- By authority
- Volunteer-run libraries
- Privatized Libraries / Outsourcing library services
- Increasing income
- Why libraries?
The major research project Envisioning the library of the future and the ACE response to it, both released today, make clear that the hard times are here to stay and that libraries will either face dramatic change or go under. The research sees no respite for a decade and does not offer any escape other than a dramatic retooling towards an increased reliance on the community and exploring alternative, distinctively entrepreneurial, methods of funding. As such, it recognises the grim reality of the situation, accepts it and tries to work out possible solutions.
The survey of library experts (in the Delphi report, part of the research) suggests that cuts in funding are likely not to improve for the next ten years so libraries had better not be counting on external rescue from the Government or, indeed, anyone else but themselves. In addition, traditional usage is falling not just from these cuts but from technological change that means that the old skills (especially anything to do with printed books) mean increasingly less. The very best libraries are overcoming these problems and seeing growing usage but “too many other” libraries have “reaction times” which are “slow” and are “struggling to keep up”.The priorities are seen as:
- place the library as the hub of the community
- make the most of digital technology and creative media
- ensure that libraries are resilient and sustainable
- deliver the right skills for those who work in libraries
The solutions are many and various but are united in not having funding behind them, presumably because there is no funding.
- The word “community” is used frequently. Sometimes this appears interchangeable with the word “volunteer”. Indeed, an increasing reliance on volunteers is seen as “a new settlement between local councils and communities”, although how the communities feel about this new settlement is not mentioned. As such, librarians need to work on their community skills, encourage volunteers and make their libraries even more of a centre for their local areas.
- Working with others services is seen as hopeful. Co-locations are featured heavily, notably with schools. Philanthropy is also mentioned as is charging for services to other providers. For example, it’s noted that libraries are not being paid by anyone for providing employment help. However, there’s no explanation of how to do this in practice.
- The services offered by libraries, and the buildings themselves, should be designed in consultation with the local community. One of the examples given is a website that includes people being able to design their own library service in Lambeth.
- Library services, and specifically library staff, need to be more entrepreneurial. There is a very interesting part of the report that lists all these changes in the UK and also the rest of the world. Interestingly, the very first example is the DOK in the Netherlands that charges for membership: something that is illegal in the UK if a library wants to remain statutory.
- Technology. Volunteers helping people with new equipment is mentioned as are 3D printer events staffed with people from local clubs. More permanent “Fab Labs” in libraries are quoted approvingly but, sadly, there are none in the UK. E-books are mentioned but it is noted that there are often only small numbers of titles on offer in this format.
The problem with all of this is that, ironically, it costs money. In many areas, library services are being cut to the bone and those local staff who could be involved in outreach are tied to the buildings because they’re now on minimal staffing. Recruiting, training, managing and retaining volunteers takes a lot of time and the report makes clear that staff should be highly trained. Paid staff are having their training cut and, being it seems (by my observation of the library news) that it takes around ten volunteers to take the place of one full-time paid member of staff, that’s a lot of expensive training. There are not many e-books in UK libraries because, at least partially, bookfunds have been reduced. There are no Fab Labs in English libraries because they cost money.
Indeed, although the report goes out of its way to criticise the national focus on cuts in library funding, the entire report is written with the cuts deeply in mind. Localism is also the master, with the role of central government is barely mentioned. It’s all up to individual communities, individual library authorities and non/semi-governmental bodies to do the work. For instance, an “open enabling ICT infrastructure” should be “agreed by local authorities and local services”. So it’s entirely up to the 151 library services to work out a common plan. Some of the initiatives approvingly mentioned are also remarkably small-scale – a library student as an unpaid intern is one of the examples listed as best practice. This can’t be accidental. Arts Council England have merely observed then reality (that Government believes in local councils doing the work and not doing as little as possible themselves) and have gone with it.
ACE see their role as providing funding opportunities with, naturally, a strong Arts bias. This is not the most useful thing in this most anti-Arts of times. Critically it also sees it role as giving best practice and a lot of this report is tied to that. It’s notable, though, that there’s not a concrete proposal as to how to share best practice other than noting there’s no-one doing it at the moment. Incidentally, you’ll forgive me I hope at this point for a quick aside: I’m be willing to do it for them if they’d pay me a wage to do so because, frankly, I’m already doing a lot of it anyway – and it’s interesting to note that the consultation was viewed by six times less than Public Libraries News is seen in the same period.
So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for a knight on white charger to help libraries, it’s not going to be ACE. If you’re looking for better times ahead and your plan is to survive until then, well that’s not going to happen. Being a spectator is not a survival strategy. If you’re not close to retirement (and many paid library staff are – but that’s another story) then ACE believes that you should make the change yourself and go Big Society and High Tech with a vengeance, finding the money for yourself because no-one is going to give it to you on a plate. You may get cheered from the sidelines but don’t expect much more.
Have you got it yet? In the brave new world, each library is a start-up business. Each library manager an entrepreneur. Your community is your market. And it’s your fault if you fail. Forget paper libraries. Forget jobs for life and public service ethos. Those days have gone, my friend. What we’re looking at is community centres with books in, workshops with volunteer help and computer centres. Cope with it or leave. Adapt and survive.
By the way, I don’t entirely disagree with some of this. I cannot stand library staff who are not open to change. If times change, if communities change then it is the need of the librarian to go with it. No-one owes us a job. However, what the report means for any remaining idea of a national public library service is terrifying in its extremes. Each library is an low-lying island is the underlying philosophy and you’d better build your sea barriers up now because the tide is rising and it’s your fault if you drown.
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 1: a review of innovations in library services by Ipsos MORI and Shared Intelligence
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 1: Future trends review by Ipsos MORI
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 1: Delphi enquiry by Ipsos MORI and Shared Intelligence
- Envisioning the library of the future Phases 1 and 2: full report by Ipsos MORI and Shared Intelligence
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 3: understanding what people value about libraries by Dialogue by Design and Involve
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 3: online survey by Dialogue by Design
- Envisioning the library of the future Phase 3: understanding what young people value about libraries by Dialogue by Design and Office for Public Management
- ACE Libraries report launched: Missing in action? – Library Campaign. “This duplicates research that has been done many times before – not least by the Arts Council itself. What’s missing is action. It is heart-breaking that time and money has been wasted in this way. Libraries are closing at an unprecedented rate. Others are hacked to pieces. Desperate communities are trying to take them on to save them – and are getting no help or advice. We are trying to fill the huge gap left by DCMS and Arts Council inaction. Unpaid, in our spare time. If they can’t see this is a crisis – and won’t do anything to help – please can we have their money?”
- Call for political leadership on libraries – CILIP. ““The report shows that people are passionate about having a library in their community,” continued John Dolan, “but with the difficult economic realities faced by local authorities and without stronger political leadership supporting a clear national vision it’s going to be a struggle to deliver consistently high-quality and relevant library services in communities across the country. A postcode lottery is not fair or equitable.”
“Councils know people treasure their libraries and they have been working extremely hard to preserve services as best they can in the face of 33 per cent funding cuts. It’s testament to this commitment and innovation, and to councils’ reluctance to make closures, that only a small percentage of our 4,500 libraries have closed over the past couple of years. This report confirms the issues many councils are currently grappling with and the solutions and approaches it discusses are already a reality in many libraries. It’s also important to remember the best solutions may vary from area to area, and this is something for councils to work out in consultation with their residents.
As the Culture, Media and Sport Committee reported last year, across the country there’s been a fantastic amount of creativity and ambition to modernise libraries in ways which engage young people, don’t alienate existing users and make the most of diminished budgets. In the last couple of years we have seen libraries opening up in village halls, pubs, shops, churches, day care centres and tourist information centres, as well as linking with health, social care, benefits and job search providers. However, were government to inflict yet more funding cuts on councils, which have already borne the brunt of its austerity measures, some would not be able to continue shielding libraries from cuts which may mean more would be forced to close.” Local Government Association, via email.
- ACE: Libraries should be ‘hub’ of communities – BookSeller. “Arts Council England’s Envisioning the Library of the Future project has concluded that libraries should be at the hub of their communities, but states that libraries can provide greater benefit when they are co-located with other services.”. Libraries director for ACE says “Asked what he would like to see people take from Envisioning, Ashley said: “I would like everyone who has interest in public libraries to come together around the ideas proposed of what a library is and what it’s for. We spend an awful lot of time debating these things—if we can use the energy to work towards finding solutions I think campaigners would be delighted by that.”. Comments after the article call it time-wasting, useless “pompous and patronizing waffle”. The Library Campaign says it’s “hopping mad”. Most point out that there have been many reports over the last decade and none of them have achieved anything.
“The Arts Council England report “The Library of the Future” is a timely articulation of the direction libraries need to take if they are to continue fulfilling their role for their communities. “The recommendations for an open and enabling ICT infrastructure agreed by local authorities and library services together with the need to ensure library staff have the required digital skills are particularly important in light of the Sieghart Review’s report on e-lending. “In light of the successful digital skills development project delivered through collaboration between publishers and librarians, we hope to see The Publishers Association and its members added to the list of those with whom libraries will work in partnership with to take this vision forward”.” Richard Mollet, Chief Executive, The Publishers Association Limited, via email.
“Public libraries matter – they play an important role for communities and help celebrate and promote Britain’s greatest contribution to world civilisation – our language and literature. But libraries need constantly to adapt to keep up with changes in communities. This report offers a thoughtful and timely analysis of issues facing the sector today, and I am happy to endorse the recommendation for a collaborative approach to addressing some of the issues raised. I commend it to everyone who, like me, believes libraries can and should have a positive future ahead.” Ed Vaizey, Culture Minister, via press release.
“I do not believe that I am being unfair to ACE in suggesting that this report tells us nothing that was not known from previous consultancy reports and research studies, including the two year Library Modernisation Review. More significantly, it does not address the critical need for effective leadership and advocacy, highlighted in the past by the All Party Parliamentary Library Group, CMS Select Committees and by ministers and shadow ministers. Frankly, the report is in part rather patronising and wholly platitudinious to those who need and rely upon public libraries. I suggest, it will be a considerable disappointment to many.” Desmond Clarke, via email
““This report is a welcome insight into the value placed on libraries by the public, and the staff who work in them. I am pleased that it shares many of the conclusions found in Labour’s report Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership. It should be yet another wake up call to David Cameron that more needs to be done to ensure our libraries are sustainable. Libraries are trusted spaces which are open to all. Their potential is unlimited and across the country local authorities have been looking at innovative ways to save and improve our libraries. Despite this hard work, the latest figures demonstrate that in 2011/12 201 library service points were lost and a further 293 are now under threat. The responsibility for oversight lies firmly at the door of David Cameron and Ed Vaizey and they need to act now.” In December, Labour launched Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership. This report also looked at the future sustainability of libraries, and what a future Government should do to support the service.” Dan Jarvis, via press release
“Sigh… What a load of marketing guff, stating the blindingly obvious – well except (as expected) no mention of whether they would provide any additional funding or reference to the swathes of libraries decimated during the Socialist Utopian Government years / Socialist ruled Councils. (I’m not saying any Party is perfect on libraries, but I wouldn’t have put my name to this 2nd hand car-sales brochure if it was in dashing blue either!). The world of libraries is changing / evolving – come up with concrete suggestions (hey maybe funding?) not flannel. Could of, should of, would of, dear me… To those actually doing the graft on the coal-face, more power to you. Me, I’d have a library Tsar with a commercial background (Tim Coates etc!), focus on numbers and customer experience. Share this best practice, rejoice in being the thriving hub of communities – this would make local Government appreciate (and pay for) the services we want. Be spikey, float radical ideas, hey even get it wrong – but get it done.” Justin Tomlinson MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on libraries, via email. on Dan’s statement
- Not really a basis for long term decisions – Question Everything. “Is this really the level of research that we get from government? You would imagine that having librarians involved, people who are supposed to understand data it would be proper robust bit of research like you’d get from a scientific paper. The outsourced part of the study alone cost somewhere between 65k and 85K you can see the tender document here. And yet they spoke to less people that regularly use my local library which is tiny.” … “I would imagine with all the staffing time spent on it by the various staff members, the true cost of this drivel was probably nearer a quarter of a million pounds, yet it has no hard data, offers no solutions to the problems and draws no conclusions on a proper way forward.” … “The giant elephant in the room of community libraries not saving money they seem to be ignoring”
- SCL Welcomes Arts Council’s Envisioning Report – Society of Chief Librarians. Welcomes that ACE recognises the contributions libraries give to society and points out the work the SCL has done itself. “We welcome the opportunity to form part of a collaboration with the Arts Council and others to lead and deliver on the aspirations of Envisioning.”
- Campaign for the Book newsletter: “Envisioning” the decline of the public library service - Alan Gibbons. Questions the assumption that the library service will survive, given the current cuts, long enough for the report’s views to become practical: “If we are to develop the libraries of tomorrow we need the libraries of today to provide the bridge. The danger is that, under the woeful, neglectful and cavalier leadership of the DCMS the bridge will collapse and the destination will not be reached.”
“I know I am in Switzerland. But has ACE gone mad? This report in a better version has been written time and again,for heavens sake this ACE has gone into a big hole. What did this pointless report cost? And was it worth the effort? It is worse than sad. It is totally disheartening. WHO now will champion public libraries at the top level?” Frances Kirton, LIS-PUB-LIBS.
“The only place where I would willingly obey the laws”: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on libraries
The idea of Keith Richards once being an avid public library user is a wonderful one and is even better because it’s true. Another wonderful thing is a new library, and there are a couple in the news today. You can get married at the one in Derbyshire due to it being co-located with a Registrars. The other one, just announced, is in Bradford and is going to happen only because the existing building has serious asbestos problems. More information on cuts are coming out from Sefton (where 40 staff could go) and Southend (where there may soon be only three professionally qualified librarians for the whole borough).
- Blind eye - BookSeller / Desmond Clarke. Unimpressed with the lack of intervention by the DCMS. “Is there any evidence that those in the DCMS lose a wink of sleep about library closures in seriously deprived areas? They sat on the sidelines as Gloucestershire, Somerset and Surrey residents sought and won their own judicial reviews.”
- Children’s author Philip Ardagh talks bushy beards and writing tips – Parentdish. “Libraries are a social service and about much more than books. Nowadays there are so many forms which can only be filled in on-line, and librarians are happy to help you fill them out. For some people the library is their only source of Internet access; for children who live in a noisy, unsupportive household it might be the only place they can get their homework done. As for the books themselves, reading for pleasure opens just as many doors as education does. A good librarian is inspirational. They really know their onions. Which is useful, if you need some onions.”
Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central, Labour)
(1) what steps she is taking to support the continued operation of libraries in deprived areas; and whether the degree of social deprivation in an area for which library closures are proposed is given weight in deciding whether to launch an inquiry into the closures;
(2) what steps she is taking to ensure the survival of branch libraries in areas of deprivation that face closure.
Edward Vaizey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Culture, Communications and Creative Industries), Business, Innovation and Skills; Wantage, Conservative)
Responsibility and accountability for individual library services is vested in local authorities. Authorities must be able to show that they have discharged their statutory duty to understand the local needs for library services in their area and to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service to meet those needs. DCMS continues to monitor and assess proposals and decisions being made about changes to library services across England.
They Work For You, [17 people don't think Mr Vaizey answered the question, 0 think he did - Ed.]
- Creation, consumption, and the library – Sense and Reference. Interesting thoughts on 3D printers and libraries.
- Development of a new quality framework for Welsh public libraries – Sell 2 Wales. “to develop a new quality framework for public libraries in Wales. The framework will enable the Minister for Culture and Sport to discharge his responsibilities under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act as well as support the development of public library services in Wales.”
- Making Room for Innovation – Library Journal (USA). “Two library service prototyping spaces, in two very different places, have a remarkable amount in common. Nate Hill runs and operates the 4th Floor in Chattanooga, a large public library loft space operating as a flexible community makerspace and event space.”
- Paperless public libraries switch to digital – BBC. Long article including comments from Alan Gibbons and mention of the cuts to UK public libraries. “the world’s first completely paperless public library is scheduled to open this summer in Bexar County, Texas, in the United States … It will have 100 e-readers on loan, and dozens of screens where the public will be able to browse, study, and learn digital skills. However it’s likely most users will access BiblioTech’s initial holding of 10,000 digital titles from the comfort of their homes, way out in the Texas hinterland … San Antonio’s book-rich public libraries will be unaffected by the project. Bexar County, by contrast, never had a public library service.”
“This sets it apart from earlier bookless library experiments at Newport Beach, California, and Tucson, Arizona – which both reverted to offering real as well as e-books, by public demand.” … “It’s clear that bookless libraries are not a cheaper option for cash strapped colleges and local authorities”
- Welsh Librarian of the Year announced – CILIP. “Bethan (pictured right), a Chartered Member of CILIP, through partnership working has contributed to the highest participation rates at primary school level in the annual Summer Reading Challenge, developed and maintained a highly effective Writing Squads programme for children and supported Denbighshire in achieving highest average reading age for school leavers in Wales, as judged by Estyn – the Schools Inspectorate.”
- Bradford - £1m new City Library due to old library having asbestos. Money to be raised by saving on rents/maintenance.
- Derbyshire - New £2.4m Ashbourne library: co-located with day centre, exhibition space, a registrar’s office and ceremony room and office facilities for council officials.
- Sefton - 40 staff (16 to 19 FTE) may be made redundant. £400k p.a. cut. Campaign group; The Ainsdale, Birkdale and Churchtown Library Group.
- Slough – Britwell Library / Community Centre (March 2013). Community centre including library, opened by the Queen.
- Southend - No non-management staff are qualified librarians. Plans in place to further reduce this number from 7 to 3.
- Bradford – New library to be built in Bradford city centre - Telegraph and Argus. “A new library in Bradford city centre is to be created after it was discovered that the existing Central Library is no longer fit for purpose [Asbestos means it would take until end 2014 to fix - Ed.]. The Bradford Council decision, which the Telegraph & Argus can exclusively reveal today, brings to an end nearly two years of uncertainty after the Central Library was deemed a fire risk by health and safety experts in October 2011.” … “the new facility will occupy the present Bradford 1 Gallery building and a large unit next to it in City Park. It will open in December, complete with 60,000 books, 40 computers for public use, study space and Wi-Fi.” … “The project will cost £9 million in total, of which £8m will be spent on the Central Library building to make it safe and convert it to offices and conference space for Council workers.”. Money to be saved from rents and maintenance costs.
- Bradford – New chapter for library services – Telegraph and Argus (leading article). “The issues with the Central Library in Bradford have dragged on for far too long now, and having such an integral part of the city centre’s provision out of action is just not acceptable. So it is to be cautiously welcomed that the Council has decided to take affirmative action, even if this means that the old building, branded a fire risk and not fit for purpose back in October 2011, will no longer serve as the city’s main library. A cautious welcome, because essentially the library service is to be relocated to empty units in the City Park, and these are going to be smaller facilities than the present site. The Council must ensure that no drop in service comes with a move to smaller premises.”
- Brent – Council agree to work with campaigners in Kensal Rise Library battle – Brent and Kilburn Times. “During the meeting the council conceded they had made mistakes in their previous running of the libraries but insisted they were keen to work with the community going forward. Margaret Bailey, director of the Friends of Kensal Rise, told the Times: “There was a feeling that they regretted what happened previously and want to build a relationship which we are grateful for.”
- Bromley – Libraries partner with RNIB to make reading more accessible - News Shopper. “Charity RNIB is partnering with public libraries to provide a range of sessions including an introduction to the Talking Book Service, uncovering the accessible features of ebooks and an interactive archaeological talk from Bromley Museum curator Marie-Louise Kerr.”
- Derbyshire – Thumbs-up for the town’s new library building – Ashbourne News Telegraph. “The £2.4 million project by Derbyshire County Council has replaced the former library in Cokayne Avenue with a bigger facility that gives users more space and expands the facility. Also housed in the modern building, which occupies the site of the former health centre in Compton, is a day centre, exhibition space, a registrar’s office and ceremony room and office facilities for council officials.”
- Ealing – Agrees to ‘contract out’ provision – Ealing Today. “If the plans are approved, JL Integrated Services a not-for-profit trust within John Laing plc will run library services in Ealing and Harrow for five years. The council will continue to consider approaches from community groups interested in volunteering to run some local libraries. Brent’s libraries are not included in the contract.”
“Ealing Council will retain control of all decisions regarding the services including setting the opening hours and deciding what books to buy. The new contractors will have to meet a number of strict criteria and targets to make sure they provide a high standard of service.”
- Ealing – Privatisation of Ealing Libraries (with an update) – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. Unison statement: “We are concerned that there has been no public consultation with Library users about how their service should be run. We fail to understand the indecent haste with which Ealing Council is happy to off-load a much loved service to the private sector. We fear that the public service ethos that has served the people of Ealing and their Library Service over many years will be replaced by the rapacious demands of the market place and the balance sheet. “
“Why is the Labour council in Ealing in such a hurry? Ealing Council has been vocal in it’s support of the campaign against privatisation in the NHS. It would therefore be a contradiction for them to support the privatisation of its Library Service.“
- Ealing – Private company set to run Ealing libraries - Ealing Gazette. “Carolyn Brown of HCF Library Action said she had hoped for an increase in hours, at least back to the rate before cuts last year. She added: “Hanwell Library is closed three days a week and on lunchtimes. Anyone working in Hanwell can only change their books on Saturday. Before we had one evening open until 8pm. John Laing run libraries in Hounslow where all of them have at least one late evening.”
- Hertfordshire – Just the ticket for new library users – Hertfordshire Council. Libraries raise profile of services such as e-books and online by prize draw with the prize of an e-reader.
- Hull – Library closure delayed to finalise takeover bid – This is Hull and East Riding. Campaign group given more time to work out how to take over Anlaby Park library with volunteers. “The Friends of Anlaby Park Library have quickly become a force to be reckoned with and have worked hard to find a way to try to keep the library open themselves. High-profile supporters have included Hull-born actress Maureen Lipman, who used the library regularly as a child.
- Kent – Keith Richards welcomed back to Dartford Library – despite ‘owing £3,000 in fines’ - News Shopper. “The Rolling Stones star racked up the fines dating back 50 years, according to a national newspaper. At 15p a day – plus late fees – it was thought the 69-year-old could be landed with a bill for around £3,000.” See Keith Richards faces £3,000 fine for overdue library books - Mirror.
“It was the only place where I would willingly obey the laws, like silence. It was somewhere I could find out about things I was interested in.” Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones“We are really delighted that Keith Richards has said how useful the library was for him in his youth, and if he would like to come and visit and help us spread the word about what a great service this is, he would more than compensate us for the books he didn’t return.” Cath Anley, Kent
- Manchester – ‘No easy decisions’: Future of six Manchester libraries still uncertain as council give campaigners June deadline – Mancunian Matters. “The council’s original plan was to shut all six libraries and replace them with smaller outreach facilities to help save £500,000 over two years. But a consultation last week answered by more than 1,000 people showed that 60% of those who took part were opposed to the closures.”
- Manchester – Sir Richard Leese: Radical change is the way to balance books – Manchester Evening News. “he ongoing battle over government cuts produced stormy scenes centred on proposals for some of our libraries.”
“As we saw and heard last week, libraries have a fantastic amount of community support, have generated strong campaigns, even though they are actually being protected more than other council services. It is also the case that at the end of this budget process we will still have excellent and accessible library and leisure services, certainly compared to most other towns and cities”
- Oxfordshire – Volunteer or conscript? - Dumb Librarian. “The OCC Cabinet that rubber stamped this foregone conclusion on the future library service were probably so far removed from the reality of what can and cannot be achieved that volunteering was not given a second thought. Of course people will do it – but will they? There is enough information in the public domain to clearly indicate that there will not be enough volunteer support. If this is the stark reality, what happens next?”
- Sefton – Merseyside library cull could lead to 40 staff redundancies – Liverpool Echo. “Campaigners The Ainsdale, Birkdale and Churchtown Library Group has put forward an alternative proposal to Sefton council to avert closing the three Southport libraries. It says £140,000 savings can be made by cutting opening hours at the three libraries from 30 to 24 hours a week, and by using volunteers to support paid library staff.”
- Southend – Read all about it - Stand up for Southend Libraries. Responds to Council comments about library review. “all non-management professional Librarian posts have been deleted including all the children’s librarians”. Professional staffing will be further cut from 7 to 3.
- Staffordshire – Solar panels on libraries save county council over £350,000 – Burton Mail. “panels fitted to two East Staffordshire libraries will help save around £350,000 over the next 10 years, it has been revealed. The scheme is on track to cut over £10,000 from Staffordshire County Council’s electricity bills each year, with a further £26,000 to be gained from the Government’s Feed in Tariffs.”
International comparisons are dangerous but I have often been impressed by the provision in US libraries. Now I know how. There are 9,000 of them and they are funded with around $10bn. We have 4265 libraries (at the last official count) and fund them with, at current exchange rates, around $1.5bn. So a UK library has, on average, 3.87 times less funding than the average US one. That’s a massive difference and suggests something more than simply that their individual libraries may be bigger. Another difference is that the US population is 5 times bigger than ours with 6.6 times the funding. On average then, their public library system is 1.3 times better funded by head of population. Of course, they have nearly half of the number of libraries per head as well: 1 library per 14686 in the UK, 1 library per 34877 in the US. This last difference is presumably because of the far wider geographical spread over there. So, on average we have over twice as many libraries per head but they’re each funded nearly 4 times worse than the average US one. Remember that if ever you wonder why US libraries are doing better than British ones at the moment. If anyone else wants to do comparative figure for other countries, by the way, this website looks good for getting the number of people per library, although the all-important budget per country appears more elusive.
Moving away from the global picture, Essex have opened their first new library in 25 years but, in a sign of how times may have changed since the last one, it is being staffed by volunteers from the start, with paid staff in support.
A couple of national surveys have some bearing on public libraries. The first from the National Literacy Trust shows that children spend more time on computers than on print-reading for the first time ever and also goes on to say that those who read print are twice as likely to be above average readers than those who read digitally. The second is from the Office of National Statistics and says 7 million Britons don’t have online access and 16 million don’t have even basic online skills. Both show the need for public libraries which are the key providers of printed works to children and online provision for all.
In local news, the decision on the stark cuts proposed for Herefordshire have been delayed until full council on 24th May. In the few days since the news of the cuts have become public, nearly 5000 people have signed the online petition against it and a paper petition is being started. Also locally, Dorset have opened the £2m refurbished Christchurch Library while Cheshire East have decided to move towards a volunteer-staffed library for the first time.
I saw a great project a couple of days ago from a small town called Northlake (30,000 residents) near Chicago which shows how imagination and the internet can be used together in order to, at next to no cost, publicise a library and raise funds for it. The plan, you see, is to purchase a nine-foot-tall statue of the Incredible Hulk for the library. That, I think, would be reason enough but that is actually only the “hook” to get funding for a lot of new technology for the place. Technology that will spectacularly position the library at the forefront of provision for its area. Why the Hulk? Well, the branch itself prides itself on its graphic novel collection (it was 2,300 but it’s even bigger now – someone saw the publicity and donated 1,000 more) but also, I think, it’s the sheer incongruousness of the concept that’s the winner. It’s relevance to the UK is that it shows clearly what can be done with no resources. Even if they don’t get their Hulk statue, Northlake has gained more publicity than ever before, probably revolutionised its image and gets to keep whatever money has been raised, which already runs to a couple of thousand dollars.
I hope after reading the words of Tom Mukite, a trustee of the library, who is intimately involved with the project, that you will agree with the Ron Marz, known for his work on Silver Surfer and Green Lantern, that “Every library should have a hulk”
It’s interesting to note that the Scottish side of the librarian professional body CILIP has issued a statement expressing its “deep concern” about cuts in Moray. These cuts (7 out of 15 may close) are of proportions familiar enough to those in England but may be a worrying harbinger of things to come north of the border. CILIP (England) itself has long since given up (if it ever started in the first place) producing announcements for each new authority that announces cuts in its own turf, presumably because their frequency would get a bit monotonous.
Speaking of cuts, as I so often do, I should point out the current bete noir of Herefordshire faces an unconfirmed 9 branches being withdrawn, not 10. The tenth, Peterchurch, is already volunteer run: a possibility interestingly missing from a 1976 article on library cuts that is otherwise quite eery in its similarities to today.
The full scale of the proposed cuts to Herefordshire Libraries are becoming clearer, with the petition against the closures of all but one of them coming up time and time again with testimonies of how important the local branches still are. There is also some anger at the LGA forgetting that libraries are statutory in their desire to stress how many will close if there continue to be cuts to council budgets.
Set against such cuts, it’s going to be tough for the new Arts Council England (half-time) libraries director, Brian Ashley, to accentuate the positive but it is clear that this is what he plans to do. I know what he means, to a point: there are indeed many great things happening in libraries, every day, and this needs to be emphasised, No-one, after all, wants to be associated with a declining service, employees and users alike. However, balancing the news of the biggest cuts to library services in history with good news is going to be a challenge for Brian and he will need all the help he can get. As such, I’ll start him off with this song below (sent to me very kindly today) which lists many good things about libraries while at the same time not failing to mention the bad. Sing it to the tune of “These are a few of my favourite things” by the way:
William Sieghart, leader of the panel of experts who recently produced “An Independent Review of E-lending in Public Libraries in England”, National Poetry Day founder and the brains behind Poetry on Prescription, kindly agreed to do a brief interview for Public Libraries News, which is printed below. Mr Sieghart will be touring libraries in Kent and Westminster promoting his poetry anthology, Winning Words: Inspiring Poems for Everyday Life. More details of the tour can be found here.
There’s a mixture of good and bad news today. The good news are refurbishments in East Sussex, North Tyneside and Windsor and Maidenhead. These range from nearly finished projects to plans still on the drawing board but they all show a faith in the future or libraries. Bad news comes from Herefordshire, where council papers, suggest that spending on Culture (including libraries) will be nearly halved over three years with cuts and transfers to volunteers proposed.
Bad news also from Manchester which further confirms closures of six libraries, with £87k to be spent per year to aid volunteers to run alternatives. Campaigners have noted that all of these closures are all in deprived areas, which raises certain legal concerns, as the quote below demonstrates:
Numbers293 libraries (258 buildings and 35 mobiles) are currently under threat or have been closed/left council control since 1/4/13 out of c.4265 in the UK. The complete list is on "Tally by Local Authority" page as are other changes to budgets such as cuts to hours, bookfund and staffing. Public Libraries News estimates 78 libraries and 14 mobiles were lost in 2012/13, although this is likely to be an underestimate. CIpfa have calculated that 201 library service points were lost 2011/12 . Public Libraries News has tracked down links to 142 of these via counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day. Full Fact have analysed the accuracy of the figures. For a list of new and refurbished buildings see this page,
- Adapt and survive: Arts Council England’s stark message under the gloss
- “The only place where I would willingly obey the laws”: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on libraries
- Two cheers: Monday 20th May 2013
- UK libraries one third less funded than USA counterparts.
- Two surveys show the importance of libraries
- geraldine cooke on Two surveys show the importance of libraries
- librariesmatter on One of our favourite things
- Ian Anstice on Library Campaign’s call to action on volunteer libraries: “Let’s get real”
- Ian Anstice on Library Campaign’s call to action on volunteer libraries: “Let’s get real”
- Steve Truffer on Could the 3D Printer save the public library service?
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Disclaimers and thanks
Please note that this website is maintained entirely in my own time and should in no way be seen to reflect the opinions or otherwise of my employer.
I would also like to add at this point my thanks to Shirley Burnham for her frequent emails with relevant public libraries news which I then use as a a large part of the material for this site.
Warren O'Donoghue of Rabbitdigital Design has been wonderful in designing and creating this website, maintaining it and basically being there for the one hundred and one web problems that seem to surface all the time.
A mention should also go to Sally Pewhairangi who runs the excellent "Finding Heroes" library news website and daily email service, providing valuable insights from the world and, as interestingly, from New Zealand.
Top Posts & Pages
- Adapt and survive: Arts Council England's stark message under the gloss
- List of UK volunteer-run libraries
- Changes by local authority
- Volunteer-run libraries
- Two surveys show the importance of libraries
- List of outsourced and prospective outsourced library authorities
- Reasons for libraries: False economy
- "The only place where I would willingly obey the laws": Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on libraries
- Bad news in Herefordshire, good news elsewhere. Questions in Manchester and Isle of Wight