Desmond Clarke

Editorial

I was so sorry to see that Desmond Clarke has passed away. We started exchanging emails almost back when I started PLN, back in 2010. He was a campaigning veteran long before then of course. We did not always agree on the solution to the problems that public libraries found themselves in but I never doubted his good intentions and, also, his gentle influence. He was one of the few campaigners that Ed Vaizey listened to, although of course that did not unfortunately translate much into action. There’s not many people outside the library world, when all is said and done, that spent so much time on working for their betterment. I’ll miss his emails and I’ll miss him.

The news that Bristol may close up to 17 branches is not unexpected. Back in January I’d reported that up to 19 were under threat and it looks like a similar number indeed are. The city library service has had a tough time over the last few years, the opening of Junction 3 excepted, and it’s not over yet.

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Farewell Rob Wilson, we hardly knew you

Editorial

Well, that was an election and a half. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what it all means yet and I won’t pretend to even be able to make a good guess. The only thing for sure is we will have a new minister in charge of libraries as Rob Wilson lost his parliamentary seat last week. He certainly seemed more interventionist than Ed Vaizey, although that is not exactly saying much. He visited troubled library authorities and even issued as “minded to intervene” in Lancashire, which is highly unusual and seemed to at least take an interest in the sector. He even found some funding for innovation, although the timetable for bidding for it was incredibly rushed. At the time of writing, it’s not clear who his replacement may be.

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Take a deep breath, learn something new, improve

Editorial

If you’re reading this on Friday, with most or all of the general election results having come in, you will have more idea than I currently have on what the next five years holds for UK public libraries. More of the same or not. No matter what happens, always remember the importance of public libraries in so many different aspects of life and for all ages. If you work in libraries, be proud of what you do and aim to learn something new to make your work even better. If you advocate or campaign for libraries, take a deep breath. No matter what happens, your skills and your energy are going to be needed, no matter who you are.

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Celebrity advocates for libraries: Riddell, McDermid and 100 others

Editorial

It has been a real delight over the last year to see the many pro-library drawings by Chris Riddell popping up on Twitter.  He has been the children’s laureate for 2016/17, soon to be replaced by the next (mystery) children’s writer. This position is often filled by someone who rightly has worked out how important public libraries are to getting children to read.  I am delighted to see that Chris will not stop campaigning because his tenure is at end: he is becoming the president of the School Library Association. Whoever thought of asking him to do that job is a genius. Another example of a great advocate for libraries is Val McDermid who has been quoted, not for the first time, supporting public libraries. People, and thus the media, tend to listen more to celebrities than even (perhaps especially even) experts and so people like this are gold dust. Here’s a list of famous people I’ve noticed saying nice things about libraries. Can you let me know of any more? Email me as normal at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

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Ireland unifies, Welsh Standards compared with English atomisation

Editorial

The pre-election lull continues with very few local library stories compared to normal, especially as considering this post below covers more days than normal. There are two articles, though, that has a lot of reaction when I reported them on Twitter. The first is the news that the Republic of Ireland is aiming to unify its entire public library system, at least in so far as having a single membership card and being able to reserve items from anywhere in the country. Now, Ireland is a relatively small country, smaller than one-tenth of the UK, with only 333 branches and a population of under five million, so it’s easier for them but it does point the way forward. Sadly, though, I’m seeing at least as much atomisation in the UK (with, for example, more independent volunteer libraries and organisations involved) than I am the reverse.

The second story is the appointment of an independent library standards adviser in Wales. Until recently, at least, I met many involved people in England who argued that standards were not advantageous but rather that they encouraged a “race to the bottom” where councils aimed to spend less than their comparators. That argument, although it still amazingly holds sway amongst some even now, has taken a battering with the removal of English standards, where we can now see clearly now see just such a race to the bottom, not because of standards but rather due to their absence and the connected lack of effective superintendence of those who transgress.

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Check out what each political party has in store for public libraries

Editorial

It probably has not escaped your notice that there is a general election coming up shortly. As in most national elections, the subject of public libraries is spectacularly absent and none more so than this one which appears to be mainly about Brexit and personalities. I am noticing very few references to the sector in the news, with their main presence being in Lancashire, where the new Conservative administration has pledged to reopen all the libraries recently shut by Labour, although it’s not clear how many of these will be staffed by volunteers rather than paid staff.  Similarly, in Warrington (also Labour,-controlled by the way), there has been a mention of libraries in the Green candidate’s position, doubtless due to the large-scale cuts proposed there, swiftly followed by much public protest. But that’s pretty much it for the last few days. For myself, if one puts aside the whole policy of austerity (quite a big if, but go with it),  I tend to see Labour complaining about cuts to libraries in Conservative controlled councils and Conservatives complaining about cuts in Labour controlled councils. It can all get a bit confusing. As such, it has been very useful to see the recent CILIP survey on the manifestoes of the UK-wide political parties, which analyses what libraries can expect from each. Have a read.

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Putting books on the streets, not soldiers

Editorial

I live close enough to Manchester that I know of, at one remove, several people who were at the concert. I’ve been at the venue myself a few times. The first thing that struck me was that the so badly misled man that killed so many children and others, would have seen them and knew full well what he was doing. I only realised later that he deliberately planned to kill such innocents probably days in advance. The natural response to all this is hate and fear and, dig into social media (or read the Daily Mail), and you’ll sadly see both. Thankfully, the other response has been to make clear that such an atrocity will not affect how we live. As such, while putting soldiers in the streets may make sense tactically, some may question if it sends a good strategic message.

Public libraries have a role in making things better. The sector exists to provide free information, ideally checked at least at one remove for accuracy, to the public. The library provides a place where all people can come in for free, rub shoulders with eachother and find the  facts, and common things that bring us together, not things that  push us apart. Moreover, it remains the ultimate in terms of normality for many people. Be grateful for that, work hard for all and, perhaps, do a display or two showing that Muslims are just people like anyone else or on peacemakers, not warmongers. A guide on how to explain such murders to children wouldn’t go amiss. But, most of all, go to work, do your job, smile and -what’s the phrase? – keep calm and carry on. That’s the ultimate victory, not just for libraries but for the democratic world.

Putting books on the streets, not soldiers, would be the course of action I’d most like to see.

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Well, at least the Lib Dems mention libraries

Editorial

The manifestos of the three main English political parties have now been published and it’s clear who’s the winner when it comes to at least mentioning public libraries. The Labour Party are at least aware of some of the issues around libraries, offering a return to Library Standards and money for IT. The Liberal Democrats are, well, at least aware of the word “libraries” and how it can be used in a sentence, offering the sector part of £2 billion to co-locate services. The Conservatives, on the other hand. don’t mention the word library once in their entire document. I get the feeling that does not bode well.

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Labour Manifesto on libraries and questions over volunteer libraries

Editorial

The Labour Manifesto has been released, and with it some indication of what that party sees as key for public libraries. The key thing is that they will cease the reduction in council budgets generally that has caused such grief to the sector. The second is that they will reintroduce Library Standards. They also talk about updating the wifi and computers, which would be welcome. So, it’s got a couple of good points but is perhaps not as revolutionary or committed as some would wish. But then, at least Labour mentions libraries. It will be interesting to see if the Conservatives do and, in that unlikely event, whether it will be just helping volunteers take them over. We’ll see.

On that subject of volunteers by the way, the Private Eye reports that volunteer libraries in Surrey cost similar amounts to paid libraries but are not as successful [This comment in square brackets added later: the Eye piece strictly says that usage has reduced in nine out of the ten: it may be that other paid libraries have seen similar declines. As such it’s worth pointing out the piece pointed to the cost rather than making a strict comparison – Ed.]. That will be music to the ears of those against them but, until we have clear statistics of cost and usage for a significant number of volunteer libraries, their success or otherwise is still guesswork. The ongoing lack of such figures is suggestive of them not being a good news story overall but we simply cannot tell without the data.

Other points of interest this post is the tremendous success of Storyhouse in Chester in its first open weekend, with 300 (!) new members being joined, and some more discussion from the USA as to the wisdom and effectiveness of library fines.

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National news

  • How can case studies support libraries and information services? #CILIPW17 – CILIP Wales Conference. “Although we may hear the negative comments about local library services, driven by cuts and book borrowing, I’ve heard so many positives which can feed into powerful, newsworthy case studies. I look forward to seeing them in the public domain! And if your local information or library service has made a positive difference to you, why not let them know?”

“Labour will end cuts to local authority budgets to support the provision of libraries, museums and galleries. We will take steps to widen the reach of the Government Art Collection so that more people can enjoy it.”

“Libraries are vital social assets, valued by communities across the country. Will ensure libraries are preserved for future generations and updated with Wi-Fi and computers to meet modern needs. We will reintroduce library standards, so that the government can assess and guide councils to delivering the best possible service”

Labour Manifesto

  • Library design awards – Designing Libraries. “he Public Library Building Awards UK and the Republic of Ireland, administered by the Public Libraries Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and An Chomairle Leabharlanna, the Irish Library Council, were last awarded in 2009 before becoming victims of economic recession. A judging panel visited shortlisted libraries and awarded both overall winners and winners in specific categories and latterly there was also a public choice winner, voted on by delegates at the CILIP Umbrella conference at which the awards were presented. There is a need for a public library design award and Designing Libraries is currently in consultation with interested parties to revive the award.
  • Privacy in libraries (keynote talk given by Paul Pedley at CILIP in Wales – Libraries Privacy Blog. “librarianship is one of the only professions that explicitly expresses privacy rights in its codes of ethics” but ““We keep talking about how libraries are heralds of privacy, but we are terrible at it”. Looks at self-service reservations/holds, self-service receipts, online databases, blogs complaining about the public, colocations where sensitive information can be overheard/seen, body odour, commercial interests. CCTV, web analytics and browser histories, roles of librarians in larger picture.

International news

  • Australia – A picture is worth… a million lines of data – Public Libraries Connect. “State Library of Queensland has commissioned the development of a prototype Data Visualisation Tool which incorporates data from the Queensland Public Libraries Statistical Bulletins from 2011-2016. Data visualization is the presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format which enables you to see information presented visually, so you can more clearly understand patterns or difficult concepts. The aim of the Data Visualisation Tool prototype is to examine whether data patterns, anomalies and opportunities can be more easily identified, analysed and understood through a variety of simple visualisation techniques.”
  • Canada – Toronto Public Library expanding program that lends out wireless internet – CBC News. “The Toronto Public Library partnered with Google Canada last summer to lend out some 200 Wi-Fi hotspots for six months at a time. Now, after a survey of those who borrowed the devices found 97 per cent of people were happy with the program, library officials are hoping to get 500 into circulation by the end of the summer. “We could expand it tomorrow and we’d still need more,” Coun. Sarah Doucette, who sits on the library board, told CBC Toronto.” … “Google has now contributed $250,000 to the pilot project, while Rogers is now providing the devices for free as well as offering two years of service, according to a report given to the library’s board.”
  • Indonesia – Malang public minivans become mobile libraries – Jakarta Post. “The minivans in Malang have added an extra function and become mobile libraries, a perfect feature to enrich the experience of passengers who previously had to deal with the boredom of waiting for the drivers to start their engines, sometimes under the scorching sun. Public minivans that also function as mobile public libraries seems like a perfect match for Malang, a town well-known as one of the top educational towns in Indonesia with its four state universities, 10 major private colleges and dozens of diploma-level education centers.”
  • Spain – La Diputación de Barcelona lanza ‘BiblioLab’, el nuevo modelo para las bibliotecas públicas / The Diputación de Barcelona launches ‘BiblioLab’, the new model for public libraries – La Vanguardia (In Spanish). “Experimentation and interactivity are the cornerstones of this “radical change”, “, 300,000 Euro project. Including a kitchen, remote-controlled car, “libraries must “adapt to the new digital revolution” and has applauded that models such as BiblioLab “give citizens access to science, creativity or literature among a wide range of possibilities.” For his part, Cano said that the project promotes “learning, creativity and citizen participation”, although he has pointed out that the basic functions that have preserved libraries throughout history will continue to be maintained, noting that they have always been been places of social inclusion”
  • USA – Libraries Are Dropping Overdue Fines — But Can They Afford To? – Huffington Post. “… libraries did not institute fines in order to shame, punish or make money off of patrons, Todaro emphasized. Rather, a fine is “supposed to maximize use of the material” by providing a small but sharp reminder to return what we’ve borrowed. “People want those books,” she told HuffPost, “and there’s not enough.” What’s more, she explained, replacing a lost or stolen book eats up more library resources than delinquent borrowers may realize ― not just in the price of the new book, but in costly human labor to acquire and process it. Fines provide a classic economic motivation for cardholders to avoid those negative externalities.”

“Slate’s Ruth Graham looked at the aftermath of a Colorado library district’s elimination of overdue fines in 2015 and found that the financial loss was manageable and the boost to morale ― for both patrons and librarians ― was striking. Perhaps most notable: “95 percent of materials are returned within a week of their due date.” Such a simple move might seem too good to be true, but perhaps sometimes the simplest solution really is also the best for all concerned.”

  • USA – Making Libraries Sing – Library Journal. “Instead of focusing on a genre of music, or items to add to your collections, this column offers a shout-out to a librarian with a double life, and the work she and others do to bring music to patrons in a variety of ways”

Local news by authority

  • Bury – Victoria Wood statue to be erected in Bury Library Gardens – British Comedy Guide. “The statue will be placed in Library Gardens in the centre of her home town of Bury, Greater Manchester”
  • Cheshire West and Chester – Chester Storyhouse welcomes 10,000 visitors in its first weekend – Chester Chronicle. “Storyhouse recorded 10,000 visits over the opening weekend, with 3,500 visits on Saturday. More than 2,000 books were loaned from the library and 300 new library cards issued, compared to six on the same Saturday in 2016.” … ” library had regular storytelling in the dedicated storytelling room, arts and crafts and messy play. The restaurant was fully booked and was a bustling hub across the weekend.” … “Other spaces include a 150 seat studio theatre, open plan foyers, hospitality spaces, and a library that spills across all areas of the operation – including a dedicated children’s library complete with wet play, arts and crafts spaces and a storytelling room.”

“We saw families in the library, teenagers in the cinema, couples at the theatre, groups of friends in the restaurant and in every corner individuals reading books or tapping away on laptops. Here’s to many more people discovering Storyhouse soon”

  • Cheshire West and Chester – Storyhouse opens – cinema, theatre, library – Designing Libraries. “Storyhouse is a major new civic cultural hub presenting drama, film and literature, housed in the redundant shell of a 1930s Odeon in the centre of Chester. For Bennetts Associates, the design architects, the project presented an opportunity to create an innovative city-centre public building which will be open 12 hours a day, re-occupying the art deco cinema interiors and re-inventing the way a city library is used and perceived.”
  • Falkirk – Denny Library, Falkirk – Designing Libraries. “As part of a £7.6 million regeneration project, with the library being the centrepiece, the modernised library is entirely flexible to facilitate the library’s busy events and activities schedule that is now available to the community.”
  • Leeds – Library moves out as work starts on new Bramley Community Hub – West Leeds Dispatch. “Bramley Library has temporarily closed its doors as work starts to transform it into a one-stop community hub for Leeds City Council services. The work is part of a £379,555 package of work which includes improving customer areas, two new glass enquiry rooms, a new reception area, new housing office, restoration of existing oak screens and parquet floors, redecorating and new public toilets. The library building, on Hough Lane, is being emptied before handing over to contractor Aspect Building Solutions. Building work is due to start on site in the first week in June for an eight-week period.”
  • Merthyr Tydfil – Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre – Designing Libraries. “FG Library & Learning created a winning design for Merthyr Tydfil Public Library Service that recognised the more leisure-orientated nature of the space, which includes Landscape library shelving, a funky StoryWall in the children’s area, café-style tables and chairs, and quiet seating booths with power for laptops and tablets. Given that the variety of soft seating would be used as part of the café area as well as the library, seats were upholstered in stylish stain-repellent and waterproof Halcyon fabric, which is also anti-microbial and bleach-cleanable so ideal for areas which require extra protection. This brand new, co-located facility has expanded services into the community, making them more accessible, and although the library is staffed for just 24 hours per week, it is open through self-service from 6.00am to 10.00pm every day. Initial studies show visitor figures have increased by 139%, and user comments have been incredibly positive.
  • North Somerset – Library assistants at risk of redundancy after community services overhaul – Mercury. “North Somerset Council reviewed its libraries and children’s centres at the end of last year to try to save £500,000 by 2019. The council hoped to make as few redundancies as possible, but it has decided it may have remove eight library posts. These include making five library supervisors and three lead librarian assistants redundant if they cannot be found jobs elsewhere in the council. A decision is not likely to be made until after May 16. Yatton Library is closed while the village’s children’s centre is moved in, and is expected to re-open on August 14. Worle Library is being moved into the nearby children’s centre.”
  • Powys – Hay Festival cash keeps town library open – BBC. “The Hay Festival has agreed to continue funding part of the library’s operating costs following a county council review of 11 branch libraries. The council said revised budget savings meant it now had until the end of the December to agree the library’s future. One option is to move it into a new school from next January. Hay-on-Wye Library Supporters chairwoman Anita Wright said the next steps were to find a sustainable solution for the library’s future. Community groups and councils have taken over running a number of the county’s other libraries, such as Crickhowell which is managed in a partnership with the high school.”
  • South Tyneside – Union outrage over plans for community groups to run South Tyneside libraries – Shields Gazette. “Unison and the South Tyneside Public Service Alliance have hit out against the council’s Library Reconfiguration Plan which would see community groups take over the running of some libraries” … ““Our councillors have got really hard decisions to make as the council struggle to balance the budget, but there are also choices. “Libraries provide value for money, a range of services to a wide selection of people in communities, reach all age groups and enable them to deliver on the council aims, objectives and vision for the future. “Our branch libraries are the last free open, inclusive, spaces left in communities”

“Back in 2011, Surrey councillors discussed turning ten county libraries into community partnered libraries (CPL).  This was civic-speak for getting rid of professional librarians and relying on volunteers.  At the time, cultural services head Peter Milton said the cut in paid librarians would save around £400,000 a year.  So how did that turn out?

The council went ahead with its money-saving plan and created the ten CPLs, managed by a council cost centre for community-led services.  The cost centre used to manage mobile libraries and prison lending, too, but the mobile libraries service was closed in 2011 and responsibility for the prison service was transferred elsewhere, leaving the cost centre in charge of just the CPLs.

The annual costs of this centre exceeded £400,000 in the three years from 2012/13 to 2014/15 and fell slightly to £356,525 in 2015/16 — costs remarkably similar to Milton’s original savings target for slashing librarians’ jobs.  Meanwhile, nine out of ten of the volunteer-run libraries have seen borrowing fall since they lost their paid staff.  Tattenhams library near Epsom, for example, lent more than 45,000 books in 2009/10 and just over 30,000 in 2015/16.” Surrey – Private Eye (Not available online), Issue 1444, P.33

The key to staffless provision is, apparently, keys.

Editorial

A few threads today. We have both viewpoints on volunteer libraries from Sheffield, where there is both a glowing report on how the community is rallying around and a damning letter pointing out the cut to paid staffing is less than half the continued subsidy to the volunteers. There is also mention – the first I’ve spotted from the UK – in the same angry letter of a council library changing from being dewey to being categorised. From Sunderland, we have confirmation that the branches earmarked previously for volunteers will be going that way soon, leaving only 3 out of 11 with “professional” (I suspect this largely just means “paid”) staff. Then in Warrington we have the first inkling of what the libraries “saved” after protests last year will look like. From across the water, we also have one of the chiefs of the Little Free Library movement defending his corner. It turns out that they’re not fat-cat bourgeois conspirators bent on destroying libraries after all. So, that’s at least one less thing to worry about. Finally, news from Perth and Kinross that the “Every Child A Library Member” campaign has, unsurprising, led to a whole lot of new child members and, presumably, an increase in usage. However, like so much else in libraries, there’s no real statistical evidence to show the impact of the campaign on kids reading more. Yet.

Did I say finally? Not quite yet. As the real corker for me is the Australian public library that is now at the cutting edge of library provision by allowing its members 24/7 access 365 days per year. How is it doing this? By giving them keys. In your face, staffless technology solutions.

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