I chatted to a group of Welsh librarians a year ago who were looking in horror at what was happening in England and were worried that it was only a matter of time before it was going to happen to them. Sadly, it looks like that time is coming fast, with Rhondda Cynon Taff announcing that 14 out of 26 of its libraries are under threat,  Austerity in Scotland had also seemed to arrive with the recent announcement of major library cuts in Moray.  However, in a move which hopefully will help shame her passive-at-best English counterparts, the Scottish Culture Secretary looks set to intervene. Now compare that approach with the current English Government which has set up a webpage on Gov.uk called “Create a Community Library” with the following lines “Contact your local library authority to see if you can get involved. If you want to take over a library building, or if you want to run the library service, the ‘My Community Rights’ programme has advice and practical help, including details of funding.”


John Dolan on the OECD report showing falling literacy levels in England

John Dolan OBE BA DipLib MCLIP, current Chair of the CILIP Council, has been in touch about the implications of the recent OECD report on literacy levels.  What he said interested me so I asked him to write a short piece on the subject, which is included below in full:

The OECD assertion of UK’s declining literacy was not a surprise. That must be so since it hardly caused a stir. Ian wrote, “Libraries by themselves are not responsible for literacy levels, although they surely help”The UK performance is seriously bad for personal prosperity, family wellbeing, economic success and social justice and cohesion. Our shared national naïveté about illiteracy is astounding. Its cruel to the individual, its impact on health and social services is huge; the consequent economic impact is damaging; it inhibits progress. Public libraries should be central to creating a literate, creative and productive UK. Why? Self-evidently: 

  • formal education can’t do everything; not a criticism, just too much to do; too great a need.
  • Literacy starts in early years, seriously dependent on parents’ reading engagement with the child in early childhood.
  • Outside school it needs discreet but sharp interventions at weekends and school holidays.
  • Young people need access to ongoing or remedial learning; all need access to and support with ICT when and as the need arises for work, access to services, communications and just living
  • the need is growing exponentially with public services, welfare, employment, communications and commercial services shifting to digital
  • the need is insurmountable as ICT and its potential will continue to evolve; this isn’t a short-term issue

How? Public Libraries are often cited as being “able to help”. In reality the literacy capability of all people should be central to their purpose, developing literacy skills – print, digital and information literacy – in all communities, for all people.  

To most librarians this is obvious after numerous programmes: Bookstart (once mistakenly tagged as “book-gifting”) for parent-baby reading. The Summer Reading Challenge is excellent, visible politically (thanks Miranda McKearney), consistent, monitored, with evidenced success. The Six Book Challenge for emergent adult readers and so on. Public libraries have led millions to the Internet, most recently through Race Online and there are courses and applications galore (CV writing, job application, health choices etc). Partnerships with Adult Education, regeneration and economic development programmes abound. There’s an infrastructure to die for.   

So what’s stopping it? Maybe,   

  • all this is intermittent
  • individual achievement is not accredited
  • outcome research is limited, or unacknowledged
  • the media suffer from librarystereotypitis, seeing public libraries in terms of literary reading or buildings
  • literacy as an issue is always linked to school
  • public/political awareness is low

This can be overcome. Fundamentally there’s the absence of national strategy. When CILIP, for example, asks for a national strategy, that ask is directed at Government to  

  • acknowledge need
  • recognise the possibilities
  • talk across government
  • engage players and partners
  • plan a national coherent programme
  • set outcomes

… coordination with power (leadership) at national level. Only Government has that capacity. It would be good to shift the conversation from cuts to opportunities, securing national literacy improvement through public libraries.


  • Create a community library – Gov.uk. “Public library services are highly valued by the communities they serve. However, alongside other public sector services, they are facing enormous financial challenges. A growing number of library authorities now work with communities to build sustainable library services, with local people …”.  Includes links to “My Community Rights” and Arts Council England/LGA research.
  • Literacy and Numeracy: What MPs said – WEA Director for Education’s Blog. “It’s encouraging that so many MPs understand how important this issue is. The big issue now will be what action follows the very welcome Parliamentary debate and what difference it will make to the millions of people who could have much better lives if they could improve their English and Maths skills.”
  • Makerspace survey – “For a book that I am writing on makerspaces in libraries, I am curious to learn more about libraries that have a makerspace, fab lab, or hackerspace.  These spaces are areas in a library where patrons can use tools and equipment to imagine, design, build, and create all sorts of different things. I’m trying to get a sense of what types of making are happening in various library settings.  If you have a makerspace or are planning to launch one, I would appreciate you taking a few minutes to fill out my survey”
  • Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming – Guardian. The full text of Neil Gaiman’s speech (see previous post). “The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.”

“We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future” Neil Gaiman

  • Neil Gaiman: ‘No such thing as a bad book for children’ – BBC. “Gaiman’s speech comes a few days after his 1996 fantasy novel Neverwhere was removed from the reading list of a high school in New Mexico after the mother of one of the school’s students complained that it was “inappropriate” for teenagers. Gaiman said he had found it “incredibly heartening” that some of the school’s teachers had publicly supported him. “Books get challenged,” he told the BBC on Monday afternoon before he delivered his lecture. “I tend to take books of mine being challenged and occasionally being banned – and very occasionally being burned – as a kind of badge of honour. You know you are doing something right.””
  • Oxford Debuts A Library Chair To Last For Centuries – Fastcodesign. “Each redesign of the Bodleian Library chair has accompanied a major update to the architecture of the library itself–which is why new ones don’t get commissioned very often. In an age where design has come to encompass ephemera like interfaces, logos, and “experiences,” there’s something timelessly satisfying about creating a good old-fashioned chair. And if history is any indication, Barber and Osgerby’s creation could remain unseated for decades or even centuries to come.” [Meanwhile, in the well-funded parallel reality that is the Bodleian Library they’re trying to choose between specially commissioned Designer chairs – Ed.]
  • See, Culture Secretaries can intervene – Alan Gibbons. “Ms Hyslop’s intervention raises yet more questions about the role of the absentee landlord Culture Secretary in England, Ed Vaizey who continues to abstain from his role to superintend the public library service south of the border.”

Local news

  • Birmingham – £4m repair bill for Birmingham’s community libraries – Birmingham against the cuts. “Hall Green Library is identified as being ‘poor condition generally and roof repairs are needed, possible concrete fatigue’ at an estimated cost of £300K. Kingstanding Library ‘needs complete refurbishment including windows, decoration, lighting, flooring, heating, shelves etc’ again costing an estimated £300k. The information was taken from an adjusted appraisal of the condition of community libraries in 2011 and is based on outline estimates at that time. The information was requested by the Libraries campaign following the recent publication of the City Council ‘Developing Successful and Inclusive Communities’ Green Paper.” … “Only £236k was allocated in capital for the Community Libraries for 2013-14. ” … “The building and development of the Library of Birmingham Council will cost the City Council over £7m a year in capital charges for the next forty years with £3m being taken from the Library of Birmingham budget.”
  • Moray – D-day for bid to save libraries from closure – Herald Scotland. “The Equalities and Human Rights Commission considered the issue yesterday and wrote to those who had complained, outlining the commissioner’s view. A statement will be issued this morning but a spokesman stressed the commission was not a judicial body and could only consider whether the council met its legal duties under the relevant legislation in assessing the needs of groups, such as the disabled, before coming to a decision.”
  • Moray – Equality Commission cannot rule on libraries closure – Northern Scot. ““In respect of Moray Council’s decision to close library services,” he added, “council officials have produced an apparently comprehensive equality impact assessment and councillors are obliged to take account of this in their decision making.”
  • Moray – Library closures: Culture Secretary urges council to reconsider – BBC. ” “Court decisions in England (which are not binding in Scotland but are persuasive) have indicated that decision makers must consider the question of equality ‘with rigour and an open mind’. “The Commission however is not in a position to judge individual budget decisions made by public authorities; whether an authority has acted reasonably in its decision making is a matter for the courts rather than the Commission.”
  • Moray – Library closures: Fiona Hyslop set to intervene – Scotsman. “the Scottish Culture Secretary, is poised to intervene in the controversial decision by Moray Council to axe almost half the area’s libraries. She has told opposition SNP councillors in Moray that she is considering the implications of the closure plan for library services in the rest of Scotland. And it was revealed today that Ms Hyslop has now written to the council, urging the administration to think again about their decision to close seven of the area’s 15 “lifeline” libraries.” … “n a separate development, Scotland’s equalities watchdog has told campaigners, fighting to overturn the closure decision, that it will be for the courts to rule whether the council’s decision to close the seven libraries has breached the Equalities Act.”

“I am very concerned that Moray Council cannot see the value in continuing to provide library services in these rural areas and that the council does not see, in these times of austerity, how much of a lifeline these services can be to the elderly; people with disabilities; those looking for work and families on low incomes where a £10 round trip to the library is not feasible or where the journey on public transport is not practical. The potential equality issues are grave.” Scottish Culture Secretary

  • Moray – Minister demands rethink on decision to close libraries – Times Scotland [preview only: behind paywall – accessible free via most public libraries].
  • North Ayrshire – Capita wins £3m contract with North Ayrshire Council – Business Insider. “Capita IT Services has been awarded a £3m contract for the provision of improved internet access for corporate offices, schools, libraries and remote sites in North Ayrshire. The five-year deal will result in additional bandwidth and improved network speeds to council buildings across 340 square miles. Benefits will include improved internet access for rural areas, libraries and community facilities, allowing provision of enhanced services for job seekers and people seeking online training. The contract will deliver increased bandwidth resulting in better services for local communities.”
  • Rhondda Cynon Taff – Cuts plan to save £56m after budget – BBC. “Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) said it must save £56m over the next four years. It is proposing to shut more than half its libraries, close day centres and start children later at nursery school.” … “Fourteen of its 26 libraries have also been earmarked for closure, which would save £800,000 a year. They include Treherbet, Ton Pentre, Penygraig, Ynyshir, Maerdy, Cwmbach, Penrhiwceiber, Ynysybwl, Cilfynydd, Tonyrefail, Nantgarw, Beddau and Pontyclun.”
  • Sunderland – ‘Readers will be better off after library closures,’ claims Sunderland Council – Sunderland Echo. “As the storm settles after last week’s closure of nine Sunderland libraries, city leaders have promised it will mark the start of a new, more flexible service. Capital investment to the tune of £500,000 is going into improving existing IT facilities to bring the remaining libraries into the 21st century. The funds have been allocated as the council aims to save £850,000 a year by reducing the number of static libraries it runs, branding them outdated. However, council bosses claim this is a rare occasion when delivering efficiency savings can make a service better.” … “The changes will mean that library services will arrive at community centres, sheltered housing schemes, schools and even supermarkets. These facilities will house what the council calls ‘community book collections’, as well as events such as storytelling sessions.”
  • Surrey – Village welcomes library to be run by volunteer – This is Surrey Today. “A volunteer-run library has been opened in Beare Green, replacing the recently defunct mobile service.” … “The initiative is a joint venture by Mole Valley District Council, Surrey County Council and the Beare Green Village Community Association, with 500 books supplied by Surrey libraries being made available. The library will be open twice a week, on Wednesday and Friday, and will be headed by former librarian Hilary Christmas.”