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

Embedded job advisors and Thema

Editorial

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that job advisors will be placed in different settings including libraries.  It’s been interesting to see the negative response from some tweeters about the cost to the public library service in terms of damaged neutrality, making the service more linked, in the public mind at least, to the government. It may indeed turn off some people from coming into the library, being worried that the DWP officers will spot them doing something they shouldn’t. On the other hand, of course, supporters of the scheme would say that this will improve the service to the user – professionals being emplaced to help get people employed is not a bad thing after all.  Government will also likely place more value on libraries if they see them as somewhere they can reach the hard to reach. The scheme is therefore not entirely good and not entirely bad: like so many things, it lies somewhere in the continuum between the two.  We all need to be think through the implications to our own libraries.

And now for something a bit more, well, librarian, than most of the news normally contained here. My thanks to Graham Bell, the executive director of EDItEUR, to agreeing to explain something I simply had no idea about: the new subject classification theme called Thema. The piece is too long for being part of this post (so it gets its own page) but I recommend it to you if have you have an interest in saving money, being international, or, actually, simply in the ordering and finding of books, which is kind of important, still, for most public librarians.  See this page for the article.

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Desmond Clarke, revisions, and some delicious rivalry

Editorial

First off, I’d like to pay tribute to Desmond Clarke, who has announced (reproduced in full below) that he is retiring from library campaigning.  He has been influencing, as much as any of us outsiders can, the corridors of power in the interest of public libraries for more than decade, without any want of reward. Hats off to him.

Secondly, the House of Commons Library has taken note of the pretty much universal condemnation of its first report on public libraries and produced an extensively revised version, taking note in particular of the concerns raised by CILIP about the unrealistically low number of closures cited.  Well done to the professional body.  Now if only the HoC Library hadn’t deleted all references to Public Libraries News at the same time … Hmmm.

Finally, you’ll recall that I was in awe and then in laughter at the Orkney Library twitter account this week, which somehow they managed to snag an actual visit by the actual JK Rowling to its actual reading group by massive amounts of cheek and offer of cake.  But there’s more to it than that. The story was picked up by a lot of the media (see below) which also detailed some delicious inter-library rivalry, resulting in the classic Orkney “In. Your. Face.” tweet to Shetland Library.  The latter is now hoping to snag Gary Barlow. I can only hope that they do.

“Dear All

I have decided after some eleven years of campaigning for public libraries to take a step back and I will no longer be sending regular links to major media stories and published reports. May I encourage you to subscribe (at no cost) to Public Libraries News which provides a comprehensive summary of what is happening in every authority based on local media reports and councils’ press releases.

During a recent discussion with a senior DCMS official, I showed him my letter published almost ten years ago in October 2006 by THE TIMES (attached) in which I wrote that “the service is desperately in need of leadership and a taskforce to help the 149 separately managed authorities ..” Thanks to William Sieghart’s Report we now have the Taskforce and hopefully it will not be too long before they develop a shared vision for a modern library service and a roadmap to deliver that vision. I very much hope that everyone will then get on the same page to make it happen.

I urge the Taskforce to focus on the needs of library users, to address the structural, technological and resource management issues and to articulate what libraries are for. That necessitates being much more radical than just installing wifi or promoting the Universal Offers. I do not underestimate the challenges but it is essential that, despite the background of austerity, we build a service that re-invigorates the library network and fulfills the needs of the millions of people who rely upon them..

Thank you.
Desmond”

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Lancashire, Lambeth, CIPFA, Orkney and JK Rowling

Editorial

Big protests in Lancashire and Lambeth against library cuts have taken place, with the London one benefitting from the prevalence of celebrities that live in or near the capital. The situation in Lancashire is worsening, with several branches having temporary reduced hours due to shortages of staff.  Hollowing out what used to be one of the best library services in the country is clearly continuing apace. No less than 40 of its branches (one fifth of all libraries places under threat in the last year) will soon turn volunteer or close.

The DCMS reply to queries over the number of libraries being under threat was very interesting. Basically, because CIPFA only asks for the number of service points each library authority has open, the argument is that one cannot tell how many have closed.  So, if there are 4000 branches one year and 3900 the next, one can’t say definitively that 100 have closed.  It’s possible that one (or five or ten) new library has come online meaning the figure could be 101 (or 106 or 111) have closed, therefore one cannot – the argument seems to go – use the CIPFA figures. It’s an interesting argument and one that shows the weakness in the CIPFA figures and has, of course, nothing to do with a political desire to underplay what is happening.  A better way needs to be made to keep count.

Finally, a beautiful story from Orkney Libraries, whose award-winning Twitter account was responsible for JK Rowling travelling there to attend a reading group. Major credit to the Orkney Twitterer and also, of course, to the wonderful JK Rowling.  Watch out, incidentally, for the new book “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” – it’s slated as coming in as adult non-fiction, which is unlikely to be where users will look for it on the shelves.

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Taken out of context: House of Commons Library and the DCMS

Editorial

It looks like my last editorial pointing out the inadequacies in the House of Commons Library report on public libraries which somehow missed the existence of CIPFA and selectively quoted DCMS figures helped contribute to quite a stir.  I had foolishly imagined that the HoC Library had actually asked the DCMS for the information but it turns out that the department knew nothing about the report until it was published.  So much for joined up government.  Many thanks, though, to the Head of Libraries at the DCMS (Simon Richardson) for basically answering my questions point for point in his post on the Taskforce blog.  It looks like the devil is in the detail of definitions, meaning that while you, I, my dog currently asleep on the sofa opposite, etc know that many libraries have closed or at the very least left council funding, or been hollowed out almost to the state of oblivion, the official government figures for closures are very conservative (small c, obviously). This clearly needs sorting out and I’m glad to see the Taskforce is trying to do that, because otherwise our MPs and others are in danger of being misled about the impact of what is going on.

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  • Unprogramming – Simplifying events to increase attendance.
  • Wordblend – Ask public to write extract from favourite book on wall, in their own native language.

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Being economical with the truth

Editorial

So I have a page listing what august publications have linked to Public Libraries News or quoted it. One of the first I put on there, many years ago when I was impressed by such things, was the House of Commons Library which mentioned the total number of threatened libraries which I had pieced together.  It was therefore with some deja vu that I read their new report (I wonder if they do one every five years) and noticed me quoted again.  Not that my name is mentioned. No, apparently I’m an “online campaign group”, which is amusing. It then notes that while the blog covers the issue, “the DCMS has not made any assessment of the accuracy of the information” which I publish. That is also a bit funny as I know they use the website quite a lot. So how come the caution? Everything I count has the original source linked to. Just click on the links guys. Hmm, odd.

The same research paper notes that the DCMS estimate the number of library closures in England since 2010 as a mere 110. As anyone with half an interest in the subject knows, this is a laughably low figure and can only, charitably, have been reached if every library which has become staffed by volunteers is not counted as closed.  Which means the DCMS is counting them as statutory. Which goes directly against what the minister has said time and again.  They’re also not counting mobile libraries, naturally. The report also then mentions 77 new public libraries in the same period. Wow, sounds like a golden time. Of course, they don’t mention the majority of these are replacements or co-locations.  The DCMS also seems unaware of the official CIPFA figures when quoting the figure of 110. Which is strange, as Ed Vaizey has this very week very carefully quoted them to show an increase in libraries in Wiltshire (I assume they took some time looking down the list until they came to a service which reported an increase  – they must have been getting very frantic as they got all the way down to the Ws) and that Labour-controlled Wales had a decline in comparison. It almost looks like, and imagine my shock at this, that the government is selectively quoting figures to back up its case and carefully ignoring anything which may get in the way of their rose-tinted narrative. Shocked gasps all round.

Anyway, I spent Saturday in the glorious library at Oldham.  They were holding a TEDx there.  It was a sold out event and absolutely fascinating. The auditorium at Oldham can only fit around eighty so it’s possible to hold these at many other libraries too.  Think of the street cred for your library service if you do.  I also spent a good hour or two walking around the building.  I was seriously impressed by it and there were some good ideas there. All in all, I recommend a visit to you all.  Just don’t be put off by their naff website if you do plan a visit. Read my review of the place here.

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Idea Stores, beautiful libraries, and cuts in, gosh, Australia

Editorial

It was a real tonic to read about Idea Stores. Set up way before the austerity, and well-funded, they’re continuing to be successful.  The tricks appear to be to genuinely co-locate with an allied service, to invest in buildings so people want to come to them and, well, several other things, including avoiding supplier selection. Good also to see Manchester Central (in stark contrast to its brash debt-laden Birmingham cousin) doing so well.  As it should, the place is a palace and such a pleasure to visit. Extra bonus points also, apparently, for Oxford where the Central Library is to be redeveloped with the – ever important – children’s library being extended.  Good also to note that the level of protest against library cuts in Bradford has meant at least more libraries will retain paid staff than previously thought. In other new, Bibliotheca have launched what seems to be a real alternative to Overdrive for e-books. Hmm, this is sounding really positive, I love it. In other news, Bucks are considering some serious cuts so are examining being a non-profit trust (but that’s just a continuation of news from a year ago) and there’s yet more on the Open+ seriously-self-service library option.

In fact, for genuinely new without doubt all-bad news, one has to go to Australia. Yes, Australia. Where there’s something depressing going on with their National Library.  Please try not to do any more of that, my Oz friends.  You might make Public Libraries News gloomy.

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Arts funding, Scotland, Birmingham and finding volunteers for 40 branches

Editorial

A few things this post.  The first is there’s a lot of Arts stuff going on, not least in the small Slough authority (just seven branches) which has been given £625k for events by the Arts Council. That’s a lot of money for a borough of 140,000 people and we can hope to see some brilliant things coming from it, even though much of the money is not for libraries. On the other side of the scale, there’s a lot of the now standard cuts happening, with the notable difference being that it is now as likely to happen in Scotland – long seemingly protected from cuts – than it is south of the border.  Special mention nationally must go, again, to Birmingham where, unsurprisingly, drastic cuts to funding has led to a decline in usage. The cost of the Library of Birmingham is staggering (superlatives get used a lot when talking about this place: it’s £70,000 per day due to the repayments and interest) and, even though visits still work out at a very impressive 3 or 4 per resident per year, it’s hard not to expect further worrying headlines about it in the future.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by BBC Radio Lancashire on Friday morning about volunteer libraries (link here: Locality at 1′ 10″, myself at 2′ 14″).  The general tone of the breakfast show was very pro-volunteer, with a speaker from Locality being a notable salesman for the income opportunities possible.  Sadly, of course, libraries are simply not geared up for income generation (if you’re making money from a library, you’re doing it wrong) and, although, volunteer libraries can be – and are – successful (with caveats like long-term uncertainty etc being hopefully understood) in some places, it so depends on the location and number of willing volunteers. Finding enough for 40 branches in Lancashire (one-fifth of all libraries put under threat in the least year are from that council alone) is going to be a tough ask.  And pretending otherwise does no-one any favours.

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200+ : time to think about the future

Editorial

More than 200 libraries have been placed under threat since the start of the current financial year, April 1st 2015.  They’re spread over 36 authorities, of varied political hue. Lancashire – with a whopping 40 endangered – represents a fifth of the total.  It’s therefore an apt time for CILIP to call for a strategy for public libraries in England.  After all, pretty much everywhere else has one and you’d think actually having a plan for the future is a basic requirement of any service that, well, wants a future.  Mind you, we’re talking about a country, England, whose library service, quite literally, does not have any Standards, as the people of Lancashire (and West Berkshire, and Bracknell Forest and the increasingly ironically names Reading) have recently found out. In fact, CILIP are not asking for much.  That they’re unlikely to get even that is not to discredit them but the laissez-faire disinterest of the politicians ultimately in charge.

There’s a load of other changes today, including a worrying trend by two authorities to say that libraries are at risk without actually naming them. Clever that: it means that local opposition does not get an early start.  That’s something quite vital at the moment as the Government, keen to ease through cuts, has reduced the consultation time from a widely accepted 12 weeks to a vague “whatever is appropriate”.  In other news, there’s also another Open+ library  and the now normal range of opening hours cuts and co-locations.

One (welcome) correction: Plumstead Library is not closing but is being redeveloped, with improved facilities being planned.  There are also two new builds scheduled for Greenwich right now, plus one major refurbishment. So that’s good news at least. They must have a strategy or something.

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Temple of literacy and the city’s heart

Editorial

Three library closures confirmed in East Ayrshire (following on from three more last year there) and a proposed co-location in Greenwich are the main physical changes. In other news, there appears to be a combined response to library cuts in northeast England.  There are also, unusually, two positive stories about volunteer libraries, although I know from campaigners to take the one about Walcot Library in Swindon with a large dose of salt. Going abroad, there’s a lovely story about a Greek library – inspired by bustling British ones – that shows what’s possible in austerity, even if that austerity is in Greece and not in England.

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Parishing, church libraries and goodbye to a school library

Editorial

A good point has been made in Leon’s Library Blog about a trend which has been notable in recent years of public libraries effectively being farmed off to parish/town councils. This maintains the service but causes other problems. At the moment, though, as with volunteers, the mere fact that the library service survives is seen as reason enough to do it by many.  Expect to see this becoming a standard weapon in the armoury of cutting councils, if it is not already, from big rural authorities like North Yorkshire to smaller urban ones like Swindon.

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