Darren Henley, Chief Exec of Arts Council England, Sarah Mears, Essex Libraries and Culture Offer Lead, Mag Astill and Neil MacInnes, President of SCL

Culture officially becomes a public library universal offer

Editorial

Culture has officially joined Learning, Information, Reading, Digital and Health as public library universal offers.  Some more information, a photo and a video from the minister are below. Ever since Arts Council England took over from the MLA back in 2010 as the agency responsible for government grants to libraries, this has probably been on the cards. There’s a ton of shows, ACE funded or otherwise, now playing in libraries and I suspect that is only going to increase with the Society of Chief Librarians becoming a Sector Support Organisation for ACE. The challenge this brings, with there now being six Offers, is for the key messages of why we use libraries to be clear. We’ve always suffered a little from being Jack of All Trades and now, officially, we have another trade. And what a trade. Those shows can be beguiling, and more than a little time-consuming and distracting. But they can also be wonderful. It’s up to SCL to ensure it’s all to the good.

On an entirely different matter, it was great to see a particularly annoying internet troll who decided to take on libraries being rounded upon and shown the error of his ways. More below.

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Places are still available at the NAG conference, 6th to 7th November in Leeds. Public library workers can get in at half price. More information via http://www.nag.org.uk/events/forthcoming-events/2017/10/workshops-and-papers-at-nag17/.

Ideas on promoting author / book events wanted

Editorial

I am looking for examples of promoting author / book events in libraries that are a bit out of the ordinary. Have you seen a successful library event that was due to something clever the library did to sell it? I’ve just come across one event where a book on Greek literature was tried in with a meal from a local Greek restaurant, leading to a sell-out Genius. Another had authors/poets scattered in shops/cafes and people walked between them. The thing you’ve come across need not have been quite so wonderful but I’d be delighted to hear about it. Any little hints or tips would be great. Because the more ways we can get people interested in reading, and libraries, the better.

Give your example via the comments or email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. I’ll make sure a report on the best ideas will be made available to all. It may even make a difference to a library near you.

Thank you.

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Northamptonshire’s deep cuts and the end of Voices for the Library

Editorial

Two things stand out for me in the last week and a bit (no, PLN is not going fortnightly – I had the flu). The first is that Northamptonshire is announcing big cuts to libraries. Now, this has all sorts of ramifications. The county was seen as a bit of a golden boy due to its alliance of libraries with health services and also its chief executive, Paul Blantern, was once chair of the Libraries Taskforce. Mr Blantern has resigned this month over the cuts forced on to the council, which amounted to more than £500m between 2010 and 2020. £500m. That figure shows that, in this age of austerity, no council safe from the depth of the cuts forced. It doesn’t matter what the arguments are or how efficient or imaginative your council: cuts of this magnitude are going to get you if yours is one of the councils that the funding formula decides it does not like. Alan Moore, a native of the county and writer of the Watchmen and V for Vendetta, has already shown what a false exonomy this is by threatening to take filming of his new show away from the area.

The second thing is the announcement that Voices for the Library is folding. Set up by a number of volunteer (back before that word raised concern amongst paid library staff) library supporters in 2010, the group aimed to publicise the good things about libraries and provide contacts for the media.  The deep cuts announced from 2010 onwards swiftly turned the group into something else as well: a protest against what was going on. I joined the group in 2011 as its interests (pro-library, publicity and, at that stage, campaigning) very much tied in with mine. I have since left the group as I have reduced by more blatant “campaigner” side but austerity, as Northamptonshire shows, is still very much alive and well. Voices will be missed.

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That's a copy of the Handmaid's Tale in her hand.

Libraries Week 2017

Editorial

It’s good to see Libraries Week in full swing, with quite a few of the articles in today’s post linked to it in some way. I’m sorry to see that it’s not made the national press much more than BookSeller (although it’s a good article apart from chap called Ian Anstice spouting off) but great that so many libraries are taking part. The Week, which is descended in a direct line from Alan Gibbon’s Save Our Libraries Day (this was the PLN coverage of the first day in February 2011 which gained a lot of national coverage, it riding a wave of protest at the time) is now handled largely by CILIP. Having the Fun Palaces events the weekend before has already helped somewhat and the tone of it is defiantly positive, with the main messages being how well attended libraries are. And I almost said “still” are.  And that’s the thing. There’s so much bad news about libraries, not least on this very webpage, that one can get in an entirely negative mood. But that’s not right. There are brilliant libraries out there. The aim of this Week is to boost them and to make sure that stays the same, everywhere. One Week is not enough for that. But it’s a good start.

Being I was off last week (France was nice by the way) and then I got a virus (not so nice) this post represents only up from now to last Friday evening. I aim to catch up a bit more by the next post. Adieu for now.

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Wishing you all a few good days

Editorial

I’m off to France for a week so there won’t be a new post for a few days and Twitter is likely to be quieter too.  Here’s hoping for a quiet week full of good news. Wishing you a good few days.

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Open to all

Editorial

Public libraries always have appealed to a very broad section of the public and sometimes for diametrically opposed reasons. The quiet studier and the rhymetiming toddler could not be further apart. Throw in a few senior citizens and a group of teenagers and it’s amazing how libraries remain civilized., It’s one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of libraries that they are jacks of all trades. One of the groups served can be especially challenging – those on the fringes of society, of which the homeless are an evident (and seemingly increasing) part. I was delighted to see the work in New Zealand on services for the homeless but it is not going to please everyone. Many members of the public, sometimes library staff, do not wish to be close to those whose hygiene or behaviour does not meet accepted standards. This has come to a head in New Zealand (again – it’s all related) with a questioning over if libraries should put on special services for the homeless.

To me, I think this is a bit like the loud/quiet conflict where the pendulum swung from quiet to loud and is now going back a bit to accommodate both.  In the same way that libraries should be able to balance out the needs of loud and quiet activities, they should also be able to cope with homeless/homed as well. Most do so, frankly, without really thinking about it. A quiet word there, a bit of reassurance, is often enough. We should be proud of the work libraries do for those on the edges of society. Ideally, of course, we should also be funded for it. And actively welcoming in people who others may cross the street to avoid is something that is never going to be easy. But being welcome to all is a sign of a library and, thinking about it, civilization itself.

Congratulations to Diana Edmonds, chief librarian for the multitude of GLL library concerns, who was given the title of “National Libraries Director” last week. Not many of those knocking around. This is a further sign, if any is needed, of the ambition of this non-profit – they were one of the chief beneficiaries of the tending out of leisures services a decade or two ago and they’re aiming for something similar in the libraries sector.

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Better? A look at GLL

Editorial

I had the opportunity to see a couple of GLL libraries (run under the public name of “Better”) at close quarters after agreeing to do a (paid – full disclosure here) talk for managers there on the current UK public libraries situation. GLL started off in Greenwich as a leisure company and has since expanded throughout the county, holding interests in all part of the UK. It has also started expanding in the library sector, with it becoming soon enough (in terms of branches and number of authorities anyway) the largest public library provider in the country. By the end of the year, it is expected to be running the library services of Greenwich, Wandsworth, Lincolnshire, Dudley and Bromley, as well as 12 prison libraries and a couple of other concerns, easily eclipsing other single-authority library trusts or indeed the beleaguered Carillion. GLL is also behind an somewhat controversial move towards installing “gymbraries” in Lambeth.

I’ve seen a fair bit for and against GLL so it was good to physically visit in Woolwich and Greenwich. I was there for a few hours and can confirm the libraries were busy, well-maintained, with good book-stock (in multiple languages, face-on displays plus magazines) and numerous PCs/good wifi. The library staff I talked to, frontline as well as managers, including professionally qualified librarians, seemed happy, some very much so. Interestingly, also, they’re not tied to the local government pay settlement and so have suffered less than council staff by pay freezes/below-inflation increases. The two libraries were co-located (one with council services, the other in a leisure centre) but with well-used at-the-front libraries. They recognise the need for regular (daily, not just weekly) children events and other things such as reading groups and have (a big tick in my book) quiet sections/rooms for the multitude with nowhere else to study.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see “no food or drink” posters in one and also a requirement for ID before joining (we’ve done away with this with no ill effect in my authority years ago), although this is hardly unusual nationally. Both libraries had book-sorting machines – the first I’ve seen – in little glass secure rooms (apparently, fingers can get mashed otherwise) which looked great fun to me but I did not see either working other than the one I put through just to see what happened, and indeed one was out of order due to some vandalism on the roof above. There was some tatty furniture in one branch, noted with much annoyance by the librarian I was with (who I suspect is going to get it replaced pronto), but again, this is hardly unusual in libraries and generally what I saw was certainly no worse than average, and a considerable improvement on many I have seen.

So why is this important to those who don’t work for GLL? Well, they’re growing fast, being expansionist and with regional support structures for leisure (buildings etc) that mean they’re placed to bid anywhere in the UK. I suspect they’re the main competition to other trusts (library or leisure) competing for contracts. I also suspect this is not good news if you work in some parts of the library service as they’re going to go with economies of scale where they think it would work (I certainly would in their position) but, when we’re all seeing deep cuts repeatedly up and down the country, well, there’s worse out there. Better the devil you don’t know, perhaps. From what I saw, they were positive (notably so – no defeatism here) and boasted of good increases to usage and visits. While not alone in the latter, it’s good to see and it’s been long-term in at least the two original boroughs (50% and 100% increases were noted). Obviously, the trust is less directly democratic than council libraries but on the other hand, when told by a council to cut, this is an organisation that will be able to question it rather than have to simply do it.

OK, that’s a general view and I am sure some things are bad (e.g. how gymbraries are being handled) and I missed much. They’re not angels (because who can afford to be, really, in 2017 UK) but I did not see any Satan-worship either, just busy libraries. It was just a day there, but, you know you can walk into a library and instantly sense if it is doing well or OK? Well, the two I visited were fine. And that’s something impossible to hide. And better than some.

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Massive boost to library funding in Sweden, co-locations rule in UK

Editorial

Quite a few changes reported this post, with co-locations absolutely being the order of the day. That cut in Hampshire is going to be big news when it hits the public consciousness next year. The anger is continuing over the “move it further away and halve its size” plan for Bath Central and. over in Plymouth, the council is welcoming the closure of five libraries as a move into the 21st Century. That may be depressing but Lancashire is showing the opposite move with £850k being spent in order to reopen libraries closed under the previous administration. Also, we have a volunteer library in trouble as the academy where it is house is suggesting they move out, with nowhere to go to. Internationally, the picture is pretty much reversed with a massive boost in spending announced for the already well-funded (to British eyes) Swedish system. There’s also a brilliant article on how great Australian libraries are.

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If you want a job doing …

Editorial

So I had a very interesting Sunday and Monday, the first day walking two Australian library chiefs around Storyhouse in Chester and the second attending the Libraries Global Excellence Tour conference in London. There were a lot of learning points from talking to experts in this country, Australia and the USA. The big ones for me were how libraries were seen by the Aussies as sometimes putting artificial barriers in front of their users. Seriously, the Australians looked at us pityingly for charging fines for adults. And then one questioned why libraries demand online renewals of items, wondering aloud if it was for our stats rather than for helping users. Questions like that as well as one about coping with the eventual disappearance of cards in wallets fair sent heads spinning. And don’t get me started on floating stock, seemingly widely accepted in the antipodes (and in Peterborough by the way, it turns out) but avoided most other places.

There was also a vision of another world – where Australian state libraries hold budgets and co-ordinate training and development and where libraries had to cope with only the one crisis (that of technology) rather the two (austerity). Oh and, by the way, their pay is something like twice ours, even taking the varying exchange rates and costs of living into account. Mind you, spiders.

But there’s no point dreaming for something different than what we have. As a friend far more knowledgeable than I (hi Mick) pointed out, the One Card achievement of South Australia pales a bit when one considers its population is only that of Kent and there’s a One Card situation in 19 Scottish authorities and in Manchester, as well as (I think?) Wales. These were achieved without the UK government doing anything and that is I think the brutal truth. If libraries need to achieve wonders, then that will nee to bee achieved by themselves. Collaboration for mutual benefit is the key here. Heck, it may even save money. Relying on Whitehall has not been a viable library strategy since around 1964 and wishing it was not so will not change matters.

Or move to Australia. Just, you know, big sharks too.

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Ideas

  • Cinegi£100 cinema film hire.
  • Esports – Free computer games increase library use in kids [well, yes, they would wouldn’t they? – Ed.]

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PMLG

Sauna yet so far? Lessons from Finnish libraries

Editorial

This copy of PLN is coming out a day early as I am attending a conference on Monday so there’s not as much news as normal. The article that stands out for me is the one on Finnish libraries, which show them to be booming in both people and new ideas, with one even opening soon with a sauna. The legal protection in libraries under the law there is the explanation for this success, with it being noted that there has to be a minimum number of qualified librarians per library, unlike in this country where there is effectively no minimums of any sort, due to lack of government intervention and the lack of any library standards in England.

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