Archive for September, 2015

Lewisham claim making staff redundant “enhances” their service … and refugees.

Editorial

Some bad news from Lewisham, not made any better by the council claim that making the paid library staff redundant and replacing them with volunteers may “enhance” the service.  There’s one for CILIP to get their teeth into, if it becomes official council policy.

Otherwise, the thing I’d like to draw your attention to is the joint SCL and ASCEL statement welcoming refugees to the UK and the short notice from John Vincent below.  For me, one of the many strengths of public libraries is that they provide refuge for all, from the poorest to (if they choose to) the wealthiest.  I remember when hundreds of Poles suddenly made their appearance.  I also remember knowing about a community of East Timorese moving into the town before anyone else, simply because they joined the library first in order to gain online access.  I am sure public libraries will have similarly important roles to play with the Syrians and others coming in and we should be very proud of it.

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CILIP AGM and the art of not taking things personally

Editorial

The decision by the membership at the CILIP AGM to approve (130 for, 7 against, no absentions) the following statement has raised a few eyebrows:

“That CILIP actively oppose those public authorities and senior library staff over the “amateurisation” of the Public Library service by offering library buildings and contents to be run by the local community with little or no funding for professional or paid library staff. This is resulting in public libraries being run by volunteer staff and taking away work currently done by paid professional and library assistant staff. All current public library service points staffed by paid local authority library staff should be the current base-line – and where such actions are suggested by the local authority and senior library staff, CILIP should support the opposition to such proposals and say so publicly”

Leaving aside the perceived dig against volunteers (and, really, no-one is saying volunteers are a bad thing, just that they’re a pretty odd way to run a national and important service like libraries) the main problem has been with that statement about “and senior library staff”.  It’s worth pointing out here that few chief librarians actually believe that, long-term and structurally, unpaid staff are better than paid but rather have to do so in order to meet tough budget cuts. Indeed, I’ve heard stories of chiefs in tears, privately, because of what they’ve been forced to do publicly. The task, therefore, on both sides (CILIP and senior library staff) is to accept that it’s actually all about funding – by opposing “amateurisation” CILIP are effectively trying to protect budgets in a world where a volunteer run library is seen as far more politically acceptable than a closed branch. They’re not going to personally attack managers. Likewise, chief librarians should not take it personally but rather see CILIP as an ally to their real cause of protecting the service.  No one should take it personally. Everyone should see that this is how we can all help defend public libraries against the most difficult attacks upon them in history. Let us, in other words, all be professional about this.

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Say hello to the remote controlled library

Editorial

Remote controlled staffless libraries are up for an award, as “Customer project of the year”, in the V3 Technology Awards. This is the Open+ scheme where one can enter the library, in set hours, through security doors, as long as one has a library card and a PIN. The library itself can be open without any staff, paid or otherwise, within it, with security being provided by CCTV, tannoys and the ability to remotely control the computers.  Peterborough love it and argue that, instead of closing libraries, they were able to extend opening hours.  Whether library staff, already feeling a tad bit vulnerable after mass job losses and the sharp increase in the use of volunteers, will feel so welcoming remains to be seen.

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Barbaric Herefordshire and Rolf Harris

Editorial

I understand that as well as (a) keeping only one council library in all of Herefordshire, (b) hiving off a large part of the surviving one to other services and (c) closing that surviving library for an indefinite period due to asbestos, the good Conservative councillors of that county are also wanting to (d) cease supporting their Record Office (which opened at a cost of over £8m just this year), Museum and Archives over the next three years.  One hopes that the DCMS will have a quiet word and point out that cutting to just (part of) one library would either mean that the council itself would be legally challenged or that the DCMS itself would be open to challenge for not intervening, either of which would have to stand a very good chance of winning. However, I note with some ironic amusement that it was the Conservative MP for the very same area who was Chair of the DCMS Select Committee that gave the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale,  such a soft ride over libraries in the recent  hearing over his responsibilities. Mr Whittingdale probably laughed about it all the way back to his office, before dismembering the BBC distracted him once more.

The other story, as well as the normal disasters befalling libraries (notably the large numbers of staff lost in Hampshire), is the question of what to do about responses, like from the Kent councillor, to remove all the books produced by Rolf Harris. The arguments are that his crimes are heinous (they are) and that public lending right will mean he financially benefits from book loans (he does). This reminds me of similar mass withdrawals of biographies of Jimmy Saville and of Lance Armstrong. Unlike both of those, though, Rolf Harris did art books as well which presumably contained few outright lies about his life. It’s a tough one but I’m unsure about the precedent being set here if all his books are withdrawn.  Would we need to check who has been convicted every day and dispose of the books accordingly? It worries me that there’s no guidance I can spot on this and one wonders if library authorities are happily creating precedents as they go along.

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Ladbrook - Community Library Ad

Kirklees look to lose two-thirds, Staffs takeovers + a Bibliocommons draft report

Editorial

Kirklees has given more thought to what it is doing with its libraries: two-thirds of them will close or pass to volunteers and all six mobiles will end. This is actually slightly better than the proposals last year but few library users, or the 100+ staff whose jobs may be lost, will be celebrating that. In other news, Staffordshire has started describing which groups will be taking over libraries it is withdrawing from. The NHS are taking over three  and it’ll be interesting to see how that works – there’s actually much to be said for closer health/library co-operation, although I’m not sure if that is what will happen.  Even more interesting, and something to think over the implications of, is a Baptist church is taking over the running of another one.  We’ll see who takes over the others soon.  Elsewhere,  Sutton is considering cuts of around a quarter and Thurrock is reducing opening hours.

Those who follow lis-pub-libs will see that a draft of a Bibliocommons / SCL report on public libraries “digital offer” was released before it had finally been agreed.  I of course had a look but, because it is a draft, won’t comment much here, other observing that there’s an inherent issue with having a library computer company recommending solutions that they may then bid for themselves.  More when the report comes out for real.

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Willesden Green Library - lots of space and spot the row of iPads for public use

Every silver cloud has a darker lining: Stafford and Willesden Green

Editorial

Further on from the pictures of the new Stafford Library last post, I’ve included some pictures of the new Willesden Green Library in this post.  This new library includes iPads, has a lot of light (and, crucially, books) and looks really good. And if I was a publicist , I would stop there.  But, of course, there’s more to either Stafford or to Willesden Green than that.  As readers of Public Libraries News will know, Staffordshire Libraries  is going through a whole ton of cuts elsewhere and Willesden Green is part of the same Brent library service that closed six libraries a few short years ago, both to much protest.  The Friends of Penkridge Library write more on the other side of the news about Stafford below. James Powney, who sent me the pictures from Brent, acknowledges the link to closures in the borough: it was part of a strategy to keep libraries alive on a lower budget.  Both authorities are going through retrenchment, with a concentration of (paid staff) library services in fewer places.  I understand from James that this has resulted in increased usage there: we’ll see what happens to Stafford.

Now to some, I’m sad to say, almost entirely bad news. I’m not sure if it can get much worse for those who care about libraries in Herefordshire. Fresh from wanting to withdraw from all but one its libraries, and using much of the one left, Hereford, for other purposes, the council there has said that that library itself is going to be closed “until further notice” due to asbestos being discovered.  This is going to make it hard for the libraries minister Mr Vaizey to claim that the council there, as is its statutory duty, is providing a “comprehensive and efficient service”, especially if it has not got one open library to its name … but his previous record suggests he’s capable of it. By the way, there’s still no sign of a debate between Mr Vaizey and Alan Gibbons.

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This is the Innovation suite, dig the graphics

New library pictures, call centres missing out and the rest of the Public Libraries News

Editorial

Sue Bell from Staffordshire very kindly sent me these pictures of the new Stafford Library.  The building is not without controversy – it’s away from the town centre and Staffordshire itself is facing some pretty touch times financially for its libraries – but I’d expect this library to be fairly cutting edge.  Janene Cox, the overall boss of libraries there, was president of the SCL and so is highly aware of national developments. Amongst all the hi-tech (got to get me a digitable) it’s reassuring to see some very beautiful bookshelving.  I’m hoping to visit some time myself over the next few months to give it a closer look and review. I’m also very pleased that Carl Clayton has sent me an interesting article on the ways councils and call centres are missing out by not fully utilising the sheer awesome power of the public librarian.

Moving away from PLN special features, the Unison report on Scottish public libraries shows things are pretty tough north of the border as well as in England, although I do get the feeling they ain’t seen nothing yet.  The Reading Agency have also produced a report showing how effective Reading Ahead (it used to be called the Six Book Challenge) is for improving confidence in reading.

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There’s a whole world out there: different levels of awareness

Editorial

There’s several different levels of awareness out there for library staff. There are some, perhaps many, who are only really aware of what goes on in their own branch and what happens elsewhere is sometimes vague and distant rumour.  These staff often care deeply for their communities and provide excellent service but, when change does happen (either good in ways of best practice or not so good in terms of budget cuts) it sometimes comes as a shock. Then there are those who are very good at knowing what is going on in their authority but not so much elsewhere: there’s a danger of “not invented here” in this case or, equally as bad, a “the grass is always greener” mentality about this.

Then there are those who know what’s going on nationally: if you read Public Libraries News then, congratulations, you’re probably at least at this stage. You’re aware, for good or ill, of roughly what’s going on (and most of this is from media reports so there’s always the danger of it being distorted) and can evaluate your own library service a bit by seeing what is going on elsewhere. Then there’s those aware of the international level. There’s not many of those and it’s actually quite hard to find out about it unless you are very big on social media (I can recommend a few tweeter and FB groups if you like: let me know). I’m aware of how difficult it is to get a good view just by going online: most of the stuff I see is US dominated simply because it’s so big and, well, they speak English there.  So I’m pleased to see so much from other countries in this post (it just happened that way) because there’s a lot going on out there and I feel we sometimes suffer because we don’t know enough about it and it can be very useful for us to see how well our national  library service is doing compared to others.

Send you news, views, corrections and comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Here’s some positive Public Libraries News

Editorial

As if on order, following the demand for a more “positive narrative” for libraries described in the last post, there’s been a couple of really positive library stories in the news this weekend.  The first is that BBC Radio 6 spent a fair bit of time celebrating libraries on Saturday, including Guy Garvey at Manchester Central Library. It was all good stuff and showed the importance of libraries in nurturing authors and musicians, and thus (because in these philistine times there is always a bottom line) helping to make loads of money for UK Culture plc.  I hope politicians were listening.  In fact, Manchester are playing a blinder with positive publicity stories at the moment, with a flagship beautiful library often being used for music and arts events: there’s even chefs doing demonstrations there soon.  The other positive news story is a librarian from Northamptonshire, described only as “Tim”, who went above and beyond the call of duty and, by doing so, got a load of positive press, including on the BBC national news website.  Well done to him.  It’s stories like these that show the importance of libraries and how great they are.  We don’t need reminding but politicians and those of the public that don’t use libraries surely do.

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Amateurisation and the hiding of unwelcome realities

Editorial

Yet more relevant stuff from CILIP this post … this is becoming a little bit repetitive but it’s good to see.  CILIP has sometimes been ambivalent about volunteers replacing library staff in the past but its board has come out in favour of a resolution urging the organisation to fight the amateurisation of libraries.  I know that some senior library staff argue that they have to use volunteers in the face of job cuts, and that is quite right as they have to do what their employers, the councillors, tell them to do but it is also true that CILIP has a strong potential role to play in waving the flag for paid staff. Such a stance should come naturally to a professional association and will garner it some support, not least among public librarians who sometimes feel CILIP is at insufficiently involved in the fight to save their jobs.

It’s also interesting to see the description of the view of Nick Poole of CILIP and Kathy Settle of the English Public Libraries Taskforce on the best strategy for public libraries.  Some good points are made, although complaining about campaigners giving a “negative narrative” due to highlighting cuts and closures is a bit rich. That’s effectively like blaming the media for reporting disasters: a common policy in the more repressive dictatorships but not one that is normally received with much credit elsewhere.  Tell you what, you start giving us good news and we’ll report it.  Frankly, it gets a bit depressing reporting the disasters befalling the sector and I’d much rather report brighter stuff.  So give me some.

Email your news, view and comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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