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“Little Frees”, biases, and Facts Matter.

Editorial

Community book-exchanges in phone boxes or, in the case of Little Free Libraries, what appear to be big bird-boxes, get four mentions today.  Two are about repurposed phone boxes and the other two are from a serious study of the subject.  I tend to see Little Frees as fairly harmless myself and possibly even something to be co-opted by putting advertising in them for the local public library. That’s not the view of those writing the article and I’d recommend reading The Trouble With Twee for their alternative take.

It’s sad to see that Northern Ireland is facing further cuts to its library service, although one should point out that there are many English library services that would be envious at a mere 17% cut in the last four years. It’s also interesting to see a private donation of £15,000 made in Bury. Perhaps philanthropism may keep a few libraries open at all then, but I still have difficulty seeing it as something which will have an important influence on the sector, other than as will-o’-the-wisp austerity whip in order to beat “unimaginative” public libraries who have failed to obtain any.

Finally, the Libraries Taskforce for England is having to go into purdah until the General Election, other than for running a couple of training sessions on income-generating. So there’s going to be no blogs from that source for two months. This also serves as a reminder that the Taskforce is not, and cannot, be independent and like any such source (and I’m not immune either as PLN takes advertising – see one below, which I’ve helpfully labelled for you) note needs to be made of that. Not that I need tell many of you that, as librarians know to be aware of biases and look to the underlying facts but that’s not true of everyone. So it’s great to see that CILIP [PLN bias warning again – don’t trust anyone –  I’m speaking at their conference] are on the case of publicising the library role in spreading trusty information with their “Facts Matter” campaign soon to hit, hopefully, a politician near you.

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National news

  • Anyone with a problem they can’t solve heads for my library – Guardian. “One of the joys of working here is that I feel as if I’m at the heart of my local area. Despite the difference in my duties – I deal with loans, returns and enquiries – it reminds me of having been a barmaid. And of my stint as a church elder. ” … “Despite not having the latest bestsellers we’re busier than ever. The services we provide may be getting pared away, but other organisations have been pruned even more severely. Citizens Advice, once around the corner, closed its doors years ago. The council’s neighbourhood office, where people could go for help, shut more recently. The police station just down the road is no longer open to the public. So anyone with a problem they can’t solve heads for the library. “
  • CILIP announces ‘Facts Matter’ campaign for 2017 General Election – CILIP. “#FactsMatter will launch on the 1st May and run concurrently with the 2017 General Election campaign. Throughout the campaign, CILIP will call on politicians and public figures to promote the need for evidence-based decision-making as a foundation of a strong, inclusive and democratic society. ” … “The campaign will enlist the support of the profession, encouraging librarians, information and knowledge managers and data professionals to share examples of how they deliver quality information and evidence to support their organisation, company or community. “

“We need every information professional to pick up the #FactsMatter message and share it with their community. From May 1st, we will be launching a campaign hub, including downloadable resources, graphics and case studies to support our key messages. We want you to use the #FactsMatter hashtag to share examples of facts that you have provided that have made a real difference to your company, community or organisation. “

  • Dataset – Call to Cilip & SCL – Leon’s Library Blog. “it’s become obvious that the Libraries Taskforce is not the vehicle for collecting and distributing data for and about public libraries. Despite the best of intentions as a body it is too susceptible to interference, including having to scale back it’s activities during the pre-election period.” … “the library profession itself needs to take responsibility for gathering and distributing data around public libraries, without reliance on politically controlled bodies, and for making such data as widely accessible as possible” … “we have both the CEO of Cilip and President of the SCL agreeing that a more accurate picture of libraries is needed”

“I ask that a wide range of individuals and interested parties with the necessary expertise and/or professional credibility to gain the confidence of the profession, public, and campaigners be involved. I urge Cilip and SCL not to rely only on the input of the same bodies that have so far failed to deliver objective and credible data”

  • Pre-election period – how we will communicate – Taskforce. “. Our work will continue through the pre-election period. We just won’t be talking about it as much in the run-up to the election”. Surveys and sessions on income generation/alternative funding will continue.
  • Talking fiction? Research reveals our reading habits and hang-ups – World Book Night. “The survey, commissioned to mark World Book Night on Sunday 23 April, suggests huge numbers of us are hankering after more reading time, but busy lives are getting in the way. Many Brits would read more if they received book recommendations from friends and family, while others will readily stretch the truth about the books they’ve read, in order to impress.”
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International news

  • Canada – Library dog – CTV. Law Library allows students to take a Labrador for a walk by signing it out of the library.
  • Canada – Morgan ‘to review the library funding issue’ – Star Phoenix. Saskatchewan state government reviewing deep cuts to libraries in what was seen as an unpopular move. Critic says This was a $3.5 million consequence that was done without consultation,” …“If there is a second thought, then I am glad to hear it, but this is something that should have been done before the budget.””
  • Canada / USA – Little Free Libraries®: Interrogating the impact of the branded book exchange – Journal of Radical Librarianship. “In this article, we critique the phenomenon of Little Free Libraries® (LFL®), the non-profit organization dedicated to sharing books with one’s neighbours. Through our engagement with the discourses, narratives and geographies of the LFL® movement, we argue that the organization represents the corporatization of literary philanthropy, and is an active participant in the civic crowdfunding activities of the non-profit industrial complex” see also The Trouble With Twee Open Shelf – by one of the same authors.
  • USA – ALA is leading the charge for libraries in Washington – ALA. Organisation and librarians lobby Congress to save funding.
  • USA – Fewer Americans Are Visiting Local Libraries—and Technology Isn’t to Blame – Atlantic. “there’s empirical evidence that usage tracks investment. If libraries receive more public funds, more people use them. And if governments invest less in its libraries (as they have since 2009), fewer people visit—though the drop in visits from disinvestment isn’t as strong as the rise from investment would be. The correlation between investment and use makes sense. If libraries have more funds, they can have more staff, more classes, more copies of the latest bestseller, and—maybe most importantly—longer hours. Yet at the same time, people are so eager to use the library that they make time to visit even when hours have been shortened and collections have shrunk.”
  • USA – Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria – Atlantic. Google have digitised every book but were stopped allowing the public to use it due to copyright issues. How did it do it, why was it stopped and what has happened to it?

Local news by authority

  • Bath and North East Somerset – Please re-open Bath Central Library exhibition room – Bath Chronicle / Letters. “Back in November 2016 staff were instructed to take no further room bookings as it was going to be used for building works in January for a temporary library ahead of library changing it’s location. In February these plans were put on in definite hold pending a second in depth consultation.”
  • Bradford – New warning issued about austerity’s likely impact on communities in the Worth Valley – Keighley News. “Burley in Wharfedale Parish Council have taken on the running of public toilets, a library and are also part way towards taking on a community hall. They have over 40 volunteers. “
  • Bury – Anonymous benefactor donates £15,000 to help keep Tottington Library open – Bury Times. “Friends of Tottington Library has received £15,000 from a donor, nearly three quarters of the total the group needs to run the library in Market Street. Bury Council will stop all funding for at least 10 and possibly 11 libraries across the borough, definitely including Tottington, from August 1 as part of its libraries review. But the group believes it is possible to keep the library open and for the building to continue to operate as a community centre, which also acts as a meeting place for more than 20 activity groups.”
  • Dorset – ‘It is just not what Dorchester is all about and it is bringing down the town': Anti-social behaviour becoming ‘concerning and noticeable’ problem – Dorset Echo. “Since the beginning of February there have been nine reported incidents around the library on Charles Street.” … “This behaviour is intimidating for the staff and people using the venue and Dorchester neighbourhood policing team is working very closely with the library and other venues that are being impacted by these youths.””
  • Dumfries and Galloway – Crossmichael phone box takes on new life as a library – BBC. Group puts book on old telephone box, calls it a library.
  • Hertfordshire – Wheathampstead library takes great step forward – Herts Advertiser. “I am delighted with the response from the village with more than 70 people attending the meeting and more people signing up to volunteer, which makes us all optimistic about our library’s future, as it is a precious community facility.” The meeting was held in the run-up to the reopening of the library as a community-run amenity in September.”
  • Kingston – A new chapter for Tudor Drive Library – Richmond and Twickenham Times. “A new chapter for Tudor Drive Library: Housing development facilitates an extension to popular reading room. Tudor Drive Library, located to the west of Richmond Park, is set to receive a new extension this autumn with work starting on site at the end of April, thanks to support from Berkeley Homes. The extension will create a new space for the community and complement the refurbishment work already being undertaken by Kingston Council of the current building. Berkeley Homes’ funding will facilitate the addition of a purpose-built hall to the library, which is one of the Royal Borough of Kingston’s most successful reading rooms, providing a flexible community space for activities including talks on local history, reading groups and events for children and families.”
  • Northern Ireland – Union chief slams MLAs over fresh library cuts – Belfast Telegraph. “Paddy Mackel blamed the measures, which will see opening hours reduced, on the failure to restore the Assembly and said MLAs appeared to care little for the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. Libraries NI is already dealing with a £1.5m reduction of its budget in the current financial year, on top of earlier bet-tightening initiatives. The fresh round of cuts will mean fewer staff and fewer new books, even though library usage, particularly among young people, appears to be increasing” … “There have been reports that Libraries NI will spread the cuts across all its operations, meaning up to £500,000 less may be spent on books and other stock. Staffing costs could also be squeezed by £650,000.” see also Political Parties To Blame For Failure Of Libraries – 4NI. “The union has reacted angrily to the news that the baseline budget to Libraries NI will be cut by a further 5% this year, pointing the finger of blame firmly at the political parties” and Cuts to library stock and opening hours – BBC.
  • Plymouth – Library campaigners stage 14-hour reading protest in Plymouth – Plymouth Herald. “Dozens of library users took part in a 14-hour protest outside council headquarters – armed only with two chairs and a collection of books. The ‘dawn to dusk’ reading relay, opposing plans to close ten Plymouth libraries, ran from 6am to 8pm outside the Council House on Wednesday. Participants took it in turns to sit quietly and read their books for 30 minute slots.”
  • St Helens – Commissioning libraries to improve public health – NCVO. “In 2015, as part of Cultural Hubs, Public Health commissioned a 12-month pilot Arts on Prescription programme, through the Alef Trust. The programme exceeded expectations in all areas and a second programme has been commissioned.”
  • Sheffield – Saving our library was the start of a new chapter – Star. “Volunteers joined together when Frecheville library faced closure and now, thanks to their ongoing efforts, it’s a hub of community activity…” … “A Sheffield library which faced closure three years ago has a bright future, thanks to a dedicated group of passionate volunteers.” … “The group has grown to include 34 volunteers who give up their time each week.” … “Knitting groups and yoga classes take place alongside the bookshelves. Seniors meet to get to grips with computers and children build things with Lego.” … “The self-funded library relies on community donations and four annual fundraisers to keep it going – the recent Spring Fair raised £500.”. Public toilet.
  • South Tyneside – South Shields’ The Word wins four gongs at building awards – Shields Gazette. “The Word in South Shields scooped four awards at the 2017 RICS Awards, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, competing against 50 of the North East’s most impressive and community beneficial property schemes” … “Since opening in October last year, The Word, part of first phase of the £100m South Shields regeneration masterplan, has allowed South Tyneside Council to create a varied calendar of exhibitions, workshops and events with national appeal, encouraging new visitors to the town and boosting the local economy” …”We always knew that it was going to be a fantastic asset to the Borough and more than 200,000 local residents and visitors from further afield have already seen for themselves what an outstanding facility this is”
  • Warwickshire – Frankton making the most of phone box – Rugby Advertiser. Parish council puts book on old telephone box, calls it a library.
  • West Dunbartonshire – Former Ladyton Library edging towards new future as dance school – Dunbarton Reporter. “The new tenants on the site of the former Ladyton Library have revealed their plans to use the site to create a new dance school business.”

 

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Not the choice I would have gone with: General Election 2017

Editorial

So, we have another General Election coming up. It’s not unexpected and Theresa May would have been a fool to turn down such a chance to pile on more seats. But what does it mean for libraries?  Well, it almost certainly means a non-stop solid Conservative majority until 2021.  Whereas before there was a chance of a few MPs making a difference, and thus a need to care about smaller issues, this now seems unlikely. Marginal issues – and sadly libraries are most definitely this on a national stage that will be dominated by Brexit and its fallout – can therefore be ignored in the cabinet battles to come, and likely will be. Again assuming a Conservative victory this will mean a continued reduction in council funding and a desire to seek out “alternative” sources for funding such as volunteers, trusts and (perhaps the most vain hope of all) philanthropy.

I was asked recently to say which of the contending political parties would best serve library interests. You know which ones that would be. But forget them. That’s not who you will be getting, except perhaps if you live in Hamilton or elsewhere in Scotland. (and if they break away, it’s going to be rightwing governments south of the border for the foreseeable).  Make an accommodation to that fact now. Work out how to best position libraries in the continuing austerity environment they will surely stay in.  The library sector has so far attempted a Jack Of All Trades approach to proving its worth to government by claiming to be able to help with multiple agendas. I’m not sure if that’s the choice I would have gone with to help libraries stay alive. Rather, I would go with talking more but smiling less. To me, a clear message, a simple one would have been better. After all, if the public are not sure what you stand for, they will fall for anything.

Oh, and by the way, while I’m being depressed and cynical, I see a lot being written about the importance of public libraries to provide neutral and unbiased information and how useful that is at election time. But that’s not what is happening on the ground. Most libraries last year did not make a thing of having all the manifestoes and I’m not aware of a single one that offered a fact checking service. I doubt very much that will change in this one. But, please, surprise me. Don’t throw away this shot.*

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The USA spends twice the amount the UK does per head on public libraries.

Editorial

I hope you all had a pleasant bank holiday weekend.  There’s been an interesting variety of new over the last few days, with no stand-out big stories. The Libraries Taskforce are continuing to meet and progress, although at a speed which is unlikely to endear them to campaigners. The importance of parish councils to funding – something I’ve noticed for a while now after having a tip-off from someone – is mentioned in the Guardian, as is the importance of libraries to social cohesion. Abroad, the ineptness of the Trump administration continues to grate, but the responses to it – and to the challenges to libraries in other English-speaking countries – repay careful study. And, by the way, it’s worth noting that the USA spends twice the amount on libraries per capita than the UK. It’s interesting that the uber-capitalist Americans, who can’t even cope with the idea of a proper universal healthcare system, seem to so value their libraries which, by the way, have seen increases in use in recent years.

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Libraries Minister “Minded to intervene” in Lancashire.

Editorial

So, this could be a major landmark. The libraries minister Rob Wilson has said in an official letter to Lancashire County Council that his boss, Culture Secretary of State Karen Bradley is minded to hold a public inquiry into how Lancashire decided to cut its library service. This is where Lancashire decided to close 29 libraries from an original number of 73. The council has until 9th June to convince her to move to the council’s side on the following points:

  • The council failed to treat its own consultation seriously and had, in fact, already made up its own mind.
  • The council failed to consider all possible alternative methods of saving money. Considerable emphasis is put in the letter for the option of Mutuals,.
  • The council was not clear enough as to which libraries were under threat.
  • The council did not carry out sufficient research into how this would affect the disadvantaged or future trends.

The significance of this now is:

  • This is the first time the current, or previous coalition, government has issued a “minded to” letter. Before, the Government, under the laissez-faire Ed Vaizey, always considered cuts to libraries, no matter how deep or forced, as acceptable.
  • The council will have to consider the possibility that it will be forced to reverse all of its actions. Being it has already passed control, or put on sale, multiple sites, and made many staff redundant, this is quite the headache. The council may well therefore put any further transfers on hold while a decision is taken. Or it may call the minister’s bluff and carry on regardless, daring the minister to be anything other than the paper tiger he is normally seen as being since Ed Vaizey made the speak-softly-and-go-unarmed role his own in 2010.
  • The Conservatives look tough just in time for the local elections on 4th May. And, of course, they can then rescind the decision in June, once they have won the votes.

The significance of this if the government does run an inquiry is:

  • The DCMS ceases being a toothless laughing stock amongst cutting councils and starts being taken seriously.
  • All councils will start genuinely consulting and looking at alternatives, rather than that being the happy exception.
  • Mutuals are likely to become (even) more popular.
  • Councils may look elsewhere to cut before libraries.
  • The principle of Localism – where (in my somewhat cynical view, admittedly) government makes the big headline cuts and give councils the freedom to cut what they like in response – takes a bit of a tumble.

The last two inquiries, by the way, were Wirral in 2009 and Derbyshire in 1991, so they’re not exactly common. Both, interestingly, ended up being local inquiries, paid for by the councils concerned, in order to avoid the ignominy of the Government Inspector.

So, interesting times. But at least hopeful ones, if a little late for Lancashire.

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Front page of the Shining a Light report

Shining a light on public libraries in the UK? Carnegie reports.

Editorial

The new “Shining a light” report by Carnegie UK has just been released. As you can see, it dominated media mentions of public libraries, with much of it being positive, which is great. I wrote a blog post for Carnegie on the subject so I won’t go into detail here, other than saying I’d be delighted to hear and read your views.

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  • Elder in Residence – A community figure helping public library users be more aware of a minority.

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Autism-friendly does not mean having a book on the subject on a shelf

Editorial

I remember the days when I thought that a dementia-and-autism-friendly library meant having a book on both subjects available for lending. Thankfully, with the help of dementia friends and autism-friendly libraries, those days have gone. Hopefully, all library staff will soon understand what the conditions mean and how to best serve those with them and that every library will have a social story to help their usage. However, it needs to be that everyone working in those buildings understands the training. The story of the security guard from the private company who expelled a parent reading loudly to his autistic daughter needs to become one of those shocking tales of how things were in the past, like workhouses. This also needs extending to volunteers. Speaking of which, last weekend marked the start of many North Yorkshire libraries becoming fully volunteer. What that means to the community, and to the staff who have had to see it happen, can only be guessed at but this heart-rending article in the Big Issue perhaps gives a clue.

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£150k for health and wellbeing from Carnegie and Wellcome

Editorial

It’s good to see some funding from Carnegie and Wellcome for public library projects being announced.  I’m pleased to see too that it is about health and wellbeing. The Taskforce are also keeping up their impressive article production by publishing a couple more posts, both of which may be useful if they have backing from the Minister. By the way, I’d also like to note that New South Wales has just invested the pro rata equivalent of £17m in their public libraries. That puts the rushed £3 million from the Government that’s just been doled out in perspective and, sadly, also the £150k from Carnegie/Wellcome. However, there’s some more time, at least, with these to do it right.  And, if you don’t have time, library services should start keeping a couple of ideas / bids (proto-bids?) to one side for next time. With any luck, more will come along. Although not as many as in Australlia.

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Big protests in Lambeth and Bath, and Billy “No-Mates” Dataset

Editorial

Some more fall-out from the release of the abbreviated mailing list, er, sorry, dataset of English public libraries today – no-one is impressed and, I mean, no-one – but also there were a couple of big protests this weekend in Lambeth and Bath. I know Bath, I worked as a library trainee there back in the 1990s. It’s not a hotbed of political discontent. To get a big protest there is going some. So, well done to Bath and North East Somerset Council, I guess,  for mishandling the situation so terribly that there was a sit-down protest involving hundreds in the town-centre there. Doing wonders for political activism there.

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The weirdly limited information world of public libraries

Editorial

The news is dominated by two releases from the DCMS / Libraries Taskforce. Both are useful, welcome and flawed.

The first set of releases are all about the process of moving library services away from direct council control and towards being non-profits. The libraries minister is clearly invested in this, as his video to a “masterclass” on the subject showed, and you can expect to see this as part of a concerted push to there being more library trusts in the future. There are case studies from library trusts who have gone through the process with fairly detailed guides on how to check if such a move would be good for the particular part of the country you are in. While honest and open, sadly, these reports would not be approved by a scientific journal as the writers of them are the trusts themselves, who would be foolish to criticise their own actions, not least because the four in question have now formed a service to sell their expertise on the subject to hopefuls. As such, one can only consider them as the “pro” part of any diligent survey on whether you should change to a trust. No-one, of course, is being encouraged or paid, to do the “con” part. Which is a shame because I actually quite like library trusts but I think all options need to be deeply looked at, and biases or gaps in the data (however unconscious) will not help clear decision-making.

Speaking of biases and gaps, the second set of releases is all about the much-heralded and delayed new “dataset” for English public libraries. The new file presents a list of all the library buildings reported by councils in July last year. It simply contains the name of the branch, address and contact email. This is the very minimum that one could expect and represents no improvement (other than an updating) over the last dataset released in 2012. Well, except that one covered all of the UK. There are strong hopes that this one, at least, will be updated and there are fairly ambitious plans to expand it into something more than a direct mailing list. However, it took ages (remember this data is nine months old) to get even this sorted and I imagine there are all sorts of strong local and national pressures to limit the release of anything, well, embarrassing … almost as if the decline of the library service due to budget cuts is somehow a secret. For any sector this is embarrassing, but for one which pretends to deal with information, this is bordering on the humiliating, as the image capture of the “no data” screen below shows. It’s not a pipe dream – the Netherlands has managed it but, as the Dutch discovered, it needs to be done over the protests of senior managers, be they public librarians (at least officially) dedicated to free information or their seniors, who may not like others really seeing how they’re doing.

Finally, thank you for all your kind comments about my previous post on the end of the tri-borough experiment and what it means to merging of library services.  LibrariesWest have quite rightly been in touch to point out they’re doing a very nice combined service in the South West, thank you, although not to the depth of the erstwhile London scheme.  For a list of all such partnerships I know about – see this nicely open and freely available list . Do you see how useful that is, library chiefs? Just think if all data was available that way. Think of the wonders that could be achieved. Stop thinking of worst case scenarios. Because you’re in one. Start thinking of ways out.

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Goodbye Tri-borough, but there’s a way different parties are still combining library services

Editorial

I’ve seen many people argue for the combining of library services across council boundaries in order to save money.  And, indeed, 151 library services just for England does seem a tad excessive. The Tri-borough (*deep breath*: Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster) has been held up as a great example of how this can work, with the three councils combining many different services, including libraries. Here’s an article from 2012 describing how well it was working. However, sadly, the BBC reports today that the partnership is ending in a divorce where the warring councils are each accusing the other of insincerity. So, why? Well, Hammersmith claims it was losing from the deal. Which may be true, but I suspect the real reason is that in 2014, Hammersmith became Labour controlled and the other two remained Conservative and it’s taken this long for it all to unravel. Imagine how much fun the councillor meetings between them must have been until they’ve finally now decided to go their separate ways.

Reality has a rich sense of irony sometimes as, on the same day, Bournemouth has confirmed it will combine its library services with Poole. Both councils are Conservative controlled so they may have a chance, for now. But I suggest buying the popcorn and settling down in a comfortable chair to watch if one of the two councils changes party control. However, I understand all of Dorset is looking to go unitary so that could solve that one.

So does that cast a shadow on combining library services? Well, there may be a way for councils of all stripes to happily share control. That magic partnering option is outsourcing.  The non-profit leisure trust GLL currently run Greenwich (Labour), Wandsworth (Conservative) and Lincolnshire (No overall control, Conservative leader) libraries, are doing things with combined gyms and libraries in Lambeth (Labour), will soon be taking over Dudley (No overall control, Labour leader) and are trying for Bromley (Conservative). That’s what I know of but I’m sure there’s more. I suspect GLL gain all sorts of economies of scale from this, and so in this age that weirdly combines localism and austerity, they may be the closest we have to combining library services. Albeit at one remove and almost by stealth.

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