10:1 : volunteers replacing paid staff

Editorial

There’s not many commonly accepted figures when it comes to volunteers in libraries and, it comes to something, where I’m the one offering some of the most comprehensive data as a hobby in the evenings. This came up again when  I said on Twitter a week ago that there were roughly 10 volunteers needed to replace one paid member of staff. Leaving aside the myriad debating points about the pros and cons of volunteers, a few people asked me where the data to base this on was.  Well, there’s no real data. The state of public library research is such that no-one really knows. But the figure was based on reading seven years of media reports and noting the number of volunteers mentioned in a “new” volunteer library. It’s also based on the rule of thumb that it’s a rare volunteer that would volunteer more than half a day per week, and even though there are some that do, there’d be those who do less. And of course volunteers would likely take more holidays than a paid person. I suspect, in fact, that there’s more than a ten-to-one ratio but it’s one that is easily memorable and probably as good as any,

If anyone has any more data or thoughts on the issue, do let me know. The ratio is important because it shows the difficulty implicit in sufficiently training volunteers and the number needed when thinking of closing down a paid library. But as in so many things, the data just isn’t there at the moment. And it should be. Because otherwise a lot of what’s going on at the moment looks dangerously like guesswork and thus roulette with a national public service.

NB: The PLN server broke down last week which meant you’re getting a bumper post today. Hopefully, more frequent posts will be the order of the day from now on.

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The problem of the time-poor and the money-rich

Editorial

I had a most entertaining meal with a few Australian library types a couple of evenings ago and discussed all sort of things, occasionally accompanied by sharp shocked intakes of breath as my companions realised how different the UK system was to theirs. One of the things discussed was the idea that libraries are increasingly used by those who have plenty of time and/or those who cannot afford an alternative. Depressing I know but hear me out. The thing here is that back before Amazon, Google and the internet even those short of time had limited alternatives to the public library – driving into town and reserving/buying a book from the local bookshop (probably a Waterstones even then) did not take that much less time than going to the library for the same thing. In fact, the library was probably closer. Nowadays one can purchase a book online at home via a click and have it delivered to your door the next day or even, if it’s an e-book. that second.

This means that those who have less time or more money are less likely to use a library now than then. There’s also another reason of course: many libraries have been hollowed out in that time, becoming less comparatively attractive. That is more to do with lack of investment than technology, as is clear to me when I visit a well-funded and beautifully appointed library (such as Manchester Central) as they all have a definite busy buzz about them. One of the reasons for this (by no means the sole one) is that they’re as attractive as many of the commercial alternatives to a person’s time. Now I’m not talking about stinking rich people here – they’ve rarely ever used public libraries anyway –  but rather that the number who make the rational decision about their library use, and decide against, are likely to be the more wealthy or more short of time. But those deciding against using libraries are becoming less and less comparatively rich or busy as technological change and cuts continue.

I don’t have any easy solutions to this. It’s just an explanation why many public libraries have the clientele they do: time-rich children and parents, money-poor jobseekers and students and time-rich (and often money-poor) senior citizens. Technology and hollowing out has made this more pronounced over the last decade or two. The very best libraries I’ve seen find alternatives: they provide things commercial alternatives do not (e.g. connecting people and empowerment in all its forms) and by doing so gain the trust and support of politicians who keep their funding. But there’s virtuous and vicious circles both at play here and you can probably tell which camp you’re local library is in quite easily. Just go in and look at the demographics.

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For some lucky kids, there is such a thing as a free lunch

Editorial

Suffolk Libraries, one of the few library mutual, has been confirmed in contract by the council for another five years. That’s fairly bittersweet considering the cuts the council has forced on them but it at least shows confidence in the model, often touted as one to improve efficiency in library services. Another such model – combining library services – is being tried in Bournemouth and Poole, with the downside being discovered by Bournemouth’s managers and specialists who are having their pay cut so as to equal that of their lesser paid neighbours.

Something special to bring your attention to is the lunch for children project at Plymouth. This is also happening in many authorities (Manchester, Oldham, Warrington, St Helens, Rochdale and doubtless others I don’t know about), normally partnering with other council or community agencies. It looks really successful and I suspect it’s a big new trend, as it has been successful in the USA for years. One to watch.

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National news

  • CILIP conferencePresentations available for many of the presenters [but not mine, I need to get that sorted – Ed.]
  • Equalities and Diversity Action Plan – CILIP. “committed to creating, implementing, monitoring and improving an Equalities and Diversity Action Plan with the aim of becoming an organisation that truly represents and achieves diversity and celebrates and encourages it in others.  The Equalities and Diversity Action Plan was launched on July 31st 2017
  • Fifteenth meeting of the Libraries Taskforce – Libraries Taskforce. Discussion about Cambridgeshire libraries. Delays to action plan due to general election and failure of some to respond. Culture. Mutuals. Subgroup on financing established. Reading and literacy. Other issues.
  • Library of Wales appoint UK’s first permanent Wikimedian – Welsh Country. “Jason Evans will make Wikipedia and its sister projects a core aspect of the Library’s activities and services. Building on the successful collaboration between the Library, Wikimedia UK and the Wiki community, he will lead activities associated with the Library’s collections, Wales as a nation and/or the Welsh language”
  • SOS Day for libraries – Unison. “Our SOS Day across the UK in October will show our support for libraries and raise awareness of the devastating impact cuts have had on this service. We will ask our members to show their support by joining their local library if they haven’t already, make sure they visit and use the great range of services on offer where they live. We will call on local and national decision-makers to take action on shameful spending cuts and ask councils to commit to providing comprehensive library services. To kick off this year’s SOS campaign, we want to hear from you. Tell us what your library does for you.”
  • Survey for UK Public Libraries – University of Sheffield. “The objective of this research is to investigate how the public library service in the United Kingdom engages its community through the promotion of local authors. Furthermore, how engagement and promotion of locally written literature positions the public library service as part of the unique literary heritage of the region/ local area and how this impacts the user demographic. “

An online bookclub from Axiell Advertisement

International news

  • Australia – Code Brown: Design Thinking & Beyond feat. @jeromical / Part 1 – Mechanical Dolphin. “And it wasn’t just about poo. We got to think about all things stinky and messy and bodily in these spaces. The rural library in NZ which coped with teens engaging in what was once called “heavy petting” (and more) by introducing wipe clean sofas and putting the family planning brochures on display right next to them. Or my own story, which was really about the smell of stinky feet.” … “Yet if you are serious about libraries being “the TARDIS on your streetcorner” – a magic space that can take you anywhere in knowledge and culture – that means accepting that people will use your TARDIS in ways you didn’t desire or foresee – and that some of these uses will be messy and troubling.”
  • Canada – Toronto Public Library gets in on the rebirth of records – CBC. “Toronto Public Library is getting in on the trend by adding 100 new records to their collection. The collection of more than 15,000 records is the largest of any public library in Canada. And librarian Beau Levitt had the honour of adding the new albums to the shelves at the Toronto Reference Library.”
  • Global – 4 important things users want from a library (and how to offer them) – Princh. “Sometimes, there is a big imbalance between what the users wish to have in a library and what they really get. As Mick Fortune mentions in our previous post, for many years libraries measured their success primarily by footfall and they only focused on that. Only in the last few years, libraries have really started focusing on getting to know their users better. Even so, all the studies, such as those made by The Pew Internet, Carnegie UK Trust, Museums Libraries & Archives UK, etc. end up showing the same results.”: opening hours, free. books and library staff.
  • USA – Free Lunch at the Library – New York Times. “Before opening their doors at noon, the librarians squeeze tables and chairs between the book stacks to prepare for the onslaught of hungry children. Usually, two or three dozen show up, but occasionally, up to 70 do. During the summer, they come to this tiny branch in Elmwood Place, a village in greater Cincinnati, for “Captain Underpants,” air-conditioning and, lately, a hot meal.”
  • USA – How Their First Library Card Teaches Kids Responsibility – EveryLibrary. “All those shiny plastic rectangles in your pocket signify bills to pay, money to spend, and all the other responsibilities that come with being a grown-up. But do you remember your first card? That first time you got a wallet and couldn’t wait to fill it with grown-up things, like photos, money, and cards! Perhaps that first official card of your very own was a library card. But a library card isn’t simply a way for kids to gain access to library materials, it’s also an ideal way to start kids on a path to responsible adulthood.”
  • USA – Livestreaming Library Chicks – Swiss Army Librarian. “Here’s something kind of neat we’re doing in my library: our Children’s Room has eggs in an incubator so the kids can watch them hatch, and then our IT person got the idea to livestream the eggs (and subsequent chicks) to our website. The eggs came from a farm in Western MA, and the chicks will go back there a couple weeks after they hatch. In the meantime, the incubator has been sitting on the Children’s Desk – and of course has been very popular with kids (and the local paper

National news

  • Barnet – Government to investigate Barnet’s library provision – BookSeller. “Libraries minister John Glen has told Barnet Council leader Councillor Richard Cornelius in a letter that the department of digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) is treating the representations made by Save Barnet Libraries campaigners Emily Burnham and Richard Strang as a formal complaint. This will see the DCMS investigate whether the council is fulfilling its statutory duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service, as set out in the Public Libraries Act of 1964.”
  • Barnet – Save Barnet Libraries campaign sees first victory after protest as culture ministry registers formal complaint – Ham and High. “Save Barnet Libraries campaigners are celebrating a small step towards victory after the culture secretary agreed to recognise their representations as a formal complaint – meaning the ministry will investigate the Council’s changes to library provision and could order them reversed.” … “In a letter addressed to Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius, arts minister John Glen, whose purview covers libraries, says that his department is treating the representations made by Save Barnet Libraries campaigners Emily Burnham and Richard Strang as a formal complaint. This means DCMS will investigate whether the Council is fulfilling its statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service”
  • Bath and North Est Somerset – Letter: Bath library move just wouldn’t be fair on disabled children – Bath Chronicle. “When I read Heidi I felt what it was like to use a wheelchair. It made me think how lucky I am to be able to run around and do cartwheels whenever I like. People in wheelchairs can do amazing things (just look at the Paralympians – they’re superhumans!) but Heidi’s friend, Clara, would find it really difficult to get around the library if it was on three floors instead of one.”
  • Birmingham – Councillors’ delight as Kingstanding Library receives extensive new makeover – Great Barr Observer. “”While others sat back, Barbara and I helped ensure funding was made available to help Witten Lodge Community Association work with us to help save and, hopefully, improve the service provided by the Kingstanding Library. “Unlike Walsall we decided that Oscott libraries needed to be kept open. “It was one of our main priorities and we know Oscott residents felt the same. All our behind-the-scenes efforts have been worth it.”
  • Bournemouth Library staff to see their pay reduced as part of jobs “realignment” – Daily Echo. “Library managers in Bournemouth will see their pay reduced as part of a “realignment” of jobs. The changes will see all the town’s 22 libraries kept open, without a reduction in opening hours, according to the council. However, new management roles will be created with pay based on scales in use in neighbouring Poole. At a council meeting on Tuesday, Cllr Jackie Edwards asked whether the staff were being “downgraded”. “I believe one of the consequences of the Bournemouth library service merger with Poole is the proposed downgrading of all the library managers, assistant and stock managers, approximately 30 people,” she said.”. All paid according to the (lower) Poole pay scale due combination with that service. Three year pay protection.
  • Bradford – Comic artist to host drawing workshops in district’s libraries – Telegraph and Argus. “Dr. Simpo has been a favourite with children at art workshops delivered as part of the annual Thought Bubble Festival. “
  • Bristol – Bristol libraries host UK’s first drag queen storytelling sessions for children – Bristol Post. “The brainchild of Tom Canham, ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ aims to teach children of all ages to embrace their individuality and spread a message of tolerance.” … “A crowd-funding campaign was launched in May to fund books and the essential DBS checks and the first ever session took place during Bristol Pride on July 8″
  • Bristol – “Libraries are the lifeblood of our communities’ – Bristol 247. “the fact remains that once the dust has settled and the public purse is healthy once more, the library doors that have been closed, that granted access to a world of information for generations, are likely never to open again.”
  • Bury – New Bury Council policy hopes to make it easier for groups to take over council assets – This is Lancashire. “The new policy means applications from groups to buy community assets from the council will be considered against ‘key tests’ designed to ensure a deal which is best for the council and residents. “
  • Central Bedfordshire – Four Central Bedfordshire libraries to have opening hours slashed – Bedfordshire News. £56k cut, “Following the public consultation these targets have now been reduced by almost £30,000 – meaning eight libraries will now see a either an increase in opening times or no reduction at all – and all will now be open on Saturdays. However four venues across the local authority area will be open for less time – including Ampthill, Houghton Regis, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard.”
  • Cumbria – Future of West Cumbria’s branch libraries up for debate – News and Star. “People are being asked what they would like to see happen to libraries at Hensingham, Kells and Mirehouse in the future. Cumbria county Council wants to know how it can make better use of the libraries. A spokesman said: “All of these libraries are open for less than 10 hours service a week and levels of use, in terms of visits, PC use, and book borrowing, is low.”
  • Derby – Attempt to stop biggest ever shake-up of Derby libraries fails – Derby Telegraph. “The plan, which was approved by the city council’s Labour cabinet on July 12, also means the remaining ten smaller libraries will be turned over to their communities. It’s all aimed at saving the council about £700,000 a year”
  • Derby – Union hints it could take Derby libraries closure decision to the High Court – Derby Telegraph. “Derby City Council’s decision to hand 10 libraries to the members of the community to run could be heading for the High Court. Unison, the union which represents many of the 41 library employees who could lose their jobs in the move, has hinted that it is seeking legal advice, with the possibility of this leading to it seeking a judicial review.”. Conservatives also criticise Labour council ““Even if they successfully defended a judicial review then the timeframes would be shot to pieces along with the savings they are trying to achieve, certainly in the short and medium term.”
  • East Sussex – 12th year of the East Sussex Children’s Book Award – Libraries Taskforce. “Each September, schools across East Sussex, Brighton and Hove, and parts of Kent, have the opportunity to read the best new fiction titles out there and take part in the East Sussex Children’s Book Award. The Book Award is delivered by the School Library and Museum Service (SLAMS), part of East Sussex Libraries. The criteria for books to make the longlist are that they have been published in paperback in the past year and that they are suitable for children aged 9-11. Schools pay to participate, which gives them access to all the events and a copy of each of shortlisted books. The charge covers the full cost of hosting the Book Award”
  • Enfield – Kids can solve mystery at Enfield’s libraries – This is Local London. SRC.
  • Inverclyde – ‘Mini McLean Museum and Wee Watt Library’ Ready for Visitors – Discover Inverclyde. “The historic McLean Museum and Watt Library are widely considered as one of the best municipal museums in Scotland for the outstanding collections of art, local heritage, technology and culture. The Council is investing £1.8 million towards the refurbishment work alongside a grant of £287,000 from Historic Environment Scotland.” … “The new Inverclyde Heritage Hub is now ready to receive visitors at the former Business Store on Cathcart Street in Greenock. The historic McLean Museum and Watt Library complex is currently closed ahead of a £2 million refurbishment.”
  • Isle of Wight – Shanklin Library Helping To Support Summer Reading Challenge – Isle of Wight Radio.
  • Kirklees – Recommended holiday reads from the Kirklees libraries’ top ten and best-sellers charts – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “The Kirklees top ten is packed with more of the same – NYPD Red from James Patterson, another cop thriller, but this time with a New York backdrop – comes in at number 2, and the same author is also featured with Alert (yet more New York detective fiction) and 15th Affair (murder mystery with a female detective).”
  • Lambeth – Protest Continues Over Plans To Close Lambeth Libraries – Londonist. “A large crowd is expected on Saturday morning as Lambeth library campaigners prepare to spend their second weekend occupying the historic Carnegie library in Herne Hill. The public library was first occupied on 31 March — the day that Lambeth Council planned to close the library ahead of the conversion to what it has called a ‘healthy living centre.’ Along with the nearby Minet library, the plan was to hand over the public asset to Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), a not for profit organisation. GLL plans to convert these into what have become known locally as ‘book-ish gyms’. No costings or logistic of combining a library with a gym have yet to be produced.”
  • Lambeth – Re-opening of Carnegie Library moves a step closer as community partner chosen – Southwark News. “The re-opening of Carnegie Library – located just off Denmark Hill – has moved a step closer as Lambeth Council has chosen a partner to take community ownership of the building, writes Becky Morton… The Carnegie Community Trust (CCT) was judged by the council with “independent advice” to have submitted a stronger bid than rival organisation, Carnegie Library Association (CLA), which was formed by the Friends of Carnegie Library. The CCT said it remained opposed to the idea of a gym in the library’s basement and had “serious concerns” about some of the additional alterations proposed by Lambeth Council and Greenwich Leisure Limited, who will manage the gym.”
  • Lancashire – Library plans moving forward as new group set up – Blackpool Gazette. “Thornton Cleveleys Gala Committee has now said it would prefer the county council to operate a library service. It is now proposed to add Thornton Library to those which will reopen between November 2017 and April 2018. ” see also Volunteer dream fading but library will still re-open – Blackpool Gazette. “Coun Kay still hopes to have Thornton Library open this year and is working to ensure community groups will still be able to make use of the facility. She said: “I understand the Gala Committee has now withdrawn from the process.”.
  • Lancashire – Plans to reopen Parbold library are being considered – Visiter. “Both groups, however, have subsequently indicated that they would prefer the county council to operate a library service rather than continue with an asset transfer. It is now proposed to add Parbold Library and Thornton Library to those which will reopen between November 2017 and April 2018.”
  • Lancashire – Whalley Library set to be first in East Lancashire to reopen – Lancashire Telegraph.  “Whalley Library is set to be the first library to reopen after Lancashire County Council’s decision to save 22 libraries from closure in East Lancashire. New Tory culture boss Peter Buckley visited the library last week and is the first head of cultural services to do so in a cabinet post holder position. The deputy leader of Lancashire County Council Albert Atkinson, Whalley ward councillors Ged Mirfin, Joyce Holgate and Terry Hill and head of Save the Whalley Library group, Neil Martin, also attended the meeting at the library.” … “Cllr Mirfin said: “It could take up to three months to recruit the staff that are needed to run the library. “
  • Manchester – Tuck into books and lunch at Fallowfield Community Library this summer – Manchester City Council. “Read and Feed will run every weekday until the end of August, with support from Manchester Libraries and local volunteers.   Thanks to the initiative, children aged 4 – 11 years will be offered a free, nutritious lunch, after taking part in activities held to support the Summer Reading Challenge at the library.
    Families can drop into the library, based at the Place at Platt Lane, every weekday to enjoy storytelling sessions, reading, craft and Lego activities from 11.30am – 12:30pm, with lunch provided for participating children from 12:30 – 1pm.  Manchester council aims to roll the Read and Feed scheme out to more libraries across the city next summer.  Similar initiatives have previously been adopted elsewhere in Greater Manchester, by libraries in Rochdale, Salford and Bolton. “
  • Norfolk – Learn to read for free with Norfolk libraries – Bury Free Press. “Anyone aged eight and above can become a reader with the Norfolk Reading Pathway, which is run by the county council’s library and information service. The project uses the Yes We Can Read reading programme with those taking part asked to spare 30 minutes twice a week. Learners get involved in a fun and engaging way with one-to-one tuition using a phonics-based programme which builds their confidence and self-esteem. The project is running at all Norfolk libraries and aims to get people reading fluently within six months”
  • Northern Ireland – Cafes, libraries and church halls back breastfeeding in Northern Ireland – Belfast Telegraph. “The Public Health Agency (PHA) has introduced The Breastfeeding Welcome Here initiative which is designed to show community support for breastfeeding mothers. The scheme now has 500 venues providing supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers”
  • Pembrokeshire – Walk and talk in aid of community library – County Echo. “At the start of July, Newport Community Library celebrated their first birthday being run by volunteers, in conjunction with Pembrokeshire County Council.”
  • Plymouth – Council needs to find a developer to build a new £1.3m Plymouth library – Plymouth Herald. “A popular city library is set to be demolished, rebuilt and leased to the council as part of the ongoing Plan for Libraries project. St Budeaux library site is being marketed as a development opportunity by Plymouth City Council.” … “The development specification says the site offers ‘an exciting mixed use development opportunity within the centre of St Budeaux with a new public library, high quality residential (houses and/or flats) and other compatible commercial uses’.”
  • Plymouth – Lunch at the Library – Plymouth Council. “Every Wednesday in August at Devonport Library, St Budeaux Library and a Pop-Up Library at the Four Greens Centre in Whitleigh, children can pick up a free lunch and join in with family friendly activities. Free activities from 10am to 4pm include the Summer Reading Challenge, crafts, digital making, coding and more. Special guests include Dartmoor Zoo, the Theatre Royal, National Marine Aquarium, Shark Trust, Plymouth Music Zone, Devon and Cornwall Police, the Cats Protection League and authors Tom Palmer and Emma Carlisle. Every week, the first 100 children at each venue will be given a free book to take home and keep”
  • Salford – ‘Disgusted’ by library home delivery service axing – Leigh Journal. “As yet no alternative has been indicated. We haven’t a clue what will happen and I’m not sure the council does either. “
  • St Helens – Best-seller Carol’s tales of writing and olive farming go down a storm – St Helens Star. Carol Drinkwater: “Carol, known for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Herriot in the television adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small and five part documentary film series, The Olive Route, gave a talk at the Sutton Manor library about novels and life as an olive farmer in Provence. In front of an audience of 45 people, she spoke with the head of libraries’ service, Sue Williamson, about her experiences as a writer, farmer and actress and her work with UNESCO to help fund an Olive”
  • South Tyneside – Consultation over changes to South Tyneside libraries is extended by council – Shields Gazette. “The authority says it has listened to the views of residents and taken the decision to extend the consultation further so that as many people as possible have an opportunity to take part. Under new proposals library services would be on offer at four multi-service “hubs” at The Word, Hebburn Central Library, Jarrow Hub and Cleadon Park, while the council would also look to community groups to take over the running of Whitburn, East Boldon, Boldon Lane and Primrose libraries on a voluntary basis. The consultation will now run until September 30, after which the responses will be analysed and a report prepared for presentation to the council’s cabinet later in the autumn.”
  • Staffordshire – This year’s Summer Reading Challenge invites children from Stone to join the Animal Agents. – Little Bit of Stone. SRC.
  • Suffolk – Suffolk Libraries agrees new five-year contract with Suffolk County Council – East Anglian Daily Times. “Suffolk Libraries has announced it has agreed a five-year contract with an option for a further five years. At the end of 2016, the Suffolk Libraries Board voted unanimously to trigger the five-year extension to the current contract from August 2017. Tony Brown, chair of Suffolk Libraries’ board, said: “We are delighted to be renewing our contract with Suffolk County Council. “We feel that Suffolk’s library service is in good hands and that Suffolk Libraries, with the foundation and support it has built up over the past five years, offers the best chance of successfully meeting the challenges ahead”
  • Sunderland – Optimistic for Fulwell Community Library’s future – Sunderland Echo / Letters. “The opening was rushed but went off really well and this was due to the spirit of our volunteers without who this would not be possible. So many people gave their time and effort to ensure we started on the right foot”
  • Warrington – Animal magic as libraries launch summer reading challenge for children – Warrington Guardian. “Youngsters who manage to finish six or more stories will win a medal and a certificate for their hard work. They could also win the chance to become a keeper for the day at Walton Hall Gardens and Zoo. And Chester Zoo staff will be holding workshops at Woolston and Stockton Heath libraries to help children learn about nocturnal creatures and African animals.”
  • West Dunbartonshire – New adult reading promotion launched in West Dunbartonshire – Dunbarton Reporter. “Scotland’s national adult reading promotion – Read the Past Imagine the Future. The initiative is running in libraries across the area until Book Week Scotland in November, celebrating the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.”
  • Wiltshire – Westbury Library internet ‘too slow’ – Wiltshire Times. “This is not in anyway an attack on the staff at the library, they are all very good and have enough on their hands without having to deal with people complaining about the internet connection when it is not their responsibility. It’s just not fair on them.” Wiltshire Council claims to have fixed the problem, but Ms Stroud says this is not the case.”
  • Wolverhampton – No convincing case to move Bilston Library – Pat McFadden – Express and Star. “Pat McFadden has urged Wolverhampton council to secure the future of Bilston Craft Gallery by ditching plans to move the town’s library from the site.” … “Bilston Craft Gallery currently houses the library, exhibition space and children’s activity centre Craft Play. Wolverhampton council has delayed a decision on the library’s future pending the result of a detailed feasibility study. A public consultation saw 635 people have their say on the issue, with 167 people backing the library staying at its current home and 138 opting for it to move to the Town Hall.”
  • Worcestershire – Plans revealed to relocate Community Contact Centre to the town’s library – Evesham Observer. “The centre, which has been based on Abbey Road since 2003, provides services on behalf of Wychavon District Council, Evesham Town Council, Worcestershire County Council and West Mercia Police. But time has been called on the venture after Wychavon District Council revealed it wouldn’t extend its lease with building owners West Mercia Police when it expires next year. Wychavon chiefs claim the site is too big for its needs and revealed Worcestershire County Council had suggested the centre move to Evesham Library on Oat Street.”
  • Worcestershire – Youngsters challenged to become ‘Animal Agents’ at Worcestershire libraries this summer – Bromsgrove Standard.

A week is a long time in public libraries

Editorial

I have just had a week off from all things library with the family, hence this bumper post now. Doing the news from the last ten or so days in one perhaps gives a clearer impression of what is going on. Which is a lot. One of the surprising things to the innocent bystander is the large number or refurbishments going on, often linked with co-locating with other services. The other thing is not so unexpected but a week’s list really brings it home: volunteer libraries are now a key part of the changing library world.

There are two contrasting non-profit stories. GLL continues their expansion, this time in Bromley, having already taken over Dudley this year on top of Greenwich, Wandsworth and Lincolnshire. They’re also involved, less happily, in Lambeth. The other story is from Suffolk, which is – while still a non-profit – a very different beast to GLL, being a library mutual. Their independence and undoubted innovation has not saved them from deep council funding cuts. The irony that they have received a big Arts Council England fund, which they can’t use to help the shortfall, is sadly a familiar one. Finally, I’ve received emails after the post on Carillion losing Hounslow, pointing out that the company have recently suffered a major share slide (from 301p to 71p) and that other councils have cut contracts with them too. Many strongly suspect Hounslow will not be the only library contract they will lose.

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500

Editorial

I’ve been adding up the figures month by month as news comes in and today’s the day. I count 500 libraries in the UK that are now staffed, if not entirely run, by volunteers. Of that number, the great majority are branches which have lost paid staff and the library users have been presented with the choice of volunteering or seeing their library close. Some are entirely new additional libraries. Each one is different, with some largely funded and stocked by councils apart from the staff and others entirely self-sufficient. What all but a handful have in common is that they have come on the scene since 2010. They’re a new phenomenon in many ways and, all the pros and cons aside, show how much people care for their local library service.

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The public libraries news divide

Editorial

There’s a strong divide in interpreting news about public libraries. On the one side, we have campaigners who tend to emphasise the negatives (hollowing out and closures) while on the other side we have organisations such as the Task Force who stress the positives. One point of view is angry at the reductions to library service and sees this as the important point to get across to mobilise public opinion. The other fears that such an approach misses out on positives and could give cuts to public libraries a feeling of inevitability. There’s fears I have heard many times  that emphasising the negatives means that people think that public libraries are tainted as doomed. Similarly, campaigners see the devastation going on and are outraged if asked to play it down. It’s hard to see how both sides can agree and, often, they don’t. Which is a shame because they’re actually, in many ways, otherwise mainly on the same side. Such slants can lead to disconnects like the one noted by the Private Eye below where it’s noticed the Task Force (and they’re hardly alone) use euphemisms for cuts.

I try to include both sides, the negative and the positive. I didn’t used to: to my shame, I tended only to include bad news (well, there was such a lot of it) for the first couple of years of PLN.  I did everyone, including myself, a disservice for doing so. In some ways I’m still with the campaigners (for instance, I use the term “cuts” and call volunteer libraries, well, volunteer libraries) but in others I will defend the Taskforce and others if they’re doing good work. I’ve even been known to defend the odd library closure. This can lead to situations where I’m criticised privately (and sometimes not so privately) by both sides for bias, on one memorable occasion for the same editorial. Well, at least I now know what the BBC feels like. What I’m trying to say to all of you is, public libraries should be the most neutral of places but news about them is often biased. Make up your mind based on the verifiable facts and who’s reporting it. As all public librarians should do in their work.

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Breaking news: Carillion loses Hounslow libraries

Hounslow has had a private company running its library services for longer than any council in the UK. Carillion purchased the Hounslow contract from Laing as part of a £65m deal to take over John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) in 2013. Before that, the service was run by JLIS as a trailblazer for private running of libraries since 2008. I looked at the experience of Hounslow in a piece for CILIP Update way back in 2011.

Carillion ran the service as part of its non-profit arm “Cultural Community Solutions” (CCS) which also operates library services for Croydon, Ealing and Harrow. However, some question how non-profit CCS really is…

You will have noticed that I am using the past tense about Carillion and Hounslow.  This is because I have just received, after checking up on rumours , the following message from Hounslow council:

Contract with Carillion for library services

Councillor Samia Chaudhary, Cabinet Member for Green Policy and Leisure, Hounslow Council said: “The council is ending the contract for library services by mutual agreement with Carillion. Responsibility for the library service will transfer back to the Council on Tuesday 1 August. We believe that by bringing this back in-house, we can further improve what is a very valuable service for our residents and integrate this across our wider leisure and cultural services. Over the next three weeks, the Leisure team will work closely with HR, ICT, FM and Finance to transfer the service in-house. It will be challenging to complete the process quickly, primarily relating to the IT infrastructure, but our ICT team is confident that the necessary systems will be in place by 1 August.Our intention is that the service to the public will not change, and there are no plans to close any of the libraries during the transfer.” Official response from London Borough of Hounslow (received direct via email). Councillor Samia Chaudhary, Cabinet Member for Green Policy and Leisure, Hounslow Council.

It’s unclear as to what is behind the ending of the contract in such haste. One would normally expect such contracts to end at the same time as the financial year at the end of March. The last definite news in the public realm I noted was news of a new Marylebone Library and a move for Hounslow Library in February. The council has been Labour controlled since 2010.

I am sure the full story will eventually be heard but, for now, this has to weaken the case for privately run companies taking over library services.

More information on Carillion:

 

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The real reasons may not be so black and white

Charities and volunteers replacing public libraries is not so black and white

Editorial

I was interested to read about a charity that is delivering books to children, fulfilling a niche vacated by closing or closed public libraries in that area. The irony of it is that the charity. if I’m reading the figure right, are doing the same job at a far higher cost than the public library was able to achieve before. This ties in with an article in LocalGov that asks if cutting public services is a false economy. Certianly, the research I’ve on the subject concentrating on public libraries seems to conclusively show it is. David McMenemy, speaking at the CILIP conference last week, said that the replacement of paid public servants by volunteers and charities may be seen as a positive plus by politicians and others regardless of the need to do so and that seems to be the case. Well, at least sometimes.

The real reasons may not be so black and white

The real reasons may not be so black and white

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Bursting bubbles: CILIP Conference week

Editorial

I took a couple of days off work in order to be able to attend and speak at the CILIP Conference. The stand-out moment for me was, and was always going to be, listening to the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. A truly inspirational librarian. Then there was the chance to hear about what else was going on in the country (you’d think I’d know all that, but there’s nothing better than hearing the people themselves), a chance to think deep thoughts (on future trends and on the nature of information), actually consider ethics for one of the few times in my life and, of course, meet a whole ton of people who I’d seen on the internet for years but never actually met. And, of course, it was great that the conference was in Manchester, which benefits from some beautiful libraries, and whose ten-year-plus long-term library strategy seems to be paying off. There were a few announcements, such as on ethics and the public library skills strategy that I will doubtless cover separately later.

Outside of the conference bubble, this was the week that Lancashire promised to bring back 14 libraries (albeit with 5 run by community groups). It was also the week that Shropshire announced a long-term plan that will cut its libraries fro a respectable 28 in 2015 to a handful in five years. The Conservative LGA chief also warned that there may be no libraries by 2020, which to me sounds like major scare-mongering and as an opening negotiation position but was still downright gob-smacking to see in print.

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In praise of the People’s Network … and conferences.

Editorial

We take public computers in libraries for granted now. There’s often rows of them and they’re normally one of the busiest places in the library. People use them for all sorts of reasons: social, buying stuff (boarding passes a speciality), job-hunting, everything. And there’s normally a member of staff nearby helping out, working out why something hasn’t printed or patiently explaining how to do something to someone who simply does not have the computer experience to know. It’s one of the key ways that public libraries go some way to helping equality of access to people who would otherwise be barred by ability to pay. So it’s good to see a free e-book launched celebrating the People’s Network, without which libraries and communities would be poorer places than they are today.

That the launch was in the same week as the CILIP Conference in Manchester is not a coincidence and do expect further announcements this week to tie in with that.  I’ll be there both days and will tweet what people say. Well, not while I’m doing my session obviously but I’ll probably share that later anyway. I always find conferences tremendously useful but then I’m in the privileged position of being a speaker at the ones I attend (or these days can blag a press pass) and therefore get in for free. It’s notable that the numbers of those going to them from public libraries is reducing in this country as councils cut back on training.

That’s a long-term false economy but not a surprising one, when one sees the reductions going on. Thoughts this week to the paid staff of the 12 libraries who are either now volunteer or soon will be. I wish the volunteers well but it is a tragedy that such an important public service as libraries is being given to amateurs.

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