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

News

  • Cuts may force councils to stop funding arts and leisure services by 2015 – Guardian. “Local council funding for “quality of life” services such as leisure centres,libraries and playgrounds will largely disappear in the next three years as authorities focus their depleted resources on crisis interventions for the poorest people, a study says. The report on spending and savings plans found that by 2015 many councils in England will have exhausted “back office” efficiency savings. As a result they will be forced to reduce core services to the bare bones, while any services they have no legal obligation to provide will be at risk of being cut entirely.” … “English councils’ funding is being cut by 29% over five years to 2015,”

“It found that where funding is cut from services such as libraries, parks and even litter collection, councils were increasingly expecting communities to step in. “If budget cuts continue at the levels anticipated, all but the most vulnerable will be expected to do more for themselves and to supplement state services with commercial alternatives,”

  • Damaging library cuts are wrong and dangerous – CILIP.  Response to Joseph Rowntree report. “CILIP warns that libraries are often viewed as easy targets to save money; this is short-sighted and dangerous. Public library services offer people access to the information, tools and support needed to survive and thrive in today’s society. People use public libraries to look for employment, to access essential government services and develop their skills. The government is currently on a drive to make their services digital by default with many only able to access the internet at their public library”

“An attack on a library service is an attack on a community, and for everyone in society – young or old, male or female, literate or not, with internet access or without, it is vital that they are not only kept running, but that they flourish.” Phil Bradley

Dr Rhys Jones joins the Get Libraries Campaign

  • Newcastle to feature in library e-lending pilot – BookSeller. “Newcastle City Council joins Peterborough, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Derbyshire County Council in taking part in e-book lending pilots throughout 2014, gathering data on the impact of digital lending on libraries and e-book consumption. Peterborough and Newcastle are the two urban authorities, with Peterborough testing out loans of seven days, and Newcastle testing loans of 21 days.” … “Each authority will now be asked to purchase a catalogue of 1,000 titles made up of front and backlist titles, before running the pilots throughout 2014. They will report back findings halfway through the year, and at the end.”
  • No taxpayer funding for Margaret Thatcher Memorial Museum and Library – 38 Degrees. “Dear Minister, Please do not give the go-ahead for the proposed museum and library in honour of the late Margaret Thatcher. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, appears to have given this £15 million proposal his backing.  Given that we are living through a period of extreme austerity, and that there is talk of various museums having to close, I feel it is most disingenuous to assume the taxpayer is happy to fund a proposed £15 million edifice in her name. “

Events

UK news by authority

  • Bristol – Short Story: The Tale of the Mayor, the Cook and the Wardrobe – Blue Glass Boy.  An amusing allegory of the proposed moves to allow a Free School to move into Bristol Central Library and move stock displaced into a warehouse.
  • Denbighshire – Prestatyn’s new look library opens its doors – News North Wales. “opened on Monday, will also serve as a hub for third sector health and social care services and provide collaboration with local colleges and schools.” … “Denbighshire invested £1m including a £300,000 grant from the Welsh Government Museums and Libraries Division”. “There will be a single point information/customer service desk, which will also provide signposting to specialist support services and expertise including a portal for potential volunteers.”
  • Derbyshire – Outrage as Derbyshire County Council seeks ‘fat cat’ while planning mobile libraries axe - Derby Telegraph. “The county council says mobile libraries may have to close as it can no longer afford the service because of budget cuts. However, the Labour-run authority says it can take on another highly-paid boss – despite councils being told by the Government to reduce their senior management teams to help offset cuts. The council – which sparked anger earlier this year by adding a third highly-paid member of staff to the chief executive’s office – is now advertising for a strategic director of corporate resources, who will be paid between £108,087 and £118,895 a year. He or she will be tasked with saving the council money by deciding which jobs are no longer needed and can be axed.” and also Mobile libraries being scrapped is ‘diabolical’ – Burton Mail. “Gill Farrington, chairman of South Derbyshire Forum, labelled the move ‘diabolical’, saying: “This is just something else being taken away from older people. You have got to wonder what there is left.”
  • Hertfordshire – Tell us what you want for the future of libraries – Hemel Today. “Just five members of the public turned out to talk about the future of library services in the borough – but does that mean people don’t care about libraries any more? Apparently not.” … ““While people aren’t necessarily coming out to meetings on cold November evenings, we have had 5,500 responses – that is hugely encouraging and we are only half way through.” see also Have your say on the future of Hertfordshire’s libraries at Cheshunt meeting – Hertfordshire Mercury.
  • Moray – Campaigners abandon Moray library closure fight – Scotsman. “Today the single mum, chosen by campaigners to lead the legal challenge against the council’s controversial library closure plans, announced that she had abandoned plans to take legal action against Moray Council in seeking a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.” … ” having received that legal advice I have, with great regret, decided that legal action can not presently be taken forward”
  • Plymouth – City libraries set to open an extra 11 hours a week - Herald. “More libraries will be open from Monday through to Saturday and opening hours have been scheduled more evenly across the week to make them easier to remember and more convenient for customers. The city’s six largest libraries – Central, Crownhill, Plympton, Plymstock, Southway and St Budeaux – will all be open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, with no changes to their current Saturday opening times.”

“Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has accused Sheffield city chiefs of closing libraries in Lib Dem-voting areas out of “political spite”. Labour-run Sheffield’s plans to lop £1.6m from the libraries budget involve keeping just 12 of the current 28 libraries.  A further five will receive some council funding to help them become volunteer-run libraries, while the rest will close altogether.  But campaigners, including the deputy PM, say the branches targeted for closure are disproportionately in the south and west of the city – which is where Lib Dem councillors’ wards are located.  So what’s Mr Clegg doing about this?  Can he use his political clout to persuade the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to finally act on a local authority failing in its duty to provide a comprehensive library service?  Er, no.  According to his website, he’s been busy collecting signatures on petitions in the city’s suburbs.” Sheffield – Library News - Private Eye. Issue 1354 – p.29