UN special report on the UK highlights plight of public libraries

Editor

To be honest, I was expecting the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights in the UK to have, at most, one glancing link to libraries. But how wrong I was. I guess I’m used to UK government reports who are, the best efforts of the Libraries Taskforce notwithstanding, often ignore public libraries. Philp Alston, the rapporteur, is Australian and thus comes from a country with a well-funded and advances public library system and, gosh, it shows. Word search comes up with fifteen uses of the word library in the report and some of them are very direct and damning. They highlight the importance of public libraries and the damage cuts to them are causing. Mr Alston also points out the peremptory  decision to fund Citizens Advice to do the job libraries are already doing may not have been the best. I like this chap and you will too. The Government meanwhile has, rather ironically, denied it is in denial, and gone straight back to fighting over Brexit. Hey ho.

Other news today includes the fall out over the deep cut in Essex (the deepest of a UK library service this year) but, thankfully, no further bad news. There’s a very good TED talk on why library services should not be exacting fines. If you are interested in this, I’ve done a summary of the current global situation here and also, to my mind at least, a hard-hitting and humourous article here. Finally, I’m delighted to have evaluation expert write a special article for you on how to get to know your users and non-users. It is of course well worth a read.

National news

“Libraries have closed in record numbers … I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school.” …

“The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit. While library budgets have been severely cut across the country, they still have to deal with an influx of Universal Credit claimants who arrive at the library, often in a panic, to get help claiming benefits online. In Newcastle alone, the first city where ‘full service’ Universal Credit was rolled out in May 2016, the City Library has digitally assisted nearly 2,000 customers between August 2017 and September 2018.” …

“Citizens Advice will be funded by DWP as the sole provider of Assisted Digital Support, with a total budget of £39 million spread out over several years, which must also cover personal budgeting support. Not only is this a small amount in light of the need, but it diverts funding away from public libraries and other organizations which have set up improvised digital support programs.” …

“and between 2010 and 2016 more than 340 libraries closed and 8,000 library jobs were lost. Anyone can rely on public services like the library, but they are of particular significance to those living in poverty who may need to access a computer or a safe community space” …

“And with the government’s new dependence on digital-by-default benefits applications, lack of broadband internet or access to libraries are particularly painful. Government officials assured me that anyone can walk off the street and get support to make an online claim for benefits, but that’s simply not the case for people living outside major cities.” …

“At the same time many of the public places and institutions that previously brought communities together, such as libraries, community and recreation centers, and public parks, have been steadily dismantled or undermined” Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

  • We must not deprive our children of school libraries – TES. “if a school doesn’t have a vibrant library, the chances of a child finding one outside are getting slimmer: 449 libraries closed in England, Scotland and Wales between 2012 and 2017, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. And nearly 15 per cent of public libraries in England – more than 569 – are now run by volunteers rather than the council”

Axiell Selflib
International news

Study after study has shown that the reason libraries fine is because of strongly held beliefs about the effectiveness of getting materials back on time backed by no evidence. Basically, we fine because we’ve always fined. So, the best option for your libraries is to put their mission first. And they will do that if their community members ask it of them.

  • USA – Some Libraries Are Facing Backlash Against LGBT Programs — And Holding Their Ground – Buzzfeed News. “Drag queen storytimes and other LGBT programs are meant to create safe spaces for the queer community. The librarians running them are getting death threats.” … “lawsuits filed by Warriors for Christ and Special Forces of Liberty alleged that the Lafayette Public Library violated the First Amendment by promoting “human secularism”  … “Aside from unfounded and bigoted concerns that drag queens are predators thrusting children into a state of gender confusion and homosexuality, attacks against drag queen storytime have stirred debates about library neutrality and what responsibilities a tax-funded civic institution has in serving its community”

Local news by authority

“To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what recent assessment he has made of whether Barnet is meeting its statutory requirements under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.” Kevin Brennan, Shadow Minister.

“In December 2017, the then Secretary of State indicated that she was not minded to intervene by ordering a local inquiry under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to determine whether the changes in library provision in Barnet offer a comprehensive and efficient library service. The further representations received are being carefully considered by the current Secretary of State.” Michael Ellis, Libraries minister. Barnet – They Work For You.

“Basildon Labour leader, Gavin Callaghan, said: “It is a hell of a Christmas present for not only two of the poorest wards in Basildon, but two of the poorest wards in Essex. “These are vital services for children, for jobseekers, for elderly people. “And this is after we were promised by the Conservative Government that austerity was over, that there would be no more cuts, it is a real kick in the teeth.” Basildon Labour leader

  • Lewisham – Draft Consultation: Proposed changes to Lewisham Libraries Service Lewisham Council. Preview of public consultation on cuts.
  • Lincolnshire – Statistics – via email. Usages since opening in 2016:  2016 issues 28,083, 2017 issues 34,218, 2018 issues  29,442 (up to end Oct).  2016 24,540 visitors, 2017 28,988, 2018 30,690 (up to end Oct). 2016 –  524 new members, 2017 – 583 new members, 2018 – 489 new members up to end Oct. Summer Reading Challenge: 2016 – Finishers 54, 2017 – Finishers 114, 2018 – Finishers 142. Increased our regular clubs/activities: 2016 1 regular Junior club and a in house book group, 2017 increase and balanced out hours (10-5 Mon Wed and Fri), 4 regular junior clubs  (baby group, Storytime, Lego Club, 50p Craft Fridays), 4 new adult clubs (Scrabble, Colouring, Knit and Natter, Age Concern Bus) and a handful ad hoc evening events), 2018 –  Continued with 4 regular junior clubs,  4 regular adult clubs added special one off events. Recent increase in hours will see even more clubs setting up in 2019.  (plans for more adult groups – possibly board games, mens group, craft sessions etc plus Sat clubs for kids Coding, Creative Writing, Weekend Storytime etc)
  • Moray – Call for Moray Council to shut down libraries instead of Elgin Community Centre – Press and Journal.

“The libraries are equipped with staff, heating and facilities for only a handful of people. “My husband used to work in schools and we can see that book-lending is a thing of the past. Any reading groups can come to the centre.”

  • North Yorkshire – Official opening of the extension to the Great Ayton Discovery Centre – Libraries Taskforce. “In 2012 the operation of the library in the North Yorkshire village of Great Ayton was taken over by the community, following withdrawal of funding by the county council. It was one of the first libraries in the county to be run by volunteers, and is now in its seventh year of community ownership as The Great Ayton Discovery Centre. This has only been possible through a partnership between volunteers from the village, the Great Ayton Parish Council (which provides financial support) and North Yorkshire County Council (which continues to provide the library service and IT facilities).”
  • Redbridge – Plans for Gants Hill library to become a purpose-built residential housing complex with GP, police and book facilities – Ilford Recorder. “The hubs which could include a library, social care services, enforcement, police and GPs all under one roof are envisioned as purpose-built facilities at Gants Hill library, Seven king car park, Wanstead library, Ashtons Playing Fields, and Hainault library”
  • Worcestershire – Upton Library should not bear the brunt of county council cuts – Malvern Gazette. “The council has assessed all 23 libraries across the county using a range of criteria including the use of library facilities, the amount of deprivation in the local community and the distance to alternative libraries. And according to its criteria, Upton’s library is one of the lowest when ranked in order on need in the county”
  • York – Column: Reading makes us better people – which is why our libraries matter – York Press. “York is a lucky city in lots of ways. Not just for the obvious beauty of our historical heritage and world class museums but for a reason closer to local communities’ hearts: the fact that our library service has survived the dark days of government spending cuts since 2010 in remarkably sound health. That is pretty good going when more than 478 public libraries have been forced to close in England, Scotland and Wales over that period. ” … “Their current contract is due to expire at the same time as our membership of the European Union in March 2019. Hopefully, with happier prospects than the ones Theresa May has been ineptly ‘negotiating’ for the last two years. “

“I am sure that I am not alone in noticing the book stock of York Explore has shrunk over the last decade. This trend carries an implicit danger that if trips to the library become unfruitful people will simply cease to make them. “

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again – Essex announce one-third cut, Kent £1m

Editorial

It’s that time of year when councils need to announce their budget plans for next year if they are to have enough time to consult. Hence, Newcastle’s one third cut last post and this post’s news of a one-third cut, with up to 43 libraries closing or turning volunteer, in Essex and Kent’s £1 million cut. This will all deeply affect library provision in each of the services, with Essex being the stand-out due to the sheer number of libraries involved. It’s not often over 40 are threatened. The last time I clearly recall was Lancashire and, as news in this very post shows, that surprisingly ended with may reopening. Essex are at pains to show they have consulted already on the shape of their service and will consult on the proposals. It’s worth remembering the ultimate reasons for these cuts lie not with Essex or Kent or Newcastle but with the central government’s decision to continue austerity in practice, if not in name. There’s a petition about that if you’ve not already signed – it seems to have stalled again at just under 30,000 so now would be a good time.

I wrote a fairly critical editorial about Cardiff a short while ago and have given the council the right of reply below. Interestingly, and I have had a look, what I said and what Cardiff say, are not mutually exclusive. It’s all down to one’s point of view. As is so much else, especially I suspect in Essex today.

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Not a gagging letter at all

Unbothered petition response, CIPFA as an active barrier to library data, and Newcastle woes

Editorial

A few things this week, led by the Governments unbothered response to the libraries petition. In a standard cut-and-paste response, the reply is that everything is fine, the Government is putting loads of money in and that funding is, anyway, a local matter. Everyone knows the first two are – shall we say? – not entirely accurate and the third one is, along with austerity, the problem in the first place and indeed the whole point of the petition. The takeaway from this is that library users will have to shout a lot louder to make a difference. So get more names on that petition, please. The second big thing over the last few days that angered me was reading a letter from CIPFA strongly encouraging local library services to avoid handing out usage data. As discussed below, this letter is only the latest piece of evidence strengthening the view that CIPFA is past its sell-by date and is now actively part of the problem and not part of the solution. But read the letter, and CIPFA’s reply, as well in order to make up your own mind.

The biggest bit of local news is the cutting by over a third of Newcastle’s library budget, including to the flagship Central library and the recently invested in East End Library. Forced by central cuts to council budget – and thus proving the lie to the Government’s petition response – the reductions will result in much false economy for what was once, but probably not for much longer, a top-notch library service. Also in the news, we have a whole array of previously largely standalone libraries moving into joint locations. Well, it’s cheaper and there may be some mutual benefits but the suspicion is that these are disguised cuts to the service, not improvements. I hope to be proved wrong on that.

But finally, a piece of joy. One library service is allowing any well-behaved dog – not just guide dogs – into its libraries on Fridays. Speaking as someone whose dog is currently dozing on my left, I have to strongly encourage that. There’s an article I briefly saw saying that “dogs are the new library cat” and I hope that is never proved wrong. Woof.

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Cardifficulty

Editorial

Sad news from Cardiff, as it has become apparent the council is severely cutting the library service by stealth, cutting many paid and experienced library staff under the guise of a reorganisation. Time has shown that this is the easiest way to gut a public library service without having significant public protest. A closed library causes placards but one renamed a hub with half the floorspace and staff causes annoyance but little more. News received last week – and confirmed by exchanges on social media – is that many of the staff remaining are being quietly pushed out, with housing managers taking over many of the top jobs. You may not see this in the press but you will see sadly see this if you go to one of the libraries. Councils are learning to camouflage their cuts but the damage to the community will, I fear, not be so easily disguised.

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Petition hits over 24,600: tell a friend

Editorial

It’s great to see the petition to safeguard libraries for funding reaching (at time of posting) 24,582 signatures. This is already making an impact, with it being used in evidence when CILIP and others met with the libraries minister and others yesterday. I’d forgotten but there was another one back in 2012 and that, in six months, reached 17,569 names and the new one has five months left to go. Every extra person signing is that little bit extra pressure, and that little bit more evidence that libraries matter. Tell a friend.

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Libraries petition hits 15,000, helping to influence government

Editorial

It’s been great over the weekend to see the outpouring of support for public libraries for the “Protect library services by ringfencing government funding for libraries” petition. On Thursday, it looked like the petition would not reach 8,000 but due to the support of many people commenting on how important libraries are and retweeting, it hit the magic 10,000 – where the government needs to respond – on Saturday lunchtime and is now at a respectable 15,401 and going up at a couple per minute when checked. Notable supporters include – squee! – JK Rowlling, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Joanne Harris and Frank Cottrell Boyce and a ton of other authors. Thank you to Frances Belbin for starting the petition and to everyone who has taken part. It’s not over yet: the petition stays on the books until 24 March 2019 and if it hits 100,000 then it needs to be debated in parliament. It’s a dream. None of us are foolish enough I think to believe this will change government policy but it keeps the pressure up, means every one of us can do something and keep the snowball rolling. And it gives help. Sign now if you haven’t already – it takes 30 seconds and you need to confirm your email address – and tell others. It will give you, and libraries, hope. and the government a reason to think about libraries. I understand it is already helping in conversations with them.

My thanks also to my old tutor, Dr Bob Usherwood, who has taken the time to write below. It’s worth a read. And, yes, I know I am publishing pieces opposed to eachother but, well, I should . It’s what being balanced is all about.

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The Great 2018 Universal Offers Personality Test, if you ever get around to doing it

Editorial

Ooh, so much to talk about today. The bigotry of American fundamentalist Christians when it comes to any view but theirs continues to be in evidence, with one of their number literally burning books to make his point. There’s a not very good historic precedent about that somewhere.

Thankfully we don’t tend to do that here. What we do in this country, and do very well – someone eviller than I would comment we’ve had years of practice –  is procrastinate. Which can annoy. Like for instance, the way it can annoy Michael Rosen who is completely banging his head against the wall of government inactivity when it comes to trying to get them to make every child have a library card. Now, I know it’s not as easy as all that – “you can lead a horse to water” etc, oh, and GDPR – but it’s such a basic move and I can remember listening to Mr Rosen talking about it several years ago in the presence of a schools minister (Nick Gibb I think) who then spent half an hour talking about how great synthetic phonics was, to the collective groaning of his whole audience.

Then we have the “single digital presence”, of which no-one knows quite what it is but there’s been reports written on it since at least 2005. I wish the British Library good luck, and they mean well, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to get meaningful national action, especially in the aforesaid absence of a government willing to do anything meaningful. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that groundwork will be laid for when/if we have a change in government next election. Well, we’ve waited 13 years already, what’s a few more?

Finally, there’s a review of the Universal Offers going on. I don’t have much to say about that other than hope against hope that not more Offers are added. Heaven knows, I find it hard enough to remember all eight now.  Can you? Go on, test yourself. Write down what your remember and see what your score says about you with the fun guide at the bottom of this post.

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“Sick of all the doom and gloom”: Ayub Khan seeks to redress the balance

Editorial

I was at a meeting of the Library Campaign on Saturday, after nipping into the People’s Vote march beforehand. It was full of deeply committed people from all around the country fighting for what they believe is right against a government who needs to pay more attention. And, yes, so was the march.

There is much polarisation in this nation and what’s going on in libraries and with Brexit shows it in sharp relief. But there are good things happening as well. I see some beautiful refurbishments and new buildings, as well as genuine creativity – I love especially toy sleepovers, drag queen story times and dog reading partners but there is at least a new idea a week and so many passionate people. Focusing just on cuts would be to do the library service a disservice, and would personally make me far too angry and depressed to carry on. So it’s good to see Ayub’s piece below trying to redress the balance.

Finally, I need to mark the retirement of Phil Bradley. I knew him first via his CILIP column and his time as president and I was very pleased to be able to catch a chat with him at his home a few years ago. He’s a lovely man, who knows his stuff so well, is passionate and done so much for libraries. Thank you, Phil, thank you.

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O Canada

Editorial

If you like to see nice shiny new libraries the have a look at link below to a whole pile of new Canadian libraries. There’s nothing there that would strike someone as particularly shockingly innovative – well, apart perhaps from the community kitchens – but it’s good to see so much money being spent. Looking back to this country, it’s great to see, gosh, actual books being bought in Hampshire – shockingly, a public survey showed people wanted them, who’d have thought – and sad to see a deep cut confirmed in Hertfordshire, although I understand the council there is genuine in trying to seek the best possible future for libraries after facing some fairly stiff cuts. If you think, though, like apparently many Canadians, that there’s a lot of life left in libraries and that they give huge value rather than cost, then there’s a Library Campaign meeting this Saturday and a protest march on Saturday 3 November, both in London.

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"Librarian of Congress, Dr Carla Hayden, shared some powerful and moving words with us this #LibrariesWeek and we have to say, we couldn't agree more." - taken from the British Library Facebook page

That was the Libraries Week that was

Editorial

Last week, as I imagine absolutely everyone reading this will know, was Libraries Week. Scanning all of the news about the sector, as I do, it’s obvious that the Week does raise the profile of the public libraries. Most interestingly, the libraries minister himself, Michael Ellis, was seen in a public library or two, and even spoke about them, and I understand that even the DCMS minister his or herself (I see their name so rarely I can’t remember) was seen to show a momentary interest too. All the normal allies of libraries – basically, authors and the Guardian – raised their interest and it was notable that the BBC mentioned it a few times too. Most public libraries these days, unlike back when it started, marked the week as did Libraries Connected. And, of course, befitting the origin of the Week in protest, Labour used it to publish the result of a cuts survey. Much of the publicity, indeed the majority, was positive and that’s great because, frankly, the two things Joe Public thinks they know is that libraries are closing (they’re not, massively, but rather being hollowed out) and are becoming outdated due to ebooks (just no).

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