It is a matter for each local authority to configure their library services to fulfil the statutory duty placed on them under the 1964 Act—namely to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” public library service for their local library users. There is no absolute or single standard. Local authorities must assess local need and arrange their services to meet that need in light of available resource. It is for elected council members and local officials, in consultation with their communities, to make any necessary decisions about how money is being spent, to fulfil all their legal duties and having regard to all their community needs. A community supported [meaning “volunteer-run” – Editor] library can be used in addition to the public library service or, in a measured way, as part of it but only in appropriate circumstances and after careful analysis.” Ed Vaizey, Written Answers, Hansard

With this, the minister for libraries has announced that volunteer-run libraries will be counted as statutory as long as the local authority can prove it has done its homework.  Given the completely hands-off, indeed one could say almost non-existent, oversight of the sector by the DCMS over the last year, this will be seen as a further green light by cash-strapped councils to do what they like.  While Ed Vaizey’s comments in Parliament will raise a few eyebrows, it is completely in line with the strategy of giving councils carte blanche to do what they want in order to cope with the deepest financial cuts in British peacetime history.  It goes completely against Ed Vaizey’s comments while he was in opposition but, again, this will not be surprising to the many who have followed his u-turn from evangelical library campaigner while in opposition to a seemingly comatose “anything goes” minister now.

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) – another body that has been notable in its absence over the last year – has announced a National Digital Promise.  It seems to include a multitude of things that every library service should be doing anyway.  The list is below, with my thoughts, as should be fairly obvious, in italics:

  • A promise to work towards a webpage “portal” for available online resources a national catalogue of library stock. This is just a promise, but should be relatively easy to set up, though, given willing by all parties. 
  • Free online access in every library for a minimum period.  This is a reassuring move, as authorities would doubtless be looking at this possibility.  Some no doubt are already charging.  There is a slight worry that there is no definition of a “minimum period”.  Half an hour would be the absolute minimum: one hour would be preferable as this is the minimum useful time for writing CVs/jobhunting etc.
  • “Clear and accessible online information about library services”. Does some council somewhere not have a webpage like this? 
  • Staff trained to help users access digital information. They should all be trained anyway and it is embarrassing that it seems by this that many are not. There is no mention, incidentally, that these staff should be paid.
  • Access to online public resources that don’t turn off in the evenings or weekends. Does anyone’s online resources actually turn off for the evenings now?  Where?
  • Libraries to be able to use emails for answering enquiries. Hmm, the SCL is promising libraries will enter the white heat of technology c.1998.
  • Ability for customers to join online.  Great idea which all libraries should already be doing.
  • A single standard of library user authentication, which will be adopted nationally to allow collaborative access to digital resources.  No idea how this will happen.  Each library authority currently registers people in a different way, with different identification requirements using different computer systems.  Presumably, this could mean having another national library user ID in addition to one’s own library card, using a simple online form?
The Promise is, of course, better than nothing and at least provides evidence that some things may move forward despite the historically high level of cuts and threat to the service.  That, at least, is promising.

News

  • Digital standards agreed for public libraries – Guardian.  “The heads of more than 4,000 public libraries across the UK have agreed to national digital standards, which include providing free internet access in every library, and the ability to join a library and renew and reserve items online.”.  See comment  above.
  • Libraries go online 24/7 under digital promise – Public Service.  “Libraries have helped more than a million people go online for the first time over the past year. The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) said libraries offered many people their only point of access to the web. And it argued that libraries helping people to get online also helped them gain access to local council services, many of which are becoming digital. SCL president Nicky Parker said: “With this digital promise we hope to expand and improve the standard of online resources in libraries both now and for the future.”
  • End the stigma of adult illiteracy says top author –  London Evening Standard.  “Backing the Evening Standard’s literacy campaign, [Mark]Haddon said poverty and library closures are also to blame for preventing people from reading. Haddon, whose book shows the world from the perspective of a boy with  Asperger’s Syndrome, said: “The illiteracy rate in prisons is a sign of the damage that’s done to people if they don’t have basic literacy. “You are shut out from the rest of society and it’s something seen as shameful. People are embarrassed.”.
  • Library lesson – Yorkshire Post.   “Yet the Education Secretary would be advised to consider the merits of Rotherham’s Imagination Library that was being championed in the House of Commons last night by John Healey MP.  It has achieved outstanding results since it launch four years ago when every child in the borough aged under five started to receive a free book once a month to, hopefully, inspire a love of reading, and help youngsters improve their literacy, before they start primary school. It has also been effective in sparking the interest of parents.”
  • Wikipedia is closed for business tomorrow, but your local library isn’t – Diary of a contrarian librarian.  Most library authorities provide great online resources such as Britannica for free and also – shock – even have buildings with printed sources of information in them. 

Changes

Local News

  • Bexley – Library to bring in membership fees – BookSeller.  The library will continue to keep free membership but users will also be able to pay for extra benefits through memberships of £24 or £75 a year.”.  Comments are interesting – if one pays then one can keep books for as long as one likes which means interlending is difficult/impossible.  Also, it restricts books for other borrowers. 
  • Bolton – Quiet first day at new library collection point – Bolton News.  One tenth of the stock of the old library has been moved into a children’s centre, with a self-service terminal.
  • Brent – Library campaigners still awaiting appeal news – Harrow Observer.   Still not clear if an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court.  Barham Library campaigners setting up an expanded “pop-up” library including CDs/DVDs.  Also hoping Government will intervene.
  • Croydon/Lambeth – Rouse tells Lambeth to plan closure of library in secret – Inside Croydon.   “In his letter, Rouse is at pains to ask for “discretion” – some might characterise that as meaning “secrecy”  – over the valuation of the site, the library’s fixtures and fittings, and books, “so as not to undermine the ongoing work of staff at the Library, and it would be appreciated if Lambeth would carry out its initial planning work with similar discretion”.”.  Article says that Croydon has valued Upper Norwood Library in preparation for closure, with letter from Croydon leader to Lambeth leader on the issue reproduced in full.
  • Durham – Charity plans for council’s assets – Darlington and Stockton Times.  Libraries/museums/theatres etc may be put under a charitable trust inc. 39 libraries.  Could be a “Non Profit Distributing Organisation” [NPDO – yes, this is a new one on me too.  Ed.].  Would save £1m by avoiding rates and VAT.
“However, questions still remain. Who will run this new trust? How accountable will it be to voters? How much freedom will it have from County Hall? Who will set its budget and spending priorities? What happens when spending cuts bite? Before final decisions are taken, taxpayers will want reassurances their museums and libraries are not being privatised by stealth.”

  • Gloucestershire – County Council reveals new library plan – BBC.   Council leader says “We’ve got some really tough decisions to make in our overall budget and libraries can’t be excluded from that and I don’t think it will be realistic for anyone to expect that libraries shouldn’t be delivering a saving,” he said. “It’s up to Friends of Gloucestershire library to decide what they want to do next but I would encourage them to actually engage in this consultation process.”.
    • GCC announces new library plan: cuts in Stroud district unchanged – Stroud News & Journal.   “The fresh strategy will see no changes to libraries in the Stroud district from the previous proposal, with libraries hours in Nailsworth and Stonehouse reduced to 12 hours and the service in Minchinhampton handed to the community. Stroud Library will keep its full hours.”
    • Gloucestershire Counct Council in libraries u-turn – This is Gloucestershire.  
    • Thinking it through for Matson – Friends of Matson Library.  “Now we are being guaranteed 21 hours (currently we have 23) of open library as a minimum. We were united in being pleased that the library service is being kept but there was a good deal of discussion on the pros and cons of keeping the library where it is or moving it to another site.”
  • Lambeth – Fears West Norwood Library will be permanently closed – Guardian series.  “The library, along with the adjoining Nettlefold Hall, was closed in June last year after callous vandals stole copper wiring from the roofs, causing substantial rain damage. Repairs were delayed after asbestos was exposed and Lambeth Council has stated that until a condition survey is completed it is impossible to estimate an opening date.”
“Our beloved library was not just about books. There really is no substitute.”Concerned long-term resident, Lillian Bedford, said: “I can’t get about very well and I’ve had to go to charity shops to get my books. The library is a vital service for elderly people – if it didn’t reopen I wouldn’t know what to do.”

  • Lincolnshire – £2m to be slashed from library services budget in Lincolnshire – This is Lincolnshire.  “Book loans to schools will be abolished from April and a number of the county’s mobile library stops are under threat.” … “Outlining his plans at a communities scrutiny committee meeting at Lincolnshire County Council, Mr Platt revealed more volunteers were needed in libraries. He insisted there were no plans to close static libraries but that opening hours were going to be reviewed in order to maximise usage.”
  • Surrey – Library campaigners continue legal action against council – Guardian series.  “SLAM said the council has claimed the group’s protests and letters of objection served as an ‘alternative mechanism’ to a public consultation releasing them from any legal obligation to consult before a decision had been made.Mr Godfrey added: “We expected them to defend their position. But we are slightly disappointed with the quality of their defence.””