Comment

House of Commons – Oral answers to questions: Libraries - Hansard.  Ed Vaizey, Minister-technically-in-favour-of-Libraries was asked questions by several MPs today (Thursday).  The following are his key statements (in bold) with my analysis thereafter:

(a) Library cuts are due to local authority decisionsThe DCMS has met seven of these to “discuss their proposals”. But then they have done absolutely nothing.  At least six local authorities (Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Somerset, Brent, Lewisham, Doncaster) cut services to a similar level as the Wirral case Ed got so hot under the collar about when in opposition.
(b) Trafford has opened a new library in Urmston.  Librarians are “incredibly important”.  Ed does not mention the five at all – two are to be entirely converted to self-service (unstaffed), two are to be run by volunteers and one mobile library to close.  One of these libraries, Old Trafford, had a major refurbishment last year. Ed has not given any guidelines on what level of professional staffing is necessary and is in favour of “community”  branches in, for example in Oxfordshire where many will be 50% staffed by volunteers.  Northamptonshire today is making volunteers working in libraries to replace paid staff a part of its policy.  North Yorkshire is also following this line, as are many others.  It is easy to say things like librarians are “incredibly important”, it takes more effort to actually protect them.
(c) “local authorities have challenging decisions to make, and my approach is to give them the space and time to make those difficult proposals. Local authorities are going about their provision differently but all have a strong commitment to their library service, and the Government are also strongly committed through maintaining the statutory duty. Giving infinite space and time is inaction, not an approach.  The Government is keeping the statutory duty on the record books but, by completely refusing to enforce it, has effectively made it useless.  Ed waited while campaigners in Glos/Somerset won their case, those in Brent lost (and have appealed), and the Isle of Wight failed to challenge cuts in the courts due to inability to secure funding.  Therefore, Ed’s policy is to wait for the public to raise the money or not for the legal challenges themselves and to ignore the problem either way.
(d) “co-locating a library service, whether with a children’s centre or other services, is very important.” It can save money while delivering mutual benefits, it’s true … but it has many down sides if rushed into or if both sides are squeezed into the same space as one of them had before…
“In practice, however, this model is not achievable everywhere. There are not many existing buildings with the space to include a full library service, and cost is always going to be a major issue when it comes to building new ones. Most children’s centres and village halls, for example, even if the expertise of trained library staff is made available, are much too small to accommodate a large enough stock of books or to be able to run an efficient library service alongside their normal business.”  Vivien Hampshire, library outreach worker for a children’s centre.”
(e) “it is also worth focusing on the fact that more than 40 libraries are opening or being refurbished across the country“.  40 out of 4612 that is.  Please compare with the c.400 under threat of closure or removal from council funding.  Also, several, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester Centrals are being refurbished/built due to investment in place before 2010.  The figure also presumably includes controversial decisions such as Brent where a big new library will be built at the expense of closing six branches. Of course, Ed reduced the grant from £13m to £3m for upgradubg libraries when he abolished the MLA earlier this year, thus reducing by three quarters what was available in upgrading/support money from central government.
(f) “Unlike the previous Government, we are not putting that statutory duty under review.” The previous Goverment never put the statutory duty under review.  It was mentioned as a possibility in a discussion paper.

414 libraries (323 buildings and 91 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.

If you haven’t already done so, please add your name to this open letter to Ed Vaizey

News

  • Library closures: writers attack Ed Vaizey in open letter - Guardian.  “Joanna Trollope, Yann Martel, Patrick Ness and Kate Mosse were among the 200-plus signatories to a blistering open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey urging him to take action to prevent libraries from closing up and down the country. Penned by library campaigners in Gloucestershire, who saw a judge rule last month that their council’s plan to close 10 libraries was unlawful and should be quashed, the letter lambasts Vaizey for his “deafening” silence in the face of library cuts and closures, and calls on him to act.”.  DCMS has promised that Ed Vaizey will respond but their bland everything-is-OK reply at the end of article shows why so many people are angry at the start of the article.
“Use of statutory powers, including intervention, will be exercised on a case by case basis only when all other avenues of dialogue have been exhausted.” DCMS [on the basis of the minister's inaction this year, campaigners suspect "all other avenues" may include waiting until the heat death of the universe - Ed.]

  • Time reveals Person of the Year: The Protester – BBC.   While library supporters are not actually listed in this article, I think one can assume the article includes them in spirit.
  • Why I’m against library privatization - Social Action Web (USA).   The main goal of a corporation is to increase shareholder wealth, not to delight library patrons.” … “The pattern also includes slashing benefits for library workers, blurring lines between trained professionals and volunteers, and hiding behind the corporate veil when there are any hard community questions.” … “in LSSI’s contract, that there is a demerit system for being late and a demerit for not telling on a co-worker who is late.”
  • Why the Big Society plays havoc with Britain’s borrowers - Independent.   “Local authorities have a legal duty to provide public libraries, not for the benefit of poets but for the sake of people who have no other adequate access to learning. Some councils seem to believe this duty is an option.” (mentions Glos, Somerset, Brent, Lewisham).  “Today, there will be a small step towards slowing this impending cultural catastrophe when MPs gather to form an All-Party Parliamentary Libraries Group, chaired by the Tory MP Justin Tomlinson, who oversaw Swindon’s libraries for four years as a local councillor. Mr Tomlinson is not looking to embroil the group in political controversy. He says he wants it to be “positive and constructive” in dispersing information about how councils can run modernised libraries more efficiently.”
  • Windsore, Ontario, Library ends late fees, moves into art gallery - Library Journal (USA).  “”We are trying to project a modern, inclusive, welcoming and relevant image to our customers,” Windsor Public Library Board Chair Al Maghnieh said in a library press release. “Fines have a negative connotation which serves to limit access and in my mind are punitive. We don’t want to alienate our customers; we want them using our facilities. Fines perpetuate the old-fashioned, stereotypical view of public libraries and serve to address 21st-century problems with 19th-century solutions,” he said.”. 

Changes 

Caerphilly – Aberbargoed library may close, transferred to new library in Bargoed. 
Nottinghamshire - Some hours regained in libraries whos opening had been cut in half earlier in 2011.  Bookfund cut.

Local News

“The mercury on the hand-drawn marker is currently standing at an impressive £300,000 after just a month of fundraising – but the Primrose Hill Community Association leading the bid are aiming for £1.2 million in pledges. The campaign must be one of the country’s glitziest with stars such as Joan Bakewell, Sadie Frost and Jon Snow all backing the campaign. Author India Knight told the New Journal last week she would be pledging her time and money to the new library. “

  • Doncaster – Update and open letter to Ed Vaizey - Save Doncaster Libraries.  We (and thousands around the country) believe he is neglecting his responsibility to superintend the UK’s library service. “.  Analyses poor situation in Doncaster libraries and inadequate response.
  • Gloucestershire – Public library meeting raises concern - This is Glos.   “A public meeting was held in Gloucester last night to discuss the future of the public library service in the county. Library users came from many different communities across Gloucestershire. In a packed meeting hall at the GAVCA offices on Eastgate Street, the front row was reserved for invited senior members of the County Council administration. Several speakers expressed their disappointment that Gloucestershire County Council administration and officers responsible for library services had declined an invitation to the meeting.”
    • Library campaigner’s letter to minister backed by hundreds - This is Glos.  FoGL responded to article by adding “The point of the letter that this article refers to is that the county council, in light of the lack of supervision by DCMS, were taken to the High Court and their plans were deemed unlawful…..any exhaustion of dialogue happened some time ago when the plans were confirmed as final (not “proposed plans” as you suggest) and the DCMS allowed GCC to carry on down the unlawful path. They were due to implement the unlawful plans in JULY and were only stopped due to an injunction. This comment really does make the DCMS look very foolish. DCMS were “monitoring” and had “met with” GCC officers to discuss unlawful plans and did nothing.   Also mentioned in Booktrade.info.
    • Library proposals in Gloucestershire to be reconsidered after High Court ruling - Gazette.  “So far the authority has revealed no details of the new proposals but the council has said the plans must be sustainable and affordable. The county council’s cabinet will be meeting on January 20 to discuss the plans, and if agreed, a public consultation will then be launched.”
  • Hertfordshire – Petition set up against school library cuts - Comet.   ““It’s a vital service, especially for primary schools and smaller secondary schools,” said Hitchin-based Andy Darley, who heads the group. “School librarians tend to be working on their own, they don’t tend to have a network.” … “The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) and the National Literacy Trust (NLT) also condemned the likely closure of the Herts service this week, and said it could eventually impact the whole country.”  See also Alan Gibbons
  • North Yorkshire – Grave fears over council’s “unworkable” plans - Yorkshire Post.  “it has now emerged that Hunmanby library – one of eight branches earmarked for closure next year unless volunteers take over the running of it – currently does not have a viable scheme.”
  • Northamptonshire – Local deal proposed for people of NorthamptonshireAbout My Area.   “”In return though we are asking people across the county to get further engaged in the services we know they value so much. To help us bring costs down for example we need volunteers to help at libraries and to help at country parks.”
  • Nottinghamshire – Moves to keep 15 libraries open for an extra 70 hours - This is Nottingham.   “…just months after they were cut by up to half. Notts County Council has announced plans to keep the libraries open for an extra 70 hours a week from April next year after finding extra cash in its budget.” … “Mr Cottee said management restructuring and changes in the way the service is run had led to savings of £110,000, which the council would use to pay for the increased opening hours.”
  • Western Isles –  Council to make £3.1 million cuts and savings - Hebrides News.  “Cuts are also being explored in grants to voluntary groups, economic development, sport, libraries and public toilets.”