Libraries: where facts trump lies

Editorial

My only thought today is for the USA, which is now being run by a President who does not understand the difference between a fact and something he wants to be true but is demonstrably untrue  (or “an alternative fact” as it was memorably described today). I have become used over the last six years to look enviously at the USA as country which largely values its libraries and has high usage.  I’m not quite so envious now.  But this is a situation where by merely being there, and not pushing a partisan message, American libraries can prove their worth like never before. I hope the new president is unable to stop them.

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Bury proposes 10 out of 14 branches cut: Bristol will cut deeply too.

Editorial

Two big announcements of library cuts today.  Bury will be closing/transferring at least 10 out of 14 of its libraries in a £1.4m cut.  The last deep cut I am aware of from there was 2013/14 (£570k) which was scary enough but the £1.4m cut announced there now is, by my calculations, a full halving of their total libraries budget.  By coincidence,, another library authority beginning with a B – Bristol – has also confirmed a £1.4 million cut to its libraries. While they have not officially announced what this means in terms of library closures, one unofficial source tells me that this could mean up to 19 of 28 libraries closing or being passed to volunteers/community groups. Their last deep cut was in 2015 where £1.1 million was taken from roughly £5.7m budget (this figure extrapolated from media reports) which led to big protests and thus the closing of only one library. It may well be that this further cut means such hollowing out is not an option this time and we can expect far more in terms of closures (hence the alleged scary figure of 19) but we shall see.  If all this is right, by the way, then that’s 39 libraries under threat in three days. Gosh, I hope this year does not continue in that vein.

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Plymouth to cut 10 libraries, “Reading Allowed” review and goodbye Obama

Editorial

In this post, Plymouth joins the expanding list of councils to announce a desire to close more than half of its libraries. Doing a Livewire, it does its best to present this presumably cost-driven move as modernisation and even “transformation” but it seems that many people are not buying this approach, with the council already being called barbarians and crazy.  The local newspaper, the Plymouth Herald, has already come out strongly in favour of keeping the libraries open and so the council looks set for a fight. Meanwhile, in Norfolk, the council has taken the unusual step of guaranteeing no cuts to libraries in 2017/18 and a very snazzy looking new library (co-located with borough council offices and other services) has opened in Hemel Hempstead.

Meanwhile, we are in the last few days of the Obama presidency. Despite being blocked by Congress on so many issues, the Obamas have shown themselves to be wonderful supporters of libraries and literacy.  I am sure the profession there will be very sorry to see them go, not least because they are already worried about what Trump – pretty much the opposite of President Obama in almost every way – will do for (or, more likely, against) public services, privacy and diversity.  It promises to be a bumpy few years ahead.

A quick review of “Reading Allowed: True stories of curious incidents in a provincial library” by Chris Paling

I was delighted to be sent a review copy of this book a couple of months ago.  It’s set in quite a large public library in London – the location is never explicitly mentioned but it’s certainly not somewhere I’d call “provincial”.  What comes across is how tough the library is.  There’s drug dealers and criminals described in pretty much every chapter, with the security guards (called “Facilities”) being kept very busy dealing with them when they’re not sorting out blockages in the toilets.  Clearly, the library is fulfilling a unique role in dealing with those marginalised by society. What next comes across is the strong affection the author feels for the clientele. I can completely identify with this myself as you really get to know someone when you work in libraries and they become, if not your friends, then someone you care about and want the best for. It’s an easy to read book, quite humorous in places and quite thoughtful in others.  Chris sums up the feel of working a busy big library facing a death by thousand cuts very well and I am sure many working in the sector would read it with recognition. Meanwhile, those who don’t use libraries but still happily pronounce their death (see Plymouth for a new example below) may be quite shocked by all the wonderful things provided.  Out on 2nd February, I recommend you read a copy, even though I can recognise myself being described a “pundit” (really!) on one of the later pages.

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An inspector calls in Lancashire, probable U-turn in Warrington and Open+ in Eire

Editorial

The libraries minister has visited Lancashire to have a look at the library closures by that council. It’s a Labour controlled council and I understand the closures were all in Conservative-controlled areas so that may have been a factor as well as the anger of public who felt that the consultation was one in name only.  Reports of his visit are widely differing, with some thinking that he’ll step in while the council itself has apparently used it as an opportunity to show off how “comprehensive and efficient” they still are.  They’re also still happily selling the already-closed library buildings.  Soft or hard, his visit is the first real test in terms of how interventionist or not this minister will be.  We’ll know soon enough.

One of the most botched proposed cuts to library services by leisure/library trust LiveWire, coupled with one of the angriest and loudest responses by library users, has been in Warrington over the last few months.  I know from colleagues that it is being used almost as a case study in how not to do it.  I’m therefore delighted to see that these cuts looks like they’re going to be reversed, with Warrington Central Library staying open (the original plans was for the magnificent Victorian building to be closed and the library service moved into – yes – an ex shoe shop) and several branches which had been slated as being replaced with book collection lockers (yes, lockers) staying open.  The devil is the detail, though, and nothing is confirmed as yet. Possibly ironically, last week, the protests started hitting the fan in Bath where the council released a similarly deceptive consultation about “modernising” its library (mainly by closing the big central library in the busiest part of town).  One hopes councils (and trusts) learn one day to be honest with the public about what they’re doing but there’s little sign so far.

Finally, one of the most amazing things to watch has been the difficult and acrimonious passage that Open+ and similar technologies have had in the Republic of Ireland.  Introduced with barely a whisper of complaint in the UK, all hell has apparently broken loose in Eire about it, with the latest being an ex-minster publicly calling the system “daft”. Meanwhile, in Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan announced last week they’re be introducing the technology, to a positive response so far in the press.

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Refurbishments, a new library/leisure trust and PIN-only Camden mornings

Editorial

It’s good to see a couple of library refurbishments on the list and what appears to be an old-style complementary Friends of the Library group or two being set up. Gives me hope for 2017.  In other news, Flintshire are becoming a combined libraries/leisure trust.  This was once quite the thing (and the success of GLL in Greenwich and Wandsworth reported below, albeit with a strong library leader, shows it can work) but I suspect that many authorities are having second thoughts with the debacle of Warrington Livewire’s cack-handed cutting of its libraries.  There’s also the news, which I must admit took even me somewhat a-back, that five libraries in Camden will now only be available in the mornings if one swipes one’s library card and type in a PIN at the door.

Finally, I received a short and somewhat tragic email from a retired librarian in the North West who worries that his love of donated books at his local supermarket will somehow contribute to the end of libraries. Bless him and bless us.

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Libraries minister goes to Lancashire but will he intervene?

Editorial

It’s heartening to see the new libraries minister visiting Lancashire to have a look at how its council is cutting its library service. The council has taken a lot of flak due to the sheer number of branches involved, some seemingly dubious consultations  and, more recently, making some controversial announcements over Christmas, being accused of trying to “bury bad news”.  Don’t get too excited, though. The minister, Rob Wilson, is unlikely to actually intervene in the county. That would be going a bit too far for a government still tied to the twin stakes of austerity and localism. No, he will probably merely use the visit to grandstand, showing how concerned he is without actually doing anything.  That’s still, though, more than I can remember Ed Vaizey doing in his tenure in the job, where he seemed to spend what little time he devoted to libraries either saying how much they were thriving or visiting carefully selected branches that fitted his views. I’m hoping Rob Wilson is made of sterner stuff.  We’ll know soon enough.

Other news that pickled my interest comes from the USA, where staff have got into trouble for using fake patrons to issue books that otherwise their computers would have ordered them to withdraw.  This over-reliance on computers by libraries is an issue.  Many of us will have learnt how much harder it is to withdraw books in self-service libraries which no longer have those handy date-stamps on them, for instance.  Meanwhile, those computer printouts that list what to withdraw, in the libraries lucky enough to have them,  often take no account of the actual condition of the book or that it’s a classic that no library should do without. The ideal I suspect, as in most things, is a happy medium between an entirely time-heavy (and open to bias and error, however some may say otherwise) staff-based revision system on one hand and emotionless garbage-in garbage-out obeying of the computer printout on the other.

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Honours and the year in review

Editorial

It was lovely to see two library people receiving honours. Ciara Eastell, head of Devon non-profit Libraries Unlimited and past president of the Society of Chief Librarians – who coincidentally I went to library school with (Sheffield, class of 93-4) – and Desmond Clarke, ex publishing boss and now national library campaigner. Both have done what they can for public libraries.  I was less happy to see the ex-boss of Warrington Livewire, which is currently devastating its libraries, also receive an honour.

Normally at this time of year I would do a post on the major trends in public libraries in the last year but I see Leon has beaten me to it.  I recommend it to you.  The only things I would add to it are Open+/remote-controlled libraries, which are really taking off this year, for better or for worse and the rise of parish/town councils paying for libraries, often by raising their parish rates.  This last represents a possible ray of hope for libraries as parish/town councils are not limited in the same way in raising council tax than larger councils. I can foresee hundreds of libraries moving from the county/borough councils to smaller, more atomised, local authorities in order to take advantage of this and it represents a get-out clause for the Government which is otherwise tied to austerity and localism.

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Merry Christmas, see you in the New Year

Editorial

Look, let’s not beat around the bush.  It’s been a difficult year. Odds are that you’ve done a ton of work and you’ve been either directly affected by cuts to your library or library service and/or have heard of such things in neighbouring authorities. In the UK, we have what looks like more austerity, added now to the uncertainties of Brexit, while in the USA we have what appears to be a narcissistic bully who has difficulties with facts about to take control. You and I deserve a break.

So have a great Christmas. Forget all this library stuff for a few days. See you in the New Year.

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Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there's scope for bigger ones.

Celebrating “Celebrating Shakespeare”

Editorial

Public libraries in the UK are, famously, atomised, with 151 different library services in England alone. Getting all of these various services to work together, especially in this age of localism and in the absence of standards, is always challenging but the benefits of doing so can be immense.  There are various co-operative agreements (here’s 28 examples – contact me if you know of any more) between library services to be more efficient, with the biggest most obvious promotional arrangement the public would be aware of being the Summer Reading Challenge.  I like the SRC especially as it allows some sort of national promotion for public libraries.  This scheme has largely been unique but I’m glad to see that there are now more examples coming on stream, via the Society of Chief Librarians.

Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there's scope for bigger ones.

Those are quite big numbers but the SRC shows that there’s scope for bigger ones.

I was involved in the Celebrating Shakespeare project this year, which provided materials for promoting the Bard as well as Arts Council England funding for artists and performers.  We had adults doing iambic pentameter sessions (not so successful) and a theatre group doing the Tempest (tremendously successful, with all three library venues being sold out, even at the cost of £10 per ticket in one case).  I also loved the social media campaign associated with it (6000 tweets, even though some taking part apparently need to learn what a selfie is) and the joy and energy it released.  The whole thing showed what can achieved with a directing hand, centralised resources and some seed money. All in all, 11000 people were involved in Shakespeare Week and a further 12000 people were involved in the Summer and Autumn, spread over 388 libraries.  This accounted for a large part of the number of library authorities in the UK, although some could not take part because of coping with cuts/restructures or because of the shortage of preparation time.  I understand that the project will continue next year and I wish it every success. But hang on, “a directing hand, centralised resources and some seed money”? In 2016? Can that be? Yes, it can.  Now let’s see, if more such projects can be – or not to be (sorry) – in future.

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Reading, Feeding and staying open on Christmas Day: innovation continues.

Editorial

Up and down the country, library staff are looking at ideas for bidding for the £3.9 million Libraries Innovation Fund. I can see from the website statistics that a lot of you are looking at my list of 250 library ideas. There’s three new ideas today, with the most promising in my mind coming from Rochdale where the need to feed children’s bodies and minds are combined in a Read and Feed scheme. Genius. This ties in with a fair number of things for libraries and communities and I hope the idea spreads.  I’m not sure I’d want to do it myself but another idea is opening for a hour or two on Christmas Day itself to welcome the lonely (and presumably those critically short of something to read) into the library on what can be the most depressing day of the year. I understand that this is the second year that one library has done this and all I can say is that anyone involved should be up for awards.

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