Ian Anstice

Public librarian since 1994, user of public libraries since my first memories ... and a keen advocate of public libraries and chronicler of the UK public libraries scene. Library manager since 1998, winner of Information Professional of the Year 2011 and Winsford Customer Service "Oscar" 2012 and 2014.

Homepage: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com


Posts by Ian Anstice

Libraries: where facts trump lies

Editorial

My only thought today is for the USA, which is now being run by a President who does not understand the difference between a fact and something he wants to be true but is demonstrably untrue  (or “an alternative fact” as it was memorably described today). I have become used over the last six years to look enviously at the USA as country which largely values its libraries and has high usage.  I’m not quite so envious now.  But this is a situation where by merely being there, and not pushing a partisan message, American libraries can prove their worth like never before. I hope the new president is unable to stop them.

News

National news

Northern Ireland has merged its library authorities, as have three London councils. Several councils in Greater Manchester are still working towards doing the same. After the last local government re-organisation, the number of authorised library authorities were increased by almost 50% – to no benefit to library users – but increasing the bureaucracy. A consultancy study commissioned by the DCMS and the MLA suggested that savings in the range 5-10% of total expenditure could be achieved. Central services charges imposed by councils on library authorities have doubled and according to CIPFA now equate to about 16% of expenditure. Meanwhile book and other material funds are slashed and users walk away. We need the Taskforce to come up with an agenda that rebuilds a vibrant service for all.” Frances Hendrix on Lis-pub-libs. 

  • Library campaigners present ‘innovative agenda’ to rescue struggling sector – Guardian. “Campaigners have requested an urgent meeting with ministers to discuss measures to address the crisis in public-library funding. The appeal follows news that Plymouth is the latest council to propose cuts to its service in order to shore up its overall budget. In a letter seen by the Guardian, campaigners led by former Faber & Faber director Desmond Clarke propose measures to improve efficiency that include merging library authorities, boosting book budgets, introducing a national ebook-lending scheme and updating technology. Clarke, who received an MBE in the New Year honours list for services to the library sector, voiced strong criticism of the Libraries Taskforce, which was set up to find ways to rescue a sector that has been victim to severe budget cuts and closures.”

“To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what recent assessment she has made of the potential effect on local library provision of changes in government funding for local authorities. ” Kevin Brennan MP (Cardiff West)

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport monitors closely developments relating to proposed changes to library services throughout England. Local authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service that meets local needs within available resources” Rob Wilson MP. Public Libraries:Written question – 60025 – Parliament UK.

“To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what his policy is on how schools, hospitals, libraries and other public services will be planned into the proposed new garden cities, towns and villages.” Grant Shapps MP (Welwyn Hatfield).

“We are determined that new garden cities, towns and villages are supported by the right infrastructure at the right time. We have committed £15 million of capacity funding to support master planning and key studies to underpin joined up delivery of new housing and infrastructure in the garden cities, towns and villages. Our new £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund shows just how serious we are about ensuring that infrastructure is in place to support housing growth.” Gavin Barwell MP Department for Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 20th January 2017 – They Work For You.

International news

  • Australia – Encyclopaedias now virtually ‘worthless’ as Wikipedia celebrates 16th anniversary – ABC. “”Modern, 20th-century encyclopaedias really aren’t worth anything at all now,” rare book dealer Derek McDonnell told ABC Radio Perth. Second-hand book dealers cannot sell them, and even some charity shops now decline them as donations, he said.”
  • Canada – Hamilton Coun. Donna Skelly questions ‘relevancy’ of libraries during budget discussion – Hamilton News. “At a time when youths can Google an answer on a computer or phone, why is a library necessary, she asked. “Are we coming up with ways to validate the library?””
  • EU/USA – Designing libraries in the 21st century: lessons for the UK – Designing Libraries. “The report provides an overview of how design is being used as a tool to enhance the experience of customers and change the behaviour of staff in public libraries in twelve locations across five countries in two international contexts. It suggests that the most successful designs are those that are the simplest – open plan with good visibility across the floorplate and excellent connectivity – allowing staff and customers greater freedom to change the form and function of the public library over time. Yet, the simplest designs are not always the easiest to achieve, since open plan floors are often noisy, and flexibility involves careful planning.”
  • India – Rajasthan govt asks public libraries to keep the entire work of RSS idealogue – Indian Express. “All 361 libraries in state told to feature Deendayal Upadhyaya’s ‘Sampoorna Vangmay’, a 15-volume compendium, to push his idea of ‘Ekatma Manavvad’ “
  • USA – Cultivating support for your library with a ladder of engagement PC Sweeney. “The ladder of engagement is a fundamental tool for any organization or initiative that can be used to gradually build the relationships that are required to convince the public to support a cause and libraries can use it just as well. The ladder represents the way that people move from being unaware of a cause or an organization, to becoming broadly supportive of it, and finally to becoming active within it. For example, if an organization approaches someone for a contribution of $500 dollars to a cause they know nothing about, then their chance of success is slim to none. If the organization first took the time to develop a relationship with a targeted individual and then asked for a donation of $500 when the target was mentally or emotionally prepared to be asked, then there is a much greater chance of success.”
  • USA – Ethics of Library Meeting Rooms – Public Libraries Online. “The debate did not focus on patrons’ abusing rooms, nor on whether libraries should charge a small fee for their use, but rather if patrons (e.g. religious groups) should be allowed to use them at all. The idea has disturbed me because it is anathema to the mission and inclusion of libraries. It is against Section VI of the Library Bill of Rights and contradicts ALA’s interpretation of the meeting room clause. Being biased towards groups using library meeting rooms is up there with sanitizing the collection based on personal convictions, in my book. The worst part was that there were some (albeit few) librarians who agreed with the person that started the debate!” … “When librarians begin to negatively target groups (religious, teens, LGBTQIA patrons, etc.), tailoring library policy to under-privilege them in some way it is unacceptable and should be stopped immediately. “
  • USA – St. Louis’ public library computers hacked for ransom – CNN. “The computer system was hit by ransomware, a particularly nasty type of computer virus that encrypts computer files. This form of attack renders computers unusable — unless victims are willing to pay an extortion fee and obtain a key to unlock the machines. According to the library, hackers demanded $35,000 in the electronic currency Bitcoin — but the library refuses to pay. Instead, it’ll wipe the entire computer system and reset it, which could take days or weeks. The cyberattack hit 700 computers at all of the city’s 16 library branches, according to spokeswoman Jen Hatton”

Local news by authority

  • Aberdeen – Ruth – Information Librarian – 23 Librarians. “I really enjoy my job. It is not without stress but it is worth it when you believe you can make a difference. If I were to offer two parting pieces of advice in these times of austerity they would be: Grasp every opportunity you get however big or small. Think creatively and be flexible. Don’t get boxed into a view of what a librarian/ library is or isn’t.”
  • Brent – Professional librarian vacancy – Preston Library Campaign and Community Hub. “Major Step Forward By Brent’s Community Libraries – Barham and the other Community Libraries in Brent (Cricklewood, Kensal Rise and Preston) are making progress. Following a successful Grant bid to Brent’s Voluntary Sector Fund, the 4 Community Libraries are able to go ahead with obtaining the services of a Professional Librarian” [This vacancy advertised again at the request of Brent library campaigners -Ed.] see also Professional Community Librarian? Apply for our innovative post – Kensal Rise Library.
  • Lancashire – Letter to Library Minister Rob Wilson MP – Paul Maynard MP Facebook. “This is my letter to Library Minister Rob Wilson MP asking for an update following his meeting with LCC. It is vital to keep the pressure up if we are to save these libraries. Andrea Kay and Alan Vincent have been leading the way locally, but Labour just aren’t listening.”
  • Nottingham – Hearts for the Arts Shortlist: Nottingham City Council, Nottingham Performing Arts Library Service (NPALS) – National Campaign for the Arts. “Nottingham and Leicester City Libraries were both providing well-used music and drama sets services, loaning material to local amateur groups who wouldn’t be able to afford the rates from commercial publishers. However, this was at a cost that neither local authority could continue to support. Nottingham City Council showed strong leadership by persisting in trying to find a solution, approaching Leicester to discuss the idea of combining the two services.”
  • Plymouth – Schoolgirl, 8, leads campaign to save Plymouth libraries – ITV News. “Lucy Woodman started a petition after Plymouth City Council announced that her library in Efford is one of ten that could close, as part of a move to “transform and modernise” services and embrace the “digital world.” She’s enlisted the help of her friends at High View Primary School, in an attempt to stop the council’s plans. “I decided to put together a petition because I really like that library down the road and all the other libraries that might actually shut and because i don’t get why they’re shutting,” Lucy Woodman said.”
  • Plymouth – Tories ‘not divided’ over library closures says campaigning councillor – Herald. “A Conservative councillor fighting to keep his local library open insists his party is not divided on the issue. Earlier this week Tory chiefs revealed plans to shut ten “under-used” city libraries, promising to invest in new technology, introduce a click-and-collect service and expand the home library service.” … “Cllr Carson said: “In the year 2000, 1.3 million people were using the libraries; last year that was down to 700,000. “That’s quite a drop. There is a real threat to what a traditional library was when they were first set up.”
  • Redcar and Cleveland – Row over plans to axe mobile library in east Cleveland – Darlington and Stockton Times. “…  come under fire for not holding consultation sessions in the rural communities most affected by the change. Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council is planning on changing some of its 13 libraries’ opening hours, modernising some branches with self-service machines, relocate two libraries, and stop the mobile service.”
  • Richmond – Richmond Libraries Received More Visitors in 2016 than Stonehenge – This is Our Town Richmond Upon Thames. ” Richmond Libraries clocked up more visitors in 2016 than some of the UK’s top attractions, including prehistoric monument Stonehenge. Just weeks after Richmond Council’s Libraries were named the most popular London borough for ‘click and collect’ book request services, Richmond Libraries have received more great news – they’re now a top visitor attraction! The statistics released by CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) show 1,397,381 visits to a library in Richmond in 2016. Stonehenge, on the other hand, received 1,366,758 visits. Richmond Libraries are also seemingly more popular than London Zoo, which received 1,265,911 visits and Hampton Court Palace, which received just 598,851 (ALVA.org.uk  2015*).
  • Suffolk – Consultation launched for Mildenhall Hub project which would include a new library – Suffolk Libraries. “Mildenhall residents are being asked for their views on plans for a new ‘Mildenhall Hub’ which would involve a number of local services being delivered on one site, including the relocation of the library. The Mildenhall Hub would involve the creation of a new school, leisure facility and health centre in Sheldrick Way. As well as a new library, the Hub would also house council offices for Forest Heath District and Suffolk County councils, emergency services, a pre-school and adult learning space, as well as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the Department for Work and Pensions.”
  • Sunderland – Council should keep its hands off our libraries – Sunderland Echo / Letters. “The council has just transferred Fawcett Street library to the museum building and, in the process, decimated the amount of books we can borrow. It has also reduced the number of tables that we can sit at to three and the three walls of computers, which were always in use, have now been reduced to a mere one computer. Now the council is asking people how strongly they support providing a city centre library and town centre libraries in Washington and Houghton (Echo, January 11) as though they have decided to get rid of them. They gained millions of pounds from Newcastle airport. What happened to that? What about the reserve money? They could spend some of it on the libraries. Hands off libraries.”
  • Warrington – Council to spend £30m on acquiring stake in new bank – LocalGov. “The borough council will invest in a new Challenger business bank that hopes to gain a banking licence from the Bank of England in the first quarter of 2017. This will be a joint venture bank – known as Redwood Bank – between the council and the owners of an established bank, an unnamed ‘major city financier’. If it is granted a banking licence, Redwood will be launched in August.” [Included in contrast to deep cuts proposed for library service – Ed.]
  • Warwickshire – Stratford library closes for essential works – Stratford Observer. “The Henley Street library will close today (Saturday January 21) for essential piping and electrical work which is not set to be completed until June at the earliest. Plans to operate from a temporary base at Stratford ArtsHouse have been dropped and Warwickshire County Council is currently investigating alternative options to provide a limited range of services during the temporary closure.”

Bury proposes 10 out of 14 branches cut: Bristol will cut deeply too.

Editorial

Two big announcements of library cuts today.  Bury will be closing/transferring at least 10 out of 14 of its libraries in a £1.4m cut.  The last deep cut I am aware of from there was 2013/14 (£570k) which was scary enough but the £1.4m cut announced there now is, by my calculations, a full halving of their total libraries budget.  By coincidence,, another library authority beginning with a B – Bristol – has also confirmed a £1.4 million cut to its libraries. While they have not officially announced what this means in terms of library closures, one unofficial source tells me that this could mean up to 19 of 28 libraries closing or being passed to volunteers/community groups. Their last deep cut was in 2015 where £1.1 million was taken from roughly £5.7m budget (this figure extrapolated from media reports) which led to big protests and thus the closing of only one library. It may well be that this further cut means such hollowing out is not an option this time and we can expect far more in terms of closures (hence the alleged scary figure of 19) but we shall see.  If all this is right, by the way, then that’s 39 libraries under threat in three days. Gosh, I hope this year does not continue in that vein.

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Plymouth to cut 10 libraries, “Reading Allowed” review and goodbye Obama

Editorial

In this post, Plymouth joins the expanding list of councils to announce a desire to close more than half of its libraries. Doing a Livewire, it does its best to present this presumably cost-driven move as modernisation and even “transformation” but it seems that many people are not buying this approach, with the council already being called barbarians and crazy.  The local newspaper, the Plymouth Herald, has already come out strongly in favour of keeping the libraries open and so the council looks set for a fight. Meanwhile, in Norfolk, the council has taken the unusual step of guaranteeing no cuts to libraries in 2017/18 and a very snazzy looking new library (co-located with borough council offices and other services) has opened in Hemel Hempstead.

Meanwhile, we are in the last few days of the Obama presidency. Despite being blocked by Congress on so many issues, the Obamas have shown themselves to be wonderful supporters of libraries and literacy.  I am sure the profession there will be very sorry to see them go, not least because they are already worried about what Trump – pretty much the opposite of President Obama in almost every way – will do for (or, more likely, against) public services, privacy and diversity.  It promises to be a bumpy few years ahead.

A quick review of “Reading Allowed: True stories of curious incidents in a provincial library” by Chris Paling

I was delighted to be sent a review copy of this book a couple of months ago.  It’s set in quite a large public library in London – the location is never explicitly mentioned but it’s certainly not somewhere I’d call “provincial”.  What comes across is how tough the library is.  There’s drug dealers and criminals described in pretty much every chapter, with the security guards (called “Facilities”) being kept very busy dealing with them when they’re not sorting out blockages in the toilets.  Clearly, the library is fulfilling a unique role in dealing with those marginalised by society. What next comes across is the strong affection the author feels for the clientele. I can completely identify with this myself as you really get to know someone when you work in libraries and they become, if not your friends, then someone you care about and want the best for. It’s an easy to read book, quite humorous in places and quite thoughtful in others.  Chris sums up the feel of working a busy big library facing a death by thousand cuts very well and I am sure many working in the sector would read it with recognition. Meanwhile, those who don’t use libraries but still happily pronounce their death (see Plymouth for a new example below) may be quite shocked by all the wonderful things provided.  Out on 2nd February, I recommend you read a copy, even though I can recognise myself being described a “pundit” (really!) on one of the later pages.

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An inspector calls in Lancashire, probable U-turn in Warrington and Open+ in Eire

Editorial

The libraries minister has visited Lancashire to have a look at the library closures by that council. It’s a Labour controlled council and I understand the closures were all in Conservative-controlled areas so that may have been a factor as well as the anger of public who felt that the consultation was one in name only.  Reports of his visit are widely differing, with some thinking that he’ll step in while the council itself has apparently used it as an opportunity to show off how “comprehensive and efficient” they still are.  They’re also still happily selling the already-closed library buildings.  Soft or hard, his visit is the first real test in terms of how interventionist or not this minister will be.  We’ll know soon enough.

One of the most botched proposed cuts to library services by leisure/library trust LiveWire, coupled with one of the angriest and loudest responses by library users, has been in Warrington over the last few months.  I know from colleagues that it is being used almost as a case study in how not to do it.  I’m therefore delighted to see that these cuts looks like they’re going to be reversed, with Warrington Central Library staying open (the original plans was for the magnificent Victorian building to be closed and the library service moved into – yes – an ex shoe shop) and several branches which had been slated as being replaced with book collection lockers (yes, lockers) staying open.  The devil is the detail, though, and nothing is confirmed as yet. Possibly ironically, last week, the protests started hitting the fan in Bath where the council released a similarly deceptive consultation about “modernising” its library (mainly by closing the big central library in the busiest part of town).  One hopes councils (and trusts) learn one day to be honest with the public about what they’re doing but there’s little sign so far.

Finally, one of the most amazing things to watch has been the difficult and acrimonious passage that Open+ and similar technologies have had in the Republic of Ireland.  Introduced with barely a whisper of complaint in the UK, all hell has apparently broken loose in Eire about it, with the latest being an ex-minster publicly calling the system “daft”. Meanwhile, in Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan announced last week they’re be introducing the technology, to a positive response so far in the press.

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Refurbishments, a new library/leisure trust and PIN-only Camden mornings

Editorial

It’s good to see a couple of library refurbishments on the list and what appears to be an old-style complementary Friends of the Library group or two being set up. Gives me hope for 2017.  In other news, Flintshire are becoming a combined libraries/leisure trust.  This was once quite the thing (and the success of GLL in Greenwich and Wandsworth reported below, albeit with a strong library leader, shows it can work) but I suspect that many authorities are having second thoughts with the debacle of Warrington Livewire’s cack-handed cutting of its libraries.  There’s also the news, which I must admit took even me somewhat a-back, that five libraries in Camden will now only be available in the mornings if one swipes one’s library card and type in a PIN at the door.

Finally, I received a short and somewhat tragic email from a retired librarian in the North West who worries that his love of donated books at his local supermarket will somehow contribute to the end of libraries. Bless him and bless us.

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Libraries minister goes to Lancashire but will he intervene?

Editorial

It’s heartening to see the new libraries minister visiting Lancashire to have a look at how its council is cutting its library service. The council has taken a lot of flak due to the sheer number of branches involved, some seemingly dubious consultations  and, more recently, making some controversial announcements over Christmas, being accused of trying to “bury bad news”.  Don’t get too excited, though. The minister, Rob Wilson, is unlikely to actually intervene in the county. That would be going a bit too far for a government still tied to the twin stakes of austerity and localism. No, he will probably merely use the visit to grandstand, showing how concerned he is without actually doing anything.  That’s still, though, more than I can remember Ed Vaizey doing in his tenure in the job, where he seemed to spend what little time he devoted to libraries either saying how much they were thriving or visiting carefully selected branches that fitted his views. I’m hoping Rob Wilson is made of sterner stuff.  We’ll know soon enough.

Other news that pickled my interest comes from the USA, where staff have got into trouble for using fake patrons to issue books that otherwise their computers would have ordered them to withdraw.  This over-reliance on computers by libraries is an issue.  Many of us will have learnt how much harder it is to withdraw books in self-service libraries which no longer have those handy date-stamps on them, for instance.  Meanwhile, those computer printouts that list what to withdraw, in the libraries lucky enough to have them,  often take no account of the actual condition of the book or that it’s a classic that no library should do without. The ideal I suspect, as in most things, is a happy medium between an entirely time-heavy (and open to bias and error, however some may say otherwise) staff-based revision system on one hand and emotionless garbage-in garbage-out obeying of the computer printout on the other.

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Honours and the year in review

Editorial

It was lovely to see two library people receiving honours. Ciara Eastell, head of Devon non-profit Libraries Unlimited and past president of the Society of Chief Librarians – who coincidentally I went to library school with (Sheffield, class of 93-4) – and Desmond Clarke, ex publishing boss and now national library campaigner. Both have done what they can for public libraries.  I was less happy to see the ex-boss of Warrington Livewire, which is currently devastating its libraries, also receive an honour.

Normally at this time of year I would do a post on the major trends in public libraries in the last year but I see Leon has beaten me to it.  I recommend it to you.  The only things I would add to it are Open+/remote-controlled libraries, which are really taking off this year, for better or for worse and the rise of parish/town councils paying for libraries, often by raising their parish rates.  This last represents a possible ray of hope for libraries as parish/town councils are not limited in the same way in raising council tax than larger councils. I can foresee hundreds of libraries moving from the county/borough councils to smaller, more atomised, local authorities in order to take advantage of this and it represents a get-out clause for the Government which is otherwise tied to austerity and localism.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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