There’s four, not just one, tough nuts to crack, with free e-lending. The four are the Treasury (who will have to pay for it, one way or another, in a time of dramatic cuts in public spending), the Publishers (who are paranoid about losing sales) and  Libraries (who don’t have any money and who fear being made redundant, often literally, by the new technology). The fourth problem, easily forgotten, are the public themselves who need to be able to use the service.

Bearing these apparently mutually antagonistic groups in mind, here’s a few suggestions for the e-book lending review that could go some way to solving the problem:

  • E-books, unlike printed books, attract VAT.  This seems illogical as they are, basically, the same thing.  It also means that the Treasury is receiving a lot of tax from book sales it would not otherwise do.  A suggestion is that the UK e-book market will shortly be worth £500m.  If all companies, such as Amazon which is currently legally avoiding it, eventually pay something like the 20% VAT rate then that is £100m in, presumably, lost (but, crucially, not taxed) printed book sales that could be used for paying for e-book lending.
  • This VAT could be used to pay for e-book lending £100m is more than the UK public library industry as a whole spent on books a few years ago and that figure has certainly not gone up recently.
  • This would greatly increase the influence public libraries have on publishers.  As Tim Coates has said recently, the more money libraries spend on books, the more say they have.  £100m is a lot of say.  Libraries would be able to enter into conversation with the book providers on a more equal footing.
  • It would remove the problem of public libraries having to pay for two formats at the same time.  There’s never been a tighter time for library spending so the prospect of having to maintain sufficient print books on the shelves while at the same time paying for sufficient e-books is going to be nigh on impossible.  Taking the money from the VAT solves the problem and, indeed, eases it for those libraries who are already paying for e-lending.
  • It would make publishers less wary of libraries.  At the moment, the publishing industry is deeply wary of libraries.  Like the music industry of old, they see libraries as a competitive threat.  There’s plenty of evidence that libraries are complementary, not competitive, with publishers but that is not a view widely shared within the industry.  The proposal would also mean that that money which would effectively be lost to the book industry in tax would be recycled back into it.
  • Everyone, except the unfortunately infamously hard-nosed Treasury would win, and even they would not actually lose.  Even the Treasury will only “lose” notional money – it’s VAT they never had before in the first place.  Set against the annoyance to Mr Osborne, though, would be a halo effect to the Government which would gain a few votes crucially in time for the next election.
  • The more successful e-books are, the more money there will be to spend on e-lending.  E-book sales and e-book lending will be linked.  The amount will go up and down dependent on reading trends.  The amount will also go up and down depending on e-book prices so all bases are covered.
  • Provide e-lending nationally via Arts Council England.  It makes little sense paying for e-lending nationally and then providing it via 151 local library authorities.  Far better for it to be done via a national body, with the obvious people being Arts Council England.  This would benefit that organisation, which is currently undergoing painful cuts, and tie it in closer with public libraries.  We’d need someone very highly respected by authors etc to manage it so perhaps Dr James Parker, the endangered but universally well-respected boss of the Public Lending Right office could be given the job of leading the new Public Libraries E-Lending Unit.
  • Make using the service conditional on having a valid library card.  We have to make sure that the people accessing the service are eligible inhabitants of the UK so a library card number could be used.  This would have the added benefit of getting non-library users into their local branch to join.  Once there, the local library could sell them on the services that they provide and, crucially, get their email address (and they’ll all have them – these are e-book readers after all) at the same time for marketing purposes.
  • Only one e-book can be borrowed at a time.  There needs to be some limit on what is provided.  One e-book per customer at a time is feasible, considering that, once finished, the next title can be instantly downloaded.  There’s no need to stockpile with e-books. This would also, doubtless, allow the publishers to breathe more easily.
  • Make the lending period three weeks, with a renewal of one week only after that dateThis serves the dual purpose of ensuring that people borrow only what they need to read and make it that much more attractive to buy the e-book.  This will make it more acceptable to publishers as those people who can easily afford e-books will buy them to avoid the danger of not finishing in time.
  • Give options to buy the book at the start and end of the process.  Again, this will ease the fears of publishers.  Libraries should not have any objection.  After all, the whole point of public libraries, is to provide books to those who cannot afford to buy the books they need.  They’ve never been, by their own admission, in competition with booksellers.
  • It removes the danger of a private monopoly on bookselling.  Let’s face it, Amazon are closer to a monopoly on bookselling than any other organisation in modern history. There’s only a very few e-lending providers to public libraries and, being that they are private companies, they could be bought by Amazon who would thus effectively be able to shut the whole thing down immediately.  Moving e-lending out of the private sector at least partially removes the danger of a de facto private monopoly on what people read, with all the dangers that the latter entails.
  • It gives something to the Squeezed Middle.  Free e-lending at a time of economic hardship for those on middle incomes would be a great move for those wanting their votes.  And the great thing is, those giving it, would not actually be losing anything, as the money would come from the Squeezed Middle in the first place.

So, there you have it, there’s a plan.  Now pick holes in it.  Or, and this is my favourite, come up with better ideas yourself and make sure you send them to the E-Lending Review before Tuesday.

News

  • Alan Bennett’s new play will focus on our need for each other: but it won’t be pretty – Guardian.  “This week’s edition of my local free newspaper, the Camden New Journal, has a picture of Alan Bennett on the front page drawing attention to his public stand on two significant events: the regrettable closure of an organic café, and the celebratory opening of the new Primrose Hill Community Library.” … “The café’s closure, for Bennett, was a shame; the public library’s, shameful.”
  • CIPFA figures for 2011-12 – Good Library Blog.  Points out CMS Inquiry will not have used CIPFA figures as they have not yet been published, even though they normally are by now. Such figures will show impact of cuts.
  • Facebook, libraries and post promotions – Agnostic, Maybe (USA).  Disturbing news for all libraries with Facebook groups: Facebook wants you to pay or people who “like” your site will only see posts 15% of the time.
  • Libraries gave us power, pt 2 – View from a tower block.  A review of “The Library Book” and a view on how wonderful libraries are, from one who works in one.
  • Libraries got game during International Games Day @ your library – Huffington Post (USA).  “more than 1,000 libraries will hold a variety of gaming activities that include modern board games, video games, card games and role playing games, as well as two International Video Game Tournaments in which libraries from all 50 U.S. states and countries including Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines and the United Kingdom can compete against each other. Why do libraries offer games and gameplay? For the same reasons libraries offer books, music, craft programs and other services – to bring communities together around learning and recreation and to encourage interaction between people of all ages and cultures.”

Changes

Local News

  • Barnsley – Local studies is on the move – Star.  “archives and local studies section in the town’s Central Library will close on Saturday, November 17 – and re-open next summer in the Town Hall as part of the new Museum and Discovery Centre.”
  • Blackburn – Repairs to make Darwen library watertight – This is Lancashire.  “: “We only agreed this on Wednesday, so there is no specific date yet. But it should be done pretty quickly and the library should not have to close, although parts may have to be partitioned off. It won’t cost huge sums of money. We are looking at the tens of thousands.””
  • Brent – Documents presented to all Souls – Save Kensal Rise Library.  Covering letter, proposal and covering research for suggestion to reuse closed library as a library, rather than college’s preferred option of using them as flats with “very small” library space.
  • Brent – Join the Save Kensal Rise Rally in Oxford this Saturday Save Kensal Rise Library.  “Oxford students unite with the campaign! Together we will let All Souls know how important our library is to us. It should be a great day out for all the family and we hope to see as many of you as possible. Don’t forget to bring your fabulous home-made signs and placards! Free chartered buses from Kensal Rise Library leave at 9.30am and return approx. 4:30pm. Sign up for coaches is required: http://bit.ly/RCh1va  Hope to see you there!”
  • Buckingamshire- John Bercow MP to open village community library – Bucks Herald. Haddenham Community Library to be opened, run by volunteers.  “The library will be one of 14 of its kind created around Bucks in which volunteers help shape the service to meet people’s needs. Ahead of today’s opening, 30 volunteers have offered their help and have been trained to staff library sessions, supported by two county council staff. Managing it are five residents who have become trustees of it as a registered charity.”
  • Calderdale – Halifax library to be demolished for new shopping centre – Halifax Courier.  “A £10 million replacement library will be built near the Piece Hall by the end of 2015. They say a representative sample of 1,500 residents has given “substantial” backing to the idea to free-up land at Northgate for large clothing stores. However, a majority of 1,255 individuals who completed a council questionnaire favour restoring the existing library and archives at cost of less than £4 million.” … ““Of those who expressed a clear preference, at least half want a new library and under 30 per cent want the existing building to be retained.” … “Members of the “Don’t Bulldoze Our Library Campaign” collected 1,297 signatures on a two-hour petition calling for the existing library to be refurbished and gathered 3,261 names on a flyer.”

“Having read the actual Ipsos-Mori report, it is abundantly clear that the so-called “substantial” backing claimed is a total myth. Only 39% voted for option A – clear the Northgate site for a substantial retail development. And that is after adjusting the figures, as so few under 25’s could even be bothered to reply! So many more adjustments appear to have been made that it is doubtful if the whole exercise means anything at all. But even if ithese adjustments are acceptable, 39% is not a ringing endorsement of anything – in fact, it is the total opposite. Poor old CMBC – they pay over £50000 for a survey which they hoped would support their ideas – and it does exactly the opposite! ” Comment on article.

  • Cheshire West and Chester Why no consultation over Chester library closure? – Chester Chronicle.  “Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) gave three weeks notice to close the library, which shut its doors on Tuesday because the building is dilapidated. The Tory council backs plans by Hoole Community Trust to run a reduced library service using volunteers at Hoole Community Centre but critics say that could be several months away if a deal is agreed. Meanwhile, North West Academies has unveiled plans to open a free school next to Hoole library within a council building.” … “Addressing allegations the council had failed to consult about the changes, a CWaC spokeswoman said: “We do not consult when it comes the health and safety of our staff and residents – this building is no longer fit for purpose, presents various high risks and must close.””
  • Cornwall – Whisper it not: the library’s turned 50 – This is Cornwall. “Ahead of a 50th anniversary party this week, assistant librarian Sandra Manley said one of the biggest changes was in the attitude of readers and staff to noise – historically the library world’s deadliest sin. “It’s lost the ‘shhhh’ factor, and it’s all the better for it,” said Mrs Manley. “It’s a much more vibrant and relaxing place now.”
  • Gloucestershire – County Council had handed over the runningof libraries in Lechlade, Berkeley, Bream, Brockworth and Mitchedldean to the community – Wilts and Glos Standard.  “Following Gloucestershire County Council’s cuts to the service, responsibility for running libraries in Lechlade, Berkeley, Bream, Brockworth and Mitcheldean has been transferred to community groups. Painswick library was transferred to a community group in July, while Minchinhampton and Newnham libraries are due to be handed over in January. Each library will receive a yearly grant of £10,000 from GCC and a council officer will provide support three hours a week.”
  • Southend – Union says Southend Council library consultation just a smokescreen for cuts – Echo. “The council is currently reviewing its library services and users are being asked to fill in questionnaires on what changes they would like to see. But with the council looking to make budget cuts, Southend Unison says the review launched last month (oct) may be used “as a cover to make drastic cuts or even close libraries”. ” … “The council, along with the University of Essex and South Essex College, will open a new £30million main town library in Elmer Square next August. The borough has a total of seven libraries but there have been fears over the future of some like Westcliff library. “
  • Wakefield – Jarvis Cocker to open new library in Wakefield One – The Reading Agency.  “musician, author and broadcaster Jarvis Cocker to open the new library in Wakefield, kicking off proceedings at 12 noon on Saturday 10 November. Jarvis, who will be in the library from 12 to 12.30pm will join council leader Councillor Peter Box CBE to formally open the Library and talk about what libraries mean to him. Visitors are welcome.” … “The new Library has more than 60,000 books, 70 PCs, a children’s section, free WiFi for library members, quiet and reading areas, and comprehensive reference and local studies libraries. Jarvis Cocker’s book, Mother, Brother, Lover, is available too!”
  • Wigan – Library move cost revealed – Wigan Today.  “library bosses at WLCT have defended the decision to spend £23,000 on moving equipment. A spokesperson for WLCT said: “In 2011 we re-structured Wigan and Leigh’s library service, saving £1.1m whilst at the same time retaining as many libraries as possible for the communities they serve.This was achieved through a combination of co-locating libraries with other services in order to share overheads and building costs, increasing the number of volunteers and embracing new technology by introducing self-service into all libraries.”
  • Wirral – Hands off libraries, Wirral tories warn – Wirral Globe.  “Deputy Tory group leader Cllr Lesley Rennie warned: “If anyone dares to say the libraries aren’t essential services I would be beside myself with rage. “We haven’t seen any documentation on any proposed economies yet and I would hope that the libraries are not involved.”

““It was clear from the inquiry that libraries are at the heart of local communities and it never crossed our minds that they might be at risk.“If they are we could fight tooth and nail to save them.”

“The report said: “Non-universal, optional services such as libraries and leisure centres and under-utilised One Stop Shops were mentioned frequently, as being appropriate services to reduce.” Cllr Davies said he had been surprised by this as the council faced widespread criticism over plans to shut 11 libraries in 2008/9 leading to an embarrassing U-turn. But he said: “We are at a watershed in local government.”

  • An ode to libraries – The  ‘Bard of Wednesfield’ Irene Dodd great grandmother and lead petitioner for the double-petitioned Ashmore Park Library reading her ‘Ode to Libraries’”  See also the No to Hubs submission by campaigners to the council.

Over 17 000 signatures now on various petitions across Wolverhampton opposing our Council’s vision for our libraries. Two of these petitions ‘Save Penn Library’ and ‘No to Hubs’ have each collected over 3000 signatures each thus triggering a full Council debate. The Council debate is this coming Wednesday 7th 17.45 at the Civic CentrePru Coleman, Wolverhampton City Wide Libraries and Community Centres Action Group via email.

  • Worcestershire – Library plans need a rethink, say campaigners – Shuttle.  ““We are told the library gets 1,300 visitors a day, yet the council’s recent consultation, which took place over three days, had 82 returns. The Friends had 160 completed cards in just one hour.” On twitter, Conservative councillor John Campion, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, questioned whether the friends had given a “balanced view” at the event.”