Westminster Hall debate on public libraries


The first Westminster Hall debate for a few years (the last one being in January 2011) has taken place, with Labour and Conservatives attacking each other’s record on the subject.  There was some interesting debate about the poor record of the Conservatives from the Labour Party and some accusations of Labour closing more libraries from the Conservatives.  In reality, both parties are cutting spending on libraries: who it is doing it depends simply on who is in power and how much their budgets have been cut by the Coalition Government.  It’s always amusing to see Ed Vaizey claiming that the situation with libraries is rosy and this time he excelled himself by even managing to claim responsibility for the new Liverpool and Birmingham libraries, both of which owe their revamps to decisions made before 2010.  Ed asking “what can one do from the centre?” in one breath and then claiming to be a “pro-active campaigner”for libraries almost in the next was pushing it a tad though.



  • Literacy hub - including all organisations interested in literacy in an area including libraries.


  • 2010-2014: From Community Library to Community-run library: a look at the impact of volunteers – Public Libraries News. A review of the impact of volunteer libraries on the UK public library sector, written for the Seventh National Public Libraries Conference in Spain [by me - Ed.]
  • Audit Office slams Government for failing to properly assess effects of further council cuts - Northern Echo. “Further council cuts are being rammed through with no assessment of whether libraries and youth services will be culled, a watchdog warns today (Wednesday, November 18). The Government comes under fire for failing to properly examine the impact of slashing town hall funding by an extra ten per cent, ahead of next year’s general election.”
  • Watch Scroobius Pip’s ‘Library’ Poem – BBC.
  • Create: A journal of perspectives on the value of art and culture - Arts Council England.  Includes article by Neil Gaiman (previously reported in Guardian) on public libraries and a brief mention by John Major.
  • Local libraries face cutbacks – Parentdish. “Libraries are facing closure or a reduction in opening hours – and the only solution seems to be to bring in more volunteers.  And who exactly is supposed to volunteer for all this? Mums? No, we’re all supposed to go back to work, remember? Grandparents? No, they’re too busy doing all the childcare for their grandchildren…  Libraries are so crucial for children. I don’t know how my three brothers and I would have survived without our weekly trips to the library. We’d devour as many books as we could while we were there, and take home as many as we could get on our cards.”
  • Public Libraries (England) - Westminster Hall Debates / They Work For You. A highly partisan debate with the Labour shadow minister blaming the Conservatives and the Conservative minister blaming Labour councils and the previous Labour Government.

“What astounds me about the Minister’s contribution is that he does not seem to think that he has any responsibility in this debate. He wants to offload the responsibility on to councils, but he has offered very little leadership to enable those councils to take decisions collectively to make the best of their resources. I do not understand how the Minister has the brass neck.” Lyn Brown MP, Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government); West Ham, Labour.

“Although both speeches were excellent, another element that added to my frustration is that the only library authorities to be criticised were Conservative-controlled. If someone made it back in Philae from the comet that is spinning hundreds of millions of miles away from us and landed in this debate, they would think that everything was perfect both under Labour authorities and under the previous Labour Government. It may surprise people to learn that libraries did close under the last Government, and that many Labour local authorities have closed libraries over the past four years.” Ed Vaizey

“We intend to publish the Sieghart report and our response to it in the next few weeks. As the hon. Lady will know, getting a slot in the Government grid is sometimes difficult” Ed Vaizey

“What can one do from the centre? I cannot and do not want to run 151 library authorities, not only because it is physically impossible for me to do so, but because I believe local authorities should run their library services. I can encourage them and work with them … while I may understand the frustration and sometimes even the anger of some library campaigners, I feel that I can hold my head up high, in terms of being a proactive campaigner for the library sector.” Ed Vaizey

  • Salisbury boy wins UK-wide Finish The Story competition – Reading Agency. “The Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge each year keeps hundreds of thousands of children reading over the summer holidays, via their local libraries. But once again, some of them have also enjoyed writing endings to short stories started by six top authors, as part of the UK-wide Finish The Story competition. Now The Reading Agency is delighted to announce that the overall winner of their third annual Finish The Story competition is eleven year old Nathan Burn from Salisbury in Wiltshire.  Of stories specially begun for the competition by Cathy Cassidy, Sarah McIntyre,McKenzie Crook, Eoin Colfer and Rick Riordan, each author recently chose their favourite ending to their story, with details of the six young finalists announced on The Reading Agency’s website. A judging panel then met to read all six story endings and decide on the overall winner.
  • Vaizey accused of ‘offloading responsibility’ on libraries – BookSeller. “A parliamentary debate on libraries descended into “personal attacks” between libraries minister Ed Vaizey and shadow communities and local government minister Lyn Brown. Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on public libraries yesterday (19th December), Brown, a Labour MP for West Ham, questioned Vaizey’s lack of intervention into local councils’ plans to close multiple libraries across the UK.” … “Vaizey then said that Labour had never called for him to intervene in any local authority decision, and that the power had only ever been used once by any previous libraries minister.” … “Brown said the thrust of her argument was that “the government has failed to take leadership on the crisis in our libraries and our communities.” Vaizey responded: “I reject that accusation”, and listed developments such as new libraries in Birmingham and Liverpool as examples of positive steps.” [both Birmingham and Liverpool were built due to decisions made under the previous Labour Government - Ed].


  • A Field Trip to America’s Public Libraries - The Atlantic (USA). “Here are three things among many I have noticed about libraries. They are telling for the way libraries speak to needs in our communities across America. It’s not just my impression; the numbers collected behind the phenomena are strong, and the human stories behind them resonate as true.” (1) Libraries are for job seekers (2) are hubs of activity (3) are “anchor places”
  • Dialogue on Public Libraries – NAPLE (Global). “The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is a forum that gathers “thought leaders from business, technology, education, government, the nonprofit sector and libraries” seeking to “shape and advance a renewed national vision for public libraries in the 21st century”.” Links to some very useful resources.
  • The digital open source library of tomorrow – Open Source (USA). “The library fulfills its promise when people of different ages, races, and cultures come together to pool their talents in creating new creative content.” One thing to think about is whether this change from analog to digital can happen in libraries without changing the name of the library.”
  • Homeless find hope, refuge and community at public libraries – CBC (Canada). “It’s a funny story between us,” Mulholland recalls, “because for the first few months that I was bumping into him there I didn’t even realize that there was an outreach worker relationship going on between me and him.”
  • Libraries Offer Prepaid Visa Debit Cards to Patrons - NerdWallet (USA). “Institutions in three states offer library cards that double as prepaid Visa debit cards, under a program started last summer by SirsiDynix, a Lehi, Utah-based software company. Participating libraries get a portion of the fees paid for the service, while patrons get a less expensive alternative to opening a checking account, if they don’t have one. As a library service, the cards may be a boon to people who don’t know that prepaid debit cards are even an option for storing money and paying for merchandise without a bank account” … “So far, Staley’s institution has issued 216 cards, but only 15 have been activated by their holders.”
  • Library Ireland Week 2014 – Open for Business - Library Association of Ireland (Eire). “The theme of this year’s Library Ireland Week is “Open for Business” focusing on the role of libraries in serving the business community and in supporting entrepreneurship, job skills and creation, innovation, and much more.”
  • Seriously though, how did the Most Beautiful Library in America get Demolished? - Messy Nessy (USA). Some beautiful (if not downright amazing) pictures of the old Cincinnati Library, demolished “without a whimper” in 1955.

UK local news by authority

“The challenge libraries faced, Mr Jones told the select committee, was to provide a statutory service that had a strong community attachment in a climate of declining use. The vision was for libraries, with around 1.7m visits a year, to be a network of hubs forming the face of the council in the heart of the community. “

  • Cardiff – Cardiff libraries in Whitchurch and Rhiwbina face possible funding cuts under new budget proposals - Wales Online. “Popular libraries in two of the capital’s suburbs could be under threat from new budget proposals being put forward by Cardiff Council. Removing funding from the libraries in Whitchurch and Rhiwbina and building a community hub at the library in Llandaff North is feared to be one of the options being considered by the local authority.”. Rumney: “More than 2,100 people have signed a petition calling for the library to remain open”
  • Cornwall – “Loop the Loop, St Ives was a series of events at St Ives library in Cornwall, inspired by books. Artist/filmmaker Joanna Mayes was in residence at St Ives library for two weeks and invited visitors to talk about books, film and how to process it with coffee! Jo then invited other artists to come down during the second week, providing drop-in activities, workshops and general mayhem and a great deal of fun ensued! See the Loop the Loop St Ives events for details of activities which took place there. Watch this space for links to film taken and processed by Jo and videos of work made by workshop participants.” … The second Loop the Loop library event will be in St Austell next week, including “ambient ukuleles”
    Cornwall – Leon Remphry, 10, hosting Falmouth debate over library opening hours being cut - West Briton. “A ten-year-old Falmouth lad is hosting his own debate with local politicians and authors as part of his campaign to save Cornwall’s libraries from reduced opening hours. Leon Remphry, who launched his Write to Read campaign in July, plans to debate with councillors at an event tomorrow. According to Leon, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet member for partnerships, Adam Paynter, and Conservative group leader Fiona Ferguson have confirmed they will attend, along with former librarian Derek Toyne and author Michael Morpurgo. Leon said: “These library cuts have to be stopped.”

“In October Axminster Library launched a Seed Library.   Seed Libraries are popular in the US and among horticultural societies in the UK but it is believed this is the first Seed Library in a public library in the UK.   Axminster has a population of 18,000. The library already has a community moth garden and the Seed Library seemed the next step.  The launch was also part of the Active Life, Active Mind initiative which takes place in all Devon Libraries in October and aims to promote well-being.

In the months prior to the launch borrowers were asked to donate seeds in a special Seed Library envelope, on which they wrote why they liked the plant and offered planting tips.  The seeds have then been ‘borrowed’ by other library users. We say ‘borrowed’ because we hope the seeds will be planted and once established, borrowers will be able to bring seeds back to the library.  There is a Seed Library catalogued that has to be regularly updated.  The Seed Library was launched by Will Livingstone, head gardener at River Cottage HQ, who are  enthusiastic and generous supporters of the Seed Library.

The launch had considerable national interest on Twitter.   In Devon so far three other libraries have expressed an interest in starting Seed Libraries, as has one library in Dorset.  As we develop the Seed Library we will need to work out whether libraries should have their own library or whether we have one central library that we all pool into. ” Devon - Axminster Seed Library (via email)

  • Lincolnshire – Greenwich Leisure Services back in the running to take over Lincolnshire’s libraries – Louth Leader. “Officers have recommended that the Executive Member for Libraries, Coun Nick Worth, formally accepts GLL’s expression as having met the criteria. Tony McGinty from the Community Right to Challenge Panel said: “If the panel’s recommendation is approved and GLL’s expression of interest is accepted as valid, the council will need to carry out a procurement exercise, which will probably lead to library services being put out to tender.” see also Lincolnshire libraries may be put out to tender after firm’s bid - Lincolnite. ““Because of the work involved in a tender process, it is likely to be at least a year before a final decision is reached.”
  • Monmouthshire – Techie award for Monmouthshire libraries – Alyson’s Welsh Libraries Blog. “The Carnegie UK Trust have just announced their first round of Library Lab funding recipients, and Claire Lewis from Monmouthshire Libraries has won one of the places for her ‘ideas garage’ proposed project. Claire is planning to create a community-led coding space in Chepstow Library (I think! This was refurbished with Welsh Government and Monmouthshire funding) which will be for people who want to gain and share skills and experience of coding, help them create and develop websites and games, and to increase their employability.”
  • North East Lincolnshire – Residents vote to put up precept to keep Laceby’s library open – Grimsby Telegraph. “Less than 100 villagers attended a public meeting, organised by Laceby Parish Council, at the Cooper Lane venue which houses the library and rooms used by community groups.” … “Chair of the parish council Martin Greenbeck told the meeting: “The closure of this building would be disastrous. “The fact that you people have taken the trouble to come along shows you are interested in keeping the building open. But we need to know how much you are willing to pay and who will volunteer to help run things if it is going to work.”
  • North Yorkshire – Fears over Skipton Library’s opening hours - Craven Herald and Pioneer. “With a planned ratio of 60 per cent paid staff and 40 per cent volunteers, the library could face a 40 per cent reduction in its opening hours without community help” … “roles would change to become more supervisory, overseeing the community libraries and assisting volunteers, who would be trained to carry out duties including meeting and greeting, shelving books and carrying out story telling. “

“Ms Blaisdale likened the future running of the library to the Citizens Advice Bureau, where a paid member of staff was in charge of a number of volunteers.”

  • Peterborough – Storytelling and book giveaway tour will launch new campaign to raise Peterborough’s literacy levels – Peterborough Council. “The National Literacy Trust has joined forces with Peterborough City Council with funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to launch a new scheme to boost literacy levels in Peterborough and improve the life chances and employability of the city’s residents.” … “The National Literacy Trust is addressing low literacy levels by setting up a ‘literacy hub’ in the city. Bringing together a range of exciting local partners including Stagecoach buses, Peterborough United Foundation, Axiom Housing, Cross Keys Housing, Peterborough Phantoms, Vivacity, Family Nursing Partnership and SureStore self storage,  the initiative will put  literacy on the agenda in Peterborough, extend the reach of literacy support and distribute books into the community. To celebrate the launch of the Peterborough Literacy Campaign, local storytellers, sports stars and campaign ambassadors will tour the city on a dedicated Stagecoach bus, delivering fun storytelling sessions and free books to children from 3 local schools and 3 local children’s centres across Peterborough.”
  • Southampton – Rose, 9, pleads with council to save Cobbett Road library in Bitterne Park – Daily Echo. “Rose Hickman called for Cobbett Road Library in Bitterne Park to stay open as she spoke at a full meeting of Southampton City Council yesterday. Speaking afterwards Rose said: “I would like them to not reduce hours or take away librarians and to keep it open.”
  • Sunderland – Council hails Sunderland library closure programme ‘a success’ - Sunderland Echo. “Readers in Sunderland are borrowing more books than before nine libraries were closed in a controversial move last year – council bosses said. A year on from the move, which was intended to save £850,000 a year and left Wearside with just 11 libraries, the closure scheme has been hailed a success by those in power.

“figures contained in a report to Sunderland City Council’s scrutiny committee, show the number of books being issued has risen from 673,568 last year, to 689,683 this year. It also says the number of community activities, including reading groups, rhyme times and knit and natter groups, have more than doubled.”

  • Swindon – Librarians insulted – Swindon Advertiser. “Many redundant librarians have several degrees and decades of experience, but now it seems anyone who fancies having a go just has to volunteer. Low-paid library staff too have lost their jobs. The Big Society in action! The plain truth is that over time volunteers will dwindle and the solution is unsustainable in the long term” see Volunteers insulted – Swindon Advertiser. “Just maybe the time has come for the Library Service to be put on the same level as Leisure Services that is to be put out to private contractors. Only then will the true value of what our volunteers have achieved be appreciated.”
Jacqueline Wilson surrenders

The pain in Spain falls mainly not as much as here on the library staff


I don’t know about you but I had Spain down as a country going through at least as much public service pain as we were. So I was surprised to see when I was there last week to speak at their public libraries conference, that, although they are indeed suffering cuts, things are different there.  For one thing, it looks to me like library staff are being retained while bookfunds are being slashed. Compare that to the attitude shown here recently, for instance in this recent quote from Leicestershire:

We understand these people are valuable but buildings, books or people and can’t cut books or computers. We have to cut the person.” Cllr Richard Blunt, cabinet member for libraries.

Well, that’s pretty blunt and that attitude shocked the heck the out of the Spanish when I told them about it.  To them, although there are some volunteer libraries in smaller places, they see the librarian as integral to the system, not as something easily replaced by the users.  There are other differences too, not least of which being that the conference was paid for by the State and not the professional association, keeping the attendance fee down to a mere 30 Euros for three days.  Because of that, there were over 200 public librarians there and the whole conference was about public libraries. To put that into context, the nearest thing to that we have in this country is the Umbrella conference which cost £340 plus VAT last year when it was in Manchester, with very very few public librarians being able to afford a place. So that’s a whole bunch of professional networking, best practice and learning just plain missing from the UK.

There were also other differences.  For one thing, amazing to me, there was until this year no Public Lending Right … and, my goodness, they’re annoyed about it.  The problem, you see, is that local library services have to pay it there rather than the painless national system. Which is not going well when there’s low budgets anyway and the fees payable can be pretty small and very fiddly.  A few were trying to work out the best way to avoid paying … which leads me on to yet another difference, which is the Spanish have a general distrust of the private sector with the assumption being that if a private company is doing State work then, probably, some corruption is involved. Another big difference, which is also the case in France, is that there a legal minimum price limit on books which means that books are expensive which means (bear with me) that libraries are (my theory any way) in more demand.  Finally, Spain is still building new libraries, although the new one I went too – with no self-service, big counters and an OPAC which (honest) had “OPAC” written on it – suggested to me state of the art here twenty years ago.  Mind you, before the more pro-techy of us get cocky, the Australian librarian I went around with pointed out that her libraries have moved beyond self-service machines now and have a fully mobile library system now.  Of that, perhaps more next post.



“Libraries are how people fall in love with books” Michael Morpurgo

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Pointless security sensors, Southampton cuts, Bromley cuts and Bolton cuts


It’s a bumper edition today due to not having reported for one week. The reason for this was a most worthwhile few days spent attending (and speaking at) the biennial Spanish national libraries conference.  There’s enough for about four different posts from my time there but the first I have already published, as a separate page, on the subject that apparently a lot of people know about but few have mentioned: the pointlessness in many libraries of having security sensors.  Experts have already given some feedback via the comments section of the page and via Twitter so you can be assured that it’s not just one man’s opinion.  Basically, it looks like most librarians agree with my view that security gates cost far more money than they save but, if you live in a high crime area and have expensive stock then they can be viable (or more than viable) as long as you have trained and motivated staff.  If, however, your staff (and be honest with yourselves here) are not then you’re basically wasting your money.  Which no one should these days … and it’s a world wide phenomenon because I’m getting lots of Australian librarians agreeing with me: isn’t social media wonderful? For the full page see Library security gates: why you should save money by not using them.

Big news this edition are cuts in both Bromley and Southampton, where the standard response to cuts of bringing in the volunteers is being made.  Bromley is perhaps more interesting as it is looking at alternatives, including outsourcing, to its current close relationship with the neighbouring borough of Bexley.  Another B, Bolton, also makes the news due to more information about its cuts, with ten people’s jobs being lost (you know, I’d really appreciate some research on what happens to these people) and a look at becoming a non-profit trust on the cards. I hope Bolton has chatted to its neighbour Wigan as they are looking to get rid of their own trust. Finally, a mention must be made of the Leicestershire councillor who has made it clear that bricks and mortar are more important to him than mere employees.  Nice. This, I should point out, is directly opposite to the response to cuts that I discovered in Spain, but of that more in a post soon.


“In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed” Germaine Greer

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For your information, there's a whole A to Z free to use

Liverpool, East Renfrewshire and an A to Z


Two significant events: the first is that the Mayor of Liverpool has declared that he can keep all his libraries open after all.  Budgets have been got from various places, there’ll be some co-locations, some opening hour cuts … but none will be closed. The Mayor points to the hard work of his council, the campaigners point to them not letting the council forget how important libraries are.  The answer, as always, probably lies somewhere in between. The second event is that, as if to put the damper on things, East Renfrewshire is going to go all English and force 6 of its 10 libraries to be volunteer or co-located or close.  Bet you wish you voted the other way in the referendum now, Scottish folks. And so the cycle starts all over again.

By the way, I’m in Spain the rest of this week, talking to Spanish librarians (and probably people on the plane – I do that, it’s annoying) about the situation there and here.  I expect to learn much and, if I’m very lucky, I will come back with different views (however slightly) than when I went. I’ll tell you about it on my return. Adios.


An interview with Gary Green about the Library A to Z project More >

The music they’re making in Manchester will be heard around the country


There’s been some major coverage of public libraries in the media over the last few days.  The Times and The Mail took up an article I wrote here a few days ago on the need for quiet study spaces in library, with the former publication devoting its third leader to it. The Mail evenwent so far as to say there was a “campaign” starting to restore hush to libraries, which I doubt. Just to make clear my position on this: I love loud and buzzing libraries and can do as loud a children’s story time as anyone but my article was also pointing out the unique selling point of libraries as quiet study spaces as well.  The challenge is to do both, not one or the other … and to let everyone know how fantastic and irreplaceable libraries are to boot.

As such, the Everything Everything residency at Manchester Central Library is already fantastically successful. Even the NME has covered it, for goodness sake, as has the Independent and the Guardian.  Moreover, Radio Six are devoting two whole weeks to the wonders of public libraries, including broadcasting from Manchester and the British Library. The whole thing promises to be a tremendous showcase for libraries and all involved should take a bow (just do it quietly if you’re in the domed reading room b).  Another showcase was the Jeremy Vine Show article on libraries on Friday.  Listen to that (especially the child … but well done to Ciara Eastell of the Society of Chief Libraries and Devon as well) to give you a boost all week.


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Now’s the time to do something for libraries: and there may never be a better opportunity


At the recent Westminster Media Forum on “Prospects for books, publishing and libraries”, several important statements were made that may well have a bearing on the future of public libraries:

  • William Sieghart gave some pretty big hints at the contents of the Government commissioned report on public libraries that he was tasked to writing.  Crucially, reports from the event say that he made clear that he does not consider volunteer-run libraries a long-term viable option.,
  • Ed Vaizey has had the report for a month and has not published it as yet.  Suggestions made to me include the possibility that it says things he does not want people to hear (e.g. on volunteers), especially as he has recently stated he is “not minded” to intervene in Sheffield where it is precisely that model that is being proposed.
  • Lord Tope said “I have to say, from a political point of view, the answer lies with all of us. Don’t let Government forget it. We have a general election coming up, and members of parliament are remarkably willing to listen when they come around. Use that opportunity”

All of this ties, in my mind at least, with the need for as many individuals and groups as possible to write to Ed Vaizey to argue against his “not minded” decision there.  The more letters the better and it does not matter where you come from.  Let him know why you think libraries are important and let him know the strength of your feeling.  Don’t just take my word for it. The Broomhill Library Action Group have written a letter asking this which I publish in full below and they’ve even typed a draft letter for you in case you don’t want to do one from scratch.  While you’re writing it (and you will, won’t you?), you may also wish to consider asking Ed Vaizey why he has not published the Sieghart Report yet.  Strangely, he has not replied to me on this subject.

A cut and paste template is provided, into which people can just insert their own name and library, or can alter as they please – emails need to be sent by 20 NOVEMBER 2014 to: Ministerial Support Team enquiries@culture.gsi.gov.uk.

Dear Library Supporter

You may have seen media reports about the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, conducting an inquiry into Sheffield City Council’s plans for public libraries. He has just issued a letter stating that he is ‘minded not to’ intervene but before he makes a final decision he wants to know what you think. The Minister has a duty, under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, to superintend library provision and to intervene if a council is failing to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” for all who want to use it.

The campaign group, Broomhill Library Action Group, have always maintained that the council’s plans result in a service that does not meet these requirements. We presented many arguments, backed up with data, to support our claim. Nonetheless the Minister has chosen to disregard our evidence, and has sent a letter saying that he is “not currently minded” to intervene

In the past, nine other library campaign groups from around the country have tried to get the Minister to intervene. He has rejected all of these. In fact, we are only one of at least 10 library groups across the country for whom he has similarly failed to intervene. We believe that the Minister is not only wrong, but that ultimately we need to persuade him he is wrong.

The Minister has asked for further representations to be presented by 20 November 2014. We are therefore asking as many people as possible to write to the Minister, and to tell him to organise an inquiry to protect this valuable service. We need you to state your support for an ongoing ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service in Sheffield.

A cut and paste template is provided via this link, into which people can just insert their own name and library, or can alter as they please.  E-mails need to be sent to: Ministerial Support Team. Please send it on to all your friends to complete.

Thank you.

Broomhill Library Action Group


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Other library authorities were a bit Miffed

Briefing 4th November


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Ed Vaizey “not minded” to intervene in Sheffield


To few people’s surprise, Ed Vaizey, the minister technically responsible for libraries, has said that he is “not minded” to intervene in the proposed cuts in Sheffield.  The council there has proposed to reduce council libraries to one central library and eleven “hub” libraries.  These “hubs” are to be open only 31 hours per wee which, for a city of over half a million people,  is not much.  It had been hoped by campaigners that Ed, normally a by-word for inaction, would wish to intervene in order to embarrass the Labour-run council and possibly also cock a snook at Nick Clegg, whose constituency is in the town.  However, it looks like this is not to be.  If one was of suspicious mind, one could even think that the surprise decision by Ed to look into Sheffield in the first place was simply to show that he was doing his superintendence of local library service, statutory under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, properly and therefore could not be taken to court himself.  I, for one, am sure that he does not consider such base motives … well, probably not consciously.  He probably has legal advisors for that sort of thing, anyway.

Key points and related articles on the decision are below.

  • Representations can still be made to Ed Vaizey on this issue until 5pm 20th November.
  • Ed argues that the availability of resources is “highly material” to what is acceptable as library provision. Therefore, the definition of what is “comprehensive and efficient” is effectively at least semi-elastic, depending on what finances the council chooses to put in.  Being the minister makes it clear that he believes it is up to the local council to decide on how best to divide up resources and provide services, this therefore effectively severely limits any possible application of the 1964 Act.
  • Ignores volunteer libraries because 11 “hub” libraries (open only 31 hours per week) and one central library is enough to provide a comprehensive and efficient service.  Considering that Sheffield has a population of 551,800, this therefore means that one library open 31 hours per week (plus one central library) per 46000 people is considered adequate.  Opening hours per 1000 population under this new dispensation would be, roughly by my quick calculations, 37 (number of aggregate openings hours in one year divided by 1000 population).  It’s interesting to note that this compares to 128 being the target in the Library Standards of 2001. Ed is therefore willing to approve opening hours 3.5 times lower than his predecessor set as a target just over ten years ago.
  • He considers that the consultations and needs assessment were undertaken properly and were genuine.

“The Secretary of State is of the view that a comprehensive service does not mean that every resident must live close to a library. He also notes that the Home Library service is being retained and expanded through a combination of paid SCC staff and volunteers to enable those who are unable to visit a library to access library materials.”

  • Assumes that low expenditure per 1000 population compared to other comparator authorities shows it is “efficient”.


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Judicial Re … phew.


Judicial reviews are a key part of the library campaigner arsenal, even if they may be viewed with dread by senior council staff. To my view, the threat of a review keep, at a basic level, councils honest.  Sometimes, councils, especially in the safest of safe seats (although, admittedly, the rise of UKIP is throwing all this into doubt) can look like an elective dictatorship rather than a democracy.  In a world of hands off central government (well, apart form brutally cutting budgets and then saying “go play”), the judicial review can be the only real way that the public can intervene in council decisions.  It makes sure that councils abide by the letter (if not the spirit) of the law and it means that consultations, just occasionally, are consultations rather than merely a way of telling the public what is going to happen.  It also means that several library services have, to a greater or lesser extent, been saved from the most over dramatic of cuts.  It is therefore good news that the House of Lords has thrown out Grayling’s (he of the ban on books in prison) attempt to severely restrict judicial reviews.  Long live democracy, even if it occasionally has to be saved by peers.

A lot of changes today, including the announcement of cuts at Bristol, Denibighshire, Gateshead and Hartlepool. Suffolk, very much the flavour of the month (possibly the year) in UK library circles bucks the depression with an ACE grant and a new business centre.  Success breeds success and Suffolk is gaining from that.  The aim must be for all of the sector to do the same, with William Sieghart expected to publish his report over the next month or so (and expected to laud Suffolk to the rafters) we can hope to share some of the pixie dust.  In the meantime, read the “ode to libraries” by Wendy Maddour.


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Copyright (creative commons): Christchurch City Libraries

Quiet, please? Why shushing may not be a thing of the past


Should we? Image from Christchurch City Libraries Flickr

Should we?
Image from Christchurch City Libraries Flickr

My thoughts on the importance placed by the audience at the Battle of Ideas debate on quiet in libraries is continuing to receive replies and comment.  Public librarians, perhaps in reaction to the  old stereotypical “shush” image, have sometimes gone out of their way to be louder and more energetic and, in doing so, have alienated some of its clientele an core audience.  Now, don’t get me wrong, noise is not a bad thing. I love going into a library with a buzz, where children are being entertained, adults are talking about books and staff are helping customers.  To my mind, it’s a sign of a healthy environment, let alone I suspect a great way of introducing children (and parents?) to the joy of books.

However, it may need to be counterbalanced with one of the few remaining unique selling points that libraries should have: that of quiet.  Now, bear in mind that there’s very little absence of noise in our lives.  I live in a house where the TV is on all the time, children are often shouting (in a happy way; well, most of the time) and ipads and radios are blaring.  This afternoon, I had to move myself into another room to read a book (“Catastrophe” by Max Hastings, by the way: recommended).  Now, what if I did not have another room?  I could go to a coffee shop but that costs money and people have an annoying habit of chatting in there as well. What if it wasn’t leisure reading but study?  Then the library is, or should be, the only haven left for many people. But if I do go into one then the odds are there’ll be loud conversation going on in there, if not outright song.  By discarding the gift of quiet too easily, can it be that  libraries are making themselves vulnerable to criticism from those who don’t use it for any other purpose?  By those who have all the books they want, have Google and no social welfare needs … but crave quiet? To put it another way, by taking over the feeling of the community centre, public libraries may be opening themselves up to closure by those who point out that we already have community centres.

Now, the problem here is for many libraries that of size.  It’s easy for the excellent Manchester Central Library to have a quiet study area, although it is perhaps instructive that its wonderfully restored circular reading room has its silence safeguarded not by library staff but by its hundreds of jealously hushing students. It’s a lot harder for a smaller library, perhaps consisting only of one large (or even not so large) room.  The solution here – and it’s an old one – is to have different uses at different parts of the day.  Get that loud rhymetime out of the way early and then have a quiet atmosphere for the rest of the time until the schools come out.  Advertise quiet times as such.  Start off as one day a week, publicise it (the newspapers will love this, won’t they? Your more reactionary councillors may as well) and see how it goes.  You never know, you may – after putting up with the singing “wind the bobbin up” for the nth time in the morning, secretly relish the forbidden pleasure of saying “shush” in the afternoon?  You know you sometimes want to. Now you have a business case for it as well.

“I worked in public libraries until last year and there was no attempt to maintain a balance between what I characterise as the “Rhyme-time model” and the needs of users (often young people revising or doing academic course work) who valued a quiet space which they couldn’t necessarily find at home. The fact that the noise of children’s activities drove out other users was seen as a positive and the complainants denigrated as old fogeys and definitely not our target audience – the same staff who drive away bookish teenagers by emptying teen sections of books and replacing them with vending machines and uncomfortable orange and purple furniture, which they describe as ‘groovy’ without any sense of irony. Incidentally, I’ve never seen any evidence that a mic-ed up staff member enjoying herself singing and shouting with a group of mothers (and nannies) with pre-school children translates into a lifetime’s use of public libraries by those young children. Why would it?

Our enthusiasm for being customer-led is very selective. But as you say, it should be possible in most libraries to maintain a balance, without veering over to the silent halls of high culture model. One of the key points that celebrity defenders of libraries nearly always make is that libraries represent an oasis of quiet away from piped music, mobile phone conversations etc. which shows that they don’t actually use public libraries but for many that is one f the USPs and the audience at the debate seems to have reflected that view” Kevin Jewell by email

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