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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."
 

ISC 14. The Corporate Takeover of Libraries

Ruth Rikowski

1. Introduction

The expansion of capitalism is rapidly accelerating throughout the world. This is 'global capitalism'. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) need to be seen within this context. These areas have been explored in other articles in this journal. GATS functions to open up public services to corporate capital. This has direct implications for libraries and information, which I shall explore in this article, focusing in particular on public libraries (although many of the arguments can be applied to other types of libraries as well). As Angela Watson in the Best Returns report on Best Value in public libraries says:

Government does not believe that it is in the public interest for any single supplier to dominate service provision, either locally or nationally. It is looking for variety in the way services are delivered, and a mix of service providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors. The aim is to improve the performance and competitiveness of services, not create a particular mode of provision. (2001, p.8)

Where will the logic of global capitalism take us? It would appear that it leads to the commodification of all that surrounds us. Within this context, the privatisation and commodification of libraries and information will be a small part in the overall trajectory; yet a vital part nonetheless.

I have been a librarian/information professional for many years and have always held that libraries, books and information are an essential ingredient of a civilised life. I imagine most people concur with this sentiment. As IFLA state in their position document on the WTO:

Libraries are a public good. They are unique social organisations dedicated to providing the broadest range of information and ideas to the public, regardless of age, religion, physical and mental health, social status, race, gender or language. ... The well being of libraries is essential in ensuring access to the full range of human expression... (2001b, p.1)

Yet, libraries as they are currently constituted are now under threat from the GATS. The other main agreement being established at the WTO, that will effect and threaten libraries and information provision is TRIPS (Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property). As Shrybman said:

For public sector libraries, the two most important agreements of the WTO are the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and the GATS. (Shrybman, 2001)

TRIPS will not be discussed in this article, but a thorough analysis of TRIPS is also required in order to consider fully the consequences of WTO agreements for libraries and information.


1.1 The history of the public library service in Britain: a 'settlement', not a 'God-given right'

Before considering further how the public library system that is in existence today in Britain is seriously under threat, it is useful to have an appreciation and some understanding about how our current, free public library system first materialised. First of all, we need to reflect upon the fact that the population of Britain has only been widely literate for just over 100 years, following the 1870 Education Act. The concept of free libraries available to all was first developed in the Public Library Act of 1850 (Pateman, 1999). As stated by the British Council:

The UK has a long tradition of free, public access libraries that was first recognised legally by the Public Libraries Act of 1850. (British Council, 1999, p.2)

Furthermore, Chris Smith, British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport wrote in The Bookseller, 29th May 1998 saying:

Our public library system is one of our great national resources. For more than a century it has provided ordinary people with the opportunity to explore, enjoy and learn from the nation's vast storehouse of information and knowledge. (Smith in British Council, 1999, p.1)

Further legislation for developing a public library system followed with the 1855 and the 1919 Public Library Acts (the former Act raising the rate levied for libraries to a full penny). As Manley said:

The 1850 Act was relaxed by the 1855 Act, which brought in the famous penny rate, lowered the minimum population to 5000, and allowed adoptions at a public meeting rather than after a poll of ratepayers... (Manley, 2001, p.210)

Manley also noted the confusion over the word 'free' in these acts. As he pointed out:

One more failing of the 1850 Act, and its 1855 successor, was the confusion over how 'free' were public libraries. Libraries were always to be free of access, but the rate limit meant that many small authorities could barely keep their libraries afloat. In consequence, many libraries charged fees for borrowing books, just like a private subscription or circulating library. (2001, p.211)

Andrew Carnegie, however, was clear about the necessity of 'free libraries'. He stated:

I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing...They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world - those stored up in books. (Carnegie, 1900, cited in Bennahum, 1995, p.3)

Furthermore, as David Bennahum has noted:

When Andrew Carnegie wrote "free libraries" he understood that essential adjective was the essence of a library. If a library isn't free, it just isn't a library. (Bennahum, 1995, p.3)

Sarah Ormes also emphasised that '...Carnegie's libraries encouraged literacy for free...' (1996, p.3)

With the 1964 Public Library and Museums Act it became compulsory for local authorities to provide a public library service, and today public libraries are a taken-for-granted aspect of social life in Britain. Referring to the local authorities and the 1964 Act, the British Council said that:

Under the terms of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, all of these authorities are obliged "to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons wishing to make use thereof". (British Council, 1999, p.3)

Interestingly, the recent Local Government Act 1999 has placed a duty on local authorities in regard to Best Value (see below for further information on Best Value). Best Value is affecting our libraries substantially.

However, there was much opposition to the idea of a publicly funded library system when it was first introduced in the 1850s. As Manley points out:

We may regard public libraries as a social necessity (especially if we are librarians!), but that was far from obvious in the 1850s. Why should people be forced to pay taxes for a service many might not wish to share? People could appreciate the immediate benefits of public baths, washhouses, sewerage, street lighting, and paving, but libraries were more abstract. To the Conservative frame of mind, public libraries smacked of what we would now term communism. Public libraries - with newspaper reading rooms - were perceived as seeds that were liable to germinate into hot-beds of sedition... the Conservatives were hardly likely to support measures which might stoke the fires of further revolutionary fervour. (2001, p.206)

Similarly, people today expect a free education system and the length of the working week to be limited (the European Union 48-hour working week directive). Yet these are not laws of nature; they are not 'God-given rights'. Virtually all of the 'rights' that ordinary people have today have been hard fought for in the past. As Karl Marx said in regard to the length of the working day and the health of the labourer:

...Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society... To the outcry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? ... The establishment of the normal working-day is the result of centuries of struggle between capitalist and labourer. (Marx, 1867, p.256)

Continuing his argument, Marx concludes that:

The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class. (Marx, 1867, p.283)

Interestingly, Manley (2001) also refers to the long hours worked in the mid-nineteenth century, and relates this to libraries noting that:

...Spooner drew attention to the long hours worked by labourers (the Ten-Hour Act had not yet been passed), and how difficult it would be for them to attend a library. He feared that lectures in libraries might be converted into normal schools of agitation... (p.208)

Thus, all these so-called 'rights' have been hard fought for, in various ways by the working class. The suffragettes, the Chartists and the trade union movement are all clear examples of the struggles that the working class have undertaken. Furthermore, if it seems that ordinary people need to be contained then so-called 'concessions' are sometimes made. John Pateman (1999), for example, has pointed out that public libraries were largely set up to act as agents of social control originally, and quotes Adonis and Pollard (1997) who noted that the Victorians and Edwardians:

...established municipal museums and libraries...in an explicit attempt by legislators and town worthies to offer an improving alternative to working class amusements such as drinking. (Adonis and Pollard, 1997)

Interestingly, it seems that many ordinary people did not actually want a public library service in the nineteenth century. As Manley wrote:

As for the general public, they were not clamouring for public libraries. Indeed, it has been argued that the working class were against public libraries because of its implications of social control by the Government. The workers could read newspapers in public houses, just the sort of activity... others wanted to stamp out and replace with moral regulation. (2001, p.208)

Many working class activists and leaders were concerned to establish social spaces where they could think and read and develop their ideas independently of the influence and outlook of both employers and the State. Working class people were establishing various institutions such as the Mechanics and Miners Institutes, and libraries were being created in these institutions for working class learning. As Baggs noted in reference to the South Wales valleys:

The Library article of 1896 described approximately thirty libraries or reading rooms that had already opened in various large, medium and small mining communities in the Valleys mainly during the 1880s and 1890s. Many were associated with Workmen's Halls or Miners' Institutes. (2001, p.172)

Furthermore, many of these institutions did not want to open up their libraries to the general public. As Baggs indicates:

Miners were already paying poundage; why should they also pay extra rates merely to open up their Institutes to the general public? By 1914, the South Wales Institutes had developed a singular pattern of library provision. A few locations had public library services, but the vast majority of mining communities had created their own reading opportunities, self-organized, self-financed and self-run. There was some interaction between the two systems. (2001, p.173)

Workers feared that their capacity for independent thought and learning would be compromised by state-funded libraries, whilst at the same time costing them more money as they paid for their own libraries and also those run by local authorities through local taxation. Later on Baggs also tells us that:

In many respects, Institute libraries outperformed their public library rivals... Most importantly these Institutes and their libraries were directly owned, managed and financed by the community. They represented the physical manifestation of a socialistic ideology of active mutual responsibility; local democratically controlled collective institutions far removed from the 'community' of municipal provision. (2001, p.174)

Thus, it was thought that these Institutes and their libraries could have been one of the breeding grounds for socialism. For the Establishment, this could not be allowed to happen and gradually the system was reformed such that these 'dangers' were contained. The Institute libraries suffered from increasing and debilitating financial problems. The State could have tried to assist them with these problems, but instead was more interested in forming a public library service that dulled radical, creative and independent impulses. For a while the Institute libraries tried to operate alongside the public libraries in a spirit of 'co-operation'. However, by 1939:

...all the ingredients were in position for the eventual triumph of rate supported library provision. Numerous Institute libraries still functioned, but it was often in name only, and with very few exceptions, they proved no match for the public library alternatives after 1945, with their better finance, greater resources and increasingly professional approach. (Baggs, 2001, p.177)

However, Baggs noted that this came at a severe price - the loss of the 'community sense' that had been established long and hard by the Institutes and their libraries, along with the hard work and money that they had invested in it all.

From an Establishment perspective, material in the public libraries could be carefully selected, and in this way people's reading habits could be 'adjusted' and policed. This probably became more important after the 1870 Education Act, as ordinary people became increasingly literate and the threat posed by socialism had to be more carefully contained. Thus, interestingly enough it is the struggles of working class people that brought about changes in their conditions - in this case the setting up public library services - that eventually came to divert struggles for further progressive social change. Yet all this resulted in the setting up of the public library service that we all now take for granted which many of us benefit from and appreciate. This historical analysis demonstrates two vital points. First, it is clear that our public library service does not arise from some 'natural God-given right' to information and reading (but from struggle and contestation). Secondly, our public library system emerged from attempts at independent working class learning and politics that had to be suppressed and diverted into safe arenas. This is the nature of the settlement founding our public library service in Britain.


1.2 Global capital infiltrating libraries and information; the national faces of the GATS and accusations of scare mongering

Today, however, the historic settlement over the role and significance of the UK public library system is under threat from neoliberal modernisation: the opening up of public libraries to corporate capital and international trade. The commodification of information and knowledge are currently being ratcheted up several notches as businesses seek out new avenues for profit making. This article focuses on uncovering these developments that herald a new horizon for all those concerned with information and libraries: the horizon of capital.

This article incorporates themes, such as micropayments, Best Value, the People's Network, and the position of various national and international library associations on the WTO and the GATS. However, the essential point is to demonstrate how the logic of capitalism leads to the corporate takeover of libraries and information. What is crucial is to illuminate on why the logic of the GATS will engender the commercialisation, commodification and privatisation of information and library services globally. Thus, the GATS can be viewed as an element of the global capitalist agenda. This is why the quote below from Richard Caborn MP, which was an endeavour to reassure us, is in fact no reassurance at all. Caborn, the then Trade Minister, wrote to the Library Association Record on 8th March 2001 saying that:

As a major global exporter of services, the UK strongly supports the GATS negotiations and their objective of progressive liberalisation of trade in a fair and predictable way. Despite stories to the contrary, there will be no forced privatisation of libraries or the NHS as a result of the GATS.

Of course, there will be no forced privatisation of libraries in the name of the GATS. There will be no GATS Libraries Bill or White Paper here in Britain. Rather, the argument here is that for each WTO member nation, and for each public service, there will be national faces of the GATS - legislation and mechanisms that facilitate the opening up of public services to corporate capital. The key task is to show what these are for public libraries in contemporary Britain. This is what I outline in this article, focusing on Best Value, Library Standards and the People's Network.

However, it is concerning that attempts are continually made to criticise, belittle or denigrate those of us who are critical of mundane capitalist development. The Caborn quote is one such example, suggesting that GATS critics are scare mongering. But in many ways the case against the GATS is being understated, and this is clearest when links are made between what the GATS stands for and the national mechanisms for facilitating and embedding corporate penetration of public services. In relation to libraries, this point can be illustrated with reference to Angela Watson's Best Returns report on Best Value, where she notes:

Under Best Value retaining library services in-house can only be justified where the authority demonstrates that there really are no other more efficient and effective ways of delivering the quality of service required. Library authorities should also explore potential future providers and take steps to encourage them to create a climate for competition to enable the market to develop. (Watson, 2001, p.9)

Best Value becomes a Trojan horse for the national reconfiguration of a public service for the interests of corporate capital: in this case, libraries in England. With access to official statements like this, scare mongering becomes a non-issue; we are being asked to consider a future where library services become a commodity in an information market and where libraries operate in this market place. Of course, it could be argued that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with developing an information market in this way. Indeed, some would say - such as Christopher Roberts, Chairman of the Committee on Liberalisation of Trade in Services, London (BBC, 2001) - that the GATS helps to strengthen world trade in services and hence increases prosperity for UK service exporters and wealth creation generally.1 The GATS might be beneficial for certain businesses in particular countries, but this misses the point. It is founded on the expansion of capital accumulation; not on human information, education and recreation needs for social justice and sustainable development. On the latter considerations, libraries are a 'public good' (IFLA, 2001b).

I was recently on a BBC Radio 4 programme, You and Yours (BBC, 2001), talking about the GATS and libraries, where I spoke about the threat the GATS poses to our public library service. However, the examples I gave to illustrate this were omitted in the broadcast, and only a general statement about the privatisation of libraries was included - giving the impression that perhaps I had no evidence to back up my claims, and that I was creating a scare story. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the day before the programme (on 16th October) Tony Blair spoke at the British Library about the public services. He referred to the possibility of the voluntary sector moving into some areas of our public services, saying:

In developing a greater choice of provider, the private and voluntary sectors can play a role. Contrary to myth, no one has ever suggested they are the answer, or that they should replace the public services. But where greater use of them can improve public services, nothing should stand in the way. If primary care trusts, or regional health directors, want to use private sector capacity or do innovative deals with private or voluntary sectors to help patients, they should be free to do so. Or if schools want a new relationship with business in their community, as many do, let them. (Wintour, 2001)

Thus, Blair seems to be suggesting that critics are scare mongering and that really, the route opened up by the GATS gives everyone lots of choice and is going to provide wonderful opportunities. It is very doubtful whether this would be the outcome, but even if it was, this misses the point. As already stated, the motivation behind the GATS is to facilitate the development of markets and competition. Improving public services, if it were to happen at all in the short-term, would just be a by-product - used as a tool to encourage people to happily accept privatisation. Providing a service for the public good would lessen as the private sector takes a stronger hold and the profit motive increases in importance. Also, in referring to the voluntary sector in this way, accusations that the private sector will 'take over' our public services can be undermined - as indeed, this statement implicitly undermines what I said on the 'You and Yours' radio programme (BBC, 2001) the day after. I argued that, at the end of the day, private companies are likely to be running our libraries in order to make profits (and I did not mention the voluntary sector). Initially, the suggestion that the voluntary sector could play an active part is a powerful and perhaps, an appealing one. However, voluntary organisations, trusts and charities can easily change and become private companies, as I discuss in an article that I wrote on the GATS for Managing Information (Rikowski, 2001). Such organisations could easily become private companies if it was thought to be to their advantage at a later date, and they can hit adequate profit levels. Indeed, the private sector will only move in when it is seen to be to their advantage and some private companies have pulled out of public service projects when they have decided that it is not commercially viable. The Heart Hospital in central London, for example, was re-nationalised and sold back to the government because it was in financial difficulty (Allison, 2001). Once again, this expresses the essence of the workings of the capitalist system. It is important to uncover the ideological force that is driving particular situations.


1.3 The GATS and the interpretation of 'Services'

How then, can we illustrate that the corporate takeover of libraries is on the agenda and indeed, is already taking place? The corporate takeover of libraries can be placed within three distinct categories: - commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation, and these will be considered below. All three areas can help to fulfil the fundamental aims of the GATS - which in essence, is the opening up the public services to capital (see the articles under the section on the GATS in this issue, for further information). However, some would argue that our public services are not covered under the GATS. Lord Newby, for example, argued in the 'You and Yours' radio programme (BBC, 2001) that our public services are not covered under the GATS, and he said that:

My understanding is that services provided by government...by the public sector, the GATS Agreement as it currently stands, are not covered. (BBC, 2001)

However, if one reads the GATS (1994) document carefully, it is very ambiguous, to say the least, as to whether public services are included or not (Rikowski, 2001). 'Services' are defined in the GATS Agreement in Part 1 Article 1, on Scope and Definition' and in point (b), in the following way:

..."services" includes any service in any sector except services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority. (WTO, 1995)

Furthermore, Part 1 Article1(c) of the GATS Agreement indicates:

...a "service" supplied in the exercise of governmental authority" means any service which is supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers.

But this includes almost all public services; few public services have no element of competition today. In a document issued by the Trade Policy Directorate on 7th March this year it was argued that:

The GATS excludes from its coverage any service supplied in the exercise of governmental authority. Such services are those "which [are] supplied neither on a commercial basis, nor in competition with one or more service suppliers." Our interpretation (and that of the WTO Secretariat) is that this excludes public services such as health and education services (although private services would be covered by the GATS)... However, since the terms have not been tested in WTO jurisprudence, some commentators have suggested that the GATS poses a risk to state provision of these services. We do not believe these fears are justified. (Trade Policy Directorate, 2001)

Under this statement it appears that we are reliant on interpretations of what 'services' means under the GATS. Yet one possible interpretation could be that virtually all our public services would be included under the GATS. It is, to say the least, ambivalent.


2. The corporate takeover of libraries: commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation

There are three interrelated aspects of the corporate takeover of libraries in England as driven by the GATS: commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation. Sub-divisions within these can also be identified. All this will now be explored in some detail, followed by examples of where these developments are already occurring in libraries and information.

First, there is commercialisation. This can be broken down into four distinct sub-divisions. First of all, there is the creation of markets or quasi-markets in libraries. A second aspect of library commercialisation is that the library is viewed as a site for selling products and services, and this process is already well underway, with notions of income streams and income generation already well established.

The third sub-division is where libraries are viewed by private enterprises as sites for the promotion of their products: advertising, public relations exercises and product promotions are the primary mechanisms here. Private companies could rent out a small part of a library, for example, provide a 'service' and in this way advertise themselves. This third aspect of commercialisation links with the first, and the creation of a library service market means that individual libraries or chains of libraries, even library services within a still public library field, are forced to compete. This last element of competition points towards 'library league tables' as with schools and now hospitals and police services. As already indicated, this competitive environment is already being created, under 'Best Value'. Libraries are being forced to compete against each other (like schools and colleges) and an inspection regime (i.e. Best Value Inspections) will enforce competition as a core value. The aim within the library standards, for example, is to get all public library services into the top 25%, although this is clearly a logical impossibility. There are four 'Best Value' principles enshrined in the Best Value Guidance for librarians in England known as the '4Cs', and one of these '4Cs' is 'Challenge' and,

Challenge is intrinsically linked with competition (Best Value Guidance for Libraries in England, Watson, 2001, para 5.1)

Under 'Compete' (another of Best Value's '4 Cs') it refers to the creation of a market:

Library authorities should also explore potential future providers and take steps to encourage them to create a climate for competition that will enable the market to develop. (Watson, 2001, para 5.1)

The '4Cs' will be expanded on under the section on Best Value, but what is clear at this stage is that a market in library services is being nurtured by the Best Value regime. This market is a necessary condition for the opening up of public library services to corporate capital. The overall vision for this is GATS-inspired. Making these links is crucial.

The fourth form of commercialisation involves 'extraction'. Here, libraries can be used as sites for extracting money (and this money can then be distributed to various private companies), which in turn helps to provide investment and thus to ensure the continued success of global capitalism. Micropayments (small payments for Internet use) will be discussed later in this context.

The second aspect of the corporate takeover of libraries is Privatisation - and this and this can be sub-divided into three main forms. Firstly, libraries can be run for profits directly, with up-front charges for core services. This could involve privatisation of a complete library service, or parts of a library service. This will not happen in any significant way in the short-term, as not enough money can currently be made out of libraries, but it could happen in the long-term, when the 'market is ripe'. This would occur after various changes have taken effect. For example, voluntary organisations running public library services in the short-term and turning themselves into for-profit organisations in the long-term and the introduction of micropayment schemes on the Internet, when it is possible to obtain significant amounts of money from people undertaking transactions in libraries on the Internet.

A second form of privatisation involves companies making profits out of running libraries at a lower cost than the price they are contracted to run them. They might also develop new product lines, and engage in outsourcing and sub-contracting in order to make profits. This is the Government's preferred form of privatisation at the current time, as they can then still claim that library services are basically in the 'public' sector.

The third form is where the private sector takes over and runs capital projects, such as the building of a new central library or a service-wide ICT system. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) comes under this category.

The third category of the corporate takeover of libraries is Capitalisation. Here, libraries are viewed as sites of capital accumulation and profit making. The capitalisation of libraries means that the other two processes - commercialisation and privatisation - are brought together to ensure that libraries and library services and operations become commodified (they can be bought and sold) and library services are established with profit making as primary directive and goal. Secondly, library enterprises become traded and enter into the humdrum world of the stock and futures markets. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, capitalisation involves a process whereby labour comes to take on a specific social form such that it is geared up to creating value and profit, with consequences for de-professionalisation and the recomposition of skills and responsibilities. This leads to endless library reviews and re-designation of jobs that function to smooth the way for the various forms of commercialisation and privatisation of library services.

The three aspects of the corporate takeover of libraries, with examples, are addressed in detail below. Collectively, they add up to a new library experience - for library and information users and library and information workers. This is an experience shaped by the forces of capital: the value form of labour, markets, library enterprises and the profit making process.


2.1 Commercialisation - examples

a. Market research approaches to library users and the creation of markets

The market research approach falls under the first form of commercialisation referred to above - the creation of markets or quasi-markets. In this scenario, library users are transformed into 'consumers' and market research is undertaken in order to gather information on library and information consumers' wants, needs and their potential future wants and needs. Capitalism is also excellent at persuading people that they want things that they had never even thought about before.

Helen Weiss provides a powerful example here, when she discusses the development of strategies to obtain more information about borrowers wants and needs in the Library Association Record (August 2000). She describes how management information systems can help libraries adapt commercial marketing techniques to revolutionise their service. She speaks about supermarket loyalty cards, which are used to analyse spending patterns and then suggests that, perhaps, borrowers lending cards could be developed in the same sort of way. Southwark Council is using TALIS to generate management information that will help them to identify the characteristics of users and predict their future needs. Adrian Olsen, Head of Southwark Council's Library Service noted that:

Having access to this sort of data gives us greater confidence that the products and services we are investing in will be fully utilised. With more and more libraries looking to broaden their appeal and offer Best Value the use of library management systems can be a major tool in measuring and improvement effectiveness. (Cited in Weiss, 2000, p.448)

Thus, there could be information about the borrower inserted on their library card, outlining some facts and characteristics about the user that could provide indicators about their future product wants and needs. Users' library cards could contain information similar to that currently included on supermarket loyalty cards. Of course, some may argue that this mechanism is benign and gives librarians more information about user needs and desires. However, once this is in place its purpose can easily be shifted into a competitive market scenario, particularly if, in the future, the library supplier is a private company and not the local authority. In this situation, library users would then become 'consumers' (or customers), and could be treated similarly to supermarket customers. For example, information about business students in the local community could be obtained and the central library could then purchase business journals, textbooks and databases that are applicable to their particular needs. A separate business section could be established in the central library and business students could then be "invited" into this section for a small fee. This form of commercialisation could also occur even if the library was still under local authority control. The model could be extended if the information was sold on to third parties, and they might then use it for mail shots and other marketing initiatives. Of course, the Data Protection Act curtails the passing on of this information. Yet once a private operator is running the library (or a chain of libraries) then the temptation to find ways around the data protection laws increases as the profit motive, rather than public good or public service values, becomes the dominant drive underpinning the service's operations. Once such a scenario is operational efforts could then be made to try to anticipate business students future wants and needs and, indeed, to help to shape and create these wants and needs. They could be persuaded, for example, that belonging to a nearby law library for a small fee is crucial to their needs. This law library could happen to be run by the same organisation running the business library (whether this be a private company running the two libraries on its own, or a private company running them in conjunction with the local authority or with a voluntary organisation etc.). In this way, the private company starts to expand its business.

b. Income generation

Income generation falls under the second aspect of commercialisation in libraries, as described above. Income generation has been in existence for a number of years, and is gathering pace. Most librarians are very familiar with this. It includes selling items such as postcards, memorabilia, bookmarks, pens and other stationery items. Certain materials are also hired out for a fee (such as videos, cassettes and CDs). This was certainly happening when I was working in the London Borough of Newham, particularly in the early 1990s. However, the recent Education Bill indicates how much further the process could go. Estelle Morris, Education Secretary, supports clauses in the Education Bill that aim to set schools up as post offices and sellers of a range of stationery products. In turn, with the creeping privatisation of post offices we witness profit-making operators taking over increasing areas of floor space. My local post office, the Ilford Post Office, for example, has taken on Partners to operate a stationery outlet. A similar fate for libraries can be readily envisaged.

c. Companies 'benevolently' investing in libraries?

On first consideration, it might appear that there are no examples of private enterprises advertising and promoting their products in libraries. Companies are not currently allowed to advertise blatantly in places such as libraries and schools. However, this is starting to happen in a subtle way. Bill Gates, for example, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given £2.6 million to UK public libraries for the creation of ICT learning centres in deprived areas. This is being used to expand the People's Network. (Resource, 2001c). Bill Gates does not need to display big Microsoft posters in these ICT learning centres in order to promote Microsoft. Microsoft and Bill Gates are well known too much of the population already. This will place Bill Gates in a very favourable light - Bill Gates giving money to deprived areas, Bill Gates wanting to help the poor people, Bill Gates wanting to do something about the digital divide - the 'haves' and the 'have nots' in the IT world. Thus, Microsoft, a large business corporation is being promoted in our public libraries.

Secondly, in some of our public libraries IT centres are being set up by private companies within the libraries themselves and some are running training courses in IT - they can be allocated a small room within a large central library, for example. There will be no big posters on the door advertising the company, but there will be a small sign outlining who is sponsoring the centre. In this way, the company is being advertised. Library users will probably find the centre very beneficial, thus providing the opportunity for the company to expand and develop this at a later date.

It is also interesting to note that private companies are moving into schools in this way as well. Victor Rikowski, in his article in this issue describes how the HSBC is involved in his school. HSBC has sponsored the school and is now able to try to persuade children at the school to join the bank.

d. Micropayments

Micropayments can become another form of library commercialisation, and this is in the form of extraction. For some time now, various parties have been trying to think of ways in which money can be made from searching and undertaking transactions on the Internet. Micropayments is seen to be the solution. Basically, this means that people pay small amounts of money (which can be as little as 0.1p) for undertaking transactions on the Internet. There are various definitions of micropayments. W3C (und.), for example, refers to micropayments, noting that: 'Micropayments have to be suitable for the sale of non-tangible goods over the Internet' (p.3).

However, there have been various problems with bringing in such payment systems (see Shirky, 2000 and Crocker, 1999 - Crocker was one of the founders of CyberCash which was a micropayment system that failed). Mechanisms for payments are complex, and there are problems such as security and trust that have, so far, been prohibitive. However, the White Paper on Micropayments drafted by StorageTek (2001b) is a significant and revealing document. It says that most of the problems have now been overcome and that various options are now being set in place to make it easy for people to pay for undertaking searches on the Internet. David Slater, the Marketing Manager of StorageTek spoke about the White Paper saying that:

Over the next eighteen months one of the most significant obstacles to making money from the Internet will be overcome. The lack of a trusted, cost-effective and convenient mechanism for users to pay for low value products and services has been one of the main reasons for the Internet's failure to deliver the online revenue envisaged. Micro-payments - typically for transactions between $0.10 and $20 - provide this missing link... Content owners, merchants, hosting companies, network operators and financial institutions all need to be aware of the opportunities and threats that micro-billing presents. This White Paper looks at how companies (and individuals) will generate revenue from micro-payments, what the options and obstacles are, who the early movers are in the market and how a micro-billing capability could be implemented. (David Slater, Marketing Manager, StorageTek, 2001a, Executive Summary, p.1)

Note, in particular, the 18-month time scale here - the hope being that mechanisms for making money through transactions on the Internet will be in place within this period of time (by the end of 2002), so that it coincides with the GATS timetable. The GATS timetable has been laid out clearly by the World Development Movement (adapted from Sinclair, 2000). The timetable shows how the GATS 2000 negotiations began in Geneva in February 2000. In December 2000 the US started to request service liberalisation from various other countries and in March 2001 trade negotiators in Geneva started work on a package with the aim of subjecting more services to WTO rules. The end of 2002 is when the US hopes to conclude all these GATS negotiations.

What implications, then, does micropayments yield for libraries and information? The concept of micropayments directly runs counter to the concept of the free flow of information. As stated in 'Rethinking Micropayments':

The problem with micropayments, as traditionally conceived, is that they conflict with the free flow of information, which is essential if intellectual 'property' is to be noticed on the web. Other problems include lack of standards, and the creation of a whole new set of have-nots, e.g. are libraries going to pay for disadvantaged kids to surf the net? (Oja Jay, 2000, p.1)

Another possibility is that people might use libraries less, because if they have to pay for their transactions on the Internet, wherever they are, then they might choose options other than libraries. Worden (1998) outlines this scenario, and he says:

With trusted systems in place one could envision a pay-per-print system, which eliminates the risk that makes consumers wary about paying for information they may not be able to use... As more and more users turn to the Web as their primary source of news information, one can expect a shift away from libraries and other traditional research venues to the convenience of a low cost alternative at home (p.6).

If people use libraries less in this way it could clearly have many repercussions. For example, it may lessen the availability of books and other sources of information for users. Library users would lose the benefit of the rich range of information sources that are available in the library but are not present at home. However, at this juncture I do not wish to go into the debate about whether people would be more likely to use the Internet at home rather than in their library, in the future. Significantly, what is implicit in Worden's quote is that libraries will be paying for transactions on the Internet and these payments will probably be made by the library service (be it private sector, voluntary sector or local authority) rather than individual users. Certainly, companies operating micropayments systems will not be happy with people paying to use the Internet at home, yet exempt from such payments in libraries. If such exemptions could be introduced then the opposite scenario to the one envisaged by Worden might materialise. That is, people might use the library for their Internet transactions rather than stay at home and surf. In which case, all the hard work that has gone into trying to introduce micropayments would be undermined, with predictable complaints to the Department of Trade and Industry from companies hit by this outcome. At a deeper level, it would seem that exemptions for libraries from micropayments constitutes a 'barrier to trade' under the WTO's GATS Agreement, and private corporations could seek to overturn such exemption rules as the GATS-inspired trade liberalisation regime takes increasing hold of the service sector. If library services are forced to engage with micropayments then they will need to recoup their money in some way, either through local authority subsidy for micropayments (which in theory also contravenes GATS rules) or by user subscription, or user direct payment. In my radio interview (BBC, 2001) I hinted at direct payments, but in reality this mechanism would probably be too cumbersome, so the subscription option may be the preferred choice - with all the consequences for differential payments and exemptions for those on benefits or low incomes.

More generally, micropayments poses a significant threat to information flowing freely, one of the main components for an open and democratic society. Access to information and an informed public are vital checks on the operations and power of governments and corporations. The importance of public scrutiny regarding corporate and government policy cannot be overstated. Both require constant monitoring if the notions of public good and public interest are to have real and substantive meaning. Micropayments, viewed as opportunities for profit making, entail the limitation of access to information on condition of payment. As StorageTek (2001b) note:

Online products such as data are becoming a commodity, so why not... charge a small fee for them? (p.17) ...[And furthermore]... also driving the need for micropayments are web content publishers and information providers. With content being their main product, micropayments provide a huge opportunity to charge for information (p.3) ... In the hope of making money, and aided by the current rollout of Internet broadband technology in most European countries, new content providers will emerge, offering more innovative use of content and charging a fee for it (p.20).

This last point from StorageTek heralds a situation where some vital information will only be available when accessed by micropayments. This sets up a new digital divide between those who can afford some of the more expensive items that can only be accessed by micropayments and those that cannot. This overlays the conventional definition of the digital divide between those who have access and know how to use information technology and those that do not. Hence, micropayments brings with it a double digital divide.

Amusingly, both micropayments and Best Value have '4 Cs' as underpinning principles. In micropayments there are four key elements that are essential to achieving net profits. These are:

  • Collection
  • Convergence
  • Convenience, and
  • Content

Collection is involved in particular with new innovations in e-payments and convenient online payment methods. Traditional online payment providers, such as banks and credit card networks are losing their share of the market to Person-to-Person (P2P) payment providers. Convergence implies that payment service providers (PSPs) are becoming the next generation of banks. The traditional banking sector will become virtual telecommunications companies, and telecommunications companies will become banks. Thus:

Everyone's main goal: to own the customer, the online experience and maximise profit. (StorageTek, 2001b, p.3)

Convenience refers to considering and developing a range of convenient online payment methods. In particular, the concept of convenience focuses on new technologies and payment models that would change consumer-spending habits. Credit cards are not seen as being very convenient payment methods. They cannot handle very small payments, for example, and are not available to under-18 year olds. Thus, different payment methods are being explored such as smart cards and methods through mobile devices (such as mobile phones). Sally Rumsey (1999) alerts us to some of the experiments and trials that are being undertaken in this field. She reports on the TOLIMAC - Total Library Management Concept - an electronic documentary delivery service that uses a smart card for enabling users to pay for secure access to specific articles on the Internet.

In the micropayments world it is held that 'convenience will drive business' (StorageTek, 2001b, p.3.). Content is significant to the extent that it enables and generates micropayment opportunities. Thus, content that either cannot be charged for, or for which customers are unwilling to pay, is unacceptable in the world of micropayments. Furthermore, high quality content that generates payment encourages customers to click onto the next page - for which an additional charge can be made. Thus, for StorageTek: 'The more clicks, the greater the number of transactions, the more revenue will be generated' (2001a, p.3).

Micro-payments will be introduced, first stealthily as proponents fear public backlash to such payments, and then (if such backlash is muted) with significantly greater speed and force. Currently, EU legislation is being standardised which will ease the process. Furthermore, the UK's eventual entry into the Euro will address many of the tax and standardisation of payment issues generated by micropayments. Dealing with a large number of different currencies clearly complicates the matter and makes it more difficult to implement micro-payments effectively. This is another reason why the current New Labour government is so enthusiastic about introducing the Euro. Furthermore, efforts are being made to make micropayments user friendly and easier to deal with. Microsoft has been developing work on this with a smart card initiative. As Worden writes:

If Microsoft can successfully link its smart card business to its increasingly popular Windows suite of programs, then micropayments may be able to reach a critical enough mass for network effects to begin. (1998, p.4)

Worden notes that companies like BT and Digital Equipment Corporation have invested millions in micropayment trials. However, many of these various micropayment systems have not been very successful so far, but now the situation is starting to change, particularly as different technological forces converge, such as web TV, cheap network computers and smart cards holding digital cash.

There are also many examples of where micropayments have been introduced and used. A number of these have been outlined by StorageTek in its White Paper. The New York Times, for example, has implemented a micropayment solution to charge small fees to enable users to access past articles from the newspaper online. Also, FT.com (the online version of the Financial Times) has changed its position in regard to free access to its content and Napster, the music service, has been forced to introduce a micro-payment system after a court ruling prevented the free distribution of copyrighted music on the Internet. Cybergold (Crocker, 1999) and MyPoints, interestingly, offer 'reverse' micropayments. With this scheme the customer is rewarded with points that can be exchanged for products and services for viewing content, responding to advertisements and reading articles.

On the evidence available, it appears that micropayments will become a feature of Internet access in the near future and this will have direct implications for Internet use in libraries. Our libraries will become profit-generating centres for Internet companies. The key issue will be how libraries pay micropayments: whether users pay directly, by subscription to a library or whether libraries or local authorities become the payment provider with users paying indirectly through council taxes. Consideration of these options may well politicise the micropayments phenomenon, but the possibility of seeking micropayment-free zones for public libraries may offer the most equitable solution. This scenario potentially runs up against the GATS though, as a 'barrier to trade'. The labyrinth that is developing before us functions to cut off solutions that incorporate social justice.

2.2 Privatisation - arguments and discussion

Three distinct forms of privatisation can be discerned, as described above. The third form has been happening for some time now in the library world. This is where the private sector takes over and runs capital projects, such as the building of a new central library or a service-wide ICT system. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) comes under this category, and various examples of PFI in libraries are given below.

However, there are fewer examples of public libraries being privatised and run as profit-making organisations, as such - either with companies running the complete library service, or parts of the library service, or companies making profits out of running libraries at a lower cost than the price they are contracted to run them (the first two forms of privatisation). Instead, various arguments are put forward to suggest that this is not on the agenda at all. The first argument is that there is no evidence to suggest that privatisation of public libraries is happening. The proposition is that this first argument rests on scare mongering. The second argument is that the GATS has not so far affected libraries and will not do so significantly in the future. The third argument, and most persuasive, is that corporate capital cannot make profits out of public libraries. This argument rests with the view that people would be reluctant to pay to borrow books and other media and those that can afford it would more likely buy their own from retailers.

Let us consider these arguments in turn. In regard to the first point - there is some evidence, and this will be outlined below. The second argument is incorrect; there are many examples where the GATS has, and is, affecting libraries and some of these examples are illustrated throughout this article. See the Best Value section below, for one example of this - where I show how the GATS is formulating and shaping the Best Value agenda. The examples are subtle though, and are not immediately obvious. It is clearly not the case that the GATS leads to forced, immediate privatisation, as Richard Caborn was keen to point out when he wrote to the Library Association Record on 8th March 2001, saying that:

Despite stories to the contrary, there will be no forced privatisation of libraries or the NHS as a result of the GATS.

However, this does not mean that the GATS is not effecting libraries and information, but just that the GATS are effecting libraries and information in subtle, seemingly unobtrusive ways. In fact, this is what makes the GATS and the whole global capitalist agenda so powerful and so apparently impenetrable and unstoppable. If it was more up front, there would probably be far more objection to the agenda - people do not usually like to see their way of life suddenly disappearing before their very eyes. They do not like to lose what they have come to accept as their 'rights' - which in this case is a free public library service. Moreover, in order to enable the GATS to take effect it requires the work and willingness of those currently working in the library service, to help to bring about this scenario. If private companies just suddenly 'took libraries over' they would not receive this type of assistance.

The third argument appears more persuasive. Who would be interested in trying to make money out of loaning out a few books; surely, there is no money to be made from that, many would argue? However, I am not suggesting that significant amounts of money definitely can be made out of libraries, either now or in the future (although it could well be possible - given the right situation). What I am illustrating, though, is the direction in which the whole situation is moving. The environment is being created which will encourage, indeed entice private corporations to see the benefits to be gained from moving into libraries. These conditions are largely being established willingly, albeit probably naively, by librarians, information professionals and other library workers under various mechanisms. Some of these mechanisms are discussed in later sections of this article - these are Best Value, Library Standards and the People's Network. Once the conditions are 'ripe', then private capital can move in. But perhaps some will say - the conditions will never be 'ripe'. Such arguments are also irrelevant, even if they are proved to be true, in the short-term. They can never be proved to be true in the long-term, because capital's drive is infinite - it will never be satisfied, it will never stop. If it fails in one area, then it will try again in another, or try in the same area but in a different way, with different mechanisms. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) failed, for example, but this has now been largely incorporated within WTO agreements.2

Furthermore, quotes from various seemingly pro-business books also show clearly the direction in which we are all being pushed. Business folk, in their efforts to understand what is going on in the world - which they need to do in order to respond to changing economic situations - often use terminology and describe situations that provide poignant starting points for analyses of contemporary capitalism. Concepts such as 'human capital', 'intellectual capital' and 'value' that are used repeatedly in much business literature are significant concepts in today's capitalist world as they help to describe the direction in which this latest phase of capitalism, the 'knowledge revolution', is moving. For example, Boyett and Boyett note in The Guru Guide to the Knowledge Economy, that:

A new post-knowledge economy may be emerging that is based not on the exploitation of information but on stories. This market for feelings may gradually eclipse the market for tangible products. Six such emotional markets can be discerned now: adventures for sale, the market for togetherness, friendship, and love, the market for care, the who-am-I market, the market for peace of mind, and the market for convictions. (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.47)

Making money out of libraries seems a simple and feasible aim compared to making money out of 'emotional markets'.

There are other examples that illustrate the extent to which everything is starting to become commodified today. The beaches are one clear example here. Patti Waldmeir (2001) wrote an interesting article about the privatisation of many of the beaches in America. She said:

But as private homeowners buy up more and more commodities, the clash between public and private becomes more acute. Elite homeowners are paying millions for their own bit of sand. (Waldmeir, 2001, p.6)

The article also quotes from Kerry Kehoe, who is on the general counsel for the Coastal States Organisation, which supports access to the beaches. He said:

The shoreline is slowly being privatised in incremental units. (Kehoe in Waldmeir, 2001, p.6)

Thus, it appears that part of the earth that we thought belonged to 'the people' is now being sold and commodified. What next? What other parts of the Earth can, and are, to be commodified?

To conclude this section: I am illustrating the direction in which we are all being forced along. I have several examples below to illustrate various aspects whereby privatisation is already infiltrating libraries, but in a sense, even if I did not have these examples, this would not alter the direction in which we are headed or lessen the general argument. The processes described are in their infancy, but are developing rapidly.


2.3 Privatisation - examples

a. Libraries run directly for profit

The first form of privatisation I described previously is where private companies are running libraries (or parts of libraries) directly, for profit. There are some subscription libraries that would fall under this category, but they are small in number. There are also company libraries that function to augment the capacity of the firm to make profits (e.g. libraries in law firms) and media libraries that generate revenue (e.g. newspaper libraries). But I will not pursue these examples further as the focus here is on corporate capital moving into public sector libraries and electronic libraries setting up in competition with mainstream public and academic libraries, operating on a for-profit basis.

There are now IT centres/Internet projects that are being set up in public libraries by private companies. Ormes (1996) describes such projects in detail. She indicates that an Internet project called Cybercity is situated in Bath Central Library. The area is screened off and houses a number of PCs that offer Internet access. It is used by the public, and is very popular. The council could not afford to run such a project, so it is being run for profit by a local company called GlobalInternet. As Ormes (1996) notes:

Cybercity is in fact not a library service at all, but a cybercafe (without the coffee!), which is run for profit by a local company called GlobalInternet. Cybercity, like all cybercafes, offers charged access to the Internet. How it differs from other cybercafes is that instead of being situated in a shop/café it is found in the public library. (Ormes, 1996, p.1)

Another company that is working with public libraries is called Input/Output. It has 10 centres in public libraries across the country. Marylebone Library was the first of these. As well as providing Internet access, it also provides access to software packages such as word processing and spreadsheets and runs computer-training courses. South Ayrshire council started a South Ayrshire Cyber Project in 1996. The intention was to open a number of Cyber Centres in libraries across the county, providing the public with access to the Internet, software packages and CD-ROMs.

Questia (Fox, 2001), netLibrary and ebrary (Crane, 2001) are all electronic libraries:

...with collections that include tens of thousands of books. And they are growing fast; although modest by the standards of print collections, these commercial digital libraries already dwarf even the largest non-profit collections. (Crane, 2001, p.1)

So Questia, for example, is an Internet company aimed at serving students in an academic environment, providing online information from books, encyclopaedias and journals in the humanities and social sciences for fees (Fox, 2001). Questia:

...sells information online directly to consumers the way amazon sells books online and the GAP sells clothes online. (Fox, 2001, p.1)

Fox also refers to some other companies that have launched similar products aimed at both students and faculty staff. These are Proquest Academic Edition's Xanadu, and Jones's e-global Library (ibid.). Many other examples could be given, but what they indicate is that the private sector is either moving into public sector and academic libraries or setting up alternative operations with the aim of making profits. This is a process that is still at an early stage of development.3

b. Private companies making a profit out of running libraries at a lower cost than the price they are contracted to run them

The second form of privatisation is where private companies make a profit out of running libraries at a lower cost then the price they are contracted to run them. This has just started to happen in England, in the London Borough of Haringey. The September 2001 issue of the Library Association Record reported in one of its news items that:

Consultants have been called in to run a local authority library service. This is a first - although the move is temporary. (LA Record, 2001f, p.515)

Haringey received a very negative report by the Best Value Inspectors and this has resulted in Instant Library Ltd, under its co-founder Diana Edmonds, being given the 'opportunity' to turn the Haringey library service round. The library service was criticised in a number of ways in the Best Value report. The criticisms included poor opening hours, low staff morale and poor management, especially stock management. However, Haringey was one of the first councils to do a Best Value review, and so were 'guinea pigs', in this respect. As explained in the Best Value section below, some authorities have not entered into the 'spirit' of Best Value. Some librarians and library workers have naively thought that the main purpose of 'Best Value' was to provide a good library service, serving the needs of the local community, whereas the main purpose of it is to enable the GATS to take effect. This is probably what happened in Haringey. So, this has provided an ideal opportunity, to enable the private sector to move in. The fact that it is being run by 'Instant Library Ltd' eases the process as well, because this company is quite well known in the library world (particularly as a recruitment agency). As the former head of Haringey library service (who retired in 2000) said of Instant Library Ltd:

Some people may be suspicious, but I see it as a positive thing. They seem anxious to work with the staff, and are being very approachable and open. (LA Record, 2001f, p.515)

There would be far more suspicion, I feel sure, if a completely unknown private company had moved in, and particularly if it had been a foreign company. By this gentle-gentle approach, capital hopes to make further inroads. Instant Library Ltd is on a 6-months trial, and an assessment will be made on the work that they have undertaken after this period. If 'progress' (in line with Best Value) has been made, then I am sure that they will continue to run Haringey libraries. At some point Instant Library Ltd will probably take over Haringey libraries completely. At some more distant point Instant Library Ltd will probably then be taken over themselves by a larger corporation. There we have it - the start of corporations moving into libraries. Am I being cynical? Why then was the local authority in Haringey not given the chance to 'improve' under the Best Value imperative, rather than just allow Instant Library Ltd to move in? The LA Record explains how Maria Stephenson, a middle manager in Haringey said that they were not given guidelines on how to undertake Best Value and that they 'didn't have the skills'. They were one of the first authorities to undertake a Best Value review, so surely they should have been given more help and guidance. Yet, we can speculate why that did not happen: it would not have provided the opportunity for the private sector to start to run our public library services. Furthermore, if no examples materialised from 'Best Value' in this way - providing the opportunity for alternative suppliers, then the Best Value regime itself would be seen to be a waste of time. It is a mechanism that has been established in order to enable the GATS to take effect, so it must be seen to be doing its job. Best Value would not be being implemented, as intended, if all the Best Value Inspection Reports concluded that all the local authorities were providing a good public library service, or at least, a service that could be improved whilst remaining in the control of the local authority.

2c. The private sector running capital projects

The third form of privatisation is where the private sector takes over and runs capital projects, such as the building of a new central library or a service-wide ICT system. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) comes under this category, and there are various examples of where PFI has been adopted in libraries. PFI is often portrayed as being an opportunity to get investment into our public services in general, although George Monbiot in his book The Captive State (2000) has shown PFI to be an expensive, inefficient and undemocratic way of providing public services. Others, such as Dexter Whitfield have also shown this (Whitfield, 2001) (See also Labour Left Briefing, 2000).

In regard to library examples of PFI, Richard Sibthorpe (2001) describes the first PFI to incorporate construction and IT solutions, which was undertaken in Bournemouth. It provided Bournemouth with a new central library and ICT (information and computer technology) facilities across its whole branch network. A 30-year contract between the Council and Information Resources (Bournemouth) Ltd was signed to build and facility-manage a new central library. This is a 'pathfinder agreement' and was one of 29 pathfinder agreements around the country. Pathfinder is an official government scheme and the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DTER) gave nearly £15 million towards the new library. Linda Constable (Bournemouth Council Library Officer, and Manager for the ICT element of the project) said:

A great partnership has been developed between the council, Information Resources, Allied International and TALIS information, all working to deliver Best Value and service to both the other organisations involved in the deal and the library users in Bournemouth. (Constable in Sibthorpe, 2001, p.236)

The library needed to ensure that it remained technologically advanced throughout the 30-year period of the contract. It was difficult for them to know, or predict, what new technologies would develop, so the Council got guidance from the DETR's newly published Treasury Task Force ICT Guidelines which introduced Technology Refreshed. Bournemouth Council then went on to implement a series of Change Control Agreements. Change Control is an essential element of the PFI contract process, and is particularly important when implementing hardware and software ICT projects as things change so rapidly. Sibthorpe notes in regard to PFI that:

The initiatives also provide private investors with valuable exposure to new markets. (2001, p.237)

Thus, PFI fits in closely with the GATS agenda. Furthermore, Sibthorpe says that:

The Local Government Association acts as a facilitator between local government and the PFI process, focusing on Pathfinder projects, such as the Bournemouth deal. It is these initiatives which are seen as examples of the potential scope of PFI, and they are more than likely to serve as models for future schemes. (Sibthorpe, 2001, p. 237)

Sibthorpe concludes by adding that:

Private Finance Initiatives enable the public sector to effectively purchase a service from the private sector, allowing them to avoid the need to fund the infrastructure that the service provision would require. They utilise the efficiency and expertise that the private sector has to offer. PFIs look set to be the blueprint for the way in which this, and probably any government, will be aiming to do business with the private sector for the foreseeable future. (Sibthorpe, 2001, p.237)

It is interesting how Sibthorpe notes the Government's keenness to continue to do business with the private sector in the future, in this respect.

There are other examples of PFI in libraries. Hackney Technology Learning Centre, which includes a new central library and museum, has used the PFI initiative to build its new library, which is due to open in April 2002. (LA Record, 2001a) Kent County Council is operating a PFI contract for the provision, financing and operation of the council's IT system. This includes the library system and a public information network of over 1000 terminals. Also, Brighton is developing a new central library through PFI (LA Record, 2000e).


2.4 Capitalisation - further observations

The capitalisation of libraries and library services is a process; a process that deepens over time with libraries becoming sites for capital accumulation and profit making. There are three aspects to this. Firstly, the other two processes - commercialisation and privatisation - feed off each other such that libraries and library services become increasingly commodified. This implies that library services are increasingly ruled by the goal of profit making. Notions of income generation, income streams, marketing, library products, the user as 'customer' or 'consumer' and the market, competition and cost-effectiveness and efficiency become the yardsticks for success. This implies a 'culture change' regarding the ways library staff are encouraged to view what they are about. The capitalisation of libraries implies its businessification - the library and library services as businesses, bathed in business values and outlooks.

Secondly, as the commodification and business takeover of library services increases then library enterprises become traded, bought and sold. The companies running library services start to figure in stock markets, and international capital - aided and abetted by the GATS process - starts to take hold of national library services. This process can be seen more readily in what is happening to schools in contemporary Britain. Some of the companies taking over the running of schools and Local Education Authorities are traded on the stock market. Indeed, as Bernard Regan (2001) points out, the average share prices of these 'education businesses' have outperformed the overall level of share prices in the last few years. Thus, it can be envisaged that the business takeover of library services may have similar outcomes and effects as to what is happening in schools, with profits made from running services at a lower cost than contract price.

Thirdly, and most fundamentally, at the heart of the capitalisation of libraries is a particular form of labour: the value form. Capital, as Karl Marx (1867) reminds us, is a social relation, not a "thing" (i.e. a commodity), though is appears as a "thing" as it is incorporated in commodities. As workers (labourers) we have a social relation with a process (the value-creating process in the labour process) and with the substance of capital's social universe itself (value) (McLaren and Rikowski, 2001). In terms of labour, the value form is based on the fact that workers produce more value (i.e. surplus value) than that represented by their wages (the value of their own labour-power, their capacity to labour). Surplus value arises when workers produce more value incorporated in commodities than that incorporated in their wages: surplus value. Profit is a part of this surplus value (other elements leaving the enterprise as tax, rents and so on), and it is this that drives on the managers of capitalised libraries to restructure services continually to maximise profits. This form of labour, the value form, is antithetical to outmoded and 'traditional' forms of labour resting on notions of public service or the public good. It rests on the notions of value, price, profit and competition (markets).

It should be emphasised that the capitalisation of library labour is typically a drawn-out process, certainly not something that is carried out overnight. This is because it is developed as the other two processes - commercialisation and privatisation - are being nurtured. All this has tremendous implications for restructuring library workers' labour, and the forces and motivations driving it. The labour of library workers changes its mode; it becomes a different form of labour, the value form. The concept of the capitalisation of libraries addresses these momentous changes that are currently taking place before our eyes.

The capitalisation of libraries and the imposition of the value form of labour imply a whole raft of 'softening up' processes. Library workers' labour is reconfigured so that it becomes more flexible, adaptable and adequate to the facilitation of libraries being turned into businesses. Reviews of library services, modernisation programmes and redefinitions of 'professional' duties become apparent necessities. Furthermore, professional values and jobs that appear to stand in the way of the capitalisation of libraries become at risk. This is because the process of turning labour into value-creating labour that is the source of surplus value out of which arises profit is antagonistic to professional values and attitudes that place 'service' and the needs of library users above all other values - including commercial ones. Many library services have witnessed decimation of their professional staff as the way is being cleared for further capitalisation of library services. In the London Borough of Newham Library Service where I worked up to 1995, a Library Review held in the early 1990s had the effect of clearing out swathes of professionally qualified staff (my own post as training officer was eventually abolished). Another review has just been completed in Newham. Such continual reviews also has the effect of making staff feel more insecure and it is less likely that staff will join trade unions and take industrial action. The workforce becomes fragmented and disjointed, particularly with the increase in the casualisation that accompany such reviews. In Newham, staff were either not replaced at all, or replaced with unqualified staff. This process was not unique; many other library services suffered and are suffering a similar fate. Thus, on data compiled by Loughborough University by 1996-97 the number of professional librarians per 10,000 of the population was at 1.1, whereas in 1991-92 it had been 1.3 (British Council, 1999, p.1). But the capitalisation of libraries does not just threaten professional posts; it undercuts the service ethos as it reconfigures the prevailing values and goals of library services in terms of value-creation, cost-effectiveness and profit. It changes the whole face of library work as it takes hold and seeps into the everyday operations of library services. Professional values and the service ethos can act as barriers to the businessification and capitalisation of library services, and those pushing through the business reforms cannot tolerate that. Fundamentally, the profit ethos becomes far more important than the service ethos.


3. Mechanisms, Facilitators and Enablers for the Corporate Takeover of Public Libraries

In this section, I shall outline some of the mechanisms that are in place which will enable the GATS to take effect, thus enabling the corporate takeover to develop through the three main modes outlined above. Thus, Best Value, for example, is a mechanism that will enable the commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation of libraries and information to take place within the public sector. I will focus on three main mechanisms - Best Value, Library Standards and the People's Network, all of which are having profound effects on our public libraries today.


3.1 Best Value

Best Value had been defined and described by Angela Watson in the Best Returns report in the following way:

Best value is part of a broad package of reforms that affect all aspects of local government. It aims to bring about continuous improvement in local authority services, and to give local people more say in the services they receive. Best value forms part of the Government's agenda to modernise the way that public services are provided. (Watson, 2001, Section 3 - 'About best value', p.3)

The four 'best value principles', the '4Cs' are described in Section 5 of the report, 'Best Value Returns'. The '4Cs' are:

Challenge - why, how and by whom a service is provided

Compare - performance with others, including the private and the voluntary sectors

Consult - with local taxpayers, service users, partners, the business community and the voluntary sector

Competition - use fair and open competition, wherever possible, to secure efficient and effective services

Thus, the concept of 'Best Value' might sound promising in itself, but even just by glancing at the above definition and the '4Cs' it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as promising as it might initially appear to be. There is no clear reference to what the aims and goals of the public library service should actually be within the Best Value guidelines - not from a philosophical perspective. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), in contrast, has a clear view about this. It says:

Libraries are a public good. They are unique social organizations dedicated to providing the broadest range of information and ideas to the public, regardless of age, religion, physical and mental health, social status, race, gender or language. The long-established library traditions of intellectual freedom and equitable access to information and cultural expression form the basis ensuring that library goals are achieved. Libraries of all types form an interrelated network, which serves the citizenry, from the great national, state and research institutions to public and school libraries. The well being of libraries is essential in ensuring access to the full range of human expression and providing individuals with skills necessary to access and use this content. (IFLA, 2001b)

Furthermore, Paul Whitney who was the IFLA representative at the WTO meeting in Seattle (see the IFLA section below) says that:

The IFLA position paper acknowledges that publically funded libraries are part of the cultural sector. It also advocates for cultural diversity and the encouragement of multiple voices rather than homogenized and globalized cultural products which dominate by virtue of financial or corporate strength. (Whitney, 2000, p.2)

Secondly, returning to Best Value, the reference in Best Value to continual improvement is very tied up with capitalism. Why do we need to continually seek improvements - the latest brand of this, the latest brand of that? This is because 'innovation' is an essential drive within capitalism: accumulation of capital demands constant reorganisation of production and of social life. This is a de-humanising process. Libby Brooks referred to Paul Robinson's views about the capitalist system in The Guardian, emphasising that Robinson views capitalism as:

...a dehumanising system that occupies people with clawing back their humanity, leaving them with little time to query the powers that be. (Brooks, 2001, p.17)

Referring to Robinson is enlightening because he was a library worker at the University College London library, who was involved in the anti-capitalist protests at Gothenberg, and was subsequently arrested and then imprisoned.

Finally, all the '4Cs' expose clearly the main purpose behind Best Value - such as, compare performance with other sectors - the private and voluntary sectors; use fair and open competition and consult with others, such as the business community. The 'hidden', or not so hidden message here is clear: local authorities should no longer be free to organise and run their public library services as they see fit, and in line with the needs of the people in the local community. Instead, there are a set of higher priorities - consulting, competing and opening up the service to other possible suppliers, which in the long-term will mean consulting, and then competing with the private sector. We are fed rhetoric, such as the idea that this is necessary in order to provide an 'efficient public library service'. However, from a social justice perspective 'efficiency' should not be the main aim within our public libraries: values such as creating a sense of community and belonging should surely override 'efficiency' considerations; as should the service ethos in general.

Best Value is one of the clearest and most transparent mechanisms for enabling the GATS to come to fruition in the public library sector - it is one of the national faces of the GATS for UK public libraries. The Best Value process is also being implemented in other public service sectors, but it seems to be particularly virulent in the public library sector. Many people working in public libraries seem to see 'Best Value' as worthwhile on the surface, and would probably be rather surprised that I make critical statements about where Best Value is leading. The concept of Best Value sounds appealing. Best Value sounds like a way of providing an efficient, effective and worthwhile public library service that fulfils the wants and needs of the local community. But this is not essentially what its purpose is. We must be wary of the use and misuse of words. For example, we witness Tony Blair talking about 'modernising' our public services and bringing about radical change in their delivery. Being 'radical', traditionally, has been associated with many socialist approaches to reorganising society. Certainly, in the United States the concept of 'radical' is akin to socialism in many political and academic discourses. However, this is certainly not what Tony Blair means when he talks about 'modernising' our public services and bringing about radical change.

So what is the main purpose behind Best Value? In essence, Best Value is a mechanism for enabling the public library service in England to be opened up to different suppliers, rather than library provision just residing within the orbit of local authorities, thereby creating a market environment. As Angela Watson notes in Best Returns:

At present, there may be few or no serious alternative suppliers of library functions. Some authorities appear to see this as a reason for not addressing competition. But library authorities will need to demonstrate that they have seriously considered new approaches and alternative ways of delivering services. As one of the case study authorities remarked; "You just can't say there isn't anybody else out there". Under Best Value retaining library services in-house can only be justified where the authority demonstrates that there really are no other more efficient and effective ways of delivering the quality of service required. Library authorities should explore potential future providers and take steps to encourage them - to create a climate for competition that will enable the market to develop. (Section 5, para. 5.1)

Thus, here it appears that local authority library services are being instructed and guided in bringing about their own demise. For Watson, they should do this 'in good spirit' and with a good will. The strategy for the marketisation and privatisation of public libraries and the role of Best Value in this enterprise is so clearly outlined by Watson that little further comment is required. The intention behind Best Value is to create competition and a market environment that will thereby facilitate the corporate takeover of public libraries in line with the GATS agenda. Obviously, the process will take time, and there could be backlashes to the process - from either public library workers or library users, or both, that will slow or terminate the strategy. Furthermore, some library services may try to subvert Best Value for truly community centred and social justice goals, either intentionally or unintentionally. They might not play the Best Value game in the correct competitive spirit. I feel sure that many local authorities, when implementing Best Value for their library services, have been and will be implementing it in ways that they believe is to the ultimate benefit of the local population. Furthermore, some will think that this is what Best Value is about anyway. The main purpose of Best Value is not made very obvious. Locating the Watson quotes in the 'Best Returns' document that clarified the main purpose behind Best Value was not easy, for example - they were hidden within a weighty document. Thus, such people are innocently assuming that the purpose of Best Value has admirable aims and objectives. They may, and some have, driven through progressive programmes and innovations that will indeed have such outcomes. This must be frustrating to those with a marketising agenda for public libraries. It slows down the process and strategy as outlined by Watson, costs money and 'wastes time'. As it was reported in the Library Association Record in October 2001:

The essence of Best Value has not been grasped by many library authorities... (LA Record, 2001g, p.594)

We only have to look at the North East Lincolnshire Best Value Inspection to find a clear example of a local authority trying to make the best of Best Value. At the very beginning of this document, in the Summary and Recommendations section (Audit Commission, 2000, Section 1, point 7, p.5), it was noted that:

...we find that the Council recognises the need to move forward, but has yet to make key decisions on the future direction of the service. As a result, the Best Value Review is not driving fundamental change. The absence of key corporate policies also hinders improvement. On this basis we judge that the service will not improve in the way required by Best Value unless action is taken along lines recommended in this report.

The real 'fundamental change' required of North East Lincolnshire was to move rapidly towards market solutions for its public library services. The Best Value Inspectors there saw insufficient evidence of this. As was reported in the Library Association Record (2001c):

N.E. Lincs gets just one star, for 'fairly'. Partly this is bad luck, as the council's BV review of libraries was the first it had done for any service. It had much to learn. Also, lack of 'key corporate policies' and cross-sectoral thinking at council level makes it hard for libraries to plan well....[the inspectors said]...the service should be seeking 'step change', not incremental improvements. (LA Record, 2001c, p.134)

If there is any doubt about the underlying purpose of Best Value in North East Lincolnshire we only need to look at the recommendations on the very next page (ibid., p.6). The recommendations do not focus primarily on providing a better service for the local community but highlight other issues (Audit Commission, 2000).

There are four main recommendations (covered in Point 9 of the Recommendations section). Point 9 does refer to improving the public library service, but within the context of providing better value for money - and this is the key, and most seductive point. To attain value for money, it is recommended that the Council should promote joined-up working across departments and 'accelerate the development and implementation of key corporate policies' to deliver enhanced customer services. However, Point 9 also stresses that this must take place within the context of a revised Best Value Improvement Plan aimed at achieving 'greater value for money'. The speed of change should be greater and the Best Value Improvement Plan should include 'costed options for service points' - making for alternative scenarios in service delivery. From here, the recommendations in Point 9 go on to emphasise inter-agency and cross-departmental working in order to maximise use of premises, to improve locations (of libraries) and opening hours to increase service take-up, and to improve access to ICT and lifelong learning opportunities. On these issues, library professionals could readily concur. However, Point 9 ends with a recommendation that all of this must take place on the basis of evaluation of each service using the 'principles of performance management' constituted by the Audit Commission. Thus, we are driven back into the labyrinth of Best Value, value for money and the marketisation of public library services with the spectre of privatisation haunting the whole process. Those wishing to develop library services on the basis of social justice, inclusion and social equality have to negotiate a Best Value process that incorporates another world for public library services. This is a world where value for money, costed options, competition, and markets facilitating the corporate takeover of public libraries provide the centre of gravity. In North East Lincolnshire, the library service did not seem to be playing the Best Value tune with the requisite enthusiasm and vigour.

In response, Lincolnshire (as a whole) has wanted to reinvent itself as a modernising and innovative environment for libraries. In Coult and McInroy (2001), some of the problems Lincolnshire faces were highlighted. It is the fourth largest rural county in England, which has resulted in a poor transport infrastructure with pockets of rural deprivation and substantial numbers being socially excluded. Furthermore, Lincolnshire as a whole lags behind in the implementation of telecommunications technology. Rob McInroy, who is operations manager for library support services in Lincolnshire County Council, is particularly concerned with improving the IT and telecommunications infrastructure. He says:

Public libraries now have the highest profile that they have had during my professional life. It's great to see, and it's great that the Prime Minister is in a library giving a speech about the importance of libraries.... In Lincolnshire we are now seen by the Council as key to e-government, and giving access to our network of public access PCs. (Coult and McInroy, 2001, p.47)

McInroy then refers in some detail to the implementation of the People's Network (p.48) and of the some of the funding problems they have had.3 The point to emphasise here is that the People's Network is another mechanism for enabling the GATS to take effect within the context of the public library service in England. North East Lincolnshire has not been so successful to date in the implementation of Best Value as GATS facilitator. Perhaps though, they can remedy this to some extent by focusing on the People's Network. Lincolnshire is in a very disadvantageous position regarding IT and telecommunications. If they can be seen to be surpassing other local authorities that do not have such disadvantages on the implementation of the People's Network and other IT strategies then this would be a considerable achievement for them in relation to official priorities.

There are other local authorities where Best Value Inspectors praise library services for developing on the basis of marketisation and privatisation agendas with greater effectiveness, clarity and enthusiasm (e.g. in Hounslow, see Audit Commission, 2001). In Hounslow the management of the libraries is being undertaken by a Trust, the Community Initiative Partnerships (CIP), which is a Not-for-Profit Distributory Organisation that has been set up by the council for a 10 year period, which started in May 1998. As Geoff Allen, the Assistant Chief Executive of Community Initiative Partnerships said in the Library Association and ex-Principal Librarian at Hounslow:

In 1998 the London Borough of Hounslow became the first public library authority to transfer the management of its public library to a trust...CIP was formed to be a leisure and cultural regeneration agency with wide objectives, and with a view to expanding to manage services elsewhere... The management of services through 'trusts' was not new...[but] What attracted interest to what Hounslow did was the scale and breadth of the transfer and the inclusion, for the first time, of a statutory service, Hounslow's 11 public libraries and related services. (Allen, 2001, p.754)

CIP was managing statutory services and a variety of services - not just libraries. These included museums, tourism, leisure centres and open spaces.

Thus, the local authority is starting to lose some control of its public libraries. Since the launch of CIP the council in Hounslow has been able to reduce its revenue budget support by over £2.5 million. There was also recognition in Hounslow of the need to further exploit different income generation opportunities and to improve the marketing of their services. It hopes to meet the target for the People's Network, which would mean that all their libraries would be linked to the Internet, by the end of 2002. The proposal was that CIP would meet the funding for the People's Network by means of a loan from the bank. It is also interesting to note that CIP is advertising posts in the Library Association Appointments supplement of 4th January 2002 and words such as 'business planning process' and 'performance targets' are used in the advertisement (LA Record, 2002).

There was particular interest in Hounslow, as it was something of a testing ground, to see how well a 'trust model' could perform under Best Value. As Allen said:

What makes this assessment, and the report of the inspection, of such interest is that it represents the first full, independent examination of the trust management model for libraries, and of the impact that model has had on the service review and on the management of the service. Perhaps, most importantly, it also discusses why the service is expected to improve under that model. (Allen, 2001, p.754)

Hounslow performed favourably under Best Value and as Allen said:

...this inspection confirms that the trust works for Hounslow's libraries, and Best Value challenges every authority to evaluate this model as part of their review process. (2001, p.755)

Thus, in essence, authorities such as Hounslow are leaders and beacons in the movement towards a library environment dominated by markets and the law of money.

At the same time, it is important for those officials driving Best Value that the purposes and values informing the process are not made too explicit, otherwise professionals and other library workers in the public library services might question their engagement in instituting the Best Value regime. The willingness and co-operation of library workers is important (see Resource, 2001a - a consultation paper on Best Value). Official obfuscation about the aims and purposes of Best Value is necessary so that it can function effectively as one of the national faces of the GATS. On the other hand, given that there is such a smokescreen regarding the real nature and purposes of Best Value many might be innocent of what the real game and real stakes are. The Library Association, as a body, might be one such example of this. In Best Returns (Watson, 2001), under section 2 (Introduction, p.1), Angela Watson writes:

The Library Association has a role in supporting library authorities to prepare for Best Value and in clarifying how Best Value links with recent developments in the public library sector. (Watson, 2001)

Furthermore, as was noted in a news item in the Library Association (LA Record, 2000e) the LA itself has produced a 42-page guidance booklet for local authorities called 'Best Value Guidance for Library Authorities in England', and in the document the LA notes that "BV requires a fundamental cultural shift."

In the same news item (as LA Record, 2000e, p.489) readers are alerted to a more critical perspective on Best Value. It refers to a booklet entitled Best? Value - a critical guide to Best Value, the government's new regime for local authority services published by the Centre for Democratic Policy Making.4 In referring to Best Value, the booklet says:

Its political importance is too often disguised. Too many authorities treat it as a technical issue to be left to officials to sort out... The danger is that the prime purpose of BV - efficiency, economy and effectiveness - remains exactly the same as the commercially driven objectives set nearly 20 years ago under the Tories. (Cited in LA Record, 2000e, p.489)

The overall implications of Best Value and its place in relation to the global trade agenda set by the WTO and the GATS needs to be at the heart of an appreciation of its true significance. Because of the official requirement to mask these issues, it is quite easy to view Best Value as a technicist, neutral mechanism, or even as an innovation that can be a vehicle for addressing community needs. However, the undercover face of Best Value - as GATS facilitator and enabler in the public library sector - needs to be viewed in order to ascertain its nature. The neoliberal project kick-started in the Thatcher/Reagan era has been pushed forward by the WTO/GATS in the international trade arena. This pinpoints the real significance of the intrusion of the Best Value regime into public library services in England. The New Labour government (less so the Labour Party) is an enthusiastic supporter of this project, but needs all the friends it can get to push the thing through with sufficient speed, depth and effectiveness for the interests of British capital.


3.2 Library Standards

Library Standards need to be approached with extreme caution. Who can argue, theoretically, with the idea of 'library standards'? Sounds very good - to ensure that our libraries are maintained to certain standards. However, if we examine the standards in more detail a different picture emerges, and it becomes clear, once again, that standards are being established that fall in line with the GATS. The Library Association itself, says that Best Value and the mandatory standards for public libraries must have a 'clear' relationship and 'both inform each other and complement each other' (LA Record, 2000a, p.7). Similarly, in the LA Record of June 2000 it reported that:

Best Value Performance Indicators must also be adhered to, and the Best Value inspectorate will 'draw on the standards'. (LA Record, 2000b, p.303)

In the LA Record, August 2000, it describes how there are areas of standards in three sectors, and that one of these areas is Best Value, illustrating how the two areas are intertwined (LA Record, 2000b)

The LA Record of March 2001 (2001b) reported the fact that the full standards were published in February 2001 (See also Lashmer and Oliver, 2000; and see DCMS, 2000a - for further information about library standards). The LA Record (2001b) noted that there were 19 standards in the final document, although there had been 24 standards in the draft. The central aim expressed in the standards is that all libraries should try to match the performance of the top 25%, and they have three years in which to achieve this. No reference is made to the inherent contradiction in this statement - that there can only ever be 25% in the top 25%. If two new authorities move up and into the top 25%, then logic dictates that two others must move out of the top 25%. So be it. What is more concerning is what the standards include, and, even more significantly, what is not in the standards. There was a standard for qualified staff in the draft (25% or 29%), but this was removed in the final document. Now, services only have to show in their Annual Library Plans that they are employing "appropriate" numbers of qualified staff. In this LA Record news item it says that:

Some will worry that 'information management' and ICT are the only qualifications specified. But at least the LA is to commission research to define "appropriate". (LA Record, 2001b, p.131)

Hence, it seems that we are left to play with the word 'appropriate', as we were left to play with the word 'interpretation' in regard to the meaning of 'services' when applied to the GATS (Rikowski, 2001).

To any professional librarian this would surely seem bizarre: whatever reason can there be for removing professional standards from the document? All becomes clear again, when we refer back to the GATS document, where it becomes evident that professional standards can be seen to be a barrier to trade. This topic is addressed under Article 7 of the GATS on 'Recognition' under the 'General Obligations and Disciplines' section. In Article 7 (v) it says:

Wherever appropriate, recognition should be based on multilaterally agreed criteria. In appropriate cases Members shall work in co-operation with relevant inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations towards the establishment and adoption of common international standards and criteria for recognition and common international standards for the practice of relevant service trades and professions. (WTO, 1994)

Note that it refers to Members of the WTO setting up "standards", but does not indicate which members will be involved. Professional bodies are not mentioned here at all, but presumably large corporations will be heavily involved (for they tend to have far greater representation at WTO meetings - see Dodds's article in this issue, which refers to this). Where no such international standards exist then existing qualifications could be deemed to be a 'barrier to trade' if corporations are denied access to libraries on qualifications grounds. Fiona Hunt also made this point in her article in this issue. If a foreign supplier took over one of our public library services, for example, and brought staff with them from their own country, these staff might not have the requisite British library qualifications (or their equivalent). Not allowing such staff to work in this particular public library service could be interpreted as a 'barrier to trade'.

As it was pointed out in the LA Record, even heads of libraries are concerned about this. It says:

The word is that library chiefs are most concerned by the standard on numbers of professional staff. (LA Record, Aug 2000c, p.426)

(See also British Council, 1999, p.1 - which shows that the number of professional librarians is decreasing.)

Other omissions in the Standards (as explained in LA Record, 2001b) are also illuminating. There is no Standard on spending for stock (although it does specify the number of items to be purchased). Defining the quality of stock was deferred pending further work (the Audit Commission was to come up with some "quality measures"). There was no standard for floor space (although there had been one in the draft) and there were no ICT standards specifically, except for ICT qualifications for library staff. The latter is necessary, because the People's Network has to be fully operational by 2002 (to coincide with the GATS timetable, as described above).

All the four points above can be linked to the drive towards the commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation of libraries. There will be a growing trend towards paying for information provision in libraries through micropayments, as I have already described. Hence, there is no apparent need to be greatly concerned about the quantity or quality of stock, or floor space, as the aim is to get more people to use the Internet, and so there are no clear commitments to the traditional book stock or shelf space. The lack of commitment to floor space can be explained by the fact that there is, as yet, uncertainty about how many people will want to use computers, and if and how gaining access to the Internet will be paid for (such as through micropayments). The Government wants more people to use computers, but will people (or at least enough people) respond? It is an uncertain future, in this respect. So, for the time being there are no standards for these areas.

Standards no longer appear to be such worthwhile aims. We must approach all such schemes with a clear head. The 'bread and butter' of any worthwhile public library standards would surely be standards for stock and staff, and yet these areas are not being adequately considered at all. This is because the aims of the standards are not as we would be led to believe. Instead, standards are another mechanism, another facilitator to enable the GATS to take effect - library standards are another national face of the GATS.


3.3 People's Network

Similarly, the Peoples Network is also another mechanism to enable the GATS to take effect. Many people might be even more shocked that I should make such claims here, as many think that the People's Network is wonderful, and means that poor and disadvantaged people can have access to computers in the same way as the rest of the population. We hear much talk about the digital divide, whereby those who do not have a computer at home, or at least have access to a computer, will be disadvantaged (See also Shimmon, 2001). Yet, does not the People's Network solve this problem? Sadly not. Even the term itself, the 'People's Network' sounds as though it is 'for the people'; for the 'ordinary people'. It is very enticing; it is almost a rallying cry; in fact, it almost sounds radical. Yet this is far from the case.

First of all, the People's Network is being driven forward at a tremendous pace. The aim is to ensure that most public libraries are online by the end of 2002 (in line with the GATS timetable). As Benjamin said in The Guardian (G2) on 13th June 2001:

The government has stated an intention to ensure that at least 75% of public libraries are online by the end of 2002, when the National Grid for Learning and the University of Industry go live. Several government funding channels have been created to get libraries wired up, including a £200m programme under the National Lottery New Opportunities Fund. (Benjamin, 2001, p.4)

Significantly, Bill Gates himself has given some money to the People's Network. Resource announced on 20th July 2001 that both Resource (the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have given £2.6 million to UK public libraries for the creation of ICT learning centres in deprived areas. This means that each library will be able to install an extra 2 to 12 terminals, thereby ensuring that there are ICT learning centres in all 4,300 public libraries. The People's Network project can be seen to be a partnership between Resource and the New Opportunities Fund, but the money given by Bill Gates was an additional bonus. As the Libraries Minister, Tessa Blackstone said about Bill Gates's contribution:

I warmly welcome this generous award from the Foundation, which comes as a most useful addition to existing Lottery-funded support for ICT in libraries. This funding will ensure that Internet access is available through our libraries, to everyone, right across the country. (Blackstone in Resource, 2001c)

Many rejoice at the apparently 'free' money that is being poured into the People's Network. Stephen Dunmore, Chief Executive of the New Opportunities Fund said:

The People's Network has high technical standards so internet links are fast. Wherever local libraries are getting on line the service is excitingly popular. To give everyone a fair chance, many libraries are instituting a booking system for timed sessions. From young people to the retired, the global world reached through information and communications technology has tremendous appeal, and it is an important part of the nation's lifelong learning strategy. (Resource, 2001f)

Similarly, on the 30th August 2001, Dunmore said that:

The transformation of local libraries nationwide into high-tech learning centres with suites of computers is one of the best kept secrets. Local communities need to know that lifelong learning will be free to users at local library branches being equipped with information and communications technology. (Resource, 2001e)

Resource speaks about the joys of free Internet access and notes that:

Free access to the internet is fast becoming a key service at local libraries in the UK as the People's Network is set up. Overall, £100 million of National Lottery money from the New Opportunities Fund is equipping local libraries with state-of-the-art computer technology to enable everyone in the community to hook up to the internet free. (Resource, 2001f)

Thus, a considerable amount of finance is being poured into the People's Network. The funding was described in some detail in 'So what is the People's Network?' (People's Network, 2000). It said that there are over 4,000 public libraries altogether in the UK, and the People's Network project will connect all public libraries to the Information Superhighway by the end of 2002. It described the three funding programmes for the Peoples' Network, under the New Opportunities Fund. £20 million was to be allocated to the training of all library staff in the use of ICT. £50 million was being allocated for Content Creation and public libraries could bid for this and £200 million was allocated for the creation of the Lifelong Learning Centres and Grids. Furthermore, the DCMS gave a £9 million cash boost that was to be spread over 3 years (starting in December 2000), in order to get UK libraries online by 2002 (DCMS, 2000b) (See also NOF, 2001 - for more information about the New Opportunities Fund).

It all sounds like such a great opportunity. Not only does it offer help to the disadvantaged, but also it (apparently) provides libraries with a real opportunity to move forward into the 21st century and to be at the forefront of what is happening. Now, this is a tempting bait for libraries, as they are too often seen to be a backwater, the 'forgotten sector', the sector that gets 'left behind'. We are too often perceived as 'Cinderellas', whilst other departments and other experts often seemingly take the glory and the credit. Chris Batt, the Director of the Learning and Information Society Team at Resource and writer of a column in the Library Association Record on the People's Network, speaks enthusiastically about the need for the public library service to move forward and the great opportunity that the People's Network can provide. As he said in the 'Library Association Record', in October 2001:

The successful roll-out of the People's Network is crucial to the future status and role of the UK public library service. But it is only part of a jigsaw and the picture is now only vaguely visible to us. One thing is certain: we will see the landscape more clearly, and sooner, if we explore it together rather than apart. So get networking! (Batt, Oct 2001, p.584)

Batt is very enthusiastic; yet there is a hidden message even here. The picture is only 'vaguely visible', notes Batt. But it is not a picture that many wish to see! We may see the landscape more clearly if we explore it together, but that is just like seeing the executioner clearly before he chops off your head! There were similar, enthusiastic tones in the June 2001 issue of the Library Association Record from Batt, who opined that:

Public libraries have a chance to develop within the emerging Information Society in ways that most of us never dreamed possible three or four years ago. We cannot let that chance slip because we fail to nurture and grow what NOF [New Opportunities Fund] has started. (Batt, in Simmons, 2001, p. 328)

Chris Batt spoke about the People's Network in some detail to Sylvia Simmons in the Library Association Record of January 2000, when he became the Library and Information Commission Chief Network Advisor. He referred to a need for a balance between traditional library provision and the opportunities provided by the Network. As he said:

It's going to be a balance between key core services - which are still about dealing with customers face-to-face - and developing information in support of managing wider information services. In parallel will be the development of the new skills that staff will need: to manage ICT and to help their customers to be confident about using the technology themselves. (Batt, in Simmons, January 2000, p.26)

Note here, also, the way that Batt uses the word 'customer'. He then said that over the next 3 years the Network would be viewed as:

...a window on the world of information, bringing together a wide range of public service information. (Batt, January 2000, p. 26)

In some authorities, such as Leeds (LA Record, 2001e) the People's Network has already been connected to schools and other learning organisations, as well as to the libraries themselves. Children are then able, for example, to log on to their school site in the library. Batt also sees a role for the People's Network in providing education and life-long learning. As he argues:

If we develop the access routes, the incentive will be in place for colleges and commercial organisations. Using public networks, they know that people can follow a course moderated through the library, with one of the country's largest captive audiences. Users will only exchange money (or have their learning account debited) when they actually start a course. (Batt, in Simmons, Jan 2000, p.27)

Batt also spoke to Simmons about the People's Network in the Times Higher Education Supplement. This demonstrates how important he thinks the impact of the People's Network will be on education, as well as on libraries, seeing it as a "network of information, not a network of libraries" (Simmons, 1999, p.15). However, we must not be fooled by all this rhetoric. The hidden agenda (GATS implementation) cannot really be developed unless librarians happily take the People's Network project on board. The People's Network needs to be set in place and this can only be done by librarians and library workers in local authorities undertaking the work. The private sector will only want to move in when it can make money. Workers in the public sector need to work hard to make this happen - essentially, they need to work hard to bring about their own demise, as was also described under Best Value. Thus, they are just pawns in a bigger game. The solution is not to take on someone else's agenda (where we can easily be dumped), but to establish our own agenda for the future of our library service. As I have indicated in previous articles, library workers need to be more pro-active (Rikowski, 2000a and Rikowski, 2000c).

In essence, the government is bribing local authorities with the People's Network. 'Look at all this wonderful equipment we are giving you for nothing', it seems to be saying. It sounds so enticing. Many seem to be persuaded by the rhetoric. Take Rob McInroy, for example, the Operations Manager for Library Support Services for Lincolnshire County Council, whom I referred to in the 'Best Value' section of this article. McInroy has spoken very enthusiastically about the implementation of the People's Network (although also recognising that there are some problems). He said:

Nationally, £200 million of capital resources has been committed to investment in The People's Network. However, we have to make sure that this funding continues. In a year's time, the NOF funding dries up. This will be a major challenge for libraries. That's why it is important that libraries play a central role in the egovernment debate. (McInroy, 2001, p.48)

It in interesting to note McInroy's awareness that the funding will dry up and the concern he shows about what will happen then.

McInroy goes on to say that Lincolnshire had a lot of difficulty in attracting funding for the People's Network. This was due in part to the fact that Lincolnshire is a large rural area with a low density of population, and with no efficient transport infrastructure or modern telecommunications technology in place. However, once money was provided from both the New Opportunities Fund and Lincolnshire Council they were able to set up the Network. They have also started other initiatives such as a Rural Academy in South Lincolnshire, which is a way for schools to share resources; i.e. the Community Grid for Learning (CGFL) and Linnet, the Lincolnshire Community Information Network. In conclusion, McInroy says:

We don't want to turn people away from the library. We give people access to computers, even just for chatting, otherwise they will go to EasyEverything. It is a way of getting people into the library, and once they are there, we can show them what else we do. In all, it's a very exciting time to be working in public libraries. It's a chance to be in the forefront. We won't get the opportunity again, so we must grasp it now. (McInroy, 2001, p.51)

So there we have it: a wonderful opportunity, and a chance to be at the forefront. But at the forefront of what exactly? To return to the basic argument - the People's Network needs to be set up by the end of year 2002, to fit in with the GATS timetable. This is why there is such an apparent urgency to get all the libraries online by then. But what will happen once it is all in place and the money has run out, as McInroy pointed out? It costs money to support, maintain and upgrade computer systems. Where will this money come from? It can be predicted that this will be achieved by opening up the public library service to other possible suppliers, (such as private companies injecting money as an investment into the projects) as is outlined in Best Value. Indeed, Best Value stipulates that this must be done - it is not an option. As Angela Watson says in the Best Returns report, the government:

...is looking for a variety in the ways services are delivered, and a mix of service providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors. (Watson, 2001 p.8)

Furthermore:

Library authorities should also explore potential future providers and take steps to encourage them to create a climate for competition that will enable the market to develop. (Watson, 2001, p.9)

A news item in the Library Association Record also hinted that this is the direction in which the People's Network is likely to go. It said:

One of this year's jobs is to 'plan the long-term sustainability of the People's Network after the NOF funding ends and extend the network to museums and archives'. In 2002 Resource will 'examine models for funding arrangements, including partnerships and sponsorship, and ensure that the sector is fully informed of the relative merits of different models... (LA Record, 2001d, p.389)

So, there we have it. Coupled with this will be the need to charge for information. This will fall neatly into place with micropayments. Libraries start to provide the bulk of their information through the Internet (through the People's Network), rather than traditional books. Micropayments are set up for all transactions on the Internet. Libraries cannot be excluded from the implementation of micropayments (this could be seen to constitute a barrier to trade according to the GATS - as described above, in the micropayments section). Thus, libraries begin to charge for information. We have come full circle. The aims are to make money, create markets and privatise services.

As already stated, it is quite possible that some of my predictions will not come to pass, but this does not lessen the strength of the argument. In a sense, this shows that corporations may be wary about what critics like myself stand for and what we are saying, so they decide to back down (for a while) and take a softly, softly approach. However, the wishes of corporations will rear their ugly head again if this happens, but in a different guise (witness the Multilateral Agreement on Investment that failed but is now rearing its head again in WTO agreements). Also, there might be practical problems that prevent corporations from achieving their aims. There is also the need to retain the active co-operation of library workers in order for these plans to take full effect.

However, staff may not always be willing to go down this path. Witness the North East Lincolnshire Best Value report, for example, where many of the staff appeared to hold different aims and to be working towards a different agenda to those implicit in Best Value. Furthermore, I am not suggesting that all these scenarios will definitely come to pass; instead I am just describing and illustrating the trend and the way in which the situation is developing. The people at the forefront of these changes spell it out for us, loud and clear, as I have illustrated so many times. There is little in the rhetoric about providing a public library service that fulfils the wants and needs of the local population, or about enabling and enhancing human expression, or about the public service ethos. Where such sentiments are expressed, they are clouded and embraced within other terminology such as the need to be 'competitive' and 'efficient', thus the terminology is used as a means to keep certain people (the cynics, critics, the 'do-gooders' etc) on board or marginalised.


4. Position of various Library Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in response to the WTO and the GATS

I have considered the path along which libraries and information, particularly the public library service, are now treading. Secondly, I have and demonstrated how this path is line with the GATS agenda (and thus, ultimately, with global capitalism). I now want to move on and consider the responses of various library associations and non-governmental library and information-based organisations to this situation. I found considerable disquiet and unease amongst many of these organisations.


4.1 IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions)

I begin with IFLA, because of the high regard, status and importance it holds within the international library and information community. There is, in reality, no more powerful international library voice. IFLA is the body that represents library associations and library interests from many different countries on the international stage. It sees itself as being an 'active international alliance of library and information associations, libraries and information services, and concerned individuals'. (IFLA, 2001a) IFLA is very concerned about the WTO and the GATS programme and the effect that it is likely to have on libraries and information. However, I would like to point out at this stage that it was the British Columbia Library Association that first considered these complicated issues in depth and informed the library community about them. Frode Bakken, who spoke at the IFLA conference in 2000, related that:

It was our Canadian colleagues in the British Columbia library association and later the Canadian library association who developed the library approach to these complicated processes and who informed the world library community about this. We are very grateful to them. (Bakken, 2000, p.2)

IFLA makes its position on the WTO very clear on its web site. On its current web site (IFLA, 2001b), it states clearly what it regards as being the main purpose of libraries, saying:

Libraries are a public good. They are unique social organizations dedicated to providing the broadest range of information and ideas to the public, regardless of age, religion, physical and mental health, social status, race, gender or language. The long-established library traditions of intellectual freedom and equitable access to information and cultural expression form the basis ensuring that library goals are achieved. Libraries of all types form an interrelated network, which serves the citizenry, from the great national, state and research institutions to public and school libraries. The well being of libraries is essential in ensuring access to the full range of human expression and providing individuals with skills necessary to access and use this content. (IFLA, 2001b)

This statement has many similarities to what I regard as the main purpose of libraries. However, IFLA could be accused of being 'romantic'. Yet, the reality is the opposite. IFLA speaks for various library workers and organisations throughout the world, and I feel sure that most library and information workers and library and information bodies would agree with these sentiments.

From this powerful statement, IFLA then voices its concern about the WTO agenda. It says

There is growing evidence that WTO decisions, directly or indireclty, may adversely affect the operations and future development of library services, especially in not-for-profit institutions (IFLA, 2001b).

A little later in the document it refers to the GATS, noting that:

The GATS Agreement has the potential to open up all aspects of a national economy to foreign competition including public sector services such as libraries. Corporations can be set up in any Member State and compete against public services. In such instances, the foreign corporation can challenge support for public sector service and could claim national treatment; i.e. the same level of subsidy received from the government by the public sector agency. (IFLA, 2001b)

IFLA continues:

With the advent of for profit on-line content providers targeting individual users or education services and public libraries, the potential for GATS challenges to traditional library service is increasing. While the concept of allowing "competition" appears benign, the eventual outcome of such challenges will be the undermining of the tax-supported status of public sector libraries at the national, regional and local levels. Without tax support, the library's role as a democratic institution, making available the widest range of material reflecting the diversity of society, will be compromised. (IFLA, 2001b)

Fiona Hunt, Anneliese Dodds and Alex Nunn all refer to this part of the GATS in their articles, and are concerned about what might be the implications of this - expressing fear that the subsidy or the tax support might be removed altogether.

I was then pleased to read that IFLA wants to have an open debate on these issues. They say:

The potentially far-reaching implications of trade liberalization in services for not-for-profit libraries should be openly debated. (IFLA, 2001b)

In my article on the GATS (Rikowski, 2001) I also emphasis the need for greater debate on these issues, particularly for more debates on mainstream television and radio.

IFLA arrives at two main conclusions. In Point 15 it says:

As an active international alliance of library and information associations, libraries and information services, and concerned individuals, IFLA is strategically positioned to advocate at the WTO on behalf of libraries and information services and to ensure that its members are informed in order to be able to advocate effectively at the national level. (IFLA, 2001b)

In Point 16, it is indicated that:

In order to ensure a strong public sector, IFLA and its members will continue to build links and work with library and information, archive, museum, education and other organizations in furthering awareness of the implications of international trade treaties for the public sector. (IFLA, 2001b)

Thus, this provides us with some very clear guidelines on how library workers should try to respond and deal with the WTO and the GATS agenda - we certainly should not just take it lying down. Otherwise, everything that we believe in and hold dear might start to melt away before our eyes!

Some very important and significant statements were also made in the position IFLA maintained in February 2001, which was displayed on its website at that time (IFLA, 2001a). It said:

The future of libraries of all kinds could be jeopardized by a series of international trade treaties that are currently being negotiated. (IFLA, 2001a)

It described how IFLA was formally represented in Seattle in 1999:

...in order to defend the interests of libraries and promote the value of the public sector. (IFLA, 2001a)

It then warns us about the likely possible effects of the GATS, saying that:

Libraries, museums, and archives, as well as health services and education, are potentially affected by the World Trade Organization Millennium Round, specifically relating to the General Agreement on Trade in Services. (IFLA, 2001a)

...and voices some of its concerns, including the observation that:

Privatization of libraries may result from the proposals for expansion of the GATS agreement. (IFLA, 2001a)

Once again, the issue of private foreign companies is addressed. It says that Governments might be obliged to give private companies (including foreign companies) a subsidy similar to that given to a publicly-funded library. IFLA refers to the:

Possible guarantee of the right of foreign, for-profit library services and suppliers to set-up in member state and compete against publicly-funded libraries. The country would then have to offer them national treatment, i.e. foreign corporations would have to be treated as well or better than any national supplier. Since the Agreement will cover subsidies, these corporations might be able to argue they should receive equal funding from the government. (IFLA, 2001a)

It also speaks about the possible erosion of professional standards, as these could be seen to be an unnecessary barrier to trade in services (which is an issue that both Fiona Hunt and myself have addressed). As IFLA said:

Professional standards could come under challenge as a trade barrier...The Council for Trade in Service is empowered to set review panels to assess whether qualification requirements and procedures, technical standards and licensing requirements constitute unnecessary barriers to trade in services. (IFLA, 2001a)

IFLA then proceeded to make its policy position crystal clear:

The WTO is one dimension of a multitude of efforts to enrich corporations by forcing public services into the private sector through privatization, budget reductions or international trade agreements. This trend should be resisted. (IFLA, 2001a)

Furthermore,

IFLA's fundamental position is opposition to the WTO/GATS as presently outlined in the WTO documents. Publicly funded libraries are part of the cultural sector. (IFLA, 2001a)

The paper concludes by adding that:

IFLA is opposed to the expansion of the GATS agreement but should it go forward, it will concentrate on a separate agreement/exemption for libraries and cultural organizations while continuing to push for protection of the broadly defined public sector. (IFLA, 2001a)

Thus, IFLA's fundamental opposition to the GATS agenda is clear. I have quoted from the IFLA web site, which outlines IFLA's position on the WTO at considerable length, because I think these IFLA statements are very important. They highlight many of the key issues surrounding the GATS and libraries and also illustrate clearly the international library response to the WTO/GATS agenda.

Ross Shimmon, the Secretary General of the IFLA, summarised some of these main issues quite succinctly in 'Can we bridge the digital divide?' that appeared in the Library Association Record, November 2001. Shimmon said:

There is growing evidence that decisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) may adversely affect the operations and future development of library and information services in the not-for-profit sector, in both the developed and developing worlds. IFLA was presented at the WTO Ministerial conference in Seattle, and will be presented at the forthcoming conference in Doha, Qatar, next month. WTO oversees a number of treaties governing international trade. There are two specific treaties, which have implications for library and information services: the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The GATS agreement has the potential to open up all aspects of a national economy to foreign competition, including public sector services such as libraries. In their submissions to the GATS negotiations, individual countries make commitments on service sectors they wish to open up to competition. At the beginning of the second round of GATS negotiations in 2001, 13 countries, including eight developing nations, had made a commitment to open negotiations on libraries, archives, museums and other cultural services. It is probable that many more countries will be entering GATS negotiations, which could directly affect their library services, even if they are have not listed them in their commitments. (Shimmon, 2001, p.679)

Frode Bakken, who is on the EBLIDA working group on the WTO and the GATS, (Information Society, 2001), provides further background information about IFLA's role and position ('WTO and libraries - an introduction, September 2000). This paper was presented at the 66th IFLA Council and General Conference in Jerusalem in August 2000. It describes how IFLA came to have a representative at the WTO meeting in Seattle, and how this was quite an unusual departure from IFLA's previous activities. Bakken said that:

As far as I know IFLA has never before been a lobbyist group and accredited NGO in a trade policy context even if we have a long tradition in attending WIPO conferences and also regional copyright conferences. (Bakken, 2000, p.1)

Bakken considers the MAI and how:

This was a closed shop and secret process until the world became aware of it. This agreement, which never became a reality, was meant to promote foreign investments all over the world. It was expected that this would reduce in a dramatic way the role of the nation state and its legislation and increase the influence of the trans-national companies. (Bakken, 2000, p.2)

The MAI process collapsed in 1998. The IFLA MAI Working Group was then renamed the WTO Working Group, and it set out various recommendations, such as to actively encourage members...

...to lobby at national level to promote protections for libraries and culture in international trade agreements (Bakken, 2000, p.2)

Leading on from this, IFLA gained representation at Seattle. As Bakken notes:

This had the effect that IFLA applied for and got an official accreditation as NGO (Non-governmental organisation) at the WTO conference in Seattle. (2000, p.2)

Paul Whitney, the Chief Librarian at Burnaby Public Library, became the official IFLA representative. Thus, these are the facts of the situation. However, I think it is worthwhile to highlight the slight ambiguity in IFLA's position on the WTO, as set out in February 2001. It said that:

IFLA will be represented in Seattle, along with other library associations, in order to defend the interests of libraries and promote the value of the public sector. (IFLA, 1995 document redrafted February 2001, as 2001a)

However, having read the documentation carefully, it would appear that only IFLA itself was represented. Even so, this was a significant breakthrough, and it means that the international library community has a much clearer and a better understanding about what the WTO is doing and planning, and it means that we can disseminate information more effectively and respond accordingly. When I began editing this 'Globalisation and Information' issue, I did not know that an IFLA representative had been at the WTO meeting in Seattle, or that IFLA had a position on the WTO. As already stated, I was inspired by Glenn Rikowski's book on Seattle (Rikowski, 2001a) where he focused on some of the implications arising from Seattle for education. Therefore, we are in fact stronger than I could have hoped for. The international library community needs to work together now, to disseminate this important information, and to resist pressures from the WTO that would undermine many of the main purposes of our working lives in the library and information world and indeed, would in time, lead to a fundamental and catastrophic change to our whole way of life. Under the WTO agenda and the GATS we would become completely subservient to the needs of corporate capital. As Bakken notes:

The aim of the WTO is to enhance world trade through liberalisation of world trade or as this is formulated by WTO itself: "the main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. (Bakken, 2000, p.1)

Furthermore, Paul Whitney has indicated that:

The WTO is unique as a multinational body in that it has binding dispute mechanisms as an inherent part of its operations. These dispute mechanisms include the strongest enforcement procedures of any international agreement currently in place. The common element to the opposition against the WTO is the loss of local (i.e. national) decision making which can result from its panel rulings. (2000, p.1)

This runs against much of what many of us believe regarding what libraries and information should ultimately be about. As I have already said, Whitney was present at the WTO meeting in Seattle, so heard first-hand what was actually discussed, and he said that libraries are definitely included under the GATS (contrary to statements made by people such as Richard Caborn). He said:

It was made clear by key negotiators in Seattle that all services are subject to GATS review, including education, health care and, yes, libraries, archives and museums... hard choices will have to be made and they may include the sacrifice of some sectors to protect others. (Whitney, 2000, p.1)

Whitney does go on to say that:

...after the week in Seattle... libraries are not on the WTO's agenda. (Whitney, 2000, p.2)

However,

The lack of awareness of libraries within the WTO and national delegations should not be taken as meaning that libraries will not be effected... What has to be of concern are the potential GATS unintended consequences for libraries and other public sector institutions. (Whitney, 2000, p.2)

This, perhaps, illustrates the fact that libraries can sometimes be seen to be a 'backwater'. Libraries will be swept along in the tide of the global corporate agenda; but they are hardly deserving of a mention in their own right whilst this is taking place, it seems. Witness, in contrast, the coverage that is sometimes given to areas such as health and education in the media, although many other areas that are threatened by the GATS (some of which were highlighted by Clare Joy in her article) are also often excluded from the main stream media.

Furthermore, Whitney notes that:

With the increasing commodification of information, the importance of information for e-commerce, and the recent unprecedented transnational corporate mergers of content owners and deliverers, it is no longer assured that some of the services of public, education and even national libraries might not be seen to be in competition with the private sector. (ibid.)

He continued:

If libraries were not specifically discussed in Seattle, there was considerable debate and maneuvering over the issue of cultural diversity. The IFLA position paper acknowledges that publically funded libraries are part of the cultural sector. It also advocates for cultural diversity and the encouragement of multiple voices rather than homogenized and globalized cultural products which dominate by virtue of financial or corporate strength. (ibid.)

Whitney concludes by emphasising the value of libraries as they are currently constituted and then suggests what we should be doing in the future. He says:

Libraries have a central role to play in ensuring that the full range of cultural expression is accessible. A lessening of cultural diversity weakens library collections. The best outcome is open markets for cultural products with governments able to sustain domestic culture through support programmes for creators, producers, distributors and public sector cultural institutions such as libraries. (Whitney, 2000, p.3)

So, where do we go from here? Whitney argues that:

Effective advocacy is dependent upon working with groups sharing our concerns for the public sector and cultural diversity. Effective communication among library activists and associations is imperative if we are to have any influence on the international agenda. Perhaps, even more important, is to ensure that our library users have access to the information necessary for them to understand the forces at work which may fundamentally alter public institutions such as libraries. (2000, p.4)

So, there we have it. I do not think I need to add much more to this. Both those people implementing the GATS (such as Angela Watson - even if unknowingly) and those critical of it, such as Whitney and IFLA say all that is necessary. Taking action and 'spreading the word' is the next step.


4.2 British Columbia Library Association (BCLA)

The BCLA position is very clear. As already stated, it was BCLA who first developed a library approach to the GATS, informed the world library community and communicated with IFLA about it all. Canada is very much in the forefront on many of the GATS issues. It was also in the forefront on many of the issues in the education sector. On their web site, the BLCA outlines a scenario that could easily occur under the national treatment guidelines of GATS. This is the picture they paint:

An "informed services" company could enter Canada, offering services similar to those offered by Canadian libraries. Under the national treatment clause, this company could claim the same government subsidies that libraries receive (because they are the same kind of operation), and the government would be forced to comply. In such a case, the subsidies would probably be discontinued by the government so that similar claims could be avoided in the future. Discontinuing funds to libraries would be the surest way for governments to protect themselves, and libraries could be forced to generate income or close. If public libraries are forced to close, or to operate on a break-even basis, the public would have to buy their information from the "information companies" or from fee-charging libraries. If a free flow of information is fundamental in a democratic society, the very basis of our democratic system would be threatened by this scenario. (BCLA, und.a)

They then ask people to take action: write to their MPs, ask for an explicit and permanent exemption for libraries in GATS negotiations and do not be intimidated by the language used by Government and trade officials, and to keep informed.

BCLA have another short paper on the web, GATS and the threat to libraries. In this document they say that:

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international body which seeks to eliminate "trade barriers" through privatization and competition. Its activities may result in the eventual elimination of the public sector...The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is the first ever set of multilateral legally-enforceable rules covering international trade in services. Services include a range of activities such as public health institutions, public education, social services and public libraries...The WTO is designed to limit the powers of sub-national governments (provincial, regional, local) in countries with a federal system. The GATS will limit local and provincial purchasing and economic development policies... Proposed changes to GATS will open all aspects of the economy to foreign competition including libraries. (BCLA, und.b)

It then encourages people to take some action, saying:

It is important that anyone who cares about libraries in Canada learns more about the potential effects of GATS...Any anyone who is concerned about democracy insist that the federal government consult more widely and openly with the people of Canada about what and how they are negotiating on our behalf. (BCLA, und.b)


4.3 The Canadian Library Association (CLA)

The CLA voices similar sentiments. It notes, for example, that:

Privatization of libraries may result from the proposals for expansion of the GATS Agreement. (CLA, 1999 - my emphasis)

...and that:

Libraries are unique social organizations dedicated to providing the broadest range of information and ideas to the public regardless of age, religion, social status, race, gender and language. (CLA, 1999)

The Canadian Library Association then outlines its position, stating that:

The Canadian Library Association supports and joins with other public sector organizations such as museums, archives, public education institutions and public health services in declaring the importance of our services to the health, richness and level of equity so far established by our society. CLA supports the creation of an exemption for library services, as the possible outcome of permitting the private sector to compete with libraries...could be to undermine their tax-supported status... Libraries should be part of exemptions for culture... (CLA, 1999)

Finally, they say that the:

CLA will concentrate on a separate agreement/exemption for libraries and cultural organizations while continuing to push for protection of the public sector as broadly defined. (CLA, 1999)


4.4 The American Library Association (AL) and European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Association (EBLIDA)

The ALA endorsed the IFLA WTO position at its ALA mid-winter meeting 2000 (ALA, 2000). The EBLIDA notes that the GATS could impact on libraries in a number of ways, which it lists as follows on its web site:

Libraries could face competition from foreign for-profit library services and suppliers

National treatment may have to be offered to these suppliers in competition with publicly funded services

Professional standards and qualification requirements may be challenged as a barrier to trade

(EBLIDA, 2000)

On the EBLIDA web site it is stated that:

It is essential that the library community is aware of these developments and can defend its interests. (EBLIDA, 2000)

Due to these threats, EBLIDA has now set up a working group on the WTO and the GATS, and the British contact for this is Toby Bainton (Information Society, 2001).


4.5 Other library bodies

Various other library bodies also support many of the sentiments that have been expressed above. Steve Shrybman (2001) wrote a document entitled An assessment of the impact of the General Agreement on Trade and Services on policy, programs and law concerning public sector libraries. This document was prepared for all the following library bodies: - the Canadian Library Association, Canadian Association of University Teachers, Canadian Association of Research Libraries, Ontario Library Association, Saskatchewan Library Association, Manitoba Library Association, Industry Canada, British Columbia Library Association, Library Association of Alberta and the National Library of Canada. Thus, all these organisations are very concerned about the likely impact of the GATS on libraries. As is stated in the Executive Summary of this document:

In many ways the rationale for public sector service delivery is in conflict with the principles of trade liberalization that are fundamental to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In simple terms, the GATS seeks to constrain government policy and regulatory options in favour of free market solutions. Public sector libraries on the other hand serve a public policy agenda that intends to correct the failure of free markets to meet broader community goals such as universal access to information and literacy. Given this inherent contradiction, it is not surprising that application of GATS disciplines to government measures concerning public sector libraries is consistently problematic (Shrybman, 2001, p.3)

Later in the document the likelihood of the private sector moving into the public library sector is considered, and it says that:

The more difficult point to establish is that public sector library services are not supplied in competition with the private sector. While the more traditional services provided by public libraries may not compete with other service suppliers, this is not the case for on-line or digital services. In other words, the bricks and mortar or more traditional library services may be excluded as supplied in the exercise of government authority while on-line and digital information services are not. This coincides of course with the areas of competition with private sector suppliers of e-book and e-library services. (Shrybman, 2001, p.7)

This is a very interesting statement. It reflects why this article is looking at libraries in general, and not just public libraries, even though much of the detail focuses on public libraries. As already indicated, the GATS, as part of the general global capitalist agenda, will be introduced gradually. The proposals under Best Value, for example, include the possibility of local authorities working with the voluntary sector, at least initially. Then, when the time is 'ripe' the voluntary sector could takeover the public library service from the local authority, and then at a still later date, this voluntary organisation could change and become a private company (once enough money can be made out of the project). Thus, it is a 'slippery slope', and in a sense, the divide between public library provision and other types of library and information provision could become blurred. Thus, in the early days, as indicated above, the bricks and mortar of the traditional public library could remain intact, but online and digital information could be opened up to the private sector. This fits in closely with my micropayments scenario. The physical library building might (or might not!) remain with the local authority, but users have to pay (albeit indirectly) to undertake transactions on the Internet. It is difficult, indeed almost impossible, to predict precisely what outcome will emerge, but this is the general direction. So, access to information could be 'privatised' (as it were) and at a later date, everything else could be privatised (library buildings, the books etc), when the time is ripe and sufficient profits can be made.


4.6 Summary

It is simply not the case that all library and information workers are happily swimming along in the tide, accepting all the supposed 'goodies' that capitalism has to offer, and embracing whatever is thrown in their way, as a result of capital's infinite drive to incorporate all areas of social life. Instead, there are a considerable number of library organisations showing grave concern. This should provide us with good heart and confidence. I hope that it will encourage everyone who reads this 'Globalisation and Information' issue to think deeply about these subjects and to think further about how we might proceed on these questions together, in order to halt or at least slow down, the relentless pace of library capitalisation.


5. Conclusion and The Future

This article has aimed to unravel and expose 'global capitalism' for what it is. Within this context, it has focused on libraries and information (particularly public libraries) and how they will be affected by global capitalism. They will be affected by two main agreements that are being established at the World Trade Organisation - the GATS and TRIPS, which form part of the overall global capitalist agenda. This paper has focused on the likely implication of the GATS for libraries and information and how this will impact on library and information workers and library and information users. Whilst endeavouring to dispel any romantic myths that we might have about how our public library service first came into existence and any so-called 'rights' that we might think we have, (we have no 'God-given' rights to our public services, as such, or to a free National Health Service), the article then goes on to alert us to the dangers that our public library service as it is now constituted, currently faces. In essence, this is the danger of a corporate takeover or our libraries, which runs contrary to the public service ethos.

I then suggest that the corporate takeover of libraries can be placed within three distinct categories - commercialisation, privatisation and capitalisation. I describe the three categories and the sub-categories within these in some detail and then provide examples of how the corporate takeover has already started. Within this strategy, I consider where and how developments such as the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), micropayments and income generation fit in.

The article then proceeds to examine some of the mechanisms and facilitators that enable the corporate takeover of libraries to take effect, in the three areas outlined. Within this context, I look at Best Value, Library Standards and the People's Network. These can all be seen to be mechanisms that will enable the GATS to take effect in libraries. They are the national faces of the GATS.

I then consider the position and response of various library associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) throughout the world to the World Trade Organisation and the GATS. Many of these organisations are extremely concerned about the direction in which the WTO is driving things. They see libraries as a 'public good' (IFLA, 2001b) and are very concerned about the threat that they are under. As the British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) say:

Imagine a world without libraries...it could happen. (BLCA, und.a)

The aim of this article has been to heighten people's awareness about the threat that libraries and information are currently under from the GATS and global capitalism. From this, I hope that people will feel able to take the issues forward. There is a need to inform others and to start to expose the hidden (or not so hidden) agenda that resides within capitalism itself. We need not panic, thinking that all their libraries will suddenly close tomorrow, and that we must start protesting, striking, working 24 hours a day to try to prevent this happening etc. Radicals have pursued such strategies on so many occasions anyway, and in different ways, and this approach just does not seem to work; it just exhausts people. Also, such action might result in stopping one programme in line with the GATS from proceeding, but other programmes will continue unabated; capital will continue its infinite drive elsewhere in some other concrete form. No, a more careful and considered approach is called for. May be, then, we will be able to think more clearly about how to create a better, kinder and fairer social system. Then, perhaps real and lasting progress can be made. The important thing is to make progress and not to go round in circles. Certainly, we should work hard to defend our libraries and to inform others about the scenario that is developing - but think carefully about what is the best strategy to adopt. The works of Karl Marx are incredibly rich and meaningful, compared to so much of what is written today. He has often been demonised and denigrated as so many critics are, but usually it materialises that most people who try to undermine him have not even attempted to read his works. Let us end with a quote from Marx, which illustrates his tremendous foresight - for 150 years ago he saw that globalisation was developing. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels said that:

All that is solid melts into air...the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. (Marx and Engels, 1848, p.83)

We need to think at a deeper level, as Marx did, in order to analyse and expose the intrinsic workings of the capitalist system, so that we can then start to conceive of a different world; a kinder world; a better world; a fairer world; a world beyond. As Glenn Rikowski says, let us look towards 'a future with a future - socialism' (Rikowski, 2001b - original emphasis).


Notes

1. See also the Letter to the Financial Times, of 6th November 2001, from Lord Brittain and others associated with the Liberalisation of Trade in Services Group on the 'great benefits' that the GATS offers to emerging economies as well as to British economy. This letter notes that: "The GATS agreement is about liberalising international trade in services. It does not require the deregulation or privatisation of these services. These are separate policy decisions for governments to take or not take as they choose." (Financial Times, 2001)

2. Fiona Hunt has outlined the implications of the MAI for libraries in a paper prepared for the British Columbia Library Association (Hunt, 1998), and see Stan Ng (1998) for background information on the MAI.

3. For other examples of privatisation in libraries and information see Nehms (1997), Bennahum (1995), Seetharama (1998), Private Libraries Association (1999) and Millward (1998). See also Fiona Hunt's article, where she refers to companies launching "information markets" on the Internet (Ott, 1999).

4. The People's Network will be discussed and analysed later in this article.

5. For this booklet, contact cdpat symbolmailportal.net and also the magazine Red Pepper, redpepperat symbolredpepper.org.uk


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Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Glenn Rikowski for his help, support and inspiration.

 

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