Archive for April, 2019

Purdah and the Commonwealth

Editorial

It’s election week and I know what purdah means so I’m going to keep this simple: read Leon’s article, look at the articles and then re-read Leon’s article on The Library Commonwealth. Thank you.

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Happy second retirement Jim Brooks

Editorial

Not all of you will know about Jim but he has been one of the most significant figures in public libraries for over a decade. He was until a week or two ago the Chairman of Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire. Yes, one of the very first of the wave of volunteer libraries that since then have swept the country. Little Chalfont and its sister libraries were faced with closure back in the old days of 2006, years before austerity. Rather than just closing, the communities there took a different route and fought the council to keep them open, first as volunteer libraries despite council resistance and then with their support. It was the reported success of these libraries that played a persuasive part in councils encouraging more volunteer libraries when the cuts really started hitting four or five years later. Jim, along with others, provided his experience to other services but was always clear that he’d prefer the library service first and foremost to be council run.  He received a MBE for his service way back in 2011 and has been helpful ever since.

So, that was unexpected wasn’t it? Me paying tribute to a library volunteer. But the thing is Jim and the others are not the ones to blame for the destruction of many a paid library job in the last decade. They do their best to keep open the libraries they love and are in many respects the biggest supporters of the library. No, the ones to blame were and are those pushing austerity, and the electorate who voted them in, who decided to cut public service budgets by so much. Many councils have had their staffing cut by a third or a half – not just in libraries but for all of it – and the bloom in volunteers has been a reaction to that. Volunteers have not been an unmixed blessing, goodness knows. They have split campaigners right down the middle and they’re not as well-trained or skilled as paid staff can be. I could write whole essays on the cons and pros and have once or twice. But, in the communities where they’ve occurred, they have kept libraries open. And I refuse to blame them for that not least because councils have blackmailed so many of them. “Volunteer or the library closes” is the unspoken message I see time and again. And least of all people like Jim who have given over a decade of their retirement to keep a library serving its public.  wish him every luck and good fortune in his second retirement, away from Little Chalfont, where he will finally be able to do some travelling.

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The Library Book, The Public and the Mighty Ducks

Editorial

I’m a sucker for books and films telling me how great libraries are. One of the best books I’ve read recently is The Library Book by Susan Orlean, due to a number of factors. The first is, of course, the fact that the author clearly loves libraries but also there is the ongoing whodunnit thread of who burnt the library as well as it being an introduction to the US library system both now and the past. For this reason also, I’m looking forward to watching The Public. Mind you, I’ve always liked Emilio Estevez, even in the Mighty Ducks. You can always tell it’s been quiet news week (Brexit? Local elections?) when I slip in a film or a book in the editorial. Don’t tell anyone …

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That London Library By Euston

Editorial

Interesting to see that the British Library, based almost entirely in one big city in the South East of England, is considering opening up a “British Library North” in Leeds. About time, as anyone can attest who has had to travel hundreds of mile to visit a place that apparently serves the whole nation but in fact is almost entirely based in London and charges the heck (or, in BL terms, “full cost recovery”) out of other libraries (don’t dare use the word “provincial”, you hear me?) to borrow something it got given for free. It’s been good to see the British Library start to wake up to its wider role in the last few years, with 13 business and intellectual property centres in libraries around the country and a group of 22 library services (out of more than 200) it works with on some projects, but there’s a lot more that it could do before I stop thinking of it in my mind as “That London Library By Euston”.

Great to see more fines being removed, with one authority going fine-free and two more removing children’s fines. Something more confusing was the debt that York Explore somehow ended up owing to the council but, that’s OK, because the council is paying them an extra amount of money to allow Explore to pay it back. I think. My head hurts.

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