LibrarianFirst?

Editorial

The findings of the Independent Report on Public Libraries included the suggested action to do something like Teachfirst for public libraries in order to encourage new and talented young people into the sector at an affordable price. With the help of the Society of Chief Librarians, The Creative Society and Arts Council England, that suggestion has now become reality.  The details are:

  • 50 paid internships for unemployed 16-24 year olds in England to work in the public library sector.
  • Only for posts where “where job roles and skill sets are common to arts organisations. For example: front of house, education and outreach, marketing, digital media.”
  • Organisations can apply for “part wage grant”, explaining what post it is for, its sustainability etc.
  • For one year or more, “Learning how to do the job by doing it”.

The press release is here and more details are here. If I understand this right then that second point means there is a barrier against the apprentices being used, as some fear, to simply replace paid employees or to fill vacancies.  The challenge for library services will be to find roles that fill the criteria and are sustainable. But that is fine. After all, we want new people coming in doing this kind of thing and if it means that library services can experiment, at cut rates, with new roles then there will be few complaints.  At the not exactly young age of 44, I am often the youngest working in some branches I visit and so an initiative like this is to be welcomed. It is also great that action points in a report on libraries is actually being implemented, rather than being just talked about and bodes well for the other suggestions as a whole.

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Changing the narrative

Editorial

R David Lankes has written an excellent piece for National Libraries Day where he looks at how US libraries faced cuts and declining usage but survived and have grown stronger than ever.  This was achieved, he says, by “controlling the narrative”, making public libraries being creative and inspiring places to be rather than their old image of books and social welfare.  Strangely, this was a sentiment also echoed by a Canadian in the useful #uklibchat debate on public libraries who said “Libraries & Librarians must be prepared to change from traditions, must take risks try new things. Get out in the community”. My glib response to him at the time was “Agreed. Now try that with 50% less budget over 4 years, half the staff and no political will. Report back” but it strikes me that, actually, libraries across the country are radically changing from their traditions and going out to the community. Albeit in radical ways that, ironically, the Canadian would probably be shocked with, but no one can see UK libraries have not been changing, just only not in ways entirely controlled by the libraries themselves.

The question is for UK public libraries not should we but can we change the narrative.  The narrative of the last few years has been of saving libraries and of reduced usage.  The campaigning message may be useful for a short while nationally but, like Save the Whales, reduces its impact over time.  The reduced usage narrative is that of defeat and is poisonous: we need to get away from it.  But it seems to me that budget cuts have been so deep, the political lack of understanding of public libraries so disconnected from the reality and, yes, the lack of leadership (structurally at least) so dysfunctional that to blame librarians for the failure to change into 3D community workshop engineering hi-tech wunderkinds is a bit much.  But that’s the challenge, my friends.  We need to convince the politicians that libraries are relevant to their goals and the public that libraries are places to be cherished (and not just with placards).  This may be very hard with some public-service hating anti-professional and deeply ideological politicians but there are other people out there and even the most dyed in the wool reactionary is not demonic.  The SCL and CILIP are trying to do what they can (albeit within tightly controlled parameters) in this.  There are, in some of the things I see in reports innovation (such as the BL Business Centres, the one Maker Space, the joy of the Summer Reading Challenge) that say there’s hope but there needs to be more.  And that’s going to be hard.  But it needs to be done. Frankly, if it would improve things, I would even say nice things about Ed Vaizey.  Now that really would be changing the narrative.

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Nothing Rotten about that quote. This work, "John Lydon National Libraries Day 2015", is a derivative of "John Lydon Mosaic by Ed Chapman" by dullhunk, used under CC BY 2.0. "John Lydon National Libraries Day 2015" is licensed under CC BY 2.0 by cilipmarketing.

Should one save all the libraries all the time?

Editorial

OK, I’m going to say it.  Sometimes, closing a library is the right thing to do.  It’s usage has fallen, the place is falling apart and no-one cares for the place, either staff or public. When the announcement is made, there’s no protest outside.  It’s a fair cop, the place closed.  I’ve been in libraries like that on occasion and it’s a depressing experience, best to sell the land and spend the money elsewhere.  Of course, these days far more than the defunct are being closed down.  You can tell this because, in place after place, people protest, march through town, take their council to court.  People don’t do this because they fancy a spot of light placard waving after Jeremy Kyle.  They do it because their library means that much to them. Those libraries should be saved.  But how on Earth is that done when money is so cut each year?

Sadly, in times of 50% “savings” (how I hate that word) to budget, heads of service need to make tough choices.  And they are tough, and would have been unimaginable in 2009. No boss enjoys cutting his or her budget, there’s no gleam of schadenfreude as the red line goes over the five least performing branches in their borough.  I know of senior staff, real decision makers, who have cried when doing this – no library chiefs are as devoid of humanity or intelligence, or as full of short-sighted selfishness as some suggest.  It’s horrible, and worse for the staff and communities most of all.  But in a time where the choice is either retrenchment into fewer branches or spreading budget so thinly that no-one wants to come into them that choice has to be made.  The third option of volunteer libraries also has to be considered, with all the problems and opportunities it entails, with its unfair postcode lottery and blackmail implications not least in my mind.

So I accept the need to close the occasional library through gritted teeth.  I’m a librarian, a library user and a lover of libraries.  But the reality that has to be faced with the governing ideology is of Austerity is that it is not just the failed defunct library that should be gone but libraries that are (or should be if funded enough) vibrant and teeming.  The over-riding cause of all of this misery is the historic decision to cut local councils by the biggest percentages seen in the last century or two.  Until that ideology dies, along with its allies of just plain disliking local services, loving private profit, and believing that such cuts will improve efficiency rather than ruining the neediest people’s lives, then that is what is going to continue to happen.  And it will happen, worse and worse, until something breaks so badly the whole thing is discredited. Or we live in the ultra-efficient world that Luke Johnson (ex owner of Borders, although strangely this is not mentioned much in his bio) suggests in the Sunday Times. When councils finally do run ultra-efficient multi-partnership behind-the-scenes economy of scale machines off their own bat. Perhaps that will happen. Or, instead or at the same time, the fact that people love libraries, depend on libraries and need libraries gets through to those – way above the level of library chief – in actual real power in Downing Street.  And that has most certainly not been David Cameron up until now.

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News for 28th-29th January

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A public library news miscellany

Editorial

Lots of changes today, with some new libraries, some closures and plenty in-between. Other notable stories include the launch of Dementia books on prescription and the tale – very rare someone is brave enough to write publicly – of what it is like to be a librarian in an authority that’s trying to get rid of you.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the dilemma of a good librarian in austere times

Editorial

An interesting exchange went on in the House of Lords last Thursday.  A question on libraries, including one or two attempts to try to ring-fence funding for them, was waved away by reference to innovations – and especially the move to volunteers – going on in public libraries.  Cuts of up to 50% were acknowledged but with a feeling that councils are doing their best, and doing well, at avoiding these cuts actually affecting the public.  This presents a bit of a problem to local councils, and not only in the realm of public libraries.  For by doing the best they can, by working hard to minimise the impact of the deepest cuts in peacetime history, on the voter, councils are making more cuts more palatable to the politicians and to the electorate.  Of course, it would be even worse, at least in the short and medium terms, if councils failed to do the best they could.  They would be accused, quite rightly, of self injury and the public would show no mercy.  In this they would be, goaded on by political parties whose ideology values skilled public workers very little and which does not understand the difference between the words “cut” and “saving”. It’s especially sad to see stalwart defenders of public libraries, who have become volunteers, used in this way.  But in this new world of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, everything is fair game.  The trick is to learn how those in public libraries can change the game and win it.

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National Libraries Day: all growed up

Editorial

I remember the start of National Libraries Day.  It was the first year that the Coalition’s cuts had really hit, public libraries were in danger and people were in shock or getting angry.  Alan Gibbons suggested a national day of protest for libraries, then called Save Our Libraries Day, and it happened – hundreds of events and protests around the country.  It was an amazing event and I am very pleased to say that I played a part, albeit a tiny one, in it. That day served its purpose and did great work for public libraries.  I’m pleased, though,  to say that over the last years, the day has  grown from being a protest to being a day of celebration of this great national service.  Some councils had difficulty adjusting to this at the start: there was some suspicion of politics but that has largely all gone. Pretty much every authority I know of now sees National Libraries Day as an important day in their calendar and so it should be.  It is the only time that we have just to celebrate our service.  Not books, not computers, not digital inclusion but the whole darn thing.  The wonderful service that is provided and too many once took for granted and too many now take as something that can be endangered. Make sure you get to the library on the day, look around, smile that it’s still there and work out how you can make it better.

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Correction

For some reason I said Salford was undergoing a second round cuts in the first line of the last post.  The eagle eyed would have noticed that it was in fact Trafford. This was corrected on the online edition but was too late to have been corrected for the direct mailing.

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Poop-pooping to London libraries in February

Trafford, Lincs, Staffs, Cardiff … everywhere, really

Editorial

Trafford [Sorry, this post somehow said Salford to begin with – Ed.] is undergoing its second major round of library cuts this government, aiming to withdraw three libraries, much to the chagrin of the local Labour MP who has noticed that the Conservative-run council has picked branches in less prosperous parts of the city.  Elsewhere, both Lincolnshire and Staffordshire are having trouble with getting people to run their libraries for free, with another volunteer group withdrawing in Lincs and Staff having to tone down its plans due to lack of interest.  You know, I know this may come as a shock, but there may be a reason why people are paid to do a lot of library jobs.  It certainly seems that people understand that in Wales where no less than one thousand people attended a meeting to save their local library in Rhiwbina.  One thousand.  Incredible.  The public clearly understand something about the importance of the library there.

Finally, my thanks to Brian Ashley who has again written in (Ed Vaizey, feel free, to join his example) to give his view on the news, specifically on the libraries taskforce and Art Council England’s stance to it.  My thanks to him.

Please send any corrections, news, comments, highly paid job offers or legacies to … ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

The publication of William Sieghart’s report and the establishment of the taskforce, to be chaired by local authority chief executive Paul Blantern, provides a great basis for developing England’s public libraries and the Arts Council looks forward to playing a full, positive and constructive role in that process.  

We have been clear that, in England, leadership of the sector is collaborative. Responsibilities have always rested with a range or organisations but the taskforce brings them together in a more established and effective way than before. The Arts Council’s  particular role as the national development agency for libraries is agreed with DCMS and we believe that we have made a positive contribution to supporting and developing libraries since we took over that responsibility in October 2011. Our strategic development role with the sector is now part of our contribution to the taskforce, of which we are an integral part and the Arts Council continues to be the national development agency for libraries. 

Those who benefit from and depend on public libraries will be more interested in what happens next. The ideas set out in William’s report sit very comfortably with the Arts Council’s vision for libraries: libraries inspire and empower people to lead active lives, developing themselves and making a positive contribution to the community. Through ‘Envisioning the library of the future’ we have identified four development priorities for public libraries in England. We are also providing grant-funding programmes to enable library services to explore new ways of working to deliver these priorities. This will continue including our contribution to the work of the taskforce. Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England.

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Of reports and raspberries

Editorial

You may remember the Sieghart report that was published by the Government the very last day before Christmas. Well, it looks like things are happening with it.  William Sieghart has hinted that there will be some corporate techy stuff happening shortly (still hush hush) and the boss of the new taskforce has said that things will need to be done within months or they will have failed. That’s good.  What I’m seeing from the sidelines is a general and deepening disappointment (now that there’s been time for it to sink in) with the scope of the report and questions over its actual independence so concrete results would be very welcome.

Sorry to see that, after a year or two of pain and public protest, Lincolnshire’s council have decided to jolly well do what it wanted to do in the first place without regard for what library users or, indeed, anyone else up to and including the courts say.  Unsurprisingly this is not going down well in the county.  It shows that, when it comes down to it, councils can do whatever the heck they want.  No wonder Ed Vaizey is being nominate for a Golden Raspberry Award.

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Welcoming the homeless in

Editorial

You know them.  The old chap who sits in the same spot each day, perhaps waiting by the door when you open.  The lady who sleeps, with a smell of alcohol around her.  The young gentleman who strides in and using your computers for as long as he can. They’re the users who come in but we do not invite in. The ones who do not talk or talk too much. They are the homeless and many libraries have them, some have a lot, but we have them like we have air: it’s a given, not a strategy. Well, one Canadian library has changed that by officially welcoming them. OK, so they do it on their website (which is not where I would start with this group) but it’s the spirit of the thing. Well done to them.  Can you say your library has done so much?

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