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

National news

  • Awards: #PMLGawards  #PublicLibraryChamp #PublicLibrarianOfYear #MobileLibraryChamp – CILIP. “The Awards Nomination process is now open for nominations for 2017. Please use the links below to download the application forms you must use and please read the guidelines carefully before submitting your applications…”
  • Cuts are ‘dismantling’ neighbourhood services, warns report – LocalGov. “Spending on local services such as bin collections, parks, roads and libraries has fallen by £3.1bn between 2010/11 and 2015/16, new research has revealed.”
  • “I have students who now borrow books for their parents” – Big Issue. School librarian: ” I will try to steer students towards the public libraries, but many of our local libraries are just not open outside of school hours after all of the cuts. I have students who now borrow books for their parents and siblings because the school library is their only library now.”
  • Realising Ambition & Opportunity – Celebrating One Year of Achievements – SLIC. See also Scotland’s Libraries are Thriving in the 21st Century – SLIC. “Over £2.3 million has been invested in libraries to meet the aims of Ambition and Opportunity: A Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland 2015-2020, which was launched in June 2015 to re-invigorate the role and perception of libraries and to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.”
  • Ruth Rendell Award – National Literacy Trust. “If you would like to nominate an author or writer who you feel has had a significant influence on literacy in the UK in the past year, please complete the nomination form and email it to  “
  • Voices of Scottish Librarians by Ian MacDougall – Vulpes Libris. “In a series of interviews carried out from 1996 to 2002, Ian MacDougall spoke to fourteen Scottish librarians, the oldest born in 1911 and the youngest in 1949 (to my surprise, I saw that one of them was my late father.) In them they range far from their careers as librarians…”
  • World Book Night celebrated across the UK – BookSeller. “Debbie Hicks, creative director at The Reading Agency, said: “On World Book Night, thousands of books donated by publishers were given away in prisons, colleges, public libraries, homeless shelters and health settings to get people reading. There were also lots of celebratory events  up and down the country. It’s been fantastic to see some of the wonderful images and stories coming in from organisations as well as individuals who gave out their own books, which show that World Book Night has really got people celebrating and sharing reading. More events are planned this week so there’s still lots of excitement to come.””
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International news

  • Canada – Sask. government restores library funding after weeks of public outcry – Regina Leader-Post. “Protests and weeks of public outcry — mixed in with some polling numbers —are prompting the Saskatchewan Party government to take a multi-million dollar step back and restore funding to libraries in the province. Libraries saw 58 per cent less funding going to them when the 2017-18 budget was released on Mar. 22. Education Minister Don Morgan is now admitting that decision was a mistake. Funding levels for regional and municipal libraries will be brought back to 2016-17 levels, so they will be getting $4.8 million beyond the $2.5 million they received in the budget.”
  • Canada – Library Union Prepares to Fight Staffless Pilot Project – Torontoist. “Polling commissioned by the union seems to bear this support out. In a press release, the union said a Mainstreet poll had found nearly three-quarters of respondents “would not send their children or parents to a library without librarians or security staff,” while a little over three-fifths “would, given the chance, tell Mayor Tory to stop this idea from proceeding.””
  • Eire – Anita Robinson: We should cherish our libraries, not cut their funding – Irish News. “More cuts were announced last week to library services. This relentless erosion of one of our most valuable community assets is typical of the short-term thinking, soft-target hitting mindset of government” … ” Libraries are our greatest free resource – the food banks of the mind – a bank of inexhaustible riches one can draw on for life, where the loan never has to be repaid.”
  • EU – Sharing Carnival Traditions in Arucas and Korčula – Naple Sister Libraries. “Last month, Arucas Municipal Library (Spain) and Korčula City Library “Ivan Vidali” (Croatia) held their third Skype meeting between the children from Arucas and Korčula. Our libraries have been Sister Libraries from March 2014 and have so far had excellent collaboration on the creation of library activities for children.”
  • Global – The librarian as a change agent and community learning connector – Next Library (Conference). “Topics included will be hard skills (digital literacies, instructional design, User experience) soft skills (communication, empathy, initiative, “people skills, etc) and mindsets (“always learning,” curiosity, creativity), as well what types of support help this staffer grow (transparency, development opportunities, time”
  • Malta – 44,000 books are missing from public libraries – Times of Malta. 7% of all stock unaccounted for. “According to the last EU Cultural Participation study, published back in 2014, just over half of the Maltese surveyed said they had no interest in visiting a library whatsoever, while a further 35 per cent said they would but had no time to do so. Two per cent of those surveyed pointed to a limited choice or poor quality of service.”
  • USA – Here’s how libraries in Fairmont City and Ferguson are redefining what it means to be a library – St Louis Public Radio. “the library hires from within the community for Spanish speakers and interpreters as well as hosts homework time for students whose parents may speak little to no English.” … ““We had to sell the idea of what a library does for a community,” Heaton said. “They’re like ‘Why do I need a library? What will it be to my benefit?’ And so it came down to a simple challenge on our part: ‘If you have a question, bring that question to me and I’ll figure out the answer for you.”
  • USA – How Libraries Can Trump the Trend to Make America Hate Again – Medium. “It should go without saying that libraries and librarians alone cannot ward off a growing fascist fervor. The task will be teachers’, journalists’, and many other professionals who deal and dabble in information …”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Code Seven: The destruction of Barnet Libraries – Broken Barnet. “Many Barnet libraries, of course, are now closed for several months, subjected to a shock and awe campaign of assault, and ‘restructuring’, as a result of the Tory councillors’ scheme, one which has already seen the mass sacking of staff, to be largely replaced by the introduction of a DIY, unstaffed library system. ” “
  • Bath and North East Somerset – Campaigners are demanding answers from council leaders over ‘deeply unpopular proposals’ – Bath Chronicle. “Campaigners have accused leader of Bath & North East Somerset council Tim Warren of refusing to meet with them publicly to discuss their concerns about how the city is being run. Last month, angry residents presented council leaders with a petition signed by more than one per cent of the B&NES electorate calling on them to attend a public meeting to answer questions about three deeply unpopular proposals. The proposals included the central library move to a smaller location, the plan for a multi-million pound Park & Ride on Bathampton Meadows and the 100 per cent art funding cuts.”
  • Birmingham – Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham Call To Lobby Your Town Councillors – Sutton Coldfield Local News. “We are asking you to lobby the councillors of Sutton Coldfield Town Council at this month’s council meeting, at which the future of Sutton Coldfield Library will again be discussed. The issues will include a decision as to whether to confirm the release of Town Council funds to support the library. “
  • Bradford – Vintage phone box becomes new, free library for children – Telegraph and Argus. “The phone box will replace a much smaller library facility, not much bigger than a bird house, that has been popular with local children since it was installed a few years ago. The project has been carried out by the Hirst Wood Re-generation Group, with the help of Saltaire Primary School. The previous library has now been moved to the primary school.”
  • Bradford – Visitor Information Centres in Haworth, Saltaire and Ilkley are under threat in Council cuts – Keighley News. “The report also says Ilkley Parish Council is considering funding two members of staff to retain a visitor information centre at Ilkley Library, in Station Road. “
  • Fife – New chapter for library – Fife Today. “The local community had rallied around to save the facility, after Lundin Links Library was named as one of 16 Fife libraries earmarked for potential closure in 2015. A charitable company was created and it managed to secure the building’s lease.” see also Story of Largo Library is a happy ever after – Fife Courier.Largo Library was one of 16 which faced closure but, alongside several others, the green light was given for it to be taken over by the community”
  • Lambeth – Lambeth Library campaigners call public meeting on May 2nd to organise further action – Brixton Buzz. “One year after the closure of the Carnegie and Minet libraries in Lambeth, large crowds gathered outside the Carnegie on April 1st to mark the day and to renew the struggle to defend all 10 libraries in the borough.”
  • Lancashire – Government could order inquiry into Lancashire’s libraries provision – Accrington Observer. see also Government inquiry could investigate library cuts in Rossendale – Rossendale Free Press.Sue Nielson, from the Friends of Whitworth Library Group, welcomed the possible inquiry. She said: “I really hope the government see it through as it gives us a bit more of a reprieve. I think it is a positive thing. “The government seem to be saying they don’t feel the cutbacks are justified and don’t give an effective service in certain areas in Lancashire. “We have never given up hope for Whitworth. This inquiry may make the council think again and think that we are worth funding.”
  • Manchester – Greater Manchester’s most exciting wedding venues – I. “Following its multi-million pound revamp in recent years, Manchester’s Central Library is now looking better than ever. The venue is available for exclusive hire, and packages include a ceremony in the performance space, followed by a drinks reception in the Shakespeare Hall and use of some of the building’s historic rooms for photography.”
  • Plymouth – 3,750 people have told the council what they think of closing libraries – Plymouth Herald. Consultation closes, council looks at results … “A cross-party panel of councillors will discuss the future of the service with members of the public, partner agencies and other councillors. Recommendations from the review will then help to inform the final Plan for Libraries, which will be considered by Full Council in early July.”
  • Sheffield – Central Library exclusivity deal between Sheffield Council and Chinese firm ‘not yet signed’ – Star. “The council said it expected the agreement, which would enable the firm to explore the possibility of turning the Grade II-listed building into a five star hotel, to be finalised ‘imminently’. But the news has angered campaigners trying to fight the proposal and keep the library service in the Surrey Street building. They say it was widely thought that the deal had been signed when first announced in November, and the uncertainty has stopped people coming forward with alternative proposals for the library building. The council signed a 60-year investment partnership with Sichuan Guodong in June last year.Nick Smilie, a member of Sheffield Central Library Action Group, said there had been a lack of transparency, and by ‘very strongly’ implying the library was subject to an exclusivity deal already, the council had caused confusion.”
  • Sheffield – Localism agenda – Star / Letters. Third letter down. “Despite their bluster protesting against the Tory government in Westminster, the localism agenda has been adopted by most, if not all, major UK political parties and is more about dismantling and offloading the public sector than empowering communities.Volunteers running services like libraries need to be very aware of this agenda and the wider picture to avoid being complicit in it. This localism agenda, which has seen, for example in Sheffield, volunteers take over libraries, is costing public sector workers their jobs and communities the right to professionally run public services.”
  • Thurrock – Thurrock Council opens new centre helping residents access services in Purfleet – Thurrock Gazette. “Residents can count on a team of volunteers to support residents get online, find local information or even choose a book from the library.”

“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.

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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.*

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ideas

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

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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.

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£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.

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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.

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