The chief of Arts Council England (ACE), the quango with some responsibility for libraries, has been told that she will not have her contract extended from January next year.  There’s a fair bit of controversy over Jeremy Hunt’s decision to do this.  Liz Forgan has been seen as doing a good job leading the organisation at this most difficult of times.  The suspicion is that her leftwing views, which have never apparently interfered with her work, was the real reason. More worryingly for libraries, perhaps, is the stated reason: Mr Hunt has specifically said that the new leader needs to aim for more private sector funding.  Privatisation and libraries are not the most clear-cut or uncontroversial of bedfellows and a pro-private anti-public new boss of ACE is unlikely to do the service any favours. 
It’s a shame also as the Arts Council has been showing signs of making positive steps recently, most notably in starting on doing a decent job of surveying the sector.  In another way, though, the organisation is incredibly weak and nowhere more so than in funding: the Welsh Government, despite being seventeen times smaller than its English neighbour, is providing more than four times the funding (over £1m) for eight branches in Wales than ACE (£230k) is providing for the whole of England.  Some though may fear that getting the necessary bread from MacDonalds (or Amazon?) may though be worse than the current famine.

News

  • £2.2 million boost for Wales’ museums and libraries – News Wales.   The funding will also help modernise eight public libraries in Wales. Over £1 million will be allocated to provide modern library facilities in Caerphilly, Baglan, Pontycymer, Bettws, Chirk, Mold, Prestatyn and Aberaeron.” …”A key aspect of the library modernisation programme is to create a cultural hub in the community with flexible space for activities. Activities will include storytimes for children, free access to computers and Wi-Fi connectivity for mobile devices alongside the ever popular books in an attractive environment.”
  • I’ll give money to save libraries, ex-Waterstones boss pledges – Independent.  “Someone needs to show leadership. Libraries in the UK need management. The situation is dreadful and getting worse.”.  Money could go to “A series of campaign groups have sprung up to support them and come up with alternative ways of running individual sites. These include sites in Brent and Lewisham, both in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and the Isle of Wight.”
    • Coates blasts UK library service as Bilbary launches in US – BookSeller.  E-books site will share profits with US library services but not with UK libraries as they are “not organised at all” as there are over 150 different authorities.  Instead, some profits will go to local campaign groups. 
      • Comment from Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries [by Jo, who is an academic librarian] points out that they are not campaigning to control their libraries but, rather, for the Council to keep running them themselves.We argue that breaking it up by cutting “individual sites” off so they are run outside of this network, by volunteers, is counter-productive, unsustainable, inequitable and a massive leap backwards”.  
      • Comment from Shirley Burnham [non-librarian, campaigner involved for several years, starting with Swindon] says “The point I made yesterday was that private money is not the answer to a national problem and that DCMS must be urged by all to protect the public library service. Whether the firm pledging money were Bilbary, Boots or Brake Brothers, I’d have written in a similar vein.”
    • Library campaign police – Good Library Blog.    Tim Coates describes comments in BookSeller articles as “yapping dog” and says the “professional library staff” campaigners can’t stand a word he says, specifically those in senior management.  “the ‘professional’ library staff, actually work in Town Halls and County council offices, and certainly remote from the library floor and counter. If we need to save money (and we do) it is from among the ranks of these people that the savings should be made. If we lost 20% or 50% of the ‘professional’ staff from public libraries, it would be no loss at all” [In the interests of declaring perceived bias, which I am trying, possibly too hard, to avoid,  I am a member of a public library campaigning group – Voices for the Library – which, although un-named, may be one of those being attacked by Tim in this article.  I am also a professional librarian but work at branch level and am at the most junior level of management – Ian.]
      • Is this the kind of help public libraries need? – Infoism.  Notes that Tim was not always an advocate of e-books.  Agrees that Mr Vaizey and the Society for Chief Librarians has a questionable record on library campaiging. Concerns that (a) US libraries would appear to subsidising UK ones under Tim’s model, (b) councils should run libraries not volunteers (who lack expertise) and funding such groups will only encourage more libraries to be threatened in future.  “Whilst local authorities, national government and the SCL have arguably failed public libraries over the past few years, I am not entirely convinced that these proposals provide the best alternative.  At a time when library campaigners need to unite to fight library cuts and closures, we certainly do not need to provide local authorities with any more encouragement to wash their hands of local libraries and force them upon their local communities.”
  • Libraries can prosper: if they can change – Independent.  There are, of course, some libraries that are unfit for purpose. But those that use digital technologies as an aide, rather than treat them as a threat, more than hold true to their core purpose. And those that have made the leap are seeing visitor numbers rise, not fall. Britain’s libraries do not need closing but they may need changing. We can only hope that Mr Coates’ support can help many of them to do so.”
  • Library crisis “like Beeching cuts to railways” – London Evening Standard.  “The Standard has set up a Save Our Libraries campaign. In the Commons, Mr Jarvis said the minister had “no vision, no strategy”. Mr Vaizey urged him to speak out over Labour-run Brent closing parts of its library service.”
  • New chair of Arts Council to be appointed – DCMS.   “DCMS will launch a search for a new chair of Arts Council England following a decision by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt not to reappoint the current chair Dame Liz Forgan” … ““The next chair of the Arts Council will have to steer the organisation and the sector through another challenging period, in particular in increasing the amount of private giving to the arts and encourage the sector to make the most of technological changes.””
    • Anger as Arts Council chief is forced to quit by ministers – Independent.   “Dame Liz never hid her left -wing views, which led to one arts industry expert to say: “This is a political move. She is a well-known left-winger. Perhaps the Government wants someone more in tune with its own views,” before adding: “This could well backfire.”
“This is seen by many to be a political decision as Forgan is perceived to be left of centre, was appointed by Labour and is the chair of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian and the Observer! Hunt wants to appoint someone with experience of private funding as he sees this as a future priority for ACE. A worrying sign of things to come?” The chair of ACE told to step down, a political decision? – Stop the privatization of UK public libraries.  

“Libraries are different from schools, because you don’t have to go. Children can go there to read and it’s just for pure pleasure. This has all been a gradually declining mess. The library is not just about books. It is a place where people can go. Having that sort of space is very, very important in many parts of Britain, they provide social functions. These services are being torn from people who need it most.”

  • University cash crisis hits historic women’s libraryIslington Tribune.   “The world-famous Wom­en’s Library – formerly the Fawcett Library – will shut six days a week, be privately run or move out of its historic home at the end of this year, the Tribune can reveal. The board of governors at Holloway-based London Metropolitan University,  trustees of the archive, are seeking a “new home, custodian or sponsor” for the library’s treasured collections.”

Changes

Local news

 
Brent – Big drop in visits and usage since closure of six branch libraries.
First column is March 2011, second is February 2012.
“These are shocking and saddening statistics – and exactly what was predicted by everyone in the Brent Save Our Libraries campaign. The only positive point is that Brent has not disposed of any of the old libraries.” Brent Liberal Democrat Leader Paul Lorber

  • Cheshire West and Chester – Union action to close Northwich libraries – Guardian series. “Librarians will walk out in protest against changes to their contract terms and conditions.”. 
    • Libraries staff strike: libraries to close on Saturday 24th and Saturday 31st March 2012 – West Cheshire Unison. “UNISON and other Council trade unions believe members have no choice but to take industrial action, given the Council’s refusal to negotiate. From April the Council is stopping paying enhancements for staff working weekends, overtime and all bank holidays, except Christmas. They are also reducing the rate for working nights. Staff contracted to use their own cars for work face reductions in car allowances of around £1500 per year.”
  • Croydon – Half-baked news of Croydon Libraries bidders and campaigners concerns – Save Croydon Libraries Campaign.   “No one debates that the local press must have great difficulty verifying the real situation as Cllr Sara Bashford and Croydon Council are almost silent on the matter, pushing through the privatisation of all thirteen libraries, knowingly having only consulted with the users of less than half the libraries in the network.”.  Concerned over private companies making profit from libraries, lack and poor quality of National Libraries Day events.
    • Shortlist of companies bidding to run Croydon libraries revealed – Guardian series.  Lists names of companies and briefly describes them.  LSSI quotes as saying “No longer will libraries simply sit and wait for their customers to arrive. They will be more proactive, more outgoing and offer the range of educational, leisure and cultural services that their communities demand.”.
  • Derbyshire – Libraries to re-open after improvement – Ripley and Heanor News.   ““I hope people will come and see what is new, particularly those who have not been in a library for a while. They might be surprised. All 45 of Derbyshire County Council’s libraries have computers with access to the internet and books can be reserved from anywhere in the county.””
  • Dorset – Charmouth: library roof to be refurbished before hand-over – Bridport News.   “Hazel Robinson, chairman of Friends of Charmouth Library, said: “In the case of Charmouth, it would have been impossible for the Friends to have taken on the library unless the roof and heating system were put into good order before the September handover. The good news was that this was agreed. “The bad news was that requests for set-up grants were turned down.”
    • Work begins on the refurbishment of Christchurch Library – Dorset Newsroom.   “Work has started on the £2 million extension and refurbishment of Christchurch Library. It is set to bring vastly improved facilities, more books, and the creation of a new adult learning centre.” … “The project will increase the public library space by 60%.  The current floor area is 481 square metres and is serving a population of over 40,000.  This is little more than a third of the recommended floor area for the population.”
  • Leicester – New chapter in hypocrisy – This is Leicestershire.   “How insensitive and hypocritical of the city council to be actively promoting the increased use of libraries at exactly the same time as it is closing some of them down!”
  • Neath Port Talbot – Extra cash will boost security of collections – This is South Wales.   “Heritage Minister at the Welsh Government, Huw Lewis, said: “Our libraries and museums enrich people’s education and knowledge so it is essential that as many people as possible can access and enjoy their collections.” … “Baglan Public Library will receive £114,460 capital funding to help deliver modernised facilities. The money will be used for its modernisation programme to create a cultural hub and activities for children. Free access to computers and Wi-Fi connectivity for mobile devices will also be available. The funding has been awarded under the latest round of grants through CyMAL, the Welsh Government’s Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales division.”
  • Northamptonshire – Andrew Carnegie-funded Kettering Library “needs £1m” to be restored – BBC.   “The council said it “simply cannot afford” to fund the work by itself, but has contributed £250,000 for the floor’s restoration and to enable the “grand entrance” on Sheep Street to be re-opened. An appeal by the Friends will pay for the library to get new plasterwork and redecoration, as well as work on the Collyweston slate roof.”
  • Surrey – Library funding fight heard at High Court –  This is Surrey Today.  Summary of the main arguments used.