ACE decide public libraries warrant a full-time director, and encourage a bit of diversity in leadership too

Editorial

Major pieces of news are fewer than normal due to it being the Summer but a few things are prominent. The first is that, finally, Arts Council England, have finally made their director for public libraries a full-time position. This has -hitherto been just a half-time post combined with the Birmingham are. Many felt that this under-rated public libraries in comparison to the other sectors ACE covers and so it’s great to see this changed. It surely won’t be long now before that organisation starts occasionally putting libraries first in a list of what sectors they cover in their official documents.

“Our Executive Board has decided that, from 1 December 2019, I will be migrated from my current role into a new 100% role of Director Libraries. This will provide significant additional senior capacity to ensure that our work around libraries is fully integrated into the delivery of the new 10 Year Strategy and further develop our Libraries work and programme. ”

Sue Willliamson by email

The other national thing is the £342k put forward by ACE to boost diversity in public libraries leadership. This is welcome but a tiny part of the, wow, £7.1 million that ACE has put aside across all of its portfolio for the same thing. Even though some of this other funding will be open to libraries (we will see, though, how much actually does come that way), that money will cover help for just 15 (that’s fifteen, not 50 or 150) people, although it’s hoped the training developed will be of use to others. Fingers crossed but 15 looks a bit, well, token, doesn’t it? And that is never a good look when diversity is the issue.

Locally, the big obvious things are the ongoing tassle in Essex over the council wanting to cut funding to libraries; Calderdale cutting some libraries while co-locating and improving others; Staffordshire passing yet more branches to community groups and Norfolk adopting staff-less technology almost wholesale.

Finally, it’s a pleasure to see the poet Joseph Coelho continuing his epic mission to get a library card from every library service in the country. This is great publicity locally and should finally also ensure he never gets mistaken for that chap Paulo by public librarians yet again.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Arts Council England makes £7.1m available to boost diversity – Charity Digital. “Arts Council England has made £7.1 in grants available to encourage diversity and leadership skills among those working in arts and culture organisations, including charities.”
    • Libraries Connected launches training scheme to tackle lack of diversity – BookSeller. “The Leading Libraries scheme will recruit 15 emerging leaders from different library services, offering them development training and the chance to lead a project in their region. It will also offer training for their heads of service on recruiting and maintaining a diverse workforce. In addition, each emerging leader will mentor two members of staff from their own service.” … “A study commissioned by CILIP in 2015 showed the library and information workforce was 78.1% female, yet 47% of men earned over £30,000 compared to just 37.3% of women. The figures also showed a huge 96.7% of the workforce identified as white.”

“We wanted to provide a substantial development programme that targeted library staff as well as their managers, which meant limiting the number of people involved. However, we will publish the training and development resources that that we create during the course so that individuals and services across the country can benefit from the programme.”

CILIP, via email
  • CILIP launches data project to ‘turn tide’ on library closures – BookSeller. “The organisation has been given £150,000 funding across two years from the Arts Council for its project, which now has a website built on the NationBuilder platform for political campaigning, and to also boost skills for librarians to run campaigns … 10,500 people are on the database already and the intention is to grow that number to up to 35,000 in the first year. A lot of the support comes through Facebook, where people share Libraries Deliver content and the numbers build.” [I have been informed there are several errors in this article – Ed.]
  • PMLG & ILG National Conference 2019: Information Literacy in Public Libraries – CILIP. 4 October, London. “information literacy stands at the core of a public library’s purpose. Whether it is teaching children how to answer their own questions or supporting retirees to get online, public libraries daily contribute to the development of information literacy skills within their communities, Safeguarding, signposting and navigating information sources requires highly-developed multi-platform, critical awareness. This conference delivers a diverse portfolio of the necessary information literacy skills for the job.”

International news

Drag Queen Story times

  • USA – Drag queen reading event meets community resistance in CA – GOP USA. “Billed as a way to create a sense of acceptance and tolerance, an event hosted by the city of Chula Vista will welcome drag queens for storytime at a library in Otay Ranch next month. And not everyone is happy about it. A group known as MassResistance, an anti-LGBTQ organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group, plans to stage a news conference Thursday to demand that the library event be canceled.”
  • Firestorm over Drag Queen Event Pushes City to Change Library Policies – Breitbart. “The Leander, Texas City Council voted 5-2 on August 15 to end library room rentals to the public in the wake of outcry over a controversial Drag Queen Story Hour presentation.”
  • Library board can’t agree on sex crime checks proposed after drag queen story event – Wichita Eagle. “A proposal to background-check people for past sex offenses before they are allowed to make presentations at Wichita libraries was put on hold Tuesday, after a split in the board between those who want a complete ban on sex offenders and those who want staff to have some leeway.”

Joseph Coelho tour

Local news by authority

FOLIO Sutton Coldfield is a volunteer-run community group of Sutton Coldfield residents who want to see our public libraries not just survive, but thrive at the heart of our community. We support and promote the current library service in Sutton Coldfield and facilitate a richly varied programme of events and activities in Sutton Coldfield Library and through library outreach, working in collaboration with paid professional library staff. On average we put on 2-4 events a week and since we became active library borrowing has increased 10%, library footfall has increased 49% (there are now over 130,000 visits to the library each year) and library membership (new members joining) has increased 97%. FOLIO Sutton Coldfield is expanding and we’re looking for additional Trustees to join our Board. We’re particularly keen to recruit a Trustee with library experience. 
If you leave near enough Sutton Coldfield to attend out monthly Trustee meetings,  have worked or currently work in either a public or school library and would like to join our dynamic charity we’d love to hear from you. You can find full details in our Trustee recruitment pack:  http://foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk/join-us/.”  Birmingham via email.

  • Bradford – Health hub plan for library – Telegraph and Argus. “Library bosses are in talks with GPs to bring together a range of community health and well-being services in the historic building on North Street. Health services provided by voluntary groups and charities would sit alongside library services like book lending, local history and computers. The potential team-up – which is in its early stages – has grown out of moves by Bradford Council to cut millions of pounds from its libraries budget. ” … “The first round of cuts bite on September 1, involving management changes; a cut in the book fund to £298,300 per year; and Keighley, Bingley and Shipley becoming ‘hub libraries’ with a 30% reduction in staffing. ”
  • Calderdale – Big library shake up means £2 million investment but closures too – Examiner. “Around £2 million is set to be invested in Calderdale libraries, while other village libraries will face closure unless community solutions can be found, largely due to the buildings being unfit for purpose. Calderdale Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve the funding and changes to the way services are delivered at a number of libraries when it meets at Halifax Town Hall on Monday, September 2.”
  • Croydon – First look at modern revamp of Selsdon Library – Your Local Guardian. “If a trial at Selsdon Library is successful Open Plus technology could be rolled out at every library in Croydon. It means that anyone with a library card can access the library out of hours. “
  • Derby – Seventh Derby library to be handed over to city charity – Derbyshire Live. “Chellaston Library will be the latest – and seventh of 10 – to have its running passed to the Derby charity Direct Help and Advice (DHA). The library’s last day under council management will be Saturday, October 12 , when it will close to re-open under DHA operation from Monday, October 28.” During the temporary closure, the council will carry out training to enable a smooth transition for customers and volunteers alike. In the interim, customers can access and reserve books at other Derby libraries, with eBooks continuing to be accessible 24/7 online.  
  • Durham Bishop Auckland Town Hall closure: here’s what you need to know – Explorar.
  • Essex – Street party in a bid to stop Manningtree Library being run voluntarily – Harwich and Manningtree Standard. “Save Manningtree Library Action Group is holding the party as part of a county-wide action day over Essex County Council’s (ECC) plans to create community-run libraries on September 28. “
  • Flintshire – Flintshire’s Aura Leisure and Libraries named finalist in UK Social Enterprise Awards – Leader. “”The company has only been trading since September 2017 so to be recognised on a national scale for the work we do in sustaining and improving leisure, library and heritage services in Flintshire is fantastic and gives us huge encouragement for the future.’’ “
  • Inverness – Inverness scheme aims to bring folk together – Inverness Courier. “Supporting local entrepreneurs, freelancers, sole traders and start-ups, the new space is part of the new Scottish Coworking Network scheme.”
  • Lincolnshire New IT for Lincolnshire libraries will help online accessibility – Skegness Standard. “The council’s library provider, Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) is working to introduce new computers and IT equipment at libraries and community hubs across Lincolnshire.”
  • Luton – Have your say on the future of Luton’s library services – Luton Today. “The council claim they will use the survey results to ensure that in future services better meet the needs of local communities. As part of the Luton Library Needs Survey users are being asked their views on the many services available at libraries in the town including book, CD and DVD borrowing, opportunities for seeking advice, attending classes and activities, using the online services and using the library as a place to work and study quietly.”
  • Norfolk – Do you know someone who lacks the confidence in reading? – KLFM. “A learner would be matched with a Reading Pathway Volunteer and they’d then work through the ‘Yes we can read’ handbook.”
    • How you can access your local library – even when the staff aren’t there – Fakenham Times. “orfolk County Council has revealed 10 more locations for its open library scheme, which creates time slots where members can access services outside of regular opening times – without the building being staffed. First introduced in June 2018 in 30 different libraries, members can sign up to be given access to the services at certain times when a member of staff is not present – providing they do not have a history of misusing the service”
  • Northamptonshire – Investigation finds Desborough town councillors breached conduct codes over library issue – Northamptonshire Telegraph. “Chair of the town council, Jean Read, along with fellow Independents for Desborough councillors Gil Holmes, Linda Burnham and Steve Draycott will have to apologise for their failure to declare their interests in the charity Desborough Library and Community Hub (DCLH) at the council’s next meeting and admit they breached the code of conduct.”
    • Northamptonshire libraries rescue plan moves step closer – BBC. Council “decided instead that 17 would be taken over by community groups, whose business plans have now been ratified, with just 14 remaining council-run. Deputy council leader Lizzy Bowen said they ensured “an efficient service… despite the budgetary constraints”. The remaining five library branches will offer statutory services and be managed by community groups, and are being helped by the council to develop their business plans.”
    • Library Service Review update – Northamptonshire County Council.
  • North Yorkshire – Libraries to screen films for those who struggle to access cinemas – Harrogate News. “One film will be for older people with memory problems, their partners, family members and carers. The other will be a relaxed screening for families who have a child with autism or other special needs. The showings will be more informal than the cinema, with room to move about, brighter lighting and no need to be silent. There will be a chance to chat during the interval over refreshments, and activities related to the film will be available to do on the day or to take home.”
  • Oldham – Oldham libraries celebrate receiving more than one million visitors – Oldham Council. There are only 220k people living in Oldham. “To further increase both visitor numbers and literacy levels among young people we abolished library fines on all books at a Cabinet meeting on Monday 22 July … The library will be welcoming a new building in the winter of 2021 when OMA launches. The new heritage and arts centre for Oldham (OMA), will transform Oldham’s former Library, Museum and Art Gallery into a vibrant multi-use cultural complex on Union Street.”
  • Shropshire – Oswestry Town Council library grant for dementia shared memory bags welcomed – Advertizer. £1k. “”Our current range of loanable Shared Memory Bags on themes such as music, travelling, childhood and pets is very popular and provides a fun, interactive and therapeutic experience free of charge to anyone with a library ticket. “
  • Staffordshire – Libraries celebrate as more than 10,000 children take the Summer Reading Challenge – Staffordshire Newsroom.
    • Landmark for Staffordshire libraries – Tamworth Informed. “This month’s transfer of the day-to-day management and delivery of Penkridge library to Penkridge Parish Council is the 27th successful completion and marks the end of the fourth phase of this four-year community library programme. Staffordshire’s library service now has more than 950 volunteers contributing at its 27 community-run libraries and the 16 that remain under direct council management.”
  • Warrington – Celebrating the history of Warrington’s museum and library – Warrington Worldwide. “Now Culture Warrington and LiveWire, which together run library, museum, arts, archives and heritage services from the building on behalf of Warrington Borough Council, have plans to re-energise the space as a creative hub, with a nod to the building’s origins as a combined museum and library.” … “The rejuvenation, which aims to establish the building as a creative hub and increase links between the museum and library services, will bring about cosmetic improvements as well as the aligning of activities and opening hours, including Sunday opening for the first time.”
  • Wokingham – Woodley Library Is Getting A Face-lift – Reading. “The work includes relocating and replacing the entrance doors, replacing the glass frontage of the building, improving the heating system and replacing some of the furniture.  Following the renovations, there will be more flexibility in how the space in the library can be used, allowing a wider range of activities and improved comfort to those using the space.  “
  • Worcestershire – Redditch Library receives £1k worth of new books after winning challenge – Redditch Standard. “The library recently won the community group/library category of the 200 million minutes challenge, organised by educational group Achievement for All. The challenge aimed for 200 million minutes to be read between World Book Day in March this year and Children’s Book Day in April.”

A few cans of library worms

Editorial

There are subjects that one learns not to talk about in uncertain company. At the moment, Brexit is most certainly that in the UK while I imagine Trump and gun control (or in their incredible lack of it) serve the same role in the USA. But there are specific library subjects where one has learnt that raising them runs the risk of exploding the room. So, in the proud PLN tradition of never knowing when to shut up, here’s a few that will get you angry, nodding or groaning.

The first is library visitor numbers and how inaccurate they are. Few libraries even have a proper system for counting patrons and even they often shrug when asked what happens if you get a member hanging around by the door, walking in and out. Then you get the question of what actually is a library visitor. In the old days, it was simple – someone who came in was using the  library – but not any more. That person could be visiting to access a council service embedded in the library. Are they still using the library then if they’re reporting a death? Really? What if they’re using a post office inside it or a college? One suspects they’re also counted as visitors. Which makes me worried as, if that is the case with all the extra services being shoehorned in then, well, library visits should be going through the roof in the UK. But they’re not. One fears that this problem amongst library services (and don’t get me started on the joke that is CIPFA) about visitor numbers and why we should not to question them that is hiding an even deeper malaise within the system.

The second can is about what we should actually call those visitors to the library. But first, let’s say I am deeply embarrassed about many things the library sector has failed to get to grips on. The lack of a national website is especially pitiful as is the absence of anything resembling a UK or even England-wide promotional campaign for the service. Both those failures have at their core the atomisation of public libraries into 200 or so different  bodies in the UK who, while willing to work together, are all unable to actually do so on a grand scale, even with Libraries Connected received hundreds of thousands of pounds. So that’s explainable. What isn’t is the failure of the library professional worldwide to actually work out what to call those who use their services. The  words borrowers, patrons, clients, members, readers and – shudder – customers are all used and many more. I’ve used several deliberately in this article already.  What one calls those using your service probably says more about you and your standpoint than anything else. Being neutral as heck, I’d go with “user” (it’s not an IT term really, not any more, so get over it) but wow is there a lack of a common front on this issue. Get it together, librarians.

Oh, and while I’m at it, that term “librarians”. It’s clear what it means inside the sector, or used to be, but outside of it it means anyone who works in a library. Get over that. Many professions have such divides in staffing and don’t have that lack of understanding – the public knows the difference between an officer and a soldier, a doctor and a nurse – but they signally often do not know that about librarians. That they don’t is not their fault but ours. And it stands little chance of changing now. So accept that the public calls all of us librarians and don’t criticise them for it. I use the terms interchangeably myself on many occasions. Like all of this editorial.

Right, there’s a few cans of worms to start your week with.  Got any more. Answers on a postcard please if you are still one of those who refuse or are not allowed to use social media … ooh heck, there’s another.

I’ve just been told about the danger of thermal paper – the sort many front-line library staff use in receipts – causing a health risk if it contains something called BPA. It could be worth checking on the till rolls at your branches. There’s a lot of information online but it was news to me. See here and here. It looks like it’s a small risk but something that one needs to be careful of and yet another reason to wash your hands before eating food if you don’t do so already.

Changes

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Go (North) West

Editorial

So we have a new prime minister. Oh well. Moving on …

It’s great to see another library service going fines-free. Well done to Oldham, which is now the fifth in the North West alone to remove a key barrier to equality and usage, and the fourteenth in the UK as a whole. Also, in the North West I’m also delighted that Warrington – which went through an absolutely disastrous consultation about cuts a few years ago but has since come good – is looking to the future and that Manchester continues to go great guns. Elsewhere, outside of that region, things are less good, with ongoing drama in Northamptonshire and Essex as well as strike action brewing in Bradford.

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Universal Offers reduced to four, or possibly increased to six

Editorial

Thank you everyone for a strong response to my article last post on the purpose of public libraries. I include some of the responses below. By coincidence, the Universal Offers have just been reviewed and give an idea of what library services are expected to actually do. Thank goodness that there are now fewer Offers – I had feared that they would grow in number and barely anyone can remember the old list now. There are now just four, although two are combined (Information and Digital, Culture and Creativity: with “Creativity” being new) so there is a case that the number has actually increased to six by stealth. The last one, Health and Wellbeing also has an “and” in it of course, because for some reason just “Health” is not enough of a buzzword. So the  public library service is still expected to do a very wide spectrum of things with very little actual focus. However, I personally am delighted that “Reading” is, thank goodness, still on its own and at the top of the list.

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The purpose of a public library, Essex and the rest of the public libraries news

Editorial

A sort of congratulations to Essex for backing down a bit on closing libraries. The protests against the deep proposed cuts there has been impressive, with all sorts of protests going on, ranging from marches to gaining celebrity endorsements. The council has been a bit taken aback, it looks like, from all this but it’s conciliatory response still includes volunteer libraries. The reaction by campaigners has noted this and complained about it. This story does not have a happy ending yet.

As expected, my daring to issue a press statement from GLL about the Bromley strike led to attacks on social media, with the very first tweet being from a now definitively ex-friend snidely suggesting I was in the pay of the leisure trust.  I notice the CILIP response to an open letter, also about GLL as it happens, states that it won’t talk about the letter on social media and I can quite understand why.

I have been off ill again this week, which is very annoying on all sorts of levels. Apart from, well, being ill, It has stopped me doing a bunch of work for a start, left me with an abiding dislike of doing nothing and delayed me writing about the CILIP conference and doing some more work on the Bromley dispute. But I have got better enough this weekend for me, after I was challenged on the issue, to have a think about the purpose of public libraries. And I think this purpose thing is important because we are as a sector a bit rubbish at explaining what it is, which is a bit of a downer when we are trying to persuade people of our cause. So have a look at my thoughts below and see what if you agree. I’d be fascinated to hear your responses.

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Both sides of the argument: GLL, book issues and volunteers

Editorial

Trusts tend to get a bad press on library social media, and GLL due to its size more than anyone else. There’s an open letter against it included below and there’s currently strike action going on in Bromley, which is one of its services. In the normal PLN tradition of trying to cover both sides, though, I will mention here that GLL has ended lone-working in Dudley at no extra cost to the council and has included below a response on Bromley. If you feel the need to get angry at me for including these things, you are welcome to comment below but remember first the need for sharing information is part of the profession’s job. And that goes for both sides, and not just the one you agree with. This is also true for Tim Coates, who many of us have disagreed with for attacking the UK librarian profession at every opportunity. I include his chart on US, Australian and book issue trends here for you to make up your own mind. For me, the reason is fairly obvious – cut the bookfund and you cut the issues – but make up your own mind as to why.

I greatly enjoyed, as ever, the CILIP Conference this week, of which more at another time but I was saddened, after listening to a spirited talkthere, that the Libraries Change Lives Awards will not happen this year. Let’s hope they come back stronger than ever next year.

Right, good news bad news time. Havering have announced 5 libraries could be volunteer run and West Sussex have announced they may get rid of a mobile library and other services as part of a £500k cut. On the other side, Lewisham have cancelled deep proposed cuts and Nottinghamshire have rearranged opening hours for a slight increase. Being I mentioned volunteer libraries, I discovered on Thursday – while talking to an Austrian librarian – that 80% of their libraries are volunteer run and have been for decades, with a tier of government offering substantial training to ensure volunteer librarians are up to standard. Being that there are no standards in England even for paid staff, it seems unlikely that such a thing will happen here.

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US weirdness, the SDP again, Library Island and more fines free

Editorial

The more I read about US public libraries., the more foreign they sound. You can get into trouble in some for protesting when a member of the public brings in a gun, hidden or not. There is also no issue in many about adults watching porn on library computers, by the children’s library or not. Both are to do with the somewhat messed up views Americans have about their constitution. But another problem that has come up recently is religious fundamentalism and a certain unenlightened approach to anything but heterosexuality. There have been a ton of protests there about drag queen story times and just this week a protest from someone who genuinely believes the Earth is 6000 years old that libraries are a danger to children. Good grief. The American Library Association is trying to cope with mostly being far more liberal than a significant part of the country’s population but it must be a challenging time in such a divided country. It’s doing its best though and has just removed the name Dewey from a prize on account of Melvil’s behaviour, which was deeply inappropriate even when he was alive and is even more so now.

I need to report that my summary on the Single Digital Presence report last week was little inaccurate. The cost of the research is £266k (£236kI from Arts Council England plus £30k from Carnegie) and not the £320k reported. Oh, and it covers the UK – including Wales and Northern Ireland who effectively already have some form of uniform webpage – and not just England. However, I stand by my worries that this research, involved and well-run as it may be, but which at the moment is not giving a clear direction, is simply delaying a much needed national website for another 18 monthsor so and I have little hope of such a thing appearing for many years to come. This isn’t the fault of the British Library research but rather I think their brief and something more structural in the messed up and overly scattered national governance of public libraries in this country.

I have been in contact with Matt Finch for a while and heard much about his training so it was great to see him offering his “Library Island” training for free, of which more below. I am also delighted to report two more library services that have been fines free for apparently years but I had not included before – West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. That makes 14 councils in the UK so far fines free.

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If you think it’s been a while since my last post, just wait for the Single Digital Presence

Editorial

Well, sorry about that. It has been a really long time since the last Public Libraries News post. This is due to me having a bout of glandular fever. It was not fun, it took a long time, and of course news kept on stubbornly happening – in the same way work emails do – when I was off work so it took me a while to catch up.

The preliminary report of the £320k (yes, £320k) British Library research into a single digital presence for English libraries has been produced. It gives a list of options for what a single digital presence may be … and suggests further research. The final phase of research is running until September 2019. and will build upon the June 2019 report to provide practical recommendations for the sector to consider about funding and governance models, drawing on user research and ongoing input from colleagues across the sector. The British Library have recommended that key elements of this work are owned and led by the public sector and will be looking at options for public investment. It is not the fault of the BL team, led by the very capable Liz White,  that I’m really frustrated by this but rather those who have repeatedly kicked it into the long grass in the first place. A single digital presence is up and running in several countries already and the fact that even the form, or source of funding, for an English one hasn’t even been decided upon is deeply frustrating. It suggests there is something spectacularly and embarrassingly wrong with the public library system and how it is run. But then we knew that already (see the structure chart at the top of this page). It’s clear to everyone that we won’t see anything this decade and, frankly, I’m a tad bit worried about whether we get something the next. It may well be beyond 2025 before we get a decent national website at this rate. And we must fear the possibility that we may never meaningfully will.

Something that is happening surprisingly quickly, on the other hand, is the move by libraries towards being fines free. Both Salford and Barnsley have announced they are removing fines since my last post. From my conversations with senior managers, it has become clear that few if any defend fines as an effective tool of getting books back – that would be difficult with the evidence coming in from those who have removed fines that it makes barely any difference – but rather that they’re simply more worried about the money that fines bring in that will be lost. That’s no way to run a welcoming library service free for all but it’s the way that cash strapped managers have to think. But gosh it’s such a good sell for councils when fines are removed that there’s hope many more others will get the needed impetus to do what is right soon.

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Someone who should know better in Stroud

Editorial

Yet more “purdah”, where councils needs to be careful about what they say, due to the European elections, so it’s been a quiet fortnight. It looks, on balance, like a good couple of weeks for libraries, with no major cuts outside of Fife and a loss of a mobile in Redbridge. So I’ll include my response to a tweet from someone who should really know better in Stroud.

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