Comment

Basically, the old way was pay to keep the library open or close it.  Now there is a third way, which is blackmail the local community to do it for free.  It is a wonderfully attractive option for councils who are faced with drastic budget reductions and it may well seem better than just closing it, especially if the ideology of the council is pro-Big Society in the first place.  It is also better, in the immediate sense, for the community in that at least it still has a library.

In the long-term and nationally, though, this third option is a nightmare.  Before I go further, I should make clear that I mean no insult to the volunteers involved – they love their libraries, they’re being forced by their love to work intensely hard for it.  They deserve, frankly, medals.  They’re not doing this for the sheer joy of it.  They’re doing it to save their library.  Very interestingly, when I asked 40 library campaigners the question “would you want to run your library instead of the council if the council was happy to continue running it themselves?” none said that they would.  Frankly, some seemed confused by the question.  These are not people filled with a we-hate-council-run-services zeal.  Quite the opposite.  They love them so much they’re willing to put their lives into it. 

However, long-term I stick by the statement.  Why? It instantly devalues libraries to an “anyone can do it” shelves-with-books on model. It also destroys any semblance of worth to the library profession – if volunteers can do it well, doesn’t that make all librarians basically benefit scroungers, con-people who are being paid for doing a fun hobby?  Does anyone actually believe that this is the case?  If so, would you mind standing still while I repeatedly datestamp your head?
Most importantly, this third way shields the council from fully facing up to the consequence of closing a library.  After all, they haven’t.  So, they can do it again next year.  And again.  If a library fails, it’s not their fault.  They have a get out of jail free card.  If the whole national library service dies in the meantime, it’s not the council’s fault

Pontius Pilate knew this trick too

428 libraries (339 buildings and 89 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.

Things you can do today

News

  • California must value librarians, libraries can’t run themselvesLos Angeles Times.  California paid for my master’s degree in library and information science. While I am grateful to have had the grant and the opportunity to go back to school, I wish now that I had instead trained to be an electrician, a plumber or an auto mechanic. California does not value librarians.”

  • Libraries need designers – Tara Robertson.  “Librarians often complain that people do not respect our professional skills, yet we often believe that we can do our own design work, even though we are not designers. This is as stupid and offensive as people saying we don’t need libraries because we’ve got Google. Google is a tool and not a replacement for a librarian. Adobe’s Creative Suite and a suitcase full of fonts do not make you a designer, it just means that you have some tools.”
  • Library Campaign Conference – from local to national – Information Overload.  Summary of the conference from a librarian / campaigner. 
  • March on the DCMS! Open public meeting – Library Campaign.  “One of the chief actions to come out of last Saturday’s conference was that we should organise, in February, a national demonstration for public libraries in London, route to include Downing Street and/or the DCMS. One suggestion is that at DCMS, or in Trafalgar Square, we might have a read-in. This is not in opposition to 4 February, 2012, which is National Libraries Day. It could take place later in the month, so that the local activities on 4 February are an opportunity to build for the march.”.  
  • National Library Campaign Conference – Walk You Home.   “I think it helped to put campaigners in touch with information and resources they can benefit from. It’s hard to get the message out to everyone about what we do in Voices for the Library, the resources we have on the site that might be of use, and the network of people with experience of library campaigning that we can put in touch with each other, so the event and subsequent publicity has helped. At the same time, it can be hard to be obvious about our limits to manage expectations – we’re all volunteers working full time jobs, and Voices isn’t a funded organisation. We can’t save libraries all on our own and we need a national network – which is why the day was organised in the first place!”.  Two action points are (1) organise national wiki for campaign groups and (2) arrange a national protest event.
  • Providing a serviceBookSeller.   Looks at volunteering in libraries – they provide an excellent service, sometimes the only service, but at what cost?  “I think where people feel short-changed is the idea that libraries can be run exactly as before, but instead of paying people (after all library staff are known for their profligate ways) we will get unpaid volunteers to do it for nothing. Why should the government take advantage like this? And can the service provided really be as good? As a commenter on The Bookseller site recently asked: “Would you be happy to be treated by volunteer doctors and have your children taught by volunteer teachers?”. On the other hand, most people would rather have some sort of library service than nothing at all.”
“We are extremely concerned that the Government is currently consulting on whether existing statutory protection for public libraries should be retained.

We believe that libraries provide a valuable service for local communities, access to books for those who cannot afford them, the provision of business information and opportunities for self-directed learning, education and literacy. Not to mention somewhere quiet for homework, or access to the internet. Many libraries give children their first introduction to the world of books and learning.

The Labour Party is running a campaign with a petition to save our libraries which can be found here: http://www.campaignengineroom.org.uk/save-our-libraries.”

Changes

Bolton – The five libraries slated for closure have now been made open for groups to take over, business plans need to be with council by 5th December
Central Bedfordshire – Consultation until 18th January 2012

Local News

  • Bolton – Councils throw libraries a lifeline – This is Lancashire. “Volunteer groups are being given the chance to run one of the five closing libraries in the town. Finance chiefs at Bolton Council are inviting people to submit business plans for each of the libraries.Application forms go online today and groups have until December 2 to draft their initial proposals.”.  However, groups will need to pay rent and pay for all costs, including in one case £57,000 in repairs.
  • Central Bedfordshire – Don’t keep your voice down – About My Area.  “Residents across Central Bedfordshire are being encouraged to get involved in shaping the future of libraries, following the successful Big Library debate over the summer. The council received over 2000 responses from local residents and stakeholders, and is using all the feedback collected to inform the future direction of local services.”
  • Dorset – Hope for threatened libraries in West Dorset – Bridport News. “Dorset County Council agreed to have a second vote on the future of the service … Coun Dover has used council procedures that allow the vote to be retaken after she submitted an application signed by ten fellow councillors, all members of her party.”  
  • Hertfordshire – Out-of-hours library plans a step closer for Hertfordshire Watford Observer.   More on plan to allow charities to use library out of hours as long as they help if someone wants to take out a book. ““We hope this innovative and exciting initiative will make libraries more like community hubs than simply learning resources. This will benefit our communities and help build stronger links with voluntary groups in Hertfordshire.”
  • Northern Ireland – Local politicians condemn library closure – Mid-Ulster Mail.  “During the so-called consultation process and other subsequent meetings with Libraries NI representatives it was increasingly obvious from their attitude that they were intent on closing as many libraries as possible in order to save money and resources.”
  • Waltham Forest – Leytonstone: library closure petition voted down Guardian series.   “Harrow Green Library in Leytonstone will close within weeks despite a full council debate on a petition against the move” … 5000 name petition.  “The petition was voted down by the council’s Labour majority, who agreed to press ahead with the closure, with the Conservatives abstaining and the Liberal Democrats voting in support.”
  • Wandsworth – Join us on 1st November when we reopen – Save York Gardens.  York Gardens Library and Community Centre will be hosting a reopening event on Tuesday 1st November from 6pm to 8pm. The Mayor of Wandsworth will be joining us to formally reopen the library, which was due to close over the summer. Fortunately, the community campaign to save the library means that the doors of the library will once again be open to readers and the community rooms will be available to hire at new reduced rates.”