Archive for November, 2015

Record Breakers not Record Breaking

Editorial

I was sorry to see the reduction in the take up of the Summer Reading Challenge, even though it was officially called a success. This children’s side to public libraries is the high spot of the public library year and shows the sector at its best. So why the cut in usage? Well, first thing to say, is that it’s just a small reduction (barely over 1% according to one interpretation) which is pretty good going considering the fall in library budgets and opening hours. The actual take-up has reduced more than 1% due to the Republic of Ireland doing its own challenge (fair enough) but also because Lancashire decided to do the same (the “Lancashire Reading Trail” allowed the library promotion to be far more locally focused). The Reading Agency is not taking these defections lightly and is looking at a fresher look for the reading challenge next year – after all, the format hasn’t in essence changed for a decade – and the link to Roald Dahl will doubtless help. Let’s hope so because the Challenge is one of the few national promotions of library services out there, people love it and libraries can do with more.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Budget cuts will continue, but ACE and the Task Force protected

Editorial

The Spending Review has now come and gone and it’s no worse than expected, but little better.  The settlement for local councils will be decided nearer Christmas and we’ll see what happens.  Expect another five years of restructures, cuts and, hopefully, innovation, in order to meet the punishing targets certain to be set.

It’s at least good news that ACE have received a protected settlement. While it is often a bit odd to report on great new theatrical experiences or animatronic sculpture in the same library service as is at the same moment closing libraries, it would be churlish to not appreciate the good things that they do. Similarly, the news that the Task Force, now celebrating six months on the job, will have funding for another four more years if it needs it is also good news. While not being as quick about things as some have liked, and – obviously – not going to in any way criticise the government, they have achieved a few things in the last few months and I earnestly hope for more to come.

Whatever happens, there is certainly going to be a lot more public libraries news.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Testing times

Editorial

So the day is here. The Spending Review will give us an idea of exactly how much more councils will have to cut from their budgets. At time of publishing this post, guesswork from various sources suggest that it will be around one quarter but we don’t really know yet.  Assuming this does not transpire to be far off the mark, these will represent the deepest peacetime cuts to councils in history, especially after taking into accounts the cuts that have already happened. This will affect some councils more than others but it will present real difficulties for many, with the temptation being to remove spending from things like libraries.

Let’s be clear that there’s no easy options here.  Those who claim that there are yet more “savings” to be made from efficiency are deluding themselves, if not others. This time, even in those authorities whose front line services have been protected before, it’s going to be very hard not to be noticeable. The test for the sector is how we respond to this. The test for CILIP and campaigners will be how they mobilise support for libraries. The test for senior managers will be to explore every avenue to minimise the impact and to remain human and sane while they go about the tough job, which none of them want, of cutting services. The test for other public library staff will be how to be professional, to keep morale and to soldier on. The test for the country will be how people respond to the cuts and, ultimately, how local public library services survive. So, testing times. Keep tuned to see how well the country passes.

Ideas

  • Story walls – Projecting images showing stories on large surfaces outside the library.

More >

Scotland … Edinburgh … and Lambeth?

Editorial

I missed doing a blog post last week because I had the pleasure of attending the CILIPS Autumn Gathering in Glasgow. My presentation was on lessons learnt while doing Public Libraries News so if you want to learn how it started, why I do it and exactly where I fit in the time then I’d recommend seeing the slideshow here. They were all a lovely bunch of people, with lots of great things happening (not least in the school libraries) and it’s quite a notably different political climate up there, with both a national library strategy and – whisper it in awe – public library standards.

I’m therefore sorry to see that Edinburgh libraries are being slated for budget cuts.  I went up there earlier this year and was impressed by the quality of their libraries, their staff and their achievements in innovation.  Due to fewer budget reductions there, Scotland may be at the stage English libraries were at four or five years ago. One hopes that the nation will do better than their southern colleagues: the national government there is obviously far more keen on public services and, possibly due to the smaller size of the country, things seem far more close knit to me. In addition, Scotland has a national library strategy and public library standards.  We’ll see very soon if those count for anything when the knife is out.

The council dominating the English stories since the last post is Lambeth, with a strike and particularly raucous council meeting. It’s worth noting that one of the libraries – which is about to be turned into a gym, with some bookshelves – was visited by Ed Vaizey just last year as it was part of the Libraries Change Lives Awards. This was due to how accessible it had been made for blind and visually impaired customers. All that exercise equipment is likely to mess that up a bit. One comment in the article, not spoken by Mr Vaizey, but now blaring out with massive tragic irony is “I hope that Lambeth libraries become like a beacon for library authorities across the country.”.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Lancashire go for the record: 40 branches may be lost

Editorial

Good news and some quite stupendous bad news today.  The good news comes in the form of two initiatives, both with the Reading Agency and SCL support: the BBC is launching a big reading promotion next year and also money has been obtained to see about extending the reading challenge idea to older people. The bad news is, well, pretty bad and I had to check my figures to see if it was right: Lancashire are threatening to close (or more likely pass to volunteers, parish councils or anyone else who would be interested) no less than forty branches. I’ve looked at the lists and I think that’s the biggest number ever put in threat at any single time, although North Yorkshire has over the course of the last few years, probably divested itself of more, especially if one includes mobiles.

Changes

More >

So who was Speaking Up For Libraries?

Editorial

I spent my Saturday typing like a mad thing at the Speak Up For Libraries conference in London.  The annual event brings together library workers, campaigners, volunteers and senior decision makers in a day discussing what’s happening to libraries and, normally, how we can stop things getting worse.

This year was marked by Paul Blantern and Kathy Settle of the English public Libraries Task Force (officially “Leadership for Libraries Task Force” but normally just plain called the Libraries Task Force) speaking and taking questions.  It was never going to be an easy ride for them and they did face some difficult questions.  It became clear that despite first claiming that no-one knew what a good national public library service was, they actually did know exactly what it was (well-funded local and central libraries with wide opening hours, lots of stock, computers and staff) but that it could not be afforded any more.  They were keen to stress all the work they were doing spreading the good word about libraries to different departments and agencies.  The Task Force will also be busy creating best practice guides for local authorities and other decision makers about the pros and cons of different options (I haven’t yet had a call for them to use my multitude of pages on this but I remain hopeful) and also what needs doing if one’s last option is turning libraries volunteer.

The other take away from me was how connected and switched on the new CEO of CILIP, Nick Poole, is.  He certainly seems to be more of a campaigner and evangelist than we have had before and I wonder whether some of the criticism of him is a hangover from people who were angry with the organisation before he took it over. Like Paul and Kathy, he also has to be a pragmatist, although he is naturally far more on the side of a paid skilled and professional workforce. Someone very funny and talented, but probably not a pragmatist is the children’s author John Dougherty who gave a very funny speech at the end, including singing a song, reproduced below, that probably will not have him in the good graces of the DCMS in the lifetime of this government. My full notes from the conference have been given a full page here as has the introductory speech by Nick Poole on this page.

On a separate topic, Dr Malcolm Rigler has asked me to mention a project he is working on tying in public libraries with public health. Dr Rigler is trying to set up a Special Interest Group on the topic.  If you’re interested, please email him at m.rigler@nhs.net  .

Changes

More >

Why all the placards? A few theories on the reasons behind the level of library protest

Editorial

So I got into a brief exchange with a librarian on Twitter who said “Would there be a riot if your library closed? If not you need to look at your role in the community”.  This got me into thinking about what actually affects the level of protest when a library is closed, using my reading of the all the stories of library cuts and campaigns over the last five years.  The following are my thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing yours (comment or email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk):

  • The more prosperous area, the louder the protest. It seems a sad truth that the areas where one would think libraries are most needed – in areas of high disadvantage – are precisely those areas where people are least likely to protest. This may be for all sorts of reasons but are most likely down to lack of awareness of the possibilities and, also, a feeling of powerlessness. On the other extreme, close a library in a leafy suburb and all hell will break loose. This is because the people living there are likely to know how to protest in a way that will make the headlines. Simply speaking, retired professionals or those skilled in public speaking, organising and communications can raise one heck of a stink.
  • The level of co-option. If a council says that the library is going to close, tough, then there’s going to be a lot of protest.  People are going to rage against the dying of the light and be angry with council.  If, on the other hand, the council says that volunteers are the only way of saving the library then those people who would naturally campaign against the closure could well be co-opted into running it.  They may not be happy but they’ll be too busy working out a way to keep the place open than protest. Seen on one side, this is the “divide and rule” or “blackmail” approach. Councils themselves will likely use phrases like “exciting opportunity” and “empowering local communities” but it all amounts to the same thing.  People won’t protest if they think it will be counter-productive.
  • The more obvious the cut, the more placards.  I noticed this when I started: councils which said a few of their libraries would close hit a brick wall of campaigners but those councils who said that, hey, we’re going to reduce opening hours by one-third received very little notable problems. Like with co-option, this greys the issue and does not make it black and white.  People will get angry if they think a decision is evil or wrong but are likely to do nothing if they’re not sure.  Simply put, people don’t care about compromises but they’ll get positively angry about diktats.
  • The personal touch. This can manifest in all sorts of ways.  Negatively, a particularly obnoxious council leader or spokesman is not going to help. Positively, making a much-loved team of library workers unemployed is going to really miff off their friends. In addition, there seems to be the need for a co-ordinator or a figurehead in a library campaign.  Unless one person stands up and shouts, many people won’t make a stand themselves.
  • Fairness, open-ness and genuine consultation.  Close a library which has more usage than one which stays open and you’re going to get a world of pain if people notice. Make clear that you’ve bent over backwards to think of all options, that you’ve talked to everyone and are putting forward the best possible solution then you’re going to be, more than likely, OK.  Arrogance or a corporate way of doing things, which only pays lip service to listening to the community, and that’s a good way of seeing the inside of a court room.
  • How great or used the library is in the first place.  If a library has faced cut after cut for years, is open for only a few hours, has computers pretty much out of order all the time and no new books then people are more likely to go meh than j’accuse. If however, the library is shiny and well used then people are not going to be happy.

There’s probably more reasons than that but those are the ones which jumped out at me.  The key to me to all this is that, sadly, the actualy need of the community for a library plays only a minor role. Indeed, there’s a case to be said that areas who need libraries because they can’t afford books or computers are precisely those areas which will be more likely to be easy to cut. That’s a whole lump of unfair but, thankfully, equality impact assessments and judicial reviews can come into play at such times, as long as someone somewhere is there to set the wheels in motion. And, actually, the level of protest can have little (or a lot – but it depends, it’s not a golden rule) to do with what the librarians actually do.

Changes

More >

"Libraries are the essential oxygen of the mind’ says Melvyn Bragg

LibraryLab, Open+ and Melvyn Bragg

Editorial

It’s good to see the Carnegie Library Lab programme open for bids again. The scheme led to some notable excitement and creative thinking in a whole pile of public libraries last year and I hope the same happens again. Even if you don’t win the funding and support, the scheme gives library services a chance to think about initiatives and that’s worth a lot. If you win, then it’s a whole new ballgame and I envy you.

An initiative that needs no Carnegie funding I’ve been noticing a lot recently is libraries experimenting with the remote-controlled library technology that is Open+. So many in fact that there’s now a new PLN page keeping track of them all with 15 libraries listed over 8 authorities.

Changes

More >

Ed Vaizey and SCL President Ciara Eastell, along with other dignitaries at the launch

It’s code green for everyone

Editorial

More news as promised today about the launch of Code Green and the Learning Offer from the Society of Chief Librarians.  Code Green does indeed look like a very useful resource and I am sure that it will be welcomed across the country. Ed Vaizey chose the occasion of the launch to welcome the efforts of library campaigners in fighting cuts to local libraries and also in volunteering in them. Some have questioned whether the minister in charge of libraries should be welcoming the efforts of others to protect libraries when that is in fact his job but far be it from to belabour that obvious point. His speech rewards careful reading, with a notable withdrawal from his previous stance that libraries were “thriving” and a move, noticed before, to see volunteers as an unalloyed good.

In other news, the normal pattern of cuts shows itself, but it’s interesting to point out another library authority using new technology to allow for unstaffed libraries (that is, not just no paid staff but no staff at all) and one more going for lone staffing. At this rate, volunteers will start worrying about their jobs.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Libraries Unlimited

Editorial

More details on the transfer of Devon Library Sevices to a non-profit trust, a company limited by guarantee with charitable status.  It’s about to be voted through and will mean it joins Suffolk and York as England’s library non-profits.  What interests me most, though, is the name chosen – Libraries Unlimited South West. The first two words show laudable ambition, suggesting expansion of libraries into exciting new fields (like the Maker Space already in Exeter Library). Those last two words, though, suggest geographic ambitions outside of Devon and, as such, shows the company to be part of a new entrepreneurial breed of library service which looks for opportunities where it may.  This is in a similar manner to the start of GLL which, faced with limited incomes at home, look at economies of scale and opportunities both inside and outside its territorial bounds. It’s like the start of an old library consortia but on steroids and we’ll see if it is a flash in a pan or the shape of things to some soon. In a weird way it took the extreme financial situations libraries are now in to take the chains off libraries and allow them to do stuff like this. Whether that is a move to be welcomed or feared depends on one’s viewpoint and how things pan out. It is certainly a more encouraging move than simply sitting there and taking the cuts.  Well, at least if you’re one of the first to make the move, that is.

In other news, a very good digital making kit has been put online by the SCL: it’s part of an official national launch.  More details on that shortly.

Changes

More >