Enterprise in Libraries and Glamorgan cuts

 

Editorial

Some interesting research, funded by Arts Council England, on the state of play in raising income in libraries has come out today.  If you’re in charge of library services or are likely to be affected by changes then do have a look. Regardless of your views on this matter (and I think things have come to such a pass that everything needs looking at seriously) this is at least a good report in terms of seeing what is out there.  Or you could end up like the Vale of Glamorgan which is cutting it’s library budget by a fifth and losing £309k in staff.  For those many there who are in all likelihood now contemplating redundancy, income-generating alternatives must seem very attractive at the moment.

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Regularly using a library is equivalent to a £1,359 pay rise

Editorial

The DCMS have funded a report from the LSE which shows, through some very heavy statistical analysis that the benefit of libraries equivalent in benefit to the active user of a pay rise of £1359. Let’s do some fun analysis of this.  The Cipfa survey suggests an active library user base at 15% (this sounds very low to me but let’s go with it as we know that we’re at least not exaggerating what comes next) and the population of the United Kingdom according to the latest official figures is 63 million.  15% of that is 9,450,000.  Right, now times that very low figure by 1,359 which brings us the benefit just for active users of using a library of £12.8 billion.  The cost of the entire UK public library service is around £1 billion. Little wonder that Lucy Mangan in the Guardian says that the research either means the DCMS has it wrong on libraries or that the report they commissioned is wrong.  Either way, she points out, it’s not good news for them. But it’s good news for libraries and I think we can be grateful to the Government for commissioning research that adds to the pressure on local councils to keep them.  Now if only the DCMS would add some more practical pressure as well …

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22nd April 2014

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The unstaffed fully self-service library

Editorial

Some technology-related moves have caught my eye over the Easter weekend.  Bibliotheca have taken note of the current parlous state of UK public libraries finances and come up with a scheme that allows authorised members of the public to use library buildings while they are entirely unstaffed.  CCTV keeps watch and doors open and close at the appointed times.  This may be seen by some as the natural next step in a process which started with self-service machines and will be very attractive to library authorities, although perhaps less so to their staff.  A full description of the technology and some thoughts on have been provided by Mick Fortune and I recommend you have a read.

The announcement by the Government of a panel on digital inclusion has also raised an eyebrow at Public Libraries News Towers.  There’s no mention in it of the vital role that public libraries play in both providing access and assistance to those who don’t yet have internet access or an idea of how to use if they did.  Of course, that tuition may be a little difficult if there’s no-one in the building in the first place … but authorities may be weighing the cuts in in budgets with all possibilities and judging accordingly.

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Caught at least three ways: e-lending and librarians’ dilemma

Editorial

The Chief Executive of the Publishers’ Association has had a bit of a go at the CILIP-backed Right to E-Read” campaigned.  I can understand his concern about the name (it’s not the right to e-reading, he points out, but rather e-lending) and fear that such unfettered and free access would cut down on author’s (and publishers, naturally) earnings. After all, there has always been a suspicion amongst booksellers that libraries could hurt them.  It has always been the response of librarians (and some publishers too) that book-lending is a different and complementary activity to book-buying.  The current e-book pilots in the UK come as an attempt by all parties, brokered by the DCMS, to see what works best and if publishers etc do have something to fear.

I’m probably not alone as a public librarian in feeling conflicted at least three ways on this one.  I can see that E-lending is qualitatively different to lending in that the book is always “perfect” and there is no time-cost in obtaining it (that is, there’s no delay in actually going to the library/putting a reserve on the item).  Without some limits (be they the hated automatic delete or increased payments – but, if the latter, then who pays?) I know I’d always be borrowing e-books and not buy them (why would I buy them, again? If they’re always instantly there just by a couple of clicks?). On the other hand, one naturally fears that more e-lending will cut physical visits to the building what I am being paid to be in.  On the other other hand, the point of libraries is to allow access, damn it, not to provide me with a job.

What I know is that spats about the issue, while unsurprising, don’t help. It is to be hoped that the pilots/campaign come to a satisfactory conclusion, despite jockeying for position.

Children’s webpages

I was very pleased to receive the following from Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Libraries about their websites for under 16s.  I’ve had a look and it’s pretty good stuff. Worth a check to see if your own library service can pick up a few tips?

“Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Libraries have a quite comprehensive Children’s and Teenagers section on our Virtual Library.  We target the pages at three audiences – Under 6 (aimed at parents mainly), Children’s (7-12) and Teen Turf for 13-16 year olds, I have included links to these below so you can take a look. The content on these pages is targeted and designed for these audiences – the event listings, recommended web sites in QuickLinks, booklists, etc. We feel that it is vitally important to provide lots of useful information for children as they are a key user of the physical library services, but are looking for support and advice outside of library opening hours.”

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“Probably the librarians would like tea. Or chocolates. Or a reliable source of funding”

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Shadow Minister for Libraries speaks

Editorial

The Shadow Minister for Libraries, Helen Goodman MP, appears to have been spurred into action by the coachload of Lincolnshire library campaigners who visited parliament last week.  In a visit to Ermine Library, she stressed the need for professional librarians and a standard library service throughout the country, rather than the current “postcode lottery”.  She has written to the Minister demanding intervention in Lincolnshire where three quarters of libraries are under threat.  Councillor Nick Worth, the local man in charge of libraries, rather impressively – considering the sheer scale of the cuts he is overseeing if noting else – called the cuts a “win-win situation” for Lincolnshire.  After one does breathing exercises, perhaps also taking the dog for a walk and putting a cold flannel on your forehead, you’re probably going to be able to cope with the reason for this claim being that volunteers will mean the service is cheaper and that there will be an overall increase in service points as there will be some shelves of books in other buildings (hopefully not telephone boxes) as well.  Never mind the quality, look at the quantity appears to be his view. Whatever the result, the power of campaigning in grabbing the attention of politicians has been demonstrated.

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Library-affirming

Editorial

It’s National Library Week in the USA and there’s some wonderful pro library stuff coming out of it.  I especially like the one, naturally, that gives ten reasons why librarians are awesome.  I think we knew that all along but it’s good to see it on screen.  The nice thing about these American articles is that, although cuts are mentioned, they are all very positive in tone.  There is hope there.  Library usage is increasing and new ideas are being embraced. They are, in other words, library-affirming.

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Stories from the Web

Editorial

My last item, probably, on children’s library webpages.  John Dolan has kindly pointed out to me that Stories from the Web has been doing much of the work for those authorities who buy into it for years. I hadn’t really come across it before and there lies the problem – only 17 authorities in the UK buy into it.  How many more will continue to do so as the cuts further bite can only be guessed at.  It strikes me that this is something that could usefully be done nationally and avoid the vagaries of individual authorities.  It would also mean that the website could forget about its cumbersome need at the moment for the prospective user to go to a physical library for a username and password.  Like so many other things, this is something that Sieghart could perhaps be looking at in his review. There are other areas too – like the much discussed libraries development agency, marketing, etc – that could be better done nationally but are so often not at the moment which could usefully be the subject of some research.  Here’s hoping.

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Lincolnshire campaigning masterclass, children’s webpages and e-readers

Editorial

The coachload of Lincolnshire campaigners who visited Parliament and Downing Street have shown great ingenuity and determination in trying to save libraries.  Seven MPs, including two shadow ministers, met them in parliament – with others offering support – and a specially produced book “The Tip of the Iceberg” was presented to 10 Downing Street.  The whole thing showed a great deal of commitment and an example of best practice for any other library campaigners out there.  I’ve added it the A to Z of library campaigning tactics page.

I asked a couple of days ago about whether there were specific library webpages for children.  A few of you have got in touch with examples, with the major one being from Devon and called “The Zone”.  I’m told that “the site won an award from CILIP PPRG in 2005 but has been redeveloped since. It still proves very popular and we use it as a vehicle not only to promote services but also reward their work.”.  I especially like the “Spin” banner for highlighting parts of the site, its colour and general fun-ness.  Downsides are that it’s quite small (but, then, a whole lot bigger than a pile of authorities who don’t have anything at all) and it’s still advertising World Book Day.  Otherwise, children’s library websites tend to be of a simple listing type like Hampshire or Cambridgeshire.

So why this paucity?  Well, I think it’s a mixture of things – council IT policies saying no, it being neither the children’s librarian job or the IT specialist’s job, lack of financing, imagination or, possibly, a suspicion that children will not use the service.  Whatever the reasons, Devon shows that it can be successful so let’s hope more come to light or are created.

I recently asked another question about libraries providing e-readers.  It appears that Aberdeenshire and Suffolk are both piloting e-reader lending.  Sadly, I would say this puts the UK a comfortable two or three years behind the USA in this matter: although I hope more evidence comes to light.  Now it may be that this country has gained by being slow about this as e-readers are probably a transitional technology, with tablet PCs replacing them.  Being e-readers are now as cheap as £25, though, the risks (and, crucially, costs) of lending them out – and providing advice on how to use them – is becoming less. We’ll see if UK authorities, fighting as they are with major cuts, get a grasp on this issue or leave it to go the way of children’s library webpages.

Please send news, comments and thoughts to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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