Archive for April, 2017

Libraries don’t cost money, they create it

Editorial

So I’m speaking at the CILIP Conference on reasons put forward against libraries and how libraries can respond to them.  One of the big underlying arguments against public libraries, which I will be going into, is the simple “we cannot afford them any more” argument. This is one of the easiest arguments to refute of course. For one thing, the UK is one of the most prosperous nations on the planet and other countries (like Scandinavia, Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan and the USA) invest in them. Some people, fed on a diet of news about austerity, sometimes don’t realise this. What we pay, and don’t pay for, is a political choice, as any discussion about more money for nurses, colour of passports, minimum living wages, MP’s salaries, nuclear weapons or the royal family will show. And, yes, some of those things mentioned you will have strong feelings about, but others will have directly opposing views. See what I mean?

You could also, of course, mention the definition of a philistine (someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing) if you want a fist fight.

Another argument, though, and one which I think has more merit to those who use the “cannot afford it” approach is to attack it at root. Which is that spending money on libraries creates money. It’s something that SLIC below puts at the forefront of its video.  Here’s a whole page of surveys which shows libraries, time and time again, bring more money in to a community than they cost. So don’t take my word for it, take that of Queensland, Victoria, Toronto, Ohio, Texas, Bolton and, gosh, also the DCMS.

Charges

More >

“Little Frees”, biases, and Facts Matter.

Editorial

Community book-exchanges in phone boxes or, in the case of Little Free Libraries, what appear to be big bird-boxes, get four mentions today.  Two are about repurposed phone boxes and the other two are from a serious study of the subject.  I tend to see Little Frees as fairly harmless myself and possibly even something to be co-opted by putting advertising in them for the local public library. That’s not the view of those writing the article and I’d recommend reading The Trouble With Twee for their alternative take.

It’s sad to see that Northern Ireland is facing further cuts to its library service, although one should point out that there are many English library services that would be envious at a mere 17% cut in the last four years. It’s also interesting to see a private donation of £15,000 made in Bury. Perhaps philanthropism may keep a few libraries open at all then, but I still have difficulty seeing it as something which will have an important influence on the sector, other than as will-o’-the-wisp austerity whip in order to beat “unimaginative” public libraries who have failed to obtain any.

Finally, the Libraries Taskforce for England is having to go into purdah until the General Election, other than for running a couple of training sessions on income-generating. So there’s going to be no blogs from that source for two months. This also serves as a reminder that the Taskforce is not, and cannot, be independent and like any such source (and I’m not immune either as PLN takes advertising – see one below, which I’ve helpfully labelled for you) note needs to be made of that. Not that I need tell many of you that, as librarians know to be aware of biases and look to the underlying facts but that’s not true of everyone. So it’s great to see that CILIP [PLN bias warning again – don’t trust anyone –  I’m speaking at their conference] are on the case of publicising the library role in spreading trusty information with their “Facts Matter” campaign soon to hit, hopefully, a politician near you.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Plus free afterword by myself....

Not the choice I would have gone with: General Election 2017

Editorial

So, we have another General Election coming up. It’s not unexpected and Theresa May would have been a fool to turn down such a chance to pile on more seats. But what does it mean for libraries?  Well, it almost certainly means a non-stop solid Conservative majority until 2021.  Whereas before there was a chance of a few MPs making a difference, and thus a need to care about smaller issues, this now seems unlikely. Marginal issues – and sadly libraries are most definitely this on a national stage that will be dominated by Brexit and its fallout – can therefore be ignored in the cabinet battles to come, and likely will be. Again assuming a Conservative victory this will mean a continued reduction in council funding and a desire to seek out “alternative” sources for funding such as volunteers, trusts and (perhaps the most vain hope of all) philanthropy.

I was asked recently to say which of the contending political parties would best serve library interests. You know which ones that would be. But forget them. That’s not who you will be getting, except perhaps if you live in Hamilton or elsewhere in Scotland. (and if they break away, it’s going to be rightwing governments south of the border for the foreseeable).  Make an accommodation to that fact now. Work out how to best position libraries in the continuing austerity environment they will surely stay in.  The library sector has so far attempted a Jack Of All Trades approach to proving its worth to government by claiming to be able to help with multiple agendas. I’m not sure if that’s the choice I would have gone with to help libraries stay alive. Rather, I would go with talking more but smiling less. To me, a clear message, a simple one would have been better. After all, if the public are not sure what you stand for, they will fall for anything.

Oh, and by the way, while I’m being depressed and cynical, I see a lot being written about the importance of public libraries to provide neutral and unbiased information and how useful that is at election time. But that’s not what is happening on the ground. Most libraries last year did not make a thing of having all the manifestoes and I’m not aware of a single one that offered a fact checking service. I doubt very much that will change in this one. But, please, surprise me. Don’t throw away this shot.*

Changes

More >

The USA spends twice the amount the UK does per head on public libraries.

Editorial

I hope you all had a pleasant bank holiday weekend.  There’s been an interesting variety of new over the last few days, with no stand-out big stories. The Libraries Taskforce are continuing to meet and progress, although at a speed which is unlikely to endear them to campaigners. The importance of parish councils to funding – something I’ve noticed for a while now after having a tip-off from someone – is mentioned in the Guardian, as is the importance of libraries to social cohesion. Abroad, the ineptness of the Trump administration continues to grate, but the responses to it – and to the challenges to libraries in other English-speaking countries – repay careful study. And, by the way, it’s worth noting that the USA spends twice the amount on libraries per capita than the UK. It’s interesting that the uber-capitalist Americans, who can’t even cope with the idea of a proper universal healthcare system, seem to so value their libraries which, by the way, have seen increases in use in recent years.

Changes

More >

Libraries Minister “Minded to intervene” in Lancashire.

Editorial

So, this could be a major landmark. The libraries minister Rob Wilson has said in an official letter to Lancashire County Council that his boss, Culture Secretary of State Karen Bradley is minded to hold a public inquiry into how Lancashire decided to cut its library service. This is where Lancashire decided to close 29 libraries from an original number of 73. The council has until 9th June to convince her to move to the council’s side on the following points:

  • The council failed to treat its own consultation seriously and had, in fact, already made up its own mind.
  • The council failed to consider all possible alternative methods of saving money. Considerable emphasis is put in the letter for the option of Mutuals,.
  • The council was not clear enough as to which libraries were under threat.
  • The council did not carry out sufficient research into how this would affect the disadvantaged or future trends.

The significance of this now is:

  • This is the first time the current, or previous coalition, government has issued a “minded to” letter. Before, the Government, under the laissez-faire Ed Vaizey, always considered cuts to libraries, no matter how deep or forced, as acceptable.
  • The council will have to consider the possibility that it will be forced to reverse all of its actions. Being it has already passed control, or put on sale, multiple sites, and made many staff redundant, this is quite the headache. The council may well therefore put any further transfers on hold while a decision is taken. Or it may call the minister’s bluff and carry on regardless, daring the minister to be anything other than the paper tiger he is normally seen as being since Ed Vaizey made the speak-softly-and-go-unarmed role his own in 2010.
  • The Conservatives look tough just in time for the local elections on 4th May. And, of course, they can then rescind the decision in June, once they have won the votes.

The significance of this if the government does run an inquiry is:

  • The DCMS ceases being a toothless laughing stock amongst cutting councils and starts being taken seriously.
  • All councils will start genuinely consulting and looking at alternatives, rather than that being the happy exception.
  • Mutuals are likely to become (even) more popular.
  • Councils may look elsewhere to cut before libraries.
  • The principle of Localism – where (in my somewhat cynical view, admittedly) government makes the big headline cuts and give councils the freedom to cut what they like in response – takes a bit of a tumble.

The last two inquiries, by the way, were Wirral in 2009 and Derbyshire in 1991, so they’re not exactly common. Both, interestingly, ended up being local inquiries, paid for by the councils concerned, in order to avoid the ignominy of the Government Inspector.

So, interesting times. But at least hopeful ones, if a little late for Lancashire.

Changes

More >

Front page of the Shining a Light report

Shining a light on public libraries in the UK? Carnegie reports.

Editorial

The new “Shining a light” report by Carnegie UK has just been released. As you can see, it dominated media mentions of public libraries, with much of it being positive, which is great. I wrote a blog post for Carnegie on the subject so I won’t go into detail here, other than saying I’d be delighted to hear and read your views.

Changes

Ideas

  • Elder in Residence – A community figure helping public library users be more aware of a minority.

More >

Autism-friendly does not mean having a book on the subject on a shelf

Editorial

I remember the days when I thought that a dementia-and-autism-friendly library meant having a book on both subjects available for lending. Thankfully, with the help of dementia friends and autism-friendly libraries, those days have gone. Hopefully, all library staff will soon understand what the conditions mean and how to best serve those with them and that every library will have a social story to help their usage. However, it needs to be that everyone working in those buildings understands the training. The story of the security guard from the private company who expelled a parent reading loudly to his autistic daughter needs to become one of those shocking tales of how things were in the past, like workhouses. This also needs extending to volunteers. Speaking of which, last weekend marked the start of many North Yorkshire libraries becoming fully volunteer. What that means to the community, and to the staff who have had to see it happen, can only be guessed at but this heart-rending article in the Big Issue perhaps gives a clue.

Changes

More >

£150k for health and wellbeing from Carnegie and Wellcome

Editorial

It’s good to see some funding from Carnegie and Wellcome for public library projects being announced.  I’m pleased to see too that it is about health and wellbeing. The Taskforce are also keeping up their impressive article production by publishing a couple more posts, both of which may be useful if they have backing from the Minister. By the way, I’d also like to note that New South Wales has just invested the pro rata equivalent of £17m in their public libraries. That puts the rushed £3 million from the Government that’s just been doled out in perspective and, sadly, also the £150k from Carnegie/Wellcome. However, there’s some more time, at least, with these to do it right.  And, if you don’t have time, library services should start keeping a couple of ideas / bids (proto-bids?) to one side for next time. With any luck, more will come along. Although not as many as in Australlia.

Changes

More >

Big protests in Lambeth and Bath, and Billy “No-Mates” Dataset

Editorial

Some more fall-out from the release of the abbreviated mailing list, er, sorry, dataset of English public libraries today – no-one is impressed and, I mean, no-one – but also there were a couple of big protests this weekend in Lambeth and Bath. I know Bath, I worked as a library trainee there back in the 1990s. It’s not a hotbed of political discontent. To get a big protest there is going some. So, well done to Bath and North East Somerset Council, I guess,  for mishandling the situation so terribly that there was a sit-down protest involving hundreds in the town-centre there. Doing wonders for political activism there.

Changes

Ideas

More >