Just giving out library cards doesn’t hack it … and more on Exeter

Editorial

A report on Radio Four “You and Yours” about giving library cards to babies is worth a listen.  It’s part of a number of pilots funded by Arts Council England on encouraging library membership.  The results are good but Brian Ashley, the ACE libraries boss, points out just passing over a library card “doesn’t hack it” and the service needs to constantly engage with the user in order to join a library card owner into a library card user.  Laura Swaffield from the Library Campaign interviewed in the same programme points out that young families are more seriously affected by cuts than others as those prams make long journeys to a surviving library more difficult.

Then there is more today on the reopening of Exeter Central Libray’s after its refurbishment.  Some more pictures show a definite retro look that gives it, in my mind, a different look which is to be welcomed.  After from that stylist difference, the presence of a Fab Lab (the first in a public library in the UK I think – although St Botolphs has had one for a while) needs a mention as is the fact that the refurbishment came with significantly more books rather than the cuts in bookstock one often sees in such cases. Money came for all this, at least in part, from the sale of Exeter Airport.

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Mergers, charitable trusts and retro Maker Spaces

Editorial

Well, a lot going on today, in the headlines and behind them but the key stuff is fairly obvious.  In no particular order, we have two London boroughs (Camden and Islington) looking to merge library services, with a view to rationalising library provision where they both have branches close to eachother on the border.  Think of this, perhaps, as a Labour-run Bi-Borough to rival the Conservative Tri-Borough (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham).  Because that’s how it seems to go: the councils need to be of the same party in order to get along, at least initially.  

Secondly, we have Kent – one of the very biggest councils in terms of branches at least (nearly a hundred depending on your definitions) – thinking about moving libraries (and Registrars and Archives) into a charitable trust similar to that currently being run in Suffolk or York.  This model is getting a lot of attention at the moment and I expect to see more going this way soon.

Finally, we have the refurbished Exeter Central Library reopening.  From the pictures I have seen it looks weirdly retro – the building is 1960s and it was decided to go with that look – but it also has the country’s first public library library Maker Space within it.  This opening is coming at a time when Devon is going through a painful review with 28 out of 50 branches being potentially under threat (although definitions are disputed) and it is notable that there is a certain “that’s nice, what about us with our library maybe closing?” chatter on Twitter on the subject.  But I am sure Exeter needed the upgrade and I’m not going to diss a new library project in this day and age.  I really hope it goes well and I’m looking forward to seeing more about it.

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“For all persons desiring to make use thereof”

Editorial

That thing about public libraries being a statutory service is well-known and most librarians can quote the “comprehensive and efficient” bit but those three words are not the whole sentence.  No, the whole sentence is:

“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” General duty of library authorities, 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.

Now that’s important because it says for all persons: not just those with transport to get to the big town library and not just those who have use of their legs.  It says “for all persons”.  It seems to me that this is vital because it goes a lot further than the woolly “comprehensive” and the even more indefinable “efficient”.  It is also clear from the drafter of the Act that it was always meant to be a stronger piece of legislation than some current council legal departments think it is.

What makes those words even more important is that almost all legal challenges to library cuts have not been on procedural grounds and not on the level of service.  It’s on Equalities Act stuff or on the consultation precisely because it’s hard to win a case on such woollyness as the 1964 Act has previously been famous for.  As it is, councils don’t have to worry about minimum provision: they can simply redo the offending thing if they get caught out and cut away.  In a country like England with no Library Standards then it’s even more crucial we have something.  What is needed is some sort of legal challenge, successful legal challenge, on minimum provision …. and those forgotten line “for all persons desiring to make use thereof” could be handy.  Frankly, it could save public library provision in smaller towns.  So let’s not forget those extra lines and let’s hope someone clever in the legal provision can do it. Because then councils will be scared of cutting libraries, will give them more protection and that will give public libraries some valuable breathing space.  And we all need to breathe.

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The new children's library

Last library service standing

Editorial

In the last editorial I wrote on the poor showing that Carillion appear to be giving for those who would argue for outsourcing library services.  It is worth mentioning, as one commenter did to me, of course, that there are other options for outsourcing.  There’s not too many others, admittedly, but they are there. There is in fact only one other, GLL, which are present in the UK market as a multi-council operation and, unlike Carillion, they are a social enterprise and so are not in it (strictly speaking) for the profit. LSSI are the other obvious contender but, as yet, despite running a fair few in the US, they do not currently have a single UK libraries contract.  They’d also like to distance themselves from Carillion as shown by this tweet I received from one of their senior UK people: “if they’re going to be outsourced, the profession should seek out the ONLY professional libraries operator! “.

There are also of course libraries run by non-profits in single councils: with York and Suffolk being the libraries-only concerns and the others being leisure services as well.  So, outsourcing remains an option but, as in other things (not least individual traditional council-run libraries, some of which are excellent and some of which are dire) there is quite a variation.  Working as we do in a time of tremendous stress, we will see over the next few years if this option is a successful and viable one … forced evolution will do its work and we will see which one these new options, and the old ones as well, are left standing.

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Straw Men and Amateurs

Editorial

Nottinghamshire councillors have announced that they were considering the closure of 44 libraries but, instead, the council has decided (like Devon already has) to seek support from community groups (including a community radio station), volunteers and funding from parish councils.  But hang on, that option of closing so many libraries looks suspiciously like a straw man: the councillors can blame the officers (who had no choice, presumably, but to give it as an alternative) and can say that they’re trying their best to save the service by passing it to someone else who will do the job for less.  So, a bit of a double whammy to the poor council workers there – they get put in the position of bad guys by their own councillors and other council workers are then likely to see their jobs lost as others, unpaid or otherwise, take them over instead.

What Nottinghamshire haven’t mentioned is passing on the service to a private company to run at a profit.  Which is probably good, because Carillion, according to reports, are doing the cause of outsourcing public libraries to private companies no favours in Croydon.  In the third negative article in the local press I’ve read in the last month, a student attacks what appears to be a frankly ridiculous system where the libraries have “student” tables and “leisure” tables.  It comes on top of another article which, admittedly written by a hostile witness (a Labour councillor) who points out that the Central Library there has been reduced to one entrance/exit, effectively closing the main entrance. He also notes:

An entire floor had no staff on it. The children’s library had no librarian on duty either. Carillion, the private company that now runs the libraries, has purposefully “de-skilled” the borough’s libraries, employing as few professional librarians as possible.

Of course, Croydon Council never agreed to Carillion taking over its libraries in the first place.  It agreed to Laing taking them over who then, six weeks later, simply sold the business to the new owners.  As a case study in how to turn people off “privatisation” of public libraries, this can hardly be bettered (worsened?).  Indeed, so so ironically, Carillion appear to be showing how amateur a private library company can be.

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Public libraries given means of assessing their own value to users

Editorial

ALMA-UK (no, I’ve never head of them either but apparently it’s “a voluntary cross-nation partnership, dedicated to enhancing the public value of archives, libraries and museums UK wide”) has come up with some useful findings to help keep your public library afloat.  It also provides, for free, a sample questionnaire and spreadsheets which any library service can use to find out the economic impact of its service.  The results of its survey incidentally is that the value of each library trip for the user is between 5.5 and 7.5 times the cost of provision.  Which is a pretty good multiplier and places it at the high end of studies which normally place the return on investment of public libraries as from 1.6 to 5.6.

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“Trying to make people reading brilliant books smile”

Editorial

Some mentions of libraries are starting to surface in councillors battling local elections.  Not many though. Perhaps that can be changed with the  Speak Up For Libraries manifesto.  Or perhaps we just need more teenagers putting messages in books saying how great they are.  It may not be very earnest, but I love it.  See below.

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“Under Pressure” report from the LGA

Editorial

The Local Government Association gets all depressing with the unfortunate reality that most councils feel that there are simply no more savings than can be made … and so cuts the public will notice will have to be happen very soon.  Hang on, hasn’t that been happening for a while in libraries? Perhaps, with elections looming, the LGA means cuts which will mean the public may change its vote. Anyway, it especially highlights libraries as one of these areas that this will happen in.  So that’s fun then. Meanwhile, over at the DCMS, the response to the PLR consultation has been announced: in a shock move, the Government agrees with itself. One of the items is putting PLR on e-books loaned on-site at libraries. Not at home, mind you, only if the e-book has actually downloaded in the building itself.  You know, where almost none actually are.  Well, at least that should be fairly cheap. Pointless, but cheap.

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Wrap-around dare centres: the public library’s unique possible future

Editorial

If libraries are puzzling out their future role then, all around the world, pieces of this jigsaw are coming into place.  Today, we have news of 500 robots being made available in Chicago libraries, lego and duplo being used for children’s sessions, minecraft for teens and, of course, the normal smattering of mentions of 3D printers and Maker Spaces.  Individual libraries are doing different ones of these all around the world, with the UK doing well in lego but no so much on the others, presumably due to financial constraints.  All of the projects serve the same purpose: to get our users interested in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known for short as STEM). This is quite different to the traditional Arts-based focus of public libraries and that is importance because, in this world where the barbarians are inside the gates, being able to prove libraries can improve “hard” skills and future GDP is going to be handy.

It also seems to me that all of these subjects, although not to my knowledge being put altogether in any one building, have a natural synergy that only libraries (as public buildings open to all ages) can make the best use of.  The pre-schooler who plays with duplo will naturally move on to lego will naturally move on to Minecraft will naturally move on to robots and thus to Maker Spaces and thus to cutting edge technology and design. Public libraries could be, excuse the punning, wrap-around dare centres where vital skills (and I’ve not even touched on reading and IT skills here: we’ve got those pretty much sorted already) are introduced and encouraged, in a natural progression to those who enter. All we need now is to puzzle out how to get the funding (and, actually, we’re not talking much money here), the skills (shouldn’t be a problem) and the will to do it.  There’s nothing insuperable there and it may just be super.

FIve steps to wrap around STEM at your library:

(1) Duplo for preschoolers – combine rhymetimes with making a duplo figure of what the story was about, with a song to match.

(2) Lego for junior school – how to host a lego club and why you should do it.

(3) Minecraft for late junior school/early secondary – how to do it, what to look out for.

(4) Robots for secondary school – 500 now available in Chicago.

(5) Maker Spaces for college age and beyond – Current situation and guides.

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Thursday 8th May: Elmer and EU copyright

Changes

National

“All you need to do is dress up in your brightest clothes, in honour of Elmer, and invite children and parents to come to the library and take part in the fun.”

  • EU rejects international copyright solution for libraries – EIFL. “Discussions by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright & Related Rights (SCCR) broke down in the early hours of Saturday morning 3 May, after the European Union (EU) attempted to block future discussion of copyright laws to aid libraries and archives fulfill their missions in the digital environment.”

“The EU’s hostility to any substantive discussions that might lead towards an international copyright treaty for the benefit of libraries and archives is reminiscent of its opposition to a treaty for the benefit of blind, visually impaired and print disabled people for most of the five years of talks that concluded in the Marrakesh Treaty 2013. Ironically, the EU signed the Marrakesh Treaty at the same WIPO meeting last week where it sought to wreck discussions concerning libraries and archives” Ms Barbara Stratton, CILIP

“The various library bodies have been trying to make a case within the EU that libraries have an essential role in the Ebook ecosystem and that it should be similar to the one they always had for printed books.  They have been asking for EU wide copyright laws to bring this about.  The EU have told them to forget it and that happened at a meeting on May 3″ Tim Coates

  • Five ways libraries are using Instagram to share collections and draw public interest – LSE. Ways are to ask users about their favourite authors; to show off their surroundings and collections; to publicise events; to show what goes on behind the scenes; to show their history.
  • Language, libraries and ‘The Market’ - Infoism. “growing numbers of people talk about library services (and public services in general) in broadly capitalist terms.” … “Language is probably not given the importance it deserves. Care needs to be taken with the words we use and how we use them. Words have meaning, but they also come with baggage” … “Libraries do not exist in a market” … “The adoption of capitalist language and strategies lacks imagination.” … “It doesn’t have to be this way. We do not have to be fearful of the alternatives. We do not have to accept that by rejecting capitalist rhetoric we are, in some way, holding back progress”
  • National reading group day 2014: Reading Agency “Hidden Gems” appeal to publishers - Reading Agency (press release). “To celebrate National Reading Group Day on 28 June 2014, The Reading Agency is launching a hunt for the nation’s favourite ‘hidden gem’ reading group read. To start the hunt, publishers who are members of The Reading Agency’s partnership scheme – which links up libraries and publishers to create successful and exciting events and activities for readers – are being asked to nominate recent titles for adults which they feel didn’t get the popular recognition they deserved, but which would make great reading group reads.”

International

  • Digital Readiness: The Next Wave of the Digital Divide – State Tech (USA). “A new challenge is emerging from the cracks of the digital divide: digital readiness — helping those who have Internet access, but lack the skills to use it effectively. On Tuesday, the American Library Association hosted a panel of four experts in Washington, D.C., who pooled their research to address the growing problem.” … “A new challenge is emerging from the cracks of the digital divide: digital readiness — helping those who have Internet access, but lack the skills to use it effectively. On Tuesday, the American Library Association hosted a panel of four experts in Washington, D.C., who pooled their research to address the growing problem.”
  • Drawings envision $56-million proposed makeover for Stanley A. Milner Library – Edmonton Journal (Canada). “The total revitalization cost of $56 million is for what Cooks calls a “full-meal deal” revitalization, including asbestos removal, upgrades to the mechanical and electrical systems and floor-to-ceiling windows on the second floor of the library overlooking the square. That space would be used for programming and could also be rented out for events.”
  • New Barn Raising - “Are you or someone you know seeking to sustain community and civic assets such as parks, libraries, rec. centers, senior centers, theaters, art galleries and museums?” … “If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes’, The New Barn-Raising toolkit will be of interest and use. Published by an international DC-based think-tank earlier this week, it draws on extensive research on assets in the U.S.”
  • New York Public Library abandons controversial renovation plans - Guardian (USA). “The New York Public Library has abandoned controversial plans to renovate its Fifth Avenue central research branch, a 100-year-old beaux-arts landmark that was set to be converted into a lending library. The NYPL will instead renovate its Mid-Manhattan branch, a large but fairly rundown lending branch across from the research institution. The move is a substantial and unexpected U-turn for the country’s second-largest library system, which for two years faced concerted protests from employees, library patrons, and architectural preservationists but insisted that its proposals were the only way forward.”
  • Why We Absolutely Need To Care More About Library Funding - Huffington Post (USA). “

UK local news by authority

  • Cheshire West and Chester – Plan to put library job cuts on hold is rejected - Chester Chronicle. ” bid to have controversial proposals to axe jobs from the borough’s library service put on hold has been thrown out. The motion was raised at a meeting of the full council by opposition culture chief.” … “This year’s council approved budget requires the net loss of the equivalent of 16.43 full time posts in the Localities directorate which includes libraries. The council points out, however, new jobs are available which are open to professional and non-professional staff who are at risk and some of the affected posts are currently vacant.” … “Cllr Gittins’s motion pointed to a statement by Arts Council England that ‘there is a clear, compelling and continuing need for a publicly funded library service”.
  • Hull – Meet the man helping boost Hull’s libraries with a prolific tweeting frog - Hull Daily Mail. @hull-libraries has 3700 followers and mixes local news with fun facts and trivia. “Lauded by some as the best library Twitter account in the country, it’s a daily mixture of informative tweets about the huge range of events happening across Hull, videos of Daleks knocking down dominos of Dr Who spoken word books, Darth Vader Mr Potato Head pictures and gentle digs at David Moyes and Coldplay fans”
  • Lincolnshire – Libraries: Over 100 library staff wanted redundancy rather than county council changes - Lincolnshire Echo. 108 library staff have asked about voluntary redundancy, of which 35 have already gone.
  • Neath Port Talbot – Resolven Library users wave farewell to librarians: before volunteers move in to take over - South Wales Evening Post. Volunteers have already taken over library whose paid staff left last week. Library workers thanked for their work, one of whom remembers seeing children grow up and bring their own children in.
  • Oldham – Songs of The Smiths inspire arty mum’s badge business – Manchester Evening News. “The designs, which are put on to shrink plastic and made into either badges or fridge magnets, are all handmade to order by Kate, a children’s librarian in Oldham who is currently on maternity leave. The 42-year-old, who lives in Mossley, Tameside, has also branched out – but not too far – into Morrissey’s solo material. Fans of the Manic Street Preachers can also bag a ‘libraries gave us power’ design.”
  • Vale of Glamorgan – Library staff break silence - Barry and District News. “The Vale Council staff, who wanted to remain unidentified, claimed attempting to run Dinas Powys, Wenvoe, Sully and St Athan’s library facilities as community libraries using volunteers would result in paid members losing their jobs. ” … ““Dedicated library staff have been left shocked and upset as this news emerged before these proposals had been officially discussed at the Vale Council cabinet meeting on Monday, April 28. “Staff and unions are also annoyed about the lack of meaningful consultation.”

“why is it always the lower end of the scale – the ones working with the actual public? Why can they not get rid of a librarian on a much higher pay scale? “It would probably work out the same as three members of staff who are losing their jobs” anonymous library worker

“It is clear from the reaction of Members of this Council, ‘Local People’ throughout the Vale, the Trade Unions and our superb staff that the decimation of our ‘Library Service’ by this Administration is completely unacceptable. What is more the manner in which the matter has been handled by the Administration has clearly been completely shambolic. The Cabinet Member may not be aware but local people were promised investment in the Library Service in Wenvoe. This investment was to come from the ‘Section 106 Agreements’ reached as a result of the granting of planning permission for two large housing developments in Wenvoe, which will almost double the size of the village. Can the Cabinet Member explain how this is now going to take place in view of the fact that he has all but closed the Library?” Cllr JC Bird to Cabinet Member for Adult Services

  • Wrexham – Cuts are the tip of the iceberg for Wrexham - News North Wales. “The stark warning that closing community centres, libraries and leisure centres was just the start of a ‘painful process’ comes as Wrexham Council outlined the first part of their proposed cuts for 2015-16, with more than £4 million of savings identified.” … “removal of the school library service”