The Library Book, The Public and the Mighty Ducks

Editorial

I’m a sucker for books and films telling me how great libraries are. One of the best books I’ve read recently is The Library Book by Susan Orlean, due to a number of factors. The first is, of course, the fact that the author clearly loves libraries but also there is the ongoing whodunnit thread of who burnt the library as well as it being an introduction to the US library system both now and the past. For this reason also, I’m looking forward to watching The Public. Mind you, I’ve always liked Emilio Estevez, even in the Mighty Ducks. You can always tell it’s been quiet news week (Brexit? Local elections?) when I slip in a film or a book in the editorial. Don’t tell anyone …

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National news

  • 13 Nonfiction Books About Real, Live Librarians – BookRiot. “librarians are like ninjas: easy to overlook yet extremely effective. Any modern library worker will tell you that they don’t spend their days behind the desk reading. In fact, books are only a slice of what librarians do. (In my humble experience, actual library work involves a heck of a lot more spitballs.) That said, let us enjoy these 13 nonfiction books about librarians. As we do, let’s raise a glass to those who show the world how to operate the printer fifty times a day.”
  • Celebrating libraries in the digital world – Libraries Week. “Libraries Week is a celebration of the nation’s much-loved libraries. In 2019 we are celebrating the role of libraries in the digital world. Libraries Week 2019 will celebrate and explore how libraries are engaging communities through technology, building digital skills and confidence, encouraging digital participation and inclusion, supporting health, wellbeing and education and supporting local business and enterprise. Libraries Week 2019 will take place 7-12 October. Library staff and supporters can register now to take part and stay up to date as more details on this year’s campaign become available.”
  • CWA Brings Writers, Venues and Book Groups Together in National Crime Reading Month in May – Time To Read. “NCRM, which has run for a number of years, is a unique literary festival that is held throughout the UK in May to celebrate the crime genre, both fiction and non-fiction. The festival, which is organised by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and the Crime Readers’ Association (CRA), sees authors staging events including talks, recitals and ‘in conversation’ evenings in venues ranging from libraries to pubs, theatres  to town halls.”

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International news

  • Eire – Do your shelf a favour and get back into your local library – Irish Times. “With free access to books, mags, DVDs, web access, talks and courses – and no more fines for overdue items – Ireland’s libraries are hoping to double their membership to 1.5m”
  • Ghana – Reading Spots Ghana Provides Solar Powered Library To Ekawso – Modern Ghana. “Reading Spots Ghana, has provided the people of Ekawso with a solar-powered community library as part of its aim of providing educational resources for all schools and adults in the area. According to Mr. Ampoma Patrick, a representative from the Ghana Library Authority, less than two percent of children in primary two are able to read fluently in the Ghanaian and English languages.”

  • USA – Book BotMountain View. “Book Bot is a book pick-up device that will allow residents in a test area to return library books and other library materials to the Mountain View Public Library from their home once a week. Book Bot is one of several applications of Personal Delivery Devices developed as part of a project within Google’s Area 120 workshop for experimental ideas.  This project is part of the City of Mountain View’s pilot program to allow the use of Personal Delivery Devices …”
  • USA – Emilio Estevez Goes Public In His Library Love, Homelessness Concerns In New Movie – Forbes. “Libraries – long the world’s repositories of knowledge and books trying to find new roles in the Information Age – these days are having a bit of a moment. First there was The Library Book, the latest from New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, whose The Orchid Thief became the unlikely film adaptation Adaptation. In The Library Book, Orlean looks at the 1986 arson of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Branch that burned half a million books and damaged another million. Along the way, Orlean examines  the fast-changing but still essential role of libraries in public life in a time when smartphones provide a bottomless well of information and entertainment. Earlier this year, Orlean was featured guest in the L.A. library foundation’s annual fundraiser.Now comes a new movie, The Public, about a different role that has been thrust upon many libraries, as a flash point in the nation’s homelessness problems. The film is debuting in 250 theaters across the country on Friday.”
  • USA – Paramount TV, Anonymous to Adapt Susan Orlean’s ‘The Library Book’ – Variety. ““Susan has created a captivating narrative that is part mystery, part magic, and part love letter to the dedicated stewards who fight to keep these beloved institutions alive,” said Nicole Clemens, president of Paramount TV. “Each day at the library, the human drama that unfolds among staff and patrons of every socio-economic level – funny, sad, inspiring, unexpected – speaks to the highs and lows of our country right now, and we’re excited to bring these stories to life on screen.””
  • USA – Project Outcome: Gather Better Data – Princh. “Outcome measurement is one way for library staff to collect data from patrons about the value of public programs and services. Because library staff do not always have in-depth experience in evaluation, they could find themselves unsure of how to write an outcome-focused assessment after collecting patron feedback. For example, staff know that a program like Storytime can help improve literacy of children, but the specific data to reinforce this knowledge is not always present.”

Local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Alice and the Library Tree – Storytelling and music combine in a new commission for Sutton Coldfield – Brumpic. “Combining storytelling and music and created by local children’s opera company B’Opera, this new work will explore the wonder of libraries and how they inspire curiosity.”
  • Carmarthenshire – Library users to benefit from new system – South Wales Guardian. “The council is the 17th of 22 library authorities in Wales to adopt the new SirsiDynix Symphony Library Management System. “
  • Cumbria – Best selling crime writers lift the lid on their work – Mail. Author visits.
  • Dorset – New signs for council buildings and libraries cost £8,800 – Dorset Echo. Dorset Council changes logo.
  • East Sussex – Update on Pevensey Bay Library – Eastbourne Herald. Volunteers may take over closed library. “campaign. Since the closures only two have reopened, run by the communities they serve. A spokesperson at Volunteers Network said, “Although there is local interest in taking over all of the libraries and reopening them, many have had legal or financial issues to be resolved, and organising community run libraries is not an easy task. “
  • Essex – County Hall: 50 groups interested in running libraries – Gazette News. “The plans show 19 libraries out if the 74 in Essex are earmarked to be run by community groups. County Hall has now confirmed more than 21,000 people responded to its consultation held earlier this year. There have also been 50 ‘expressions of interest’ by groups wanting to take over the running of libraries.”
  • Lewisham – Lewisham Library redevelopment study due next month – News Shopper. “Lewisham Council’s feasibility study into whether it can redevelop Lewisham library and build rented council homes or cut staff hours to fund a £450,000 shortfall is due on May 8. Proposals to cut staff hours in 2020 were put on hold while the council looked into whether rented council housing on-site could help pay for a new library.”
  • Rotherham – News: New chapter for Rotherham’s Central Library? – Roth Biz. “Rotherham Council is seeking views from residents and library users about the possibility of moving the Central Library back to a more central location in Rotherham town centre. Currently based within cultural space at the Council’s Riverside House, which opened in 2011, the central library holds the largest collection and range of lending materials in the borough. It was previously housed on Drummond Street alongside former council offices that were demolished to make way for the Tesco Extra.
    The Council has now said that it is considering moving the library back across town into a new community/cultural hub that could be located opposite Tesco in the Markets, which is due to be developed as part of the Town Centre Masterplan”
  • St Helens – Youngsters learning to write in libraries with children’s author – St Helens Reporter. “Mark Powers, known for the Spy Toys series, will pass on some of the tips of the author’s trade in the workshops called Show, Don’t Tell.”
  • Staffordshire – Libraries gear up for Staffordshire Day celebrations – Staffordshire Newsroom. “Author visits, quiz nights, local heroes competition, guided tours and arts and crafts activities are amongst the events already lined up for this year’s celebrations.”
  • Old Stafford library could be turned into flats – Express and Star. “an application has now been submitted to Stafford Borough Council to convert it into 10 apartments and a bar and restaurant. Eight of the apartments will be located on the first floor and the remaining two on the ground floor. “
  • Stirling – Stirling pensioner wants pro-Scottish independence paper reinstated in libraries – Daily Record.
  • Suffolk – New opening times for Brandon Library – East Anglian Daily Times. “The new opening times will see the library open for longer on Wednesday afternoons, but closing earlier on Friday evenings. The changes, approved by the libraries board and Suffolk County Council come following calls from customers and will come into effect from May 20. Suffolk Libraries confirmed however it will remain closed on Monday despite the longer opening hours and that future events are unaffected.”
  • Wrexham – Wrexham Library services help with Universal Credit – Leader. Online resources publicised. “It is the second time William Todd has clashed with Stirling Libraries over the availability of the ‘Scots Independent’. The last time was the late 1980s. The 70-year-old, from St Ninians, said that up until two and a half years ago he had been able to read a copy of the ‘Scots Independent’, first published over 90 years ago, alongside a variety of daily national newspapers at a number of Stirling district libraries. He recently wrote to Stirling Library HQ to ask why he can no longer access the monthly title which had been distributed to libraries for free.”

 

That London Library By Euston

Editorial

Interesting to see that the British Library, based almost entirely in one big city in the South East of England, is considering opening up a “British Library North” in Leeds. About time, as anyone can attest who has had to travel hundreds of mile to visit a place that apparently serves the whole nation but in fact is almost entirely based in London and charges the heck (or, in BL terms, “full cost recovery”) out of other libraries (don’t dare use the word “provincial”, you hear me?) to borrow something it got given for free. It’s been good to see the British Library start to wake up to its wider role in the last few years, with 13 business and intellectual property centres in libraries around the country and a group of 22 library services (out of more than 200) it works with on some projects, but there’s a lot more that it could do before I stop thinking of it in my mind as “That London Library By Euston”.

Great to see more fines being removed, with one authority going fine-free and two more removing children’s fines. Something more confusing was the debt that York Explore somehow ended up owing to the council but, that’s OK, because the council is paying them an extra amount of money to allow Explore to pay it back. I think. My head hurts.

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151 becomes 150, social media and one more fine-free

Editorial

Although the last ten years have been pretty darn tumultuous ones for public libraries, one thing has been constant – the number of public library services in England being 151. That is going to change on 1 April, when Bournemouth and Poole formally unite (along with Christchurch) to become the 150th – or first, depending, on how one looks at it – library service. I understand that the publicity from the new council on its creation will feature libraries, which is great. Best of wishes to them.

It seems like barely a PLN post goes by without another library service announcing it is going fine-free and this one is not going to go against the trend: Bridgend’s libraries will become the first in Wales to take the step on 1 April. Not so wonderful is another Welsh trusts in Blaenau Gwent which, if I’m reading the news report correctly, spent money earmarked by the council for books on other things it needed instead. Hmm, not so impressive. Finally, a big thanks to Caitlin Murphy who has kindly answered a few questions on her role in social media for London Libraries below.

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It’s an honour

Editorial

Good to see computers being replaced in Lancashire this week but, overall, the Huddington Post estimates an impressive 4000 public computers have been lost since 2010. Perhaps if public libraries were more respected then not so many would have been killed. Libraries Connected have a plan about that, wanting to encourage more people to be nominate especially impressive public librarians for the Honours List. You can read about it below, and my thoughts on why you should in a separate post. Another MBE here or BEM there won’t make all the difference of course but it can’t hurt. What will make a difference is yourselves, working hard to make your library services as good as possible and spreading the news that libraries are worth more than any honour.

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If not now, when? Plus a fair bit of good news

Editorial

A fair amount of good news today. In a subject close to my heart – not least because I’ve seen children cry and people walk away from libraries over the issue – another library service, Blackpool,  has announced that it will get rid of all fines. That makes nine services in the UK so far and I understand that there’s a lot of interest out there from other ones as well. The debate about practicality of waiving fines seems to be over before it even started: the time has come for getting rid of fining your customers,  it’s just working out how to fund it.  In other news, Powys has backed down from £200k cuts thus continuing the tradition of Welsh and Scottish councils being more willing to change their minds on the issue than their English counterparts. Cambridge has scrapped new computer charges after noticing they were only making one tenth of the expected income, due to, well, the people who use them not having tons of money. And a Suffolk library is being refurbished and having its opening hours extended. It’s a joy to report on libraries today frankly. My thanks also to Liz Gardner for taking the time in this post to explain the idea and practice behind having video bedtime stories. It strikes me as a really good and duplicatable idea. Get on it, Public Libraries News readers.

Finally, it’s the couple of weeks of the national library petition. It’s got nearly 33,000 signatures already but could do with a ton more. Get on it, sign it and tell people you know how important it is. Because, of if not now, when?

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Night libraries

Editorial

A tweet that said “what if public libraries were open late every night and we could engage in public life there instead of having to choose between drinking at the bar and domestic isolation” has been liked, at time of press, 223 000 times. Now one suspects that this is mainly because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, with over 3 million followers, tweeted on it with a comment but still, that’s a lot of people agreeing with it, which suggests some pretty heft pent up demand.

So let’s look at the concept of “night libraries”. If a neutral observer looked at the opening hours of the typical public library, there’d be a few conclusions to be drawn. One is that they’re largely for people who do not work as they tend to have the bulk of opening hours during the daytime, only a few hours each week in the evening and, mostly, one would be lucky if they were open for more than half a day over the entire weekend. Another conclusion could be, if one were more cynical than I, that they were there to be suited to staff desires and availability – who wants to work late night after late night? – in some cases rather than that of the public. Yet another would be that, well, in many areas being open in the evening would not work anyway: there’s some fairly dead areas out there after dark and antisocial behaviour would spike, especially in places like public libraries that are quite rightly open to all. There’s also the comment, which I really like, by @Librareon, who said “Hey! I’d settle for being able to afford day time libraries” which gets to the heart of the problem: opening hours cost money and libraries aren’t really awash with that commodity at the mo.

But, effectively, it still means that the majority of libraries are only open at times that suit those who, for whatever reason, do not work. There is demand, especially in cities, for libraries to open for longer. I’ve seen this at Storyhouse, open pretty much to 10 or 11pm most evenings, including Sundays, and I’m sure Chester is not unique. The challenge, for those areas where it would work, if we want to widen their appeal, is to find ways of doing it. And that means the money. I’m not sure Open+ would appeal to the tweeter really, although I’d be interested to hear otherwise. With Chester, it was a combination with a theatre (and a decision very early on not to barrier the library when the staff there went home). That may be the solution in some lucky places. In others, there will be other ways. I hope to describe them here and, being I write these posts at night, perhaps one day in one of them.

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Going bye the board?

Editorial

The big talking point on library-land social media the last few days has been something on the face of it pretty boring: Hertfordshire are changing their byelaws to include volunteers. The change means volunteers have the right to use the byelaws and puts them more on a par with paid staff. Presumably, Herts are worried that, if an incident occurs, then volunteers, who are sole staffers of many of their branches, with more cuts on the cards, would otherwise not be able to do legally do anything about it other than call the police. Also it suggests a whole bunch of other library services who rely on the unpaid to keep their libraries open will need to do the same.

The DCMS needs to approve the change but there will be no problem there. Nor will there be with Libraries Connected who – despite its recent public awareness of the impact cuts – has been an enabler for replacing salaried personnel with the free alternative almost since the start of the phenomenon. Some hope CILIP may raise a warning. My view is that this is an inevitable acceptance or, depending on your view, a further sliding down of the slippery slope, of the consequences of accepting volunteers as replacements for staff that started at around the same time austerity kicked off. Some would put the date earlier. Inevitable or not, it’s hard to see what else needs to be done before there’s effectively no difference between the paid and unpaid in at least some UK public libraries. Well, apart from qualifications, training, average time commitment and salary that is.

The rest of the news is remarkably good. Camden is refreshing its IT. This is, fair enough, every service should do anyway but these days is not a given. The proposed closure of several Moray libraries has been cancelled and there’s even a couple of re-openings, two new libraries and a refurbishment. This is brilliant news. Great news also for York Explore which has won a further, and remarkably long, 15 year extension to its contract. It looks like they have had to accept a reasonable reduction in budget to do it, though, although the mutual (which does not have to answer freedom of information requests) and the council have been a bit vague about that.

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A blueprint for libraries … and watching Bridgend with interest

Editorial

There’s something big and national going on at the moment called the “Blueprint project” going on at the moment looking at how public libraries should position themselves in the future. It’s early days yet but it looks like those involved want regional development organisationss. Being involved in one of these at the moment, Time To Read North West, I can attest how useful this would be. Although I’ve discovered 32 such examples of UK public libraries working together, there is still very little co-operation in some areas and much resultant duplication of effort. So it’s good that that may be change. I’m less sure about other changes listed like to the “legislative framework, funding routes, quality standards and digital connectivity”, for a variety of reasons. Particularly concerning is the “funding routes” one, which from what I can piece together, is pushing for more franchising out of central government work and also commercial partnerships. The problem with both is, of course, the danger of losing unique selling points of the library – like neutrality – in favour of simple money. Chiefs will need to be very careful about that, which will be hard when money is being waved around, and the initial experience of working with Sopra Steria, did not bode well, although I understand things are better now.

Well, that’s big picture stuff, let’s get granular now …  it’s good to see the Wirral may be getting some investment and that a £150k cut in Brent has been cancelled. A move towards outsourcing, which looked very likely, in Swindon has been cancelled, possibly due to the leading politician in favour of it no longer being in charge or possibly due to other factors like a concern that a non-local concern may take it over. In the bad news side of the coin, there’s warnings of cuts in Aberdeenshire and Bridgend. The last has already outsourced its library service so it will be interesting to see if the Awen Leisure Trust, which runs it now, will take such cuts lying down or will publicly protest them. It’s been fascinating to see such open disagreements happen in one or two Trusts, which I see as a bid advantage of them, so I’ll be watching Bridgend with interest.

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Diversity and austerity

Editorial

I come from a fairly typical background in South Wales. My parents could not afford all the books I wanted and I had to catch the bus to the local library . Working hard at the local comprehensive I made my way to university in Exeter and then Sheffield and thus to libraries. I did not think at the time if my capability in doing this was in any way due to being male or white. But being I clearly remember racism and sexism being a big thing in 1970s and even the 80s I suspect it helped. So it’s good to see the need for diversity being recognised on the national level, not least because of the fact that, shockingly, 97% of the library profession is white compared to 88% of the population as a whole. And I remember in the 1990s when I started working that everyone thought, as a man, that I’d be on a fast track to promotion. Such thoughts may be less overt now but I suspect they’re still there.

I get accused sometimes of singing the praises rather too much of librarians and this is true. I love libraries and think there are few roles more rewarding to society and self than working towards the library ideal. But I’d be wilfully blind not to admit that there are problems in the profession. Last post, I touched upon the lack of apparent importance given to a core service, indeed the book is to many the core, by many in the sector. A rebalancing slightly away from gushing about makerspaces (which will only, when it comes down to it, ever be a side activity) and theatre shows (likewise) towards actually making our book offer look professional is long overdue. And this lack of diversity is something else that needs to be addressed.

The protests against the cuts in Essex continue to dominate the news. They clearly love their underfunded and under-appreciated (by the council) libraries there and it’s great to see. Whether the protests will actually achieve anything, other than possibly extract a few token concessions, is in question as English councils do not have a brilliant track record with actually listening during library consultations. It’s notable, in fact, that councils are far more likely change tack after reading the results of them in the other parts of the UK. Why this is may be open to question: possibly due to their being less True Believer Conservatives in power but presumably also to them questionably being (slightly) less affected by austerity. An example of this is Neath Port Talbot in this post who have cancelled four closures down to the public response. Good to see. And I hope the campaigners in Essex can take heart from it, and their councillors listen.

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Hello Library Sector, it’s me, Book

Editorial

Libraries Connected have done some work to their (previously very sparse) website and added links to some useful resources. There’s not much new there – and, my, it shows how few free resources there are for reading – but it’s good to see them there. Speaking of reading, LC (I can’t help but call it Elsie) have done some nice statistics summaries, which show that more than three quarters of library visitors are there for the books. I find the lack of serious projects or indeed discussion, or any kind of focus, on books one of the biggest black holes in libraries in the last decade. By rights, there should be initiative after initiative in boosting what is very much our core product. But no. apart from some sterling work by the Reading Agency, the focus of much of the sector has been on what are, ultimately, side projects like makerspaces and coding. These are great to be sure but there seriously needs to be some rebalancing going on.  Those books on the shelves are important and the lack of serious training or concentration on boosting their use is as dangerous as the repeated cuts to their funding over the years. Another curious stat gleaned from the LC tables is that, using the figure of 2,080 hours work per year per 1 FTE, a full eighteen times more work is done in libraries by paid staff than by volunteers. Yes, despite all the coverage, it’s the poor (down 5% in one year, salary freezes or pay increases below inflation for a decade) employees who are still doing the vast amount of the actual work.

The news that the National Literacy Trust is boasting about working with shoe shops to boost literacy is as puzzling as library services who are disregarding books and paid staff. NLT, please, dudes, hello. We’re Over Here. Work with us. Local authority-wise, there’s some good news in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall (who have, by the way, quietly passed a ton of their libraries to parish/town councils) and Milton Keynes. The £200k reduction in the previously announced big £1m Worcestershire cut is entirely offset by a £200k cut in Powys. Finally, the new post announced in CILIP has, to say the least, raised some eyebrows on social media after the deep job losses that occurred last year.

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