Comment

I saw the picture above on the “Save Kensal Rise Library” (Brent) website on Wednesday and saw immediately that it had an important story to tell.  So I emailed the volunteers to ask permission to use the image, which they graciously agreed to.  
Here’s their story. A “pop up” library had been opened up by protestors after the closure of the local branch. Now, these are the campaigners who took Brent Council to court over plans to close half their branches.  They’re not to be messed with and they value public libraries greatly.  However, at face value, this picture would gladden the hearts of councils all around the country who are looking to those who love their libraries to work in them for free so that paid library staff can be cut.  If so, let us hope that the following quote from the Brent campaigners, kindly supplied, will dampen their spirits somewhat .  This is what they said:
“We think libraries should be free, public and staffed by librarians and trained staff.
Running the library is a ‘backs against the wall’ option for us. We don’t want the library to close and at the moment if running it ourselves is the only option we have then we will try and do it, but it is not our preferred option.

Our Pop up Library was a spontaneous action by the community here after the Judicial Review was lost in October. We wanted to keep the library going and prevent the council from boarding it up and taking out the contents. A 24 hour vigil to prevent this turned into the pop up library. Not ideal but better than no library and a boarded up library is a pretty shocking sight. After we were granted leave to appeal the idea took root and it has been manned ever since by volunteers. Symbolic, maybe, but it gives an idea of how important the library is to this community.”

They’re not Big Society enthusiasts, they feel they have no choice. 
There’s a further point here.  Brent Council are actually unusual in not accepting volunteer-run libraries.  If they ever do, they should learn a lesson from how other councils are abusing volunteers by pretending they’re keen as mustard and twice as hot.  It gets worse: today, we have a report about Wandsworth/Croydon possibly privatising their services and thus making “big profits from poor suckers”.  The “poor suckers” in question being the wonderful volunteers who run York Gardens Library who have already immensely helped Wandsworth by keeping open the library in most deprived area of that borough.   
Up and down the country, councils are in danger of abusing the good intentions of library users into staffing their service for them. Whatever the rights and wrongs, councils at least should treasure those that do step forward and not try to manipulate them for short-term political gain.  They deserve courtesy and backup.  They deserve the grim true situation to be described without glossy hype. Councils should not describe volunteers as “excited” to meet “new challenges” and portray them as chomping at the bit to do for free what they still pay tax for skilled staff to do for them.  Otherwise, these volunteers – who are, when it comes down to it, saving the council’s bacon by allowing them to portray themselves not as closers of libraries – may be tempted to simply walk away.  That would be a disaster not just for the council but, so much more importantly, for the communities who rely on the libraries so much.
Councils should, in a nutshell, use them with their full permission.

422 libraries (330 buildings and 92 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.

News

  • Area libraries offer more than just booksNorthwest Herald (USA). “Part of the success of these libraries, as well as the others in McHenry County, no doubt has been due to a concerted effort to provide programming that appeals to the whole community. And they’ve embraced the very technology that was supposed to be their undoing. For instance, the Huntley library has added Nook and Sony e-readers that are available for checkout. It also has Wii, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 games.”.  
  • Canadian library usage up 45% thanks to ebooks – Good E Reader (Canada).  “Lumos Research for the Canadian Urban Libraries Council has released new reports that are encouraging to the sustainability of the public library system in Canada. Across the country, library usage is up 45 per cent over the past decade, from 16.6 to 24.1 transactions on average per capita.” … “Despite the fact libraries are seeing record usage because of ebook lending, people are still visiting the actual location. The Grande Bibliotheque, like many new megalibraries across the globe, was designed to serve as a central meeting place.Not just to read, but to hold study groups, exhibitions and lectures. Berthiaume calls libraries one of those rare “third places” that is free to the public, and away from work and home.”
  • Checked out: big cuts in spending are forcing councils to re-examine how libraries work – Economist.   “Of all the cuts to public services, few have provoked such loud protests as proposals to close libraries” which has shocked councils including Oxfordshire.  6.7% decline in past five years masks 80% of population who consider libraries “very important” or “essential”.  So, stopped from closing libraries, councils are “stealthily” cutting them instead.  Other methods include giving libraries to trusts or using volunteers.  Merging managements of libraries looks promising.  Alternatively, some authorities are concentrating on one big library e.g. Birmingham, Norwich.  Cutting management and incrasing income has made Hillingdon popular.  “Libraries are not dead—just a little dusty”.
  • eHustings fro CILIP councillors 2012Wordshore.  “Question threads where the least number of candidates (in both cases, 3 out of the 6) replied: 1.What should a public library do or offer?, 2.e-books in libraries”
“Attitudes to Public Libraries in England”
“My library life started on a bookmobile and so I have never thought of libraries as buildings. They are a spirit in the community, a pervasive energy that touches everyone who acknowledges its presence.” Post on LinkedIn.  

Changes

 Local news

  • Bath and North East Somerset Mobile libraries could be cut as council aims to save £12 million – This is Bath.   Report “recommends consulting on cutting all mobile library services from April, because it would cost £180,000 to replace them.” … “However, the authority wants to invest in other library services, including £170,000 worth of funding for the relocation of Paulton Library”
  • Bedfordshire – Money saving tech to cost library jobs – Bedford Today.   Bedford Central Library being converted to self-service. “Dough McMurdo, portfolio holder for leisure and culture at Borough Hall said: “Many local authorities have been forced to make library closures, but despite severe budget constraints we are investing in our library service and have not closed any of our libraries.”
  • Cambridgeshire – Wisbech Library to host ten authors for book fair – Cambs Time 24.   “Alison Sutton, community and service co-ordinator at Wisbech Library, said: “Join us for a cup of tea and a mince pie, and have a look at the work of 10 authors, who will be available to sign what you buy. “There will also be a second-hand book sale if you want to stock up on your holiday reading.”
  • Camden – Hopes soar in battle to keep Chalk Farm, Belsize and Heath libraries open – Camden New Journal.    “All three libraries had “expressions of interest” lodged at the Town Hall by Monday’s deadline. The groups will be told if their bids are successful on December 20, but it now looks increasingly likely the three branches will remain open beyond April next year when council funding dries up.”
  • Conwy – Conwy’s libraries could be put in hands of the community – North Wales Weekly News.   “The council has approved recommendations that would see services in smaller communities move into schools or community centres. Volunteers would then be required to help run these facilities to keep services going.” … “I’m very delighted that Conwy’s councillors have decided to throw local libraries a lifeline after what has been a hard fought campaign,” he said. “Both Kinmel Bay and Cerrigydrudion have been defined as deprived areas in terms of educational attainment and income levels and it is therefore essential that these libraries receive extra protection from closure.””.  Welsh Government may intervene if Conwy does not improve soon… “If a decision is not made by July 2012, the [Welsh] government may use its powers under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to take over the management of Conwy’s library service.”
  • Highland – Service point to move to libraryNorth Star.  “Highland Council looks set to do an about-turn with its plans to move Invergordon library into the town’s service point. The council has revisited the proposal and is now recommending that the High Street service point relocates to the library.”
  • Northamptonshire – Library supporters want answers to budget plans – Herald & Post. The Friends of Irchester Library want some answers from the County Council. Today, a group of officers will meet a delegation from the group who want to know what funding is in place for the village facility during the 2012/13 financial year.” …”“It would be nice to know some sort of idea what they were expecting from the friends group.””
  • Surrey – Libraries announcement nothing but spin – Surrey Libraries Action Movement.   “The original library plan says that progress of the first tranche of volunteer libraries would be reviewed in April 2013, and then the second tranche would be subject to the same volunteer-run model. In his announcement, Hodge has given himself the perfect excuse (when the foreseeable Council Tax freeze is announced) to carry out the original plan to press on with the second tranche.”.  20% paid staffing for withdrawn libraries is old news too.  “It is very clear, therefore, that David Hodges announcement is simply a restatement of what is already in the plan. Hodge has misled Surrey residents in claiming that he has offered something new because he has “listened and learned”; he has done nothing of the sort.”
  • Wandsworth/Croydon – Council library services out to tender – This is Local London.  “Each proposal will be benchmarked against the service levels offered by the existing library teams. The move aims to generate savings through sharing overheads and buying power.” … ““Five years ago our options were limited but now there is a developing and competitive marketplace out there with a lot to offer. If an outsider can do a better job at a lower cost then we won’t be afraid to take the first step.”
 “Unfortunately, Wandsworth Council “forgot” to inform or consult those who are reluctantly volunteering at the York Gardens Library in order to keep it open.  If the Council give the contract to a profit making organisation, someone will be making a profit from those volunteer hours. So much for the “big society” – it could be big profits from poor suckers.”