Comment

Someone told me today that the UK library service is being “hollowed out”.  This phrases resonated as this is what pretty much every news report seems to show.  It looks deliberate. The strength of public feeling about closures caught decision-makers by surprise and so other strategies have had to be put in place.  Rather than a black and white decision, it’s far more politic to go for the grey – less bookfund, less hours, less staff, self-service or that ultimate in do-it-yourself, blackmailing volunteers to run the library itself (while still charging them for it, naturally). This gains time and reduces protest but is only a short-term solution.  The vital innards of the library – staff who know how to run it well, books people want to read – is being cut out, sometimes without overly much anaesthetic.  This does not create so many headlines but it is no less dramatic in its eventual outcome.  Things that are hollowed out, like trees, fall.
Another theme, accelerated this week by Amazon’s book-lending scheme and new products, is the e-book.  The failure to rise to the challenge of e-books is deeply worrying.  It’s not “just another format” as I have seen it described.  Since when did one see five (ten?) people using talking books (or large-print) in a railway carriage?  It’s either going to, please not in my lifetime, eventually replace books or, far more likely, co-exist with print as an equal or more-than-equal partner.  Those people who cannot afford ebooks, want them without advertising or are not comfortable with the new technology may, without public libraries, be locked out of literacy or denied the best and healthiest of all addictions.  An answer would be the extension of Public Lending Right to ebooks. Any worry over the current absence of this is not even on the radar of government or anyone else in a position to do anything about it …. and things which come in under the radar, like the hollow tree falling above, can often be very dangerous indeed.
428 libraries (342 buildings and 86 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

  • Amazon’s grip tightens on the entire book-publishing chain – CNN Money.  “Teicher doesn’t think that Amazon truly has a monopoly, but he warns “it’s moving in that direction.” Dominique Raccah, CEO of independent Chicago-area publisher Sourcebooks, agrees that Amazon “could be” a monopoly already. Amazon’s move into publishing “was completely expected,” she says.”
  • Campaign for the Book Newsletter – Alan Gibbons.   Less libraries closing than feared, but this masks a push towards volunteers doing the job due to council blackmail.  Opening hour and bookfund cuts make situation worse. National Libraries Day 4/2/12 shaping up to be big – with special events, libraries opening longer that day, etc.  School libraries also under threat.  “We have had some success in mounting resistance to the philistine assault on libraries. We will have to redouble our efforts if we are to emerge from this period with a public library service and a network of school libraries worth the name. If we fail the consequences for literacy in this country will be dire.”.  School library visits also discussed.
  • Doubts grow, not economy, under UK austerity drive – Boston Globe (USA).  First line is “Manchester, England—Jobs have been lost, libraries shuttered, sailors sacked and street lights dimmed — Britain is beginning to taste the bitter medicine David Cameron warned was necessary to fix its wounded economy. It’s left some wondering: Is the remedy worse than the symptoms?” … Professor says “From almost day one they had an austerity plan, but they had no plan for growth”.
“At the age of 17, [Kurt Cobain] ran away from his mother’s house, and practically lived in the local library for the whole of one bitterly cold winter. He’d hang out there, reading books by authors like Salinger and Tolstoy, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lauren’s Van Der Post, waiting until his friends arrived home from school so he could bum macaroni cheese off them.” ijclark’s mind dump

  • Libraries judicial review concludes today – This is the West Country.  Jan Simpson-Scott, of Watchet Library Friends, said: “We have every confidence in our barrister and with the people of Watchet behind us, we firmly believe that we’ve done the best we could.”
  • Public library service is in really really deep waterGood Library Blog.  The publishing industry are increasingly seeing public libraries as unimportant/irrelevant.  This has been shown by the failure to come to an agreement over e-book lending.  As printed books decline, libraries will lose their reason.  Something needs doing quickly to ensure that this does not happen.

Changes

Worcestershire – Worcester Public Library rare books sold off (£200,000 plus): sale now restarted since suspension due to public outcry in April (Souce: Historic Libraries Bulletin, not currently available online).

Local News

  • Norfolk – Library hours change in Norfolk – KLFM.  8000 people responded to proposal to cut opening hours by an average 10% among libraries.  Change in hours starts on Monday. “The County Council has always resolved that none of its 47 libraries would close as part of its cost savings measures, made necessary by a reduction in government grants and rising cost pressures. The idea to reduce libraries’ opening hours as a way of helping to make the savings of £1.49 million expected of the library service over three years came out of Norfolk’s Big Conversation, the council’s consultation on prioritising its services in order to find savings.”
  • Nottinghamshire – Apprentice scheme at County Council – Eastwood and Kimberley Advertiser.  “A scheme creating 25 apprenticeships over the next year for teenagers aged 16 to 18 is being launched by Nottinghamshire County Council. The posts will be in a variety of services including catering, libraries and human resources and will offer apprentices 40 weeks paid work experience to achieve an NVQ.”
  • Somerset – Watchet Library NewsWatchet Library Friends (via Alan Gibbons).   Watchet Library was due to have been closed by now but legal injunction is still in force keeping it open until decision of court is revealed, which may be “months” away.  Further fundraising still needed to raise £9000 that Legal Services Commission has insisted on, although independent review said that only £3500 was needed.
  • Surrey – Actor Brian Blessed joins Surrey library campaign – BBC.   “A spokesman for the campaign group said: “Brian turned up to lend his support to the campaign to save both Bagshot library and its librarians and he stayed for an hour, during which he read stories to the children present in the library.”.  Council has said that it will decide to close any libraries that are not volunteer-run by December, although saying its aim is to keep all open.
    • New Haw Library Community Partnership – NatWest Community Force.  Appeal for votes for gaining grant.  “In the long-term, we are confident that our project can be self-financing. However, we need to fund what are essentially set-up costs. In particular, there are the legal fees that will ensure our project is properly constituted and can be registered as a charity. In this intial phase, we also want to maintain regular contact with the 150+ volunteers who have come forward to offer their help.”. 

  • Library campaigners stage demonstrations – BBC.   “Campaigners, who have continued their fight, urged people to bring “voice, banners, flags and friends” to the protests at the weekend. They were organising activities including card-making, painting, drawing and book-reading in support of local libraries and librarians, and were due to hold a rally outside Woking library…”
  • Torfaen – Pontypool library opens after makeover – Free Press.   Funded by Welsh Assembly.  “There is a more open layout on the ground floor, and the basement, which had previously only been accessible to staff, has been brought into public use as a computer suite and community meeting room. The library now has a disabled lift to the basement level.”
  • West Sussex – Self-service at town libraryCounty Times.   “The Bookstart Bear and children from Arunside School will be the first to use the new terminals when the library in Lower Tanbridge Lane opens its doors once again on Monday October 3.”
  • Worcestershire – Sale of Rare Books from Worcester Public Library – Historic Libraries Forum bulletin (not yet available online).  Old books are being sold via auction due to lack of space in new joint university/public library “The Hive” due to open in 2012.  Private company had suspended sales due to public outcry in April but has now restarted.  Items sold include Holinshed’s Chronicles 1587 and a 1522 Comoedia of Plautus.  Council admits it does not have the expertise to decide what to keep and what is most valuable and has asked anyone interested to help in disposal “to ensure that no item is sold in error”. “The sale of a complete set of The Gentleman’s Magazine in September was defended on the grounds of its digital availability, but the database cited covers only the first 20 years.”