Archive for June, 2013

Some of the library campaigners attending the event.

Libraries Director Brian Ashley tells it how it is to the Library Campaign

 

Brian Ashley

Brian Ashley

Campaigners were given a rare chance to talk to a senior public libraries figure on Saturday 29th June 2013 when Brian Ashley, the lead for public libraries (and chief of the Midlands region) of Arts Council England kindly agreed to over two hours of questions at a meeting arranged by the Library Campaign.  A summary of the meeting is below.  The key points I took from it is that there is no hero coming to save libraries, that savage cuts will continue to happen and that the best way for library authorities and campaigners to cope is to be as active as possible if libraries are going to survive.

The information below is taken from notes made at the time and cannot claim to be a verbatim or 100% accurate record of what was said or happened.

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Newcastle results now in: 1 will close, 9 to volunteers and others.

Changes

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Responses to George’s speech and the rest of the day’s news

Changes

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“Slightly worse than our worst case scenario” : The latest Government cuts examined

Editorial

The Chancellor has announced that local government will face a further cut of 10% in 2015/16.  This will be matched by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Being that some other areas are protected from cuts, this means that the real cut to libraries may well be hit worse than this.  The Leader of Newcastle City Council declare the cuts to be “slightly worse than our worst case scenario”.  There are also intimations that even this will not be the end, as all three main parties are considering cuts until at least 2020. Taking into account that cuts have already reached around 26% of the 2010 level (even ignoring inflation), it seems that what George Osborne said at the beginning of his speech, that it marks the end of the “something for nothing” culture, may well become true, at least in terms of free library provision in many areas. Of course, people in those areas will still continue paying council tax, so in terms of libraries, it may be that what has been decided is more like “nothing for something” than the other way around.

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Payday loan websites barred in English libraries for first time

The barring of payday loan sites, websites perfectly legal in the UK, has gone ahead in Cheshire East.  It is the first council in England to do so and the third in the UK (Dundee did the same last December).  While there are probably not multitudes who love such websites, it does raise the question of what may get barred next.  Such sites are, of course, perfectly legal in the UK.  Of course, UK libraries already bar porn sites (unlike their US counterparts) so the precedent has already been there fo quite a while … but it will be interesting to see what next, if anything, gets barred and for what reason.

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Response to Ed Vaizey's "There's No Crisis" statement. By Theresa McCracken

Prophet of doom in Wales, some hope in England

Editorial

It looks like Welsh councils are soon to face cuts on an English scale, if they haven’t already done so.  It also seems that, like in many parts of England, council leaders regard libraries as a non-statutory service which can be “wiped out”.  The chief executive of Locality, Steve Lawler, argues in an interview that his organisation has been doing his best to avoid services in England going the same way.  I’d recommend you read his statements as they are not as single faceted as those on either side of the debate may wish them to be.  it is certainly more considered than the rather gung ho recent statements of Eric Pickles on the subject.

There have been a few nice new libraries recently and their impact is noticeable.  Liverpool reports their splendid new library has attracted 3,000 new joiners in a month and that it is becoming a tourist attraction.  The second of three new libraries has opened in Telford and Wrekin.  In addition, yet another new library has been announced in East Sussex, with one of the reasons given being the hoped for regeneration of the town centre caused by the investment.  This hope for libraries may or may not be long-term, depending on if they are given sufficient funding: something I know that very few expect from George Osborne’s announcement on further cuts to councils.  But at least there is hope.

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The Duchess of Cornwall with Korky Paul and Lauren Child

Getting on the right foot: An interview with Miranda McKearney of the Reading Agency on public libraries and more

Miranda McKearney OBE, Chief Executive, the Reading Agency

Miranda McKearney OBE, Chief Executive, the Reading Agency

One of the positive constants over the last few years has been the work of The Reading Agency (TRA).  The charity is behind the imminent Summer Reading Challenge, the ongoing Six Book Challenge (SRC) and the new Reading Well Books on Prescription schemes as well as a host of other stuff.  To my mind, the TRA is the closest thing that English public libraries have to a national marketing and publicity agency, something which is desperately needed for the atomised and increasingly underfunded service.

At the forefront of the TRA during this time has been Miranda McKearney, who was one of those who set up the body (she says that the idea was created at a kitchen table with friends) and is its Chief Executive.  One suspects that she knows more about what is really happening to libraries nationally, and the factors and personalities affecting them, than pretty much anyone else in the country.  I am therefore delighted that she agreed to answer a few of my questions, which I share with you below.

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Hello cuts into 2016 … and Herefordshire’s decision to scrap interlending suggests a dark new trend

Editorial

A further 10% (an eye-watering £10.5 billion) cut to local councils appears on the cards.  That’s ten times more than the annual cost of the entire public library service so expect closures to continue deep into 2016.  Ed Vaizey, in a speech to the Society of Chief Librarians this week, denies (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) that the library service is in crisis and suggests that sharing services and co-locations are a solution to cuts.  His boss, Maria Miller, stressed in a different arena the need to show a clear return on expenditure when it comes to saving the Arts.  Whether such approaches are easily applicable to libraries remains to be seen.

Herefordshire have withdrawn the interlending service, the option of borrowing books from other authorities, from its libraries, citing an average cost of £40 per item.  To get up to this eye-watering figure, the cost must be including staff, offices, transportation etc as the the British Library (among the highest of chargers) would be costing £14.65 and many books would presumably be under reciprocal agreements and thus be considerably cheaper.  Regardless of cost, though, there is also a key legal matter here – that of whether interlending is an integral part of statutory provision under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  Some argue that such a service is essential if a library service could be considered comprehensive – depending on one authority’s stock is clearly of far smaller scale than depending on the whole of the UK’s stock.  If it is not legally essential then we can expect more authorities to take the dark path of Herefordshire who, faced with massive cuts, are looking around for whatever savings they can.  Of course, there are suggestions that the Act itself could be withdrawn in the next Parliament, in which case every aspect of the service will effectively be in open season.

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Lincolnshire aim for lowest possible statutory provision: 32 libraries at risk

Editorial

Lincolnshire have announced that 32 out of 45 libraries, plus an indeterminate number of mobiles, will either close or be passed on to volunteers.  This is part of a major review that cuts a full third  of the budget (£2m from a total of £6m) and will result in a reduction of 170 posts (55 full time equivalent) and, significantly at this time of online everything, 177 less public access computers.  So far, so awful but also so sadly familiar.  But there are two worrying two aspects about these cuts. The first is that they’re not being touted as due to cuts but rather because the current system is “inefficient”. The second is that the council has carefully looked at the recent DCMS decisions not to intervene in other authorities and tailored their cuts appropriately.  So, for instance, the minister made clear that she did not consider computers to be part of the statutory provision and so the loss of so many machines can be contemplated, even at the time when those without online access may have difficulty claiming benefit or looking for a job.  This is the first  authority I can recall whose cuts have been so clearly tailored to reach the minimum statutory provision.  It is also the most clear in stating that, in the brave new e-book and online world, and regardless of finances, there is no longer any need for libraries in smaller towns and villages and, if those communities stubbornly insist that there is, then they can jolly well staff them themselves.

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Unison surveys the damage

A large-scale survey of library worker attitudes and budget/service changes has been produced by Unison.  It is a detailed look into what is happening in the sector.  The point picked up by the Mirror from it is the lack of free online access available in some libraries, linking this to the need for such a facility due to the Digital By Default agenda.  Cuts to services being shown in the report is more than mirrored in a report from Sunderland showing that the budget for libraries there had been cut from nearly 7.2m in 2009/10 to a proposed budget of what appears to be barely £4m this year.In other news, the rumours of the dismantling of the DCMS has apparently been firmly dismissed by the Prime Minister.

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