Editorial

We live in a barbaric world where money talks and culture walks.  Maria Miller, the advertising executive Culture Minister, has made it clear that the only culture she is interested in is that which makes money. This we can decry and cry about, feel superior with and generally protest about but it does not affect the fact that it’s true.  So, if the current Government persists in power (and, let’s face it, Labour are disturbingly similar to them in many policies) then we had better start speaking their language, or at the very least be able to win arguments using their own terms.  This may be ideological heresy to some but its pragmatism does not change the truth.  As such, the news that Arts Council England are launching what one suspects is the largest scale research project in the world on the economic benefits of public libraries is to be welcomed.  Previous research suggests that there is a notable magnifier between the money that goes into libraries and the benefit that the community reaps from it.  Let’s prove that to be true.  Let’s quantify the quality … because if public libraries can’t, then they run the danger that there won’t be much of them left, either in quantity or quality.

Changes

Bradford – 3 mobile libraries under threat.

ACE research into the economic contribution of public libraries

Arts Council England has commissioned research to look at how public library services contribute to the economy after identifying a gap in the evidence available at a national level.

The research, which will take part in two main stages, will first pull together existing local and international studies that aim to measure the economic impact of libraries. The Arts Council recognises that although these studies provide valuable insights, they tend not to use economic impact and valuation methods that explore the more complex ways in which libraries may make an economic contribution. For example they do not show how libraries reduce demand on health and social care services by enabling people to manage their own well-being, or help people improve their skills and job prospects by providing access to the internet and information.

 The first stage will bring together current thinking of how libraries contribute to the economy; this will enable the Arts Council to establish where there are gaps in evidence and to identify any priority areas of investigation. The results, which will be published during the summer of 2014, will be used as a basis to develop the second stage – a more detailed primary research project which will be ready in 2015.

Brian Ashley, Director Libraries, Arts Council England, said: “Numerous stories are told of how people see their library as a gateway to opportunities they didn’t know they had, often described as a ‘lifesaver’ in a challenging world.  Many of these services will have an economic impact with benefits that emerge after a long period of time and which may be affected by other factors. Those who know and love libraries will already be aware of this; our challenge is to make the assertion more widely known and provide the evidence to back it up.

 “A piece of research of this kind will help us to advocate a more complete picture of the public value of libraries to the economic life of this country and this, in turn, will help make the case for a resilient and sustainable service.” Arts Council England press release (received via email).

“This is great news. We desperately need this kind of research. People at the Speak Up For Libraries conference last November were screaming for it. Even better, the project starts by looking at the mounds of existing research instead of letting it all go to waste. And it has a brisk timetable – summer 2014. Good. All the same, this research will start over a year after ACE finished and published its report on the economic value of the arts – which left out libraries altogether. Better late than never, I suppose. But a tragic delay given the mad cuts already wrecking the library service.” Laura Swaffield, Library Campaign.

 “About time too” Geoffrey Dron

See also ACE to research libraries’ economic contribution - BookSeller and the PLN page Reasons for libraries: Value for money which lists research into the economic contribution of public libraries noted so far.

National

  • Reading Agency ticket offer: Karen Joy Fowler event: 17 March‏ – Reading Agency (press release). “Six pairs of free tickets are available to hear the author of the acclaimed The Jane Austen Book Club discussing and reading from her new novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, on Monday 17 March at The Southbank Centre, as part of its UK launch tour.  Readers simply have to complete, by 9 March, a short form saying why they should win the tickets, which can be found online at: readingagency.org.uk/adults/get-involved/win-tickets-to-see-karen-joy-fowler-in-london.html“.  This “is part of The Reading Agency’s work to bring together its partners from the publishing world and the whole of the UK public library network to create successful and exciting events and activities for readers of all ages.”
  • Repair cafes in libraries: Warminster Library case study - Public Libraries News. A look at the successful repair cafes that have been put on in Wiltshire libraries. “all we did was provide the space; circulate the advertising; make sure there were relevant books around on the day and lap up the great comments. Would we do it again? Yes definitely!”

“The Arts Council has a tiny budget to support libraries – inherited from the old Museums, Libraries and Archives Council – but is using it to back a new, er “library-hack-maker space” created by social enterprise Common Futures in Colchester.  The undisclosed sum is helping turn the former St Botolph’s bus station waiting room into “an integrated library-hack-maker space which can also serve as a multi-media community publishing platform and, with that, underpin a resilient and sustainable future for our libraries”.  In other words, a craft and computer club.

Unfortunately, the actual “library” part of St Botolph’s is what’s described as a “give-get multimedia library” whereby users of the centre will be encouraged to contribute by publishing their own ideas. “hack and maker” spaces elsewhere are informal computer and craft clubs funded by membership fees, with shared hardware, tool and component collections.  The maker space at St Botolph’s also offers “think work store” spaces in former toilet cubicles for local craftspeople.  There will also be two pop-up shops in the former bus station kiosks selling work by local artists.  It all sounds very jolly, but it’s hard to see what it has to do with providing an actual library service.

Common Futures describes itself as “a new venture exploring digital asset development by and for communities” and is run by Annemarie Naylor.  Funnily enough, last year Naylor wrote the Arts Council report backing volunteer-run community libraries as a viable long-term alternative to proper public libraries in her role as head of assets at Locality, a national umbrella body for community enterprise.” Private Eye Issue 1360 (p.28) Library News

International news

  • A Second Living Room: the Public Library Zavidovići’s Youth Corner – Rising Voices (Bosnia and Herzegovina). “Located just next to a bus station, the librarians at the Zavidovići Public Library realised that the students waiting for the buses were spending their time unproductively every day after school. This realisation led to the creation of a space in the local library dedicated to these children, addressing this problem of long hours spent waiting for buses. To attract the young people and to teach new skills, the initiated a multi-media centre with creative programming that would be open before and after school, with access to computers the Internet, and technology skills trainings – supported by the iNGO EIFL. They have also had events to engage students and promote the project, such as a photo competition.” … “Since the beginning of the Youth Corner, the number of visits to the library has increased from 50 people a week to 252, after one year.”
  • Citizens Defending Libraries calls the Central Library Plan “a real estate grab” and “contrary to the public interest” – Melville House (USA). A look at the New York campaign group. “There shouldn’t be a budget shortfall for libraries.  There wouldn’t be if libraries received the funding that the public wants them to get.  There wouldn’t be underfunding if the priorities of the Community Boards were respected, if the recommendations of the Independent Budget Office were observed.  Libraries are valuable to the economy in many, many ways.  In the scheme of things they cost little, a minuscule fraction of the city’s budget, and they more than pay for themselves.  Did you know that libraries even reduce crime?”

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – ‘We have listened to protests’: Bradford Council re-think on budget proposals – Telegraph and Argus.  Proposed cuts still to go ahead are “Libraries – Mobile libraries will go, but home delivery service to continue at a reduced level.”
  • Lincolnshire – Culture Secretary urged to save Lincolnshire’s libraries - ITV. “The Culture Secretary is being urged to intervene in plans by Lincolnshire County Council to re-organise its library service. A former assistant director with the authority has written to Maria Miller asking her to order an urgent inquiry into the proposed changes.” See also Lincolnshire – Library cuts ‘unlawful’ says former Lincolnshire council director - Lincolnite.
  • North Yorkshire – Updated: North Yorks council tax to go up: but councillors refuse pay rise - York Press. “The 1.99 per cent council tax rise – just below the level at which a referendum is needed – will see average Band D bills increase by about £21 a year. The council’s library service will be reviewed, and libraries which are not taken over by communities may shut, while some children’s centres are also likely to close.”
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf – National Poet of Wales joins battle to keep libraries open - Wales Online. “A treasured poet, broadcaster and lecturer says closing our much-valued libraries would “sever a main artery” of literacy in Wales. Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, claims she never would have gone to university had she not had access to free books as a child. The 76-year-old spoke out after she was contacted by the Rhydyfelin Library Support Group, which is battling against Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s decision to shut the site in April.”
  • Sheffield – Fate of Sheffield’s libraries sealed - Star. “Cabinet members gave plans to cut public funding and axe staff at 15 of its 28 libraries the go-ahead at Sheffield Town Hall today.”
  • Sheffield - Last-ditch bid to save Sheffield libraries big day arrives - Sheffield Telegraph. An army of outraged residents launched a last-ditch attempt to urge Sheffield Council to re-think library cuts. Save Sheffield Libraries – a movement which has brought together campaign groups from across the city – staged the first of two protests on the eve of decision day. Generations young and old put on a united front outside Sheffield Town Hall ahead of the economic and environmental wellbeing scrutiny board meeting, which discussed the proposals to withdraw public funding for 16 libraries and axe 75 staff expected to be approved by the cabinet today.”
  • Suffolk – Stradbroke: Village’s quirky idea to incorporate post office inside library - EADT. “The application was approved last week by Post Office Ltd after it interviewed representatives from Suffolk Libraries. Suffolk Libraries has been working in partnership on this project with the Stradbroke Courthouse and Library Trust – the library’s ‘Friends’ group. The new post office will provide 150 recognised facilities including cash withdrawals, foreign currency and handling parcels. Suffolk Libraries staff will run the post office along with the library in the same space. It will be a few months before the post office opens as some work needs to be carried out to install a counter and other equipment. Staff will also undergo the necessary training.” … “Stradbroke Courthouse and Library Trust also has further plans to develop the building by providing a café, studio space for a community radio station and storage for a village archive.”