2000 fewer libraries? Ed Vaizey again decides not to intervene

Editorial

Mr Vaizey has again decided not to intervene in a library service that is severely reducing it’s number of branches and budget. In his letter saying he is “minded not to intervene” in Lincoolnshire, he makes it clear that 15 static libraries, online provision and a housebound book delivery service meet the statutory requirement for provision.  It accepts that the other 30 branches can be closed or passed to volunteers but, crucially, does not include them in making its final judgement – they are therefore effectively entirely optional and the council can do with them as it pleases, electorate willing.  The county council of Lincolnshire accounts for around 850,000 people so that raises the bar to 56,000 people per branch library being an acceptable figure.  So those who think that one should have a library in anything smaller than a middle to large town should consider writing to the minister before 24th April.

It’s worth bearing in mind, by the way, that that ratio would mean the secretary of state would be happy with less than one thousand libraries in all of England: 2000 – or two-thirds – fewer than now. One of the reasons for this acceptance appears to be that housebound library services are a “replacement” for those who cannot get into a local library, which is a scary thing where someone delivering the books to an incapacitated person in their own home can be used as an excuse to close down a vital service.

Changes

National news

  • Chrissie in the running for national learning award – Eastbourne Herald. ” mother-of-three is in the running for a national award after following her dream of becoming a teacher – with the help of courses at her local library. Hailsham-based Chrissie Price, originally from 
Eastbourne, is a regional finalist in the learndirect
 Inspiration Awards, organised by the online learning provider to recognise people who go the extra mile to develop their skills.”
  • Putting the spot light on Picture Books – Neilsen. “Picture Book loans have done well for this period with a growth of 17.3% to 865k from last period’s 737k, unsurprising as half term fell in this period. Three of the top Picture Book titles of this period appeared in the Top 5 of the same period in 2014. Superworm and Where the Wild Things Are are the two newcomers in the Top 5 this period. Two Julia Donaldson titles, Superworm and The Gruffalo, feature in both this month’s Nielsen LibScan Top 5 chart and the Nielsen BookScan TCM (Total Consumer Market) Top 10 chart for Picture Books”
  • Views on volunteer-led libraries sought – Speak Up for Libraries. “Speak Up for Libraries would welcome hearing from anyone with a view about volunteer-led ‘libraries’ (often called ‘Community Libraries’), whether it be that of a volunteer, a library worker or a library user. What works well and what doesn’t? … A summary of the evidence will be published. All information received will be anonymised unless specific permission has been given to identify the contributor and the names of library or library service.”

International

Vacancies

The British Council has asked that we encourage UK colleagues to take a close look at an amazing new post. The British Council is opening new libraries in Pakistan (initially in Lahore and Karachi) as part of a bigger programme for a refreshed engagement with local people, to promote British Culture, encourage enterprise and build positive relations with key partners in Pakistani society. The British Council is looking to the UK for a Director to lead the programme. This is a fantastic opportunity to take on a unique and challenging but fascinating role with – you will see – a great package of salary and rewards. The advert is here on the CILIP Lisjobnet. Don’t hesitate to at least take a look and give it some real thought. It could change your life – and will help many others! The closing date is quite soon so take a look now. ” John Dolan (Salary is £90,000 but free flights)

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Author’s plea to stop library cuts at demo – Barnet Today. “Nicole Burstein was speaking outside Edgware Library on Saturday before a march by Save Barnet Libraries. Protesters walked to Mill Hill Library via Burnt Oak Library – two buildings which could be closed altogether under Barnet Council’s plans to cut 60 per cent from the libraries budget. Nicole, who grew up round the corner in Penshurst Gardens, said: “I have been using Edgware Library for as long as I can remember. It is because of my passion for reading that I ended up doing a degree in English literature, and a masters in creative writing.””
  • Birmingham – Birmingham moots library cooperative model – BookSeller.
  • Croydon/Lambeth - Upper Norwood Library investigates who got the loot – Inside Croydon. Impressive events list.
  • Hackney – The secret’s out: advocating for housebound library services in Hackney – CILIP. “Hackney’s best kept secret” was the tantalisingly modest claim in its promotional leaflet when I joined the Community Library Service in 2008. I realised that the key to success could be letting people in on the so-called ‘secret’ so that they could help us grow, improve our service offer, better serve our users and – ultimately – safeguard the service for the future. But how to proceed… We started a targeted promotion of our service.  We used the skills, time and expertise of our staff and local people to make a short film about the service which was shown in common rooms and daycentres and uploaded on YouTube.  Our worth was recognised outside libraries when a link to the film was prominent on the front page of Hackney’s Adult Social Care ‘iCare’ webpage. We had tables at health related events and I ran and presented training for health-associated workers and professionals. With national news reporting the growth of isolation in the elderly and the pressure on doctors to prescribe more than drugs, we were a perfect fit. A free service that provided regular calls to the elderly and disabled taking them books, talking books, films, music and jigsaws to entertain them, inform them and fill lonely hours.” … “Today, we’re one of Hackney’s worst kept secrets, much to our delight. The latest CIPFA survey results show that we have the largest number of housebound service users in London. People come from all over the UK to see how we operate. “
  • Harrow – Harrow library strategy 2015-2018 - Harrow Council. Full details of proposed changes to the service.
  • Hertfordshire – Merger plans look healthy for Knebworth library and surgery – Mercury. “Hertfordshire County Council has been given the green light to negotiate a fee to bring Knebworth’s surgery and library together. The Knebworth and Marymead Medical Practice has decided its demand has outgrown the current building, in Station Road. The move to the library was suggested to the council by General Practice Investments, which is footing the bill for the redevelopment.”
  • Kent – Last chance to have a say on libraries consultation – Kent Media Hub. “An extensive 12-week public consultation on KCC’s plans to modernise its Libraries, Registration and Archives service by the creation of a charitable trust closes next week (Wednesday, 8 April). Since the consultation’s launch on 12 January, KCC’s Libraries, Registration and Archives service has organised a series of 27 roadshows across the county to give Kent residents the chance to learn more about KCC’s plans. In addition, residents have been invited to register their views online at www.kent.gov.uk/libraries and a questionnaire contained in an explanatory booklet has been available in county libraries.”
  • Lambeth – Anger at cultural cutback – Brixton Blog. “Friends of Lambeth’s libraries and parks, including those in Brixton, have criticised Lambeth council for its proposals to reduce cultural services. They have branded its Culture 2020 consultation “pointless” and said that the council do not understand the seriousness of what they are doing. The proposals include the sale of Waterloo and Minet Libraries, having community groups take over running three others, cuts to the remaining five libraries, as well as cuts to park budgets and having friends’ groups or communities take over the running of the borough’s green spaces as “charitable trusts”.” … “The consultation is open until April 24 and we really want to make sure people get involved and tell us their views and ideas.””
  • Lincolnshire – Letter :  Ed Vaizey MP to Leader, LCC | Local inquiry into library provision in Lincolnshire – Gov.uk. Government decides 15 static libraries, online provision and a housebound book delivery service meets statutory requirement for provision and accepts that the other 30 branches can be closed or passed to volunteers. Comments required before 24th April.

“As you all know, we are currently thinking about another court case to fight the last consultation. We are looking for people who are willing to give witness statements, which is basically to explain how you feel the County Council decision to cut the Libraries has effected you. These will be read by the Judge, our solicitor/barrister and the Council’s barrister/solicitors and will form the basis of our case…” Save Lincolnshire Libraries on Facebook

  • Newport – Public consultation open on hours-cut proposal for saved Malpas library – South Wales Argus. “PUBLIC consultation is open on plans to save a Newport library which would see its opening hours cut, … During a Malpas ward meeting last night, residents were informed that Newport City Council’s initial decision to close the Malpas library had been overturned, with the council now proposing to keep the library open for 20 hours per week. Malpas residents now have until April 29 to voice their opinion, with the council running a public consultation on the new proposal.”
  • Pembrokeshire – ‘Adventures start at the library’ says TV wildlife expert - Western Telegraph. “Pembrokeshire County Council libraries and primary schools have joined forces to provide library cards to children in 12 local schools. The move is part of a national initiative called ‘Every Child a Library Member’, launched in ten Welsh counties. Launching the initiative in Milford Haven Library, Dr Rhys Jones – best known for his hit BBC series ‘Rhys to the Rescue’ and ‘Dr Rhys Jones’s Wildlife Patrol’ – said: “Libraries are such an important resource – they are a great place for children to let their imagination grow and to develop and it is vitally important that we encourage our children to read more not only to improve their literacy levels but also to help them with life skills and future opportunities.””
  • Sussex – New way of working for police officers in Bognor – Bognor Regis Observer. “The policemen and women are being equipped with the latest hi-tech equipment, like the phones and tablet computers, to enable them to stay connected while they are out on the beat around Bognor Regis … Officers will be using their mobile phones while they are sitting in Costa Coffee or the local libraries. That has got to be a good thing. “In the future, I would encourage my staff to be out there and engaging with the public in that way”
Stewart Parsons, Libraries Cool Meister

Getting it Loud

Editorial

We’re often, it seems to me, behind other countries at the moment in terms of initiatives and programmes in libraries but there’s one thing which I have been aware of for years in the UK which is way and above what I have seen elsewhere.  This is the Get It Loud in Libraries phenomenon that brings some pretty darn good music to local libraries.  I finally caught up with one of the prime movers of this, Stewart Parsons, a couple of weeks ago and we got to talking.  While chatting – it was at a libraries conference – the manager of Skelmersdale Library came up to us and told Stewart that the gig he had put on in her library the week before was the best thing that had happened in her career.  Now that shows what a great impact this programme can have, and it’s not a one-off because I see stellar feedback from Get It Loud all the time on Twitter. So, of course, I asked Stewart to write a piece for PLN and I am very pleased that he agreed.  Please find it below and, um … rock on.

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“Amplifying Libraries – Loud In Libraries Style” by Stewart Parsons of Get It Loud in Libraries

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Shropshire 22 out of 28 to be community-run + ACE research.

Editorial

So today we have the news that Shropshire appears to be going the way of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and so many others and forcing most of its libraries to be run by “community groups”.  On the same day, we have Arts Council England bring out a definitive report showing that both users and non-users of libraries would be willing to pay more on their council tax in order to maintain their services.  Indeed, they’d be willing to pay almost twice as much, and the same report shows that health and wellbeing benefits of libraries alone repay most of the costs. Well done to ACE for conducting the research which will hopefully help reduce the number of such bad news stories from library authorities in the future.

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A noble librarian faced with adversity triumphs

Editorial

Ferguson Library in the USA recently stayed open during pretty bad times.  More than that, it became a classroom for children whose schools were closed and a place of safety and regeneration in a community desperately in need of healing.  It’s manager, Scott Bonner, is understated when asked what he achieved but was very clearly the right person at the right time.  Have a listen to the podcast interview here and the Guardian article here for the full-on wonderfulness of it all.  So I’m really delighted about the winner of the best named prize in the library world, the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Ferguson is an example of the importance of public libraries in communities, of their vital nature if the community itself has problems and of the danger in ignoring them to save a pound or two.

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No problems with neutrality with this one? MacMillan in Glasgow

Why buy happiness when the library shares it?

Editorial

There’s been a lot of talk recently about two cases of non-council organisations taking over areas of libraries. The first, which has been rumbling around for a while, is in Bristol where two floors of the Central Library are being taken over by a Free School.  The concerns there are over loss of storage/office space for the library, a suspicion that the Free School has been given too good a deal and some doubt over the ideological motivations of the relevant councillors in the move.  The second is the taking up of considerable space in Cambridge Central Library by a private company for business offices.  This has similar themes – with extra concern over the commercialisation of the library and the speed with which the decision was made.  As well as these two, there are also mutterings about BT and Barclays providing WiFi and assistance in some branches nationally.  All of this ties in with the theme over exactly how public and neutral public libraries area.  In the end, of course, they are only as public and as neutral as the local council wishes them to be.  There’s no national rules in play.  If a council wants to set up the MacDonald’s Central Library with Tesco taking over two floors and the DVD collection sponsored by Netflix then there is nothing to stop them. It is purely the public reaction – and that of officers, too, however internal and quietly they do it – that will stop them.

The key here is  if such services are complementary or damaging to the core public library service.  This is a judgement that we see a lot with council One Stop Shops and other services in libraries and it’s part of the, I guess, risk assessment that each library needs to go through.  Something which I have no doubt is positive is another example I picked up at the Edge Conference.  This is the partnership that won the social category award – with MacMillan Cancer Support with Glasgow Libraries where the charity takes advantage of the neutral, welcoming and local space of the libraries and the library service takes advantage of the usage and – frankly – money that the other organisation brings.  Because the library service is being paid for by this, and is not losing overly much (apart from some space of course) so it looks to me like a true a win-win. Which is the essence of successful partnerships.

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£7.4m for WiFi & success in the Arts

Editorial

It’s not every Budget that public libraries get mentioned but it happened this time. Over £7 million to help ensure all libraries get wifi plus another 57 libraries to be assisted by BT and Barclays.  This is stemming from the Sieghart Review and, fair play, it’s not the first of its recommendations to be enacted, which means that this review is that rarest of things: a report which is getting some results. This will not be enough for some, who are more than aware of the deep cuts that have affected libraries, but it is something. I like somethings … they’re so much better than nothings.

I went to the rather wonderful Arts in Libraries conference in St Helen’s today. Readers of my editorials will know that I am not certain about the positioning of public libraries in the Arts sphere: literacy and education currently look to be safer spheres but what is happening there (and in Blackpool, Lancashire and Manchester amongst others) sure is impressive.  Most impressive is that St Helens ascribes a good part of it’s trend-bucking rise in usage and issues to tapping in to the success of its Arts programme.  So it’s been a good couple of days for optimism. Shame about the drip drip of cuts below really but let’s hope that tap, at least, is turned off.

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Ideas

  • Libraries are “marketing channels” - that should be funded for recommending things.
  • Library of things - loaning of items people vote for, including cameras, sewing machines, board games, bike repair.
  • Use spare library space to offer to an artist as a residency - Idea from Arts in Libraries conference.

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Task Forces and Tardises

Editorial

The England Libraries Task Force has had its first meeting and it’s all positive sounding but, then again, of course it would be.  The challenge will `be in delivering. There;s certainly no shortage of senior people on the Force (hmm, Force – that sounds a bit odd) as the list published below shows so we can but hope but, for me, the whole nature of it is a little diffuse, in keeping with the desire to link libraries to multiple agendas.  We’ll see if that’s a strength or a weakness over the next year or two.

Also this edition I’ve got a guest post from Matt Finch who will familiar to many for his work and has been mentioned a few times in PLN.  He’s back in the UK now and I hope to hear of great things from him.

“Re your interesting editorial on Columbus Metropolitan Libraries – looking at Wikipedia (sorry librarians!) the annual cost of the Columbus libraries is $45m (= approx. £30m) a year. So with a population of 0.875m the cost per head cost is £34.28. The CIPFA library stats indicate that UK public library expenditure per head in 2013/14 was £13.60 (english metropolitan districts spend was similar at £13.68). Does this indicate that UK councillors undervalue public libraries? In the UK the public get no vote on specific funding for their public libraries.” Comment by librariesmatter

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The TARDIS on your streetcorner: Matt Finch on the public libraries of today and tomorrow

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New CILIP boss - A face to remember?

Be the King of one thing, don’t Jack it all in: Lessons from Columbus, Ohio

Editorial

One of the highpoints of the Edge Conference was listening to, and having a chance to talk to, Patrick Losinski, who is CEO of Columbus Metropolitan Libraries. I found what he is said very inspiring and useful but, as he himself said, the US system is different to ours (they can publicly campaign for funding for a start) so it’s more a case of working out what is common between us rather than blindly following.

Columbus is a big system – it has 22 branches, 875 staff, 874,000 users and 37,000 friends on facebook places, making it better used than any UK authority.  It’s interesting that those comparatively few branches are clearly a lot bigger than ours and more heavily used.  But a few years ago they feared that times were changing and wanted to change with them so they  did some useful research into what the public thought about what libraries were in their childhood compared to ten years from now.  The “old” public descriptions of libraries were on a theme of “quiet, research, reading and books” while the “new” ones are “community, technology, research, information and access”. They realised that print books were not as dominant as once they were (indeed,  Mr Losinski was bullish about ebooks and thinks that they are the future) but noted thatt the five largest publishers weren’t selling to libraries.  So, in a daring move that I can’t see UK libraries doing, the US libraries hired a lobbyist and effectively changed their minds.

“The “old” public descriptions of libraries were on a theme of “quiet, research, reading and books” while the “new” ones are “community, technology, research, information and access”.

However, the big learning thing for me was how Columbus spotted what, I guess, in commercial terms would be a gap in the market.  Very sadly, a large number of children in the city were behind in terms of literacy and kept on being behind throughout school  … and it was often of course kids from the same, poorer, areas.  So, the library service moved into this sector.  They have full-on programmes over the school holidays (where the difference between wealthier children – who go to Europe and get tutored – and poorer kids, who hang around on the streets, really kicks in), in the evenings and even on school buses.  Library workers go out, in teams of two, to churches, shelters and laundromats and give out a pack of books and a library card.  They aim for those with children, because people care deeply about their own children and hope for a better life for them. They go into a thousand homes in Columbus to work one on one with parents … not the kids.  Wonderfully, each Summer, they photograph pre-school children in graduation dress and the year they’ll graduate, such as “class of 2029″.  Tellingly, some parents argued with staff that they had got the graduate date wrong, because they did not realise they meant college, not high school. Their aspirations were simply not that high, but that of the library staff was.

“some parents argued with staff that they had got the graduate date wrong, because they did not realise they meant college, not high school. Their aspirations were simply not that high, but that of the library staff was.”

This is all working well,  Indeed, Columbus are currently building ten new libraries (more than probably all of the UK at the moment).  Columbus libraries aim to “own the out of school time for kids”. The new libraries are built for connections – with big windows, open spaces and  “Ready for kindergarten” centres.  The libraries aim is no longer to be just”efficient book delivery people” but rather vital for the future and society of their communities. They offer two year associate level classes being offered right in the middle of the building. When a company came calling asking to use libraries for coding, Columbus insisted that they do it in a high unemployment area. Using words like “workforce optimisation” really worked well with politicians. By the way, speaking of words and presenting information, the Columbus libraries strategic plan is a model of simplicity and I would recommend you all having a look and, frankly, crib from it.

“The libraries aim is no longer to be just  “efficient book delivery people”

For me, the whole thing was reminiscent of Australia, first in Queensland and then nationally, where libraries there “claimed the space” of adult literacy.  In Columbus, similarly, they aimed to “own the out of school time”.  Same tactic, different sector targeted due to local factors.  Tellingly the UK public library service has signally failed to do anything so simple or even, until recently, anything at all.  The Public Library Universal Information Offers, while useful, are far too diffuse and numerous for this purpose.  It’s hard, after all, to shoot multiple targets with only one arrow.  Patrick says that Columbus Libraries are “no longer in the library business, now we are in the youth of Columbus business” … and there’s always a future in youth. It is not longer being all things to all people: rather, it has decided what it wants to be I think this is the big learning point for us.  After all, UK public libraries don’t have much time to find their own speciality, rather than becoming poorer and poorer jacks of all.

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Soon to be in a library dictionary near you

Ook: Sir Terry Pratchett OBE (1948-2015)

Editorial
The death of Sir Terry Pratchett today hit me with surprising force.  My teenage years and onwards were filled with his books, with each new one a big event.  His titles combine the ability to make one laugh out loud with the shock of making you have to think as well.  You will recognise personalities and political stances, prejudices and whole historical periods in the Discworld books.  Sir Terry had a gigantically wide knowledge (both pop culture and some pretty darn academic stuff) along with a devilish skill with the pun.  But, cards on the table, of course one of the reasons I liked the Discworld books so much was the ape (don’t ever call him a monkey) librarian.  He was one of the key characters in the books despite being able to only say ook.  Genius.  This wasn’t entirely an accident: Sir Terry loved libraries and claims to have received his education in one.  See this video below.  It’s also interesting to think how important he was in the struggle to publicise dementia, something that public libraries are now thankfully taking a leading role on.  Yes, indeed, we have lost a great friend in him but we will never lose his books. Let’s try to make sure that our doors will remain open.

If you want to help them [the oppressed], build a big library or something somewhere and leave the door open.The character Rincewind in “Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett.

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A nice new library in Medway.  Good quote too

Ed Vaizey: “there appear to be no grounds on which he would intervene in libraries ”

Editorial

Ed Vaizey, to the surprise of no one, has decided not to intervene in Sheffield.  His decision includes a decision that the cuts do not go against national library policy, which again is no surprise as there does not appear to be a national library policy that anyone can discern. Here’s the view of a Sheffield campaigner:

“He’s saying that the needs assessment is at fault, but it doesn’t matter because it’s still a comprehensive and efficient service – even though the flawed needs assessment results in a patchy, uneven distribution, leaving a quarter of the city, by area, without a library. Try telling that to the 6 local primary and infant schools who bring their children to our, now voluntary and financially very vulnerable, library. He’s still referring to “national library policy” without saying what that is, and doesn’t give the criteria by which he judged the service comprehensive and efficient. He’s also saying that libraries aren’t important enough to justify the expense of an inquiry. Basically there appear to be no grounds on which he would intervene in libraries – we already knew that, but he’s really excelled himself this time.” BLAG

For library users who are, therefore unsatisfied with a final decision by the council, it appears that legal action is the only effective step one can take.  It may therefore be opportune to read the following piece by a solicitor who has fought judicial reviews and has some experience of successful legal actions against councils.

On brighter news, hey, look … not one but two new libraries have opened in the last week.  Both look lovely, although it’s interesting one has opened despite protests about losing the old library. I’ve also added a new section, “School libraries”, at the end of the post because there seems to be a lot of links between them and public libraries.  Do let me know your thoughts.

Please email any news, views or corrections to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

Legal Funding for Library Campaign Groups Fighting Closures – Solicitor Michael Imperato writes …

“There are times when you have to fight for your rights.  Libraries are under threat across the country and campaigners should not be frightened to seek legal advice.  The main concern is of course costs.  However, Legal Aid (LA) may well be available.

To obtain LA in such circumstances you need a “man of straw” i.e. someone (it can be a woman) who is on low income and has no real assets.  That person should have some link to the area in which the library is based but does not have to be a prominent campaigner themselves.  Ideally the campaigners should instruct a Lawyer who has credibility and good contacts with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).  LA will be applied for in the name of the “man of straw” to allow the matter to be further investigated.  If LA is granted the Lawyer can undertake substantive work and, if need be, instruct a Barrister.  Win or lose the Lawyer will be paid (albeit at a low rate!) and the nominal client has the protection of the shield of LA in that he/she cannot have any costs orders enforced against them if Court Proceedings are issued but the case is ultimately lost.

The form of Legal proceedings in such cases is known as Judicial Review (JR).  Time is of the essence in a JR case so campaigning groups should line up their “man of straw” as soon as possible.  It is possible the LAA will ask the campaign group to make a contribution towards the costs but unless the library of concern is in a hugely wealthy area this should be nominal and well within the reach of most groups who do a little fundraising.

Therefore, campaigners fighting library closures should not commit themselves to paying large amounts of money on legal costs.  Instead they should explore the option of Legal Aid.  Armed with a “man of straw” and good arguments they should be able to obtain Legal Aid to take on the might of the Local Authority.”

Michael Imperato is a solicitor at Watkins & Gunn and is recognised as one of the country’s leading public law lawyers acting for individuals and campaign groups fighting service cuts. He has  advised in successful library campaigns and been involved in a number of high profile Judicial Review cases.

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