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Libraries represent value, not cost … and cuts to them are not “savings”

Editorial

It’s always a little jarring when I see what is blatantly a budget cut in a library service described as a saving.  Middlesbrough are the latest to do this, saying that they will “save” £100,000 but halving the bookfund.  I’ve just googled saving and one of the definitions is “preventing waste of a particular resource”.  Since when was spending on books a waste? It’s a dangerous use of the language that concentrates on the cost of everything and the value of nothing.  It lays open every service, from libraries to roads to hospitals, to more and more cutting in the name of efficiency until there’s nothing left.  I have always used the word “cut” instead of “saving” in my summaries of changes to library budgets unless there is clear evidence that the reduction in budget has reduced waste.  But I don’t see much of that nowadays.  What I’m seeing now are cuts to services, to the good and to the value that services such as libraries add to their communities, almost every day.  It’s dangerous when the language changes to hide the reality … and that’s what the word “saving” is so often intended to do.  The indefatigable library campaigner Shirley Burnham has also, by coincidence, recently emailed me on the subject (to do with especially egregious descriptions of cuts in Leeds) and so I will leave her the last word:

Have you noticed the very negative language applied to Public Libraries nowadays?  Libraries require a ‘solution’, as if they are an epidemic that threatens public health.   It is considered that they must be closed, modified out of all recognition, taken out of statutory control, lose their paid staff and/or have their opening hours cut.  Not invested in, improved and made the backbone of their community.  So – any dismay that is voiced by politicians about a decline in library usage and  any rhetoric admitting that, albeit, they are ‘much loved’ – seems insincere.

Whilst cutting opening times is seen as less controversial – a lesser evil than mass closures – such cuts can only be harbingers of future closures.  They make each affected library less sustainable, leaving it vulnerable to the next round of cuts.  Then “bingo” your ‘much-loved’ library has gone, along with your access to the public computers you need to seek a job or apply for your benefits, etc. let alone access to information, expert assistance and the pure pleasure of browsing the shelves. I see two divergent views of your branch libraries.  Are they simply a drain on Leeds’s meagre financial resources, or are they  potentially a focal point for revitalising the city?

We should talk about them as our long-term investment in learning, skills and young people.  People deserve nothing less than good quality Public Libraries that are “open”!  The negative mindset and vocabulary of those in charge must change!”  Shirley Burnham

Changes

National

  • Hospital volunteers ‘should get £200 off their council tax’ – Express. “The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, has called on the government to provide money for local authorities to reward hard-working volunteers with council tax discounts. This could include a 10 per cent cut in their council tax bill, worth up to £200 a year. Volunteers, for example, could help in libraries, youth clubs or care for the elderly.
  • How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel - Amazon / Wendy Meddour. “Rapunzel sits on the sixteenth floor of an inner city block, bored, dreaming and looking out at the rain.  No one can rouse her from her apathy, not the milkman or the postman or the baker or her aunt – or even the prince. But when at last a letter is delivered, it contains news that has Rapunzel on her feet again. She has a new job at the library! And suddenly her life is busy, sparkling, exciting and stimulating. “For despite her long hair and her ravishing looks, she loved nothing better than reading good books!””  
  • It is time for a public library example of augmented reality – CILIP Blog / Liz McGettigan. “It is time for a public library example of augmented reality. The Reading Agency’s “2014 Summer Reading Challenge” was a first! At the heart of the Summer Reading Challenge is the crucial goal of trying to encourage more children to read and to improve their literacy skills. It was an innovative collaboration between us at SOLUS and The Reading Agency that aimed to excite and engage children across the UK and hopefully attract many more children into libraries in the summer months.”
  • Libraries: “vital role” in Wales says review - Alyson’s Welsh Libraries Blog. “One of the key messages I read in the report is one of partnership, collaboration and joint working. Here in Wales we’ve always got on well together and hopefully the future for Welsh public libraries will see this continuing for the benefit of library users. The recommendations for the deputy minister for libraries in Wales are a mix of immediate and longer term proposals. The executive summary notes that they will be subject to further discussion and will be the basis of the next library strategy for Wales post 2016. So, whatever your views on the recommendations, let CyMAL know (through me or other means).”
  • Transformational approach needed to secure libraries futures:Deputy Minister Transformational approach needed to secure libraries futures: Deputy Minister - Welsh Government. “Today the panel publish their report, which re-affirms the importance of the impact public libraries services have on communities. It also found a unanimous agreement that waiting until after local government reorganisation to make any changes is not an option with significant alterations likely to take place in public service delivery before then.”

“Public libraries are a statutory service and provide a vital community provision for people of all ages. They are needed more than ever to provide opportunities for learning, free access to digital services, to assist people into work and as places where the whole community can meet. As a result of financial strains currently beings faced by all our public services it is clear that the current model of small library services is unlikely to survive the challenges ahead.” Deputy Minister Ken Skates

  • UK publishes more books per capita than any other country, report shows - Guardian. “According to a new report from the International Publishers Association (IPA), UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013. This equates to 2,875 titles per million inhabitants, and places the UK an astonishing 1,000-plus titles ahead of second-placed Taiwan and Slovenia (1,831). Australia is considerably lower, at 1,176, while the US published just 959 titles per million inhabitants.”
  • Very quietly, the coalition tries to dismantle judicial review - Politics. Government pricing out judicial reviews except for the very wealthy. “democracy is not efficient. If one wants true efficiency, one quickly gives up on freedom, hence the fascist insistence that they can get the trains running on time. The drive to get rid of checks and balances is a fundamentally authoritarian instinct. A coalition which came to power on a civil liberties ticket is now dismantling one of the most powerful weapons citizens have to hold power to account. It is a boring term, more suited to geeks than protestors. But we should not stare down at our plates. Once judicial review goes, we’ll never get it back.”

UK local news by authority

  • Bexley – Have Your Say: Remodelling Bexley’s libraries – Bexley Times. “Consultation has started on the borough’s new draft library strategy and on plans to remodel the library service. The council are seeking public views on these proposals. This follows a recent national survey by the government, which discovered that 35% of adults reported that that they had visited a library in the previous 12 months, compared to 48% in 2005/6. The number of library visits, items issued and ‘active borrowers’ have all fallen.”
  • Bristol – Reader’s letter: I am delighted at the recycling of our Central Library – Bristol Post. “Contrary to Lin Merchant (“Stop this plan for a school in our library” Bristol Post October 13) who is opposed to Bristol Cathedral Primary School’s occupation of the two lower floors of the Central Library; I am delighted at this innovative architectural recycling of a library rapidly approaching its sell-by date. Moreover, she might like to consider herself lucky that Bristol’s public libraries have survived so for long. However, in Sheffield eleven libraries have been threatened with closure, and are now operated by volunteers. Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy have reported a net closure of some 270 libraries nationwide since 2010. This has seen a loss of some 3000 library staff whose jobs last year were replaced by a 44.5 per cent increase in volunteers. Despite being a life-long bibliophile it is my opinion that the closure of all Bristol’s public libraries is long overdue, and that they should be replaced with a multiplicity of book lending units situated in places such as: stores/shops/garages.”

Dear Bristol Post letters editor, Lin Marchant’s letter was well timed. (Stop this plan for a school in the library, Post 10/10/2014)  Libraries are still on the agenda of Bristol City Council meetings and face £1.2 m cuts. Members of the public are allowed to submit questions and statements to these meetings. So are our 70 local councillors ! On Monday 27 October, Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Commission will meet at 2pm … The right to question decisions survives in the public sector. .The Central Library saga exposes the Austerity agenda is a sham. Money is no problem ..£3.8 million   Cost to make library a primary was the headline of Marc Rath’s Bristol Post feature on 23 October last year. Like Lin, I value being able to walk into a library and borrow a book. Recently I wanted to know about John Ruskin, the 18th century writer, and didn’t know where to look. A librarian went down to the reserved stock and found 4 hefty books. I borrowed one. The librarians who are responsible for selecting new books also deserve praise. Using fastback, I borrowed ‘Hack Attack’ by Nick Davies which was published this year. Now I know why our politicians tremor at the mighty Murdoch empire. Does Bristol Library stock “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Alan Poe?. Written over 100 years ago, it is still relevant. Ebola respects no borders.” Julie Boston (sent by email)

  • Cornwall – Is Wadebridge library set for a new chapter? - Cornish Guardian. “Wadebridge mayor Tony Rush said the town council would be interested in taking over the building and managing the facility, but would need to see exactly what was on offer before committing.”
  • Cornwall – Up to 70 jobs to go in St Austell as HMRC announces redundancies at Penhaligon House - Cornish Guardian. “Current government policy also means they’re reducing the number of libraries where people could have got public internet access.”
  • Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough Council cuts: The list of proposals Ray Mallon announced - Gazette Live. Cuts include “Reduce amount spent on services such as events in libraries, outdoor youth activities and local community events, saving £150,000 … Reduce the purchase of books for libraries by 50%, saving £100,000 … Integrate Libraries, Community Regeneration and incorporate 0-19 staff into one Early Help team, saving £812,000. 33 job losses.”
  • North East Lincolnshire – Future is bright for threatened community libraries in North East Lincolnshire – Grimsby Telegraph. “So far details of the organisations involved have yet to be confirmed, but an NELC statement said that eight bids had been submitted and of those, six were being taken forward to hopefully see the community-based facilities continue to run outside of authority control. As reported, in July this year, the council decided to reduce the number of libraries in the region from ten to four after they were faced with £500,000 cuts to the library budget.”
  • Wirral – Concern for future of Wirral libraries – Wirral Globe. ” suspect many people are still unaware that if the proposals are implemented many community libraries will be open for just eight hours a week. The proposed opening hours are 10am to 2pm on two days. These hours would deny access to school pupils, many younger children go to libraries with their parents after school and older children need access to computers to help with their homework.”
  • Wolverhampton – Dismay as Wolverhampton health and library hub shelved after talks – Express and Star. “Warstones Resource Centre had been earmarked to be transformed into a community building, featuring a built-in library, health centre, meeting room and cafeteria. But Wolverhampton City Council has now shelved the plans, leaving residents fearing they may lose their library completely.” … “A number of all-purpose hubs have opened across the city this year, as part of a council initiative to house services such as libraries and community centres under one roof.”
  • Worcestershire – Last chance to have a say on future of mobile library service – Redditch Advertiser. “library customers have the opportunity to meet with the libraries and learning service management team, as they tour the county on the mobile library before the service’s consultation ends on Friday, October 31. Six consultation meeting points on the mobile library route have been planned …”

“Poster child” Chester: cuts in Barnet and Walsall

Editorial

The Arts Council England chief, Sir Peter Bazalgette, visited the site of a new combined library/theatre/cinema in Chester and called it a “poster child” for showing what Arts and Culture can do to “turbo-charge” its neighbourhood.  He also points out the synergy of having all the Arts users, including library members in one place with all the cross-selling that that implies. I’ve noted interest in the project from around the world in the past.  It’s a strange one for me as it’s in my own library authority (and I don’t like reporting on that for obvious reasons) but it does look like something which could have national implications. Not least because Sir Peter holds quite a large budget and has libraries under his remit.

Major cuts in Barnet are being proposed with several options listed that could close or turn volunteer half of the branches. Two items of note on this one: the first is that the report notes that they have less volunteers than other councils and it’s time to catch up and the second is the suggestion that they rent out library car park spaces.  Both have some interesting implications. Walsall have also announced major cuts but, I guess, car parking spaces are less of a premium there.

Changes

Ideas

  • Streetlife - A social media site that encourages local communities and can provide free advertising for libraries.
  • Renting out parking space in library car parks – Barnet.

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The Library of Birmingham used as the icon of the city: on half-marathon shirt

Getting back to the future: Battle of Ideas debate + the rest of the public libraries news

Editorial

Libraries are no longer about “shush” and about telling people what to read … many librarians, myself included, care a great deal about keeping their libraries buzzing, with stock that the public wants to read as well as stock that the public should read.  And that, if we’re not careful, could cause us a great of support. My experience at the Battle of Ideas conference held at the Barbican over the weekend was that some of the key things that people value about libraries is quiet and quality bookstock and that, if we don’t have that, then they’re not so bothered about us closing because we’re not so much use to them any more.  The session lasted 90 minutes and attacked a pile of public library orthodoxies, mainly I suspect because it was not for and by public librarians.  Read my notes and thoughts on the day here.  I have heard complaints from users too much about the noise to wave away such complaints as middle class prejudices. There is a problem about noise in many of our libraries and we are failing in one our unique selling points if we ignore it.

I was surprised to see that Annie Mauger will be leaving her post as chief executive of CILIP early next year.  I know that the leadership of CILIP over the last few years has not had the easiest of rides, especially at AGMs (rebranding … Vaizey no confidence vote … governance) and I guess I could go on for a while giving a review of the “the Mauger years”.  I wont’ do so now but one key thing springs to mind: that the last five years have hopefully put CILIP on to a financial footing where they will hopefully survive … and a body like CILIP is very useful for public libraries when it comes to all sorts of things such as representation, publicity and advocacy.  But, like a library, it’s of no use if it’s not there any more.

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Going postal?

Editorial

What appears to be the first post office run by a public library has opened in Stradbroke in Suffolk.  Writtle Library in Essex already has a post office inside it but it is run separately by post office staff. Stradbroke post office, on the other hand, will have its own library staff providing the post office, as an income generation exercise, service to the community and as a way of increasing footfall … and you thought having to do badges for disabled parking was a stretch.

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Russell Brand, social justice and surveillance. Seriously.

Editorial

I’ve had various responses to the news that the Reading Agency’s annual lecture will be by Russell Brand.  The most common reaction is that he is way cool, funny and is bound to get the headlines … but there’s a strong minority (well, we are librarians) not impressed with his scandals and general demeanour.  Whatever, I think that no matter what he’s going to be good entertainment and is going to make headlines which reading surely needs.  Well done to the Reading Agency for getting him.  Now, let’s hope he isn’t so scandalous that I’ll have to eat my words.

A good piece also on social justice today. In these times where we can barely keep libraries staffed, where the majority of those librarians employed five years ago have probably left the profession and where volunteers are taking over branches, social justice is perhaps understandably not as high up the agenda as it once was.  It appears that many authorities consider it, consciously or otherwise, something that can be downplayed when the going gets tough.  We must ask ourselves if it is really the luxury that some of our (in)actions suggest it is.  There’s also the question of how aware of the issues those volunteers who are taking over libraries are.

Finally, I’ve been reading a lot about US librarians being strongly anti-surveillance and ensuring that the personal privacy of users (OK, customers.  OK, clients. Damn it, what should we call them?) is not abused by the police and others.  I wonder how many library workers are aware of the ethics of the profession. Are you? And do we ensure the police have a warrant? If you’re not sure of the situation, check out the CILIP Code of Professional Practice (D4 is the one).

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Let’s BOP until we drop

Editorial

It is good to see the success of the Books on Prescription scheme.  Public libraries sorely need national publicity campaigns and resources, as well as alliances with major partners, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the NHS. I know from direct personal experience how useful it is to be able to have the right book at hand to answer a problem from an, often ill and worried, member of the public so this is all good.  It need not stop there of course.  We need to work ever closer with the health profession to provide easy access to information (online as well as print) and staff need to be trained in how best to deal with the, often tricky, situations that this field presents.  As such, I’m looking forward to doing the Public library Universal Information Offers (shortened to the Italian sounding PLUIO) training over the next few weeks. This is going to take a while for all of the short-staffed libraries to do but, heaven knows, we don’t get enough training so it’s something to cherish.  I hope it lives up to my expectations.

Finally, the names of the councils under the “changes” sections are increasingly like old acquaintances, although it is worth pointing out that the cuts have already been announced earlier and these are merely more information.  These are councils who have already seriously cut their budgets once in the last few short years and are now doing it all over again. Havering already have 380 volunteers and so confidently expect to be able to replace the 50 (out of 94) paid staff that it will be losing.  My rule of thumb with such things is that you need between five and ten volunteers to replace one paid full timer so let’s hope there’s at least two to three hundred more people in that borough fancying working in a library. Getting them all trained on PLUIO is going to take a while too.

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That's not a shelf of print books, you know

Library Walls, Liverpool petitions, Scottish Book Week

Editorial

One of the more interesting things happening at the moment in libraryland is putting virtual bookshelves in public places.  Titles on these “bookshelves” are often accessed by QR codes and are then downloaded on to the user’s device.  Sara Wingate Grey of Artefacto caught my interest with a “Library Wall” that she helped design that is attracting attention in Haringey.  Read her post for more information.  I especially like the way that the “Wall” tweets what people has borrowed from it. Anyway, I got into contact with Sara and she answered a few of my questions.  Here they are:

That's not a shelf of print books, you know

That’s not a shelf of print books, you know

Q. Do you have the copyright free ebooks on a website somewhere to allow download?  If so, are you able to give me the address?  Is it via something like Gutenberg or GitHub instead?

A. You’re right that we’re hosting the specific Library Wall content – we got the original source texts from various PD sources we found available online (see my blogpost) and then spent time (a lot of time, it turned out) creating epub files suitable for download. We’re not intending that where we’re hosting the content be accessed except by mobile device when Library Wall is scanned at point of access, and the book downloaded as an epub file then (or bookmarked to save for later etc.) so there’s no web address to give out.

Q. Also do you have a LibraryBox or something hiding behind there too to offer the download and/or connectivity for those without smartphones?

A. No. You’re right that a LibraryBox would have enabled those with an electronic device eg. tablet, phone, laptop, to logon and grab any books we provided on that network, but this would make then make interaction with the actual physical Library Wall irrelevant and not really required, and so for this, and the reasons detailed above we did not go down this route this time.

Q. I’m also curious about where the funding is coming from.

A. Only the materials for the project were funded, and Kate and myself (working as Artefacto) and all those who collaborated with us in various degrees gave their time freely. The materials fund came from Haringey Arts (again, see blogpost for more details). We’re really happy to talk to anyone who’s interested in Library Wall, our aim for the project was just to demonstrate what it’s possible to imagine (and then go and #makeithappen!)

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Martina Cole plus readers

Donation boxes, longer mobile stops and other changes

Editorial

Norfolk have started putting donation boxes into its libraries.  While not a new phenomenon (the new Manchester Central Library has them and others), it’s strange to see them at the flagship Millennium Library, which is normally named the most used library in the UK. It’s an odd for one users too: to donate will only beget more donation boxes but not donating may mean deeper cuts. A difficult decision for the user but, doubtless, no easier for the proud Norfolk librarians.

Another library authority is involved in changes which, on the face of it at least, have less to do with budget cuts than may be assumed.  Oxfordshire is more than halving mobile library visits from 463 to 200 but this is not because they’re cutting the number of mobiles but rather that they’re making stops longer.  Anyone living with a mobile that stops for only 10 or 15 minutes each fortnight could probably see the point of this – what if your clock is 5 minutes fast? – but it’s unfortunate for those who lose their stop. It will be interesting to see what happens to mobile library usage there.

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Brent usage up; volunteers reopen and win awards; Library of Things

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An idea for free: how libraries can be a vital radar for other council services

Editorial

So here’s an idea I came up with recently that you can have for free: public libraries are often the first council service to know about an influx of a new ethnic group.  Why?  Because the first thing a newcomer does is join the library in order to use the internet … and if they don’t need other council services then they will otherwise invisibly appear (can you invisibly appear? you know what I mean) in an area and the council is none the wiser.  Even more nicely, many library services automatically collect data on what is the main language of a new joiner so you can see, almost in real time, what new minorities are coming in, into which libraries and over what time period.  This can be passed on (anonymised obviously) to the rest of the council so they get to know what’s happening and can tailor their services accordingly.  Even even more nicely, the council could then put leaflets in the relevant language by the public access computers, giving the new users a chance to engage if they need to and jolly well go around their own business otherwise.  This gives the council a chance to engage and the newcomers a chance to engage or not with everyone’s dignity still intact and the group as empowered as is possible to be. This is just one of the many ways that libraries can make themselves useful to the council and show their value to the decision-makers.  I’m sure there are tons of others.  Try to think of one today.

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