News for 28th-29th January

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A public library news miscellany

Editorial

Lots of changes today, with some new libraries, some closures and plenty in-between. Other notable stories include the launch of Dementia books on prescription and the tale – very rare someone is brave enough to write publicly – of what it is like to be a librarian in an authority that’s trying to get rid of you.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the dilemma of a good librarian in austere times

Editorial

An interesting exchange went on in the House of Lords last Thursday.  A question on libraries, including one or two attempts to try to ring-fence funding for them, was waved away by reference to innovations – and especially the move to volunteers – going on in public libraries.  Cuts of up to 50% were acknowledged but with a feeling that councils are doing their best, and doing well, at avoiding these cuts actually affecting the public.  This presents a bit of a problem to local councils, and not only in the realm of public libraries.  For by doing the best they can, by working hard to minimise the impact of the deepest cuts in peacetime history, on the voter, councils are making more cuts more palatable to the politicians and to the electorate.  Of course, it would be even worse, at least in the short and medium terms, if councils failed to do the best they could.  They would be accused, quite rightly, of self injury and the public would show no mercy.  In this they would be, goaded on by political parties whose ideology values skilled public workers very little and which does not understand the difference between the words “cut” and “saving”. It’s especially sad to see stalwart defenders of public libraries, who have become volunteers, used in this way.  But in this new world of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, everything is fair game.  The trick is to learn how those in public libraries can change the game and win it.

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National Libraries Day: all growed up

Editorial

I remember the start of National Libraries Day.  It was the first year that the Coalition’s cuts had really hit, public libraries were in danger and people were in shock or getting angry.  Alan Gibbons suggested a national day of protest for libraries, then called Save Our Libraries Day, and it happened – hundreds of events and protests around the country.  It was an amazing event and I am very pleased to say that I played a part, albeit a tiny one, in it. That day served its purpose and did great work for public libraries.  I’m pleased, though,  to say that over the last years, the day has  grown from being a protest to being a day of celebration of this great national service.  Some councils had difficulty adjusting to this at the start: there was some suspicion of politics but that has largely all gone. Pretty much every authority I know of now sees National Libraries Day as an important day in their calendar and so it should be.  It is the only time that we have just to celebrate our service.  Not books, not computers, not digital inclusion but the whole darn thing.  The wonderful service that is provided and too many once took for granted and too many now take as something that can be endangered. Make sure you get to the library on the day, look around, smile that it’s still there and work out how you can make it better.

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Correction

For some reason I said Salford was undergoing a second round cuts in the first line of the last post.  The eagle eyed would have noticed that it was in fact Trafford. This was corrected on the online edition but was too late to have been corrected for the direct mailing.

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Poop-pooping to London libraries in February

Trafford, Lincs, Staffs, Cardiff … everywhere, really

Editorial

Trafford [Sorry, this post somehow said Salford to begin with – Ed.] is undergoing its second major round of library cuts this government, aiming to withdraw three libraries, much to the chagrin of the local Labour MP who has noticed that the Conservative-run council has picked branches in less prosperous parts of the city.  Elsewhere, both Lincolnshire and Staffordshire are having trouble with getting people to run their libraries for free, with another volunteer group withdrawing in Lincs and Staff having to tone down its plans due to lack of interest.  You know, I know this may come as a shock, but there may be a reason why people are paid to do a lot of library jobs.  It certainly seems that people understand that in Wales where no less than one thousand people attended a meeting to save their local library in Rhiwbina.  One thousand.  Incredible.  The public clearly understand something about the importance of the library there.

Finally, my thanks to Brian Ashley who has again written in (Ed Vaizey, feel free, to join his example) to give his view on the news, specifically on the libraries taskforce and Art Council England’s stance to it.  My thanks to him.

Please send any corrections, news, comments, highly paid job offers or legacies to … ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

The publication of William Sieghart’s report and the establishment of the taskforce, to be chaired by local authority chief executive Paul Blantern, provides a great basis for developing England’s public libraries and the Arts Council looks forward to playing a full, positive and constructive role in that process.  

We have been clear that, in England, leadership of the sector is collaborative. Responsibilities have always rested with a range or organisations but the taskforce brings them together in a more established and effective way than before. The Arts Council’s  particular role as the national development agency for libraries is agreed with DCMS and we believe that we have made a positive contribution to supporting and developing libraries since we took over that responsibility in October 2011. Our strategic development role with the sector is now part of our contribution to the taskforce, of which we are an integral part and the Arts Council continues to be the national development agency for libraries. 

Those who benefit from and depend on public libraries will be more interested in what happens next. The ideas set out in William’s report sit very comfortably with the Arts Council’s vision for libraries: libraries inspire and empower people to lead active lives, developing themselves and making a positive contribution to the community. Through ‘Envisioning the library of the future’ we have identified four development priorities for public libraries in England. We are also providing grant-funding programmes to enable library services to explore new ways of working to deliver these priorities. This will continue including our contribution to the work of the taskforce. Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England.

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Of reports and raspberries

Editorial

You may remember the Sieghart report that was published by the Government the very last day before Christmas. Well, it looks like things are happening with it.  William Sieghart has hinted that there will be some corporate techy stuff happening shortly (still hush hush) and the boss of the new taskforce has said that things will need to be done within months or they will have failed. That’s good.  What I’m seeing from the sidelines is a general and deepening disappointment (now that there’s been time for it to sink in) with the scope of the report and questions over its actual independence so concrete results would be very welcome.

Sorry to see that, after a year or two of pain and public protest, Lincolnshire’s council have decided to jolly well do what it wanted to do in the first place without regard for what library users or, indeed, anyone else up to and including the courts say.  Unsurprisingly this is not going down well in the county.  It shows that, when it comes down to it, councils can do whatever the heck they want.  No wonder Ed Vaizey is being nominate for a Golden Raspberry Award.

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Welcoming the homeless in

Editorial

You know them.  The old chap who sits in the same spot each day, perhaps waiting by the door when you open.  The lady who sleeps, with a smell of alcohol around her.  The young gentleman who strides in and using your computers for as long as he can. They’re the users who come in but we do not invite in. The ones who do not talk or talk too much. They are the homeless and many libraries have them, some have a lot, but we have them like we have air: it’s a given, not a strategy. Well, one Canadian library has changed that by officially welcoming them. OK, so they do it on their website (which is not where I would start with this group) but it’s the spirit of the thing. Well done to them.  Can you say your library has done so much?

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In praise of local libraries and school library services

Editorial

Sorry to see Coventry being the next library service to take massive cuts to its service provision. Suggesting closing all the libraries and moving what can be salvaged into five council “hubs” is a new one on me.  Normally, at least a few of the larger buildings are left.  The concerns here are manifold: how much of the new “hub” would actually be for the library, the cost involved in setting up all of these new places and what happens to the old, often beloved, library buildings.  The biggest concern, of course, is that there’s only going to be five libraries in the whole city: Helen Skelton in the Telegraph points out that this could be the first generation of children in the UK who do not grow up with widespread access to free books and, by the sound of it, those who cannot afford transport in Coventry will shortly be agreeing.

Also, sorry to see Falkirk losing its school library service (SLS).  A good SLS can be a fantastic value multiplier for schools who not only gain from bulk discount and frequent exchanges of stock but also expert advice as well.  Indeed, a SLS can be self-financing, as schools pay in to support a service which is of such obvious use to them.  I do hope Falkirk Council have considered that option before they decided just to delete a line in the budget which may have such an impact on the literacy, and life outcomes, of so many children.

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Je Suis Charlie, Birmingham, Library song and the Magna Carta

Editorial

I was shocked to see the events in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices. I simply don’t know what the public librarian response to it should be but that by R. David Lankes below is a good place to start.  But, I hope, every librarian will stand up and be able to say “Je Suis Charlie”. Remember that when you’re asked to cut or not stock something just because someone doesn’t agree with it for some reason.

Birmingham Council appear to have shot themselves in the foot by publicising what appears to be their private imaginings about the British Library helping to save the Library of Birmingham.  The British Library has confirmed to me and to others that, while they wish the LoB every good wish, they simply had not even been approached by the council before the story was made public.  Sheesh.  No wonder Birmingham is in the mess it is in (well, apart from Austerity) if this is how they do things.

A new library campaign song has been recorded but pictures of closed/threatened libraries and/or of library staff who have lost their jobs (or users who now have no library) are needed.  If you can help, please email weneedlibraries@gmail.com.

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Magna Carta & the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act – By Shirley Burnham

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The British Library mooted as saviour for the Library of Birmingham

Editorial

It’s great to see that the British Library, amongst others, may be coming to the aid of the gigantic new Library of Birmingham. The BL are, it has been reported in the Birmingham Post, looking at putting a “regional centre” in there.  Whatever this may turn out to be (and such a thing would naturally cause a precedent for elsewhere in the UK) it’s hopefully going to be a good thing. For, the BL has always seemed a little, well, stand-offish to me in public library circles, especially for those of us in still what is occasionally called “the provinces”.  This has, though, recently been changing.  Their business and intellectual property centres scattered around the country, like this one in Newcastle, are in libraries and, although reluctantly, they are now in charge of the Public Lending Right Unit. It’s also interesting to note that their chief executive, Roly Keating, was amongst the panel for the recent Independent Report on Public libraries. I’ve seen what an impact having a state library concerned with strategy and supporting public libraries can have, after looking into the excellent work of the State Library of Queensland and it’s a shame there’s nothing like it here. Such a relationship of research, support and expertise can made a big impact but it’s almost completely lacking here.  In fact, for most public library staff, the British Library is known for only one thing – being an insanely expensive lender of last resort which mercilessly penalises lost books.  The BL could be of so much more use for public libraries, but if it is content for now merely to rescue the largest public library in the European Union then that’s a great start.

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Correction

  • I had incorrectly listed the threatened Bob Lawrence Library as in Brent.  It is of course in Harrow.

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