Archive for September, 2017

Open to all

Editorial

Public libraries always have appealed to a very broad section of the public and sometimes for diametrically opposed reasons. The quiet studier and the rhymetiming toddler could not be further apart. Throw in a few senior citizens and a group of teenagers and it’s amazing how libraries remain civilized., It’s one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of libraries that they are jacks of all trades. One of the groups served can be especially challenging – those on the fringes of society, of which the homeless are an evident (and seemingly increasing) part. I was delighted to see the work in New Zealand on services for the homeless but it is not going to please everyone. Many members of the public, sometimes library staff, do not wish to be close to those whose hygiene or behaviour does not meet accepted standards. This has come to a head in New Zealand (again – it’s all related) with a questioning over if libraries should put on special services for the homeless.

To me, I think this is a bit like the loud/quiet conflict where the pendulum swung from quiet to loud and is now going back a bit to accommodate both.  In the same way that libraries should be able to balance out the needs of loud and quiet activities, they should also be able to cope with homeless/homed as well. Most do so, frankly, without really thinking about it. A quiet word there, a bit of reassurance, is often enough. We should be proud of the work libraries do for those on the edges of society. Ideally, of course, we should also be funded for it. And actively welcoming in people who others may cross the street to avoid is something that is never going to be easy. But being welcome to all is a sign of a library and, thinking about it, civilization itself.

Congratulations to Diana Edmonds, chief librarian for the multitude of GLL library concerns, who was given the title of “National Libraries Director” last week. Not many of those knocking around. This is a further sign, if any is needed, of the ambition of this non-profit – they were one of the chief beneficiaries of the tending out of leisures services a decade or two ago and they’re aiming for something similar in the libraries sector.

Changes

More >

Better? A look at GLL

Editorial

I had the opportunity to see a couple of GLL libraries (run under the public name of “Better”) at close quarters after agreeing to do a (paid – full disclosure here) talk for managers there on the current UK public libraries situation. GLL started off in Greenwich as a leisure company and has since expanded throughout the county, holding interests in all part of the UK. It has also started expanding in the library sector, with it becoming soon enough (in terms of branches and number of authorities anyway) the largest public library provider in the country. By the end of the year, it is expected to be running the library services of Greenwich, Wandsworth, Lincolnshire, Dudley and Bromley, as well as 12 prison libraries and a couple of other concerns, easily eclipsing other single-authority library trusts or indeed the beleaguered Carillion. GLL is also behind an somewhat controversial move towards installing “gymbraries” in Lambeth.

I’ve seen a fair bit for and against GLL so it was good to physically visit in Woolwich and Greenwich. I was there for a few hours and can confirm the libraries were busy, well-maintained, with good book-stock (in multiple languages, face-on displays plus magazines) and numerous PCs/good wifi. The library staff I talked to, frontline as well as managers, including professionally qualified librarians, seemed happy, some very much so. Interestingly, also, they’re not tied to the local government pay settlement and so have suffered less than council staff by pay freezes/below-inflation increases. The two libraries were co-located (one with council services, the other in a leisure centre) but with well-used at-the-front libraries. They recognise the need for regular (daily, not just weekly) children events and other things such as reading groups and have (a big tick in my book) quiet sections/rooms for the multitude with nowhere else to study.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see “no food or drink” posters in one and also a requirement for ID before joining (we’ve done away with this with no ill effect in my authority years ago), although this is hardly unusual nationally. Both libraries had book-sorting machines – the first I’ve seen – in little glass secure rooms (apparently, fingers can get mashed otherwise) which looked great fun to me but I did not see either working other than the one I put through just to see what happened, and indeed one was out of order due to some vandalism on the roof above. There was some tatty furniture in one branch, noted with much annoyance by the librarian I was with (who I suspect is going to get it replaced pronto), but again, this is hardly unusual in libraries and generally what I saw was certainly no worse than average, and a considerable improvement on many I have seen.

So why is this important to those who don’t work for GLL? Well, they’re growing fast, being expansionist and with regional support structures for leisure (buildings etc) that mean they’re placed to bid anywhere in the UK. I suspect they’re the main competition to other trusts (library or leisure) competing for contracts. I also suspect this is not good news if you work in some parts of the library service as they’re going to go with economies of scale where they think it would work (I certainly would in their position) but, when we’re all seeing deep cuts repeatedly up and down the country, well, there’s worse out there. Better the devil you don’t know, perhaps. From what I saw, they were positive (notably so – no defeatism here) and boasted of good increases to usage and visits. While not alone in the latter, it’s good to see and it’s been long-term in at least the two original boroughs (50% and 100% increases were noted). Obviously, the trust is less directly democratic than council libraries but on the other hand, when told by a council to cut, this is an organisation that will be able to question it rather than have to simply do it.

OK, that’s a general view and I am sure some things are bad (e.g. how gymbraries are being handled) and I missed much. They’re not angels (because who can afford to be, really, in 2017 UK) but I did not see any Satan-worship either, just busy libraries. It was just a day there, but, you know you can walk into a library and instantly sense if it is doing well or OK? Well, the two I visited were fine. And that’s something impossible to hide. And better than some.

Changes

More >

Massive boost to library funding in Sweden, co-locations rule in UK

Editorial

Quite a few changes reported this post, with co-locations absolutely being the order of the day. That cut in Hampshire is going to be big news when it hits the public consciousness next year. The anger is continuing over the “move it further away and halve its size” plan for Bath Central and. over in Plymouth, the council is welcoming the closure of five libraries as a move into the 21st Century. That may be depressing but Lancashire is showing the opposite move with £850k being spent in order to reopen libraries closed under the previous administration. Also, we have a volunteer library in trouble as the academy where it is house is suggesting they move out, with nowhere to go to. Internationally, the picture is pretty much reversed with a massive boost in spending announced for the already well-funded (to British eyes) Swedish system. There’s also a brilliant article on how great Australian libraries are.

Changes

More >

If you want a job doing …

Editorial

So I had a very interesting Sunday and Monday, the first day walking two Australian library chiefs around Storyhouse in Chester and the second attending the Libraries Global Excellence Tour conference in London. There were a lot of learning points from talking to experts in this country, Australia and the USA. The big ones for me were how libraries were seen by the Aussies as sometimes putting artificial barriers in front of their users. Seriously, the Australians looked at us pityingly for charging fines for adults. And then one questioned why libraries demand online renewals of items, wondering aloud if it was for our stats rather than for helping users. Questions like that as well as one about coping with the eventual disappearance of cards in wallets fair sent heads spinning. And don’t get me started on floating stock, seemingly widely accepted in the antipodes (and in Peterborough by the way, it turns out) but avoided most other places.

There was also a vision of another world – where Australian state libraries hold budgets and co-ordinate training and development and where libraries had to cope with only the one crisis (that of technology) rather the two (austerity). Oh and, by the way, their pay is something like twice ours, even taking the varying exchange rates and costs of living into account. Mind you, spiders.

But there’s no point dreaming for something different than what we have. As a friend far more knowledgeable than I (hi Mick) pointed out, the One Card achievement of South Australia pales a bit when one considers its population is only that of Kent and there’s a One Card situation in 19 Scottish authorities and in Manchester, as well as (I think?) Wales. These were achieved without the UK government doing anything and that is I think the brutal truth. If libraries need to achieve wonders, then that will nee to bee achieved by themselves. Collaboration for mutual benefit is the key here. Heck, it may even save money. Relying on Whitehall has not been a viable library strategy since around 1964 and wishing it was not so will not change matters.

Or move to Australia. Just, you know, big sharks too.

Changes

Ideas

  • Cinegi£100 cinema film hire.
  • Esports – Free computer games increase library use in kids [well, yes, they would wouldn’t they? – Ed.]

More >

PMLG

Sauna yet so far? Lessons from Finnish libraries

Editorial

This copy of PLN is coming out a day early as I am attending a conference on Monday so there’s not as much news as normal. The article that stands out for me is the one on Finnish libraries, which show them to be booming in both people and new ideas, with one even opening soon with a sauna. The legal protection in libraries under the law there is the explanation for this success, with it being noted that there has to be a minimum number of qualified librarians per library, unlike in this country where there is effectively no minimums of any sort, due to lack of government intervention and the lack of any library standards in England.

Changes by authority

Ideas

More >

Austerity + Localism =

Editorial

I was talking to someone else concerned about public libraries the other day. She asked (a) what could be done to prevent major cuts to libraries and (b) how come other countries are not undergoing the crises of the UK. My answer to the first was, simply, government intervention. One decision to intervene by a minister due a council reducing the budget too much would do it. After all, library budgets are tiny compared to other services the council provides and are only really worth attacking, given the public support for them, if it’s clear there’s going to no statutory response. The reason the government does not intervene is likewise simple: austerity is their decision in the first place (albeit one shared by many) and secondly localism – allowing the local councils to decide where to cut – is part of the unspoken deal that stops councils rebelling more than they are.

The answer to why other countries are not undergoing the UK crisis is closely allied to what I have already said. An organisation can cope with one major crisis at a time but UK libraries are coping with two: massive technological change and deep budget cuts. Places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand are faced with one but (largely) not the other, and generally have far superior library usage because of it.

Changes

More >

Volunteer library report plus “libraries as the mind of the city”

Editorial

Some new research has come out form the DDCMS / Task Force on volunteer libraries. This is much needed as it has been apparent for a while this is a part of the sector with an ever increasing impact but very little research. The report itself is notable for several inconvenient truths for both sides in the debate. For those who believe volunteers are a fine alternative to paid staff – and there are such people – then there are many problems listed, not least of which in the long term. For those who refuse to accept that volunteer libraries can be anywhere near as good as paid staff, there’s some evidence to the contrary here. The truth of course, as in so many things, lies between the extremes. There are some brilliant volunteer libraries and there are some dire ones. Some will be continue doing well in the long term, some will not. Such a patchwork should not be acceptable for an important public service in a wealthy country but that is what we have. Austerity and localism see to that. More research (and this was a pretty self-selecting sample) and evidence is needed, and quickly, to inform the debate.

More >

Let CILIP know any interesting library facts you may have via @CILIPinfo or by emailing  mark.taylor@cilip.org.uk.

In praise of children’s libraries

Editorial

OK, I’m biased. I order children’s stock as part of my job and I love doing class visits and school assemblies, with the Summer Reading Challenge aware ceremonies being a particular joy. But it’s been noticeable for some time how excellent the options are for chilldrens’ stock are, with serious superstars like Rowling and Walliams, leading the charge to keep kids interested. So it’s great to see a 16% increase in book sales to kids.

But this leads to the observation of a failing in public libraries, at least in many UK examples. One of the things widely know about that libraries need to work out is how to cope with the decline in adult book stock.  However, one of the things I rarely see mentioned is the need to rebalance space so there’s more for children. Walk into any decent library and it’s likely it is the “junior library” that’s packed, if anywhere is, often for rhymetimes. Yet that section is often given far less proportional space than anywhere else. Add in the need for housing prams and you sometimes get the odd situation of a packed children’s library and a quiet “adult section” taking up four or more times the space.  Yes, I know kids are smaller and aren’t in all the time but they normally bring a full-size parent along with them and, when it’s peak time for them, boy do you know it. Library planners need to give the amount of attention this key part of the business deserves. Why the section is often ignored is a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps children are just not seen as “serious” enough in meetings where normally adults are of course the only ones present. But this needs to change. Library design is not child’s play, but perhaps it should be.

Changes    

       Ideas

More >