Comment

John McTernan kicked up a hornet’s nest today when  he wrote in the Telegraph that we should close public libraries and that those who defend them are liberal whingers.  There has been an incredibly quick response to this by librarians and library users.  McTernan himself has tweeted that he has never had such a strong response to an article.  Incredibly, he is an ex-public librarian.  He was also a senior policy adviser and director of political operations for Tony Blair.  He obviously is not aware that such a thing as the Summer Reading Challenge is increasing in popularity, with 780,000 children taking part this year.  In the light of this, I really hope that the article is a fake one, designed to show how silly such anti-library arguments are.
If such people as John McTernan are at the heart of the Labour Party, and serious in their ignorance, then it could be a reason why Labour have been so poor in their response to the library cuts so far. The opoosition leader has at least shown he is aware of problems in the library world. Ed Miliband, the MP for Doncaster, has at least mentioned the subject on Friday, although his statement was simply more a statement of the facts than a real defence.
Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem MP for Brent (and Minister for Children and Families) has written to the Council to ask them to rethink their library closures.  While on the subject, I need to apologise for getting my facts wrong last week – she was not silent at the time, as I had suggested, but had come out in favour of the campaigners.
Meanwhile, other politicians seem set on destroying what appears to be one of the most efficiently run libraries in the country. A spat between Croydon and Lambeth over jointly-funded Upper Norwood Library is threatening its future.  Conservative-run Croydon is blaming Labour-run Lambeth for the failure.  The reason is Lambeth refused to send councillors to a meeting as Croydon were sending two non-local councillors, there being no local Conservative ones. Other suspicions abound though – that Croydon is simply trying to save money (especially as the branch sits in Lambeth territory) or that it is diverting attention from its unpopular plans for privatising the whole service.  Another suspicion is that, simply, party politics is being played with politicians being happy to see the library become a casualty in a point-scoring game.
Things you can do today
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.

News

  • Ann Widdecombe is right: Christianity in Britain is under severe persecution – Daily Mail.  Public libraries have been instructed to place Bibles on the highest shelf – as if they were some sort of pornography likely to deprave and corrupt.” [This relates to 2009 MLA advice to Leicester and is so rare in practice that it caused a long discussion on the LIS-PUB-LIBS librarian message board about where the article had got it from – Ed.]
  • Let’s zip up the unreadable trashIndependent (Boyd Tonkin).  But the law, which turned against the protesters when a judicial review of library closures last week found in favour of Brent, still holds out hope. They have leave to appeal the judgment authorising the closures; it will be heard in early November. This swift re-match suggests that at least someone at the High Court values local libraries. In the meantime, the campaign has gained an injunction preventing the council from further action to wreck the suspended branches.”
  • Liberal whingers are wrong: we should close our libraries – Telegraph.   In a deeply wrong and embarrassing piece that is full of arrogant assumptions that everyone has the middle-class resources of the writer, an ex-public librarian claims libraries are no longer used and middle-class people are campaigning to save them simply due to misplaced guilt.  The argument is that (a) Libraries no longer fill a unique gap as everyone now has the Internet and digital TV and mobile phones, (b) Library computers are too old and slow and are so are not used (c) everyone has the money and access to buy any book they need by the internet and (d) every child has a quiet study space at home and so libraries are not needed as study areas either.  Each and every one of these assumptions is wrong, making the piece ironic.  [One suspects it of being a lampoon. I really hope it is for the sake of the author – Ed.]
    • Philip Pullman: Using the internet is like looking at a landscape through a keyhole – Telegraph.  ““A fight by middle class liberals? I’ll plead guilty there. But, firstly, what on earth is wrong with that? And, secondly, how does he know it’s condescension and guilt that’s moving us?” he says.“And I notice he doesn’t mention the needs of children at all except to say that ‘virtually every kid has a desk at home’. What the hell does he know about it? It’s absolutely bloody nonsense to say every child has a desk to study.”
    • Just another liberal Whinger?Walk You Home.  Lauren Smith demolishes the article above.
    • Colm Linnane: John McTernan Is Wrong About Libraries – Scottish Book Trust. Another excellent rebuttal piece.
    • Iain Dale LBC 97.3 (Radio).  Friday, 9.30pm to 10pm.  Conversation on McTernan article.  Largely very favourable to libraries.  Annie Mauger (chief of CILIP) was first on, saying libraries had 322m visits last year and that the 1964 Act set up by a Tory government. She did not deny cuts had to made but said that they needed to be proportional, with substitute services being provided.  Iain Dale was largely very pro libraries but said that they had to take their “fair share” of the cuts. Several times.  All public comments were favorable including from children, teenagers, jobseekers, students, accountants and senior citizens. Most said “I love my library”. Even the Director of the Libertarian Alliance was pro.  He said that they were a very useful as a boy but were an easy target.  Powers that be would rather cut any service rather than their bloated salaries or Town Hall employees.  However, he did not like some modern libraries as they had loud kids and too many computers.  He was far more pro quiet useful reference placed with “improving journals”.  He was very keen on “browsing up and down the shelves”.  Many callers made that the point that libraries are an essential part of our community.  Some callers said that libraries should be expanded, with more cafes and larger spaces.  There was not a single person suggesting that libraries were not relevant or should be closed.
 “Most vigorous response to any piece I have ever written: http://tgr.ph/oyQV0t Because of time zones I will respond over the weekend.” John McTernan (Twitter) author of “Liberal Whinger” article [obviously being messaged by a lot of said whingers – Ed.]

“My attention has been drawn to an article in the Daily Telegraph purported to be  by John Mcternan in which it is  suggested that libraries are not be used and should be closed. I taught John at Sheffield University when he was on our MA Librarianship programme and, to say the least , find his views surprising. Moreover I know that he subsequently became  involved in Labour politics and was an adviser to Tony Blair and often appears on television to present Labour views. As a lifetime Labour supporter  I hope this article does not in any way represent Labour Policy. In fact it echoes the views from right wing think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute et al.. Given that there is a major meeting on library cuts in London tomorrow I hope that the Labour Party will publicly  refute the views in the article. If it is indeed by John Mcternan, who many people regard as a Labour spokesperson it will do the party great damage. Perhaps Ms. Harman who now shadows cultural affairs would comment?”  Bob Usherwood, ex tutor to John McTernan in open email to Labour.

  • Library cuts “threaten child reading project” – London Evening Standard.  “library closures in government spending cuts risk damaging the scheme, which accounts for a fifth of all books issued to children in a year. Figures show 780,000 children took part this year in the national Summer Reading Challenge organised by the Reading Agency – a 20,000 increase on last year.” … “Miranda McKearney, the agency’s director, said skilled librarians were key to the challenge’s success, and emphasised the importance of having libraries as dedicated reading spaces. “Those who say we no longer need libraries should get real and take a long, hard look at the huge public response to the programme,” she said.”
    • Summer Reading challenge numbers rise – BookSeller.   “”Children who use libraries are twice as likely to be above-average readers, and we can’t afford to lose the creativity, passion and massive community mobilisation libraries bring to the task of turning children into readers for life.”
    • 2011 Summer Reading Challenge resultsBookTrade Info. “The scheme looks set to account for 20% of all books issued to children in a year. 53,000 children have newly joined their local library to take part, and boys look set to account for 44% of the total who have participated. Many were supported by teenage volunteers from secondary schools,”.  Includes quotes from children and teenagers.

Changes

Somerset – Bishops Lydeard library will be taken over by volunteers in April if judicial review fails.  Users will be charged £3 per year for membership

Local News

  • Brent – MP demands “grown up” conversation over librariesHarrow Observer.  Ms Teather has written to Gareth Daniels, the chief executive of Brent Council. She is urging the authority to properly consider the library campaigner’s proposals for keeping the six libraries open. Ms Teather, who is also Children and Families minister, said: “Everyone I talk to in Brent wants the libraries to stay open and I hope that the Labour Council can take this opportunity to reflect on their actions, see sense and start talking to local people.” … ” the MP also wrote to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, to urge the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to instigate a local inquiry into the closure of half the libraries in the borough”
    • Children’s Minister asks Hunt to intervene in Brent – BookSeller.  
    • Teather urges Brent Council to have a grown up conversation with Library CampaignersSarah Teather and Brent Liberal Democrats. “A negotiated solution at this point would also mean that Brent Council could stop wasting tax-payers money fighting its own residents and start protecting the services treasured by the community.”
    • More cuts: library closure challenge fails – UK Human Rights Blog. “a resounding defeat for the campaigners” but appeals and other actions may take place.  “Meanwhile the campaign gathers pace, with high profile supporters such as Philip Pullman – and possibly low profile supporters like my toddler –  set to join the demonstration outside Kensal Rise library at the weekend.”
    • All Souls in library disputeCherwell. “It is believed that, owing to the covenant under which the library building was given to the community, ownership of the building will pass back to All Souls if the building ceases to be a library.” … “if ownership were to revert to All Souls they would be unlikely to keep the library running, telling Cherwell, “All Souls is an institution committed to funding world-class research in Oxford. We cannot justify funding a library in Kensal Rise: that is the ambit of local government.”  
  • Camden – Muswell Hull Library celebrates 80 years service to the communityHam & High. “Muswell Hill, remains for many residents a beacon of public learning.” … “Nowadays the library is relied upon by “people from all sectors of the community, and that’s how it should be,”
  • Croydon – Upper Norwood Library is an embarrassment – Timothy Godfrey.  Jointly run library is run for £400k per year rather than the £658k average for a purely Croydon library. Council has broken agreement and is seeking to divert attention away from its “unpopular” plans to privatise its service.  45% of Croydon libraries budgets is on “back office contracts”.  Councillor Godfrey wants Labour to agree to take over any libraries privatised by the current Conservative-run Croydon Council.
  • Lambeth seeking urgent meetings with Croydon Council over Upper Norwood LibraryCroydon Guardian. Croydon has “pulled out” of running Upper Norwood Library.  Croydon unhappy that Labour-run Lambeth refused to attend joint committee meeting because two Conservative councillors from outside of the area were nominated onto it, rather than local Labour Croydon councillors.     Lambeth suspects Croydon simply wants to shift full cost of service onto it, especially as the Library is sited in Lambeth territory.
  • Council forced to pull out of library arrangement – Croydon Council.  “This breach has been caused by Lambeth refusing to attend the last Annual General Meeting and failing to co-operate at the 2010 meeting. This means that there has been no effective oversight of the management of the library for almost two years, including no effective oversight of financial management and staffing issues. Lambeth also continues to insist on Croydon putting local councillors onto the committee, despite the fact that the council is advised that this would be illegal under current government legislation concerning executive committee structures.” 
“Libraries provide a valuable service for communities – but Mayor Davies’ plans mean, in many cases, the communities themselves will now need to find the cash and resources to run that service.” Ed Miliband. Doncaster – Leader slams library cuts – Thorne and District Gazette.  14 libraries have had funding withdrawn.  Mayor has also used his executive powers to ensure no-one but his Cabinet could speak on libraries at vital council meeting.

  • Islington – Findings of libraries consultation revealedIslington Tribune.library users go to the branch nearest their home and mainly do so to borrow books. This is the major finding” [well, duh! – Ed.].  “Asked what they wanted to see in the future, 89 per cent of people said a wide range of books was most important to them. The second most important factor was having a library that was easy to get to (86 per cent)…” Least popular was spending on self-service machines and cutting bookfund or library staff.
  • North Yorkshire – Big Society welcomed, but not at any priceAdvertiser.   Council is moving towards not funding any “Big Society” projects … “our role is to facilitate and enable people to do what they want to do, not do it for them”.
  • Somerset – Bishops Lydeard library “takeover” on hold – This is the West Country.  Volunteers say ““We’d planned to take over from the start of October, but the judicial review has stopped that – it’s not going to be until at least April now.” … Local builder Charlie Back, who owns the building, has agreed to let it rent free for two years, while the council is donating £5,000 for set-up costs, the current stock of books and some equipment.”.  Members will be charged £3 per year. 

International

  • Council backs down on library charges Waikato Times (New Zealand).  The Hamilton City Council has bowed to public pressure and axed a plan to charge for borrowing library books.But though users won’t have to pay for borrowing books, they probably will have fewer books to choose from: the council voted to slash the book collections budget by $200,000.”.  Children held up signs saying “bad idea”.  “I congratulate the council for their vision,” she said. “The only thing I can see lacking is ceremonial book-burning in Garden Place to cement the idea books don’t really matter that much.”
  • Digital textbooks open a new chapter BBC (South Korea). “By 2015, it wants to be able to deliver all its curriculum materials in a digital form through computers. The information that would once have been in paper textbooks will be delivered on screen.”.  The country has banned private tutoring.  ” It now outperforms all European countries and the US at reading”….”An unscrupulous government could relish the fact that everything a child learns is controllable through one, easily manipulated, digital portal.”