What’s the effect of volunteer libraries on the Summer Reading Challenge?


I was curious about the practical effects of volunteer libraries on the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC), which is the biggest part of the promotional year for most public libraries.  So, I checked with the Reading Agency and then with Little Chalfont Community Library, which is perhaps one of the most established and certainly one of the most famous of them.

Anne Sarrag, Director of the SRC, was kind enough to speak to me about the experience with volunteer libraries.  She reports that the Challenge is well-established, with the budget for it often being ring fenced by authorities.  A common model is that the parent library service will still buy materials and provide training for the volunteer library staff.  Of course, the volunteers may not be able to open the library as much as before or have as much quite new stock but it gives back up to the paid libraries and access to those who cannot get to them.  So, at least, I gained the impression from talking to her, that they’re  better than a closed library.

Indeed, sometimes the volunteer library may wish to purchase more promotional materials than the parent authority can due to cuts in budget.  Volunteers have in some cases raised funding to buy more than council.  However, the TRA preference is for all branches in an authority to offer the same provision.  At the other extreme, there are some volunteer libraries who have been cut adrift by the parent authority and are not supported by them.  In this case, the non-statutory branch have occasionally asked for free materials to which the TRA has to, with regret, decline. I gather that the TRA have to tread a fine line here: they cannot help those campaigning against the closure of their library – even by tweeting – because this would cross the path into politics.  In addition, the agency also has commercial sponsors, with the programme being supported by Tesco in Scotland, which may be scared off by any sign of a loss of absolute neutrality.

Keeping the same standard SRC offer means that volunteer branches are not allowed to charge users for joining the scheme and must talk to the children’s manager in that authority in order to co-ordinate the offer to the public.  Otherwise, there’s be a danger of competition between paid and volunteer branches in schools.  The SRC also ensure that any such volunteer staff visiting schools are CRB checked, which is something that not all paid library staff visiting schools are.

Overall, there appears to have been no reduction in SRC take-up due to volunteer libraries or library closures.  Indeed, there was a healthy increase in SRC membership last year.  This may be due to all sorts of reasons, including an overall improving trend masking a local decline, the efforts of volunteers being successful or children moving to libraries that are still open, or a combination of all three.

Now for an idea of how this translates to a particular volunteer library:

“Buckinghamshire only give us a small selection of promotional materials which is not enough to make any presence felt in the library and restricts our ability to get involved fully. I think it presents quite a negative image for community libraries left out of a national scheme if visitors come in expecting us to be part of it. Three local schools promote the scheme for us so we buy more packs, medals and information leaflets to meet potential demand. It may seem expensive but I have to buy in set pack quantities from the official printers. We have shared costs with Chalfont St Giles in the past split packs but now we’re both enrolling more children it doesn’t work the same.

Over the past two years we have grown our participation from about 12 to 89 children and last year 23 of those completed the course & earned their medals. I think it definitely helps to keep our borrowing figures up in the summer months; families who take part are always very positive about it. I’d like to increase our activities in the library around the challenge with fun days like the circus one a few years ago and … we may be able to do a bit more this year. One limiting factor for the volunteer libraries is the demographic of the volunteer staff, many of whom find the children’s section confusing and lack confidence promoting the scheme to visitors unless asked about it. I need to increase the volunteer training to overcome some of the resistance I’ve felt in the past.” Ruth Penn, Little Chalfont Community Library.

“I would say that it goes well with us because Ruth puts in a great deal of time and effort, liaising with BCC and the SRC organisers, and in publicizing it with local schools. So you get back what you put in” Rohan Dale, Little Chalfont Community Library

Now, Little Chalfont is a very well established volunteer library which can be expected to be a “best case” scenario for the genre.  Doubtless, there are other libraries of the same ilk who are not doing half as well but the impression I get from my tiny amount of research on this subject (which is more, mind you, than anything done anywhere else – public libraries are not exactly good at this sort  thing) is that, overall, we’re not seeing the widespread destruction on the ground which may be feared, which is something that all of us who have seen the positive effects of the SRC on children can be fully grateful for.
Does this ring true to you? Have you any other experiences of volunteer libraries running the Summer Reading Challenge that you are willing to share? If so, please send this and/or any other news to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.


In the previous post of 17th July, I said that the Gloucestershire judicial review merely meant that the council redid the necessary parts and then acted as it would have done previously.  It has been pointed out to me that this is not the case and that three static libraries remained opened due to the decision.  My thanks to @FOGLibraries for the correction.


UK national

  • 25th July 2014 Lunchtime Special Joint Chat With Dundee Libraries - #UKlibchat. “As it is only a one hour slot, we have gathered six questions, The first three questions will be used as an opening into the general topic of Makerspaces thoughts and ideas of what you would think a Makerspace could be in a library. The last three questions have been generated to see the challenges that may face libraries and to open up a discussion to see how we can overcome these. All of these question have been added to our agenda document.”
  • CILIP governance: a reply to Martyn Wade - Tom Roper’s Weblog. “If any government were to propose that more than 200 out of the 650 MPs in the Commons were to be chosen by their fellow MPs, rather than by popular vote by the electorate, we’d have revolution in the streets. I don’t see why CILIP should not aspire to the modest standards of parliamentary democracy. In fact, I think we could do better as I may elaborate on another occasion.” … “it remains a fact that the governance review conducted its proceedings in secret” … “On membership, yes, we have appointed a member of staff to help tackle the problem. That seems to me to be buck-passing. It is the responsibility of Council, above all, to turn the situation round, and yet it doesn’t even merit a mention in our risk register. I think Council is in denial.” [There are a lot of comments on LIS-PUB-LIBS if you wish to see more - Ed.]
  • Common libraries: project report 2014 - Common Libraries. Report on setting up Maker Spaces in the UK, with a look at the processes involved, demands etc and a case study or two.
  • Governance review: response from Martyn Wade  – Leon’s Library Blog. Leon says ” now is the time for the membership to review, discuss, and if necessary amend, the proposals put forward. This should not be viewed as a criticism of the of the hard work already done but as a natural part of the political process to ensure healthy debate within a democratic membership organisation.”.  Martyn (Chair of CILIP Council) says Museums Association and IOSH work with same governance as that proposed for CILIP. “Overall Privy Council Advisors felt the proposals put forward by CILIP to amend their governance structure appeared practical and also appeared to refine the governance structure and provided improved clarity. The introduction of a smaller Board of Trustees, to replace a larger Council, was felt to be appropriate.”
  • Valuing the health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries - Contracts Finder. “Arts Council England is seeking a suitably qualified service provider to carry out an in depth study into the economic contribution that libraries make through benefits to people’s health and wellbeing. The contract term is seven months and the estimated value is £50,000 including VAT and expenses. The study must explore both local and national dimensions of the contribution and value and must include both primary research and secondary data analysis. There are three high-level research questions which the study will need to answer: 1. What is the £ value contributed over time by libraries through their impact on health and wellbeing at both a national and local level? 2. How is this value created, and what is the specific role of library services, programmes, buildings, or staff in this process? 3. To whom does this value accrue? How does value change for different end users, such as different parts of the public sector, or individuals and communities with different backgrounds? Further details about the Arts Council England’s requirements are set out in the invitation to tender.”

Lincolnshire judicial review

Simon Draper and Lincolnshire County Council - High Court of Justice.  The full text of the decision by Mr Justice Collins. Main points [to me, anyway - Ed.] are:

    • Calls the method by the Secretary of State to intervene “a cumbersome and expensive procedure”.
    • “It seems to me that all of the computer systems currently provided in the defendant’s libraries can properly be regarded” as part of the statutory provision.  The council is not bound to provide it but, being it does, it must continue.
    • Service can be “reasonable” depending on budget available, distance, technology and all other factors.
    • Cut of £2 million to library “cannot be challenged” in the courts as it is a political decision.
    • Councils can have a preferred option and strong proposals but, If consultation is to be meaningful, then council must be willing to change its mind.
    • Consultation flawed as council was not prepared to change key parts of its proposals.
    • Expressions of interest by GLL and Biblitotheca were not properly considered by the council.  Reason given for this by council would be the “unacceptable delay” in taking these proposals seriously.  Judge thought it “ironic” that this reason caused the far longer delay brought about by successful application for the judicial review.
    • Council fulfilled its requirements under Equalities legislation.
    • 30 minute drive time to the library is not a minimum requirement.
    • The consultation alone was not enough for the council’s decision to be quashed and relief given: the way it handled the proposal by GLL tipped the balance.
  • IT Defined as Part of the Statutory Library Duty - James Powney’s Blog. “The conventional view of many professional librarians, and of the DCMS, is that computers and IT do not form part of the definition … Contrary to the SoS letter, the Lincolnshire judgement confirms the earlier remarks of the Judge in the Bailey case that in fact IT provision is in some sense part of the s7 duty” … “authorities are throughout the country looking to limit their activities to the legal minimum.  Lincolnshire has gone further in this than any other authority, and the judgement confirms the legitimacy of that approach.  Thus, if (say) ebook or audiobook provision does not fall under the statutory definition there is a real danger they may get removed in many authorities.”
  • High Court quashes decision of Lincolnshire County Council to close libraries - Save Lincolnshire Libraries. Press statement from Public Interest Lawyers. “During the hearing a number of issues became clear. It was found that the LCC had failed to follow their own government’s legislation for enhancing community involvement in public services through the Localism Act.” … The consultation run by the council was rejected completely on the basis that they had already decided to have 15 libraries before the consultation began.” … Mr Justice Collins “… considered that the decision by the council should be put out for further consultation and that the most sensible way ahead would be to obtain the necessary details from GLL with regard to their bid to run the libraries.”
  • County council loses High Court battle over library provision changes - Local Government Lawyer. “The judge did find, however, that the council had fulfilled its duty in relation to s. 149 of the Equality Act 2010. “It identified the possible areas of discrimination and identified measures which it believed would ensure that there was no unlawful discrimination. That exercise was not irrational.” … ““Throughout this process Save Lincolnshire Libraries has on many occasions said that the county council could have stopped the legal process if it had listened to the people of Lincolnshire and changed its plans. It consistently refused to do so and has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money trying to impose and then defend the indefensible”
  • Lincolnshire libraries: Martin Hill apologises and says talks will be held with Greenwich Leisure Ltd whose initial bid to run every library was ignored - Lincolnshire Echo. “Council leader Martin Hill has said he is sorry about how the situation was handled but questioned how GLL could save money and retain the service without cutting jobs.”
  • ‘Urgent’ talks to save Lincolnshire County Council libraries - BBC. “Councillor Martin Hill questioned how Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) could save the authority £2m, without cutting jobs and “still retain the service” … “Diana Edmonds, from GLL, a charitable social enterprise, which had offered to run the libraries, said: “We have opportunities to make tax savings that the local authorities don’t have. “We don’t expect people to do full-time jobs if they are not being paid for it.”


  • A case for public libraries – The News (India). “While talking to a bunch of people who are fond readers and seemed to be aware of the minimal access to reading material, I learnt that their replies were almost similar. What they all pointed out was as to how there was no need for a centre that allows the borrowing of books. It needs to be a place resembling a lounge — a hybrid of a few things.”
  • EveryLibrary Launches Fund To Aid Libraries In Crisis - Library Journal (USA). “Most libraries know what its’ like to struggle with finding funding. Getting a levy or tax hike passed is hard work. Living through lean times that freeze hiring and stifle collection development can be trying. But when the rug gets pulled out from under you suddenly, it can be even worse. In order to provide some assistance when eleventh hour budget cuts come knocking, EveryLibrary, the political action committee devoted to strengthening the place libraries have at the civic table, is working on a new program with just these sorts of dilemmas in mind—the Rapid Response Fund, a pot of cash meant to give libraries facing sudden budget cuts the tools to rally supporters quickly and fight back.”
  • Kindle Unlimited - Metafilter (USA). “Amazon announced today a service called Kindle Unlimited, giving access to over 600,000 books and audiobooks (on any device) for $.9.99/month. There are other services similar that exist (like Scribd and Oyster), but Amazon may have an advantage with its audio service. Is it worth it? Perhaps if you are in the habit of buying more than the average five books per year. In any case, there’s a 30 day free trial “so you can test your binge-reading capabilities before committing to pay for the service.” … [“emerging conclusion is that the range of books is rubbish” is a line in an email I have received on the subject - Ed.} see also Close The Libraries And Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription - Forbes. “HuffPo rather sneeringly argued that Amazon wants you to pay $120 a year for a library ticket. Which is true but also what sparks this little, not entirely and wholly serious, thought on public policy.”
  • LGBTQ teens find solace in Longview Public Library’s Rainbow Community club – TDN (USA). “the Rainbow Community, an LGTBQ club (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning ) for middle and high school students hosted at the Longview Public Library”.  30 people use regular library club.
  • Singapore won’t destroy two gay themed books, titles to return to public libraries – LGBTQ Nation (Singapore). “Two children’s books dealing with gay subjects won’t be destroyed after all and will be restored to Singapore’s public libraries, an official said Friday. Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim had said in mid-July he supported the state-run National Library Board’s decision to pulp three books deemed to have inappropriate content. But many people in the conservative Southeast Asian city-state objected.”
  • This could be Ireland’s library of the future – but why the controversy? – Journal (Eire). “In an interesting move, the 6,520m2 building – which will be the central library for the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown – will be called the Dlr Lexicon, which reflects the fact that it offers more than a library. It’s also intended to be a cultural centre, with a café (the tenant is yet to be decided on), a gallery, a small auditorium space, crafts spaces, a local history library, 100 parking spaces and a children’s library.” … “Around the corner is a crafts room, which will offer 3D printing, and a newspaper section, ” … “This library, says the council, was “not done in isolation”. The Arts office, for example, is working with local schools, while local retired people will be showcasing some of their crafts when the doors open.”
  • U.S. libraries become front line in fight against homelessness – WTAQ (USA). “Libraries are magnets for the homeless since they are public, free, centrally located and quiet. They also are safe, a major draw given that 337 homeless people have been killed in hate crimes in the last 15 years, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.” … “Libraries can have their own guidelines, like Washington’s six-page rule book barring alcohol, bare feet, oversize bags and an odor that can be smelled six feet (two meters) away.”
  • Troy PL’s Battle for Survival: Anti-Tax and Book Burning Threats - Information Today (USA). “An engaged citizenry is a very good thing. An enraged citizenry is a challenge. In Troy, after 2 years of battles followed by some very difficult legislative campaigns, citizens are weary. While there is an active group that is well-informed and interested in community affairs, many have become tired of dirty politics and are starting to step away from involvement. “

UK local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Construction News Awards 2014: winners revealed - CN. Carillion wins project of the year over £50m for the Library of Birmingham.
  • Birmingham – Stirling Prize: Shard makes the cut on award shortlist – BBC. “The revamped Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, the Library of Birmingham, the London School of Economics and Manchester School of Art are also in the running.”
  • Brent – Campaigning battle over library space comes to an end as planning application is approved - Get West London. “After years of controversy developers have finally secured the right to transform Kensal Rise Library into flats with a community space.” … ““Through the change programme, we are fiercely proud that we have been able to improve our remaining libraries including investing significantly in new books and technology as well as providing a place for people to study and learn. In 2013, our visitor and borrowing numbers were up on the previous year, bucking the national trend for public libraries.”
  • Bury – Group fights to reclaim Bury library - Bury Times. “In May, a sculpture centre was put into the library in Manchester Road, despite 2,500 people signing a petition opposing it. Now, a group called Reinstate Bury Central Library (RBCL) has formed a committee aimed at persuading Bury Council to “give us back a central library worthy of its name.” The group’s committee met at the Two Tubs pub in Bury on Tuesday, July 8, to discuss how it would progress its campaign, and 11 people turned up.” … “anecdotal evidence from council sources suggested there has been a “significant drop” in the number of books borrowed since the sculpture centre opened”
  • Cornwall - Primary school boy starts campaign against reduced library opening hours – West Briton. “Leon Remphry, from King Charles School, is so passionate about reading that he decided to take a stand against the reduced opening hours of Falmouth Library, which came into effect in June. The literary lad has started a petition asking Cornwall Council to stop cutting back on opening times. He has also written to his local councillor and two Cabinet members to find out where best to send the document.”
  • Devon – Ottery fears for its library’s future - Exeter Express and Echo. “As the local population was set to expand over the next few years, it was important that the library, which serves all ages, should be able to meet the increased demand. Ottery St Mary Town Council said the library had suffered under-investment for years and noted that there were alternative locations in the town, including redundant county council buildings, that could be used as a new site, together with other services.
  • Leicestershire – Villagers fighting to keep library open - Lutterworth Mail. “A petition signed by nearly 1,300 people has been handed to County Hall bosses in an attempt to stop the closure of Fleckney Library”
  • Manchester – Get a super-fast internet connection for your business or charity – Manchester.gov.uk. “For a limited period we can help fund a broadband connection for small and medium-sized businesses, charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations. We’ll cover up to £3,000 of the connection costs. That’s usually enough to pay for all the work. It’s a grant not a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back. You just pay the VAT, any amount over £3,000, and the monthly subscription cost.” … “Come and see us at the Get Digital Festival, Central Library, Manchester on Thursday 17 July to find out more about Superconnected Cities grants and how technology can help your business grow”

“Yesterday was the very first Get Digital Festival at Central Library to launch the new Broadband Delivery  UK (BDUK) Demonstrator Suite at Central Library. In partnership with the Business Growth Hub the event included demos from Google with Google Glass, Robotics, Wearable teach, 3D Printing, Scratch coding for kids, Oculus rifts plus workshops on women in tech, digital branding, ecommerce, 3D printing and future tech trends” Sue Lawson, via email.

  • Manchester – Let’s get digital: Manchester Central Library celebrates turning 80 with gadget-fest – Mancunian Matters. “Members of the public got their geek on with top gadgets, such as the Oculus Rift and Google Glass, in the library’s newly-refurbished state-of-the-art facilities as part of the Get Digital Festival 2014. The event offered Mancunians the chance to try out the latest gadgets and attend seminars and masterclasses, which promoted use of new technology in start-up enterprises.” … “One nifty gizmo on show was a friendly Nao Next-Gen Robot, who delighted audiences by asking questions and doing ‘the Robot’ to ‘Gangnam Style’.” … “Another demonstration that amazed spectators was the cutting-edge UP Portable 3D printer, which used a computer image to fabricate a 3D plastic duck, layer by layer, before their very eyes.”

“With visitor and library member numbers rising, we can safely say that Central Library has re-established itself as one of the must-visit, key attractions in Manchester city centre.”

  • Manchester – Pictured: Children help Manchester Library celebrate 80th birthday – Manchester Evening News. “Schoolchildren from Our Lady’s Primary in Blackley were among those to celebrate eight decades of literary heritage at a special party yesterday. The library was opened by King George V and Queen Mary on July 17, 1934, quickly becoming one of Manchester’s best loved buildings. Among the exhibits on display at the birthday celebrations were the original visitor’s book from that day, featuring not only the king’s signature but also that of Winston Churchill some years later.” … “the library looked to the future yesterday too, launching the Get Digital event – showcasing some of the high-tech facilities now on offer. Digital music suites, gaming consoles, 170 computers and free wi-fi have all been available since the library reopened following a £50m refurbishment earlier this year.” Includes gallery of photos from the last 80 years of the library.
  • Powys – Libraries face uncertain future as cuts bite – News North Wales. “Councillor Graham Brown, cabinet member for libraries, said: “The cabinet currently favours option A, which would mean that all libraries would remain open. However, before we make any decisions, we want to hear the views of the people of Powys on all of the options.”
  • Somerset – Mayor of Crewkerne says keeping libraries alive is essential - Western Gazette. Mayor visits library for launch of Summer Reading Challenge, Friends group does cake and toy sale. Busiest Saturday of the year.
  • Staffordshire – People in Burton and Barton under Needwood encouraged to have say on library plans - Burton Mail.  Call to take part in consultation on library cuts.
  • Surrey – Dorking station’s micro library praised as innovative way to get commuters reading – Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser. “A “micro library” at Dorking’s main railway station has been praised by the town’s authors as an innovative way to promote reading. The library was started in 2011 by station employee Rebecca Eng as a way of raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. It was a stand of donated books with a collection box. In its first few months it raised £500 for the charity, with commuters asked only to donate what they could to take a book away.”
  • Worcestershire – Raft of library changes revealed by Worcestershire County Council - Malvern Gazette. £2.7m cut 2011 to 2016, 3 out of 4 mobiles to end (with no stops less than three miles from static library).  Closing all mobiles was considered but decided this may clash with 1964 Act. £1.9m cut already, 2011 to 2014. Hive may have reduced opening hours. Upton to be run by town council with paid/volunteer mix, Broadway to have building/maintenance paid for by community group who will also volunteer staff it. Hagley to be run by volunteers, Bewdley to be relocated.
  • Worcestershire – Library changes could have been far worse, says council leader - Malvern Gazette. “Councillor Adrian Hardman says the only reason no libraries are earmarked for closure is because of massive efforts by staff to recruit volunteers. ” … “At each site there will still be professional librarians, but most of the time the opening hours will be manned by volunteers drawn from the likes of town councils. “

Lincolnshire Council loses judicial review on two grounds: all the chief points, links and analysis


So the judge has agreed that Lincolnshire Council failed to do things properly on two out of the four grounds that they were challenged on. Here’s the key stuff reported in the media:

  • The consultation was fundamentally flawed, with a key thing being that the decision had already effectively being made. However, as campaigners in Gloucestershire discovered a year or two ago, there appears to be nothing stopping council simply consulting again, this time properly, and then doing the same thing, although in that case significant changes had to be made by the county which, saved three static libraries.
  • Lincolnshire failed to properly consider the alternative proposals made by GLL to run the service.
  • The judge did not reprove the Council with regard to the 1964 Act or over Equalities legislation.
  • Judge says that council “would have difficulty putting in an appeal” suggesting he was not overly impressed by their arguments on the two lost grounds.

For Lincolnshire, therefore, how things move depends on how seriously the council wants to cut the library budget and pass branches to volunteers.  Every indication so far is that they are very set on this and so this may be just a temporary reprieve.  However, it is in no way a waste of time or money for campaigners – for one thing, it means the Council will have to do things correctly, which is something that everyone (including the Council itself, if it thought about this properly) should want.  For another, every month gained is another month closer to the looming General Election.  Do the councillors there really want to close libraries months before a vote? And anything could happen after that election.

Councils should take from this, at the very least, the need to genuinely consult their public before making the decisions.  This is, however, very difficult for some councils who are used to doing things their own way and are in the habit of seeing consultations as, at worse, a tick box exercise or a necessary annoyance.  In their defence of course, it doesn’t help, of course, that councils are under great pressure, often with lack of time and resources to do anything else.  In library circles as well, “consultations” are also often used as a thinly veiled recruitment campaign (or blackmail exercise, depending on how badly it is done) for volunteers to run the buildings the council has already effectively decided it can no longer afford to run.  This, the judge appears to have agreed with today, is an unlawful way to go about things.  Put simply, consult before you decide otherwise you’re not consulting lawfully and you may have to waste money by backing down or doing it all over again.

The other decision here is that the alternative proposal to run the service by GLL was not properly considered.  This will be viewed with decidedly mixed feelings by some who doubt the good intentions of the social enterprise.  Leaving the merits of that case aside, the decision means that councils should beware not considering other proposals for their services other than the one they have their hearts set on.  But hang on, for those councils who seriously want to do the best thing for their libraries, this is what should be happening anyway.  For those councils who do not do things properly – and it’s pretty clear that the Judge thinks Lincolnshire Council comes under this heading – then let this be a warning.

In plain language to any chief librarians reading this (hi there), the judge said make sure your council does its research and consultations properly and that it’s able to show it has.  If enough someones don’t agree then there’s a strong possibility of a legal challenge and then a whole pile of unnecessary pain awaits.

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Tom Roper fallout, the Duchess of Cambridge and Doctor Who

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Speaking volumes and CILIP troubles


A really nice piece of pro-public libraries material (“advocacy” as it is often called) has been published today by Carnegie UK Trust. Called “Speaking Volumes”, it “sets out the range of ways in which public libraries can affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities, and how libraries are relevant to four main policy areas: social, economic, cultural and education policy.”. Coming as both a leaflet and as a poster,  I especially like all the nice friendly illustrations too. It’s free to download and print. If anyone would like any further information or a hardcopy of the leaflet please contact Carnegie UK Trust directly at info@carnegieuk.org.  [Please note I did some consultancy work for Carnegie on this and so please treat this square brackets thing as a declaration of interest.  It's still good though - Ed.]

If only everything was such happy reading. I was sorry to learn today that Tom Roper, recently identified by the BookSeller as a Rising Star (and the only librarian to be so honoured) and a colleague of mine in Voices for the Library, has resigned from CILIP Council.  This has been over what he sees to be a move away from democracy in the proposed new governance structure, where the CILIP President will not be directly elected by the membership but rather by the Council, themselves becoming one third unelected. This governance thing could be shaping up as almost as big a fiasco for the body as the defeat over rebranding in 2013.  Whether it will do anything to reverse the decline in membership (now at a historic low of just 13,342) is another matter.


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Malorie and Sarah

The high point of the year: Summer Reading Challenge 2013


The Summer Reading Challenge is, each year, without a doubt, the best thing that happens to British public libraries. During the weeks it runs, hundreds of children come to my libraries asking to join, getting excited about the stickers and proud at the medals.  The parents come along of course as well.  The branches are a hive of activity.  Last year, over 500 (five hundred) children joined the Creepy House challenge from a town of only 30,000 people. That’s a take-up rate way beyond anything else that libraries do and way up on the year before.  Unfortunately, I could not attend the official launch this year but Laura Swaffield and Elizabeth Ash of the Library Campaign did and I indebted to them for the following write up (Laura) and photos (Elizabeth):

Malorie and Sarah

Malorie Blackman, Sarah McIntyre … and Medusa

“The 16th – yes, really! – annual Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) is now officially launched.  Congratulations to The Reading Agency (TRA) for this brilliant scheme that last year kept a record 810,000 kids enjoying books through the summer holiday (and ta to Arts Council England for chipping in with some of the funding).

It’s significant that the British Library provided a posh venue for the launch event plus an enthusiastic speech by BL boss Roly Keating, who clearly gets how important public libraries are. As he’s a member of the Sieghart inquiry panel, that has to be a good sign… I hope. “This is the kind of initiative we love,” said Roly, describing SRC as “a summer nationwide festival”. “It’s great, he said, “to have an occasion to celebrate the whole [public library] system… whatever we [ the BL] do, we want to have the on-the-ground impact that SRC has…” and more of the same.

Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman also took the chance to talk up “how vital public libraries are to our children, and to the whole process of reading for pleasure”. She quoted various kids and parents. One kid had “never liked reading, but I’ll definitely do more reading now”. A parent talked of her child’s new-found “confidence, fluency and, most of all, enthusiasm – reading for pleasure, not because the school said so”.

As local libraries crash and burn by the score, what are the chances of retaining a “whole system” of libraries? As more and more are dumped on to reluctant “volunteers” to do the best they can, what are via delivery on a national scale?

Sue Wilkinson, TRA’s chief executive, outlined some of this year’s goodies – developed via feedback from previous SRCs. Book recommendations, from participants and celebrity writers. Stickers and certificates are the classic and now proven SRC motivators. Some stickers Ed.] There’s also stuff for kids with visual impairments, thanks to collaboration with RNIB as well as quizzes, clues, quests, mazes and more. “Digital magic” by Solus, with (inevitably) an app, and all kinds of audio-visual content including messages from mythical creatures. Plus there’s loads of publicity material that (sadly) shows up the inadequacy of the usual public library “advocacy” stuff (what there is of it).

Above all, the promotion benefits from great illustrations. “The artwork is critical to SRC’s success,” said Sue. No worries here, with funny, colourful, imaginative images by the award-winning Sarah McIntyre. Sarah turned up in a suitably colourful outfit, including a writhing green Medusa hat. Sarah is already a favourite at The Library Campaign for her clever poster “A librarian is a powerful search engine with a heart“, which is still downloadable for free. Meanwhile, all is revealed at SRC’s website: www.mythical-maze.org.uk … and of course down your local library.”

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You know you’ve got problems when …


North East Lincolnshire continue the run of authorities who are announcing that more than half their existing library provision is in danger of being closed or passed to volunteers. Cuts, of varying amounts, have also been announced in Poole, Torbay and Powys.  Meanwhile, things don’t look good for Lincolnshire Council who appear to have had an unpleasant second and final day in the judicial review.  When one of your main arguments is the strength of feeling against your own consultation, you know you’ve got problems. Mind you, if Lincolnshire win after what appears to be a chronically inept consultation and decision-making process, then we’ve all got problems.


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Library strike: when not working in a library is the best that one can do


Many libraries will be closed tomorrow. That’s unfortunately hardly not a rare statement these days but this time it will not be by the Government and not by councils but by the library workers themselves in industrial action over a 1% pay offer.  As someone who will be on strike myself I need to say that such strikers do not take this action lightly.  I love libraries and all they stand for.  Every day in work and, heaven knows, every night I do Public Libraries News, it is made obvious to me how much people depend on libraries.  But any library (unless they are one of the increasing number passed to the unpaid) need well-paid staff in order to function and I have, like my colleagues, received a 20% cut in pay in inflation-adjustedl terms when compared to four years ago. That’s, I’ll say it again, 20%.  In fact, it’s more than that because I used to be paid time and a half for the Saturdays that I worked and I don’t any more.  I’m going to be brutally honest at this point therefore: it’s coming to the stage where I find it hard to pay the mortgage.  I love libraries but not enough to lose my house over them.  I care deeply about the job and above all I care deeply about the people I serve but I will need to go for a job outside the sector if these pay cuts (hidden as pay freezes or “increases” below inflation) continue.  Indeed, being that such cuts are not unknown in the private sector as well, then I may even need to leave the country.

And that’s just me … and I’m a manager, albeit a very junior one.  Now what about those other library and council workers? Well, two-thirds of council workers are paid below the Government’s own poverty threshold.  Two thirds. One third are paid even below the living wage. If I think it’s bad, with what my parents would call my lower middle class life, then heaven knows what some of my colleagues are going through.

Alright, so that’s tough isn’t it?  There’s no money, right? Well, no. Local authority reserves have risen from £2.9 billion to £19 billion during this time of “austerity”. Even the government deficit doesn’t demand it when looked at historically. Moreover, over half the cost of a decent rise would be recouped by the Government in terms of increased tax revenue and decreased benefits.  Now this strike may do no good. The Government and the majority of the media care not a jot for council workers and they’re unlikely to care more after tomorrow.  But David Cameron and the Mail and the rest have been at war with providing decent council services since before 2010.  The money is there, what we’re looking at is an ideological campaign against council provision and for lower taxes, and higher private profits at any price. We’re getting to a point where we can’t take much more and still offer a good service. So we need to do something … and this is the only thing left for us to do.

Thanks for reading this.  I hope that this will be the last strike I am in.  I hate striking.  I want to keep libraries open, not closed.  But sometimes a library worker has got to do what a library worker has got to do.  Including not working in a library.


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Lincolnshire Judicial Review Day 1, school libraries parliamentary group report , Staffordshire



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Public Library change in use

Less are taking part … but why?


Well, this is depressing but perhaps not unexpected. Figures released on Friday from the DCMS Taking Part survey show a 23.2% decline in visits between 2005 and 2013.  This tallies well with CIPFA statistics which showed a 28.3 % reduction in borrowing  from 2005 to 2013.  So, why the decline?  Well, the obvious one is decline in budget and, interestingly, other figures show that the public libraries budget did indeed go down almost identically by 29% in the same period if one takes into account inflation.  However, a look at the individual years show not such a strong correlation, with visits and membership going down even in periods when budget went up.  Certainly, the declining trend in visits seems to have halted at the time of an increase in budget but the decline in membership looks like it didn’t.   There is also an issue with taking inflation into account as some argue that inflation does not affect libraries budget so much.  For example, staffing is a large proportion of the total budget but pay freezes mean this has barely risen since 2010. However, this is so much sophistry to me: budget is doubtless to my mind a big factor in the decline but we have to say that it is not the only one.

So what other reasons could there be?  Well, the obvious one is technological change.  The adoption of ebooks and an increasing amount of people with online access has doubtless hurt visits and membership, especially as the spread and depth of  e-lending has been distinctly mixed in England … and I say England because this trend is not apparent in some other countries.  After all, the US has seen budget cuts as well but their overall library is actually going up.  So, either there is a big difference between the two countries’ library services (and there certainly is: the US doesn’t have as high household online use or even job centres for a start … but is that enough?) or there’s something going specially wrong in England.

It would, at this point, also be great to compare trends in the EU.  It would be especially useful to look at usage in comparatively well-funded France and Germany with numbers in badly-hit Portugal and Greece.  This would be doubly beneficial as Portugal at least has gone for keeping staff and cutting book buying while in the UK we’ve gone all out in both.  That comparison will have to wait until another day (Public Libraries News is a part-time hobby, after all, not a full-time occupation) but it needs doing.  Because otherwise we’re simply guessing at what is going on and that is a truly terrible situation, with councils keen to cut funding on one side, commentators like Tim Coates (see below) blaming library leaders on the other side and those same library leaders working under high pressure in a research-free haze caught in the middle.

Public Library change in use


Comparison budget and use

Tim Stats

Combined statistics courtesy of Tim Coates


“When you look at the table – as I hope you will -  you will see clearly, I hope, why Desmond [Clarke] and Shirley [Burnham] and Alan Gibbons and others are so angry about the operation of the public library service. From idiotic so-called ‘ library professionals’ to overpaid civil servants and public officials, to highly rewarded operators of charities and do -gooding consultancies – we have an army of idiots who are responsible for public libraries. It might be a surprise to look at such appalling figures, if we didn’t know that – at exactly the beginning of the period they record (2005) Gerald Kaufmann and the Culture Select Committee had not looked at the same figures for the previous ten years and observed the same story of miserable incompetence in every quarter.   His sensible recommendations were raucously ignored in every quarter – and now we see the results. To put alongside that the simple information that this decline has occurred only in the UK -   it is not mirrored in European or Asian or American countries – is to ward off the pile of excuses to which we will be exposed.  Nobody should fund a service which is so incompetently managed.  The public library service pays more in salaries and fees, than the entire UK publishing industry – it is not a trivial endeavour in any way ….    Tim Coates via email


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East Renfrewshire to turn to Trust, Enfield refurbishes Palmers Green


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