Archive for July, 2013

Croydon, judicial reviews, geocaching and Wikipedia

 

Editorial

Croydon has confirmed that it has outsourced its library services to John Laing for eight years. This means the company will be running 24 branches in the UK, having started in Hounslow some years ago. Croydon have not had the best of records in library provision and are touting the move as a way to improve their branches.  However, the situation is not quite as clear cut as that as my article published a couple of years ago I hope demonstrates to some extent.

It’s sad to see that the Government is making access to the judicial review process harder.  This has been the route of last resort for many communities that are unhappy with library closures/cuts and has proven remarkably successful.  From what I can gather, however, the changes may not really affect library reviews as they only bar those with no direct interest in the decision from being involved.  Being so many people use their local library services, this may not therefore be a big barrier in practice.

Finally, Public Libraries News has a new page on geocaches by or near public libraries.  If you’re not sure what geocaching is then have a look at the article here reproduced with kind permission of its owner.  In order to make the page as comprehensive as possible, do please send me (via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk) details of any caches you know about that can go on the list.

Library trends page on Wikipedia

The “Decline of library use” wikipedia page has undergone a major revamp (see the history and talk) and a retitling by Natalie Binder (Libraryowl) and is now available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_library_usage.  It’s worth a look.  However, it can do with more work done:

“I’ve made some changes to bring into house style. What it needs now are more wikilinks or explanations for specialist terms like ‘circulation transactions’, and especially content from a global perspective: it’s very much US-centric now.” Martin Poulter, Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador

Does anyone would like to add the experience in the UK to this?  Feel free to quote from Public Libraries News if so.

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Lincolnshire Council’s consultation gets into further hot water … and has national implications

Editorial

Lincolnshire Council appear to be producing a masterclass in how not to introduce cuts to a library service.  First, they announced a raft of closures as close as possible as they could away with to minimum provision while presenting no options other than closure or unpaid labour. Then the consultation itself appears somewhat skewed and has been called “a complete joke” by campaigners and five famous authors. Then some consultations for the libraries were arranged in places more than ten miles away from the threatened libraries themselves … and now we have the news that the “consultation” meetings themselves are little more than sessions being held on how users can volunteer in their libraries, complete with a facilitator from the University of Sheffield to help them to do it.  Why this matters is that there is a legal requirement for a genuine consultation before changes are made to a library service.  Even the supine Ed Vaizey repeatedly has mentioned the need for one as a sign that a council is complying with legislation.  Given what has been seen so far, Lincolnshire are sailing especially close to the wind in meeting it.

On the other hand, a councillor has appeared on ITV to say he can foresee the possibility of more “libraries” at the end of the process than at the beginning, due to the semi-forced use of volunteers, while saving £2 million for the Council. If the consultation stands and the cuts go through, that’s the sort of result that other councils will take notice of, much to the detriment of public libraries nationwide. Whether they get away with it or are called in for judicial review remains to be seen. It’s the sort of thing that in another era would have had the attention of the Libraries Minister but the current one, Ed Vaizey, will doubtless continue his policy of inaction, seeing how things play out on the ground and leaving it to cash-strapped locals to do what he has consistently not done himself. It’s worth noting that some CILIP members are not entirely happy with Ed for his past record on the subject and have set up a website to encourage a vote of no confidence in him at that organisation’s AGM. Of course, he may not listen to them as well but there comes a time when one has to make a stand on something … and the terminal decline of the local public library presided over by uninterested politicians seems to be as good a place as any to start.

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Different motivations … and zombie / lego librarians

Editorial 

There is some discontent in Birmingham as the board of trustees for the big new city Library appears packed with businessmen.  This has raised the ire of those who think it needs to be more diverse.  It comes down to different views of who is best to run a public library:  someone well-connected with money and a knowledge of business / how things work? Who can perhaps raise some money for it in these tough times? Or someone closer to the ground who understands local communities and ensures the library stays relevant to those people who need it the most?  It’s clear which way the council has voted.

The big cuts in Lincolnshire continue to make the news, with the ire now being directed against the council for choosing to hold the consultations sometimes ten miles or more from the libraries that may actually close.  The council argues this is to provide more space and that more meetings will be held if necessary.  Local users suspect darker motives.

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The 9-foot statue of the Hulk in transit to Northlake Library.  See http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bring-the-hulk-to-the-northlake-public-library

Wednesday 24th July 2013

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Edinburgh visitors up 15%: the England/Scotland divide

Editorial

Good to see that the award-winning Edinburgh library service, well-known for its initiatives has had a 15% increase in visitors last year compared to 2010.  Doubtless the two new libraries helped but the embracing of new technology has also been a factor.  Helpful too has been the successful public protest that meant that cuts proposed in 2011/12 did not come to pass.  South of the border, such cuts largely do come to pass and so it’s far harder for library services to be as successful as their northern brethren.  The suspicion here is that library usage mirrors library funding – so cuts to the budget means less usage, which of course makes cuts to budget more likely. Just look at Lincolnshire where the cuts are being pushed through with the somewhat self-contradictory argument that libraries are (a) not strongly needed and (b) it’s expected that people will work for free to keep them open. One ticket to Edinburgh please.

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Payday loan blocking and royal babies

Editorial

More and more English councils are banning payday loan sites from all of their computers, including ones in their libraries.  This raises a few questions  The first is that such sites are not illegal and cause no harm to anybody but presumably the adult who uses them.  They are thus different to the porn/terrorism websites that libraries already filter.  The second is that they’re not illegal so one would have thought that it is up to the adult in question to decide on these matters, not the council.  The third is that the Council are banning websites and the library services are all having to absolutely obey instructions and do the same.  Indeed, one suspects that the vast majority of library services couldn’t stop the banning if they wanted to because it is the council IT department that handles such things and not the library service. Finally, because the library staff are all employed by the councils making the decisions, they would be disciplined if they spoke out publicly against it.  Just in case you’re wondering, my own authority has not yet banned them which is why I can write this piece now.

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Extra copies of Cuckoo Calling by (we now discover) JK Rowling being unstocked in Suffolk

A place for the vulnerable … but, sadly, they don’t seem to be a priority right now

 

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Library as shop - New library in old Argos store in Hertfordshire

Fancy owning the library you work in? York goes Mutual.

Editorial 

Another day, another experimental model of library governance.  York have agreed to turn over its library and archives service to a mutual two-thirds owned by staff and one-third by the public.  It’s unclear as to what this effectively means in practice (will the shareholders be paid dividends?), although there does appear to be some risk involved.  It hopes to cut costs by £450k over three years by doing this, with the contract lasting for five years and with eligibility for tax breaks.  Unions are not enthusiastic about the change but the Council says it’s either this or direct cuts to the service. A council that has gone for the cuts route is Lincolnshire, where it has been announced that slightly over half of its 32 threatened librarieshave had at least some interest from the community to take them over rather than see them closed.  The council are clear that the libraries will close unless local people work in them unpaid.

Thousands of miles away, the mayor of Miami- Dade in Florida is wanting to close a large proportion of his libraries as he thinks they’re out of date – however, a TV report shows bustling libraries, depended on by the young and unemployed so much that the system gets over six million visits a year.  Perhaps the mayor should have done research before making such a rash claim.  As the teenagers in the report suggest, perhaps also one of the Miami libraries would have been a good place to start.

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Austerity in Spain boosts library use … so why not so much in the UK?

Editorial 

There’s a very interesting piece in the Independent on public libraries in Spain that report on a big rise in library usage there since the austerity measures came into force a few years ago.  It’s also interesting to read about a library there that seems to be a doppelganger for Friern Barnet, with locals taken it over after the council closed it.  What I find interesting about this is that Spain, like the USA, is seeing a rise in library usage to a level that is reported as historically high while at the same time facing cuts to the service itself.  This is not the case in the UK, where Austerity appears to have cut service provision but not provided a related boost in usage.  It is not clear why this is is, although if I had to put money on it, it would be the (still) higher comparative levels of welfare provision in this country and the relatively higher access rates to the internet (still lower then the rich of course) amongst the poor.  I’m not sure we can be happy about this but with tough cuts to benefits in the UK starting to take effect this year and the next, it may be that usage will start shooting up.  We are already starting to see this to some extent with the introduction of the online-only Universal Jobmatch.  Certainly, it would strengthen the position of public libraries in the UK if they were used rather more … the fact that we’d be doing more with less would also doubtless please the politicians too.

Cuts to Doncaster libraries have been controversial for several years but it hasn’t gone to court until now.  The Royal Court of Justices will be hearing the case at the end of this month, based on questionable legality of the mayor of the time (now no longer) pushing through cuts to libraries against the opposition of the majority of councillors.

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Trying to save her parents money by choosing the smallest library books

Editorial

Some interesting responses about the suggested no confidence motion on Ed Vaizey at the forthcoming CILIP AGM, reported on yesterday.  None of them actually defend the man. If you’re a CILIP member and are interested, email noconfidenceinvaizey@gmail.com for more information.

I look forward to hearing Michael Rosen on the future of public libraries in a two-part Radio Four programme in August and September.  He’s a keen advocate for libraries, comes up with great ideas (see his passion for automatic library cards for schoolchildren for example) and, as a non-librarian, can see things from the outside.

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