Library staff wade through Fifty Shades of Grey

Monmouthshire County Council library staff will be busy for a week or so as they ascertain how many times books from the Fifty Shades of Grey series by EL James have been borrowed by Monmouthshire’s residents. This is just one example of the one thousand or so requests we receive each year as Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.

Freedom of Information (FoI) Officer, Mike Trigg said: “Freedom of Information has been growing steadily since it began. In 2005, the first full year, we handled 108 requests. In 2014, it was 1,003 and we have now received more than 5,000. Since April, we have replied to 95% of all requests within 20 working days”.

Most FoI requests (42% April 2014 to Jan 2015) come from commercial sources while 18% are submitted by the national press. Only 14% are presented by the county’s residents with a tiny 4% coming from our local papers. Monmouthshire’s FoI coordinators are Barrie Hodges for Children and Young People requests – 5% of the total – and Mike Trigg for the rest.

The most FoI popular subjects (in order) are:

  • Business rates
  • Social care
  • HR & Staffing
  • Council processes
  • Highways
  • Planning
  • Procurement & contracts
  • Public Health funerals
  • IT & Software
  • Educational matters

Mike added: “Lots of our colleagues deal with requests, and the chances are that if you have handled once you have probably handled quite a few”.

Here are some of the more bizarre requests Mike has received in 2014-15:

  • Under the Freedom of Information Act, could you please let me know how many roundabouts are located within your council boundaries?
  • The details of every time the council has paid for the services of an exorcist, psychic or religious healer
  • Please can you tell me if employees are requested to inform a line manager or any other official in their department if and when they have a romantic relationship with any colleague who works in the same department?
  • Would you please provide details of any kind of bonus or other financial incentive paid to social workers for the number of children that they take into care?

And for the record, here is the Fifty Shades of Grey FoI request:

  • Under the Freedom of Information Act, please could you provide me with the number of times any edition of any of the Fifty Shades of Grey books by EL James has been borrowed from your libraries. Please breakdown the number of times the books have been borrowed by individual library.
    Please provide either, the number of issues by library the book was borrowed from (so after it has been transferred from other libraries in the system) or the number of times each book has been borrowed by library that holds the copy, as well as the number of times a book has been transferred, broken down by library it was transferred to – this will obviously depend on how your system records borrowing.

To find out more about Freedom of Information requests, details are on the Monmouthshire County Council corporate website.

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