The most publicity that UK public libraries have had this century?

Editorial

Well, that was quite amazing.  I woke up to public libraries on the radio, had breakfast to libraries on TV, drove to work with libraries on the radio, had lunch to libraries on the radio while reading about libraries in the newspaper  and ate my tea with libraries mentioned on TV. This may be the most publicity public libraries have had that I can remember and it has been an honour, although a terrifying one (I live in fear of saying the wrong thing) to be involved.  Well done to the many many library advocates (notably Alan Gibbons, Lauren Smith and Nick Poole but so many others) who waded in on the pro library and librarian side.  It’s worth noting that a particularly telling and key advocate was Jim Brooks from Little Chalfont who, even though a volunteer, made it clear that he’d far prefer the council to run the library.

It was interesting, and depressing, to see some of the responses on the other side.  The opaquely funded rightwing thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, on BB1 Breakfast, clearly did not understand that people still depend on libraries and wouldn’t have cared if it did. Ed Vaizey, whose reason behind his normal silence on libraries is normally guessed to be a lack of awareness of what is going on, spoke out loudly to say volunteers are not replacing paid staff: thus proving he really doesn’t know what is going on. Over in print form, ex New Labour spin doctor (and librarian for a few minutes before he got a better paid job) John McTernan argued in the Telegraph that the internet has made libraries obsolete, presumably not noticing that the same argument could be used to disprove the newspaper he was writing for. Those interviewers, notably Jeremy Vine on Radio Two, who asked what special skills training a librarian could possibly have and why they should be paid, were  answered well, although  I really wish someone had asked him what special training a radio DJ needed and how much he was paid.

Some other things to ponder. Those statistics, dark as they are, seem on the low side. It looks to me like a lot of authorities had their cake and ate it too, saying that libraries were not closing and not counting the volunteers who took over those libraries that they withdrew paid staff from. I’m looking into this but they may have got away with it, this time. Another thing is the response of the profession.  Do we, as the SCL and the Taskforce are sometimes seen to do, insist that usage and libraries are just changing and agree with Ed Vaizey that libraries are thriving, just in different oh-so-exciting ways? Or do we go the doom and gloom route? I can see the reasoning for both views. The answer is, as ever, one suspects, somewhere in the middle but, as the sometimes contrived debates of yesterday shows, the media – and politicians – may not be interested in nuance.

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Special post: changes to public libraries

This is a special post for the many hundreds of people who are coming to this site from the BBC news footage.

For detailed linked reports to what is happening in your library service, choose from the links below:

For a list of libraries that have turned volunteer, see:

For a list of new or refurbished libraries, see:

For reasons for libraries, see:

For ways libraries are changing, see:

Thank you, and remember to visit your local library!

Ambition, volunteer toolkits and a media blitz

Editorial

I’ve been wanting a national libraries development agency for England for a while but, sometimes, you don’t notice something obvious until it’s slapping you in the face.  From the “Ambition” document just releases, it looks like the Libraries Taskforce is such an agency, although far more dependent on other agencies and shorter on money than I was thinking of. The “Ambition” documents is full of concrete and relevant proposals – such as universal child library membership and every authority doing the summer reading challenge – with timescales and suggestions of how to get them done.  The problem is, of course, as the report itself recognises “To successfully achieve all these purposes, we need to ensure that the public library network in England is secured on a long-term sustainable footing.”. That is going to be the challenge and that is the ambition. All else is just wishes on the wind. But at least there a wish list now.

Released at the same time is a second version of the good practice toolkit for “community libraries”.  The Taskforce would have lost a lot of street cred with campaigners just by calling volunteer libraries that, as “community libraries” pretty much summed up paid branches at one point in what seems now a golden past.  It also got some criticism by seeming to be a simple “So you want to make your staff voluntarily redundant” guide, with all of the benefits listed and not much else. However, look at those “considerations” it lists: those are cons, it’s just that they couldn’t bring themselves to say it, being trained to be positive about everything.  The case studies included – sadly with one propagandistic management-speak exception (you know who you are) – are useful and open, pointing out the difficulties.  The big thing I noticed is that these libraries need ten to twenty times the paid full-time-equivalent staffing to keep them running, and there’s no real answer to long-term funding. Well, that’s two massive nightmares right there. But it’s good to have most of the issues out in the open and at least councils, and users, can get an idea of what is happening now rather than scraping around and coming up with their own risk-laden approaches.

Finally, I’ve been fielding a lot of BBC media enquiries the last few days about public libraries. Trust me, if I’d have said yes to half of them, even I’d have been sick of me – but, thankfully for all of us, I need to work so couldn’t do them. Thankfully, there’s a full on Avengers-style bunch of library advocates out there nowadays who have also been asked: I’m looking forward to hearing what Nick Poole, Alan Gibbons, Laura Swaffield, Lauren Smith and Phil Bradley, amongst others, will say.  This is all about a big, serious, fully-researched BBC report on the real numbers of libraries closed, staff made redundant and budgets cut since 2010. I helped out a little with it and I’m really hopeful it will help put the pressure on the minister to do something.  Perhaps even a fully resourced national libraries development agency.

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Countries of Culture

Editorial

Protests Local news from all over the place, with the stand out for me being the strike and protests in Lambeth. The Carnegie UK Library Lab winners for this year are announced tomorrow so more information on them with the next post. Finally, due to the horrible events in Belgium, the release of BBC research into changes/cuts to public libraries, including a series of BBC radio (and some television) pieces, have been pushed back to next week.  I was involved in helping out in small ways with the research at various stages but not seen the final report as yet.

Changes

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Sadiq Khan, standing to be London Mayor, gets ambushed by Lambeth library defenders when he visited Camberwell Library in Southwark. Campaigners are angry that Labour's Lambeth is cutting libraries at the same time as his manifesto supports libraries.

The House of Stories

Editorial

I love the new name for the combined library/theatre/cinema in Chester.  “Storyhouse” neatly combines the common elements of all three services that will be sharing the refurbished and expanded building.  In fact, it seems to me that story house neatly sums up libraries more than most terms, on many levels.  On the most basic grounds, there’s a ton of stories housed in a library. As I tell anyone, you can read about anything, be anyone, when you read a book from the library.  Moving further, the users of the library tell many stories to the experienced eye.  The student typing away using the wifi, the senior citizens catching up with eachother, children hopping around in delight, the quiet figure searching for a job … they all tell stories, not least how good the library is.  Further, the health or even presence of a library tells a story about the community which it serves.  A bustling library, in a good quality building,  filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things says wonderful things about the local neighbourhood. A dilapidated library building up for sale in Lincolnshire not so much. Ultimately, the health of the public library service can provide a narrative for how well a country is doing.  A thriving library service, full of new ideas – like I see in countries overseas – says so many positive things about that country.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide what story the current state of UK libraries tells.

Changes

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DCMS (sort of) intervene in West Berkshire and the nightmare of Barnet’s IT problems

Editorial

In the first time I can remember, the DCMS has told a council it cannot close libraries until it does things properly.  Normally, the DCMS barely notices but, this time, the radical decision by West Berkshire to close all but one of its libraries, with insufficient regard to its population, has prompted a different response. The ministry has said West Berkshire Council will need to produce a proper needs assessment before it is sure it can meet its requirements under equality legislation and, importantly, the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  As such, the council has had to find £425k of money (this is hardly generous – it was previously cut from the libraries budget after all, and seems to have some from a special pot)  to keep at least some of its libraries open until it can show it has done the technical legal minimum. It’s worth pointing out that the minister is unlikely to stop the drastic cut to just one library once it has done so, but at least the ministry is saying that the law needs to be followed first. That, for this government, which takes such a laissez faire approach to council cuts, is actually – sad to say – enough to make this the most significant intervention since 2010.

“Discussions with DCMS revealed the need for a detailed Needs Assessment to inform any changes to the way Libraries operate. Research will be commissioned to provide this before finalising the future structure and scope of the service … The Council will fail in its equality duty, and also its statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, if it proceeds with a major reduction in its Libraries service without due process. I recommend the proposal be reconsidered so that libraries are retained pending the outcome and recommendations of an independent Needs Assessment”  Equality Impact Assessment Template – Stage Two – West Berkshire Council.

Ever had the nightmare of worrying what would happen if your library data went down the drain? Well, Barnet are living through it.  Here’s their council report on what caused the catastrophic loss of their library data and how it is, in particular, really messing up their Open+ branches, as well as losing them income.  Heaven knows what it is doing to their credibility as well. Now’s the time to check your systems and your back-ups, people.

Changes

Ideas

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Not one of the world’s most literate nations

Editorial

A new study, the The World’s Most Literate Nations, places UK low down on the list, not least because of the relatively poor showing of UK libraries compared to that of other countries.  In fact, it’s very low down for libraries: 29.5 compared to 17th overall. One wonders where it would have been in 2010.

Changes

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Embedded job advisors and Thema

Editorial

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that job advisors will be placed in different settings including libraries.  It’s been interesting to see the negative response from some tweeters about the cost to the public library service in terms of damaged neutrality, making the service more linked, in the public mind at least, to the government. It may indeed turn off some people from coming into the library, being worried that the DWP officers will spot them doing something they shouldn’t. On the other hand, of course, supporters of the scheme would say that this will improve the service to the user – professionals being emplaced to help get people employed is not a bad thing after all.  Government will also likely place more value on libraries if they see them as somewhere they can reach the hard to reach. The scheme is therefore not entirely good and not entirely bad: like so many things, it lies somewhere in the continuum between the two.  We all need to be think through the implications to our own libraries.

And now for something a bit more, well, librarian, than most of the news normally contained here. My thanks to Graham Bell, the executive director of EDItEUR, to agreeing to explain something I simply had no idea about: the new subject classification theme called Thema. The piece is too long for being part of this post (so it gets its own page) but I recommend it to you if have you have an interest in saving money, being international, or, actually, simply in the ordering and finding of books, which is kind of important, still, for most public librarians.  See this page for the article.

Changes

Ideas

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Desmond Clarke, revisions, and some delicious rivalry

Editorial

First off, I’d like to pay tribute to Desmond Clarke, who has announced (reproduced in full below) that he is retiring from library campaigning.  He has been influencing, as much as any of us outsiders can, the corridors of power in the interest of public libraries for more than decade, without any want of reward. Hats off to him.

Secondly, the House of Commons Library has taken note of the pretty much universal condemnation of its first report on public libraries and produced an extensively revised version, taking note in particular of the concerns raised by CILIP about the unrealistically low number of closures cited.  Well done to the professional body.  Now if only the HoC Library hadn’t deleted all references to Public Libraries News at the same time … Hmmm.

Finally, you’ll recall that I was in awe and then in laughter at the Orkney Library twitter account this week, which somehow they managed to snag an actual visit by the actual JK Rowling to its actual reading group by massive amounts of cheek and offer of cake.  But there’s more to it than that. The story was picked up by a lot of the media (see below) which also detailed some delicious inter-library rivalry, resulting in the classic Orkney “In. Your. Face.” tweet to Shetland Library.  The latter is now hoping to snag Gary Barlow. I can only hope that they do.

“Dear All

I have decided after some eleven years of campaigning for public libraries to take a step back and I will no longer be sending regular links to major media stories and published reports. May I encourage you to subscribe (at no cost) to Public Libraries News which provides a comprehensive summary of what is happening in every authority based on local media reports and councils’ press releases.

During a recent discussion with a senior DCMS official, I showed him my letter published almost ten years ago in October 2006 by THE TIMES (attached) in which I wrote that “the service is desperately in need of leadership and a taskforce to help the 149 separately managed authorities ..” Thanks to William Sieghart’s Report we now have the Taskforce and hopefully it will not be too long before they develop a shared vision for a modern library service and a roadmap to deliver that vision. I very much hope that everyone will then get on the same page to make it happen.

I urge the Taskforce to focus on the needs of library users, to address the structural, technological and resource management issues and to articulate what libraries are for. That necessitates being much more radical than just installing wifi or promoting the Universal Offers. I do not underestimate the challenges but it is essential that, despite the background of austerity, we build a service that re-invigorates the library network and fulfills the needs of the millions of people who rely upon them..

Thank you.
Desmond”

Changes

Ideas

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Rhianwen Long won Library Marketing Champion of the Year – nominated by Jane Sellwood (Principal Librarian Merthyr and Current Chair of SCL Wales)

Lancashire, Lambeth, CIPFA, Orkney and JK Rowling

Editorial

Big protests in Lancashire and Lambeth against library cuts have taken place, with the London one benefitting from the prevalence of celebrities that live in or near the capital. The situation in Lancashire is worsening, with several branches having temporary reduced hours due to shortages of staff.  Hollowing out what used to be one of the best library services in the country is clearly continuing apace. No less than 40 of its branches (one fifth of all libraries places under threat in the last year) will soon turn volunteer or close.

The DCMS reply to queries over the number of libraries being under threat was very interesting. Basically, because CIPFA only asks for the number of service points each library authority has open, the argument is that one cannot tell how many have closed.  So, if there are 4000 branches one year and 3900 the next, one can’t say definitively that 100 have closed.  It’s possible that one (or five or ten) new library has come online meaning the figure could be 101 (or 106 or 111) have closed, therefore one cannot – the argument seems to go – use the CIPFA figures. It’s an interesting argument and one that shows the weakness in the CIPFA figures and has, of course, nothing to do with a political desire to underplay what is happening.  A better way needs to be made to keep count.

Finally, a beautiful story from Orkney Libraries, whose award-winning Twitter account was responsible for JK Rowling travelling there to attend a reading group. Major credit to the Orkney Twitterer and also, of course, to the wonderful JK Rowling.  Watch out, incidentally, for the new book “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” – it’s slated as coming in as adult non-fiction, which is unlikely to be where users will look for it on the shelves.

Changes

Ideas

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