Comment

Boyd Tonkin in the Independent has written a wonderfully pro-library article arguing that libraries perform such a community role throughout the country that if they did not already exist, somebody would have to invent them now to help deal with a society riven with division.  Boyd also argues that this  network is now being lost due to the Cuts. By a coincidence, Caitlin Moran in the Times says somthing similar…
“Unless the Government has developed an exit strategy for the cuts, and has insisted that councils not sell closed properties, by the time we get back to “normal” again, our Victorian and postwar and Sixties red-brick boxy libraries will be coffee shops, Lidls and pubs. No new libraries will be built to replace them. These libraries will be lost forever.”

Of course, there is no magic “exit strategy”. 20 to 50% cuts are simply not sustainable, no matter how many smaller libraries are forced into the hands of “volunteers” desperate to save a vital resource that the Council has decided is expendable and the Government has decided it need not defend. Boyd also goes on to say it would cost “uncountable billions to build”.  One wonders at this. It is probably countable if someone tries. Certainly the MLA could do so but it is not in the interests of its masters to encourage such thinking.  
In the spirit of Big Society thinking, though, let’s give it a go now using no resources, guesswork and unpaid time. If one assumes a conservative £3 million on average per library (even the smallest and hence most numerous libraries cost a million or two if new but a centrepiece library can cost a fortune. Birmingham Central alone will cost £200 million) and counts all 4600 libraries in the UK and them multiplies the two figures together it comes to £13,800,000,000.  Let’s round it up to a (literally) headline figure of £14 billion.  That’s fourteen billion pounds being given away, run down, prone to understaffing, underappreciated and certainly not publicised, sneered at and called redundant.  Some may call it ironic that this is fourteen billion pounds being wasted by a government and councils desperate to cut down on waste.  Those in the know, who love and treasure libraries and see the impact on people’s lives that a sufficiently resourced library can have, though, would not call it ironic.
We call it tragic.
415 libraries (333 buildings and 82 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below. Librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.  

News

“At the very least, all library closures must now cease. Especially in inner-urban areas, buildings recently shut should reopen. Professional staff must provide the backbone of their service, although volunteers can and should play their part. All those turf-war squabbles about priorities – new books vs new technology, pure reading vs community outreach – should end. And central and local government could stop passing the buck.”  (Boyd Tonkin)

  • Children’s laureate attacks Future Libraries report – BookSeller. Report a mere “cost-cutting exercise”.  “Above all, I resent the underlying assumption that libraries should be underfunded by local government and should have to seek alternative ways to survive in the 21st century.”.
  • Erna WintersThis Week in Libraries.  A franchise group for libraries, Library of 100 talents, change management, innovation and wedding dresses. These are some of the topics on episode 49 of This Week in Libraries: your weekly dose of library innovation.”
  • Libraries can fill void as book retailers close – Times Report (USA).   Local bookshop closes, public libraries keen to help and also to move into the E-book market.
  • Libraries should embrace digital revolution says report – Guardian.  Summary of recent LGA report.  “”The best libraries are at the heart of councils’ approaches to everything from lifelong learning to wellbeing, job seeking, volunteering, education and encouraging more people to get online.”
  • Library closures – a view from Caitlin MoranNosy Crow.  Article republished, originally in Times magazine as Why library closures are a catastophe (behind paywall).  Some amazingly good turns of phrase. “The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors … Everything I am is based on this ugly building on its lonely lawn – lit up during winter darkness, open in the slashing rain – which allowed a girl so poor she didn’t even own a purse to come in twice a day an experience actual magic … A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival .. a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary instead … Libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets. A trillion small doors closing.”
  • Not one more library must close – Independent.  “At their best they embody an ideal of voluntary personal development and civic solidarity that few other sites could ever hope to match.”.  LGA have issued a “bland, dispiriting report”
  • Stop the privatisation of California’s public librariesCredo Action (USA).  

Changes

Local News

Campaigners from the Save Bolton Library Campaign reported no lack of interest in talking about libraries in the town centre last Saturday – in fact they were rushed off their feet. In just two hours 22 people offered to help with local campaigns, and no less than 110 people completed the four page official council consultation forms, with fifty more taking them away to complete. Campaign Chair Tom Hanley commented: “we were amazed at how many people were prepared to do fill these council forms in, despite their jargon and biased questions. It feels like being given the choice between being hung, shot or poisoned. People just want the council to find a way to keep these libraries open.” 240 people also signed the national ‘Love Your Libraries’ petition from the Womens Institute. Save Bolton Libraries Campaign press release.

  • Dorset – Battle continues for Chickerell Library – Dorset Echo.  Councillor says “Chickerell is to grow faster than many other Dorset communities and it will have many young children, deprived persons and elderly who would have great difficulty or significant costs in accessing the Weymouth Library.” If volunteers run it, library would only cost £8,000 per year.

  • Gloucestershire – Volunteers keen to help library carry on waitingThis is Glos.  “EAGER volunteers who came forward to run Prestbury’s library will have to wait until next month to find out if their services are needed.”.
    • In the interest of balance … the people and their libraries – FoGL.   Prestbury will not be closed and therefore is not subject to the injunction.  Many delighted library service is still there in places where branch or mobile would have otherwise closed except for the injunction.  Local press highly biased in favour of council.
  • Halton – Runcorn market to become library – Place North West.   “The £550,000 scheme will start on site in October, with completion scheduled for March 2012. The 6,400 sq ft building will be home both to Halton Library Services and Halton Direct Link, providing public access to the library’s lending and reference collections, computer facilities and council services including payments, service requests and general enquiries.”
  • Lewisham – £24k price tag to reopen New Cross library – BookSeller.   Cost is in rent for building, to be called “New Cross People’s Library”.  “It is my opinion that we can provide something that is different [from the previous library], in some ways inferior (although in other ways much better). We would all prefer a proper library with properly trained and paid librarians, but the council took that away from us, leaving us to try and build back up to that position sometime in the future, and you have to start somewhere.”
  • North Yorkshire – Libraries are owed thousands in fines – BBC.   £180,000 in last seven years. “The county council said it would cost it significantly more than it is owed to collect the outstanding amounts.”.  Council collects £120k per year.
  • Selkirkshire – Library switch confirmed amid fears over service quality – Southern Reporter.  “…had been assured there would be more, not less, space for library services in the municipal buildings and said councillors were due to be briefed next week on when the switch would occur.”  Customer contact centres losing usage so their staff would be kept busy in libraries.  ““If these plans are enacted, and I’ve no doubt they are a fait accompli, then patently the level of service offered to the people of Hawick and Galashiels, where facilities won’t be merged, will be of a higher quality than in Selkirk and the other targeted towns.”