Comment

The big news today is about Liverpool.  It’s losing three library buildings and a mobile library and more than a third of its library staff.  Opening hours are facing big cuts in many branches.  The news makes the leader page in both the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Daily Post.  Amazingly for a city famous for its left-leaning politics, the Echo suggests that given cuts of such magnitude, perhaps volunteers running libraries isn’t such a bad idea after all.  The Council has said that it would consider passing the closing branches (whose stock will be relocated into other council buildings) to community groups.  This news, and an annoucement from Torbay about cuts, adds five more onto the headline tally of libraries under threat.
Many thanks, incidentally, to you all for the emails about yesterday’s posting about donation boxes in libraries.  It turns out that, while Lincolnshire may be the first council-run libraries to have them, Luton’s libraries (part of the Luton Culture Trust) have had such boxes since 2008. 
Northamptonshire council’s libraries have no less than ten different donation packages for members of the public to support their service, ranging from £3 for providing a one-hour jobhunting session to no less than £450 for providing a term of weekly homework club sessions.  Northamptonshire have also placed four donation boxes in their branches in 2011 which have generated £150 “without any publicity”.  Their review document says:
“We know it is illegal under the Act to directly charge for book borrowing and is likely to continue to be so. However, there is significant opportunity to encourage donations, charge for added value services and attract more significant income from organisational donors.”

It is significant that councils feel the need to do this.  It is also interesting that Trust’s have been the ones taking the lead.  It cannot bode well for a comprehensive and efficient library service that councils are finding it necessary to ask its users for more money than that already provided by Council Tax.  On the other hand, at least Northamptonshire appear to be using the money largely for value-added services.  The challenge for librarians, and councils, is to ensure that this is done with the needs of the service in mind rather than that of the Finance Department.  Times are so hard, though, that all options need to be considered and seen to be considered.  Even, it seems, in Liverpool.

428 libraries (337 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.

News

  • Challenging government cuts: library closures – Law Think.  “Challenging the substance of a cuts decision is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, one has to establish that in making the decision the local authority was either irrational or acting outside of the statutory provision which requires them to provide services. However, almost all such statutory provisions are broad, allowing discretion to the authority.” … “Secondly, challenging the substance of a cuts decision is difficult because the decision on spending is for the local authority and not the court. In the Brent case, Mrs Bailey “accepted that in these times of economic difficulties, economies have to be made and decisions are primarily for democratically elected local authorities”. The court only can ensure the decision was taken by a legal means.”
“With the cuts affecting public services all over the country, this is certainly far from the last decision on the issue. Many of the issues that arise in these cases are similar. However, as long as a local authority follows the correct procedure in making a cuts decision and keeps good records of how that decision was made, then can probably fend off any legal challenges to their decision.”

  • Demise of the Public Library – International Herald Tribune.   Writer felt proud of British public libraries when visiting Pakistan where they do not have any and often buy cheap pirated books instead.  “I had no idea then of the crisis facing British libraries. Over the last year or two, you’d have had to be living under several rocks not to notice.” Concentrates on the closures in Brent, highlighting the need for libraries to be local and free, continuing to provide free printed books and internet access to those who would otherwise not be able to access them.
  • Retro Library – Annoyed Librarian (USA).  “As the new book world order comes to pass, libraries can make themselves more attractive by obsessing less about the popular. Let’s face it,  the blather about libraries being the cornerstone of democracy and all that is a little hard to take when one of the biggest challenges is making bestselling novels available to library patrons. If the bestsellers aren’t freely available, democracy – such as it is –  will survive, or at least the absence of free bestsellers won’t be the cause of its demise.”  See also If libraries didn’t exist, would publishers be trying to kill book lending? (Tech Dirt).  “A familiar pattern emerges. Small, innovative publishers who are ready to adapt, reap the benefits by meeting the growing demand for ebooks at local libraries – and doubtless picking up knock-on sales as a result. Meanwhile, big, sclerotic publishers resist trying out new business models, preferring to make the use of digital formats for lending as “inconvenient” as possible – in the forlorn hope that readers will just give up and buy something. We all know how that story ends.”
  • Thoughts on library membership charges – Information Twist.   “Apart from  Central Government funding cuts, another reason local councils are having to save money is because Council Taxes were capped. This ensured local residents didn’t have to stick their hands in their pockets any deeper to pay for local services. Membership schemes like this mean that residents are still going to have that money taken out of their pockets anyway… If you have more money you’ll receive more library services. This is at odds with the ethos behind public libraries, which provides services for free because it’s recognised that some people can’t afford or don’t have access to these services/resources via any other means”
  • Times: Lawyer of the Week Daniel Carey acted for campaigners in case on cuts to library provision – Public Interest Lawyers.  “What were the main challenges in this case and the possible implications? Both councils paid lip service only to their equalities duties but the challenge was to ensure that an effective remedy was granted for this. Injunctions stopped the library closures from taking effect, allowing the judges to later quash the decisions outright. He said that it was important for the rule of law to do so.The case has implications for every local authority in the UK, which must now reappraise their planned cuts to library provision. Since the judgment, the Commons Culture Select committee is investigating the issue nationally.”
  • Windsor Public Library eliminates overdue fines in 2012 – CBC News (USA).   “”You don’t want to penalize people for reading. Sometimes you’re really into a novel and it takes you a little longer to get through it. As it happens, you return a book two or three days late. It’s not a big deal. We can get over that,” Maghnieh said. “It’s a way of really rewarding our patrons for using the library.”
  • Writer Maggie Gee vows to carry on libraries fight – London Evening Standard.  Regarding Brent. “The 63-year-old, who was the first female chair of the Royal Society of Literature and was short-listed for the 2003 Orange Prize for her seventh novel, The White Family, was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours list.” … “Dr Gee said: “Libraries matter because they are the seedbed of literature. They are where people read our books, it’s where children find out they can read.”

Changes

Herefordshire – 20 communities have “expressed an interest” in running their own library.  Garway has new library in its village hall run by residents.
Liverpool 3 libraries (Edge Hill, Woolton, Great Homer Street) and mobile library service to close (or be taken over by community groups). 76 of 210 jobs (more than one-third of the total, including 27 managers and other senior staff) to go.  Opening hours reduced (inc. 12 libraries to be only open four days per week).  Closed libraries will have stock moved into other council services
Torbay – £170k cut (10% off £1.7m budget): possible loss of six posts, opening hour reductions, loss of one library, extra charges, encouraging book donations(Somewhat limited option) library consultation here. Group: Friends of Brixham Library, Friends of Paignton Library.   

Local News

  • Brent – Is a Rotten Borough 2011 – Preston Library Campaign.   Brent’s “Library Transformation Team” has won a Private Eye Rotten Borough Award for its work pushing the closure of half of the council’s libraries in the teeth of fierce local opposition. There’s a nice picture of the team, with its (presumed) leader, appropiately enough, holding a Kindle at the front, with some remarkably depressed looking team members behind.
  • Essex – Library fines to be chased by debt collection agency – BBC.   Called a “gentle nudge”.  “”To even be approached and warned this company might contact you, you would need to have at least four items out of the library for several weeks beyond their due date. You would have had two warnings as well to remind you to bring them back.” … “Unique Management Services (UMS) said it had recovered about $250m (£156m) in unpaid fines and lost items for libraries in North America, Australia, New Zealand and the UK since 1996.”
    • Will debt collection firm be worth taxpayer’s money? – This Is Total Essex.  “Where local authorities are facing significant cuts in funding from central government, any efforts to increase income should be welcomed. However, such initiatives need to be implemented properly, otherwise the promise of additional income will come to nothing. In this instance, only time will tell whether the money the council forks out on UMS will prove to be well spent.”
  • Herefordshire – Garway village library to host new library – BBC.  “It is being opened as part of Herefordshire Council’s Future Libraries project, being run in conjunction with Shropshire Council.”… “”Some 20 communities in the county have already expressed an interest in running their own library and we are working with them to see how the library service can support their plans by providing regular stocks of books and simple systems for them to track where any borrowed books are.”
  • Liverpool – Libraries in Liverpool to shut and jobs to go in restructure – BBC.   Cuts announced, will soon be formally agreed in council.  Cuts include library closures and opening hours cuts.
    • Time to turn the page on library cuts – Liverpool Daily Post (Leading Article).   “Whatever happens, we must hope this is an end to the cutbacks in this particular sector of the city’s activities. The service will take a huge hit, if these proposals are introduced – and so will the loyal clientele from all sections of the community who have patronised the city’s libraries for so many years.”
    • Three Liverpool libraries closed, 76 jobs lost and opening hours cut at 17 more as council makes £2.2m savings cuts – Liverpool Echo.  “The council said the libraries earmarked for closure require £3m investment it does not have to bring them up to standards required by the Disability Discrimination Act. It will hand the builings over to community groups to operate them on a voluntary basis if it can find groups willing to run them.”… “More than 4,000 people returned questionnaires and 71% of respondents preferred reducing opening hours to keep more libraries open.Only 19% supported libraries being run by a charitable trust, community group or social business.”
    • Libraries are vital to city – Liverpool Echo (Leader).   “But money does need to be saved and nettles grasped, which is perhaps why the idea of community organisations potentially becoming involved could be relevant. To many this might sound, perhaps uncomfortably, like the Big Society – but, in these tough times, if all else fails when it comes to saving libraries then perhaps the Big Society isn’t such a bad idea after all.”
    • Cuts to hit Liverpool library service – BookSeller.  “Libraries campaigner Desmond Clarke said he was in “no doubt” a campaign group would rise up in Liverpool to fight the closures as they had done in other areas across the country threatened with library caulaties, such as Somerset, Gloucestershire, Brent and the Isle of Wight. Clarke said: “The agenda is not being set by professionals or the government but by library protestors. The public is saying ‘we are not happy about libraries being closed’ and that is putting it in the spotlight.”
“There is much that can be done other than simply taking the axe to library services. For example, Westminster Council expects to reduce its operating costs by £1.1 million by merging its library service with those of two neighbouring authorities. We don’t need to have 151 separately managed authorities in England, a 50% increase in the number of authorities that existed just fifteen years ago! We can make better use of technology and improve further operational efficiency. And if we need to develop volunteer supported libraries, we must develop a workable model which ensures that the service is sustainable and can be supported by librarians. This is the time for imaginative solutions and making the optimum use of available resources to the benefit of those who rely upon public libraries. Fortunately, there are some councils that are doing just that.”

  • Somerset – Councillors say Somerset Library cuts should halt – BookSeller.  “Councillors have told Somerset County Council if it does not halt cuts to its library service it could be held in “contempt of court”.”
    • Library services to be reinstated – Yeovil Express.   “users in Somerset are celebrating after council officers recommended that all services which had faced the axe should be reinstated.” … pleased that the council will forget closures rathen than just try again.  ““Our library is a vital community facility. The idea that busy parents would be willing to drive or get the bus into Taunton to visit the library is unrealistic.””
    • Reprieve on the cards for Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge Libraries – Burnham on Sea.com.  
  • South Ayrshire – Libraries leap into future – Ayrshire Post.   “South Ayrshire’s library team are now working on launching their very own app for smartphones in the early months of 2012.” … ““Times may have changed but people still want their libraries. And it’s not just about reading – you can go in and access computers and get any information you want from all around the world. Our libraries should always be a democracy and that’s the motto we work by.””
  • Suffolk – Your library: pain ahead? – Caroline’s Woodbridge page (Liberal Democrats).   Worries about the funding for libraries (only guaranteed for two years), reliance on volunteers.  The Council also seems to suffer from problems in keeping an open debate going.  “It was only opposition councillors who stood up and asked searching questions .  In reply, Cllr Terry directed extremely aggressive and insulting remarks at them.  Sadly, I have heard similarly rude and insulting remarks regularly at Suffolk County Council meetings -not only from Cllr Terry, but other Portfolio Holders too. Why doesn’t the Chairman intervene and stop such objectionable behaviour? “”
  • Torbay – Friends step up in fight to save library in face of funding cuts – This is South Devon.   “The local authority has told the library service across the Bay to make 10 per cent cuts to its £1.7million budget which would mean slashing about £170,000. The cut could lead to the loss of up to six library jobs, reduced opening days and some fear even the loss of one of the Bay’s four libraries. Opponents say the cuts could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of closures.”
  • Wandsworth – Opens the competition to save London’s libraries – Guardian Local Government Network.   “In Wandsworth our big idea is to look at competitively tendering our library and heritage service. We believe a new and competitive market of library service providers has emerged with the potential to improve delivery and reduce costs. If another organisation can do a better job, we will open the door.” … “If an external bid is successful then both councils will remain in control of their libraries. As with all outsourced services the contract specification will tightly define every aspect of delivery including opening hours, free access to books and free IT provision. All of the new ideas and improvements developed during the process will be written into the contract and closely monitored against clear performance targets.” … negative comments, highlighting danger of giving long-term contracts.
  • Westminster – One Stop services move into communities – Westminster Chronicle.  “New One Stop Express services are available at 19 locations, including all of the borough’s libraries, and give free access to the council’s website, allowing card payments, for example for council tax and parking permits, and providing more information about what is happening in the borough.”