Wouldn’t it be nice if information played a part in the public library sector?

Editorial

Well, I’ve been away for a week (camping in beautiful Essex) so there’s a lot of new to report on.  The big news stories for me are:

  • The absence of definitive data on public library usage and numbers.  As you can imagine, I’ve noticed this for years as this my humble blog has been seized upon by national media, politicians and anyone interested to fill in some of the gaps in knowledge. The official data from CIPFA is inadequate for a number of reasons (variances in interpreting the data, the voluntary nature of its collection and the fact that you have to pay hundreds of pounds for it being just three) for years. However, having the government claim that there was an increase in public libraries (clearly not true) and a decrease in children’s usage (arguably not true) has put this woeful lack of information into the spotlight like never before. It is therefore opportune that on to this stage strolls Becky Cole who has come up with the dangerously innovative idea of seeing how much decision making is actually based on evidence.  Help her if you can.
  • The decision in the Lincolnshire court case in favour of the council.  This has been a hard-fought campaign and for the council – who lost, let us remember, the initial case – to argue that it wasted money is for them to simply not understand the need for adequate oversight and, even more basically, in some aspects the rule of law itself.  Things now bode ill for libraries in the county but one doubts that anyone but the councillors involved would argue with a straight face that the money lost in court would have been spent on libraries. The decision also shows the limits of the courts in these matters: they can see if something is legally alright only.  What makes sense for the people and library users of a borough depends, quite rightly, on the politicians and so when those same politicians need correcting it is only another higher up politico that can intervene – and the minister in charge of libraries has made sure he won’t intervene in any circumstances.
  • Perhaps it took a week to show it but, my goodness, what a lot of new libraries there is out there. Of course, this depends largely on co-locations and the willingness of developers to stump up cash, which may well cause inequalities nationwide – it’s easy to find a developer in London, less so in Liverpool – but it’s something positive and for that let us be truly grateful.
  • Herefordshire – they tried to close all but one library there a few years ago and, my goodness, they’re trying again this year. Whoopee doo. The aim is for there to be Hereford Central and everything else to be volunteers. Expect to see more protest there … unless that is the repeated attempts to cut the service is wearing down opposition there.

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Children's Laureate makes the importance of libraries clear (reproduced with kind permission)

A look at the ridiculous “there’s more libraries now” claim: plus also Chris Riddell cartoon + the Grace of Libraries

Editorial

The main news this post is about a strange claim made in the Guardian, Mail and many more local papers that the number of libraries in England have gone up by 2% since 2010.  The claim appears to come from the Press Association press release linked to a DCMS report about decline in children’s use of libraries.  The suspicion is someone in a government department either made a simple error or worked out some way of adding up all the libraries in a way that has not occurred to anyone else ever, perhaps including those book collections you sometimes see in train stations and village halls.  Needless to say, the claim has roused some consternation amongst public librarians and campaigners: I’ve been able to use statistics from them (and my own pages) to prove with the official figures a decline in numbers. See below.  But, basically, we know, they know, everyone knows that the numbers have been declining – and funding has been going down precipitously more – and to claim otherwise is just plain silly. Let’s hope whoever is responsible (hi DCMS Libraries Section: can you check if you know?) is told to be a bit more careful in future.

Now on to a couple of nice things: Chris Riddell has given permission to reproduce his lovely cartoon about the importance of libraries, which is shown below and, also, Grace Kempster has kindly written a piece on the magic and grace of libraries for PLN. It’s lovely, rings a lot of bells for me and can be read here.

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Wifi, de facto beating de jure and the efficiency of cutting hours

Editorial

Mr Vaizey has formally launched the Wifi in libraries scheme which will see an initial 100 libraries wifi’d up through the aid of two private companies, with the promise of at least the possibility of more to come. Barclays and BT will also offer on-site help to users. More locally, Cornwall has delayed passing off its libraries to someone else (presumably not Barclays and BT) for a short while and the judicial review hearing over Lincolnshire has included some gems like the council lawyer saying that the case is moot because many library staff have already received their redundancy notices.  This was said, presumably, to suggest that “de facto” beats “de jure”. We’ll see what the judge says about that soon.

Finally, Wirral Council have made the memorable suggestion that due to the libraries with severely cut opening times issuing more books per surviving open hour, they are “more efficient”, despite seeing large drops in actual issue numbers.  Nice one Wirral. That sort of sophistry would never have stood in the old days when there was a possibility of intervention but it’s now safe, and indeed probably resulted in pats on the back in the public relations office. After all, the Minister responsible (and who forcefully argued while in opposition for intervention in the Wirral) is now distracted by more important things. Like getting private companies to offer something that he should have made sure was universal in public libraries years ago.

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Bristol U Turn

Editorial

Faced with considerable opposition, Bristol has partially backed down on cutting its libraries. It had aimed to close seven (out of 27) branches but now will close “only” one and reduce the hours of the others down to 20 hours per week or more.  The cut will be £500k (which is surely serious enough)  instead of £1.1m, although it is unclear how the remainder will be found.  What is clear, though, is that the council backed down only due to considerable public pressure and that pressure would not have been found if people did not really appreciate their local libraries.

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The Law’s Still There: as Lincs and the Vale of Glamorgan know all too well

Editorial

There’s a couple of legal stories today – Lincolnshire will be in High Court again next week over their plans to cut the library budget and Vale of Glamorgan is facing a judicial review hearing in September or October over their plans (or, rather, lack of them) for Rhoose Library. The thing here is that, even in these days of ever tighter legal restrictions it’s still possible for campaigners to claim legal aid … and I know of two law firms (Public Interest Lawyers and Watkins & Gunn) with previous (and often successful) experience in public libraries keen to take on new cases.  That’s the good news for campaigners.  The good news for councils is that this is all avoidable. Please consult in good conscience, plan to take into account equal opportunities legislation and take things seriously, even about the supposed paper tiger that is the Public Libraries and Museums Act. Just deciding on cuts and aiming to ride roughshod over opposition is likely to get a council into some quite expensive and entirely avoidable legal problems.  Do it right and things are faster and cheaper in the long term.  And shouldn’t we be aiming to do it right anyway?

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Ideas

  • Humorous signs on library vans – such as “Dr Jekyll’s Pharmacy” (Thanks to Stephen Heywood for this link – do email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk if you spot other good ideas that need publicising).

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Cuts in Camden, more details on losses in Bucks, Dorset and Worcs

Editorial

It’s more cuts today I’m afraid.  Some deep cuts have happened very much under the radar in Buckinghamshire – cuts of a fifth in some of the largest libraries. Camden have announced the first phase of cutting its libraries budget by £800k, which is going to hurt. Meanwhile, in the world of mobiles, Dorset is going to lose 75 stops and it has become clear that 3 out of 4 mobiles have been withdrawn earlier this year in Worcestershire. This will all doubtless please the writer from Kirkbymoorside who welcomes library closures (apparently because she never needs one herself) but the comments on her articles, and the people I meet every day in libraries, show thankfully that others know better.

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175 innovations for your public library service … and 343 volunteer libraries

Editorial

Ed Vaizey has declined to count the number of volunteer libraries in the UK, saying he’s not responsible for them and it’s not his (paid) job to do so. Many others, though, would argue that Mr Vaizey is precisely the most responsible man in the country for the phenomenon. However, if he really doesn’t want to do it himself, he could always use the PLN page that links to every one reported in the media. I count 343 as the absolute minimum this way, with each one linked and described, with 328 of those being in England. To make things even easier for him, please let me know of any additions or errors in the list – please email with this (and any other news and views to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk). Thank you.

In keeping with my (hopefully entirely safe and benign) obsession with lists, I’ve also created a page listing all of the “Ideas” I’ve spotted over the past couple of years.  There’s over 175 of them and I’ve categorised and listed them for your viewing convenience on this page.  Enjoy.

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Dedication’s all you need?

Editorial

Devon and Cornwall are moving towards running its libraries at arms length from the council and a council that’s already gone down that route, Suffolk, perhaps leading the way in lending out iPads. Speaking of innovation, I hear from the rather wonderful looking hive of activity that is Rhydypennau Library that they have a seed library as well as Axminster (who I thought were alone in the UK).  Any others out there?

However, the big news in libraries at the moment is about none of this.  It is about the Summer Reading Challenge, which officially starts on Saturday, although many authorities jump in way before then, with one I noticed starting on 1st July (won’t some people have completed it before the actual Summer Holidays then folks?). This year, the theme is Record Breakers and there will be an official national World Record attempt this weekend.  To those involved, I feel your pain about the bureaucracy of it all (got all your Lead Witnesses and forms sorted yet?) but hopefully it will be a big publicity and feel-good thing … and big collaborative things like that are what libraries need.  Although that Guinness World Record certificate (or at least a colour scan of it) is going to end up in my office if I have anything to do with it. And for those of you who remember the wonderful Record Breakers with Roy Castle, you will already know the truth about working in public libraries (perhaps more now than ever)  … dedication is all you need. 

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Hang on, we’ve seen this before: Isle of Wight + North Yorkshire go for Round Two

Editorial

Two councils which led the wave of cuts to libraries at the start of the coalition government have both announced or confirmed a second wave of big cuts at the start of the term of the new one. The Isle of Wight passed on five of its libraries to volunteers in 2011, more than halving paid staff over the course of one year.  This time it is quoting the example of these volunteer libraries in support of transferring a further three more, although this time with a paid member of staff, computers and stock, away from council funding.  Quoting austerity, the council says that otherwise it would simply close more libraries.  Meanwhile, North Yorkshire, which closed or pass to volunteers 7 libraries in 2012 and 10 mobile libraries in 2011, have confirmed deep cuts, again quoting the volunteer libraries from the previous round as evidence to pass more to volunteers this time.  It notes the large public response against such cuts during the consultation but, other than not cutting quite as deeply as initially suggested, has essentially gone on ahead as planned.

So, will we see a re-run of 2010-15 now in 2015-20? Watch out for announcements of closures from Brent, Gloucestershire or Somerset over the next few months to see how spooky (and depressing for those involved) this is going to be.

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The importance of being careful in emails … and charging for the latest in lego

Editorial

The Support for Axminster Library campaign have gained a pile of Devon library related emails from a Freedom of Information request.  There’s a ton of them, many confusingly listed or with bits blacked out, but what there is has been combed through.  The result is that the campaign has come up with several things including the fact that Axminster Library is indeed funded below what it should be in terms of its usage and that there was a visit to the library by decision makers that was kept quiet in order to avoid campaigners being present.  This is being seen as important due to major cuts in funding, including the suggestion that Axminster may face closure if volunteers do not support it. Which is a shame because Axminster Library is pretty hot stuff – it’s busy, well-supported, has a lego club and even the only seed library I’m aware of in a UK public library – and the library campaign is understandably not happy.

To my mind, though, there’s no major scandals in the emails between the chief librarian (and current President of the Society of Chief Librarians), the relevant councillors and others.  Which is just as well for them because what there is is being used by the campaigners for all that it is worth. The major take-home lesson for all library workers from this is that all library-related staff – and councillors – need to be very careful in what they say even in internal emails.  Imagine if there was a disparaging remark about even one person in one of those discovered in Devon? It would have been easy enough for something to slip in what must be a stressful and busy time there.  So, treat every email as if it is a public one and write only what is publicly defensible.  This may sound like a bind but, frankly, professionals should be doing that anyway shouldn’t we?

In other news, my thanks to Carillion-owned Cultural Community Solutions Ltd for sending me details of the new lego activities that they are starting from the Summer in their several library services.  This includes the new and impressive (I can vouch for this as I’ve been shown the stuff myself by Lego Education) lego learning sets.  Most interestingly for those looking at income generation (and, on the other hand, those fearful of it) is that the weekly clubs will be charged for, as will lego parties, lego class visits and even lego teambuilding sessions for businesses.  That’s taking it to the next level … but in these days of deep budget cuts, perhaps it is the only way.

Finally, I’ve learnt that the public libraries debate between Ed Vaizey and Alan Gibbons is provisionally booked for 10th September.  Keep that date free. If the DCMS libraries section (hi folks, I know you read PLN regularly) would like the proper statistics for use in this debate, please email me at the address below. I’ll even tailor them for England only if you want as I know your boss Mr Vaizey has said in parliament that he refuses to use them as they mention Scotland and Wales occasionally. I’ve already sent them to Alan. While you’re here, you could also look at the international news section for how Australia is using its libraries to boost all sorts of things, including community cohesion and STEM.

Please send your news, views, government departmental requests for information, comments and corrections to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

Carillion Libraries and Lego Education

Carillion Libraries are working in partnership with LEGO Education to deliver exciting resources linked to the STEM and literacy curriculums to children developing an interactive learning environment in the library. Carillion manage library services on behalf of the local authorities in Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Hounslow. Library staff have been trained on how to use the resources and deliver sessions and session plans are included as part of the resource. The resources include computer software that helps children build models step by step adding sensors to the models which brings them to life using basic coding and robotics.

Carillion Libraries will be launching the resources with a visit from LEGO Education to each of their four boroughs in July, with some taster sessions in the summer and the offer of regular LEGO clubs using the box sets of resources and computer software on a weekly basis from September. The aim is to deliver sessions in partnership with Family Learning and with schools. The websites give further information an example is the Ealing Libraries website.

The range of resources include:

The libraries will offer free taster sessions over the Summer. From then on there will be weekly lego clubs as well as other activities not previously seen in public libraries including “Lego parties”, the hiring out of Lego sets for INSET days in schools, team building sessions for businesses and – interestingly – class visits to libraries which will include 45 minutes in the normal library and 45 minutes using the lego. It is expected that most, if not all, of the latter will be charged for, with the class visits being pitched at £100.

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Ideas

  • Using lego to make money – Carillion Libraries will charge for weekly lego club, class visits including lego, lego parties and business teambuilding events.

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