UK public library funding and usage both decline by 4% 2017/18. Coincidence?

Editorial

The newest comprehensive (well. OK, eight months after the event and missing one-fifth of all library services) annual Cipfa figures on public library performance have been released. They show a decline in usage of 4% mirrored by a cut in budget of the same, not taking into account the cut of around a further 2% due to inflation. Staffing is down by 4%, volunteer hours up by nearly the same and book issues down by around 5%. So it’s all around the similar amount. Correlation does not however imply causality but they’ve been similar-ish for years and there have notably not been such declines in use in the USA where funding has stayed fairly stable.

Well, that’s my take. Tim Coates, quoted in both the Guardian and the BookSeller, denies any impact caused by budget cuts and places the blame squarely on librarians being incompetent. So, if I’m being as balanced as those two sources, I guess it could be that as well. What does your direct personal experience tell you? I know which mine does.

Changes

Ideas

  • Calmness packs – include lava lamps, aromatherapy and noise cancelling headphones but, weirdly, no books.
  • Guerilla kindness – leaving positive messages in books.

National news

  • Branch closures: Libraries are on borrowed time, act now to save them – Express. “The Daily Express today launches a crusade to save our neglected public libraries from extinction. Campaigners, celebrities and politicians have swung behind our campaign to ensure that the nation’s books are available for the benefit of anyone. Experts are calling for an urgent “national rethink” on the library service or run the risk of the beloved institutions disappearing from our communities altogether.” … “Tory MP Robert Halfon, whose Essex constituency is among those being hardest hit by library closures, said he backed the crusade “100 per cent” and accused both local authorities and central government of being “short-sighted”. Those on the front line also called for urgent action to be taken.”
  • Culture and libraries peer challenge  – Local Government Association. “The LGA and Arts Council England are also delighted to introduce a specific library service peer challenge, following the success of cultural peer challenges. Libraries have transformed significantly over the past decade, but there are still further steps to be taken. The library service peer challenge can be tailored to your local needs, whether that is providing you with an objective analysis of the effect of service changes, testing out ideas for further transformation including community libraries or a trust model, or assessing how well the library service is embedded in council delivery of corporate objectives. The peer team can also help you to assess your evidence of impact and advice on how to target limited resources or explore the strength of your partnerships and identify possibilities for more collaborative working, among other things.”
  • CWA Dagger in the Library – Crime Writers Association. “The Dagger in the Library is a prize for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire. Only librarians can nominate authors for the award. It is one of the most prestigious crime writing awards in the UK and previous winners include Mari Hannah, Elly Griffiths, Christopher Fowler, Sharon Bolton, Belinda Bauer, Mo Hayder, Stuart MacBride, Jake Arnott, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephen Booth, Peter Robinson,  Lindsey Davis and in 2018 Martin Edwards.
    Nominations for the CWA Dagger in the Library 2019 are now open.”
  • Farewell from Neil – Libraries Connected. “As I sit on the train heading to the SCL seminar I’m reflecting on the last two years and my term as President of SCL. Apart from it having been the quickest two years of my entire life it has been one of major transformation for the organisation whilst at the same time successfully delivering on a wide range of activity as part of its funding award from Arts Council England.”
  • Libraries lose branches and staff as spending continues to drop  – Cipfa. “Spending by local authorities on public libraries fell by £30m, with the service losing 712 full time employees (FTEs), as well as a net loss of 127 service points in 2017/18. This follows a trend which has seen the number of public libraries and paid staff fall every year since 2010, with spending reduced by 12% in Britain in the last four years. CIPFA’s survey showed 51,394 volunteers putting in 1,780,843 hours in 2017/18, as libraries come to rely on the passion of members of their community to keep the service alive. “

“Out of the 205 local authorities the questionnaire was sent to within Great Britain, 166 in total completed the questionnaire, this represents an 81% response rate. The grossing methodology is based upon the principle of making an estimate according to the most recent available source.”

“Despite Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over, library funding and staff levels continue to fall and libraries are closing across the country.”Libraries are at the heart of our communities and are engines of social mobility.” Kevin Brennan, Shadow libraries minister.

  • Scotland’s readers now devour thrillers rather than romance novels – Falkirk Herald. Same move from Romance to Crime seen everywhere else.
  • Statement on CIPFA’s annual library survey – Libraries Connected. “The latest CIPFA figures are extremely worrying for anyone who cares about libraries. Local authorities are clearly struggling to manage huge financial reductions across all service areas. However, library closures can be devastating for local people who depend on their library to provide a range of services and a valued community space. It is clear that this situation cannot be allowed to continue which is why we’re working with partners to explore different options for how libraries could be funded, managed and delivered in the future.” {This is the complete statement – Ed.]
  • #uklibchat 10th December – Wishes for your library and you – Uklibchat. “At the year end, we hope to finish on a lighter note – we look back and forward to find the positives and hopes for the year ahead”
  • World Book Day Share A Story Live Tour – World Book Day. “World Book Day will be bringing books to life for children in four locations across the UK – Dundee, Bradford, Swindon and Manchester – rallying young readers around the excitement of sharing a story – live on stage. The World Book Day Share A Story Live tour features a diverse line-up of speakers – from World Book Day authors and illustrators including Sibéal Pounder, Abi Elphinstone, Steven Lenton and Frank Cottrell-Boyce, to performance poet and playwright Joseph Coelho; and from Making Herstory CEO and Founder Onjali Q. Raúf, to World Book Day illustrator Rob Biddulph. The series has been created to appeal to the widest possible range of children and young people”

Axiell Selflib
International news

Local news by authority

“Can we have an urgent statement on protecting public libraries? In a potential act of barbarism and cultural vandalism, Essex County Council is threatening to close libraries in disadvantaged and deprived areas of my constituency of Harlow—a disgraceful decision. These libraries are treasured by the community and schoolchildren as an important place of reading. Will my right hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and get these cuts reversed?” Robert Halfon, Chair, Education Committee in House of Commons.

“My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. We all know the value of libraries in our communities. It is not just about accessing books; many other community activities take place, bringing people together and providing them with support and guidance. The Government are committed to seeking a sustainable future for libraries. As he will be aware, local authorities in England have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. I am aware that Essex County Council’s consultation on its proposals closes on 20 February. I am sure that he and his constituents will want to participate in that consultation.” Andrea Leadsom MP. They Work For You.

  • Gloucestershire – How Gloucestershire libraries are supporting business growth – Libraries Taskforce. “the Growth Hub has a strong digital presence and all local businesses can access online business support. This is complimented by a network of local venues. There are two Tier 1 Growth Hubs – one located at the University of Gloucestershire and the other at the Royal Agricultural University – that bring together a number of support services for businesses in ambitious and stimulating spaces.”
  • Hertfordshire – Libraries lead the way – Hertfordshire Council. “According to information recorded from the last financial year of 2017/18 released this month, there were more than 3.5m visits to the county’s libraries, with a further 2.2m accessing library services online. In comparison, the Science Museum had 3.25m, Tower of London 2.84m and Stonehenge 1.58m*. ”
  • Northamptonshire – New Northamptonshire libraries plan will see most remain open – Northampton Chronicle. “After 12 months of drama and uncertainty surrounding the library provision in Northamptonshire the county council has released a revised plan which will see 14 of the county’s 36 libraries remain under county council control and the remaining 22 hopefully handed over to community groups to manage. However the council’s chief executive has said that some of the 12 library buildings that the council itself owns will close, details of which have not yet been released.”
  • Lewisham – Closing libraries in Lewisham ‘a false economy’ comments SSL representative Dr Alice Corble – London News Online. “Lewisham council had lined up a £450,000 cut to library services earlier this month before the decision was postponed until April while feasibility tests are run rebuilding the Lewisham Library. The Save Lewisham Libraries (SLL) campaign are battling to protect the four council run libraries in Catford, Downham, Deptford and Lewisham – that have around 60 members of staff across them.”
  • Lincolnshire – New operator for two Lincoln libraries – Lincolnite. “Learning Communities ran the Birchwood, Boultham and Ermine libraries and communities hub until it stopped trading in May 2018.Ignite is taking on the running of Birchwood and Boultham libraries, which have been supported by the council’s main library provider Greenwich Leisure Limited since Learning Communities ceased trading.”
  • Pembrokeshire – First look inside The Riverside, Haverfordwest’s £3million new county library – Tivyside Advertiser. “A week of activities will mark the opening of Glan-yr-afon/The Riverside, the county’s new flagship cultural centre. The exciting new development on the town’s riverside will welcome visitors for the first time later this week, but the Western Telegraph was lucky enough to have a sneak peek of the £3m facility.”
  • Sheffield – A big thank you to all volunteer library staff – Star / Letters. “Happily libraries are surviving and it is only down to the stalwart work put in by its hard working volunteers.” … “We all know that there are no longer paid members of staff in libraries like Stannington Library. This is not going to change, but while we have the dedication and commitment of people who care what happens in their local community, we have an alternative, and not one that is sub standard in any way.”
  • Somerset – Somerset libraries to close or be run by communities – Somerset County Gazette. “The final chapter for the facilities in Highbridge and Sunningdale will end on Saturday, December 29, to be replaced with new ‘outreach’ services in the New Year.A further 13 facing possible closure have been saved after community partners stepped forward to express and interest in forming community library partnerships (CLPs).”
  • Wandsworth – Harry Potter and BFG among missing books in Wandsworth libraries – Wandsworth Guardian. “Through a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Wandsworth Times, it was found that between 2016-18, 21,716 books have gone missing. This works out to about 20 books or library items a day across the entire borough. “
  • Worcestershire – Residents cram into St John’s library to voice opposition to council changes – Worcester News. “More than 80 residents crammed into the Glebe Close library – with more standing outside – at a lively roadshow held by the county council to find out the views of library users across the county.” … “Some of the proposed changes outlined in the council’s review include reducing hours, axing staff, handing libraries over to communities,
  • York – Libraries in trouble if they can’t afford £25 book – Yorkshire Post / Letters. “I requested a copy of the Conservative minister Jesse Norman’s well-reviewed book about Adam Smith, the economist on the £20 note. They refused to buy it. The cost was £25, not high for a book these days. York Explore (and by default the city council) risks breaching the 1964 Public Library and Museums Act which requires provision of a “comprehensive and efficient” service.”

Well, at least in one way, UK public libraries are leading the way on privacy

Editorial

The launch of the very good guide to privacy for library staff was a nice surprise – befittingly, they kept that quiet – as it is very well written and includes an excellent call to arms by Aude Charillon as well as useful tips and examples. Do have a read. Sadly, I think the only thing many public library services are currently leading on privacy-wise is not sharing their performance data. There’s an excellent article by Libraries Stats on the continuing drama of CIPFA trying to control access to library figures (or, rather, “professionally collate” them and then refuse to give them to anyone who does not have £650) and also the rather poor record of some library services in sharing their data on request. This is a very ironic shame, and shameful, for library services. I was taught in library school that we were signposts to people, not locked doors, but that does not seem to be the case for many. I hope the trend towards Open Data apparent elsewhere finally reaches the library sector soon.

Well, I don’t often mention my own library service on the website, for obvious reasons of the need to keep work and blog separate. But it would be off of me if I did not mention Cheshire West and Chester Council library service winning not just the Transformation award for which it was entered but also the Overall Award as well, and it would also be wrong if I did mentioned they’re my employer. So, well done colleagues, well done library service and well done the Guardian for their continuing support for libraries. That’s at least something that’s not secret.

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Big dip in Summer Reading Challenge take-up, volunteers report and a libraries roadmap

Editorial

Three things catch my eye this post. The first is the decline in the Summer Reading Challenge figures this year – a 8% drop is quite serious. From talking to various people, the view is that those library services still doing outreach (and most specifically school assemblies) for it are doing far better than those who no longer do such things. There may be other factors – the theme (possibly, although I liked the Beano myself) and the weather – but, dudes, when you no longer tell people about your product, or can’t afford to d so, then people may not get to know about it. I don’t need an MA in Librarianship to work that out. Speaking of not needing qualifications (wow, I’m getting good at links, nine years in to this PLN thing), I include a report from Deepings volunteer library, which is reportedly going from strength to strength. What’s happening to volunteer libraries is a source of much heated debate – from those who say they’re abjectedly awful to those who thing they’re brilliantly brilliant – but good to hear from the people themselves, until there’s some actual research carried out.

Finally, CILIP, Libraries Connected and Carnegie have got together to look at how public libraries should evolve, with reference to what’s happening internationally as well as in this country. Good to see. It’s be fascinating to see what they come up with. I can say, though, from researching this for the last decade, that there’s no magic pill out there. It’s all down to having the resources, as well as the will, to change – and the strength and wisdom to know when not to change and avoid the shiny. Having said that, I’d like a funded research trip if there’s one going …

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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.

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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.

Changes by local authority

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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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