Answers on visas, Welsh libraries funding and your chance to question the new SCL Chief Exec

Editorial

I always find, as a librarian, the best way to find an answer to a question is to ask an expert. So, due to the various expressed uncertainties about the public library scheme, I emailed Isobel Hunter, the new Chief Executive of the Society of Chief Librarians. She kindly quickly answered them and the details are below. Following on form this, she has also agreed to answer more general questions, which I’m working on now. But it seems to me some of you may have questions too. So if you want me to ask any, email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. and let me know if you want it confidential or not. If there’s too many questions, I’ll try to work out questions that cover themes.

In other news, the Welsh Government has just announced funding that will help several libraries. Great to see. It’s worth pointing out that, scaled up to England’s size, that would be a very impressive £23m. Come on, Libraries Minister, make it happen.

Changes by local authorities

A short interview with Isobel Hunter, the new SCL chief executive, about the new Visa programme.

There was quite a hoo-ha on Twitter about the announcement of a new scheme to assist visa applicants in libraries, with a fair number of queries and worries about what it entailed. So I emailed the new boss of the Society of Chief Librarians with a few questions, which she very promptly answered. Before going on to those, though, she said that there was some confusion with another project and said:

“The existing one is an Assisted Digital project, and was highlighted in our annual report last year:

“From the end of September (2017), SCL and library services across the UK will also be supporting applicants for in-country visas on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration. The project is led by We Are Digital, which is directing applicants to the most suitable routes for support. This support is provided in person via local libraries, in the applicant’s own home by We Are Digital’s visiting tutors, and by telephone from Migrant Help UK.”

The new project is different and is about providing a local service point for people to submit biometric data and supporting documents. This means applicants don’t have to post off vital documents like passports, and don’t have to travel a long way to specialist centres to  process their biometric data.”

Now onto the questions …

How much funding will public libraries receive under the agreement?

“Library services will receive payment for the delivery of appointments for this service. SCL will receive a small percentage as a contribution towards the cost of coordinating the libraries’ involvement. Libraries will not be charging visa applicants for their help.”

Is the contract involving more than offering assistance with the application. That is, providing online access etc?

“The role of library staff will be to support online access for applicants to submit their documents and biometric data. Library staff will not give visa or immigration advice.”

I’ve seen reports that “Staff are really worried about being required to report people who come back into the library after they’ve failed in their application therefore are “illegal immigrants”. Will staff have any obligation to report in this manner?

“Library staff will not be involved in any part of the decision making on the applications. Library staff are just involved in supporting people to use the online system to submit their documents and biometric data. They will therefore not know the results of any applications or how these affect individuals using libraries.”

Will there be any additional procedures in place to ensure confidentiality?

“Each site within the library is assessed for security, confidentiality and accessibility before any equipment is installed. This includes ensuring that applicants and their documents will not visible to the public, and that physical access into the building and to the service point is as simple as possible.

Some libraries will have kiosks installed, which will provide a private space for applicants. Kiosks will be installed where there is an anticipated high number of users. In other libraries, the most appropriate place is being selected – such as a private room or quiet corner. Appointments will be made for all users, to help manage the process and its confidentiality. All library personnel staffing the appointments will receive training and be security cleared.”

Are any libraries run by volunteers involved?

“No, the service will not be delivered at volunteer led libraries or by volunteers in libraries. All library personnel staffing the appointments will be security cleared and receive training”

Will there be funding for upgrading PN?

“Specialist biometric equipment will be installed in all the participating libraries. In libraries where a high level of demand is anticipated, the equipment will be installed in kiosks

Which libraries are participating?

“56 libraries are part of the project. They are currently having site assessments to ensure they can provide the appropriate space in terms of access and security. We will be able to publish the full list once all sites have been assessed and confirmed and before the system goes live in the autumn.”

National news

  • £1.35m for museums, archives and libraries in Wales – Welsh Government. “During a visit to Glamorgan Archives today, the Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord-Elis-Thomas, announced that museums, archives and libraries in Wales will benefit from over £1.35 million Welsh Government capital funding to develop and enhance their facilities and services.” … “the Fund will modernise three libraries, in Ringland, Pyle, and Tonypandy, creating new community facilities, and supporting the establishment of wider ‘hubs’ where people can access library services alongside a range of other amenities.  Funding is also provided to contribute to the integration of library and heritage services in Carmarthenshire and Conwy. “
  • Library offers playbook for communities taking control Times (partially behind paywall). “When Brent council closed Kensal Rise library in 2012, council workers and police turned up in the middle of the night to strip the branch of books, furniture and the gold plaque commemorating its opening in 1900 by Mark Twain. Residents who had been fighting to keep the library open phoned one another to report that there were so many security workers at the site that they wouldn’t be able to stop them…..”
  • Save our literacy for the sake of the literary – Oxford Student. “For now, we can breathe easy in the knowledge that we have brilliant people like Jojo Moyes in our midst, who are willing to fill in funding-gaps for schemes like Quick Reads. Yet, as austerity continues, this is not a problem which will be going away any time soon, and we can’t always rely on knights in shining armour to salvage our vital services. This government needs to recognise the insurmountable link between functioning literacy and a celebration of the literary, and of course, needs to make that literacy available to all”.

An online bookclub from Axiell

International news

  • Netherlands Hub Kerkrade – Designing Libraries. “How can a library, a theatre and other cultural partners exist together successfully under one roof? First, by breaking down partition walls” [This looks very similar to StoryHouse in Chester – Ed.]

Local news by authority

  • Cumbria – Whitehaven Library’s New Autism area praised by Copeland’s MP – Cumbria Crack. “Trudy Harrison MP, and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, joined councillors and members of the public for the launch of Whitehaven Library’s autism friendly pop-up sensory area on Saturday. The pop-up sensory area, which includes a large dark den featuring LED lighting, tactile accessories, lightbox and ear defenders, is designed specifically for people with autism.”

Visa applicants and libraries

Editorial

The Society of Chief Librarians has been subcontracted by French company Sopra Steria to provide assistance for visa applicants from October 2018. The SCL press release says its for 56 library services, although other news reports, including Sopra Steria, say 56 libraries, which is quite a difference. The process seems quite involved, with the need to submit “biometric information including photos, fingerprints, and signatures and their supporting evidence at a single appointment”. My twitter feed, naturally full of library campaigners, is raising lots of questions about neutrality, training, confidentiality, work time and if library staff would be obliged to report anyone who it turned out was in the country illegally. I’m sure all of this has been thought out and so I have emailed the new Chief Exec Isobel Hunter to ask these questions and look forward to an answer. For the SCL, the reasons for taking on the contract are fairly clear – raising profile, and income, from amongst the government.  I just hope, though,  no-one from the government has looked at the SCL website recently, which is still leading on news from 2016 and promotes five (not six) Universal Offers. I hope the website will be overhauled soon with the forthcoming name change for the organisation.

Changes

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An Ode to Libraries in Finland

Editorial

That’s it, I want to work in Finland. OK, I don’t speak Finnish and can’t stand cold or dark nights but, darn it, just look at how they treat libraries over there. as important learning and education centres, with over three times more spent on libraries per head than in the UK. And that new library, the beautifully named “Ode”, looks rather nice too.

OK, deep breath, back to the UK. Well, looking on the bright side, at least most of us don’t work in Northants. The council there is asking towns and parishes to not only take over running public libraries but to pay full whack for the privilege. This includes buying the building which, in one case, the parish council gave to Northants in the first place. Unsurprisingly, some councils are complaining about this treatment and refusing to take them over. Across the border in Wales, Cardiff are implementing cuts to their libraries by co-locating services. That doesn’t sound so bad but I’ve seen what has happened to Cardiff Central where a proud and well-equipped central library has been replaced with crammed in sections between various other council services, with the added presence of suspicious security guards. Let’s hope the city approaches the other libraries differently.

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Right time, right place: StoryHouse, Chester

Volunteer libraries looking fragile, staffless concerns … and some much-needed research

Editorial

Two volunteer libraries in two weeks have announced they can’t go on due to lack of finance. This is in addition to the three in Lincolnshire that folded due to the charity that ran them closing down, and which have now temporarily been taken over by GLL. While still only small numbers, this is as many volunteer branches getting into trouble in a month as I can recall in the last five years. Indeed, the resilience of these branches has been most impressive up to now. However, as councils provide less and less support to community groups, and indeed sometimes none at all, we can expect these five no to be the last, and possibly a harbinger of things to come. After all, something for nothing is rarely a viable business strategy,

The Telegraph has written a piece critical of staffless libraries and an Observer journalist has tweeted what a “sham” they are. The conversion of UK libraries to “open” technology is picking up pace and now rivals the adoption rate of any country in the world. It remains to be seen as to if such a negative response is indicative of a genuine problem for councils or it’s similar to the initial criticism of self-service machines, now generally adopted in the country. I suspect, like self-service, it depends on why it has been adopted. If it’s to blatantly replace paid staff and to give a paper provision that is deeply inferior in practice, then may will feel the rotten eggs deserve to be thrown. If it is genuinely an extension of the service then the adoption is to be welcomes. Sadly, in many library authorities, it is too often the former.

Finally, it’s great to see some academic research come out on the impact of cuts to library services. Few studies have been done on this subject and some that have been are too obviously biased. So it is to be welcomed and, I hope, used.

Changes

The Write Time, Write Place programme of creative writing workshops for beginners in Libraries 

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Keep on making the difference

Editorial

A generally quiet few days for libraries, as befits a bank holiday Monday. I hope you all enjoyed the sunshine or did something (or several somethings) fun. Now it’s back to the world of public libraries. energised hopefully from the time off.  That should help you to keep on making the difference to the, oh so many, people who use your branches.

Changes

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Passing it all to parishes, plus staffless issues

Editorial

Two things that spark my interest today. The first is the continuing, and little publicised outside of the county, move by Cornwall to transfer numerous branches to town and parish councils. The media suggests Bude-Stratton, Redruth, Camelford, Falmouth, Launceston, St Ives, Bodmin, Camborne, St Austell and Penryn are all being transferred this way. This makes sense as lower-tier councils are not capped in the same way as top-tier ones and of course there’s co-locations happening in a few of these. Cornwall are clearly going for it big time with this option, as are a handful of others such as Swindon. I’d also expect others are quietly exploring this route.

The second is a couple of mentions of staffless/open libraries. Leicestershire are installing a lot of this in their libraries and, interestingly, one branch which is not having it is described as “missing out” in the local press. Such a description would not one suspect be shared by the Irish “Staff Our Libraries” which has uncovered evidence of widespread and repeated examples of people using the libraries without library cards. including children. It’s worth noting that there appears to be little actual problem or serious incident with this, yet, but the worry has to be that something really bad will happen in one of these branches and the council will then have to prove due care and attention was given. Something to weigh up when doing the risk assessment at least, including in Bristol where a few libraries will be going down this “extended access” route shortly.

Changes

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Labour are making a mess of public libraries

Editorial

It’s local election time in my of the country this week and libraries but will have a part to play. Some will be polling stations and many will have people coming in and asking where the local polling station is or how come they never got a polling card. In addition, libraries will be part of many local manifestos, with politicians making a big thing of keeping libraries open, albeit often with the how of reduced resources or volunteers glossed over.

The interesting thing here, as Alan Wylie notes in an article below, is how badly Labour does in such campaigns, especially when the deep cuts are largely due to the Conservative line of ever-continuing austerity. Labour should be the party for public libraries, as they are for other public services, but so often they are not. In my region, the North West, the Conservatives speak of reopening libraries that Labour closed. And they’re right, they have. They have also, in one authority, got rid of fines. Yes, the Conservatives – who have done more to destroy library budgets in 2010 than anyone else in modern history – see libraries as a vote winner.

On the other hand, Labour’s record is blemished, with dubious London councils rubbing shoulders with colleagues nationwide defending closing libraries or even supporting the Big Society solution of replacing paid staff with volunteers. Labour’s policy on libraries is thus confused and confusing, and they will not be able to make the capital out of this open goal that they should have been able to. And my take from this is that they’re just not very good at campaigning, with the larger picture meaning that we can envision the Conservatives, and the library-destroying austerity that currently goes with them, lasting for yet longer than the next term.

Have a good week folks.

Changes

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2 new mobiles in Angus, Capita/Barnet troubles, Quick Reads endangered

Changes

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“Down to a t”: the new confusing world of public libraries

Editorial

Things are getting complicated in libraryland. It used to be that councils ran libraries, kept them running – or not – and that was it. Now, all sorts of different organisations run libraries and we’ve had our first case last week of one non-council library organisation (GLL) coming in to keep open three Lincolnshire libraries that another non-council library organisation (now defunct charity “Learning Communities”) no linger could. It used to be that councils funded events or programmes, or not. Now we have a libraries mutual, York Explore, seeking to crowdfund the Summer Reading Challenge, the first such attempt at this I’ve seen. And then we have GLL – that name again – settling a strike with library workers in Bromley, without any council involvement. The reason for all this is, of course, money (or the council’s lack of it), a fact which means that it’s likely Hertfordshire will be going that way soon too. And, confusingly, for us typers, Herefordshire too. Which allows me to make the puny observation that trusts now suit some councils down to a “t”.

And then we have volunteer libraries. Read the post below from the “Community Managed Libraries Conference” to get the state of play there and draw your own conclusions, not least from the recorded speech of the libraries minister (embedded).

Changes

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It’s almost local election time … plus libraries and privacy

Editorial

It’s good to see libraries starting being mentioned by political parties in the run-up to the local elections. Also good to see is Aude Charillon going on from strength to strength, this time doing workshops on library privacy. I’d say that definitely all librarians, and frankly probably library assistants too, need to have at least a basic awareness of how to keep private online. People will come into the library and ask for time to time and it’s a bit embarrassing if they’re met by blank stares. And, who knows? It could be something that libraries can actually take a lead on. We’re information-based and in most communities, and there’s a need out there – it’s in the news quite a lot – so it’d be great to see.

Changes

Ideas

National news

  • Librarians and Privacy in the Age of Cambridge Analytica Vable. “ Despite the security breaches, storage of personal messages, and targeted advertising, I have not deleted my Facebook account. As a qualified information professional who should know better, this pertinent tweet said it all: ‘I would like to think that I am privacy literate but I am fully aware that I don’t know what I don’t know. #uksg18″
    On Moaners : An Update – Johanna Bo Anderson’s Blog. On CILIP’s social media policy.
  • Overdrive and Bookseller pair up for libraries focus – BookSeller. “The Bookseller, with sponsor Overdrive and partner The Reading Agency (TRA), is launching a Libraries of the Year focus, to highlight the work libraries do to encourage reading, improve literacy and provide access to books” … ” These will form a basis of a report, to be distributed to 4,000 UK libraries, MPs and advisory bodies, on the value libraries play in their communities. Additionally, The Bookseller will hold a discussion with the 10 libraries, with one of them to be named Library of the Year.”
  • Public urge Arts Council England to prepare for the future – Arts Professional. “Key issues raised by respondents included: Ensuring a sustainable livelihood for artists; Protecting and improving arts education; Preparing for more digital interaction with the public; Protecting the wellbeing of the planet; Focusing more funding on research and development; The impact of Brexit on artistic collaboration.”

Taking a stand for privacy: a series of free workshops for public library staff funded by the Carnegie UK Trust and delivered by Aude Charillon (Newcastle Libraries). “If you work in a UK public library – as a library assistant, librarian, library manager or in any other role – this workshop is for you. The aim of the workshop is for public library staff to be informed citizens when it comes to how the Internet works, how it impacts their online privacy and how to protect it – and for them to in turn take a stand to protect citizens’ privacy in libraries”

The aim of the workshops is for all of us to be informed citizens when it comes to how the Internet works, how it impacts on our online privacy and how to protect it – and for us to in turn take a stand to protect citizens’ privacy in public libraries. We’ll cover such things as: what personal information is shared when an individual accesses a website or uses a mobile app; basic digital privacy tools and practices;steps to take to better protect the online privacy of citizens using library services. Dates and booking details: Taunton Library, Thursday 26 April 9:30-13:00.  To book a place please contact the Taunton Library Glass Box on GlassBox@Somerset.gov.uk; Wales: Brecon Library, Wednesday 9 May 10:00-13:30  Book a place via Eventbrite; London: British Library, Thursday 10 May 9:30-13:00 and 13:30-17:00 Book a place for either the morning or the afternoon via this Eventbrite page. [via email]

An online bookclub from Axiell
International news

  • Eire – Book could be closed on library fines Times. “The government is considering scrapping late fees in libraries in an effort to get more people to use them. A spokesman for the taoiseach said yesterday that a memo on the issue was brought by Michael Ring, the rural and community development minister, and there was extensive discussion among ministers about the plans. As part of an effort to remove barriers to the access of libraries, the potential abolition of fines for the late return of books is under consideration as part of a new national strategy.”
  • Global – A Roundup of Fierce Fictional Librarians – BookRiot. “We’re celebrating libraries and their champion guardians this week. Therefore, I’ve rounded up some of the coolest librarians in fiction. They fight crime, they possess knowledge that ranges from useful to impressive, and they look good doing it. Did I include your favorite?”
  • Global – Tell us your story: Libraries’ global storytelling manual – Matt Finch / Mechanical Dolphin. “The International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA, has released a new guide designed to help librarians and library advocates to tell compelling stories about library activities, projects and programmes, showing their impact on communities and people’s lives.” … “”IFLA invites librarians and library advocates from all countries to submit their stories through the LMW SDG Stories platform.””
  • USA – Apparently unfamiliar with “libraries”, GOP Gov. candidate Bill Schuette proposes radical idea of “dedicated reading centers” to solve illiteracy crisis in Michigan – Eclectablog. “Mr. Schuette is, apparently, unfamiliar with the concept of the “library” and the staff position of “librarian”. However, his political party — the Republicans — are quite familiar with these concepts. Or at least they should be; they’ve been defunding them for years.”
  • USA – Thirteen Reasons Why tops most challenged books list, amid rising complaints to US libraries – Guardian. “The libraries association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has also begun to record incidents of hate crimes in libraries. There were 23 reported in 2017, it said, ranging from the scrawling of swastikas on library walls to the destruction of Muslim religious texts. “In two cases, one in a public library parking lot and another within a university library, men made death threats to women wearing hijabs,” said the ALA in its annual State of America’s Libraries report, which has just been released.”

Local news by authority

  • Aberdeenshire – Aberdeen libraries challenge residents to read six minutes every day – Evening Express. “The Six Minute Reading Challenge kicks off on World Book Night – Monday April 23 – and runs until the end of May. The library service is challenging people to take part by reading for a minimum of six minutes every day during that period.”
  • Ceredigion – Gavin & Stacey’s Ruth Jones to mark volunteers’ takeover of library – Cambrian Times. “Saturday, 21 April, when renowned actor and author Ruth Jones cuts the ribbon at Llandysul Library to mark the occasion of volunteers running the library in partnership with Ceredigion Library.”
  • Cheshire West and Chester – Northwich Library offers a relaxing place to read – Northwich Guardian.The Relax and Read group is intended to be a social, informal group to reduce isolation and anxiety through everyone enjoying good stories and poems collectively. “
  • Cornwall – Camelford Library re-opens as a community hub – Camelford and Delabole Post.Camelford Town Council has moved its offices into the library building, ensuring customers can access more local services in one location. At the same time, the management of the library has been handed over to Camelford Town Council as part of Cornwall Council’s devolution programme.”
  • Croydon – What the Labour party in Croydon is promising in its manifesto ahead of the upcoming local elections – Croydon Advertiser. Libraries number 5 in manifesto. “When asked why libraries ranked so highly in the manifesto, he said:”Libraries are vital community hubs. “They are also facilities where a local budget devolved to residents could be introduced so people can have more say in which facilities are on offer at their library.””
  • Cumbria – Town centre library to close and move into nearby archive centre News and Star. “Whitehaven’s library building is to close and the service moved into the nearby archive centre. The county council has revealed its plans which will see the archive centre shut its doors for a year while refurbishment and building works are carried out ready for the transfer. Once the library has moved into its new home, the Lowther Street building will be sold-off to help fund the revamp of the archive centre with any remaining cash being pumped back into the service.”
  • Darlington – Darlington library’s ‘community asset’ status is lost Northern Echo. “A historic library’s status as an ‘asset of community value’ has expired, representing a fresh blow for campaigners battling to save it from closure Currently the subject of a judicial review, Darlington’s Grade II listed Crown Street Library is earmarked for closure as part of a £12.5m programme of swingeing budget cuts. Unless a legal challenge mounted by campaigners is successful, proposals to cut and change library services will result in the much-loved library and community hub closing its doors forever while the majority of its resources are moved to the nearby Dolphin Centre leisure facility.”
  • Derbyshire – Woodville, Melbourne and Etwall libraries among those which could be taken over by community groups Burton Mail. “Controversial plans to transfer three South Derbyshire libraries to community groups to save £1.6 million have been described as “devastating” by a council’s Labour leader. The Conservative-run Derbyshire County Council is set to launch a consultation into the future of its 45 libraries – including Woodville, Melbourne and Etwall.” see also Controversial library plans challenged by Opposition Groups – Labour Party. “They have produced a draft strategy but are now adding other ideas into the mix that aren’t in the original plans at all. The consultation is now completely flawed. How can the public respond when they don’t know exactly what the plans are?”
  • Herefordshire – Fears voiced over libraries’ futureLedbury Reporter. “Questions from members of the public touched upon concerns raised by the potential outsourcing process and the subsequent accountability, before representatives from individual support groups made presentations. ” … “All were sceptical about the risks involved in services being sub contracted with no strong business case being made to support the idea. ” … “Even the bidders refer to the unlikelihood of them being able to run the service without a subsidy,” said Nina Shields, the deputy chair for the Joint Action for Herefordshire Libraries (JAHL). “
  • Kirklees – Labour pledges £45m ‘cultural quarter’ plan for Huddersfield town centre – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “It’s one of the manifesto pledges for Labour ahead of the May 3 local elections. It is expected to include a cultural quarter for Huddersfield town centre, with investment in the library and art gallery, the Piazza and market hall.”
  • North Yorkshire – County council accused of prioritising officers’ pay over services – Richmondshire Today. “Opposition members of the Conservative-led authority have called for a review of top officers pay, saying it was unacceptable that nine officers are paid more than £100k while residents face rising council tax and key services are reduced.” … “Other members said while frontline staff and services such as libraries had gone since the government’s austerity drive forced the council to cut its budget by 34 per cent over a decade, no senior posts at the authority had been cut back and their pay had remained unchanged.”
  • Northamptonshire – Fight to save Northamptonshire libraries taken to High Court after young girl’s plea – Northampton Chronicle. “Specialist lawyers from Irwin Mitchell – who represent the girl, who is their client, and her family – had previously written to Northamptonshire County Council both before and after its final decision was made at the end of February, urging it not to close the libraries, or potentially face a judicial review in the High Court.”
  • Worcestershire – Library recognises autism awareness – Ludlow Advertiser. “To coincide with the day, Worcestershire libraries are celebrating one year of being “Autism Friendly”. It is almost exactly a year since the County’s Libraries and Learning Service has signed up to the Autism Friendly Library standard.”