200+ : time to think about the future

Editorial

More than 200 libraries have been placed under threat since the start of the current financial year, April 1st 2015.  They’re spread over 36 authorities, of varied political hue. Lancashire – with a whopping 40 endangered – represents a fifth of the total.  It’s therefore an apt time for CILIP to call for a strategy for public libraries in England.  After all, pretty much everywhere else has one and you’d think actually having a plan for the future is a basic requirement of any service that, well, wants a future.  Mind you, we’re talking about a country, England, whose library service, quite literally, does not have any Standards, as the people of Lancashire (and West Berkshire, and Bracknell Forest and the increasingly ironically names Reading) have recently found out. In fact, CILIP are not asking for much.  That they’re unlikely to get even that is not to discredit them but the laissez-faire disinterest of the politicians ultimately in charge.

There’s a load of other changes today, including a worrying trend by two authorities to say that libraries are at risk without actually naming them. Clever that: it means that local opposition does not get an early start.  That’s something quite vital at the moment as the Government, keen to ease through cuts, has reduced the consultation time from a widely accepted 12 weeks to a vague “whatever is appropriate”.  In other news, there’s also another Open+ library  and the now normal range of opening hours cuts and co-locations.

One (welcome) correction: Plumstead Library is not closing but is being redeveloped, with improved facilities being planned.  There are also two new builds scheduled for Greenwich right now, plus one major refurbishment. So that’s good news at least. They must have a strategy or something.

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Temple of literacy and the city’s heart

Editorial

Three library closures confirmed in East Ayrshire (following on from three more last year there) and a proposed co-location in Greenwich are the main physical changes. In other news, there appears to be a combined response to library cuts in northeast England.  There are also, unusually, two positive stories about volunteer libraries, although I know from campaigners to take the one about Walcot Library in Swindon with a large dose of salt. Going abroad, there’s a lovely story about a Greek library – inspired by bustling British ones – that shows what’s possible in austerity, even if that austerity is in Greece and not in England.

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Parishing, church libraries and goodbye to a school library

Editorial

A good point has been made in Leon’s Library Blog about a trend which has been notable in recent years of public libraries effectively being farmed off to parish/town councils. This maintains the service but causes other problems. At the moment, though, as with volunteers, the mere fact that the library service survives is seen as reason enough to do it by many.  Expect to see this becoming a standard weapon in the armoury of cutting councils, if it is not already, from big rural authorities like North Yorkshire to smaller urban ones like Swindon.

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Philanthropy experiment ends in Birmingham: cuts in Stockton + Warrington. Increased hours in Levenshulme.

Editorial

A death knell for philanthropy as a panacea for cuts in Birmingham this week.  The problem being that private companies and millionaires don’t want to pay for council cuts, and that seems to be what they thought they were doing.  Cuts reported today in Stockton, Warrington and – even worse than previously described in West Berkshire – will likely not be improved by rich benefactors.  Well, except in West Berkshire due to the Government reducing the amount it is cutting from rural councils. Good to see increased opening hours – and a nice new building, albeit co-located – in Manchester though … and the idea of combining a building society with a library in Stockton is a bit of an eye opener.  I wonder it will have a large amount of reserves.

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Speaking up for libraries; deep cuts to West Berkshire and Darlington. Refurbished library in Warwickshire

Editorial

The campaign for public libraries hotted up still further with the Speak Up For Libraries lobbying for parliament. Some great speeches were made. Sadly, it looks like the only national news source to pay attention was the Guardian, although it has to be said that that newspaper has covered a lot of library stories recently.  However, it’s only when Conservative papers like the Telegraph start paying attention that one feels a breakthrough will have been made.

In other news, more details of the deep cuts announced in West Berkshire and some new information about cuts to Darlington.  Both authorities would, if cuts happen as proposed, be down to nearly one library each, like Swindon proposed last week.  This looks like the new lowest level in the “race to the bottom” that councils are willing to go to with cutting libraries.  After all, it’d be hard for even the current minister to keep a straight face about the statutory importance of libraries if a council proposed no libraries.  Although one feels that even that is only a matter of time. Deep library closures in rural areas may be less than expected, however, as it looks like the Government is reducing the level of cuts in the countryside at least in the next year or two.

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It was a Happy National Libraries Day

Editorial

It has been brilliant seeing all the images about various events for National Libraries Day.  I really enjoyed taking part in it myself, going to a local leisure centre and asking people what they thought about libraries.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive and gave a real buzz.  As did seeing the National Libraries Day hashtag trending at number two on Twitter.  Pretty much everyone, too, got into the spirit of it, with notably fewer authorities seeing it with suspicion as being a campaigning thing (as it that were a bad thing) than previously.  All in all, it felt like a real birthday for libraries and everyone was partying, with public libraries being given a small modicum of the attention that they deserve, if only for a day.

The one duff note in the whole affair was libraries minister Ed Vaizey, comic villain of many a past PLN editorial (the reason I’ve not posted much recently is because I’ve been in pantomime last week by the way), claiming that he intervenes in libraries all the time and that Labour is the one that closes libraries.  You may “intervene” Ed, but you never actually stop any cuts happening, and library authorities – like Conservative-run Swindon just this week who want to get rid of 14 out of 15 – know that. And, by the way, since April, in those authorities which threatened library services with a majority party in control, six are Labour controlled and eight are Conservative. I thought people should know that, even if the libraries minister apparently does not.

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Charges for SCL conference

Swindon proposes just 1 out of 15 libraries to survive: SCL plans 2 day conference

Editorial

Swindon are introducing some of the toughest cuts in the country to their library service, aiming to keep just one council-run out of 15 at the end of the review.  The council directly quotes recent DCMS guidance saying that this is allowed.

In other news, the SCL are inviting one senior librarian from each service to attend its annual two-day session in order to work out how to cope with the drastic budget reductions being introduced as a result of central government austerity and the removal of effective statutory protection. Not that the SCL phrases the invite like that but everyone attending will know full well why the conference is being called “Changing Horizons: challenges, trends and new ways of delivering“. It is the job of chief librarians, after all, to implement some really hard choices and they need to learn about how best to do it.

Conservative libraries minister Ed Vaizey, whose government is mostly responsible for these tough times, will be speaking (to be fair, the SCL would invite any relevant minister, regardless of their record – it’s just that they’re Conservative this decade and the Conservatives, lest we forget, are in power due to the electorate) at the meeting as will also be, I notice, a former RAF fighter pilot as well as one or two genuine library experts such as Professor David Lankes. Although costing up to £435, the two days were fully booked last year.  Many senior managers appreciate the chance to discuss issues in private, with the invitation letter saying “Times are hard, budgets are tight, and the planning team know how difficult it is to justify attendance at the Seminar, but we know how much you value the time to reflect and to talk about the development of our services”. In their position, I’d want to do the same thing.

Those wanting to know what’s going on at those meetings but who are not senior librarians will likely be disappointed. If previous years are anything to go by, a minimum of publicly available information will come out of these sessions.

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Michael Rosen quote supporting libraries

Speaking up for libraries 2016

Editorial

I am passing over the editorial section of PLN to Speak Up For Libraries today in order to promote the lobby of parliament on 9th February. Get there if you can.

Alan Gibbons holding Support for Libraries Overdue sign, with Westminster Hall in background
“Speak up for Libraries’ Rally at Westminster Central Hall, London.
Photo shows author Alan Gibbons.

Best-selling writer Jake Arnott is the latest celebrity to sign up for the Speak Up For Libraries (SUFL) lobby of Parliament on 9 February. “Throughout our history,’ he says, ‘the library has proved to be the most effective and resilient memory system for our culture and civilisation. The public library creates a collective consciousness. Any attack on it simply adds to a social dementia.”

The day begins with a public rally at Central Hall, Westminster (10am-1pm), with a line-up of speakers chaired by campaigning author Alan Gibbons. All welcome, whether joining a lobby or not. Alan’s Campaign for the Book is part of the SUFL alliance, alongside librarians’ professional association CILIP, campaigners’ charity The Library Campaign, UNISON and Voices for the Library. Supporters from as far away as Gateshead, Shropshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire will then descend on the Commons to lobby MPs to focus on the root cause of libraries’ grim situation – apathy and ignorance in local and central government. “These people are fighting hard locally to keep libraries alive. They are desperate to show this is a major issue for the whole nation,’ says Laura Swaffield of The Library Campaign. “And it’s not too late for others to join us.”

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Last chance to apply for up to £15,000 funding and expert advice and mentoring.

Huge response to SCL statement: at least we all care about libraries

Editorial

There was a pretty much unprecedented response, in terms of blog reads and comments,  to the President of the Society of Chief Librarians’ post on the previous edition of Public Libraries News.  Some, not all, of the responses can best be characterised as extremely opposed, although I personally understood the SCL position a bit better at the end of it, even if I wish they’d start putting their head at least a little above the parapet. I don’t want to enter the fray too much again here, perhaps I have done too much to stoke the fires as it is, but would recommend you read the comments on the previous post if you want to understand it all. For me, I can at least take comfort that all sides genuinely and deeply care for the service and with the fervent hope that numerous chief librarians and library staff will jolly well get on the board with the #MyLibraryByRight campaign anyway. And also that everyone involved will sign the petition for goodness sake, and get people you know to sign it as well.

Changes

Ideas

  • Apply to YA Shot for author visits
  • Community skill sharing – workshops and courses provided by community members. In the village of Red Hook these recently included languages, bee-keeping, brewing and maple tree tapping.
  • Memory Lab – a project funded by the Library of Congress raising awareness of personal archiving and digitising. The Memory Lab will be a free DIY space where the public can transfer obsolete formats such as VHS and audio cassettes to digital files
  • Patron request system – automatically buy one copy of any book or DVD the first cardholder in the service asks for.
  • “Senior Services” – “a relaxed, comfortable area with armchairs, newspapers, book and dedicated programming, giving senior citizens a homelier library space. “

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Ciara Eastell, President of the Society of Chief Librarians

Tangible benefits: the SCL defends its record

Editorial

The decision by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) not to formally support the #MyLibraryByRight campaign caused a furore amongst supporters of libraries on social media, lis-pub-libs and probably other places as well.  There was even a comment or two on my previous post.  Similarly, there was much debate about welcoming Halifax bank employees into libraries to help with It issues. So much so, in fact, that I have done a special page listing all the arguments for and against commercial involvement in public libraries. The President of the SCL (and chief of Devon Library Service and, coincidentally a classmate of mine from library school, all of which kind of puts my career into perspective), Ciara Eastell has taken the trouble to write a piece for PLN, which I very happily publish it here.  One of the things I’ve noticed doing this blog over the years is that everyone, on all sides, care deeply for public libraries and make valid points and Ciara is no exception. Over to her (with the choices for quotations being mine).

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