Cuts in North Somerset, a strike in Bristol and petitions over library moves

Editorial

North Somerset – quiet on these pages for a few years – has announced that libraries and children’s centres will co-locate (with all the benefits and problems that implies) for an overall cut of £500k. Meanwhile, nearby in Bristol, all libraries will be closed for day while staff strike over changes to working conditions which mean, they claim, that many are effectively being paid less for working more. Over in Staffordshire, it looks like quite a few branches have had to close temporarily due to staff shortages and, in addition, the county has received over 6,000 names on a petition over the move of Lichfield Library. People in Brighton and Hove are not looking delighted over the move of Hove Library either.

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A few good nights to be a librarian

Editorial

It’s been an interestingly varied few days – helping to host a thriller writer at a library event on Wednesday and then, three days later, helping out at a magic show in another library.  The writer, Martin Edwards, is up for two awards in the USA this week but spoke a lot on how important joining the library was – the library he was speaking at, as it happens – in helping his career.  The magic show was from a professional  theatre company, funded by Arts Council England, and it was superb. Both were very well attended and top notch and I was proud to be part of them.  But they were as nothing compared to being was master of ceremonies for a town award’s night on Friday.  It was a real pleasure to realise I knew so many of the people in the audience and so many of the winners as well.  I knew them because I’d simply worked in the town library for so many years. You get to know people. And people get to know you. There was a lot of smiles and laughter and an awareness, hopefully not just on my part, of the key role libraries play in the town.  All in all, it was a good few nights to be a librarian.

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More remote-controlled libraries and digital trends

Editorial

Axiell have jumped on the remote-controlled libraries technology offer (for the pros and cons of which see here) meaning that the majority of library system suppliers in the UK offer something in this field.  For councils, this is quite tempting – increase your hours while cutting costs – but there’s down sides to it as well, as those locked out due to IT problems or those under 16 are discovering. In other news, by coincidence, the same company Axiell has sent me a guest blog which includes somethings I’ve not come across before (“Internet of Relations” anyone?).

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Top digital trends for libraries to follow in 2016; Influencers that make community engagement better 

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Moranifesto, promoting libraries and party manifestos

Editorial

Some good “think” pieces about libraries this week, notably from Caitlin Moran and from Nick Poole. Malorie Blackman bigs up libraries in the Guardian, pointing out how important they are to having a fair chance in life. We also have a look at the manifesto for the Welsh elections by the main political parties, which always show – when it comes down to it – what parties really think about libraries. Looks like UKIP don’t think anything. Then there’s a surprising amount on libraries in Islamic countries (and all the more welcome it is for being unusual), including some spectacularly heroic work in Mali and Afghanistan. Finally, there’s a whole ton of local news, fleshing out the cuts in Hampshire but also noting library promotions like Books on Prescription and World Book Night.

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Harry Potter and the DCMS library investigation

Editorial

I’ve had a week off so there’s a lot of news today with the main personal bit I’d like to share with you being how utterly fantastic the Harry Potter Studio Tour is. Gosh, I remember those books when they first came out and getting them in libraries … anyway, in main library news, Dudley (not Dursley, keep up) becomes a mutual in order to meet cuts to budget. Leicestershire has announced yet another major round of cuts to libraries and Powys has also announced many of its smaller branches are under threat.  Meanwhile, at the DCMS, the minister has (as expected) said there’s no problem in Lincolnshire slashing its library services but – to some shock, not least of all by the council one suspects – it has announced it will look into the cuts in Lambeth made famous by the recent sit-in.  But an investigation is actually nothing much. That’s what it did to Lincolnshire. What matters is if it says that the council has not met its statutory duties.  And that I’ll believe when I see it.

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The only hand of cards left: the strength and weaknesses shown in the Lambeth protest

Editorial

The power and limitation of protest was seen in Lambeth, in spades, this week.  The sit-in – for a very impressive week and more, with quite a few involved – attracted a lot of attention and culminated in what appears to be well over a thousand marching in the borough’s streets on Saturday.  I’ll say that again, well over a thousand. Marching, In the streets. For a library. The protest deeply embarrassed the council (or should have done, of which more in a tiny bit) and was reported in the national as well as local media. The local councillors, and anyone else paying attention, now conclusively know that libraries are a (in the words of the Institute of Economic Affairs ant-library spokesman a week or two ago) “hot button” issue and, if you close them without co-opting the public onto your side (e.g. “Volunteer or the library will close”) then you’re in for a world of political hurt.  The reputation of GLL, who must have come into this thinking they would be seen as the good guys, has also been somewhat tarnished by association.

Now for the down side. The council simply got a court order and would have evicted the protesters, if the latter hadn’t left peacefully.  Also, at time of going to press, the councillors also seem not have changed their attitude one jot and the cuts will still occur. In what they apparently consider to be safe seats, councillors instead turned the blame onto the protesters themselves – accusing them of drinking wine, of all things, and suggesting they were bored of the whole thing with one councillor (seriously) tweeting a picture of a cat yawning – instead of having a hard look at why people were angry. As the Guardian points out, it made the local Labour councillors the defenders of the Conservative Government’s and directly associated them with Austerity, as well as with arrogance and a bit of incompetence thrown in.  But, these are councillors with the electorate (who voted them in) and the law on their side.  They can do what they like for their term in office and they have the power. Using power against them, in the terms of sit-ins and protest marches, is a last-ditch gamble, as many campaigners knew. Having failed to persuade the councillors by other means, it was time for the placards. But, faced with a council, which had clearly already made up it’s mind, it was the only hand of cards they had left.

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The other 11% are just plain misinformed

The other 11% are misinformed: 89% say public libraries are crucial

Editorial

After an impressive 24,000 votes were cast in a Money Saving Expert Poll, 89% said that libraries were crucial.  That’s pretty impressive and shows that politicians – and certain media (I’m looking at you Jeremy Vine) – may not be entirely with the public when they question the role of the public library in the modern age. I’d also recommend them watch, an excellent TedX talk by Laurinda Thomas, former president of LIANZA in New Zealand, which demolishes such superficial shows and points out how important libraries are for communities. Perhaps Shropshire also need to have a look (and perhaps even more of a look at what constitutes as legal), being it took local users going to the courts to stop them moving Church Stretton Library where the locals did not want it moved. The worrying thing here is, like in West Berkshire, it looks like the council failed to do its legal homework properly before trying to cut costs. Obey the law, guys, it’s kind of expensive otherwise. Finally, our colleagues school libraries were feeling the media focus as unions asked for them to be included in OFSTED inspections in order to protect them.  Finally? Well, perhaps not quite, as I recommend to you the continuing twitter feud between Orkney and Shetland Libraries.  It’s the social media gift that keeps giving.

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Crazy Horse the Librarian - Available via this link

Crazy horses?

Editorial

As of the time of being published, I understand that the occupation of Carnegie Library in Lambeth is still going on by protestors (“just” plain library users many of them) keen to see it not being turned into a gym. There’s even a plan to have a Carnegie Occupation march on Saturday. This is all horribly embarrassing for the council there but is it enough? There’s lots of news coverage on it below. Also this issue I have a short interview with Alan Duckworth, who sounds quite a character, about his experience of being a reference librarian for 40 years. I don’t see public libraries going the way that Alan thinks reference libraries are going: they’re far too important and wonderful for that.

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A short interview with Alan Duckworth, author of “Crazy Horse the Librarian”

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Lessons from last week: an extreme message works

Editorial

Extremism works in news coverage. That’s the message that the excellent PC Sweeney writes about, after his experience of forming the only US pro-library lobbying group and that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after studying all of the news about libraries (and I mean, all of it) since 2010. We saw this last week. That was one gigantic amount of media coverage on Tuesday, and it was factually based and researched (even understating the true state of affairs) but the reaction to it by those who fail to fight for libraries (Ed Vaizey) or who actively want them gone (the Institute of Economic Affairs) was extreme. Ed made two statements – that budget cuts were not influencing library closures and that volunteers were not replacing paid library staff – that were demonstrably untrue and simplistic, but they got national air play. The IEA argued that no-one used libraries and that no-one should therefore worry about them closing and got on BBC Breakfast. This is the standard of debate amongst our opponents – to exaggerate or to have no regard to the facts but to say a simple message and hope no-one checks. To counter this, we need to stay factual (look, we’re supporting libraries, I refuse to adopt the dirty methods of our opponents) but we also need to shout loud, very loud, about what is going on, or we will be drowned out by those who want libraries gone.

This goes against the “Ambition” document of the Libraries Taskforce and the policy of the Society of Chief Librarians, who are pushing for a consistent “positive narrative” for libraries. That’s great, and I’d agree in a perfect world, but it’s clearly ineffective when campaigning.  You don’t and won’t see people with “Our library is closing but Central is doing great things with 3D printers” placards. And as a national media strategy, it’s a complete non-starter. Because an evolving library service is good for nothing but a two minute interest piece every couple of years or so, and that’s not time we – or the 111 libraries the BBC conservatively estimate are under threat this year – have. So why push such a moderate rose-tinted agenda? Because being positive is how you get on in any organisation. I don’t mean that in an insulting and nasty way. There are many good committed and genuine people in the Taskforce and the SCL.  I just mean that it’s a category mistake.  Such a positive narrative is a necessary one for getting along in an organisation and a feasible one for encouraging people, long term, to use libraries but it’s one that makes no sense to a campaigner out there to save their library or for those of us who see this as an altogether more short-term and brutal affair. Look at the Lambeth protests below. That is an excellent demonstration of how to make a noise, get noticed and an all-else-has-failed throw of the dice. The Council is getting a bloody nose out of this and hopefully will think again, or not do cut libraries next time.  A positive narrative would have done nothing. But it would have been music to the ears of Ed Vaizey and the IEA.

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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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