Comment
Brent Visitor Figures since the six libraries closed.
Part of the reasons that the DCMS is using in order to avoid intervening in the Brent Council’s closing of half of its libraries is that the Council had confirmed that “the figures they hold for library visit numbers for December 2011 and January 2012 show substantial increases in visits to the six remaining libraries – as compared with figures for the same months for the previous year.”.    While this may be true of each individual branch, it is clear that there has been a major detrimental effect to the service as a whole. Probably, this has something to do with overall opening hours have decreased from 544 hours per week to 349 hours a week. 
“The Secretary of State is relying on flawed evidence to justify his reluctance to get involved. Brent Council appears to be trying to pull the wool over his eyes by claiming that library usage in Brent has increased. Tragically the facts show otherwise. Since Labour closed half of our local libraries far fewer local residents are visiting, studying and enjoying their local library service.”  Cllr Paul Lorber, Liberal Democrat Leader, Brent.

More details on this can be found in this letter to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State.

Staying in Brent, the Council, in a very novel – some would say counterintuitive – approach to improve culture, has decided to terminate the contract for Willesden Bookshop in order to make way for a new “Willesden Green Cultural Centre”.  The bookshop somewhat ironically specialises in children’s and multicultural books.  One thousand people have already protested about the decision.  There’s going to be a meeting partially about the closure in the Library tomorrow.  This points to another problem with the lans as the building work will also involve closing Willesden Green Library for 18 months and its “Cultural Centre” replacement does not appear to have meeting rooms.  The council have refused to allow one of its local recently closed libraries to be a substitute during that time. 
This could be of course a very cunning Labour plan.  Brent may have been cutting its libraries despite massive popular pressure and demand in order to show that the Conservatives will not intervene in any circumstances and thus cause a national decrease in popularity for them.  When this approach initially failed to embarrass the Secretary of State into action, Brent ramped up the pressure by awarding a prize to the team that closed the libraries.  When even this failed to cause any intervention, the cunning Brent strategists may have thought it a wheeze if it were to effectively close another one while as an added bonus destroying a book shop as collateral damage in the process.  How could the Coalition stand by now?  Surely, such cunning strategy will cost the Cameron the next election?
Well, I know it’s far-fetched it’s the only possibility for the Council’s actions I can think of that makes any kind of sense.

399 libraries (309 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 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. 

National: Lobby your MP to help public libraries, 13th March. Website: http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/ 

News

  • 500 libraries shut down or managed by unqualified staff – Tribune (Pakistan).  “An Education Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that out of the 445 public colleges in the province 200 have libraries run by non-qualified staff. Out of more than 400 government higher secondary schools across the province, 336 do not have librarians appointed.” [The Punjab is blazing the way for the UK it seems – Ed.]
  • Evidence sessions for Parliamentary Inquiry into library closures – Voices for the Library.   Summary of the points made during first inquiry session.
  • Iain Banks campaigns against “barbaric” cuts to libraries – Scotsman.   “Best-selling author Iain Banks is launching a campaign to stop Scotland’s libraries from cutting their opening hours. Banks, who is spearheading the protest alongside fellow sci-fi authors Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross, has described the moves to slash opening times by up to 20 per cent as a barbaric act.” … “The libraries campaign will be launched next month in Edinburgh, where the council has cut staff and plans to restrict access to save money.”.
The reason so many in the book world reacted lukewarmly to Nick Gibb’s words about reading is the record of the Government (“Top marks to our Schools minister”, 12 February). The coalition turned down our request to make school libraries statutory, a status prison libraries have. It cut the very successful book-gifting schemes run by Booktrust, and would have cut them even more had we not howled with outrage. It is, as D J Taylor notes, inflicting shocking damage to our libraries. Secretary of State Michael Gove praised a New York reading scheme while failing to mention our own highly successful Summer Reading Challenge co-ordinated by the Reading Agency. We authors love words, but without action to nurture the reading environments in which they nestle, germinate and grow, their power to educate, inform and inspire is reduced.” Alan Gibbons in letter to Independent.

  • “Self-interested authors want to save libraries”Philip Ardagh.   “I could go on, but you get the picture. We complain about the not-in-my-backyard culture and I’m just as bad. I’m one of those ‘yes-in-my-backyard’ people. Yes, I want libraries to remain in our communities, for the selfish reasons already outlined and the million-and-one other reasons other people may selfishly have. There’s a rally and lobbying of parliament on 13th March, in London (and you can find out more about it here http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/). I’ll be there of course, along with people from all walks of life, no doubt including other self-interested authors, and the most self-interested of all: those disgraceful librarians.”
  • UK Supreme Court rejects appeal over Brent library closures – World Socialist Web Site.   “In place of the existing comprehensive coverage of local libraries, the major political parties and the media are promoting the construction of one centralised “super library”. As hundreds of libraries are threatened with closure in London and across the country, three new London “super libraries” are reportedly “bucking that trend”, with more to follow.”
“Libraries, like other social services, cannot be defended on a piecemeal, council by council basis. Councils will look to incorporate opposition groups that take this approach and use them as advisers or pawns in their cuts agenda.”

  • Vaizey to give evidence in library inquiry – BookSeller.  “Culture minister Ed Vaizey will be interviewed by the culture, media and sport select committee on 13th March as part of the inquiry into library closures. Vaizey is the only witness called to give oral evidence at the session that day. The evidence session will coincide with the lobby of parliament by librarians and authors set to take place on the same day.”

 Changes

Isle of Man – 2 to close: Family and Mobile Libraries.  School Library Service as well. Facebook GroupPetition.
Wiltshire – Review of mobile library service (but no cuts to total numbers, staff or hours).  
Wolverhampton £900k renovation of Central Library enters final stage.
Worcestershire – Upton Library under threat.

Local News

  • Barnet – Library closure plans go before Cabinet tonightTimes series.  “Barnet Council Cabinet members will discuss proposals to close Friern Barnet and North Finchley libraries tonight.”.  Friern Barnet has 3000 supporters, Hampstead Garden Suburb Library also to be discussed.
  • Brent – Terminates Willesden Bookshop lease – BookSeller.  “Willesden Bookshop is searching for new premises after Brent council plans to develop the Willesden Green Library Centre, where it is based, into a “brand-new multi-million pound cultural centre” led to the termination of its tenancy.”
    • Speaking at doomed Willesden Green Library – Another Green World.   “I am speaking at Willesden Green Library tomorrow, I am sad though that library is to be demolished, this seems to be the reality in Britain today, a symbol of a wider assault on culture.” … This meeting is in the tradition of stimulating public meetings at Willesden Green Library which will be demolished under regeneration plans. The rather sketchy proposals for the replacement Willesden Cultural Centre do not appear to include plans for public meeting rooms”
  • Bradford – Council budget plans changed “to protect vulnerable” – Telegraph & Argus.  “…proposals to reduce library opening hours and cut the book fund by £350,000.”
  • Buckinghamshire – Great Missenden to decide library’s future – Prestwood and Great Missenden.  A new model will see a business move into the premises to create extra revenue for staffing – a cafe and the Post Office have so far put forward proposals. It is one of 14 which BCC earmarked in 2010 to become volunteer-run in order to save £688,000.” … “After a campaign by the community to keep permanent staff, a working group was set up last December to come up with a solution.”
  • Isle of Man – Prospect hits back at library cuts – Manx.net.    “Prospect members, were amongst members of staff at the Department who were informed on Thursday 16 February that their services were being shut.  Staff in the library services broke down in tears at the news that services, which provide a vital link to the elderly, housebound, disabled and least privileged in Manx society, would go forever.”  
    • Prospect Union on library closures – Manx TV.  4 minutes interview showing how important libraries are and what an impact the closures will make.
    • Proposed libraries closures “sad but inevitable” – Manx Radio.   “Mr Karran says both are nice-to-have but non-essential and, to avoid damaging cuts in schools, had to go.” … “Mr Karran says things we’ve taken for granted have become luxuries we just can’t afford any more:”
  • Lambeth – What does Lambeth’s “cooperative libraries” plan mean for Waterloo? -London SE1. Waterloo Library could have 40% budget cut.  “This Wednesday the council will host a public meeting at Waterloo Action Centre to enable local residents to comment on plans for the future of the library service. Open for just 31.5 hours a week, Waterloo Library received 40,156 visits last year and 24,552 books were issued.”
  • North Somerset – Village library service set to be closed – This is Bristol.   “BACKWELL’s scaled down library service is to close from April – with villagers being left to rely on a fortnightly mobile service. The village’s main library at Station Road was closed last year as part of North Somerset Council cost cutting measures. Following objections by residents and local councillors an agreement was reached with Parkwood Leisure to base the library in the village leisure centre. A number of books were transferred to the library along with a computer which the public can use to check in and check out books. As part of North Somerset Council’s cost savings, the authority is now planning to withdraw the £600 it costs to run the service.”
  • Portsmouth – WeLL what’s your story?About My Area.   WeLL means “We Love Literacy”.  “Two wonderful things happened this week – the logo for my residency was finished and most of the events for the first half of this year have been organised.  Half of these events are school based and the other half are a mixture of  outreach work with support groups and public drop in relaxing WeLL conversations.”
  • Surrey – Stephen Fry invited to discuss Surrey library plans – BBC.  Council says “”Perhaps when we’ve had a conversation, at the end of it, I would hope that Stephen would realise why we are doing this and what our objectives are. Perhaps he would like to come and meet some of the volunteers who are going to do this and then perhaps he might be in a position where he can then make a judgement from a constructive point of view.”.  Mr Fry tweeted his support for those against the cuts a couple of days ago.
  • Wiltshire – Review of mobile library service – Salisbury Journal.   “The council has said there will not be a reduction in the number of mobile libraries, the number of mobile staff or the time mobiles spend in communities.”
  • Wolverhampton – Central library renovation final stage – BBC.  “The work, which will start on Monday, is expected to take 16 weeks and will be in two phases meaning customers will still be able to use the main entrance to the building at all times. The year-long restoration of the library has included the installation of a new lift and the rewiring of the entire building. The interior has also been redecorated.”
  • Worcestershire – Everything will be done to avoid closing library – Malvern Gazette.   “Both Upton Town Council and Malvern Hills District Council have established working groups to monitor the situation, with the town council issuing a “use it or lose it” warning to residents in a bid to secure its future.”