Public Libraries now have Ambition. Well, perhaps …

Editorial

Well, that was quick. I write an editorial bemoaning the lack of the publication of the Ambition paper on public libraries in the last post and a day or two later it gets published.  I hadn’t realised the government moved so fast at my command.  Not noticed that happen before. My next editorial must be about why I need to win the lottery …

Anyway, here are my first thoughts.

  • Those looking for this to fundamentally change the playing field for libraries will disappointed. There’s no extra protections for libraries and little in the way of new thinking or, at least, anything that would come as a surprise to even a casual observer.  What we have here is a document, pragmatic and well-meaning, that has gone through a lot of committees and had to be watered down a lot.  I suspect, but don’t know, that one of the key water-downers would be the LGA who, faced with having to work out enormous cuts to overall budgets, would not have taken kindly to being told that libraries had to be somewhat protected. The government, wedded to austerity as it still is, also would not with a credible face be able to have both its cake and eat it.
  • There’s an underlying presumption that libraries have to be more innovative and efficient in order to survive, with a heavy emphasis on looking at more library trusts.  Co-locations also come in for praise. The message here is, look, your budgets are going to continue being cut, you’re on your own, so be cleverer with what you have. And if you don’t innovate, then it’s your fault if you close. This is hardly fair but ties in with a lot of Government and Daily Mail thinking. The fact that one can co-locate, be innovative and still be doomed if budgets continue to be cut is not addressed.  As an example, I was in Cardiff Central Library this weekend. It used to be a great library but now half its space is council services, there’s security guards at the door and the surviving shelves are reduced and crammed. It’s a library, in other words, that’s going to see its use plummet because of co-location. Other funding, such as social investment stand some chance of success, although listing philanthropy comes across as wishful thinking and the beloved private sector partnerships will almost certainly be veiled advertising unless carefully checked (and I suspect it will rather be embraced, no questions asked and no ethics mentioned).
  • The Taskforce is going to package libraries as useful to local and central government for their other agendas.  At long last, effectively, public libraries will have an advocacy department within government and a national public relations arm, pushing out good news stories. This is good, to a point, but it looks like those who have been pushing out negative news stories (e.g. what is actually happening) are being blamed for the state of public libraries. I’m going to swallow hard and try not to take it personally. Actually, I have noticed myself that the media like to concentrate on bad news about public libraries and I take it as a hopeful sign that some media-savvy public relations may be in the offing. I’ve wanted national marketing and promotion for years and I’m really hoping this is going to be it
  • Now to the money. Yes, there is some. Actually, quite a lot compared to what libraries normally have to deal with. An (apparent) one-off of £4 million no less, albeit with a ridiculously short application timeframe of one month (including Christmas). Seems a shame to have to rush bids in that way, and it will result in some waste if that end-date is kept to. I hope it is extended.
  • English public libraries still, officially, have no standards. There’s going to be voluntary benchmarking and some very easy-going guidelines (to give you an idea the first guideline, literally, is try not to break the law) which will be of some use in at least giving an idea of what should be aimed for. However, being this is a Government funded department doing the benchmarking, don’t expect the standards to be so high as to not allow cuts in budget, and there will be no penalties (how can there be with a system so wedded to localism?) if one fails.
  • There’s a skills strategy for the aging workforce and a look at how to get good new staff but at the same time developing volunteers. This looks like, as much of the paper does, an attempt to square the circle but fingers crossed.
  • Dedicated DCMS support for library authorities to go mutual (“masterclasses” will be held) with a possible new support body for mutuals.  I see library trusts as a ray of hope – if done right – for the sector so this is promising. A look at franchising support services will also please some, although presumably not those currently employed in them.
  • There are 7 outcomes  for public libraries, similar but these are not identical to universal offers. Expect to be quizzed on what they are in management meetings, Memorise them now so you can impress.

So, my final verdict is that this is not earth shattering but is still helpful for the sector.  Where there is an issue, it is, amusingly, when one considers what it is called, a lack of ambition for the sector but it is at least deeply pragmatic. Also, there’s not really a specific roadmap for implementation of how some of this is going to be achieved so it will be interesting to see how that developed.

Now, excuse me while I develop an idea and write a bid for funds for four weeks time and work out how to turn every news story of a cut into a good news one. That’s going to prove tricky (see Swindon below) but, hey, councils appear to be able to do it without blinking (see Sheffield below) so it’s got to be possible.

“Ambition for Public Libraries”

  • Ambition for Public Libraries presents ‘stark choice’ for future of libraries – CILIP. “Nick Poole CILIP Chief Executive said, “We face a stark choice. We can either continue with severe cuts and closures or secure a positive future for people, communities and businesses that benefit from England’s network of public libraries. Ambition goes part way to securing a positive future. We now need a properly funded national strategy for developing and improving libraries and a more robust approach from Government when local authorities fail to provide ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library services.”  … “Other key principles are not in Ambition. CILIP will continue working with Taskforce partners to secure a clear and funded national strategy that support local decision-making and delivery. CILIP will work to secure a fully-funded and evidence-based National Public Library Plan; the commitment library service points should not be transitioned out of statutory provision unless all alternative options for their maintenance have been explored; and more robust strategies from Government where local authorities fail to deliver a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service including sanction and the removal of library services into a national or regional Library Service.”
  • Authors stamp new library strategy ‘too little, too late’ – Guardian. “Writers including Val McDermid, Joanna Trollope and Francesca Simon have lined up to brand the strategy for public libraries in England announced by the government this week “too little, too late”. Cash for community projects comes as report calls for sector to be more innovative and raise awareness of services on offer. “To produce a report which ignores that one in eight libraries has closed, that librarians are being sacked, that funding has been slashed, while talking about libraries providing additional, unrelated services is disgraceful,” said Simon. “Libraries are best used for their vital original purpose – to make books and learning available to all. Libraries can be ‘better utilised’ by keeping them open, properly funded and professionally staffed. Then let’s discuss providing other services.””
  • Call for new focus for library buildings – Yorkshire Post. “… new support is being set up to provide support for libraries to become “public service mutuals”, following in the footsteps of services such as York’s Explore project. This project, launched in 2014, saw responsibility handed over to a ‘mutual society’ which operates independently of the council. Part owned by staff and the community, the social enterprise-style model, because it’s a charity, has access to funding streams it wouldn’t have done as part of the council.”
  • Councils back new vision for library services – LocaGov. “Cllr Ian Stephens, chairman of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: ‘Councils support the proposals set out in Libraries Deliver, and the funding that the minister has made available to help libraries transform. Improving libraries’ digital presence, training library staff in the new skills they need, and increasing their support offer for local businesses will help our libraries continue to deliver.”
  • Introducing Libraries Deliver: including action plan, new funding and plans for support – Libraries Taskforce. ” just wanted to say thank you to everyone who took part in our Ambition consultation earlier in the year, particularly those who travelled to one of our workshops. It was inspiring to see and hear all the interest, passion and commitment for the public library network. The valuable ideas, insights and feedback we received really helped to challenge and hone our initial thinking, and make the document more useful to the various stakeholders we’re trying to involve as we take our plans forward”
  • Libraries’ Ambition report offers £4m fund but ‘ignores the real issues’ – BookSeller. “Eight months after the draft Ambition document was released, the official document advising on a strategy to create a sustainable sector has been published by the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), calling on local authorities to use libraries to provide public services such as employment, health and learning opportunities.” See also comments.

“Sadly, this is not the robust plan we were led to expect,” he said. “It lacks ambition, ignores the numbers, both about how budgets are being spent and about what is happening in terms of usage, and avoids resolving the more difficult technological and structural issues. It does however tackle less contentious issues such as the need to develop skills and share best practice, highlights the benefits of public libraries and provides a vision for a modern library service. I welcome the £4 million innovation fund for disadvantaged communities” Desmond Clarke

  • Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021 – Gov.uk. “This report challenges both central and local government to think and act differently to transform library services. Libraries should be integral to all public service strategies. They must demonstrate their value to service commissioners – promoting themselves as an asset not a cost. In turn, we are urging commissioners to consider a ‘libraries first’ approach when planning services for their communities. Protecting frontline library services requires radical thinking. Many councils are already working in new and different ways. DCMS will accelerate this – providing advice and support to councils that want to find more effective ways to run their library service – to complement existing sector-led transformation and improvement initiatives led by the LGA. However where DCMS receives complaints and where local authorities do not appear to be meeting their statutory duties DCMS will investigate and, if necessary, take action under the 1964 Act.”
  • Libraries Deliver: Ambition – sector forums – Libraries Taskforce. “The sector forums are open to everyone with an interest in libraries, but are particularly aimed at the library workforce and local council members and officials. They are free to attend.”
  • Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund – Arts Council England. “The online application portal will open at midday on 5 December 2016 and close at midday on 6 January 2017. We will aim to notify applicants of our decision no later than 31 March 2017″

“The Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation Fund will enable library services to trial innovative projects that will benefit disadvantaged people and places in England. This activity could include: Improving access for people to, and better use of technology by, library services; Increasing literacy; Increasing opportunities for disabled users; Increasing children’s access to and use of libraries; Supporting employment opportunities; Supporting businesses to establish and grow; Supporting creativity, use of new technologies and new business opportunities; improving health and wellbeing; Increasing arts and cultural activity through libraries”

  •  Libraries receive £4m fund as part of strategy to help secure their future – Guardian.
  • “My life changed the day I walked into the library………” – Libraries Taskforce. “With this new fund, I would love to see libraries reinvigorated by offering ways to overcome the challenges of modern life. Some people face real barriers of disadvantage, while others are simply struggling to do more than cope. And libraries are in the unique position to offer them more than a good web browser and a cheap way to access books. This fund means that library services, along with their partners, will be able to apply for between £50k and £250k to deliver projects that provide local people with opportunities. We want them to be innovative, to try approaches they haven’t tried before, reaching people experiencing disadvantage with whom they haven’t engaged before. We’d like to see them involving their target audience in developing the idea, and we’ll want to hear how well it’s gone so that everyone can learn from the experience.”

National news

  • Ayub Khan to be CILIP Vice President 2017 – CILIP. “Ayub Khan MBE will be Vice President of CILIP, the library and information association in 2017 and President in 2018. Ayub was elected following a vote by CILIP members. Ayub is a Fellow of CILIP, and Head of Libraries and Face to Face Services at Warwickshire County Council. He has worked in the library sector for over twenty-five years and was awarded an MBE in 2013 for services to libraries.Ayub said, “I am delighted and honoured to have been elected, by my peers, as Vice President of CILIP. It’s a role I relish and I’m really looking forward to taking it on. I started my library career as a Saturday assistant many years ago and would never have believed, back then, that I would one day represent the profession.“Despite the challenges of recent austerity years I remain optimistic about the future for libraries. I believe CILIP has a pivotal role to play pressing for action as the leading voice of a vibrant and forward-thinking profession.””
  • Leadership for Libraries Taskforce: six month progress report (April – September 2016) – Libraries Taskforce.

“To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, if she will make an assessment of whether recommendations of Swindon Borough Council in its report, Securing a sustainable future for Swindon’s Library Service, published in November 2016, comply with the duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. ” Kevin Brennan MP (Cardiff West)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, how much funding the Leadership for Libraries Task Force has received from the public purse; and what the purpose of that funding is. ” Kevin Brennan MP (Cardiff West) – Parliament Written Question.

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) provided £250,000 funding to establish and support the Libraries Taskforce in 2015/16, and is providing further funding of £500,000 per year from 2016/17 to 2019/20. This covers the costs of five core staff and Taskforce administrative costs. Furthermore, in 2015/16, Arts Council England provided £100,000 to the Taskforce to fund their secondment of library staff and £74,000 to provide consultancy support for the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) in developing their bid to become a supplier on the Digital Training and Support Framework and to support the Taskforce in gathering specific evidence on the financial and other benefits that libraries deliver. The Taskforce’s role is to provide leadership and help to reinvigorate the public library network in England. It enables the delivery of the recommendations from the Independent Library Report for England and builds upon and adds value to existing good practice, partnerships and other activities that are already supporting public libraries. Additional information about the Taskforce’s funding and its activities is published in the six month progress reports on gov.uk and can be found at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/progress-reportsMr Rob Wilson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary DCMS (Reading East) – Parliament.

  • More free #LibraryAtoZ greeting cards – Information Twist. “​The #LibraryAtoZ project has more free greeting  cards to distribute. So, at this time of year it would be a great opportunity to send them as an extra special festive greeting to your local library funders etc and remind them of why we love our libraries. Or maybe you’d like to use them in another way to spread the message about the value of public libraries. That’s fine too.”

International news

  • Egypt – Egyptian authorities shut privately founded libraries for disadvantaged children – Alaraby. “We ensured that the library would be disconnected from politics, religion or any political party, a stance that won the trust of the people,” said Eid, speaking to Mada Masr. “We were told that we can open the libraries as long as we were not engaged in any commercial activities. Only in Zigazag were we asked to secure a permit for the library banner at the front entrance, which we did.” “Clearly there was a suggestion from a higher authority to shut it down,” said Eid, questioning in a post on Twitter why authorities had shut down educational facilities for poor children. “
  • Eire – Librarians vote against rollout of staffless libraries – Irish Times. “The trade union Impact said 1,200 of its members had returned ballots backing industrial action by a margin of nine to one. It will now “instruct its members not to undertake the work necessary to facilitate the rollout of staffless services in 23 libraries across the country,” it said in a statement on Thursday.”
  • USA – Libraries promise to destroy user data to avoid threat of government surveillance – Guardian. “The New York Public Library (NYPL) changed its privacy policy on Wednesday to emphasize its data-collection policies. Last week, the NYPL website stated that “any library record or other information collected by the Library as described herein is subject to disclosure pursuant to subpoena, court order, or as otherwise authorized by applicable law”. Now, the page reads: “Sometimes the law requires us to share your information, such as if we receive a valid subpoena, warrant, or court order. We may share your information if our careful review leads us to believe that the law, including state privacy law applicable to Library Records, requires us to do so.”” … “Backlash from the librarian community to Trump’s election was so rapid that the American Library Association (ALA) issued an apology for its 18 November statement, saying its members would “work with President-elect Trump” and his transition team.”
  • USA – New library a sign of changing times in polygamous Utah town? – CBS News. “The recent opening of a new public library in a mostly-polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border marks the latest sign that the community is slowly embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society. The new library in Hildale, Utah was officially opened on Nov. 18 with a ribbon cutting where members of the polygamous sect mingled with county officials and other residents at the opening ceremony, the Spectrum newspaper in St. George reports. The library was opened about five years after thousands of dollars’ worth of books was removed from a schoolhouse in the community, leaving people without books for a library. The removal of the books, some of which were found burned, led to a major rift in the community between members of the polygamous group and non-followers.”

Local news by authority

““Through this tour we want to show that we need libraries more than ever. “I think libraries are seen as an easy cut for councils to make when they have budget issues. But if you close a library you close down the possibilities of children finding books that inspire them. “When busy schools have busy curriculums they don’t always allow children to read for pleasure rather than being tested, and libraries let children do this.” Chris Riddell

  • Brent – We have done it – Kensal Rise Library. “We have just been told that our application for £75,000 to Power to Change (PTC) has been successful! PTC is an independent charitable trust set up with an endowment from The Big Lottery Fund. The PTC grant augments the funds that we have already raised from our events and donations. We have already raised £80,000 for the initial works. This means that altogether we have raised £160,000 in just under seven months – a remarkable achievement by The Friends of Kensal Rise Library and with the generous support of the community, an anonymous donation of £10,000, the Foyle Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Brent Council and our sponsors Daniels Real Estate, Kensal Rise.”
  • Bristol – Can the council justify spending £400,000 a year on library books when only 1 in 16 of us use them? – Bristol Post. “Bristol City Council spends £400,000 a year on books and magazines but only one in 16 of us are regular library users. The sum is about two-thirds of the £630,000 annual spend on books, magazines and materials for the city’s 28 libraries.” … “Ms Murray explains in her report to next Tuesday’s cabinet that the council is one of a group of 14 which operate as a consortium in order to get discount prices for books by buying in bulk. This contract comes to an end in March and she is asking Mayor Marvin Rees to continue with the contract although it does not mean any extra spending.”
  • Central Bedfordshire – Library as Laboratory – How can Libraries exist in the future? – Bedford Creative Arts. “Bedford Creative Arts has been exploring new ways that libraries can evolve for the future by bringing together artists and libraries. The result is five pioneering projects created by eight artists, ranging from festivals and performances to slot car championships. The project is funded by Arts Council England Libraries fund and sits in the context of the government spending review which has brought about cuts to spending on libraries by local councils. Libraries are now looking at what services and community offers they can provide in order to stay open and working with other local organisations like BCA is a way to deliver this.”
  • Central Bedfordshire – What the Dickens at Sandy and Barton libraries – Biggleswade Today. “The new adaptation will be performed among the bookshelves, and by pioneering outside the traditional stage environment and into local communities, the company aims to unite and strengthen these two sectors, inspiring new audiences and regenerating interest in libraries”
  • Cumbria – How to have your say on library cuts – Times and Star. “Libraries across Allerdale could face lunchtime closures, with some not opening on Saturday, under the plans revealed by the county council. Libraries in Aspatria, Cockermouth, Keswick, Maryport, Seaton, and Workington’s Moorclose estate are set to see their opening hours cut under the proposals.”
  • Glasgow – Kids urged to curl up with a book for Christmas – Evening Times. “Glasgow Libraries are challenging young Glaswegians to do just that, as they launch the Christmas Mini Reading Challenge, with a little help from five-year-old reading stars Amelia D’arcy, Abigail Gallacher and Max McLaughlan. “
  • Hampshire – East Tisted winner of Hampshire libraries competition – Clanfield Post. “Two new colourful and creative designs will become Hampshire Library cards for children following a popular competition.  …. The panel reviewed a shortlist of nearly 800 entries from across the county, submitted by children who had completed this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. Two winning designs were chosen from two different age groups – four to seven years old, and eight to eleven.”
  • Lancashire – Last chapter for a 50-year-old Lostock Hall Library – Lancashire Evening Post. “The Watkin Lane library closed for the last time at 12.30pm. The local community there have been told they can use other libraries nearby which have escaped the huge cuts. Lancashire County Council warned that it needs to save £200m by 2020. Community groups were invited to come forward to take control of the closing libraries. But no suitable offer came forward for Lostock Hall which was then doomed to closure. “
  • Liverpool – Budget Simulator – Liverpool Council. Possible closure of up to seven libraries. The council would look to community organisations to step in or other alternatives, before considering this option. This would mean a significant reduction in the library service across the city.”. 50% cut: “Central Library opening hours reduced by 50% while all other libraries across the city close. The Home Library Service stops. We would risk not meeting the statutory (by law) requirement to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service.”
  • North Yorkshire – Rates for libraries questioned by MP – Darlington and Stockton Times. “Conservatives Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake and Richmond MP Rishi Sunak are understood to be in discussions over Hambleton District Council’s move to only allow 80 per cent relief – which is afforded to all charitable groups – on the rates to community-run libraries, despite the six other district authorities in the county granting full relief. “
  • Northern Ireland – Close-knit group make knockers and natter – BBC. “Knitting, embroidery and crocheting are the arts activities which most people in Northern Ireland actually participate in, according to the annual arts report published by the Department of Communities. ” … “Group members have a cup of tea, chat, and knit like fury. It is one of almost 80 ‘Knit and Natter’ groups that meet weekly in libraries across Northern Ireland.”
  • Redcar and Cleveland – Villages in the Redcar and east Cleveland area could lose their mobile library – Northern Echo. “Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council is consulting on whether to axe the service, which visits 35 locations on a two-week rotation and provides a service to those in more remote communities who would find it difficult to visit normal libraries. “
  • Sheffield – Chance for a ‘bigger and better five-star arts venue’ in Sheffield – Sheffield Telegraph. “A petition with more than 8,000 signatures calling for the library not to be moved will be debated at a full council meeting next Wednesday, and there will be a public meeting on Tuesday evening at the Town Hall, where the proposals will be discussed.”
  • Sheffield – Huge demand leads to second public meeting on Central Library hotel plans – Sheffield Telegraph. “The proposals have already attracted plenty of opposition, with 8,000 people signing a petition to keep the building for public use, and Michael Palin throwing his weight behind the campaign. The council had already arranged one public meeting, to be held at the Town Hall at 5.30pm on Tuesday. But as demand for the pre-booked places rose quickly, a second meeting has been organised, again at the Town Hall at 4.30pm on December 16. Cabinet member for community services and libraries Jack Scott said: “It’s great that so many people want to be involved. We’re asking people to book a place at the public meetings, rather than just turning up, as we’re expecting a high turn-out.” … “It says it would cost £30 million to bring the library up to modern standards.”
  • Sheffield – Michael Palin ’embarrassed’ by hotel plans for Sheffield Central Library – Star. “He said: “I note, with real regret, and some embarrassment for the city of my birth, that the council is proposing to sell of one of Sheffield’s finest public buildings to a hotel developer.”The Sheffield Central Library embodies the very best aspects of civic pride. It’s a fine building, built to give education and literacy a prominent place at the very heart of the city. “That a building, seeking to improve the lot of all Sheffielders, should end up as a hotel for the rich and privileged, seems a sad reflection on how little the city cares for its public service legacy.” Mr Palin is a vocal supporter of libraries, and a quote from him which reads ‘There is no institution I value more in this country than libraries’ sits at the top of the stairs on the first floor of the Central Library.”
  • St Helens – Libraries to accept food in place of cash for late book returns – Liverpool Echo. “Anyone who returns their book late to a library in the area can reduce the price of their fine by £1 for every item donated – up to a maximum of £50. The project will run until Saturday, December 31, and all 13 of the borough’s libraries are taking part. St Helens Council cabinet member for public health Cllr Jeanie Bell said: “We’ll be delighted to see as many people as possible paying off their fines with food donations .” … “Under the scheme any fine of £1 or less will be written off per any one item donated.”
  • Swindon – Campaigners stage ‘day of action’ in response to library cuts by Swindon Borough Council – This is Wiltshire. “The sit-in, staged by 12 people the oldest of whom was 73, came at the end of a ‘day of action’ by library users, campaigners and supporters across the town. ” … “The sit-in was entirely peaceful and lasted just under one hour after closing time. The group said they wanted to speak to a senior council officer and were pleased that the Head of Libraries, Allyson Jordan, was able to make herself available to hear their concerns. “
  • Swindon – CILIP urges Government to intervene following meaningless consultation on Swindon’s libraries – CILIP. “We have therefore taken the extraordinary step of issuing this statement expressing our serious concerns at the proposals set out by Swindon Borough Council in the paper Securing a sustainable future for Swindon’s Library Services and the process by which they have been reached.” … “In short, we believe from the papers that rather than entering into the process of consultation without prejudice, a highly prejudicial decision was made concerning budget allocation to the library service and that the end result is a service that has been hollowed-out to the point at which it can no longer be considered ‘comprehensive and efficient’.”
  • Swindon – Park library campaigners to continue fight over reduction in staffed hours – This is Wiltshire.
  • Swindon – ‘Read in’ staged to save Swindon’s libraries – ITV. “As you might expect from a library protest – it wasn’t particularly loud, it was very eloquent – but the anger was unmistakable.” … “What we really want is the core purpose of libraries and access to literature and learning to be safeguarded, so that when council’s are under strain those services can’t just be pulled away as maybe the low hanging fruit when they’re making cuts.”
  • Swindon – There will be new chapter for libraries, says council chief – Swindon Advertiser. “Council officers and my cabinet colleague Coun Mary Martin have been working incredibly hard to squeeze as much out of the funding envelope as they can and I also thank them for their dedication. We are aiming to keep all the libraries open but we are looking for potential partners to come forward to work with us. Unfortunately the climate the council is operating in is far from ideal.”
  • Swindon – We need to throw our weight behind a Trust for libraries, says MP – This is Wiltshire. Justin Tomlinson MP: “I am an unashamed library fan. I have previously served as the Lead Member for Libraries on SBC and was the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries. I have led Parliamentary debates on the future of libraries, have spoken at numerous library conferences, launched the annual children’s Summer Reading challenges and crucially, I am a regular user (including overdue fines!) of our fantastic library network.” … “there is real potential for a Library Trust to be set up. Devon County Council did so in April this year with their Libraries Unlimited social enterprise. As a charity they are able to reclaim business rates (worth about £400,000 for Swindon’s libraries), apply for grants and encourage philanthropy. Their mission is to bring ideas, imagination, knowledge and creativity to people’s lives and communities, focusing on promoting and encouraging a love of reading. “
  • Waltham Forest – Council to consult public on closure of Walthamstow libraries after protests – Guardian series. “Libraries users are being asked if they want to see some services moved after council plans to close two sites caused a public backlash. Waltham Forest council has extended its consultation on proposals to reshape the borough’s library services until January 31 next year. The local authority is planning to close Higham Hill and Wood Street Libraries and the branches to Library Local “multi-purpose hubs”. However, campaigns have been launched to keep both sites open, with online petitions collecting close to 2,000 signatures.”
  • West Berkshire – Residents could end up paying more to keep libraries open – Newbury Today. “Precepts set to rise as towns and parishes asked to cough up £150,000″ … “West Berkshire Council wants every town and parish council to make a contribution so it can raise £150,000 towards the cost of running the library service. How much each parish is being asked to pay depends on its population, but will equate to approximately £1 for every person. And with many town and parish councils facing significant financial challenges of their own, many will be forced to consider raising their precepts – the amount of council tax they collect from residents. In addition, volunteers are still being asked to come forward to help run libraries as West Berkshire Council needs to save £690,000 from its budget.”

No Ambition

Editorial

I was sorry to see deep cuts to Swindon confirmed, although with one fewer library loss than expected.  50 FTE job losses means, in the part-time dominated world of libraries, far more actual jobs lost than that, with families affected as well, a month before Christmas.  Moreover, it means two-thirds of all libraries in the borough being closed or passed to volunteers. Meanwhile, up in Redcar and Cleveland, branch closures (apart from the mobile) have been avoided but a loss of over 100 opening hours per week is still fairly major.

These reductions, repeated seemingly in every post, are serious enough to warrant urgent action but that’s the opposite of what we’re getting from the Government.  While the Ambition document waits yet more days/months/eons until it is finally published, the Taskforce has to wonder about its purpose in life.  To avoid it simply becoming known as the Blogforce, the Government needs to actually do something, at the very least allowing it to go in one direction. Minister, you’re employing these people, now use them, sort of thing. However, the tale of the last six years has been of general neglect of the sector even while deep cuts mean the service is diminished as ever before.  This lack of ambition for the sector by libraries ministers is shown by the continuing, well, lack of Ambition.

Changes

Ideas

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The usage of the Summer Reading Challenge is down. Why?

Editorial

Three quarters of a million children undertook the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) in the UK this year.  That’s a brilliant achievement for public libraries and cannot be understated. From direct personal experience, I know how well this promotion improves the reading of children over the holidays and, also, how much excitement my children gained from it. The theme was excellent and the promotional materials professionally produced (unlike so much so many libraries have to put up with) and benefitted from economies of scale.  In the two authorities I directly know about (neither of which experienced significant cuts last year), usage went up by over 10% and it was the most successful year ever in both library services.  So why the drop nationally? Well, the most obvious answer has to be the cuts to library services, as the quote from Lambeth below shows. If there are fewer libraries in an authority, fewer staff and fewer books then there’s going to be fewer users.  It’s not rocket science.  In addition, some library authorities have withdrawn from doing the SRC, which to my mind is a real shame. Oh, and by the way, overall library usage (especially in terms of book issues) is down year on year.

That’s not to say the SRC is perfect.  The biggest example is the need to buy year-specific medals each time that can cause real problems on limited budgets. Why? Because medals can only be bought months before the Challenge and they cannot be used the next year. So, one has to estimate numbers needed and hope you get the figures right. Buy too many and you’re wasting resources. Buy too few and suddenly the need to promote the SRC is replaced by panic that too many will complete, promotion is dialled back and, even, mad-dash searches for medals from other services or, even, shops, are made.  But, such annoyances aside, the SRC is still by far the biggest promotion any library service does (or, if it isn’t, it should be), still the best by a long shot and something we all should be participating in.  It’s part of what makes the Summer so busy and so job-affirming. And three quarters of a million children know the reason why.

Finally, I need to correct something I said in the last editorial.  Devon’s Libraries Unlimited are consulting on the removal of Saturday enhancements and I need to make clear that a decision has not yet been made on whether staff’s pay will be cut in this way.  My apologies that I intimated otherwise. Indeed, I’ll go further and point out that looking to reduce expenditures like this is something that every authority, Trust or not, will inevitably consider as budgets are reduced and so it’s hardly the unique fault of this non-profit. Rather, if you’re into blame, look to the council that cuts the budget, the government that cuts the council’s budget and, ultimately, the electorate that voted for such a government. The role of libraries, and their supporters, has to be to highlight the benefits of the service, what the loss is if it is taken away and – a key point – work out how best to deal with such cuts as are inflicted and turn out to be unavoidable. Campaigning is one aspect of this but the search for reductions that least affect the service is another.

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At least they can complain when they’re being cut: Suffolk Libraries speaks out

Editorial

Suffolk Libraries, one of the poster boys of innovation in the UK, is facing a cut to its budget. I can imagine some would see this as a vindication of their dislike for libraries being run by a non-profit trust. I, however, see things differently. All authorities, or many of them, are facing such cuts and the news from the Autumn Statement appears to suggest that this is not going to change any time soon.  However, while council-controlled public library services have to just accept the cut and hope for public protests, Trusts can be a little more active in their defence and the news from Suffolk shows precisely this. No council library chief could comment in a way that the Chair of the Suffolk Libraries board has. This gives such Trusts more defences than a traditionally run service. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, especially if they’re Leisure-dominated and thus (at least in the case of Warrington LiveWire) seemingly ignorant about libraries and willing to sacrifice them to protect their leisure arm. And it doesn’t mean they’re always nice, as the staff at Devon Libraries Unlimited are discovering, with their Saturday enhancements being taken away. But Library- run Trusts do have their strong suits. And this is one of them.

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Being free about being free: the charging survey results

Editorial

My big thanks to the many of you that took the time to do the quick survey on charges for crafts and drinks. I have put the results in full via this link. The results reveal that, six years into austerity, libraries are still reticent to charge for some small-scale extra services, although those that do report few problems about doing so.  Equally, even having a donations tin out on the table is a rare sight.  It’s a bit worrying to see several not being sure about the licensing laws, although this may just indicate how rarely alcohol is served in many branches. My personal experience is that people don’t mind having a donations tin out for crafts and other events.  In addition, such money can be kept in-branch to pay for future crafts and drinks, which is a real gift in some cash-strapped libraries which may otherwise struggle to supply such things. Moreover, there seems to be a public assumption made by many of the public that “free” means “not very good” and – almost universally – that missing a free event one has a ticket for (despite knowing this takes the opportunity away from someone else) is OK. So many branches may be missing out by giving things out for free, for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand, this does mean that the library is very much a charge-free zone for many people, including parents of young children, meaning that ability to pay, unique in the High Street, is not a concern.

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Refurbishments, commitments and shocked librarian reactions to President Trump

Editorial

A very positive (and rare) article in the Telegraph on libraries is a nice accompaniment to a couple of pieces in the Guardian on school and public libraries. Continuing the positive new, there’s three refurbishments of libraries – including one with 3D printers – as well as (well, hopefully positive, it’s too early to tell) the replacement of Nottingham Central Library. Rounding off the national news is a call from CILIP for (gosh) leadership and commitment to public libraries from the Government.

But the main thing I will remember this week is the absolute shocked reaction by US librarians to the news of Donald Trump being elected. They’re a lot more political over there than British librarians, I can tell you. With many on the ALATT Facebook group (normally a bunch of very nice and supportive librarians) almost hitting open warfare when anyone suggested that anyone who voted for Trump wasn’t a sexist or a racist. The battle lines have been drawn there. We will see how long the war goes on and if anyone outside of library staff rooms notice (and the implications if they do).

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Focus on school libraries

Editorial

Some impressive campaigning from children’s laureates, past and present, for school libraries plus the Read On Get On coalition notes the impact of their reduction on reading.  It’s good to see school libraries being highlighted.  Because of their less public nature, cuts to school libraries often don’t get the publicity that anything similar in public libraries would receive.  But the impact of the loss of a school library when it  comes to a child’s literacy is incalculable. Moreover, there is a natural partnership between school and public libraries. Here’s wishing them the best.

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250 ideas and innovations in public libraries … and the rest of the public libraries news

Editorial

As well as reading and summarising all the news I see about public libraries, one of the jobs that is also done, is spotting new ideas for the sector.  This is ongoing on the blog but every now again I copy and past them into the “Ideas and Innovations” page.  I’ve just done that again, added them all up and there’s 250 ideas there now. Gosh, that’s a lot of ideas. I’m sure one or two will be useful to you.  Have a look at Ideas and innovations in public libraries here.

Thanks to all those who completed my little survey last week: I’ve had a look at the results and there’s some useful stuff in it.  More on that later this week.

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Bananas linked by wires to computers

More money for Kingston, more volunteers in Staffordshire and others

Editorial

Code Clubs have come into their own in many libraries this year and it’s good to have a piece from the SCL below on them. Also good to see investment in Kingston, although there is the normal news about more volunteer libraries. And of course the shame that is how LiveWire is treating libraries in Warrington continues.

I’m still doing the survey on what public libraries charge for things like craft sessions and for drinks for events. It’s to get some idea of what’s happening nationally as well as seeing if these are extra bits of income that can be made without affecting usage (or not).  The survey is tiny (only four questions) and will take you less than a minute if you don’t put any comments in.  So, do me (and possibly yourself as I will be publicising the results) a favour by completing the survey here. The survey is entirely anonymous.  Thank you.

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Ideas

Cracking the Code in Manchester Central Library

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Coding clubs triple in libraries, linking library books to Amazon … and a really quick survey

Editorial

I’m doing a survey on what public libraries charge for things like craft sessions and for drinks for events. It’s to get some idea of what’s happening nationally as well as seeing if these are extra bits of income that can be made without affecting usage (or not).  The survey is tiny (only four questions) and will take you less than a minute if you don’t put any comments in.  So, do me (and possibly yourself as I will be publicising the results) a favour by completing the survey here. The survey is entirely anonymous.  Thank you.

Ideas

  • Library Extension – Free way to have your library book availability show on Amazon, GoodReads, Overdrive.
  • Smart scales – BMI/Weight scales available in libraries.

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