“Amateurisation”: mergings, post offices and unstaffed opening

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National Libraries Day, Scots kid’s cards … and Batman

Editorial

What passes for a quiet time in libraries for the last few days. I’ve put National LIbraries Day first because it’s important and the next couple of months will be a good time to start preparing for it.  The high point of this point, though, is undoubtedly Batman using a self-service machine. Why? Because it’s Batman, dudes.

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Just £100k, volunteers and some curious stock policies

Editorial

More information on the announcement from Nicky Morgan about support for public libraries in schools. The announcement dates from a manifesto commitment in March and involves £100k of funding to the Reading Agency.  More details on how it is being used is here. So, this is far from the automatic child library membership apparently raised in the headline.

For those of you in CILIP, please take note if you have not already seen it that there is a motion requiring the association to automatically oppose new volunteer libraries due to be voted on at the AGM.  However you intend to vote, make sure that you do, if you can.  If you can’t get to the meeting (it’s in London), you can get someone else to cast your vote by proxy. This may be an opportune time to have a look at the arguments for and against volunteers running libraries so I have updated the relevant pages on PLN.

Finally, there’s an article from Moscow that looks like a blast from the past to me.  Apparently, the Russian librarians are getting worried about the dodgy nature (50 Shades and all that) of books that their library users (how dare they) insist on reading and are putting in new policies to ensure that “quality” stuff like Dostoyevsky is bought instead.  This may sound like pure snobbery and reactionism but is part of a constant battle in libraries, between those who think the purpose of libraries is, in broad strokes, to give the people what they want and those who think that libraries should be edifying places of education. Similarly (although those who made the decision may well be shocked by the comparison), there are reports that a German library has removed “politically incorrect” materials from the shelves, pointing out the worry some librarians have with stuff that may be offensive to some.  The story has been taken up by several rightwing activist pages so I am not sure how reliable the news actually is but, assuming at least a kernel of truth, it’s an interesting comparison with Moscow nonetheless.

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Special: Automatic English child library membership? No, not really.

Editorial

It all started off so positively.  An announcement by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education no less, that she would, in the words of the Telegraph headline writer, “enrol every child in the local library”. Great, I thought, this sounds like the Welsh scheme “Every Child a Library Member” that has been going on for more than a year and exactly the sort of thing that I remember Michael Rosen banging on about to politicans every time I’ve been privileged enough to hear him or read about him on library matters in the last five years.  The fact David Walliams was putting his name to it (well, sort of) in a national newspaper was also pretty good. I also thought that, at last, there would be some good news to leaven all the bad.  Indeed, I was a bit shocked by the completely negative reaction shown by many in news articles and social media about the news.

But let’s look at the detail. First off, it’s not clear exactly how much money is being put in – the exact figure is, suspiciously, never quoted – into the starting of 200 reading groups. By my calculations of how much Chatterbooks stuff costs, it could be as low as the low tens of thousands of pounds (but, to be fair, is probably a fair bit higher).  That’s pretty cheap for a government initiative and for positive headlines in a national newspaper. Secondly, there is also only “an ambition” for every child to be a member, not an actual commitment and no figure is quoted anywhere for this either.  It looks like Nicky Morgan has only, at a minimum (and again I hope there is more than this) committed to encourage schools, in some way undescribed (perhaps by a letter? – but even this is not confirmed) to get their kids to join up. At the best therefore, this announcement will go some limited way towards increasing child membership and it looks like it will in no way be the automatic thing such a headline suggests.

Another point to consider is how negative the reaction was to the news from so many people and so quickly. This shows the strong polarisation, even hatred, caused by years of cuts and campaigning for libraries. A whole government term (and change)  of effectively complete inaction over public libraries during a time of the most historically deep cuts in them is hardly going to win the Tories much praise.  But whether this is the best strategy to win friends amongst people ultimately deciding our fates for the next five years, I am not entirely sure.  I know if I was Nicky Morgan reading some of the reactions I’ve seen then I’d be thinking “well, there’s no point doing anything for them any more”. Or, has this Government got so bad and so morally and ethically blackened that there should be complete opposition to them no matter what? Is everything they do libraries-wise too little too late and written for propaganda purposes? I am honestly uncertain on the matter of automatically dismissing all Government library announcements, even after five years of being disappointed. Let’s hope, therefore,  today’s headlines live up to their promise and I get to keep what remains of my innocence.

P.S. I’d just like to see that I’ve noticed twice (Birmingham last week and now today) CILIP immediately offering immediate help and assistance in public library matters. This is a bit different to the measured and somewhat time-delayed responses some have noted in the past and that, even if all else is a chimera today, is something to hang on to. Fingers crossed.

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Is it fine to fine?

Editorial

The proposal by Angus Libraries to remove overdue book fees appears to run counter to the straitened times in which we live but it has certainly caused some conversations.  The theory is that removing fines will remove the fear borrowers have if they have late books and thus they will return long-lost books.  It will also remove a fear of those wavering about joining because of fear about being looked at sternly over the counter.  There is also of course the important point that the removal of fines will allow greater access by disadvantaged social groups.  Truly free book lending has been a part of the landscape in some authorities for years for children (with a move towards withdrawing fines in, for example, West Dunbartonshire a decade ago apparently doing well) but rarely for adults so this is an interesting move.  If it garners new members, a (however counter-intuitive) increase in stock and good press then all to the good.  More cash-strapped authorities, facing big cuts in funding. may look at Angus with incredulity at the move (especially if they live in Canada).  We’ll see if it’s a success and whether, in a few years time, we all get on the bandwagon.

Related to this is the thorny issue of lost books and fines recovery – it you’re interested in these (as well as a brief treatment on removing fines) then see the PLN page here.  For those interested in the ethics and reasoning behind fines (or no fines), David McEnemy has very kindly made his essay on the subject available here.  And you may also want to see the (a bit dated now) Guardian article on the subject here.

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Ideas

  • Drones – Public library drone for training users / recording events etc (forthcoming)
  • Honorary library card given to an animal – Good publicity tool.

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Public libraries as charity basket case

Editorial

It must have come as a surprise to many librarians preparing to face hordes of children at work that “no one goes to libraries” but that’s what BBC Breakfast presenter Charlie Stayt said on a brief item on public libraries on Friday.  This item included Alan Gibbons and Tim Coates slagging off (what passes for) national libraries policy, with Tim demanding Mr Vaizey resign and Alan point out that libraries are successful in other countries but have been left to shrivel and die here.  Tim also went on to claim that amalgamating all London library services would save so much money that budgets could be cut by two-fifths with no ill effect, which seems (how to put this politely?) unlikely and probably not all that helpful to the libraries in question. Interestingly, the BBC claimed that Ed Vaizey was not available for comment.  As soon as I tweeted this, Ed (who has suddenly started responding to library campaigners on Twitter after years of silence) replied that he was available for comment but the BBC never asked him.  To be honest, though, simply having a new minister without a radical change of stance (e.g. an actual willingness to intervene – not something likely from any Conservative politician) will not change much, however much one has a quarrel with Mr Vaizey.

The debate was of course inspired by the abysmal news from Birmingham about a library service which is now so cash starved it cannot buy new books nor, apparently, do basic maintenance. This has led to libraries across the country being seen as charity basket cases by some observers, with one website suggesting that gift magazine subscriptions are given to the poor things.  Whoopee doo. Let’s make this clear, during the Summer of all times, public libraries should be being seen as the wonderful enablers that they are, allowing all to be part of the community and to contribute to that community. They should not be seen as the equivalent to the disadvantaged that we should be blooming well be funded enough to help, not to be just equated with. Future generations will look back to this short-lived insanity and wonder what happened.  Let us hope that this period is brief enough that some libraries survive so that any such observers will realise the enormity of the tragedy of the current times.

Speaking Volumes

I’ve been asked by Carnegie UK Trust to highlight a survey they are doing of activities in public libraries.  Please complete if you can.

“Public libraries have a vital role to play in delivering on social, economic, cultural and education policy goals, all of which contribute to individual and community wellbeing. Our 2014 Speaking Volumes resource consists of a leaflet-poster and four databases of evidence that together demonstrate how libraries contribute to these four policy goals. They show the continuing relevance of public libraries, and their potential to contribute to many of the policy goals which governments are seeking to achieve. This year we are updating the information in our databases and are asking for your help to do so! So if you work in a library, please tell us about the activities that your library or library service runs by filling out the form below by 7 October 2015.”

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Outrage in Birmingham

Editorial

It was the shock of the image that did it.  A picture of a poster from a Birmingham library asking for donations as “we are no longer purchasing any new books or newspapers”.  After all, this is Birmingham, the home of the massive new Library opened by Malala Yousafzai in 2013 at a notional expense of £188m but, in reality, an awful lot more due to it being paid for over a period of years.  The whole city’s bookfund (around £1m – already reduced from £1.3m in 2011) is not five percent of the annual running costs of the behemoth that is the LoB. Now, add on the fact that the council greatly reduced the hours of its figurehead earlier this year and it all seems a bit of a bad deal.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the poster was apparently done by someone in a branch – it wasn’t an officially centrally produced document – and that, in fact some items are still being purchased.  These would appear, though, just to be standing orders and selected recommendations from the public.  More to the point, I understand that the bookfund freeze may just be a “pause” until the Autumn in which case what you’ve got here is something that suddenly does not seem so gigantic.  Stopping buying books for a month or three is, after all, a hardly unknown practice in many authorities. Still, you’d think that the public relations department would have realised the massive embarrassment that such a decision would cause but. no, apparently it came as surprise.

Which is extra embarrassing as the thing is here that it isn’t just any authority.  This is Birmingham which deliberately linked the library to its whole image. That is actually a laudable move and has been shown to work in other places but, oh, so much not this time. Why? Well, the decision to build the whopping great big new library was made just before the coalition came in – so it was based on some basic assumptions like, ooh I don’t know, that budgets wouldn’t be cut by two fifths (or more) with no effective intervention under any circumstances by the libraries minister.  It was also based on the rather optimistic assumption that there’d be a lot of philanthropy which, in reality, just plain didn’t happen.  2015 has been a long list, so far, of things that can largely be explained by seeing a council that has realised what deep poo it is in and is flailing around frantically for any solution at all. Some of it (the British Library collaboration, even perhaps Google if it is done right) is promising but so much of it smacks of desperation and this not the least. And, by the way, Birmingham, the bookfund should be one of the last things to go. After all, books are still the main purpose of libraries even if we all pretend it’s computers and glossy stuff.  Their importance is declining, to be sure, but a public library without new books is still a sad and tragic thing to behold. And a £188m one – intended (quite rightly and laudably and in better times) as a magnet for the whole city – to have no new books in it is, well, something that should be covered in all the media and should be shocking.  If only Pour Encourager Les Autres.

And Ed? Debate Alan Gibbons on the issue yes? At a time (say a Saturday) when people can actually get to see it? Thank you.

“Due to public savings cuts we are no longer purchasing any new books or newspapers. Therefore we’re looking for any books published in the last 12 months to be donated to the library. All gratefully received” Notice appearing in some Birmingham libraries

“”Without new books, the people who rely on libraries won’t be able to get what they need. It will affect those who need to use libraries the most: people on a low wage, students, the elderly. “We need central government and councils to understand the value of libraries and what they provide. At the moment, they are seen as a soft target. The whole situation is just dire.” Elizabeth Ash

““We are continuing to look at how we secure the future of all our community libraries but whilst that work is underway we need to make tough choices to save money. “One of those choices is a pause on the book fund.” Cllr Penny Holbrook, Birmingham lead for libraries. “we are also reviewing the future operating model for the council as a whole it makes no sense to reorganise the libraries ahead of this. The reorganisation of the council – Future Council – will go out to consultation during the autumn.”

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Swindon Libraries have "the book pedlar": a clever bicycle display used at events

Read on Get On, Scots Wifi, Donaldson and the rest of the library news

Editorial

Nationally, this week marks the start of the interesting “Read On Get On” Penguin Random House partnership – most libraries will have already received some (high quality) material from it, and it’s hopeful there’ll be more. More locally, it has become clear that Herefordshire will be the grounds of a major battle between the council and library users. Similarly, the cuts in Southampton are being bitterly resisted, with celebrity Chris Packham adding his voice to the fray while councillors point to the success of volunteer libraries elsewhere in the UK to justify the suggested cuts. Meanwhile, in Lincolnshire, where library campaigners have recently lost a second round of legal action, it’s full steam ahead with volunteers being encouraged to take over local branches. The  lead councillor there is not exactly setting the bar high for recruitment – if you’re retired and “want to get out of the house” then you’re in. The interviews must be, presumably, pretty relaxed with that sort of qualification requirement.

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23 shared library services, nuns and Ferguson one year on

Editorial

Some good articles, all from abroad, on the importance of libraries, including one looking at heavy investment in the sector in Abu Dhabi.  Another is from the continuously inspiring Ferguson Library in the USA with a look at how things are going one year after the riots there. There’s also a good article by, wait for it, a librarian leaving the job in order to be a nun. Even if you’re not religious (and I’m not), this is a surprisingly relevant article which addresses the true fact that one works in libraries because of a belief in public service. In this country, depressingly, there’s the normal national stories about declines to library budgets and local stories about volunteers needing to take over the buildings, but there’s also two libraries moving into new buildings.  I’ve also revamped an old page that now lists 23 examples in the UK of public library services getting together to save money or improve the service and, ideally, both.

Finally, there’s a request from a researcher helping with the English Public Libraries Taskforce for information on what your library provides.  It’s worth completing even if you don’t know the answer to all the questions. The more information these pe

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World Record Attempts and the joy of not saying no

Editorial

One of the more interesting things in public libraries over the last couple of months has been the attempt to gain a Guinness World Record for the most reading pledges. This was nationwide, organised by the Reading Agency and part of the “Record Breakers” Summer Reading Challenge. An impressive 80,000 pledges were received from people spread across 140 authorities, just short of the 100,000 number needed. I know from my own authority that pledging led to some great outreach events, including whole mornings spent in schools and to a Sunday at a town festival.  The down side to this was the bureaucracy – as an official record attempt there were a lot of hoops to jump through – and this may be the reason that more libraries were not involved.  Staffing shortages, always a problem these days, were also almost certainly a reason.  However, we were so close to that record and it would only have taken one-fifth more to have got it.  I’d have loved to have been able to say my library service was a record breaker and I was already working out where to place the certificate and wondering if we could use the logo on emails.  So, if we get another chance to do something nationally on this scale, I’d say to you all that we should go with it.  It’s always easier to say no than yes but you rarely do new and wonderful things that way in my experience.  Some of the best things I’ve been involved with have come about simply because someone did not say “no” and some of my proudest moments have been when that someone was me.

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