Comment

The Select Committee Inquiry into Library Closures is going to be asking a lot of questions and they’re going to expect answers.  So, everyone interested had better starting thinking about it, one question at a time. The question I’ll focus on today is one that the committee has specifically said will come up: “What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?”.
That “for the 21st century” bit is red herring.  Library use is declining, as the CIPFA figures seem to indicate, not because of the date but because of financial pressures.  In England where the materials budget went down 6% (although, to be fair, overall budgets went down “only” 2.3% but with inflation at 3.5% that makes nearly a 6% cut in real spending terms)  usage went down around 2.5% [This sentence has been corrected slightly from the original due to a correction gratefully received - Ed.].  In Scotland and Wales, on the other hand, budgets stayed roughly the same and usage has increased.  Public library usage in England would presumably also have shown a slight increase (as it had over the three previous years) if funding had not been drastically cut. 
Drastically, that is, compared to before 2011. The few year’s ahead of us will make a 5% cut look like heaven. If we translate that “for the 21st century” as “for a time of unprecedented budget cuts”, it makes much more sense. There’s several ways to play this question.  One can argue with the premise of the question and say that library budgets should not be cut.  There are good solid reasons why they should not be after all.  For instance:
Another way is to accept that cuts could be made, that libraries are not a special case, but that cuts need to be proportionate to those of other services.  Use this one if you are prepared to see many libraries close. The average cut for local authority budgets is 28% over four years.  In some authorities a cut of that level would be a lot less than already announced (e.g.Cambridgeshire 48% cut, Doncaster and Northamptonshire over 50% cut) but in many others, the cuts announced so far appear to be in line, or less.  Besides, a cut of nearly a third over four years is drastic, a nightmare of unearthly proportions for services already underfunded.  In Gloucestershire, the service faces a 43% cut despite a cut already of 30%.  In such circumstances, a proportional cut is a cut that will close libraries or make them so poorly funded that they will fail anyway due to lack of use. 
Another thought on that “21st Century” thing.  This is also a reference to ebooks and the widespread use of the internet.  Many will already be familiar with the argument that the introduction of the internet and the ebook wipes out the need for libraries.  Not so.  It would if everyone had enough money to buy all the books they needed and had internet access at home.   We do not live in such a world, although many of those criticising libraries as outdated apparently do.  Most certainly, libraries should make provision for online access, databases and free internet use.  This represents a natural progression from their historic mission.  However, it is worth pointing out that if the traditional services – you know, little things like printed books and buildings – are to remain worthwhile, then such an advance into electronic resources means an addition to the budget, not a funding cut unparalleled in peacetime British history.  
Ebooks? Well where there’s not enough space to really even begin with ebooks.  I have always thought that free immediate access to books was the realm of the bookshop and not, despite all its wonders, the public library.  If you have wanted a bestseller from the library before the Age of Kindle, you had to physically go to it and, normally, join a waiting list.  Universal library ebooks, which many in the profession desire, destroy this inbuilt advantage towards booksellers.  It’s hard to see why someone would “buy” (it’s not really – but that’s another article) an ebook if they could lend it for free as easily.  There remains a big battle to be won by libraries over how publishers can afford to allow library ebooks and remain in business.  Perhaps the committee could be persuaded to allow some form of Public Lending Right for ebooks.  Without it, publishers and booksellers are unlikely to be willing partners in the long term. 
So there’s a lot for the Select Committee, and for library users and workers, to think about on this one question.  It will be worth the effort though. Because, otherwise, the 21st Century library is going to be, more often than not, closed.

422 libraries (332 buildings and 90 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 are 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.

Actions

  • Write about your views on public libraries to the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport.  Email cmsev@parliament.uk with “library closures” in subject line. Emails stand more chance of being effective if they give your views on (1) “what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st Century”, (2) to what extent library closures are compatible with the law and the Charteris Report, (3) the impact closures have on communities and (4) the effectiveness of the secretary of state’s powers of interviention.  Deadline: 12th January 2012. NB full details on how to submit your views are here.  More guidance on giving written and verbal evidence is here. 
  • Please sign the national petition in support of public libraries.
  • Email Justin Tomlinson MP for Swindon about your concerns.  He is the chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for libraries to be launched in December.

News

  • Alan Bennett Drops in for tear with Occupy London protesters - Guardian.  “The playwright took tea with activists on Friday, and left two signed copies of his work at the camp’s library tent.”
  • Christmas Gifts 2011: Julie Myerson - Guardian. “the book I’d most like to be given is anything bought at one of the two independent bookshops in Southwold, Suffolk. Except both have now closed down. Which makes membership of Southwold Library – now ludicrously also under threat – the best free gift you could give anyone there this Christmas.”
  • I love Hawaii LibrariesValdezign (USA).  Our family loves the library. Every week, our house is replenished with new books to read, CDs to listen to, and movies and TV shows on DVD to watch, all for free (and just $1 for DVDs)! But because of a more than $3,000,000 dollar budget reduction, Hawaii’s public libraries have been forced to slash hours and staff, with some branches even threatening to close. Friends of the Library Hawaii has already raised over $100,000 dollars in donations with their “Keep The Doors Open!” campaign but are far from reaching their goal of $3 million. How can you help? With a personalized Hawaii library t-shirt!”
  • In fight with Amazon, libraries caught in the crossfire - Publishers Weekly.   “But, librarians note, it is publishers that have changed the game. Unlike print books, which libraries own, e-books are licensed and access is managed, an expansion of power for publishers. Where a publisher would never be permitted to pull its physical books off a library shelf, or limit lends, publishers in the e-book world can now decide whether to allow access to an e-book at all, how to do it, and under what terms. “Loaning e-books is like playing with some other kid’s ball on the playground,” explained Christopher Harris on the ALA blog. “There is always a risk that the other kid will take back his or her ball and go home. This is a game libraries have to play.” Harris added, “I just wish we could bring our own ball.”
  • Launch eventThe Network.   “The Network is an opportunity for LIS workers from all sectors at all stages of their career – from students to senior professionals to meet, develop and learn.”
  • Library envyReader.  Mayor of Chicago is cutting library budgets, although his hometown has a fantastic library service and Chicago’s libraries are, if anything, over used.  “At the front desk, one incredibly harried librarian tried to work her way through a long line of patrons while the nearby pile of books and CDs in need of reshelving grew higher.”
  • Public libraries a free resource for any ageKid Companions (USA).   Very pro public library article.  “Make the public library your place for Information, Imagination, and Inspiration!  And if you want to open doors for your child, open the library doors!”
  • Public libraries lure more users -  Menafn (Africa).  Ghana/Kenya libraries doing well, with Ugandan libraries catching up.  Often a vital source of health, agriculture and employment.
  • Question raised in the House of Commons regarding the government’s museums and librarians budgets - They Work For You.  Dan Jarvis MP asks Ed Vaizey about funding, Mr Vaizey provides the tables.  Figures are almost entirely from museums and for the British Library (BL reduced from £105m 2010/11 to £93.4m 2014/15: if inflation stays at 5% this would mean budget to £78m in real spending power).  Public libraries largely excluded from figures apart from note that “MLA’s responsibility for libraries was transferred to Arts Council England (ACE) and on 9 November ACE launched a second Libraries Development Initiative. It will run between March 2012 and March 2013 supporting around 10 projects with a maximum of £20,000 per project to create vibrant, sustainable 21(st) century library service.” [MLA budget for libraries was £13m, ACE budget for libraries is now £3m - Mr Vaizey fails to mention this - Ed.].


This Week in Libraries: “What is a library?” from Jaap van de Geer.

Local News

  • Brent – Kensal Rise vicar: “We are praying for our libraries” - Save Kensal Rise Library.  “…we have been praying and will continue to pray, for both the library campaign and Brent Council, that a positive and peaceful solution would be found for the future of all our libraries and the overall welfare of the borough. A number of my congregation are passionate about trying to find a way forward to keep local services available for local people.”
  • Gloucestershire – Library friends to help with inquiry – This is Gloucestershire.  “The DCMS has been like a rabbit caught in the headlights and is now reacting, so let’s hope it will do this review properly and library users’ views will really be listened to. She said the group had received hundreds of letters from vulnerable people who use libraries as a lifeline.” 
    •  Lib Dems to question council’s stance on libraries - This is Gloucestershire.  “Liberal Democrats are once again challenging Gloucestershire County Council’s stance on libraries after their views were previously dismissed in “a cavalier fashion”.  Council leader accuses Lib Dems of jumping on a bandwagon.
  • Kirklees – Volunteers wanted to save libraries council can’t afford to run - Yorkshire Post.   “As a minimum, the community-run libraries would offer self-service books and other media loans, public access computers for accessing the internet, word processing and library-based events. Book reservation and inquiries would be provided through a free phone access to the nearby council-staffed library and information centre.”