The Labour Party have released their long-awaited review of library policy, entitled “Libraries: innovation, co-location and partnership”.  Dan Jarvis MP said when launching it:

“In a One Nation society, libraries should be at the heart of our communities, providing services which are vitally needed at a local level. To inform this work for Labour’s Policy Review, I have travelled across the country and have seen fantastic examples of libraries which combine the core purpose of lending books with IT accessibility and a range of other important community services through co-location and forging partnerships.  In 2011, 130 libraries [Actually, this turns out to be 201 - Dan was using PLN figures which got superseded by the recent Cipfa report - Ian.] were reported as closed or handed over to volunteers, with hundreds more now under threat. Instead of providing much needed support, the Government has repeatedly underplayed the seriousness of the problem libraries are facing. There is no sense of urgency, no coherent strategic direction and no real guidance for councils. This work highlights both the potential for libraries in our communities, and underlines David Cameron and Ed Vaizey’s appalling lack of action”.”

Mr Jarvis MP deserves credit for actually visiting libraries and spending time on the report.  Although it is quite brief, it is fulsome in its praise for libraries and their role in society.  However, it is not, to the probable disappointment of some observers, dramatic in its differences to Conservative policy.  Like the Tories, it likes co-locations and shared working between councils. It advocates working between departments.  Importantly, it also refuses to come out clearly against substitution of paid staff by volunteers, saying instead:

“Community, volunteer run, libraries should be encouraged and supported where there is genuinely no other alternative to closure. But too often David Cameron’s talk of the ‘Big Society’ has been a fig-leaf for cuts. We need to value and celebrate volunteering in its own right, not use it crudely as a substitute for important public services where government has failed to live up to its responsibility for providing them.”

The report also makes cleas that “access to e-book lending must be included as part of a wider offer of library services.”.  It’s main “big idea” is that:

“Labour also believes that there is a good case for a dedicated body to support development, innovation and best practice – including measures to find efficiency savings and increase impact, helping lessen the pressure for cuts to services. This idea was backed by 89% of the respondents to Labour’s recent library consultation, and it could largely be achieved by re-shaping the existing bodies dealing with libraries and strengthening their mandate, rather than through any significant new bureaucracy.”

This is what the Society of Chief Librarians and Arts Council England are doing at the moment but Labour wants to beef it up.  Such a body won’t, though, necessarily have any compulsory measures, won’t be able to enforce standards and won’t be able to intervene.  Labour, to be fair, address this to some extent by noting that ACE or some other body should be given superintendent powers – something which no-one (apart from the Secretary of State) has at the moment and was lost when the Adisory Council on Libraries (England) was abolished.

So, nothing controversial.  It can’t be, really.  Labour is, if one ignores from some query about their speed, as tied to cuts as the Conservatives. It is also as tied to localism as its opposition.  It is likely that local Labour councils simply would not support a national body which can tell them what to do.

So, some good ideas but, when it comes down to it, Labour are saying that the cuts are going to happen and Libraries should work out how best to be efficient and to evolve. This – given the current climate – is to be expected. However, it’s robust defence of libraries is commendable – the Government has been notably lacking in this department – and English libraries are sorely in need of some sort of Libraries Development Agency which now seems to be official Labour policy.

“There are few surprises in Labour’s new policy review on libraries. That’s OK. It is already very widely known what a low-cost, flexible, deeply valued resource they are – except, often, by those who make decisions about them. It does no harm to repeat the message. Above all, Dan Jarvis stresses the huge potential that remains undeveloped. That is The Library Campaign’s concern too. Public libraries are in big trouble now, whatever the government pretends. But the most frustrating thing is to see the multiplicity of bodies that are supposed to serve public libraries but are paralysed by politeness, or financially cut to the bone. And loads of excellent, innovative work is done by librarians nationwide, but is forgotten and wasted. We endorse the review’s call for proper ‘oversight’, and work to co-ordinate what’s already there. That’s what government should be doing.” Library Campaign

See also National body for libraries needed, says Labour - BookSeller.

News

“Another early Cameron idea was the big society, a “nation of doers and go-getters”, where people “stepped forward” to meet community need. Today we see that ideal in action in an unintended setting, as a London council goes to court to call time on squatter activists who have reopened Friern Barnet library. The reopening was of course a spirited stunt, not a substitute for a proper cultural strategy. Devising one is never easy when money is short, but it is made harder both by a distracted cultural secretary and by her boss’s failure to extend a measure of protection to a small slug of expenditure that matters a great deal. Sheffield’s Central Library, built in the trough of the Depression, is one monument to materially challenging times being met with something better than a narrowly materialistic response. As he struggles unsuccessfully with the GDP numbers, Mr Cameron should reflect on that.” Editorial – Arts: beauty and the beancounters - Guardian.

  • City leaders warn of crisis over cuts to funding - Independent. “The heads of Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds councils forecast that core public services will have to be reduced after a fresh round of cuts was announced to their Treasury funding. Adult social care, youth clubs, libraries, careers advice and waste collection are especially vulnerable.”
  • Confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy - Question Everything.  Questions SCL policy on accepting volunteers substituting paid staff as a way of saving libraries – “their stance, however well intended has opened the flood gates and councils up and down the land are going straight to the volunteers option without looking to save costs elsewhere in the library service first.” … “The SCL are taxpayer funded, unaccountable to local people (who they say they act on behalf of) and we as taxpayers have no say in their policy. Its one thing a single chief librarian giving their best professional advice, its entirely another thing a for a taxpayer funded organisation without any sort of evidence or mandate endorsing a policy that affects the library provision of all. ”  Includes a vote option to see what you think of their policy.
  • Do library occupations help campaigners or help the government? - Infoism.  Library campaigner Ian Clark is “ore than a little concerned about the way these particular groups have handled the question of library closures” … “Those that are occupying these libraries are very often not librarians, or information professionals.  They are, in actual fact, untrained volunteers.” and thus helps those believing in the Big Society replacing paid staff.  This article has attracted a lot of comments that are worth reading.
  • “Immoral” pay-day loan websites banned from public libraries - Scotsman. “Dundee City Council is believed to be the first local authority in the country to take action against pay-day lenders … In an attempt to stop people being tempted to borrow more money, the council has blocked more than 100 internet sites which offer pay-day loans as part of its anti-poverty strategy.”
  • Unemployed to be forced to use government job website - Guardian. “Since last month’s launch of the scheme, 160m job searches have been made. The scheme is expected to manage more than 10,500 new vacancies and 1m-plus job searches each working day by next August, nearly 80% of the total DWP caseload. There are no plans at present to require claimants on employment and support allowance to use the system, which will be available to those without a computer in libraries and jobcentres.”

Local News

  • Barnet – “We won’t give up our library dream” - Barnet Today.  Protester “did not rule out the possibility that the group would appeal against the ruling and they will have 21 days to launch an appeal. “We have six weeks to talk about getting a licence for the building for between six to 18 months,” the 44-year-old said. “This is a major victory for the national libraries campaign and for the people of Barnet.””
  • Friern Barnet library squatters can be evicted by Barnet Council - BBC. “Squatters who set up a book-lending service in a library that was closed due to budget cuts can be evicted in six weeks, a judge has ruled.”
  • Brent – Libraries: independent report reveals damning statistics about Labour council’s performance - Brent Council Liberal Democrats. A load of figures from the Cipfa reports are used to demonstrate how poorly Brent compares to similar authorities e.g. “The picture in Brent is even worse when you take population into account. Out of 16 similar authorities Brent has the fourth highest population but the fewest libraries (p4) meaning it is by far the worst council for the number of libraries per 100,000 population” … “There was a dramatic drop in library visits from 6,630 per 100,000 population between 2011/11 (when twelve libraries were open) and 4,827 per 100,000 population in 2011/12 (when six libraries were closed half way through the year)”
  • Cheshire East – More Nantwich youngsters join library after summer reading challenge - Nantwich News. “Almost 200 more children across Cheshire East now have library membership compared to last year.  Around 4,800 schoolchildren in the borough took part, visiting their local library at least four times and reading six books over the summer break. More than 2,750 children completed the challenge and received a medal and certificate at ceremonies in Nantwich and across the borough attended by MPs, councillors and local VIPs.” … “Library staff visited 61 schools to promote the challenge. Volunteers were recruited and trained at 14 libraries and 63 SRC volunteers joined libraries over the summer.”

“Artizan Street Library opened this Monday, a week later than scheduled.  I’ve now been in and looked around it.  Overall, it is impressive.  The space seems to be a little larger than the previous facility.  There’s not much seating, however, the demographic of office workers and residents from the adjacent City of London housing estate and Tower Hamlets are probably not going to spend huge lengths of time in there anyway.  It is deliberately located close to the boundary with Tower Hamlets (the most socially deprived part of London).  There are three stations for plugging in a laptop and using their WiFi service.  (For people who need a place to study for lengthier amounts of time, they already provide facilities at Guildhall Library/City Business Library/Barbican Library).

The new library is attached to an open space mini-hall, presumably for community activities.  The City of London are quite effective at getting these spaces utilised, once they are made available. The book stock looks like a good selection of items that people will actually read.  The City’s library service is quite good at this, anyway.  Unlike other London library services, they make all CD audiobooks and educational/documentary DVDs free.  The selection of documentary DVDs and audiobooks is very good.  One niggle is that the children’s area is a little small, however, the space is easily re-configured if they think they need to expand it. On the same day that the library opened, the City also announced an initiative where the entire Square Mile will be covered with free on-street WiFi:” City of London – Artizan Street Library opens (report by observer on the ground, sent in via email).

  • Croydon – Heading for judicial review - Save Croydon Libraries Campaign. “In an extraordinary turn of events, a long list of Conservative councillors called-in the decision to award the libraries contract to Laings; the very same decision they had enthusiastically voted through, en bloc, as a party.” … “The fight is not over and we may now need to go to judicial review. We cannot do this until the final announcement is made”
  • Lancashire – Boom time for Pendle’s libraries - Lancashire Telegraph. “visits in Nelson and Colne have rocketed since Lancashire County Council launched a high-profile campaign to bring people back in. More than 40,000 people visited Nelson Library in September and October, more than at any other library of its size in Lancashire. And Colne Library saw a year-on-year increase in new members of more than five per cent. The campaign ran in September and October and featured Lancashire library users on eye-catching billboards, posters, phone boxes, and buses, as well as on the council’s social media channels on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.”
  • Wolverhampton – Rethink on move for Wolverhampton library is dismissed - Express and Star, “Spring Vale Library will now move from its site in Hateley Drive to the former Parkfield High School, where it will become a ‘community hub’. A final attempt to force a new assessment of the plans was made at a full council meeting in Wolverhampton last night by Liberal independent councillor Richard Whitehouse, but he was voted down by the controlling Labour party who branded the alternative plan “irrelevant”.”