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, honorary CILIP fellow 2015, CILIP Wales Library Champion of the Year 2016.

Homepage: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com


Posts by Ian Anstice

The Great 2018 Universal Offers Personality Test, if you ever get around to doing it

Editorial

Ooh, so much to talk about today. The bigotry of American fundamentalist Christians when it comes to any view but theirs continues to be in evidence, with one of their number literally burning books to make his point. There’s a not very good historic precedent about that somewhere.

Thankfully we don’t tend to do that here. What we do in this country, and do very well – someone eviller than I would comment we’ve had years of practice –  is procrastinate. Which can annoy. Like for instance, the way it can annoy Michael Rosen who is completely banging his head against the wall of government inactivity when it comes to trying to get them to make every child have a library card. Now, I know it’s not as easy as all that – “you can lead a horse to water” etc, oh, and GDPR – but it’s such a basic move and I can remember listening to Mr Rosen talking about it several years ago in the presence of a schools minister (Nick Gibb I think) who then spent half an hour talking about how great synthetic phonics was, to the collective groaning of his whole audience.

Then we have the “single digital presence”, of which no-one knows quite what it is but there’s been reports written on it since at least 2005. I wish the British Library good luck, and they mean well, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to get meaningful national action, especially in the aforesaid absence of a government willing to do anything meaningful. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that groundwork will be laid for when/if we have a change in government next election. Well, we’ve waited 13 years already, what’s a few more?

Finally, there’s a review of the Universal Offers going on. I don’t have much to say about that other than hope against hope that not more Offers are added. Heaven knows, I find it hard enough to remember all eight now.  Can you? Go on, test yourself. Write down what your remember and see what your score says about you with the fun guide at the bottom of this post.

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“Sick of all the doom and gloom”: Ayub Khan seeks to redress the balance

Editorial

I was at a meeting of the Library Campaign on Saturday, after nipping into the People’s Vote march beforehand. It was full of deeply committed people from all around the country fighting for what they believe is right against a government who needs to pay more attention. And, yes, so was the march.

There is much polarisation in this nation and what’s going on in libraries and with Brexit shows it in sharp relief. But there are good things happening as well. I see some beautiful refurbishments and new buildings, as well as genuine creativity – I love especially toy sleepovers, drag queen story times and dog reading partners but there is at least a new idea a week and so many passionate people. Focusing just on cuts would be to do the library service a disservice, and would personally make me far too angry and depressed to carry on. So it’s good to see Ayub’s piece below trying to redress the balance.

Finally, I need to mark the retirement of Phil Bradley. I knew him first via his CILIP column and his time as president and I was very pleased to be able to catch a chat with him at his home a few years ago. He’s a lovely man, who knows his stuff so well, is passionate and done so much for libraries. Thank you, Phil, thank you.

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O Canada

Editorial

If you like to see nice shiny new libraries the have a look at link below to a whole pile of new Canadian libraries. There’s nothing there that would strike someone as particularly shockingly innovative – well, apart perhaps from the community kitchens – but it’s good to see so much money being spent. Looking back to this country, it’s great to see, gosh, actual books being bought in Hampshire – shockingly, a public survey showed people wanted them, who’d have thought – and sad to see a deep cut confirmed in Hertfordshire, although I understand the council there is genuine in trying to seek the best possible future for libraries after facing some fairly stiff cuts. If you think, though, like apparently many Canadians, that there’s a lot of life left in libraries and that they give huge value rather than cost, then there’s a Library Campaign meeting this Saturday and a protest march on Saturday 3 November, both in London.

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That was the Libraries Week that was

Editorial

Last week, as I imagine absolutely everyone reading this will know, was Libraries Week. Scanning all of the news about the sector, as I do, it’s obvious that the Week does raise the profile of the public libraries. Most interestingly, the libraries minister himself, Michael Ellis, was seen in a public library or two, and even spoke about them, and I understand that even the DCMS minister his or herself (I see their name so rarely I can’t remember) was seen to show a momentary interest too. All the normal allies of libraries – basically, authors and the Guardian – raised their interest and it was notable that the BBC mentioned it a few times too. Most public libraries these days, unlike back when it started, marked the week as did Libraries Connected. And, of course, befitting the origin of the Week in protest, Labour used it to publish the result of a cuts survey. Much of the publicity, indeed the majority, was positive and that’s great because, frankly, the two things Joe Public thinks they know is that libraries are closing (they’re not, massively, but rather being hollowed out) and are becoming outdated due to ebooks (just no).

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The good and the bad

Editorial

I was asked this weekend why there’s only bad news in Public Libraries News. Well, there isn’t. A look at the stories today (and I’ve, honestly, not done a special feel-good edition) shows a 11:2 ratio of stories that are positive comparted to two which could be taken as negative in the national and international news. However, in the local news, the situation is reversed with the ratio being 13 :5  negative to positive.  Well, that’s interesting. I suspect part of the reversed polarity here is that, quite simply, there’s quite a few cuts going on in the UK when compared to elsewhere. Certainly, the news I see from the EU, Australia and New Zealand is almost all about investment and new ideas and even in Trumpian USA, there’s a more positive feel, although how long that will last is open to question. But I do do some editing – for example, I only cover a smattering of the enormous number of ACE-funded theatre shows in libraries covered because, well, it’s not really news to anyone else but those wanting to go. And I must admit to taking the decision to not cover the business event in Northamptonshire libraries, although perhaps I should have done (especially to balance out the unremitting disasters otherwise now associated with that borough once lauded as fantastic innovators) because there’s a ton of those as well everywhere. I just assume everyone knows they’re happening. So it’s bias but, hopefully, justified. Let me know if you think otherwise.

But, yes, there’s a lot of good stuff going in the UK too and it’s easy to forget that. In local news, it’s the bad stuff – the cuts – that gets the attention not the good. It’s like that phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” and that’s what PLN reflects when I summarise the reportage. I try to include both the good and the bad and while I once, yes, only really covered the bad news (PLN was described, approvingly as it happens, as “agitprop” in 2011) that’s no longer the case. If one wants a largely only a good news storyline then the Taskforce blog (and I’m not criticising them, I understand the reasoning and I’d do the same in their shows) is the way to go. I imagine Libraries Connected, if it ever does do news (and there’s not much of it at the mo) will be the same.

However, if you have good news to share – and I know many library authorities do – and you want it covered in PLN then I will. Do send in a few words (no more than 200) to me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk and I will see what I can do.

By the way, a note on Devon having 60,000 new members reported last time. I think this is the gross figure but, overall, the loss of existing members means it has seen a reduction in gross terms: from 104,445 in 2015/16 to 98,412 in 2016/17 according to CIPFA.

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A “New Radical” library service, more no fines, and some sad news

Editorial

Libraries Unlimited, although not untouched by controversy, is having a rather food year. It has taken over neighbouring library service Torbay, claims 60,000 new members and is now being held up as a model for others to follow. Other news includes the now normal smattering of staff cuts, new volunteer libraries, reviews, co-locations and, more thankfully, a multi-million pound repair jobs. Also increasingly normal now are reports of library services removing fines. There is now stronger evidence than ever before that removal of fines does not affect returns and can increase use. I expect to see more library services, who can afford it (or who can persuade their councillors it makes excellent public relations) going down this route. Finally, on a sad note, there’s been news that long-time library campaigner Alan Gibbons has lost a son in a road accident. See the fundraising page below and do read the poem, even thought it may have you in tears afterward.

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In praise of Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman

Editorial

There’s been a few things which have been brilliant in the last ten years of public libraries. The Orkney Library Twitter account (and their wannabe rivals Shetland) is one. The Summer Read Challenge as well The brilliant art of Chris Riddell and words of Neil Gaiman have been another. They’ve both been resolutely pro library for all of this period, with some of the best advocacy artwork and writing coming from them. Do have a read of their essay in pictures and feel proud of being involved in libraries.  Michal Ellis MP, Conservative minister, clearly thinks big new libraries is another good thing in the last decade – me too – although doubtless in his case it’s more a look-what’s-that-behind-you and a nothing-to-do-with-me excuse to the deep cuts in library funding and usage since his party came into office.

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Crowning achievement

Editorial

The big news, especially for those who have been following the drama these last two years, is the announcement that Crown Street Library in Darlington will stay open. This simply would not have happened without the strong public response to the new, the campaigning and protest and, indeed, the legal challenge. The real challenge, though, now will see what the surviving library will look like – the fear is that cuts will be made to staffing and that other services will be brought in, reducing the space and “offer” that has made the library so successful in the first place. But, for now, well done Darlington campaigners. Well done.

Other news that strikes the eye is the large amount of refurbishment going on in Hampshire – well done again – and the confirmation that open technology, which is relatively slowly but surely spreading like self-service did, will be universally adopted in Bracknell Forest. Finally, interesting to note King’s Lynn – not a name that shouts urban deprivation to me – has had to call in the security guards. As a result, I’ve started a twitter poll on security guards in libraries which I’d love it if you could contribute to. Thank you.

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Themes of fewer fines, US ideology, co-locations and the increasingly obvious failure of CIPFA

Editorial

Public Libraries News is back, due to PlusNet slightly messing up a change in internet provider, from a longer than expected Summer break. There are a few main themes over the last few weeks. The first is that there is a continuing move away from charging fines, especially in the USA, that can only be applauded. I also love the idea of providing free telephone access and utilizing Instagram for storytelling. For those entirely envious of our American friends, though, it’s also noticeable that libraries there are under ideological attack from, normally, right-wing evangelical and pro-gun sources. The furore, easily findable on the internet, over drag queen storytimes is quite amazing and compares badly with their easy reception in the UK. Speaking from the standard anti-gun position prevalent in the UK. moreover, it’s easy also to be horrified by the need in some US states to allow the public to come in with hidden firearms.

In England, there’s a continued move towards combining public libraries with other services, often in new but smaller builds. This has clear budgetary and footfall advantages but is sometimes somewhat over the top, as in Newcastle where someone thought it would be a good idea to include a drug and rehabilitation centre in the same building as the children’s library – a move that has not gone down well with residents, especially as this aspect of the development was kept secret until the last moment.

The continued, and embarrassing, failure of the public library sector to get its act together over statistics has hotted up with the Taskforce publicly pointing out the shortcomings of the ridiculously old-fashioned, limited and egregiously expensive CIPFA statistics. The current provision is redolent of the 1950s in its slowness, limitations and blatant secrecy but also combines profiteering so any improvement is to be welcomed. For that to happen, though, the multitude of risk-averse public library services need to actually be willing to openly share data. What they’re scared of – the public becoming aware of reduced usage and cuts in budgets as a result – has already come to pass but this has not yet resulted in concrete action. One hopes the day will come soon.

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There was a time …

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