Comment

The next Culture, Media And Sport Inquiry session will be on Tuesday 21st February. The list of people who are being interviewed is useful for giving clues as to how the committee is thinking. At 10.30am, it’s reassuringly good to see Annie Mauger of CILIP on board and Alan Davey, Chief Exec of Arts Council England, the body which has taken over the library quango duties of the MLA, pretty much had to be included. It gets far more interesting, though, at 11.30am. The people being talked to then are:

David Pugh, Leader, Isle of Wight Council: This council tried to close 9 out of 11 libraries last year, the biggest cuts of any authority in the UK. After the inevitable outcry, the proposals were changed so that five branches had to be be run by volunteers instead. An attempt by campaigners to take the case to court had to be cancelled due to failure to secure legal funding. Watch out for Mr Pugh saying how wonderful the volunteer model in local communities and what a great saving it is. He may also, if he is brave, defend the council’s initial decision and hope that the council’s impact assessment is not mentioned. In fact, the Isle of Wight is a great example of last year at its worst: the council seems to have decided on cuts without sufficient consultation or assessment, only u-turned after massive public protest and then blackmailed local communities into working for free or facing closure of their library, in a parody of the Big Society ideal. The failure of the DCMS to show much interest beyond one meeting, let alone intervene, even when the Council was proposing an almost complete annihilation of the service and then the subsequent demonstration that the Courts were only available to the wealthy in such cases pretty much completes the set. How much of this comes out, though, is another matter and, certainly, Cllr Pugh is going to be as good as gloss on it as possible.

Elizabeth Campbell, Councillor, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council: The reason for this one will be the “tri-borough” collaboration between Kensington and Chelsea Council, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Westminster Council. This is seen as the Great Hope in cutting library budgets while at the same time maintaining services in that savings can be made in the behind-the-scenes stuff (Human Resources, Legal, computer systems, purchasing, processing etc) with relatively little damage to the front of house. However, it is seriously early days for this collaboration – it was agreed on only in June last year – and so it may be hard to tell what its effects are. In addition, all three councils are Conservative-run which must smoothe things over somewhat. Still, it will be interesting to see what is said and how differences are settled as collaboration between services is very much one of the stronger possibilities for defending libraries at present.

Nigel Thomas, Service Delivery Manager, Leicestershire County Council: This is the most perplexing one. Leicestershire is losing a full 40% of its library budget over four years, which has got to be, shall we say, a tough one to defend. It seems to be achieving the cut in fairly depressingly familiar ways: cutting 384 hours per week off its total opening hours for example and increasing the use of volunteers. Then one looks at its submission to the Inquiry. There’s mention of co-locating other services (including, amazingly, day-care services) into libraries. It looks like inter-council collaboration is also happening and there is an interesting parish council partnership in Quorn. Then there are other ways like philanthropy (Bill Gates must be getting lots of begging letters recently), setting up Friends groups to raise money, self-service … In fact, it seems to be reading through a compendium of all the many ways to save money without closing libraries, and this is probably why it has been chosen.

This session should be as interesting to library campaigners as the last one, possibly more so as it will give an insight into the minds of those people who have been making the headline-making decisions. As such it should be essential viewing. Then there’s also the suspense element: will Louise Mensch throw in as many hard and searching questions as she did on Tuesday? Will Steve Rotheram be as pro-library? Will Cllr Pugh be publicly humiliated or treated with kid gloves? In addition, there are also the bones of a third morning here that can be discerned from the gaps in the testimony from the first and second.  For this, and I must stress I have no inside information here, it seems probable to expect to see a morning with interviews from a spokesman from the LGA, from a private library company and a volunteer community group in the first three-person session and (who knows?) Ed Vaizey in the solo spot after tea and biscuits. 

399 libraries (309 buildings and 90 mobiles) are currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK.  The 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.

News

  • Amazon, up in flames – New York Times.  The suspicion that Amazon are aiming for a monopoly on bookselling is increasing and even super-librarian Nancy Pearl is caught up in it.
Dan Jarvis: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport with which local authorities his Department has had discussions on the scale of library closures carried out or planned since May 2010. [93901]

Mr Vaizey:
In 2011-12, departmental officials met with council officers from the metropolitan borough of Bolton, the London borough of Brent, the metropolitan borough of Doncaster, Gloucestershire county council, the London borough of Lewisham, Isle of Wight, and Somerset county council. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss the respective council’s library proposals in light of the Secretary of State’s duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Hansard, 6th February.
  • February is Public Library Month on Libraries Thriving – Credo Reference Blog (USA).  “In response to the work of Voices for the Library, a UK campaign aimed at spreading the value of public libraries, Libraries Thriving, a collaborative space and community for e-resource innovation, has decided to drum up some attention for public libraries in their community as well. For that purpose, they have established February as Public Library Month on Libraries Thriving!”
  • Five compete to run Croydon and Wandsworth libraries – Guardian series.   ““Closure is not an option for us. Our central library is the third busiest in the country, and last year we consulted widely on the future of all of our branches. We got the message loud and clear that these are important community facilities that must be kept open as a matter of priority.”.  Library campaigners, however, are not altogether happy at giving money away in the form of profit to companies at a time of great shortage.
  • Reading a book “adds a year to children’s education” – Telegraph.  “Nick Gibb, the School Minister, said that reading books for just half an hour a day could be worth up to 12 months’ extra schooling by the age of 15. Today, the Department for Education will unveil plans for a national reading competition for children in the last three years of primary education and the first year of secondary school.”  As some of the comments suggest, without school libraries and public libraries, only the rich kids stand a chance of winning this competition. See also Alan Gibbons on This time, some sense from Mr Gibb.  “The single most effective transmission belt for reading for pleasure in schools is a well-stocked library staffed by a well-trained library. So why the dogmatic rejection of any demands for statutory school libraries? The last time I wrote to Secretary of State Mr Gove the rejection was issued with unseemly haste.” 
  • Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence to be published as HC1815-i – Parliament.  Full text of Tuesday’s inquiry into library closures.

Changes

Aberdeenshire – Eight branches taken off threatened list.  A report from early 2011 suggested eight were endangered.  However, the council confirmed via email today hat none are under threat this year.

Local News


“This flexible approach has not only ensured the successful establishment of five community libraries but has complemented the local enthusiasm and efforts to secure the long-term future of these valued facilities.”

  • Milton Keynes – Dozens watch Josephine Cox open new library – Milton Keynes Citizen.  “The new library is the result of a new Partnership Agreement between Milton Keynes Council and Woburn Sands Town Council. The library is more accessible than the current library premises in Hardwick Road and is located in a prominent site on Woburn Sands High Street.”
  • North Yorkshire – Library is open for longer in shake-up – Yorkshire Post.  “Coun Chris Metcalfe, North Yorkshire’s executive member for the library and information service, said: “Our library service has been one of the most outstanding in the country, and the necessity of making savings has provided the incentive for us to step back and come up with innovative plans to maintain a vibrant service into the future. “Our communities have risen to the challenge of finding solutions to keep our libraries open in a way that is sustainable so that they can grow and develop to meet future needs.””.  £1.7m cut.  Volunteers will take over many libraries.
  • Surrey – Library volunteers “thwarted at every turn” – Get Surrey.   “Plans to re-open Byfleet Library under the stewardship of the Friends of Byfleet Library group had to be postponed after the Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM) successfully applied for a temporary injunction, preventing Surrey County Council from rolling out its proposals.” … ““We think we can turn it into a really good community centre with a library and we know people would like to see it open more hours so, in actual fact, where we diverge from SLAM now is that we believe we will offer a bigger service.”