Brent usage up; volunteers reopen and win awards; Library of Things

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An idea for free: how libraries can be a vital radar for other council services

Editorial

So here’s an idea I came up with recently that you can have for free: public libraries are often the first council service to know about an influx of a new ethnic group.  Why?  Because the first thing a newcomer does is join the library in order to use the internet … and if they don’t need other council services then they will otherwise invisibly appear (can you invisibly appear? you know what I mean) in an area and the council is none the wiser.  Even more nicely, many library services automatically collect data on what is the main language of a new joiner so you can see, almost in real time, what new minorities are coming in, into which libraries and over what time period.  This can be passed on (anonymised obviously) to the rest of the council so they get to know what’s happening and can tailor their services accordingly.  Even even more nicely, the council could then put leaflets in the relevant language by the public access computers, giving the new users a chance to engage if they need to and jolly well go around their own business otherwise.  This gives the council a chance to engage and the newcomers a chance to engage or not with everyone’s dignity still intact and the group as empowered as is possible to be. This is just one of the many ways that libraries can make themselves useful to the council and show their value to the decision-makers.  I’m sure there are tons of others.  Try to think of one today.

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Sheffield takes last step, Lincolnshire does it again … while others give hope

Editorial

Sheffield have gone through with passing many of their libraries to volunteer despite Ed Vaizey’s letter asking for them to freeze.  I’ve seen their letter back to him, by the way, explaining their actions, and although publicly they’re defiant … well, let’s just say that their offical letter to him, is more pleading.  Still, it’s in Ed’s court now.  He has the information he asked for, he knows they’ve defied him publicly (if not privately) .. so will he take further action or have his lawyers informed him he has done enough to forestall any national legal action against him for failing in his statutory duties to intervene?  I know which one I have money on.

Council leaders in Lincolnshire have responded to the judicial review that said, in part, that their consultation was, well, a little bit undercooked by launching another consultation.  They’re calling it an extension, not a forced attempt to do the job right this time.  Whatever they call it to save face, one can’t help but wonder whether it’d be nice if they spent some of the money they have as reserve in the bank (£165 million) on supporting libraries rather than on trying to cut them.

Now on to some hope. Devon are looking at volunteers raising funds for libraries and in adopting at least some elements of the model already taken by Suffolk, rather than closing libraries or replacing paid staff.  The Suffolk model is gaining more and more traction nationally, with William Sieghart publicly lauding it and loads of other library services giving it a long hard look to see if it is for them.

There’s also some good news with one new library opening and the announcement of another one to be built shortly.  And, if you’re ever short of ideas, just have a look at the US Knight News Challenge submissions for funding. At time of writing, there are over 670 ideas publicly available on their website.  So, I guess, steal away.  I won’t tell.

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Who’s to trust?

Editorial

The changes in Devon appear to be becoming more clear.  It looks like the changes will be more like Suffolk: with volunteers fund-raising and assisting the libraries in keeping them open rather than other authorities like Lincolnshire where the plans are for staff to be made redundant with volunteers directly replacing them.  There are also suggestions that Devon libraries will be going down a non-profit non-council route to deliver services.  More details are expected this week.  Renfrewshire are also also considering a non-profit trust route, although they’re looking at combining libraries with leisure and cultural services too.

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Ideas

  • Book Bikes - Promote public libraries in the community, temporary tattoo users, blow bubbles when someone joins.

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Special report: “This house believes that local authorities are still the best way to deliver the public library service” CILIP PMLG Debate 27th September 2014

I was very grateful to be invited to be on the panel of the CILIP Public and Mobile Libraries Group (PMLG) debate at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this afternoon.  In addition to me (Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News since 2010 and full-time professional librarian since 1994), other members of the panel were

  • Biddy Fisher OBE, Trustee, Denby Dale Community Project*, Past President of CILIP. [*My post initially described the project as just the library: this is incorrect. Although this includes creating a new building to house the library it also involves services provided by two other local charities - the Denby Dale Centre (a service for the old, vulnerable and lonely in the community) and the Kirkwood Hospice. The library is currently staffed with a paid professional librarian - Ed.]
  • Brian Ashley, Director – Libraries, Arts Council England.
  • Andrew Coburn, former Secretary of the Library Campaign and UNISON activist
  • Cllr Cath Pinnock. Kirklees Council.  Soon to be a Liberal Democratic peer in the House of Lords.
  • Darren Smart, Chair, Public and Mobile Libraries Group.

It’s fair to say that all, with the exception of Brian, were speaking from an entirely personal capacity and not speaking for anyone else.  It’s also worth saying that there were, frankly, not that many people there.  Perhaps twenty five in the audience.  But that didn’t stop a lively and well-tempered discussion.  The main points I noted for either side were:

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News summary

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Steal some ideas from the USA, why don’t you?

Editorial

Some very useful stuff is coming from a US project to look at innovative ideas in public libraries.  It’s very similar to the Carnegie LibraryLab programme in the UK but, well, bigger.  It’s also more open. I’ve noticed that the (many) authorities going for LibraryLab funding are being a bit cagey about what they’re developing and, possibly quite rightly, seeing other authorities as competition to be beaten to the prize.  That’s the case with the Knight News Challenge too of course but there they’ve hit on the idea of making all ideas public from the time of submission. the result is a beautifully presented list / treasure trove of copyright-free ideas for libraries all around the world to dip into.  Including us.  So look at the pages on Inspiration (47 contributions) and the one on Submissions (67 separate ideas on there so far) and steal away.  Shame so few are about books though.

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A big day

Editorial

Good to see the success of the CILIP AGM “Big Day” on this Saturday past.  There was much positive stuff about Libraries Change Lives (well done to Northamptonshire) and Honorary Fellows (congrats to Janene Cox and Philip Wark).  William Sieghart, at some point before January to publish his inquiry into English public libraries, spoke about the sector being at a “Beeching” (as in the savage cuts to the railways) moment but at how impressed he was about the work that was done.  The CILIP President’s speech was an appeal to work together, look to the future and focus on the good that is done.

In terms of votes, all motions were carried apart from the one that was causing all the rumpus because it would have reduced, in the eyes of many, the representative nature of the CILIP Council (now renamed “Board”).  So, seen from afar, this looks like quite a good result for everyone: the organisation gets to boost its achievements and that of libraries and those worried about its direction of travel need not worry about a decline in democracy.  It was indeed a Big Day.

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Ed Vaizey v. Sheffield Council: battle is joined

Editorial

It looks like Ed Vaizey, the minister most in charge of public libraries, is showing some action.  In a detailed letter to Sheffield Council, Ed demands clarification and explanations of fifteen different points in order to help him make up his mind about whether he should intervene.  He has also instructed them not to make any changes to library services until the end of October, to give him time to consider the results and override the council if necessary.  That last may either force him to action or make him look very weak indeed as the council has made it clear that they have no intention to stop changes and will move forward with having volunteers take over its libraries.  So, it looks like Sheffield, home to Nick Clegg and a Labour Council, is going to be a key battleground in deciding who has the final say in public libraries: local councils or the Secretary of State.  The lines are drawn.  Now let’s see if it’s the council or Mr Vaizey who is humiliated.

In other DCMS related news, the department has to the surprise of no-one, decided to go ahead with the formal abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries.  This group had already practically been abolished in 2010 but a consultation had to be done in order to make this legal.  That has now been done and the ACL is now formally consigned to history.

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Ed Vaizey’s letter to Sheffield: summary and analysis

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Depth of Wirral cuts become clear, income generation and CILIP governance

Editorial

Main things today include a response from CILIP Council to the post written yesterday.  Being I have taken the decision to leave CILIP (it’s simply too expensive for me to justify considering reductions in real salary over the last few years) I have refrained from voting but I do urge any of you who are members to vote.  It’s not quite as important as that referendum thingy happening in Scotland at the moment but, you know, if you’re feeling left out of that one …

I was surprised to see that the proposed cuts to Wirral were so deep.  To reduce opening hours of fifteen out of twenty one libraries to just ten hours per week is going to have an impact.  The council argues that at least it is not closing them or passing them to volunteers and it is a sign about how bad things have gotten nationally that this will be seen by many as a reasonable position.

If you’re looking at raising money for your library service then the opportunity via Locality to be involved in their pilot programme on income generation in libraries may be useful.  Worth a look.

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Effective Governance for CILIP – A response to Tom Featherstone and Bob Usherwood

By Nick Poole, a CILIP Councillor, former Treasurer and member of the project board for the Governance Review

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