Goodbye Libraries Taskforce, huge cuts to Bradford and Coventry, good news elsewhere

Editorial

So, effectively, it’s goodbye to the Libraries Taskforce, whose duties are now formally part of Arts Council England for a year until it, presumably, disappears forever. The Taskforce did some good work in highlighting the importance of public libraries to central government departments, although with questionable impact and depth, arranged training and was a good sharer of information on what the sector with its frequent blogs. I’m not sure what other concrete achievements it has, although to defend it further, it did come into existence at the toughest time in public library history, world wars included, and, as a civil service entity, was unable to criticise or otherwise hold the neglectfully hands-off government to account.

And it’s a government that absolutely does need to be held to account by someone if Bradford’s suggested 65% cut to library budget in two years goes through. It’s not as if it hadn’t been cut before, with volunteer libraries, co-locations and the full panoply of “savings” already in place from previous hacks to its budget. In a similar vein, Coventry, which amusingly is the 2021 UK City of Culture, is pruning £1m off a budget already cut by £1.4m. I understand the libraries minister is in the latter city this week with the DCMS libraries team. I hope this is not coincidental and he actually calls out such behaviour. The last decade has been a history of libraries ministers (with special mention going to the library-comatose Ed Vaizey) failing to meaningfully intervene in such deep cuts, though, as don’t get your hopes up.

And, finally, oh look, some good news. And not just in one library but in three. Well done East Sussex, Southwark and Suffolk on the improvements there and fingers crossed for the marvellous sound Preston project.

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Not quite all quiet

Editorial

A relatively quiet few days, thankfully, although with rumblings from the current library battlegrounds of Ealing, Essex and Worcestershire. The key piece of news for me is one I missed when it happened: Kirkless joined the increasing trend towards going fine-free at the end of December. There are now eight services in the UK I know of that have taken this approach.

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Hurting Ealing and £120k for the Reading Agency

Editorial

Sorry to see that Ealing are discussing dramatic cuts from the current £2.2m down to, and I can’t believe I’m reading this right but I’ve checked , £566k in 2022. My goodness. Hopefully, the final cut will be better than the libraryageddon that those figures imply. On the other end of the scale, the Reading Agency have been awarded a handsome £120k to evaluate the Summer Reading Challenge. The SRC is the most successful national promotion that public libraries do, with by far the most impact, so that’s money well spent if it helps safeguard it.

Well done to the Edge Conference in Edinburgh which is now in its tenth year. It’s an excellent, compact but beautifully formed, couple of days that I enjoyed going to a few years back … and it has a very strong set of international speakers that you may not see anywhere else so it’s worth a look. Lastly, in my excited thanking everyone for my BEM last post,, I missed mentioning Judith Robinson from Kirklees Libraries, who received a British Empire Medal herself for services to public libraries. You do, of course, rock, Judith.

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A fine-free future, Essex and the New Years Honours

Editorial

I hope you all enjoyed the Christmas / New Years break. I certainly did. The main thing in the library news since way back on 16th December when the last news update was done has been the continued protests in Essex against the deep cuts there. The New Years Honours seemed to concentrate more than normal on the literary side with authors who campaign for libraries – including Julia Donaldson, Philip Pullman and Chris Riddell – all being mentioned. Public librarian side, congrats to Neil MacInnes – chief of Manchester libraries and the last president of Society of Chief Librarians/first of Libraries Connected, who got an OBE and to Tony Brown, Islington stock and reader development manager, who received a BEM (British Empire Medal). And a huge thank you to whoever nominated me as I got a BEM myself. Wow. Just … wow.

It’s been a big couple of weeks for libraries going fine-free, with the whole Republic of Ireland no longer charging late fees and Halton Council also announcing a one-year pilot of no fines. The whole Australian state of Tasmania has also gone the same way. It’s becoming clear that removing all fines – once unthinkable and then only something that happened elsewhere – is fast picking up momentum and is now something many library services are considering.

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Cuts to CILIP and Surrey: Scotland and Libraries Connected gain

Editorial

CILIP are going through a major change, with 11 out of 54 posts being lost. Library services have had ample experience of that sort of thing so we all know what that feels like. Wishing them all the best for the future. Surrey are also having a major, major, major cut – with a cut in usage of 25% since 2010 being used – get this – to justify an over 50% cut in funding and ignoring all the other cuts there since 2010. So that’s not fixed in any way, no sir. There’s good news, on the other hand, from Scottish libraries, with £450k for various library projects and from Libraries Connected who have got £75k from ACE for regional work. I have no idea what the latter means but the press release makes it sound like a good thing so here’s hoping.

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UK public library funding and usage both decline by 4% 2017/18. Coincidence?

Editorial

The newest comprehensive (well. OK, eight months after the event and missing one-fifth of all library services) annual Cipfa figures on public library performance have been released. They show a decline in usage of 4% mirrored by a cut in budget of the same, not taking into account the cut of around a further 2% due to inflation. Staffing is down by 4%, volunteer hours up by nearly the same and book issues down by around 5%. So it’s all around the similar amount. Correlation does not however imply causality but they’ve been similar-ish for years and there have notably not been such declines in use in the USA where funding has stayed fairly stable.

Well, that’s my take. Tim Coates, quoted in both the Guardian and the BookSeller, denies any impact caused by budget cuts and places the blame squarely on librarians being incompetent. So, if I’m being as balanced as those two sources, I guess it could be that as well. What does your direct personal experience tell you? I know which mine does.

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  • Calmness packs – include lava lamps, aromatherapy and noise cancelling headphones but, weirdly, no books.
  • Guerilla kindness – leaving positive messages in books.

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Well, at least in one way, UK public libraries are leading the way on privacy

Editorial

The launch of the very good guide to privacy for library staff was a nice surprise – befittingly, they kept that quiet – as it is very well written and includes an excellent call to arms by Aude Charillon as well as useful tips and examples. Do have a read. Sadly, I think the only thing many public library services are currently leading on privacy-wise is not sharing their performance data. There’s an excellent article by Libraries Stats on the continuing drama of CIPFA trying to control access to library figures (or, rather, “professionally collate” them and then refuse to give them to anyone who does not have £650) and also the rather poor record of some library services in sharing their data on request. This is a very ironic shame, and shameful, for library services. I was taught in library school that we were signposts to people, not locked doors, but that does not seem to be the case for many. I hope the trend towards Open Data apparent elsewhere finally reaches the library sector soon.

Well, I don’t often mention my own library service on the website, for obvious reasons of the need to keep work and blog separate. But it would be off of me if I did not mention Cheshire West and Chester Council library service winning not just the Transformation award for which it was entered but also the Overall Award as well, and it would also be wrong if I did mentioned they’re my employer. So, well done colleagues, well done library service and well done the Guardian for their continuing support for libraries. That’s at least something that’s not secret.

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Big dip in Summer Reading Challenge take-up, volunteers report and a libraries roadmap

Editorial

Three things catch my eye this post. The first is the decline in the Summer Reading Challenge figures this year – a 8% drop is quite serious. From talking to various people, the view is that those library services still doing outreach (and most specifically school assemblies) for it are doing far better than those who no longer do such things. There may be other factors – the theme (possibly, although I liked the Beano myself) and the weather – but, dudes, when you no longer tell people about your product, or can’t afford to d so, then people may not get to know about it. I don’t need an MA in Librarianship to work that out. Speaking of not needing qualifications (wow, I’m getting good at links, nine years in to this PLN thing), I include a report from Deepings volunteer library, which is reportedly going from strength to strength. What’s happening to volunteer libraries is a source of much heated debate – from those who say they’re abjectedly awful to those who thing they’re brilliantly brilliant – but good to hear from the people themselves, until there’s some actual research carried out.

Finally, CILIP, Libraries Connected and Carnegie have got together to look at how public libraries should evolve, with reference to what’s happening internationally as well as in this country. Good to see. It’s be fascinating to see what they come up with. I can say, though, from researching this for the last decade, that there’s no magic pill out there. It’s all down to having the resources, as well as the will, to change – and the strength and wisdom to know when not to change and avoid the shiny. Having said that, I’d like a funded research trip if there’s one going …

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UN special report on the UK highlights plight of public libraries

Editor

To be honest, I was expecting the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights in the UK to have, at most, one glancing link to libraries. But how wrong I was. I guess I’m used to UK government reports who are, the best efforts of the Libraries Taskforce notwithstanding, often ignore public libraries. Philp Alston, the rapporteur, is Australian and thus comes from a country with a well-funded and advances public library system and, gosh, it shows. Word search comes up with fifteen uses of the word library in the report and some of them are very direct and damning. They highlight the importance of public libraries and the damage cuts to them are causing. Mr Alston also points out the peremptory  decision to fund Citizens Advice to do the job libraries are already doing may not have been the best. I like this chap and you will too. The Government meanwhile has, rather ironically, denied it is in denial, and gone straight back to fighting over Brexit. Hey ho.

Other news today includes the fall out over the deep cut in Essex (the deepest of a UK library service this year) but, thankfully, no further bad news. There’s a very good TED talk on why library services should not be exacting fines. If you are interested in this, I’ve done a summary of the current global situation here and also, to my mind at least, a hard-hitting and humourous article here. Finally, I’m delighted to have evaluation expert write a special article for you on how to get to know your users and non-users. It is of course well worth a read.

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It’s that time of year again – Essex announce one-third cut, Kent £1m

Editorial

It’s that time of year when councils need to announce their budget plans for next year if they are to have enough time to consult. Hence, Newcastle’s one third cut last post and this post’s news of a one-third cut, with up to 43 libraries closing or turning volunteer, in Essex and Kent’s £1 million cut. This will all deeply affect library provision in each of the services, with Essex being the stand-out due to the sheer number of libraries involved. It’s not often over 40 are threatened. The last time I clearly recall was Lancashire and, as news in this very post shows, that surprisingly ended with may reopening. Essex are at pains to show they have consulted already on the shape of their service and will consult on the proposals. It’s worth remembering the ultimate reasons for these cuts lie not with Essex or Kent or Newcastle but with the central government’s decision to continue austerity in practice, if not in name. There’s a petition about that if you’ve not already signed – it seems to have stalled again at just under 30,000 so now would be a good time.

I wrote a fairly critical editorial about Cardiff a short while ago and have given the council the right of reply below. Interestingly, and I have had a look, what I said and what Cardiff say, are not mutually exclusive. It’s all down to one’s point of view. As is so much else, especially I suspect in Essex today.

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