Archive for November, 2013

The future of libraries: what the Guardian online debate found

Future of libraries: keeping the service alive – Guardian.

The Guardian held one of its online debates on libraries today. The discussion between several library experts (managers, campaigners, councillors) and anyone contributing online. Around 200 comments were made so it’s a little condfusing: I’ve endeavoured to summarise below, although doubtless I have missed some things which some would consider important. Main threads and arguments.

  • Are libraries declining due to technological change? Libraries are still needed, in some ways more than ever: internet/online access essential and libraries provide the access and skills to those without either or both. Seven million have never used the internet. Wikipedia etc don’t cover all information and are prone to deletion, accidental or otherwise and is also not entirely trustworthy anyway.  Libraries provide quiet study spaces.  Children need the books and everyone needs serendipity that bookshelves allow.  Bookstock is declining due to budget cuts.  It’s not black and white – books and e-books will co-exist. Books are still in demand with 244 million loans in England 2011/12,
  • Joined up thinking required between school and public libraries (But … safeguarding issues) sharing resources e.g. Tri-borough, co-locations. Essex sharing buildings with parish and district councils.  Children’s services a natural to co-locate with.  But … need to be sensitive to needs of library to avoid them being sidelined in co-located buildings.
  • Governance e.g. industrial and provident societies, private companies, social enterprise solutions? Conflict of interest over profit in private companies, but some social enterprises have been successful and/or hopeful.
  • Volunteers: they need start up grants and council support , Fresh Horizons in Huddersfield and Alt Valley Community Trust doing well, adding value (if additional/complementary) But … questions over sustainability, is it a destructive trend? Need to have at least one professional/paid member of staff with skills.  Australia doesn’t have money volunteers because of worries of public liability insurance. Exploitation of the volunteer also a worry
  • Libraries are more than books: Idea stores (issues up 20% over ten years, staff appointed for enthusiasm for books), Edinburgh’s digital strategy lauded.  Provide welcoming space/social centres, play sessions, reading groups, job-seeking, music, films, local and family history, coffee (but make it good), e-books (should be done nationally and not by authorities), online catalogues (should be better), self-service (but not liked) and for using technology/online, wifi, Need 24/7 access. iPad access in Brent.  Public health via the Reading Agency.
  • Improve what we already have: don’t reinvent.
  • Campaigning: strength of local campaigns suggest a national one would not be lacking in support.  Need to stress the economic benefits of libraries.
  • No national steer or strategy for libraries unlike NZ or Eire.  But … deliberate to run it down?
  • Prioritising big libraries (esp. Birmingham) over smaller ones.  Great library But … at the cost of running down smaller branches where people cannot afford to get to Central. Less small libraries, improve the surviving? But … being local is a strength. Need to improve the small ones.
  • Austerity/cuts. Hollowing out of services.  Councils see libraries as easy target and see it as retreating not reinventing But … ideological and no real reason to cut.
  • Outreach e.g. Brent with 130 locations being served inc. cafes and hospitals.

Changes

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Free e-magazine service for all Wales … but not a good day for mobiles

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Nottinghamshire thinks like Buckinghamshire: CILIP council results

Editorial

More details are gradually being revealed about possible budget cuts to Nottinghamshire libraries.  Around 28 libraries are being considered for transferring to volunteers or other outsourcing, making it one of the most wide-ranging cuts so far seen. Interestingly, the council is explicitly pointing to the claimed success of Buckinghamshire’s volunteer libraries as the reason for their move, which will fuel the fears of many paid librarians that volunteers beget more volunteers.  On the other hand, one comment on the article acidly notes that just because both counties end in “hamshire” they may not be quite the same.

Votes for the CILIP council elections have been counted and it looks like those associated with the campaign against the organisation’s renaming and in favour of more strident campaigning against the library cuts have benefitted the most.  On the other hand, Karen McFarlane (a senior GCHQ manager who is contractually not allowed to speak against the government) has also been elected.  Oh to be a fly on the wall at some of the meetings soon to be held in CILIP HQ …

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Liverpool Central Library beats the Shard to the prize

Editorial

Well done to Liverpool, whose newly revamped central library has just beaten the Shard, no less, to win the National Building Excellence Award.  I’ve been there and I think the judges made the right decision. The library shows what can be achieved with vision and sufficient funding.

Right, good news over, now let’s get on to a truly terrifying quote …

“He thought it would be alright because others were doing it”

This remark, apparently from a chief librarian, is taken from a report in Sheffield of a meeting and is about the legality of volunteer libraries lending books.  There are in fact some serious concerns about this issues, as shown by this from the Society of Authors, but the reason I highlight the quote is not to embarrass the person in question – that gets us nowhere and I sympathise with their predicament – but to point out the ad hoc nature of library change at the moment.  Things are happening so fast that best practice is barely even available, let alone formally grounded legal advice.  This will eventually all settle down (and ACE and SCL are doing their best, perhaps, given their narrow remits and dire budgets) but it’s no way to run a national public library service. But then, of course, the Government has decided that there is no such thing as a national public library service. It has decided to let the individual authorities go their own way, with minimal supervision, to do what they will in a time of dire cuts. Yinnon Ezra and the few others left on the DCMS team are thus left with the task of herding cats, with the all the success that that phrase normally implies.

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Lessons learnt from Speak Up For Libraries event

Speak Up for Libraries

All of the main (non-political) national leaders of public libraries were together for the Speak Up For Libraries conference on Saturday.  The main messages I took away from the conference (and from a busy last week where I was in a meeting with the SCL and another one with the  APPG as well) were:

  • Things are going to get worse for libraries funding next year. The funding for local authorities is being cut more and most of the easy (and many not so easy) cuts have already been made.  If the austerity programme stays as it, this could be a permanent state of affairs until there is very very little left of local government outside of the “hard” statutory provision (and libraries are “soft” statutory the conference heard yesterday, from Yinnon Ezra of the DCMS).
  • The main national bodies are working as well as they can together, within the limits of their own roles.  The SCL is moving forward with national offers and training, Arts Council England is funding as much as it can, CILIP is recovering from its rebranding failure and moving on.  They all have less money than before and are trying their best … which normally means sharing what they have, in terms of expertise and funding … it’s best practice and working together.
  • Even Yinnon Ezra has said he is working.  Having said that, the DCMS is laughably non-interventionist: Yinnon said they don’t even “bother much” with consultations. Chats and sharing best practice is as bad as it gets with the deep library cutters.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it fails.  
  • That the strong feeling from ACE, SCL, DCMS and CILIP is that campaigning can work – and is sometimes the only hope – but that positive campaigning (on what a great impact libraries have) is better than negative (such as questioning the competence of the council).
  • It’s all about the money … but if you market and place yourself well enough in an organisation then the money can come to you.
  • Alan Gibbons and Phil Bradley have now been joined as library heroes by Steve Davies.

The relevant links are:

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Carillion to cut jobs: Wakefield new £1m library: Birmingham spends £1m just on website

Editorial 

In the first public move since taking over Laing’s library interests last month, Carillion have announced that there will be widespread redundancies in their libraries.  I understand that over 100 staff have been told that they are “at risk” and around one full time equivalent per branch will go (perhaps 30 in total). Carillion explain that the move is down to utilising new technology and streamlining back room functions while keeping disturbance to the public to a minimum. Others suspect that the move may be more because the new owners of the outsourced library services (with Croydon only passing its libraries to JLIS just three weeks before Carillion took over JLIS) are looking to make as much profit as possible.  The actual answer may of course be a combination of the two,

That will be of little comfort to those who lose their jobs.  Even less comfort will be got from the fact that this gaining from economies of scale (and, remember, Carillion has now merged four library authorities (Hounslow, Ealing, Croydon and Harrow – more even than the Tri-Borough) and cutting of the backroom services are exactly the agenda that national politicians, senior librarians and campaigners are following as well. When faced with a crisis in funding of this level and the need to keep branches open, backroom staff may find themselves truly friendless.

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The whole kit and caboodle

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Ideas

  • Suffolk An author as “patron”
  • Westminster – Twinning with French library authority to exchange 200 books per year.

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Get your MEP to sign the written declaration on public libraries

Moray partially back down on closures: Bristol + Southampton cuts: Portsmouth new mobile

Editorial

The decision by Moray Council to save save three out of seven libraries from closure shows the importance of paying attention to the law.  Councillors had been warned by their own officers that closing these three would be questionable under equalities legislation but it took an actual move to court action for them to actually do the right thing.  That they even thought of such action is being put down to the scale of the budget cuts imposed.

In a development not seen elsewhere so far in the UK, library technology company Bibliotecha have put forward (what else?) library technology as an alternative to closing libraries.  The idea of self-service machines and key card access to libraries instead of closing them is reminiscent of what has been happening in some European countries.  The company argues that machines can keep the library open all the time while volunteers keep it open only some of the time.  In neither vision do paid library staff get much of a look in but the library itself is still there … and that is an option that may be attractive to cash-strapped councils.

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On the radar

  • Lancashire – Review of public library spending in December (unconfirmed).

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Summer Reading Challenge 2014 theme

E-books can replace libraries as much as a playground can be replaced by a PlayStation

Editorial

The Summer Reading Challenge – this year’s theme was “Creepy House” – was up 9% on last year, which is utterly fantasticd. In other news, Bridgend and Hertfordshire get new (co-located libraries), three libraries turn to volunteers in Leeds and Southend, one closes and Wrexham may cut hours by a quarter. Oh, and Terry Deary gets all controversial again,

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Ideas

On the radar

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Speaking Up For Libraries

Speak Up For Libraries

The annual conference “Speak Up For Libraries” is on Saturday 23rd November, just over a week away.  The key decision-makers on public libraries will be there – amongst them, the DCMS libraries advisor Yinnon Ezra, the ACE Libraries Director Brian Ashley and Janene Cox, the president of the Society of Chief Librarians. So, if you want to hear what they’re thinking – and you should, because it’s your job and (probably) life’s work, they’re talking about – then do come along.  As well as this, a whole bunch of library workers and library users are going to be there too: I’ve had the privilege of going before and, I tell you, there’s never a dull moment.  For more details and to register, see http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/speakers.asp.

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