Archive for December, 2016

Merry Christmas, see you in the New Year

Editorial

Look, let’s not beat around the bush.  It’s been a difficult year. Odds are that you’ve done a ton of work and you’ve been either directly affected by cuts to your library or library service and/or have heard of such things in neighbouring authorities. In the UK, we have what looks like more austerity, added now to the uncertainties of Brexit, while in the USA we have what appears to be a narcissistic bully who has difficulties with facts about to take control. You and I deserve a break.

So have a great Christmas. Forget all this library stuff for a few days. See you in the New Year.

Changes

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Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there's scope for bigger ones.

Celebrating “Celebrating Shakespeare”

Editorial

Public libraries in the UK are, famously, atomised, with 151 different library services in England alone. Getting all of these various services to work together, especially in this age of localism and in the absence of standards, is always challenging but the benefits of doing so can be immense.  There are various co-operative agreements (here’s 28 examples – contact me if you know of any more) between library services to be more efficient, with the biggest most obvious promotional arrangement the public would be aware of being the Summer Reading Challenge.  I like the SRC especially as it allows some sort of national promotion for public libraries.  This scheme has largely been unique but I’m glad to see that there are now more examples coming on stream, via the Society of Chief Librarians.

Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there's scope for bigger ones.

Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there’s scope for bigger ones.

I was involved in the Celebrating Shakespeare project this year, which provided materials for promoting the Bard as well as Arts Council England funding for artists and performers.  We had adults doing iambic pentameter sessions (not so successful) and a theatre group doing the Tempest (tremendously successful, with all three library venues being sold out, even at the cost of £10 per ticket in one case).  I also loved the social media campaign associated with it (6000 tweets, even though some taking part apparently need to learn what a selfie is) and the joy and energy it released.  The whole thing showed what can achieved with a directing hand, centralised resources and some seed money. All in all, 11000 people were involved in Shakespeare Week and a further 12000 people were involved in the Summer and Autumn, spread over 388 libraries.  This accounted for a large part of the number of library authorities in the UK, although some could not take part because of coping with cuts/restructures or because of the shortage of preparation time.  I understand that the project will continue next year and I wish it every success. But hang on, “a directing hand, centralised resources and some seed money”? In 2016? Can that be? Yes, it can.  Now let’s see, if more such projects can be – or not to be (sorry) – in future.

Changes

Ideas

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Reading, Feeding and staying open on Christmas Day: innovation continues.

Editorial

Up and down the country, library staff are looking at ideas for bidding for the £3.9 million Libraries Innovation Fund. I can see from the website statistics that a lot of you are looking at my list of 250 library ideas. There’s three new ideas today, with the most promising in my mind coming from Rochdale where the need to feed children’s bodies and minds are combined in a Read and Feed scheme. Genius. This ties in with a fair number of things for libraries and communities and I hope the idea spreads.  I’m not sure I’d want to do it myself but another idea is opening for a hour or two on Christmas Day itself to welcome the lonely (and presumably those critically short of something to read) into the library on what can be the most depressing day of the year. I understand that this is the second year that one library has done this and all I can say is that anyone involved should be up for awards.

Changes

Ideas

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Minister “leads fight back” + Torfaen

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Cipfa figures : despair and hope

Editorial

Another CIPFA account of changes in UK public libraries has been released. Putting aside its lateness, probable inaccuracies, omissions and stupefying cost (over £400) and secrecy (share it at your peril), it sadly remains for now the best we have to see what’s going on.  Hopefully that we change soon. What we see is a cut in budget in one year of 2.5%, a cut in staff of 5% and bookfund of 8%.  The cut in budget is not startlingly deep but comes after years of other cuts, meaning it’s tougher than one would think. There’s a decline in usage too, inevitably. How much of that is due to cuts and how much to other factors (internet, smartphones etc) is a moot point, although its clear from looking at other countries, it’s not just the budget that reduces usage. I’ve seen campaigners today squarely blaming library staff (mainly chief librarians but also others), and CILIP for the decline in usage. That strikes me as unfair, perhaps blatantly so. The reasons for the declines are manifold, with the keys being the obvious ones of budget cuts combined with technological change. Now, for the first time in years, at least, there is a plan to do something about it and organisations (such as CILIP and also, much to my delight, the SCL) pushing things forward.  Beneath the dark figures, there is hope. So let’s cling on to that, enjoy our libraries, fight for them (by working in them and using them) and aim to make the future brighter than the past.

Changes

Ideas

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Charging for events can be good for you

Editorial

For a little while now, I have been doing research in work and in PLN on the pros and cons of charging for events in libraries. I also attended an excellent event today on promoting reading events that energised me a bit. Here’s a few basic things learnt, both today and over the course of the last few months:

  • If you charge for an event, you get more people, who say they will attend beforehand, actually attending.  That payment shows they have invested, quite literally, in the event. People are far more likely to be no-shows at free events. A no-show at a paid event rarely asks for a refund and their seat can be sold again if there is a queue.
  • You get enthusiastic library staff (essential for point of sale) if the event is a good one and they can keep some (ideally all) of the profits to spend on their branch.  This can create a virtuous circle where a successful event can pay for things (e.g. a microphone, even a decent tablecloth) to improve the next event. My thinking here is that expecting staff to do extra for no benefit, with all the money gained going into a central pot is communism and communism (or perhaps more accurately “the tragedy of the commons“) has been fairly comprehensively proven not to work.
  • Publishers prefer it if you charge for an author event.  It gives the author, and the event, value and prestige. Free too often means bog-standard or the perception that it is.
  • To the big worry that charging can block access to events: (1) nowadays there would often be no funding for events if we don’t charge (2) this is extra quality stuff being provided and not part of the basic service and (3) a charge can be made that is returnable on the night or against the cost of a booksale / drink. Discounts can also be offered for library members or those on benefits.
  • Charging means higher quality and so you’d better deliver. Professional theatre shows can be put on, animal handling events can be done at half-term. Moreover, people care if they’re charged so you need to deliver.  Second-rate is not good enough if you’ve spent your own money on it. And libraries should never be second-rate. So more effort is put in  because I don’t want to be the one who has to address why someone felt short-changed. In other words, charging gives both the carrot (better events, income) and the stick as well.

That’s just a bit of my thinking so far.  It’s not rocket science, and people who I know who work with in theatres, entertainment or publishing consider all this very basic, even elementary stuff.  But it’s new for many libraries, and for me.

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Public Libraries now have Ambition. Well, perhaps …

Editorial

Well, that was quick. I write an editorial bemoaning the lack of the publication of the Ambition paper on public libraries in the last post and a day or two later it gets published.  I hadn’t realised the government moved so fast at my command.  Not noticed that happen before. My next editorial must be about why I need to win the lottery …

Anyway, here are my first thoughts.

  • Those looking for this to fundamentally change the playing field for libraries will disappointed. There’s no extra protections for libraries and little in the way of new thinking or, at least, anything that would come as a surprise to even a casual observer.  What we have here is a document, pragmatic and well-meaning, that has gone through a lot of committees and had to be watered down a lot.  I suspect, but don’t know, that one of the key water-downers would be the LGA who, faced with having to work out enormous cuts to overall budgets, would not have taken kindly to being told that libraries had to be somewhat protected. The government, wedded to austerity as it still is, also would not with a credible face be able to have both its cake and eat it.
  • There’s an underlying presumption that libraries have to be more innovative and efficient in order to survive, with a heavy emphasis on looking at more library trusts.  Co-locations also come in for praise. The message here is, look, your budgets are going to continue being cut, you’re on your own, so be cleverer with what you have. And if you don’t innovate, then it’s your fault if you close. This is hardly fair but ties in with a lot of Government and Daily Mail thinking. The fact that one can co-locate, be innovative and still be doomed if budgets continue to be cut is not addressed.  As an example, I was in Cardiff Central Library this weekend. It used to be a great library but now half its space is council services, there’s security guards at the door and the surviving shelves are reduced and crammed. It’s a library, in other words, that’s going to see its use plummet because of co-location. Other funding, such as social investment stand some chance of success, although listing philanthropy comes across as wishful thinking and the beloved private sector partnerships will almost certainly be veiled advertising unless carefully checked (and I suspect it will rather be embraced, no questions asked and no ethics mentioned).
  • The Taskforce is going to package libraries as useful to local and central government for their other agendas.  At long last, effectively, public libraries will have an advocacy department within government and a national public relations arm, pushing out good news stories. This is good, to a point, but it looks like those who have been pushing out negative news stories (e.g. what is actually happening) are being blamed for the state of public libraries. I’m going to swallow hard and try not to take it personally. Actually, I have noticed myself that the media like to concentrate on bad news about public libraries and I take it as a hopeful sign that some media-savvy public relations may be in the offing. I’ve wanted national marketing and promotion for years and I’m really hoping this is going to be it
  • Now to the money. Yes, there is some. Actually, quite a lot compared to what libraries normally have to deal with. An (apparent) one-off of £4 million no less, albeit with a ridiculously short application timeframe of one month (including Christmas). Seems a shame to have to rush bids in that way, and it will result in some waste if that end-date is kept to. I hope it is extended.
  • English public libraries still, officially, have no standards. There’s going to be voluntary benchmarking and some very easy-going guidelines (to give you an idea the first guideline, literally, is try not to break the law) which will be of some use in at least giving an idea of what should be aimed for. However, being this is a Government funded department doing the benchmarking, don’t expect the standards to be so high as to not allow cuts in budget, and there will be no penalties (how can there be with a system so wedded to localism?) if one fails.
  • There’s a skills strategy for the aging workforce and a look at how to get good new staff but at the same time developing volunteers. This looks like, as much of the paper does, an attempt to square the circle but fingers crossed.
  • Dedicated DCMS support for library authorities to go mutual (“masterclasses” will be held) with a possible new support body for mutuals.  I see library trusts as a ray of hope – if done right – for the sector so this is promising. A look at franchising support services will also please some, although presumably not those currently employed in them.
  • There are 7 outcomes  for public libraries, similar but these are not identical to universal offers. Expect to be quizzed on what they are in management meetings, Memorise them now so you can impress.

So, my final verdict is that this is not earth shattering but is still helpful for the sector.  Where there is an issue, it is, amusingly, when one considers what it is called, a lack of ambition for the sector but it is at least deeply pragmatic. Also, there’s not really a specific roadmap for implementation of how some of this is going to be achieved so it will be interesting to see how that developed.

Now, excuse me while I develop an idea and write a bid for funds for four weeks time and work out how to turn every news story of a cut into a good news one. That’s going to prove tricky (see Swindon below) but, hey, councils appear to be able to do it without blinking (see Sheffield below) so it’s got to be possible.

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