Comment

Arts Council England (ACE), the quango with some responsibility for public libraries, has opened the next stage of its consultation into the future of public libraries.  This is likely to be influential in shaping the political debate and is thus not to be ignored. 
Having said that, long-standing lovers of libraries point out that we have been here before. Library campaigner Desmond Clarke is concerned that the consultation may just provide another “classic ministerial excuse for not acting” that Mr Vaizey himself called the previous government’s  Library Modernisation Review.  Mr Clarke further points out that “Some of us have seen and been involved in several “conversations” including Framework for the Future (2003),  Better Stock, Better Libraries (2006), Blueprint for Excellence (2007), Future Libraries (2010) as well as consultancy reports from PwC and PKF, and have submitted evidence to the two Select Committee Reports and the All Party Library Group. There have also been reports funded by Laser looking at the issues. Meanwhile, the public library service is allowed to decline in many communities while The DCMS, the SCL, the LGA, the MLA and now ACE continue with their “conversations”. When can we expect to see some political and professional leadership to ensure that an improving, comprehensive and efficient service is provided in all 151 authorities in England?”.
It’s also disheartening that the site is clearly not for those with local library issues but just for experts and those connected to the internet and in the know.  Rather surprisingly, the most important people in any debate – concerned members of the public – are pushed towards local councils, the Library Campaign and Voices for the Library websites where, it is suspected but not yet confirmed, they will be ignored by the consultation.  The ACE site is designed or commenting on the particular blog entries.  The main site says “we encourage people to respond to guest blog posts and contribute to the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #ACElibraries.  Responses to the independent guest blogs will feed into our overall programme of research and debate, and help us to form a longer term vision for libraries”.  This means that ACE can direct the debate in precisely the directions that they want. They also seem especially interested in the small part of the population who use Twitter.  Which seems slightly non-socially inclusive but is in keeping with their greatly reduced budget, as is their use of free blogging software for their website. It’s also more inclusive than the first phase which asked 200 “sector experts to participate in a Delphi survey that asks respondents to consider a series of statements about how the country might look in 10 years time”.  A “Delphi” survey, incidentally, is a posh way of saying that one is asking a group of experts about the future and the answer is the average of the reply.
The next stage of the consultation are workshops held in different locations across England in mid May with the final stage testing “the public view of the purpose and value of public libraries” will be undertaken between June and late September 2012.  Therefore, we are in the early stages of a fairly thorough six month process and you don’t have long to comment on this stage.  Have a look, comment where and when you can, tweet your views with thier hashtag if you can, and try to shape the results the way you want them to.  Or Ed Vaizey will say that you had your chance and he will continue to do nothing, in exactly the same way as he criticised Labour for doing two years ago.

News

  • Beyond the BookShelf - University Business (p.12-13).  Suggests linking university and public libraries and emphasises the need for using technology.
  • Harriet Harman re-iterates Labour’s 2Mbps for all 2012 policy - Think Broadband.  “Broadband access for many will be made all the more difficult by cuts in libraries. According to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, almost 600 libraries are threatened by this Government.”
     “In this country we all believe that healthcare should be free at the point of delivery. Literature, stories and poems are the same. It is not something just for rich, educated and privileged people, it is for all of us. It is our culture. Robert Louis Stevenson and Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl’s stories are for everyone, not just for everyone who can afford a book.” Michael Morpurgo in “Like the NHS, libraries are a vital free service for all” - London Evening Standard. 

    • Public and academic library closures in the US, UK and Eire, part VI - Examiner (USA).  Looks at the lack of coverage of National Libraries Day in Kent, Croydon etc. Also looks at the role of the LGA which “made the breathtakingly irrational statement, “Closure of a library does not automatically mean a decrease in access to library services; with the exploration of on line and community delivery models, it can mean accessing services in a different way”.

    Changes

    Local News

    • Barnet – Protests over impending Friern Barnet library closure - Times series.  parents and children protesting against the closure of a Barnet library held a small demonstration outside its entrance on Saturday. Members of the Save Friern Barnet Library group held placards opposing Barnet Council’s plans to shut down the service on April 5.”
    • Cheshire West and Chester – CWAC union members take further industrial action in contract dispute - Guardian series.   “Nearly 50 per cent of libraries in west Cheshire closed their doors as staff walked out on March 24, with those in Northwich, Barnton and Winsford affected.” … “The new contracts remove pay enhancements for staff working weekends, overtime and bank holidays, as well as reducing the rate for working nights.” … ““For library staff it will be at least a five per cent cut and for care staff it will be much more. This is on top of a three-year pay freeze.”


    Croydon – Project manager vacancyThis post is overseeing the privatisation
     of its library service.  The cost of privatisation is therefore at least £40k (plus
     perhaps another £10k in “on costs” like pensions) and, interestingly, is permanent.
    • Durham – Outrage at “scam and trick” library exercise - Teesdale Mercury.   “Once hours have been cut, the council plans to hand libraries, together with leisure centres and other council assets to a ‘Non Profit Distributing Organisation’ (NPDO). Robert Stenlake from the Friends of Barnard Castle Library, who chaired the meeting, said the council is not consulting on this move.“They are not asking our views but I don’t think that prevents us from giving them,””
    “One of the questions asks: “Do you think it would be better to reduce opening hours generally rather than close some libraries?” Town councillor John Watson compared this question to being asked: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

    • East Sussex - Support for BookStart family scheme - Eastbourne Herald.  “Libraries and children’s centres in East Sussex are promoting Bookstart 20, a nationwide campaign to promote book sharing, and will also help celebrate the 20th birthday of Bookstart, the reading scheme that gives free book packs to every baby in England, Wales and Northern Ireland”  … “A series of story and rhyme time events and Bookstart parties to celebrate 20 years of Bookstart will be held at venues across the county for parents, carers and children to enjoy.”
    • Kirklees – Council reviews library consultation plans - Huddersfield Daily Examiner.  Council may change the wording of parts of the consultation as “library supporters have expressed concern about the way the process has been carried out, accusing the council of trying to ‘hoodwink’ volunteers instead of providing the reasons and other options for the move.” 
    “This just feels like they are throwing the keys in the door while they drive off as fast as they can.”

    • Isle of Man – Funding hope for libraries - Manx Radio.  This morning in the House of Keys, Education Minister Peter Karran revealed they may yet be saved through other means of funding. That is rumoured to be coming from Island-based e-gaming firm Pokerstars.” [yes, Pokerstars – did things just get surreal? – Ian.].
    • Portsmouth – Libraries continue to prosper - About My Area. “We’re not closing libraries, we’re looking at ways to modernise them.”. Two branches may move/be upgraded.  “Portsmouth’s housing department will be funding the £90k re-fit of the Paulsgrove library site. “.  “Between 3-4% of residents use the library in its current location, and figures for the number of books taken out are well below what could be expected for the area. Residents raised issues with the current location in a 2006 consultation, citing concerns over the steep slope causing difficulties for wheelchairs, buggies and the elderly.”
    • Warwickshire – Bedworth’s “honesty library” proves successful - Coventry Telegraph.   Not really: only 60 people used the facility in five weeks, with only 150 books taken out.  “The library is based at Bedworth Heath Community Centre and has been saved from closure by local residents following a Warwickshire County Council cost-cutting exercise.”
    • Worcestershire – Library opening hours cut - Redditch Standard.   “”This is a type of small change that allows us to continue with a comprehensive library service across the county and although reducing opening hours in some of our libraries isn’t something we’ve done lightly, it’s clear that a slight reduction in service is better than complete and outright closures. We believe these measures will ensure we achieve our financial objectives in a way which inflicts the least disruption to our valued library users.” [Losing at least 28 full-time posts is not “a small change”.  It’s a large proportion of total staffing, probably a guesstimate would be a quarter – Ian.].