2016: the year the Fun Palace became mainstream in libraries?

Editorial

2016 may be the year when Fun Palaces ceased being an unusual sight in UK public libraries and entered the mainstream.  I’ve had my eye on them for a short while now (here’s an article on them from January) since their success in Lambeth last year. Well, it looks like more and more libraries have got on board this year, with the Taskforce having to devote two, not just one, blog to it in order to fit them all in. They all look joyous and so creative.  Some questions remain for me about them, such as the danger of them being just glorified craft sessions and being sometimes  almost entirely staffed by library staff and not expert enthusiasts from the community.  However, from what I see many are genuinely empowering and bring joy to the library and to the people, regular users and first-time ones, that enter over their threshold.

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Thomas Colloff, in the mobile library that made it all possible.

“Keep an open mind, be innovative, and keep smiling”: an interview with Thomas Colloff

Editorial

I was delighted to see library staff being recognised for their excellent work over the past year.  The more that those who work in libraries the better, in my opinion.  Here’s the first of the interviews this year …

 A brief interview with Thomas Colloff, Mobile Library Champion of the Year.

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Love to Read, Get It Loud and Loop the Loop

Editorial

Apologies for two posts in one day but I though the interview with Helen Milner deserved a special one on its own.  Here’s the news for the last couple of days.

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Special interview with Helen Milner on “protected” libraries and the 10% that “have to change”

Helen Milner recently went public with the view that some public libraries are not good enough and are being overly protected. This has led, at time of going to press, with a report in the Guardian and, I understand, an interview on Sky News tomorrow. Her views have led to dispute, some of which has been fairly heated,  in the library community. I caught up with Helen this afternoon and asked her to clarify her views some more.

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Why some libraries should close … but some others definitely should not

Editorial

In an interesting piece, the chief executive of the Tinder Foundation – which is deeply involved with libraries – suggests that some libraries should close if they are not doing a good job at being community hubs. I’m going to doubtless cause shock and heart attacks from some of the readership of this blog (so if you’re of a nervous disposition, look away now) by agreeing to some extent.  Some libraries are in the wrong place or are too little used. Times change, places change and library provision should change too.

However – and you just knew that was coming – there is a world of difference between such cases and those libraries which are only not fulfilling a vital role in their community due to progressive hollowing out over the years. Just have a read of the shameful case of Birmingham’s Sutton Coldfield Library described below by a user who emailed me its story. Or have a look at the repeated deep cuts to the book-fund of Warrington’s libraries that is now being used by the trust running them, LiveWire, to justify closing them rather than seek equal cuts to other services it provides. Many libraries which are fighting closure, or are looking worriedly at their usage figures, are that way due to have successive cuts to their funding, to their staffing, to their maintenance, to book-fund or to their opening hours.  In such cases, the guilty party is most definitely not the library and they should be supported to the hilt.

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Ideas

  • Bookbenches – to encourage reading and library presence in towns.

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Say National Libraries Week, Not Save Our Libraries Day

Editorial

I remember when National Libraries Week – as it is now – started  in early 2011.  The first shock of hundreds of threatened library closures were affecting local communities up and down the country. The author and  library campaigner Alan Gibbons hit upon the idea of a Save Our Libraries Day (and checked with a fee people, including, and I am very proud about this, myself)  and simply announced it. The result was something amazing, as this article from the Guardian in 2011 shows. It completely caught the established library community of the time on the hop. Neither the SCL or CILIP initially got behind it and both seemed very much (publicly at least) to want to ignore it, especially as both were very much tied at the time (CILIP is now somewhat more confrontational) to being nice to the Government which was the cause of all of the cuts in the first place.  But it did not go away and it continued year after year, although never at the level of that first tumultuous year.

The advantages of having a public libraries day or week has been noted in other countries (notably the US since 1958) for years and so it’s a bit embarrassing that it took a grass-roots campaign to get one going in this country. However, over the last couple of years, the benefit of such a day (or, as it now turns out, week) have been noted by chief librarians and others, although not by all.  Indeed, it has always been a barometer to me of how deeply pro-austerity a council is as to if it allows its library service to commemorate the day or not. Gradually, and on the part of decision-makers quite deliberately, the Day has moved from one of protest to one of celebrating libraries. Some campaigners will see this as a co-opting  and castrating of something they did by others. Another viewpoint is that the metamorphosis of the event reflects the increasingly maturity and public relations savvy of the sector. The test will be what happens in October and in future years.

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Ideas

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House of Lords debate and the UK public library skills strategy

Editorial

It’s great to see public libraries being debated in the House of Lords, especially when the sector has the key support of John Bird of the Big Issue. The debate was a long one, with many useful points raised. The standard government response was to say how active they are.  However, it’s no point being active if one does not actually do anything.  Still, this is a new minister now. Let’s see if he’s any different. But let’s be positive and hope. Still being positive, it’s good to see a joint initiative on training coming from CILIP and the SCL.  There’s also a very good strategic look at public libraries by Leon’s Library Blog, with a very information comment by Nick Poole.

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Birmingham and Westminster

Editorial

I’m sorry to see cuts being extended in Birmingham to include closing two libraries, including in Sutton Coldfield one of its busiest. In addition, there’s a report that cuts have come to heart of London, with Westminster cutting libraries by £750k.  Both councils expect significant job losses. The decision by the DCMS to look into Lancashire’s deep cuts is also making noise. In other news, it’s great to see World Mental Health Day being celebrated – libraries do so much in this sector – and also, do find a short and simple piece on using social media in public libraries to best effect.

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DCMS intervenes in Lancashire: delay or something more?

Editorial

The new libraries minister has announced that his department will be investigating Lancashire over its shotgun closure of at least 21 libraries. Several Conservative MPs have called for an investigation into the Labour-led authority after considerable public protest about the deepest cuts to libraries in the country this year.  A dilemma now confronts Lancashire: whether it will continue with its plans or hold on until the DCMS makes up its mind. West Berkshire put its plans on hold when it was faced with concerns from the ministry that it had not done things properly.  However, things have perhaps gone too far already if libraries have been closed. This will be a key test for the Rob Wilson MP: will he wave through such cuts like his predecessor Ed Vaizey or will he show a different character.  We shall, as ever, see.

My article on the Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets has received a great deal of interest, with several different organisations asking me for more information and contacts, which I have supplied.  Below is an email from an Idea Stores managers who has emailed with the full permission of his managers. I hope it is of interest.

More on Idea Stores

You are spot on with everything you say. Having worked in lots of public libraries across London and the South East many are experimenting but getting it totally wrong. Massive cuts to staffing and opening hours make things worse. None of that applies here, if anything there are long term plans to expand the number of Idea Stores and to offer more services.

I would recommend a look at Idea Store Watney Market where they have incorporated a council ‘One Stop Shop’ into the Idea Store (Separate staff) you can pay your council tax, chase up about rubbish collection, find out your councillors contact details and then read some newspapers/ take out some books. All under one roof which takes One Stop Shop to a whole new level. There is massive potential for councils with vision to implement similar in their boroughs’ unfortunately there is so far (as your article mentions) little to no coherent vision (or attempts to build one) anywhere else in the UK.

One thing I would like to expand on is the Idea Stores retail focus. Have a good look at the way Waterstones presents their stock (merchandising). Front facing books, staff recommendations (shelf talkers). Add lots of clear signage, plus very tidy shelves and Idea Stores start to look very much like book shops. Why no one else has caught on to this is baffling as it’s so much easier to find things. It also promotes certain stock which ties in with the physical book displays and what’s on the screens (as you mentioned). All of this is commonplace in retail and Idea Stores, it’s time for libraries to catch up.” Mark Johnson, Idea Store Coordinator, Bethnal Green Library.

Changes by local authority

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Minister says the future is social enterprises

Editorial

Rob Wilson, the minister responsible for public libraries, has gone on record as saying libraries should move towards a “community hub” model, probably with social enterprises running them and ties in with health and wellbeing.  Being the chair of the Libraries Taskforce is boss of Northamptonhire, whose model Rob Wilson is so approving of, this is no surprise. The Taskforce – a major source of information to the minster – is hardly going to diss the views of their boss. In addition, Rob comes from a background of being very pro volunteer and social enterprise so it ties in with his pre-existing thinking. But, look at the webpage for “First for Wellbeing“, the Northants social enterprise, and you’ll see you need to scroll down for a first mention of libraries, if you can find it at all. It may be that FTW (great acronym, by the way) are indeed good for libraries but there’s sufficient worries in other non-library led trusts (hello again Warrington Livewire) to be more cautious of this approach than the minister apparently is.

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