The new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, has made clear that there will be no change with regard to the Government’s approach to library closures by deciding against an inquiry in the London Borough of Brent.  This council has led perhaps the most notorious and controversial of all library cuts by closing half of its libraries and by refusing to allow volunteers to run any of them.  Here are the facts as described in the letter informing Brent Council of the decision:

  • There appears to be a presumption against intervention.  The Council has the right to arrange its services as it sees fit and, moreover, it is democratically accountable.  It is the best organisation to understand local situations and the worry that by intervention, the DCMS, could stifle innovation.  Equally importantly, the scale of the cuts to council budgets (“compelling economic demands”) means that major cuts are reasonable.
  • Closing 6 out of 12 branches is fine as they accounted for “only” 20% of usage and that those people who needed dedicated outreach services would already be using them.
  •  Moreover, transport in London is good and so local provision of service points is less important there.
  • The closures are part of a deliberate council policy to provide higher quality services in remaining libraries (see this explanation by the councillor in charge). This is regardless of an overall reduction in opening hours provision from 544 per week to 353 per week.  The surviving libraries have increased in hours.  Also, the overall bookfund has not decreased and so the bookstock in the still open libraries has improved.  The fact that the users of the closed libraries do not appear to be using the surviving ones is acknowledged but “it is too early to draw any conclusions” due to two libraries being redeveloped.
  • There is no definition of “comprehensive and efficient” with regard to the 1964 Act and so providing a service in alternate ways (the surviving libraries) is acceptable.  The Council has undertaken its statutory obligations by having a thought out policy, a consultation, a review and an equality impact assessment.  The Court of Appeal has already ruled that the consultation process was fair.

The letter sends a further signal to councils that, as far as the Government is concerned, cuts as significant as closing half the total number of service points and a reduction of a fifth in usage is acceptable.  The “presumption of innocence” and the acceptance that the historically high cuts to budgets affects libraries as much as any other service mean that Councils need not fear from the DCMS unless they do something really quite extraordinary.  Indeed, being the cut in budget for councils is 28% over a few years, it could be said that the letter from Maria Miller suggests that Brent had a comfortable 8% margin of error.


“Put this date in your diary if you are involved in the fight to save our libraries.Speak up for Libraries conference. CILIP. Saturday, Nov 10th. Bali Rai, Philip Ardagh will close the meeting.” Alan Gibbons



  • ALA criticizes Hatchette’s eBook price hike for libraries – GalleyCat (USA). 220% price increase mentioned.  “Libraries must have the ability to purchase a wide range of digital content at a fair price so that all readers have full access to our world’s creative and cultural resources, especially the many millions who depend on libraries as their only source of reading material.”

“This move seems ill-advised at best, what with some authors banding together to offer their titles to libraries for $dirt cheap, a price that falls more in line with the economic realities of the average library.” Techdirt (USA)

  • Ask a librarian and then listen – Bleader (USA).  “No matter how detailed the library’s finding aid (a document that lists everything in a particular collection), you may need to leaf through page after page to find whatever you’re after. But make sure you’re sitting down, because when you find it, the rush can take your head off.” … “librarians are naturally disposed to offer help. Again and again I’ve been surprised by the lengths to which they’ll go to find whatever it is you’re after, even when you’re dealing with them long-distance by phone or e-mail. I suspect this is partly because their work is so unappreciated, and most people are so ignorant of the valuable physical materials they protect and provide to the public.”
  • Could 3D printing save the public library system? Mixed opinions – On 3D Printing.  “Back in July, we covered a story about 3D printing coming to a Nevada public library. The University of Nevada engineering library became the first in the nation to offer 3D printing resources to the public. At On3dPrinting, we think this is a trend that is going to continue …”.
  • How deep do the Arts Council cuts go? – Guardian.  “In common with other councils, Sheffield is wondering about the purpose of libraries in an information (and austerity) age, and is “consulting” on the future of its service. Elegant architects’ plans for the building’s refurbishment were drawn up some years ago, but put aside when money got tight. This building, built as an act of philanthropy in the teeth of the Depression, now needs another JG Graves [the original philanthropist], but, says the museum’s director, Kim Streets: “I’ve yet to meet him.”

“I am not convinced that this out of touch Government fully grasps the enormity of the challenge facing our libraries. “I want to know how the Government plans to facilitate and incentivise efficiency in library services in our communities. To do that, I believe that they must have a framework, which provides strategic coherence, support and adviceto local authorities. “Today, I am calling on Ed Vaizey to be transparent with local authorities and library-users by demonstrating a thorough understanding of the problems facing local authorities and the Government’s strategy for saving our libraries. “The Government must clearly prove that they are committed to retaining vital library services in our communities, before it is too late.”  Jarvis requests library answers from Vaizey – Dan Jarvis MP.  See also the full three-page text of his letter here to Ed Vaizey MP here.

  • Libraries have a reason for existing and the library profession need to say what it is– Good Library Blog.  “… the use of books for reading in the general population has continued to increase, not decrease, and the pursuit of information has exploded, but the use of libraries to borrow books declined in direct relation to the quantity and quality of book collections – decline in issues is a self inflicted event.”… “The many attempts of councils to make libraries into places that give out council services has also had a damaging effect on the quality of libraries. “I don’t want my library to be a job centre or to look or smell like one” is a reason given for not going to libraries – or for sending one’s children to them ” … “for most people, to get their reading fix is going to cost a lot less than it used to and many of them will no longer need or be able to use a library to obtain their reading. So if libraries are going to be needed then someone somewhere is going to have to start making a convincing case pretty quickly and pretty loudly.”
  • Local inquiry into library provision in the London Borough of Brent – DCMS.
  • Unsung hero: librarian devoted to getting us all from reading– This is Local London.  “As a children’s librarian, Mike Treacy has been championing the power of books for 27 years. The 53-year-old from Surbiton, who has worked with children since 1985, manages a staff of four at Kingston library. Throughout his long career in librarianship, Mr Treacy has been involved in a number of charity initiatives and his favourite job – children’s storytelling. Although his post has become managerial now, he still enjoys doing readings at the borough’s many libraries. He said: “Books definitely change people’s lives.”

“We used to do an initiative every summer at Kingston Hospital where we read to children on long stay wards. I remember there was a boy in an isolation ward with his mother. “I read to him and he held a corner of the book while I was reading. When I went to take it away, he held onto it. He was so taken by it. “Parents say to me, ‘Oh my little daughter still remembers the stories you used to read to her. She wants to be a librarian now’.”

  • Vintage photographs from inside 10 famous libraries – Flavorwire (USA). The one of the people browsing through books at a bombed London Library just has to have been staged.
  • Welfare reform is not ready and should be delayed for a year, says Labour – Guardian.  “There is further doubt about the government’s expectation that 80% of claimants will claim online at a time when the digital divide between those who are computer literate and have access to the internet and those who do not is growing, when the vast majority of people in social housing have no access to the internet and libraries with free internet access and computer literacy support courses are losing funding.”


Local News

  • Barnet – Friern Barnet Library: meeting one – Mr Reasonable. Meeting with Council was problematic as “The officers had absolutely no authority to discuss Friern Barnet Library. Julie Taylor was quite clear “Friar House [an alternative building to the existing library] is the only solution” … “the potential capital receipt from the sale of the library would be in the region of £430,000.  To set that in context, the annual budget of the council is over £900 million so the sale of the library is a drop in the ocean. It is the equivalent of £1.25 per Barnet resident. We all chipped in £20 a year for ten years toward the Olympics so why not a one off £1.25 for the library.”
  • Bournemouth – Free wi-fi comes to libraries – Bournemouth Echo.  “Poole residents will soon benefit from high speed internet browsing as wi-fi arrives in local libraries. From today it will offer people free access to check their email and surf the web on their own mobiles, tablets and notebooks. Libraries also have computers which anyone can use free of charge.”
  • Cornwall – Petitioners hope for 5,000 signatures – BBC.  “A report to Cornwall Council Cabinet claimed the contract would save at least £2.5m a year. Councillors voted 46 to 29 to postpone the move during a debate two weeks ago, but cabinet members said they would press ahead. Members of the county’s Labour party were collecting signatures for the petition – started by independent councillor Andrew Wallis – in Falmouth on Saturday.”
  • Croydon – Massive cuts to Upper Norwood Library budget unavoidable – This is Croydon Today. “The Upper Norwood Library Campaign (UNLC) will be looking at immediately setting up a new trust to hold detailed discussions about how community involvement will pan out.” … but “Croydon Council is proposing an even bigger cut in funding than many had feared.”

This makes desperately sad reading for me. I have spoken at several events at this well-stocked, excellently run, thriving library. Every time I have been I have seen friendly, professional staff serving their community. There are regular, highly ambitious events for the public. I twice ran writing surgeries for budding authors. The irresponsibility of some councillors who are far less responsive to their constituents than the library staff has brought us to this moment.” Alan Gibbons

  • Isle of Man – New Mobile Library hits the road– Isle of Man Today.  “The Manx Educational Foundation (MEF) hopes to continue its involvement with the Family and Mobile libraries past it’s three-year deal.” … “A new Mobile Family Library has already hit the island’s roads. The vehicle was bought by the Department of Education and Children last year but wasn’t put into service when the closure of the libraries was threatened. The purpose-built vehicle replaces the Mobile Library which had been in service for 11 years.”

“‘The staff and borrowers are relieved and excited the library services are continuing and look forward to a long and prosperous future with MEF. There will be an opportunity to visit the vehicle in October when the official launch takes place so watch this space.’ Mary Cousins, librarian in charge of the Family Library, said there were lots of events in the pipeline.”

“We thought there would be a mass rush of volunteers coming forward,” said the Batley West Labour man. “Unfortunately it wasn’t as clear cut as we expected. “The consultation has established there are concerns about people getting involved as volunteers. “If we get expressions of interest in helping run local libraries we will explore that further. If no volunteers come forward then it won’t be pursued.”

  • South Tyneside – 17 jobs lost in libraries shake-up – Gazette series.  “a net total of 17 posts have so far been lost across the service, alongside a restructuring of how remaining staff work. In total, 27 staff members were made redundant. These included librarians, branch supervisors, library assistants and Saturday staff – saving in the region of £563,000.”.  10 staff redeployed in different roles. “another controversial change – volunteers being drafted in to work in some branches – is being mooted as part of a public consultation. All the changes have added to the sense of uncertainty within the library service.”

““There are also no supervisors in any of the borough’s branch libraries now. This has led to the creation of community librarians. “The concern is that all this is achieving is reducing services and putting more pressure on existing staff.”