Fact-checking the Kensington closed library

Editorial

I was asked about the closing library in Kensington yesterday. You may remember the emotional interview Channel Four did with people near Grenfell, which started with a local complaining that the council had sold the library to a private school. There was a challenge about whether it was correct or not? I also noticed a claim by the council that they were building a new library. So, let’s do some fact-checking:

– Yes, the council is planning to sell a library – North Kensington Library – to a prep school, although it looks like it’s a lease rather than a straight sale. This report from last year suggests that the school (Notting Hill Prep) will be given the first year free to pay for refurbishments. It will then pay c. 365k per year to the council.

The library is described by the council as “spread over three floors making it difficult for those with mobility issues and young children to navigate. Added to this the building is poorly insulated, expensive to heat and is also listed, which makes it hard to renovate to meet modern library requirements.”. The library has been used for 125 years.

The Friends of North Kensington Library have different views. They’re concerned about the loss of the building for public use and worry about the reduction of council provision in the area. A 3000 name petition has been collected to support this. The campaign suggests the move of the library to a new site would cost £11m.

– The council wants to move the library to the site of the nearby (50 metres away) Lancaster Youth Centre. It promises larger floor space, an improved range of books, magazines and newspapers as well as e-books to borrow, excellent Wi-Fi and IT facilities, space for children’s activities, quiet study areas and meeting rooms for groups, public toilets with baby change facilities..

So it’s a bit more nuanced than the fat-cat council simply selling off a public library but there’s more going on than simply a move to a more modern building. The local community clearly feels very strongly about the move but the council clearly also thinks it is improving matters. I don’t even live in London and can’t claim to know who is right but the one thing clear about this is how much people care about public libraries, the numbers that can be mobilised (3000 in this case, to some extent or another) and how councils need to tread carefully.

If you know more about this issue and you’d like to give a view, please email me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. Thank you.

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An attempt to sum up what public libraries do, but with some problems attached. For my presentation at CILIP Conference - http://cilipconference.org.uk/engaging-audiences/

A surprise mention at Grenfell, and ideas

Editorial

I, like so many others, have been deeply affected by the sheer tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and the issues surrounding it. One media report from Channel 4 News videoed local people about how they felt about the situation. The very first person on the video pointed out that the local libraries have been sold off.  I was not expecting public libraries to be brought into this but it shows their importance – they’re part of the community and to lose one, especially in the wealthiest borough, is seen as a measure of how much the council cares, as it is  in so many other places.

I’ve included no less than four new “ideas” in this post, which is quite a lot. I was quite taken aback by the crowdfunding the building of a library one. There’s something about public librarians that they’re always soming up with new ideas and being happy to share them. The ideas and innovations page regularly gets the most view on PLN – if you hve come up with an idea and want it included, please email me.  

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Hi John Glen, libraries should not be pigeonholed and income generation’s not the answer

Editorial

Welcome to John Glen MP, who takes over the libraries brief in a more traditional portfolio than his predecessor including arts, culture, heritage, museums and tourism. It’s always interesting to see where libraries are put as it gives an idea of where our place is seen. Arts are brilliant as is everything else on the list – but one can’t help but think libraries are the odd one out. We could fit just as easily in Education.

Also, have a look at the quote by Nick Poole on the need for more action in the sector too. And does anyone know of a library authority that makes more than 10% of its budget on income (and I don’t mean fines)?

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Desmond Clarke

Editorial

I was so sorry to see that Desmond Clarke has passed away. We started exchanging emails almost back when I started PLN, back in 2010. He was a campaigning veteran long before then of course. We did not always agree on the solution to the problems that public libraries found themselves in but I never doubted his good intentions and, also, his gentle influence. He was one of the few campaigners that Ed Vaizey listened to, although of course that did not unfortunately translate much into action. There’s not many people outside the library world, when all is said and done, that spent so much time on working for their betterment. I’ll miss his emails and I’ll miss him.

The news that Bristol may close up to 17 branches is not unexpected. Back in January I’d reported that up to 19 were under threat and it looks like a similar number indeed are. The city library service has had a tough time over the last few years, the opening of Junction 3 excepted, and it’s not over yet.

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Farewell Rob Wilson, we hardly knew you

Editorial

Well, that was an election and a half. I’m not sure if anyone really knows what it all means yet and I won’t pretend to even be able to make a good guess. The only thing for sure is we will have a new minister in charge of libraries as Rob Wilson lost his parliamentary seat last week. He certainly seemed more interventionist than Ed Vaizey, although that is not exactly saying much. He visited troubled library authorities and even issued as “minded to intervene” in Lancashire, which is highly unusual and seemed to at least take an interest in the sector. He even found some funding for innovation, although the timetable for bidding for it was incredibly rushed. At the time of writing, it’s not clear who his replacement may be.

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Take a deep breath, learn something new, improve

Editorial

If you’re reading this on Friday, with most or all of the general election results having come in, you will have more idea than I currently have on what the next five years holds for UK public libraries. More of the same or not. No matter what happens, always remember the importance of public libraries in so many different aspects of life and for all ages. If you work in libraries, be proud of what you do and aim to learn something new to make your work even better. If you advocate or campaign for libraries, take a deep breath. No matter what happens, your skills and your energy are going to be needed, no matter who you are.

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Celebrity advocates for libraries: Riddell, McDermid and 100 others

Editorial

It has been a real delight over the last year to see the many pro-library drawings by Chris Riddell popping up on Twitter.  He has been the children’s laureate for 2016/17, soon to be replaced by the next (mystery) children’s writer. This position is often filled by someone who rightly has worked out how important public libraries are to getting children to read.  I am delighted to see that Chris will not stop campaigning because his tenure is at end: he is becoming the president of the School Library Association. Whoever thought of asking him to do that job is a genius. Another example of a great advocate for libraries is Val McDermid who has been quoted, not for the first time, supporting public libraries. People, and thus the media, tend to listen more to celebrities than even (perhaps especially even) experts and so people like this are gold dust. Here’s a list of famous people I’ve noticed saying nice things about libraries. Can you let me know of any more? Email me as normal at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

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Ireland unifies, Welsh Standards compared with English atomisation

Editorial

The pre-election lull continues with very few local library stories compared to normal, especially as considering this post below covers more days than normal. There are two articles, though, that has a lot of reaction when I reported them on Twitter. The first is the news that the Republic of Ireland is aiming to unify its entire public library system, at least in so far as having a single membership card and being able to reserve items from anywhere in the country. Now, Ireland is a relatively small country, smaller than one-tenth of the UK, with only 333 branches and a population of under five million, so it’s easier for them but it does point the way forward. Sadly, though, I’m seeing at least as much atomisation in the UK (with, for example, more independent volunteer libraries and organisations involved) than I am the reverse.

The second story is the appointment of an independent library standards adviser in Wales. Until recently, at least, I met many involved people in England who argued that standards were not advantageous but rather that they encouraged a “race to the bottom” where councils aimed to spend less than their comparators. That argument, although it still amazingly holds sway amongst some even now, has taken a battering with the removal of English standards, where we can now see clearly now see just such a race to the bottom, not because of standards but rather due to their absence and the connected lack of effective superintendence of those who transgress.

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Check out what each political party has in store for public libraries

Editorial

It probably has not escaped your notice that there is a general election coming up shortly. As in most national elections, the subject of public libraries is spectacularly absent and none more so than this one which appears to be mainly about Brexit and personalities. I am noticing very few references to the sector in the news, with their main presence being in Lancashire, where the new Conservative administration has pledged to reopen all the libraries recently shut by Labour, although it’s not clear how many of these will be staffed by volunteers rather than paid staff.  Similarly, in Warrington (also Labour,-controlled by the way), there has been a mention of libraries in the Green candidate’s position, doubtless due to the large-scale cuts proposed there, swiftly followed by much public protest. But that’s pretty much it for the last few days. For myself, if one puts aside the whole policy of austerity (quite a big if, but go with it),  I tend to see Labour complaining about cuts to libraries in Conservative controlled councils and Conservatives complaining about cuts in Labour controlled councils. It can all get a bit confusing. As such, it has been very useful to see the recent CILIP survey on the manifestoes of the UK-wide political parties, which analyses what libraries can expect from each. Have a read.

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Putting books on the streets, not soldiers

Editorial

I live close enough to Manchester that I know of, at one remove, several people who were at the concert. I’ve been at the venue myself a few times. The first thing that struck me was that the so badly misled man that killed so many children and others, would have seen them and knew full well what he was doing. I only realised later that he deliberately planned to kill such innocents probably days in advance. The natural response to all this is hate and fear and, dig into social media (or read the Daily Mail), and you’ll sadly see both. Thankfully, the other response has been to make clear that such an atrocity will not affect how we live. As such, while putting soldiers in the streets may make sense tactically, some may question if it sends a good strategic message.

Public libraries have a role in making things better. The sector exists to provide free information, ideally checked at least at one remove for accuracy, to the public. The library provides a place where all people can come in for free, rub shoulders with eachother and find the  facts, and common things that bring us together, not things that  push us apart. Moreover, it remains the ultimate in terms of normality for many people. Be grateful for that, work hard for all and, perhaps, do a display or two showing that Muslims are just people like anyone else or on peacemakers, not warmongers. A guide on how to explain such murders to children wouldn’t go amiss. But, most of all, go to work, do your job, smile and -what’s the phrase? – keep calm and carry on. That’s the ultimate victory, not just for libraries but for the democratic world.

Putting books on the streets, not soldiers, would be the course of action I’d most like to see.

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