that customer who keeps falling asleep because they’re homeless and tired from a horrendous night out in the rain, helping an elderly customer access bank details online, jumping into a bus pass, tracking down a niche reference book, covering your colleague taking work club while they get a break, delighting in child’s smile after finding that much sought after children’s book in the carnage after rhymetime, listening to a vulnerable adult’s awful life circumstances for over two hours while you help them apply for Universal Credit and a council tax reduction all the while trying making sure you they feel reassured and that you are making no mistakes as the last thing you want is no make their situation worse by making a mistake and the already overlong period they have to wait for their money even longer, sorting out the stacks of shelfing that have materialised out of nowhere…
The amazing thing about all this is that library staff are still overwhelmingly passionate about their jobs. We all want to continue offering an amazing service, and we all continue developing ourselves for the ever increasing skills needed for our roles. However, there are skills we need to learn and have delivered in dedicated training sessions by dedicated professionals; those that concern staff safety being just one section of those.
Within the Library Service the need for ‘Break out’ training has been an often discussed topic. All frontline staff find themselves in situations where there is the potential they will be attacked, threated, or abused physically or verbally (see the snap shot above for a small selection). We work in closed rooms without another member of staff present, we sit at desks with customers dealing with such a wide variety of sensitive and emotive issues, we try to help solve issues or signpost angry and upset customers (and soon to do so even more with the implementation of Wellbeing hubs). We should be confident that we have received the training that, should we feel threated, we know how to best escape and raise help; or to have avoided putting ourselves I that situation in the first place. The need for this in libraries has never been more apparent.
Unison has raised this issue with senior management not only because all staff should receive the basic minimum training to complete their job role safely, and to feel confident in doing so. Or, because so many members of staff feel it is needed. Significantly, following from this issue being raised by a member of staff independently from the union and the subsequent address in the LMT notes sent out, there seems to be the mistaken belief that all frontline staff have received this training in addition to the half day ‘Conflict Resolution’ training. This isn’t the case, and the course provider clearly states the half day training doesn’t include ‘Break out’ training.
Unison believes it is imperative that not only should all staff receive this training, but that it is clear that our managers are fully aware of the training we have received; especially when it comes to our safety.
Unfortunately, it seems that only mangers and a very few select individuals attend the full training programmes provided by the Library Service, while the majority of staff have either cascade or ‘lite’ versions. While we all want our managers to be fully trained to deal with any issues, surely those who deal with these issues the most should also receive this training? Whether dealing with people with mental health, or completing a Universal Credit claim, it is Grade C’s who predominantly will be dealing with these situations. It is grade C’s who are most at risk from being put in a situation where ‘break out’ training is potentially needed.
While we know the response to this is to get a manager, and that we all do so whenever a potential situation arises, should we be in a position to be able to do so, it is another unfortunate situation in the Library Service that we semi-regularly cannot get hold of one. This is largely due to the hectic job roles they find themselves in, often driving between sites or in meetings, etc. But it also seems to stem from an apparent discrepancy between working hours and opening times? Unison has raised this issue due to the potential safety implications, especially as there is no senior cover many evenings or Thursday evenings when all Tier One Libraries are open late. In addition to the safety concerns this raises, there are also a number or regular concerns and implications. It also further highlights the need for training to be more widely given.
In raising these safety concerns, Unison and its members wholly recognise the pressures our managers deal with, and that perhaps due to budgeting constraints are unable to deliver full training packages to all staff. We do ask that they review the above issues as their staff feel there is a fundamental training gap in this area, a growing need to have this gap filled, and the concern that our managers believe us to be trained in these essential areas when we are not.
By necessity of introduction and explanation, his has been a much longer newsletter than future versions will be! I have cut much more than I would have liked, but I aware this has gone on a while!
To catch up more fully with what Unison is doing here in the South West, check out this page: https://southwest.unison.org.uk