If one gets asked about the state of the public library service in the UK, one should really answer “which one?”.  For a start, a national study in an Arts Council England report (due out in January) estimates more than 170 are volunteer run.  My own figures, at more than 168, are almost identical.  That’s 5% of all the libraries in England, with a third of the total being accounted for just in the last two years. Of course, those volunteer-run libraries are to some extent the lucky ones as a whole pile have closed. Then, to confuse matters, there’s the big whopping new increasingly-looking-like-white-elephant central libraries that have been built, or are still being built, around the country.  Biriminham, Liverpool, Manchester.  The shiny one in Newcastle is especially embarrassing at the moment as its PFI inflated cost means a whole pile of smaller branches are likely to close.  The same is probable in the other cities mentioned too.  We also have a pile of new, smaller, libraries being built or at least refurbished.  These are as often actually combined customer-contact centre/libraries than libraries alone.

So, all pretty confusing … but thereis a constant in all of this.  The one thing affecting all branches, big or small, rural or urban, is something that all commentators describe as “hollowing out”.  I first came across this phrase in September 2011 and it has spread like wildfire since then because, well, it so accurately describes what is going on.  CILIP have come up with more evidence for this point of view, with an estimate of 1000 more library jobs being lost over the next year and 1720 opening hours also going the way of any pretence of a “comprehensive and efficient” service.  Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago about something not being acceptable as it did not reach an acceptable standard.  My response was to say that there are no standards and each authority does things its own way, safe in the knowledge that there is no effective oversight or credible threat of intervention if they do anything wrong.  Expect to see more evidence of this over the next year.


  • 51 years after independence, 50 libraries, adult illiteracy 27.5% – IPP Media (Tanzania). “The local market is currently flooded with foreign books and that Prof. Mulokozi believes is of little use and even detrimental to Tanzanians. He is also of the opinion that the few libraries in the country is one of the undermining factors.”
  • Bilbary launches eBook rentalsGood E Reader.  “Bilbary has announced that its ebook rental service will hopefully launch before the end of the year. Unlike rental platforms that tried with limited success to create a Netflix-like subscription based concept, Bilbary allows users to rent an individual title without the commitment of a subscription. Moreover, the current model will allow readers to borrow books based on a pre-determined time period, with the pay rate adjusting for the length of time. This may become especially important for the renting of academic texts, which can be needed for an entire semester, whereas a user can opt to rent a novel for as little as five days.”

Christmas tree made from library catalogue boxes.

  • Flagship libraries open as branches close – BBC.  A look at Surrey volunteer-run branch New Haw.  “Sabrina Atkins, a regular visitor with her toddler daughter, said she has hardly noticed any difference since volunteers took over from the council on 1 October.” … “In Liverpool, the city council has closed four branch libraries and reduced opening hours at others to save £2.2m. In Newcastle, another Labour-run city, the council wants to shut 10 of its 18 branches as part of plans to save £7m. Yet both cities have spent many millions on their flagship city centre libraries.”

“Spokesman Mark Taylor said that, although closure of library buildings received a lot of attention, the long-term trend was of a “hollowing-out” of services. “The picture we have seen emerging is reductions in staff numbers, opening hours and expenditure,” he said. “More and more local people are experiencing libraries being delivered in different ways and different locations. There is no one answer.”

I ran after the Gingerbread ManStand-Up Librarian (USA).

  • Millington Library want to send contract with private operator – Commercial Appeal (USA). “Sue Nan Hartley, chair of the Millington Library Board, told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday night that LSSI has been helpful over the years, but recently has boxed them in, limiting what books they can order and what equipment they can purchase. “LSSI is making it very hard for the Millington Public Library to be the Millington Public Library,” Hartley said. “I call it the cookie-cutter approach. We’re not Germantown or Collierville. We do things a little different out here.”

“Miller said LSSI has repeatedly denied the Millington library’s requests for specific books because they weren’t on the company’s approved list. And he said, the contractor has made it difficult to get electronic books and requires the library to purchase equipment from specific companies, even if it’s cheaper somewhere else.”

  • November News Round Up – Community Knowledge Hub. “Locality played host to its second annual convention earlier this month, attracting 600 delegates from across the globe. Nicky Morgan, Arts Council England, introduced some of the initial findings from research due to be published in January. In particular, she revealed that there are >170 community libraries already in operation or due to open their doors over the coming months” (5% of English libraries).  Lists recently volunteer-run branches.

“Take, for example, the exploits of Ed Vaizey, the libraries minister. The British library system, in case you hadn’t noticed, is currently being dismembered. Only last week, Newcastle City Council declared that half of its 18 branches may have to close. From Mr Vaizey, despite the statutory powers at his disposal, comes not the merest cheep of disquiet. You might think that he needs to start building a few bridges as well” Our right to die young is under attack – Independent / Dj Taylor.

  • Public libraries face rapidly changing landscape – CILIP.  New national survey of over half all authorities.  “Over twelve months more than 1,100 library staff will be lost, estimates the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) in a new report. CILIP reveals that 1,720 opening hours a week will be cut and £22.5 million in revenue expenditure reduced from public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.” … “One in five responding authorities are considering co-locating libraries in the same building as a range of services, including police points, parish councils, housing services and leisure centres. There is an increase in the number of community managed libraries, with nearly 10% of libraries (260) likely to be run this way by April 2013. Half of local authorities are looking at alternative ways to run and manage libraries, such as trusts and partnership working.” See also BookSeller coverage of press release.

Communities, families and individuals across the country are at the sharp end as cuts bite deeply into public library services,” said Phil Bradley, President of CILIP, “We are deeply concerned to see the number of staff continuing to reduce. Over the past two years we estimate that nearly 3,300 library staff posts will have gone. Without their expertise, knowledge and experience it will be a struggle to plan and deliver quality library services. Services that go way beyond lending books alone, services that transform lives by providing everyone with opportunities for learning, improving literacy skills, helping people with their information needs and fostering the growth of knowledge.

  • Public Libraries and PFI – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. “all of the following Libraries where built using PFI; Liverpool Central Library = £42m Wootton Library Newcastle Central Library = £3.3m Hackney Central Library Bournemouth Central Library = £20m Brighton Central Library = £12m The Hive – a joint venture with a University = £43m Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre = £13.5m.  Although on the face of it this might seem like a good news story is it really a sustainable and cost effective way of providing new libraries and are they being built at the expense of the local branch network?”
  • Return on reading – Library Journal (USA). “The evidence, then, is clear. Reading is extraordinary. It captures a child’s imagination while teaching him or her how to read, how to write, and how to think, and the mere existence of a public library causes children to read more. Encouraging parents to bring their children to the library is even better. When you discuss the broad array of services provided by public libraries, don’t forget the books.”
  • Undertaking its destruction – Wall Street Journal (USA). Long article stating that New York Public Library “is about to undertake its own destruction. The library is on a fast track to demolish the seven floors of stacks just below the magnificent, two-block-long Rose Reading Room for a $300 million restructuring referred to as the Central Library Plan. “A research library is devoted to the acquisition, maintenance and availability of collections of amazing range, rarity and depth, much of which will not be consulted for decades, have not been digitized and probably never will be. “

“By any economic measurement, libraries are as worthless as a dead language. They attract no tourists, generate no soft power, save no lives, have no impact on obesity, produce “no clear benefit to the economy” and are prized, in the main, by the sort of marginalised losers who can’t afford to buy their own books or sort their lives out online. Even testimony from untragic – profitable – writers such as Jeanette Winterson and Zadie Smith failed to persuade the Tory libraries minister of any decent profit on lendable books. Public Libraries News calculates that 301 libraries have duly disappeared, or been threatened ,with closure, since April.” What future for the Arts with these Tory philistines? – Guardian / Observer.


Local News

  • Angus – Council tenants to have say on rates – Guide and Gazette.  “The newsletter will include a new library feature recommending the best new adult and children’s books. It will also let tenants know how to make use of the free internet access available at Library learning centres and encourage people to make more use of the free services available at their local library.”
  • Barnet – Council aims to boost library use – Times series. “Children, young people and families will be given automatic library membership under a pilot scheme aiming to increase their use. Barnet Council is one of 22 local authorities across the UK to be handed £2,000 by Arts Council England, which is looking to boost library use across the country. Barnet’s inclusion comes eight months after the authority shut down Friern Barnet Library despite mass protests by the community, and more recently pulled out of a joint project to create a new library at the artsdepot in North Finchley.”
  • Bradford – Revised Burley co-op plans attract positive and negative views – Wharfedale Observer. “Re-submitted plans to extend the village library with a Co-operative convenience store in Burley have sparked a flood of public comments. The plans have attracted opinion objecting to and supporting the idea. Jenny Symons, of Ilkley’s Fairbrook Developments, submitted an application to refurbish and extend Burley-in-Wharfedale Library in Grange Road to house the Co-op store on the ground floor.”
  • Bury – Reporting back: Libraries and the Longfield Suite – Tim Pickstone.  “The Cabinet considered a plan to make quite significant savings in the Council’s Library service. The savings (which total roughly £750,000) are going to be made in two Phases. Phase 1 was agreed last week, and only really affects the main Library in Bury itself. The changes are significant with a number of staff members now being given notice of redundancy etc. What worries me is Phase 2, which I understand will be announced in March 2013. Phase 2 will be bigger (roughly £500,000) and as I understanding it will be largely looking at Libraries in the towns outside Bury (Radcliffe, Whitefield, Prestwich etc). The word I keep hearing is that the Council is looking at a number of ‘co-location options’ (which is a clever way of saying that Libraries will close).”
  • City of London – Artizan Street Library and Community Centre opening 10th December – City of London Council.  “Over 20,000 items – Books, DVDs, CDs, maps, spoken word items and children’s books. Free WiFi and Internet access. A wide range of courses and events held in the Community Centre”.  Replaces the demolished Camomile Street Library.
  • Croydon – Award of libraries contract called in to scrutiny – Save Croydon Libraries Campaign. “Although the majority of the business will be conducted behind closed doors it will send a clear message if as residents are present in the public gallery.”
  • Bashford admits Laings not best value in £30m library deal – Inside Croydon. “we had the Alice in Wonderland situation where a question was put by one supposed public servant who works for Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, to be answered by a councillor who also works for Gavin Barwell MP, all presided over by another who works for Gavin Barwell MP.
  • Derbyshire – Plans to protect vital community buildings – Burton Mail. A look at the Localism Act – libraries are singled out by the council as being eligible for the Community Right to Bid.
  • County record office to close temporarily ahead of refurbishment – Chad. “The seven-week closure will allow Derbyshire County Council to prepare for the two services, currently operating from County Hall, to merge and move into a newly refurbished building in New Street, Matlock. The building is currently undergoing a major £4m expansion and refurbishment to increase archive storage space, incorporate the Local Studies Library and improve facilities and services for visitors.”
  • Edinburgh – Our town stories, a new web of Edinburgh libraries – NAPLE Blog (EU). “Our Town Stories is one of our newer websites tracing the history of Edinburgh through images, maps and stories from the libraries’ heritage collections. You can preview the site at www.ourtownstories.co.uk. Our Town Stories covers the period 1700 to the present day.”
  • Lancashire – Plans put forward for longer library hours in East Lancashire – Lancashire Telegraph. ““As a result of feedback from users, staff and local communities, 48 of our libraries now open half-an-hour earlier in the mornings and at no extra cost. “We’re now looking at whether library users may benefit from similar changes at more of our branches. For most of these branches, this would mean slightly longer opening hours.”
  • Three libraries in Preston could change their opening hours – Blog Preston.
  • Luton – Consultation on the future of library and cultural services – Luton Council.  Consultation includes proposals like “reductions in opening hours as well as possible closures of some of the smaller and less frequently used community libraries, with relocation of others to venues such as community centres.” … “The consultation will start in January when an announcement will be made inviting people to take part and give their views. The 90 day consultation will include surveys, public meetings and detailed discussions with library users, families, schools, colleges and the general public to gather as much evidence as possible.”
  • Newcastle – Council cuts endanger Jesmond Library – Jesmond Local.  “Although the announcement is only a budget proposal, there appear to be no other options for Jesmond Library and its counterparts across the city. Newcastle City Library, run under a PFI arrangement, will remain open.”

“I appreciate that NCC has to make some hard decisions about how to deploy its reduced budget, but a small amount of local government funding in culture can go a long way in making somewhere an attractive place to live, work and visit. Sustained investment over the last 15 years has made Newcastle a centre of culture for the North East, home to some of our most treasured and exciting galleries, theatres and museums – all of which make a big contribution to the regional economy and the quality of life in the area. All that’s at risk if NCC does cut cultural investment by 100% over the next three years. We know from past experience that drastic cuts in cultural funding over a number of years can mean a whole generation of young, creative people don’t get the breaks at a crucial time in their fledgling careers. We don’t want to see that happen in Newcastle or anywhere else and that’s why we’re working so hard with NCC and local authorities all over the country, arguing hard for the value of continued investment in art and culture. Public consultation is a good thing, too – everyone who feels strongly should put their view forward.” – Alan Davey, Arts Council England.

  • Rochdale – Castleton friends rally support to save former library – Rochdale Observer. “The plight of Carnegie Library was highlighted in May this year by campaign group SAVE Britain’s Heritage. This year they added the Carnegie Library, a unique triangular shaped building funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1905, to their ‘at risk’ list. Campaign group, The Friends of Carnegie Castleton, say the building fell into disrepair after it was sold by the council in 2008.”
  • Rotherham – Library to open all year – Guardian series.  ““We have to be realistic about the resources we have available but we are committed to promoting reading and literacy as well as looking to the future of digital technology. The changes starting in April will see the closure Kimberworth Park Library. Five libraries will increase their hours, two stay the same and seven see slight reductions.”
  • Southampton – Libraries threatened with “closure by stealth” – Southern Daily Echo. “those campaigning against the budget cuts to libraries claim massively reducing opening hours is “closure by stealth” … “”opening times will be cut by more than 50 per cent in some branches, the new books budget slashed by £50,000 and some mobile library stops axed. In all about 120 hours opening each week would be hived off in total with 18 jobs shed in a bid to cut £303,000.””
  • Surrey – Help Shop to be moved to Leatherhead Library despite opposition – This is Surrey Today.  “Councillor Stephen Cooksey (Lib Dem, Dorking South) said those opposed to the move raised concerns the library was not “fit for purpose”, as it could not provide the same facilities or space.”
  • Waltham Forest – Walthamstow community centre recruited to make library in Leyton better used by locals – Guardian series. “THE managers of a successful community centre have been hired by Waltham Forest Council in the hope that they can work their magic on a public library. The authority will spend £15,000 will be spent on the library in Lea Bridge Road in Leyton, in an attempt to increase the number and range of community events taking place there. Overseeing the project will be the people behind the The Mill community hub in Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow, who managed to transform the defunct St James Street Library into a thriving community space in September last year.”

“The venue is now used to host clubs and groups from across Walthamstow, as well as a poetry club, a theatre, and a support centre for women, and the group have been given £10,000 funding in return for their help on the library in Leyton. “

  • Wandsworth – New opening hours and a wonderful celebration at YGL – Save York Gardens.  “Last Monday, we were delighted to welcome Ian Noble from Lloyds Banking Group who came to present a cheque for £5,000. This donation comes from the Lloyds Bank Community Fund after York Gardens Library and Community Centre won a public vote. The money will allow us to continue run programmes for young people at the library and community centre. Thank you again to everyone who voted for YGL – your votes have made a big difference. Stakeholders of the library and community centre were joined by councillors and members of the library staff to mark the occasion, which was a great chance to thank everyone for their hard work over the past year.”
  • Worcestershire – Special exhibition at Bromsgrove this December – Bromsgrove Advertiser. “The exhibition includes images of the gravestones of historic figures, together with their stories, and the history of John Adams and the cemetery.”