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

Countries of Culture

Editorial

Protests Local news from all over the place, with the stand out for me being the strike and protests in Lambeth. The Carnegie UK Library Lab winners for this year are announced tomorrow so more information on them with the next post. Finally, due to the horrible events in Belgium, the release of BBC research into changes/cuts to public libraries, including a series of BBC radio (and some television) pieces, have been pushed back to next week.  I was involved in helping out in small ways with the research at various stages but not seen the final report as yet.

Changes

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The House of Stories

Editorial

I love the new name for the combined library/theatre/cinema in Chester.  “Storyhouse” neatly combines the common elements of all three services that will be sharing the refurbished and expanded building.  In fact, it seems to me that story house neatly sums up libraries more than most terms, on many levels.  On the most basic grounds, there’s a ton of stories housed in a library. As I tell anyone, you can read about anything, be anyone, when you read a book from the library.  Moving further, the users of the library tell many stories to the experienced eye.  The student typing away using the wifi, the senior citizens catching up with eachother, children hopping around in delight, the quiet figure searching for a job … they all tell stories, not least how good the library is.  Further, the health or even presence of a library tells a story about the community which it serves.  A bustling library, in a good quality building,  filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things says wonderful things about the local neighbourhood. A dilapidated library building up for sale in Lincolnshire not so much. Ultimately, the health of the public library service can provide a narrative for how well a country is doing.  A thriving library service, full of new ideas – like I see in countries overseas – says so many positive things about that country.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide what story the current state of UK libraries tells.

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DCMS (sort of) intervene in West Berkshire and the nightmare of Barnet’s IT problems

Editorial

In the first time I can remember, the DCMS has told a council it cannot close libraries until it does things properly.  Normally, the DCMS barely notices but, this time, the radical decision by West Berkshire to close all but one of its libraries, with insufficient regard to its population, has prompted a different response. The ministry has said West Berkshire Council will need to produce a proper needs assessment before it is sure it can meet its requirements under equality legislation and, importantly, the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  As such, the council has had to find £425k of money (this is hardly generous – it was previously cut from the libraries budget after all, and seems to have some from a special pot)  to keep at least some of its libraries open until it can show it has done the technical legal minimum. It’s worth pointing out that the minister is unlikely to stop the drastic cut to just one library once it has done so, but at least the ministry is saying that the law needs to be followed first. That, for this government, which takes such a laissez faire approach to council cuts, is actually – sad to say – enough to make this the most significant intervention since 2010.

“Discussions with DCMS revealed the need for a detailed Needs Assessment to inform any changes to the way Libraries operate. Research will be commissioned to provide this before finalising the future structure and scope of the service … The Council will fail in its equality duty, and also its statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, if it proceeds with a major reduction in its Libraries service without due process. I recommend the proposal be reconsidered so that libraries are retained pending the outcome and recommendations of an independent Needs Assessment”  Equality Impact Assessment Template – Stage Two – West Berkshire Council.

Ever had the nightmare of worrying what would happen if your library data went down the drain? Well, Barnet are living through it.  Here’s their council report on what caused the catastrophic loss of their library data and how it is, in particular, really messing up their Open+ branches, as well as losing them income.  Heaven knows what it is doing to their credibility as well. Now’s the time to check your systems and your back-ups, people.

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Not one of the world’s most literate nations

Editorial

A new study, the The World’s Most Literate Nations, places UK low down on the list, not least because of the relatively poor showing of UK libraries compared to that of other countries.  In fact, it’s very low down for libraries: 29.5 compared to 17th overall. One wonders where it would have been in 2010.

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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.

Changes

Ideas

  • 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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