Comment

On the one side, we had the ever optimistic Minister for Libraries, although Ed Vaizey did look initially a bit defensive at the Select Committee Inquiry into Library Closures. With a bunch of library protesters (wearing proment Save Our Libraries t-shirts) sat behind him plus the boss of the library professional body CILIP sat behind him, this was perhaps not a big surprise. He boldly went on with answering the committee but dealt with questions that he did not like by answering questions that he made up that he preferred.  Ed did, however, eventually, answer the question asked how many libraries he has directly saved by saying, at the end of a long speech, “none”.  He sees this as no bad thing, though.  You see, for Ed, this is all a wonderful exciting opportunity for libraries rather than a crisis.  He even suggested that the cuts represent “huge opportunities” for librarians to employ volunteers and went on to extoll the dubious example of phone box containing library books in Philadelphia.  
To the amazement of those sat watching him close by at the Speak Up for Libraries event, he suggested that there was no difference between his campaigning position outside of government and his inertia within in.  The solicitors have told him, you see, that if he met campaigners or cutting councils personally that that might prejudice him.  He also seemed to say that the Charteris Report on libraries basically allowed councils to close whatever they liked as long as they followed a certain procedure beforehand.  When pressed, though he did announce that he will produce a report in 2014 analysing whether the current changes/cuts are good or bad for the library service.  The report will doubtless say that the changes are for the good but it is one of the few actions (apart from his proud boast that he has written three letters) he has promised in the last two years.  In a fit of action that doubtless left him dizzy, Ed also promised to meet CILIP to talk about the impact that cuts to librarian staffing levels (down by a fifth just in one year) are having on libraries.  Being he appears to think that such cuts represent as “huge opportunities”, it is unlikely that this will not be a meeting of minds.
The Committee will now weigh up the evidence and produce a report which Ed says that he will read with interest, if not any actual action.
The other side of the coin was the Speak Up for Libraries event held a few hundred feet away from Ed in the wonderful Central Methodist Hall.  Even before the event started it had already scored a triumph in getting the message into the national media.  However, it was more than that.  Between 200 and 300 people from around the country attended to speak to eachother, hear the speeches and, ore importantly, to lobby politicians.  Several MPs made a special trip to the event with over a hundred campaigners returning the favour by going to Parliament after the event.  What was clear from it is that, despite Mr Vaizey’s rose-tinted spectacles, there are serious cuts happening to libraries and he is fooling himself and failing to fool others if he thinks otherwise.  It was great to see that Dan Jarvis, the energetic new Shadow minister for libraries, appears to get it about the seriousness of what is happening.  He was dead on the money comparing what is happening to libraries and cuts to the days of Dr Beeching and cutting local railway stations.  However, to compare Mr Vaizey to Dr Beeching is to suggest that Ed is actually doing something, albeit something destructive.  He is not. Rather, he is finding a multitude of reasons to do practically nothing – and that, in this current terrible climate for public libraries, is far more damaging than anything that was done to the railways.
397 libraries (309 buildings and 88 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.

News

  • 20 great ways libraries are using Pinterest – Online Colleges.  A puff piece for Pinterest but interesting despite that.  “Librarian Dawn Krause uses her Pinterest account for a wide range of purposes, but an especially cool one is collecting crafts, books, and materials that appeal to teens. She’s got loads of resources on young adult favorites like The Hunger Games, a practice other libraries looking to boost teen readership could emulate.”
  • Battle over library closures intensifies – Telegraph.   “Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has agreed to demands to produce a report by 2014 assessing the impact of changes in the library service for “good or bad”.” [He knows that it will decide, whatever the evidence, that it is good – Ed.]
  • Campaigners welcome Vaizey’s reach-out to CILIP – BookSeller.  “Library campaigners have welcomed MP Ed Vaizey’s offer to speak with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) about library staffing levels but others have condemned the culture minster for offering “too little, too late”.”
  • Jarvis calls Vaizey “Dr Beeching” of libraries – BookSeller.  Mr Jarvis spoke for ten minutes on public libraries at the Speak Up for Libraries event, slamming Mr Vaizey for his inaction and suggesting what appears to be realistic actions for the Government to take.  The full text of the speech by Dan Jarvis is here.
  • Justin Tomlinson MP: How to revamp our libraries – ConservativeHome.  Stresses that libraries are in decline but stresses their importance, saying councils must not “sleepwalk” into closing them.  “Significantly, libraries must address the fact that they are only spending 7.5% of their budget on book stock. We would not see a commercial bookshop spending such a small part of its budget on books. Local library managers, who understand their own individual communities, should be given the opportunity to spend money on books to get people back in.”. In an echo of Mr Vaizey, Mr Tomlinson stresses the opportunity that volunteers provide.
“We need to have a modern and more flexible library service in order for it to survive at a time of tightened budgets, competing interests and technological developments. This must be led by the needs of the community through looking at choice, opening times, environment, and innovation. Improving the library service as a whole by reviewing spending according to these local needs will ensure that they remain relevant and utilised for future generations.”  Justin Tomlinson MP

“Why will I be speaking at the rally in support of libraries? Because I want children from homes where there are few if any books to have the chance to discover the world of reading. I want those children who find homelife too distracting, unnerving or (sometimes) downright dangerous to have somewhere to do their homework where they feel happier or safer.” Philip Ardagh about the Speak Up for Libraries event. Library campaigners to lobby Parliament – Telegraph.

  • Libraries face a “bleak future” – Press Association.  Ruth Bond, chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “As champions of libraries for the last 96 years, WI members are dismayed to see the Government stand by while our library service crumbles. “With libraries and library staff under threat from a fatal combination of closures and service cutbacks, our leaders seem to be watching in silence while the library service is gradually eroded. Action to safeguard the future of the library service is long overdue.”
  • Libraries face “ongoing struggle” from budget cuts – BBC.   Tim Coates (“e-book entrepeneur”) on the Breakdast Show.  “More than 100 libraries are either being run by volunteers or have closed down completely, according to a study by Unison. Library campaigner, Tim Coates, told BBC Breakfast that protecting libraries from closure is an “ongoing struggle”. He suggested that savings could be made from simplifying administration of the public library service. “The budget cuts shouldn’t be cutting the basic community library service on the front line,” he said.”
  • Libraries get political – Spectator.   “The political battle over library closures has intensified. Earlier this morning, shadow culture secretary Dan Jarvis chastised libraries minister Ed Vaizey for being the ‘Dr Beeching of libraries’. Jarvis said that Vaizey should not be so ‘short-sighted’ as to permit 600 libraries to shut in England. He urged the government to intervene to save these ‘vital assets’, adding that not to do so would make a ‘mockery of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act’.”

“The appearance of union provocateurs may please the government, but a petition of 70,000 signatures gained by the Women’s Institute will spark unease among Conservatives who are conscious that they have not connected with female voters” Spectator.

“It’s a generation since Dr Richard Beeching published a report which led to the closure of a third of the UK rail network, in what was subsequently seen as an act of monumental short-sightedness. Today, the threat faced by our libraries may not yet be on quite the same scale—though with around 600 of them currently under threat, and hidden cutbacks in hours, staff and books undermining them from within, it is real enough.” Dan Jarvis MP.

“Vaizey rejected the accusation that this said ‘the government is happy if the courts are happy.’ He explained that his officials had met with council representatives and library campaigners from 7 local authorities, and added that their advice is forthcoming. He has persistently refused to be drawn on whether the government will intervene, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is clear that further public inquiries will only be called in the event of a ‘very good reason’.”

“Sir, Public libraries are being squeezed hard not just by disproportionate cuts to the service in many authorities but also by the escalating corporate charges imposed by councils on their libraries. According to data published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, charges for councils’ corporate services have increased over the past decade from 8.6 % to 14.6 % of library services funding, a 70% increase. Are we surprised that authors, librarians and library users will descend upon Parliament to protest today? Desmond Clarke” Library protest (letter) – Times. (behind paywall) 

  • Library crisis: Ed Vaizey says staff cuts an “opportunity” – International Business Times.   Video of Ed Vaizey at the Select Committee.  “Cuts to professional library staff across the country should be seen as an opportunity rather than a failure of the service, the culture minister claimed.  Ed Vaizey was giving evidence to the culture, media and sport committee as part of its inquiry into library closures on the day authors and anti-cuts protesters rallied outside parliament.”
“You have to be realistic and use the resources you have as effectively as possible.There are huge opportunities it’s important to reflect upon. “The depressing thing is that the library issue is stuck in a binary debate about closures and a crisis in the library service and we should be thinking creatively and even open more libraries in community library areas.” [Ed Vaizey continues to see the glass half full rather than three-quarters empty – Ed.]

  • Library protesters to rally in LondonIndependent.   Brief item.  “Libraries across the UK have been plunged into crisis due to public sector cuts, campaigners will warn the Government today. Protesters will rally in London ahead of a select committee hearing on library closures. More than 100 libraries have closed or been forced to run on volunteers.”
  • Speech on behalf of Voices for the Library at the Speak Up for Libraries rally – Infoism.   “And what has the government done? Across the board they have held up their hands and blamed the councils. With the introduction of academy status for many schools, they have held up their hands and blamed the schools. And yet we’re told that every child should read 50 books a year. Where will they get these books?”
  • Top authors join protest rally at no 10 on library cutbacksLondon Evening Standard.   “In a snapshot survey of Unison’s London library workers and activists, three quarters said budgets had been cut, more than a third said opening times had been reduced and more than a quarter reported mobile library, outreach and home library services had been slashed. It also exposed concerns about staffing levels, with 90 per cent reporting voluntary redundancies and 54 per cent compulsory lay-offs. Half said libraries in their area had closed.”
  • Why we need to lobby to Save Our Libraries – Huffington Post.   Tim Coates describes the need.  Looking at the political history of public libraries.  “Public officials simply do not understand why libraries are important – and that is because they are all of an age and an income which, for some reason, makes them believe that libraries are a thing of the ancient past. Politicians and the political class have really let people down over libraries – it is frankly shocking that ordinary, intelligent, articulate, kind people are having to protest to Parliament over an item which costs next to nothing in the national budget. But they are right to do so, and it is a mighty frustration that has brought them out on the streets.”.  Politicians also underestimate the potential power of libraries and, through inaction, are letting them fade.

Local News

  • Calderdale – Cuts to opening hours of library are reduced – Halifax Courier.  “Rastrick councillors said the reductions were unfair compared with proposals for other libraries. Ann McAllister (Con, Rastrick) said: “The proposed cut in hours at Rastrick took no account of its use, or its popularity. “Rastrick councillors have consulted with users and staff and made strong representations in defence of the library. As a result, we’ve secured a change of heart.””
Mr Vaizey, We were astonished to see you sit in front of the CMS inquiry today and claim to “have respect for library campaigners”. Ignoring our letters (see below) is not only disrespectful but is also incredibly rude. Please treat us with the respect you claim to have and answer our letters. It has now almost been three months. Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries” A letter sent by FoGL in January and signed by hundreds of people, including prominent celebrities, has still not had any reaction from the DCMS or Mr Vaizey.

  • Isle of Man – Mobile library is lifelineIsle of Man Today.  “An essential lifeline will be lost unless Education Minister Peter Karran MHK reverses his decision to close the Mobile Library. That’s according to the customers reporter Jackie Turley spoke to when she stepped on board the service as it visited homes and Westlands elderly persons’ housing scheme, in Peel.”
  • North Yorkshire – Successful library campaign a “massive positive” – Gazette & Herald.    “Campaigners say the success of battle to keep their North Yorkshire village library open in the face of funding cuts is a “massive positive”.” … Barlby Library saved as it will be co-located with police and even pension advice.
  • Suffolk – Trust turns libraries into HIV hubs – Newmarket Journal.  Unfortunate headline perhaps.  “During the week from March 20 to 23 information stalls will tour libraries in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft where trained staff will be on hand to provide free information and advice.”