Happy second retirement Jim Brooks

Editorial

Not all of you will know about Jim but he has been one of the most significant figures in public libraries for over a decade. He was until a week or two ago the Chairman of Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire. Yes, one of the very first of the wave of volunteer libraries that since then have swept the country. Little Chalfont and its sister libraries were faced with closure back in the old days of 2006, years before austerity. Rather than just closing, the communities there took a different route and fought the council to keep them open, first as volunteer libraries despite council resistance and then with their support. It was the reported success of these libraries that played a persuasive part in councils encouraging more volunteer libraries when the cuts really started hitting four or five years later. Jim, along with others, provided his experience to other services but was always clear that he’d prefer the library service first and foremost to be council run.  He received a MBE for his service way back in 2011 and has been helpful ever since.

So, that was unexpected wasn’t it? Me paying tribute to a library volunteer. But the thing is Jim and the others are not the ones to blame for the destruction of many a paid library job in the last decade. They do their best to keep open the libraries they love and are in many respects the biggest supporters of the library. No, the ones to blame were and are those pushing austerity, and the electorate who voted them in, who decided to cut public service budgets by so much. Many councils have had their staffing cut by a third or a half – not just in libraries but for all of it – and the bloom in volunteers has been a reaction to that. Volunteers have not been an unmixed blessing, goodness knows. They have split campaigners right down the middle and they’re not as well-trained or skilled as paid staff can be. I could write whole essays on the cons and pros and have once or twice. But, in the communities where they’ve occurred, they have kept libraries open. And I refuse to blame them for that not least because councils have blackmailed so many of them. “Volunteer or the library closes” is the unspoken message I see time and again. And least of all people like Jim who have given over a decade of their retirement to keep a library serving its public.  wish him every luck and good fortune in his second retirement, away from Little Chalfont, where he will finally be able to do some travelling.

Changes

National news

  • The arts overtake agriculture as a UK economic power – but cuts continue – Big Issue. “Theatres, libraries and museums are adding £10.8bn to the UK economy, overtaking farming as an “essential” economic contributor. Arts and culture are about as beneficial to the economy as cities the size of Liverpool or Sheffield, new research has found, with book publishing and performing arts among the most productive parts of the industry.”
  • Blind and deaf Universal Credit claimants ‘humiliated’ by benefits bosses – Daily Record. ““I think many people will be absolutely stunned to learn that the DWP may be advising people with hearing difficulties to book sign language interpreters over the phone, that blind people are being recommended to use public libraries to input personal financial information – but this is the kind of monstrous indignity I have come to expect from the Tories.””
  • CILIP North West Celebration Day – CILIP NW Blog. Includes look at changes in Trafford plus useful general articles.
  • Council elections: A testing time for party alignments – LocalGov. “Labour councillors will protect vital frontline services, the party’s statement says, ‘despite massive ongoing Tory Government cuts, ensuring all libraries, children’s centres and Council youth centres remain open, as well as maintaining weekly bin collections and support services for older people.'” … Greens are “Surprisingly, it focuses on restoring services rather than environmental issues. The Government’s ‘ideological commitment to austerity’, it says, has closed libraries, forced councils to sell public land and laid off the council staff that collect litter, repair roads and care for older people.”
  • Kanopy Expands to the UK – Cordcutters News. “Kanopy has been working with libraries across the US, Canada, and Australia since 2008. The on-demand streaming service provides free access to streaming content for those with a library card at a partnering library. Kanopy has over 30,000 film titles available and is available to over 50 million library patrons.”
  • Revealed: library closures, reduced hours and huge drop in spending on books in North East – Chronicle Live. “More than half the region’s 169 libraries moved to reduced hours between 2013 and 2018 while 42 closed altogether and 23 only stayed open when they were taken on by volunteers or third party operators.” … “Sunderland saw the biggest number of library closures between 2013 and 2018, with its 20 libraries being reduced to just three. County Durham kept all of its libraries open but reduced hours in every one, while Newcastle reduced hours in 12 of the 14 libraries it maintained (from an original 15). Staffing numbers in libraries in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham fell from 704 to 499 over the five-year period while spending on libraries as a whole fell from £26.5m in 2013 to £22.4m in 2018. Spending on books and other stock fell from £2.4m to £1.4m.” … “The 49% reduction in books borrowed was the largest fall of any region in England. The total number of books in stock fell by 21%.”
  • Time to Read launches ‘Book Bingo’ in north west libraries – BookSeller. “People in the north west are being encouraged to use their libraries with a “Book Bingo” contest worth up to £200. The game, launched by library partnership Time to Read, challenges players to read a book from five different categories on their bingo-style form. By doing so, they can complete a straight line on their sheet and enter a free regional prize draw for the chance to win the £200 main prize or a £100 regional one. There are 25 categories to choose from, ranging from genres like biography to challenges like “re-read a book you love” or “chosen with your eyes closed”.”
  • Your Library? Shut down – Gulls. “Libraries are not closing because of lack of use. They’re closing because the Tory government doesn’t care about our right to read. Your library? Shut down. If not already, then perhaps soon. Our new single, Shop, is released 19.04.2019 “Fun, clever and puts libraries centre stage among all the precious things that are being destroyed to serve greed and austerity. We love it.” The Library Campaign”

International news

  • Australia – ALIA National Simultaneous StorytimeALIA. “National Simultaneous Storytime (NSS) is held annually by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). Every year a picture book, written and illustrated by an Australian author and illustrator, is read simultaneously in libraries, schools, pre-schools, childcare centres, family homes, bookshops and many other places around the country. Now in its 19th successful year, it is a colourful, vibrant, fun event that aims to promote the value of reading and literacy, using an Australian children’s book that explores age-appropriate themes, and addresses key learning areas of the National Curriculum for Foundation to Year 6.”
  • 11 things really annoying people do in libraries – Rachel’s List. Snffing, being very loud, making conference calls, bratty kids, eating, porn on PCs, damaging property, pets, being abusive, being romantic, playing around,
  • Canada – Budget cut a sign that Doug Ford’s contempt for libraries persists – Star. “If I have a litmus test for politicians, it might be this: if they don’t understand the value of public libraries, then I don’t trust them. Because a person who doesn’t understand public libraries doesn’t understand community, and doesn’t understand civilization. Libraries are pillars of both. Why, you may ask, do I take the time to mention this now? Well, it seems the provincial budget has slashed the Ontario Library Service budget by 50 per cent …”
  • Eire – Homophobic backlash has forced a library to cancel an event for children hosted by drag queens – Canary. “An Irish drag collective has had its upcoming story-time event for children cancelled after a homophobic backlash. Glitter Hole was due to hold the event at Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown (DLR) library on 26 June. According to the library, it was to be the “first ever Drag Story Time event” held there. But DLR library has since cancelled the event. It said “this event will not now go ahead at this time”. Initially, it suggested this was because of concerns about “age appropriateness”, though it later said homophobic abuse was responsible.
  • European Union – A Library Manifesto for EuropeEurope 4 Libraries. “
  • Global – Why Students Should Use Public Libraries – Princh.
  • India – The city that crowdfunded its only library from a Facebook post – Ozy. “August 2017, businessman Imtisunup Longchar put up a post on Facebook seeking help to build a library for his community. The reason: There was no library in all of Dimapur, the largest city inNagaland, India. The response was overwhelming: People offered books, money and advice …”
  • Spain – 3GATTI envisions the ‘green spaceship’ library landing in madrid’s villaverde – Designboom “the ground floor is designed to be completely transparent to the public and contain all the ‘noisy’ functions, while the upper floor, characterized by a floating monolithic volume, will house all the ‘quiet’ functions, such as silent study zones.”
  • USA – We Increased Summer Reading Participation by a Whopping 97 Percent! Here Are the Four Easy Changes that Worked. – Super Library Marketing. Remove library card requirement, use paper tracking so kids can use it, add experiences, make a game out of getting the prize (scratch-off cards)
  • In a world of Google and Amazon, libraries rethink their role – C-Net. “People will still be coming in for books and special collections, but my guess is over the longer haul, libraries will end up being the civic spaces, particularly in poorer neighborhoods where people have no place else to go that’s quiet,” Marx said. “Places where they can sit, where they can have a computer and be treated with respect and not asked for their credentials.””
  • Shh, No Roaring! When A Lion Lived In The Downtown Milwaukee Library Building – WUWM. “The expedition crew grew attached and brought Sim by ship to Milwaukee. He arrived at the Library and Museum Building 90 years ago, on Saturday, April 13, 1929.”

Local news by authority

  • Aberdeen – Aberdeen library charges set to increase – Evening Express. “Fines, multi-media items and photocopying costs will go up at Aberdeen City Libraries from April 29. Fines will cost 50p per week or part of a week, with five or more weeks charged at £4. Previously it was set at 45p per week, and £3.60 for five weeks or more overdue items. Fines for language courses will be £1.10 per week, and single DVDs/Blu-Rays a maximum of £10 for eight or more weeks. Charges will increase for multi-media library items such as CDs, which will rise to £1 per item, two language courses at £1 per item, four DVDs or Blu-Rays will be £2.10 per item and two DVD box sets with four or more disks at £3.50 per item. Photocopying in black and white will be 15p for A4 and 30p for A3”
  • Bracknell Forest – Bracknell Library hosted the free lunch and spoke with its volunteers – Bracknell News.
  • Cumbria – Children write about ‘inspiring’ Lego event at Barrow Library – Mail.
  • Darlington – Letters: ‘We need clarity from Cllr Harker over Darlington library’s future’ – Northern Echo. “Friends of Darlington Libraries are concerned at the recent article (Echo, Apr 3) in which the council leader, Stephen Harker attempts to justify the announcement in February 2016 of Darlington Borough Council’s intention to close Crown Street Library and to move the service to the Dolphin Centre. He states that: “It is more important to hear what people in Darlington want, rather than just my view”. This was clearly not the case in the past, and it was only the closure of M&S and uncertainty around Binns that caused the council’s U-turn.”
  • Denbighshire – Novel project thought to be first of its kind in North Wales will see mini libraries ‘pop up’ in Rhyl – Journal. “This is very much an extension of the town’s successful library and sees us working together to reach out to the community, help boost literacy and instil in people the somewhat old-fashioned joy of picking up a book for free.” The project, believe to be the first of its kind in North Wales, has been funded by Rhyl Town Council” … “Rhyl’s librarian Deborah Owen said: “The idea of people stumbling across a book in unusual places really appealed to us. Finding the little libraries and the books will be as much a part of the joy as reading them.””
  • Derby – Lib Dems want better housing, more e-bikes and successful libraries in DerbyDerbyshire Live. “In Liberal Democrats Change Derby’s Future – which has the strapline Demand Better for Derby – the group has pledged to prioritise building good affordable homes, deal with fly-tipping and ensure the city has successful libraries.”
  • Derbyshire – Labour slams ‘disturbing outburst’ by Derbyshire County Council’s Tory leader – Derbyshire Times. “Barry Lewis, Tory leader at Derbyshire County Council, has accused Labour’s Anne Western and Ruth George of ‘blocking attempts’ to allow individuals and groups to come forward to run 20 local libraries.” … “Councillor Western, leader of the Labour group on the council, and High Peak MP Mrs George have both categorically denied doing this – and described Coun Lewis’s ‘latest outburst’ as ‘bizarre’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘disturbing’.”
  • Dorset – Weymouth Library undergoes refurbishment – Dorset Echo. “Dorset Council is working with partners and other agencies to bring together a range of services and teams into one shared building, as a ‘library and learning centre’. The library building in Great George Street in the town centre is being adapted to offer space for: * The town’s library * Skills & Learning – thelocal Adult Learning provider which offers a variety of high quality courses and learning opportunities to the community and training opportunities to local employers …”
  • Essex – Children to lead libraries protest in ColchesterGazette Standard. “A Young People’s March for Libraries is being held in Colchester’s town centre, in protest against Essex County Council’s proposal to close a third of libraries in the next five years. Children will march through the town centre in opposition to plans which could affect libraries in Prettygate, Stanway, Wivenhoe, Mersea and Tiptree. Campaigners with the Colchester branch of Save Our Libraries Essex claim Essex County Council “failed to directly seek the views of under 19s during the consultation process”, a claim the council disputes.”
    • 20,000 respond to Essex library plans consultation – Clacton Gazette.
    • Campaigners rally against Walton library threat – Gazette. “Delyth Miles, vice-chair of the recently founded Friends of Walton Library committee, said her town “desperately” needs the facility.”
    • Coggeshall Library campaigners vow to keep fighting – Gazette News. “Coggeshall Community Library Group has announced it will host a protest march and celebratory reading session in the coming weeks in an effort to protect the future of the service in the village. “
    • Fat cats at Essex Council pay themselves millions while plotting to axe libraries in impoverished wards – Yellow Advertiser. “Data published on Tuesday, April 9, revealed Essex Council had more staffers on more than £100,000 per year than any other council in Britain. The five highest-paid employees earn a combined £1.03million per year in salary and perks. Meanwhile, County Hall is planning to axe 25 libraries, saving an estimated £974,000 per year.”
    • Library petition figures re-released by Essex County Council – Gazette News. “The data said 58,245 signatures were handed in on 53 petitions. But Wivenhoe Library was listed as having just 16 signatures on one petition and Brightlingsea Library was not listed at all.” … “The new data, set to go before councillors this week, said 59,855 signatures had come from 56 petitions.”
    • Protest group’s day of action as libraries decision looms – Southend Standard. “Save Our Castle Point Libraries will be marching on Saturday to keep the pressure on Essex County Council bosses as they decide the fate of libraries across the county. ” … ““The idea that volunteers can run our libraries is just a fig leaf to cover the reality of the cuts. Volunteers play a fantastic role already in areas like the home library service, but they will never be a substitute for professional library staff”
  • Hampshire – Hampshire interlibrary loan fees rise by as much as 500 per cent after service review – News. “Readers hoping to take out a book which needs to be acquired from a library elsewhere in the UK will now have to pay £20, compared to the previous charge of £4.” … “While the provision is time consuming and expensive to offer, with many of the books requested either out of print or specialist publications which are costly to purchase, we want to continue to be able to offer this option to our customers. ‘The only way we can afford to do this however, is at a rate which more closely matches the actual cost of providing the service.’ “. Portsmouth charges £4.50, Southampton £3 and Isle of Wight £8.50.
  • Haringey – Muswell Hill Library’s historic mural: ‘Decidedly striking’ artwork that’s turned heads for since the 1930s – Ham High. “The mural has been cited as one of the reasons behind the building’s Grade II listing, while visitors to this day are entertained by the mythic depictions of the – purported – discovery of the Mossy Well that gives Muswell Hill its name.”
  • Hertfordshire – Cost of moving Redbourn and Wheathampstead libraries into fire stations soars by £674,000 – St Albans Review. “he existing Redbourn Library has been operating out of a temporary building that’s said to be ‘not fit for purpose’. And Wheathampstead is in space leased from the parish council, which could request it back at a later date. But within weeks, residents of both villages will be able to access renewed and refurbished library facilities at their nearby on-call fire stations.” … “They were told that tenders for the two sites had been £200,000 higher than set out in the initial feasibility study – and that once on site, construction costs had risen by a further £240,000.”
  • Hull – Giant hippo takes to Hull’s streets as Big Malarkey Festival programme announced – Hull Live. “A giant hippopotamus was spotted strolling though Hull city centre today as the city’s libraries announced the programme for this year’s long awaited The Big Malarkey Festival.  The children’s literature festival has been in East Park for the past two years and will be returning in June. To mark the announcement of the programme launch this weekend, organisers gave everyone a sneak peak of what’s to come this summer – in the shape of a giant animal.”
  • Islington – How library figures tell a story about Islington bookworms – Islington Tribune. “A freedom of information request submitted by the Tribune, to find out the borough’s most borrowed library books and CDs for the past few years, proves once and for all residents are a literary bunch with a penchant for indie music.”
  • Kirklees – Revamp of Kirklees libraries slammed as volunteers say ‘enough is enough’ – Examine Live. “Kirklees Council has been urged to look again at its planned revamp of the borough’s libraries. The call came as part of wider concerns over whether cutting frontline library staff will put extra pressure on volunteers and cause libraries to struggle during periods when they are on holiday” … “Proposals mean libraries could act as hubs for a range of services such as the voluntary and community sector, primary care, adult and children’s social care, and communities teams as well as access to networked libraries elsewhere.”
  • Lincolnshire – Gift of reading for Long Sutton Men’s Shed from town library – Spalding Today. “Tuesday (April 23) marks World Book Night – and to celebrate, Long Sutton library will be gifting books to the town’s Men’s Shed.”
  • North Yorkshire – Take a virtual trip into the heart of Africa – North Yorkshire County Council. “We are teaming up with the BBC to present the virtual reality pop-up event. Visitors will put on a virtual reality headset and find themselves on assignment with BBC Africa correspondent Alastair Leithead as he explores this conflicted country. They will meet gorillas up close and personal, visit the ruins of the palace of former President Mobutu deep in the jungle, join United Nations soldiers in an armoured vehicle as they visit a refugee camp, fish the rapids and meet Sapeurs, members of the La Sape social movement that emphasises style and appearance.”
    • Library giveaway for World Book Night – North Yorkshire County Council. “To complement the book giveaway, there will be a recital by harpist Bridget Cousins in the library on 23 April from 3pm to 4pm. Anyone attending can show their library card or join the library to claim their book. Joining is free and no ID is needed.”
    • Library refurbishment will improve services – North Yorkshire County Council. “Improvements will include a new children’s library, new books and space for community events and activities, including learning activities delivered by the County Council’s Adult Learning and Skills Service.”
    • Sing for joy with new wellbeing choir at Scarborough Library – Scarborough News. “It is the brainchild of library supervisor Dee Johnston, who has a musical background and has taught music. Pianist Paul McCann will run the choir with Dee. “Dee said: “The idea came about because a couple of customers asked me if I had thought of setting up a community choir.
  • Oldham – Annual Bookmark festival returns to Oldham libraries – Oldham Evening Chronicle. “Bookmark Festival returns to Oldham Libraries for its seventh year with lots of fun-filled, book-related events and activities for all ages to enjoy.”
  • Oxfordshire – New health scheme means library staff ‘make every contact count’ – Oxford Mail. “As part of a scheme called Making Every Contact Count (MECC), some staff in the county’s libraries have been trained to help turn conversations with customers into constructive lifestyle support as part of a pilot project. In an effort to make libraries a place where people might turn to for help in improving their lifestyle, sections dedicated to health within the libraries have been supplemented with leaflets promoting wellbeing and healthy choices.”
  • Powys – Powys’ libraries consultation remains open until Sunday, April 28 – Powys County Times.Powys residents are being urged to continue to contribute their views about the future delivery of library services in the county. This comes even though the service has been granted a reprieve and has a year to find savings of at least £200,000 and potentially more.”
  • Richmond – Proposed closure of Heathfield Library Access Point – Richmond Council. “This report recommends a new approach to the provision of library services in Heathfield ward, moving away from the single inefficient Heathfield Library Access Point towards a wider, more geographically diverse offering which delivers library services closer to the point of need and in collaboration with local service providers.”
  • Southwark – Free video streaming launches in Southwark LibrariesSouthwark News. “Free online films are now available to anyone with a Southwark library card thanks to a partnership with a streaming site, writes Josh Mellor… Kanopy is a website that offers film streaming services in the same way as Netflix or BBC’s iPlayer.” … “
    • Southwark’s library cut reversal interrogated  – News Shopper. “The proposals were announced alongside a raft of other cost-saving measures following an £8.6 million cut in central government funding. But Southwark announced a new £1m library fund in January, after proposals to cut library opening hours by one day a week were scrapped. Lib Dem Cllr Victor Chamberlain questioned why proposals to cut the service had been raised, with the value of the library service well-known.”
  • Suffolk – Library bans non-members from using toilets to tackle anti-social behaviour – Ipswich Star. “Suffolk Libraries said it had to bring in the measures at Ipswich County Library in Northgate Street because of a spate of incidents.”
    • Suffolk Libraries mental health project shortlisted for libraries award – Suffolk Libraries. “The Open Space project has been announced as a finalist in the social category of the EDGE Libraries Conference Awards which are held in Edinburgh as part of an annual libraries conference. The awards recognise and promote outstanding library-based initiatives which celebrate the value of libraries across the UK.”
  • West Berkshire – Libraries helping those with EU ‘settled status’ – Newbury Today. “Library staff can look at the requirements with applicants and guide them through the online application process.  They will check that applicants have the required documentation and assist with scanning and uploading anything necessary to complete the online form, including photo ID. There is no charge for this service, but advance booking is necessary”
  • West Dunbartonshire – Line-up for Booked! festival is here – Dunbarton Reporter.
  • West Sussex – ‘Well-dressed’ man watches extreme porn in library just yards from children – Mirror. “Library user Chris Winfield was ‘disgusted’ when he looked up and saw a man in front of him watching a series of gay porn clips featuring masturbation and anal sex. Chris said the man, in his mid to late 30s, seemed “comfortable” and like he “didn’t have a care in the world” as he watched the clips in Crawley Library, West Sussex.” … “Chris stopped filming and reported the sleazy user to library staff – who was promptly booted out.” . [US libraries often allow watching of porn due to “freedom of speech” issues. Interesting that the Mirror and apparently the library saw nothing wrong in one person film another in the library – Ed.]
  • Worcestershire – Campaigners to hold protest at St John’s library after petition is handed in – Worcester News. “Residents campaigning to keep open a Worcester library have handed in a petition, ahead of the latest protest this weekend. The group, called Save St John’s Library Services, started the campaign amid fears the Glebe Close library service could be cut, or even closed. The petition was launched last year after Worcestershire County Council said it intended to slash £1 million from its library budget by the end of the financial year in 2021, as a result of cuts to local government funding.”
    • Editor’s View: Libraries are priceless and should be protected  – Worcester News. “t is easy to say that libraries are dying out, but that is a very simplistic view. Yes, fewer people are coming in to check out books than they used to, but that does not factor in the many other uses libraries like the one in St John’s have. Every day, community groups such as play groups, chess clubs, schools and similar visit the library to use its facilities. The library is far more than just a building full of books, it is a vital centre for the community, and, as one protestor told the Worcester News: “We need things like this in St John’s just to keep the place going.”
    • Petition to keep staff at Bewdley Library handed to council – Worcester News. “The 1,000-signature petition was delivered to senior staff on Tuesday (April 16) in response to a consultation launched by the council to cut £800,000 from the county’s libraries budget. A protest was held outside Bewdley Library in December as users feared the county’s smaller libraries would bear the brunt of council cuts.”

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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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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