Libraries offer futures: and the Big Issue is for the future of libraries

Editorial

A noticeably quiet couple of days with the main thing being to me two pro library campaigns, both of which are not just local over closures.  It’s good to see the CILIPS Library Matters campaign picking up some strength in Scotland before the election there, with another celebrity author on board. A very pleasant surprise was the Big Issue campaign that has just launched.  It’s worth a look as it says very nice things about libraries and John Bird, now a Lord, is clearly a powerful ally. Across the water, public librarians are now turning their sense of shock over President Trump’s presidency into action. It’s going to be a tough tightrope for them.  Although the political position of libraries are different there (they’re often not under direct council control whereas anyone employed in libraries getting political in the UK in working hours would presumably just plain be disciplined or dismissed) they still have to presumably be neutral.  The challenge is going to be how to balance the political desire to act with the expectation that librarians remain unbiased.  I simple don’t know how that will turn out in these strange times in America.

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Political games, not standing still … and waving placards

Editorial

There’s a couple of examples of libraries being used as pawns in political games before local elections in May today, with opposition parties scaremongering and the party in power (often the same party as in opposition doing the same thing elsewhere) crying foul.  Libraries have never really hit the headlines in the media before elections and I’m curious to see if such mentions increase or quiet down.  In terms of actual news, I’m sorry to see that West Berkshire have confirmed a big budget cut, although they’re avoiding closing libraries by relying on volunteers and parish council handouts.  That’s bad news for the staff (which will be reduced by half) but good news for the libraries minister who had been called on to intervene if the council actually closed many,  On the other hand, good news in Torfaen where Unison are claiming a major victory in repealing a £240k cut.  The union has done some notably good work in South Wales, although it has been notably less active nationally in the sector. Meanwhile in parliament, the libraries minister received two friendly questions from MPs of his own party, re-emphasising once more his view that “standing still is not really an option”.  Which, it seems, is true – as people enthusiastically waving placards in Bath, Darlington, Lambeth, Plymouth, North East Lincolnshire, Walsall and elsewhere show.

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Ideas

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone:

  •  Plymouth (25), Lancashire (11), Birmingham (10), Darlington (8), Walsall (6), Swindon (6), Warrington (6).

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Wales, E-resources and co-located Gymbraries

 

The BBC has produced a large survey of the state of play in Welsh public libraries.  It makes interesting reading, with the excellent work being done nationally (on, for example, e-resources) being at least counterbalanced by the effect of cuts on local library services. Library e-resources are looked at in a guest post hosted by the Libraries Taskforce which points out that too often excellent resources are hidden behind inadequate, or even downright obstructive, council websites.

There’s a bit of other news as well but I will continue the thread on the damaging of library unique selling points started in the last post by just mentioning co-locations.  As with supplier stock selecting (and it was rightly pointed out to me – thanks Jane –  that if expert librarians work with the supplier very well, it’s not a bad thing, the problem is when they don’t or when there aren’t any librarians any more), co-locations can be really good. The right co-location can attract traffic into the library and not detract from the neutral and welcoming atmosphere that is a key library USP.

The downside, though, is where the co-location is forced upon the library and services which detract from such an atmosphere become uneasy bedfellows.  These bad co-locations can damage the neutrality of the library, especially when the service is poorly understood by those in the driving seat.  A probable “bad” co-location is up for grabs as I’m writing this with the imminent decision on combining gyms and libraries in Lambeth.  This has been the source of much anger and parody, which is a shame as the instigators (GLL) have done good work with libraries from what I have seen elsewhere.  If the combination (I’ve seen it called a “gymbrary”) does go ahead, let’s see how neutral and welcoming it is to library users.  I hope my fears on the subject are proved wrong.

Changes

Ideas

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone:

  • Lancashire (23), Plymouth (19), Birmingham (8), North Yorkshire (8), Swindon (7), Warrington (7)

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Waterstone’s recovery hints at what libraries should do

Editorial

Two conflicting stories this post. One is the story of libraries facing a big cut in usage over ten years, which I’ve covered in previous posts. The other is how Waterstones has made a dramatic comeback.  Now, Waterstones and public libraries are very different to each other – even Daunt could not have coped with the cuts some libraries are being forced to take and would probably have been driven to madness by council bureaucracy – but there are things that libraries can learn from him.  This is that local control over bookstock is important. You need to have experts choosing for particular libraries to match the needs of local communities.

Driven by budget cuts, many library authorities have forgotten the need for tailored local stock and farmed out book purchasing to large library suppliers. While (very importantly) saving on staff time and cost, this necessarily means a loss of that local connection and, also, a downgrading of the librarian role, with often the loss of professionals who have spent decades learning what goes best where. Sadly, thus is lost one of the many unique selling points (USPs)  that a public library once had, and some still have, that have been lost in the drive for efficiency.  I’ll be coming back to other disappearing USPs in future posts – councils appear in some ways to have spent decades removing them – but for the moment it’s great to see Waterstones rediscovering theirs, not least because I love bookshops more than any other high street outlet. Well, except libraries of course.

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USA and Canada see library usage rise: 3/4 budget cuts in Walsall and Kirklees

Editorial

Those people who say the decline in public libraries are inevitable should look at what is happening in the USA and Canada some time. Just today, there are stories that show that library visits (even book issues) in the USA are increasing long-term and the big authority of Hamilton in Canada saw an increase of 13% over one year. Neither the USA overall or Hamilton have seen deep cuts to their budgets. How that’s going to change with Trump as President one can sadly guess at but the figures show that the decline in UK library usage is not pre-ordained. If you think it is, explain why it’s not happening there.  Sadly, however, why the cuts are happening here is pretty evident. From just today’s announcements – Kirklees will soon have reduced their libraries budget by 72% by my reckoning (check the figures below) and Walsall are reported as cutting their budget from £4m to £1m, another cut of three-quarters. Meanwhile, West Berkshire are proudly announcing that they won’t close as many libraries as they originally wanted to because they’re going to depend on volunteers and parish/town council donations instead. Faced with such cuts, it’s pretty clear the decline in Britain is more a case of Austerity killing them than anything else.

Changes

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than the list above.

  • Red: Lancashire (27), Plymouth (15)
  • Amber: Birmingham (9), Swindon (7), Warrington (7), Bath and North East Somerset (6), Darlington (6).

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An at-a-glance heatmap of UK public libraries

Editorial

Library media heatmap - watch out for the red dots

Library media heatmap – watch out for the red dots

I’m going to be trying out a new feature for a while – making  a note each post of those library authorities under the most media scrutiny.  This will be done making use of the map of the UK which has been on the right hand side of the website for some time now.  Made by a clever coder, this map links every “Local News By Authority” mention I make and puts them in the correct place on the United Kingdom (expect for the Isle of Man which, for some reason, ends up in Lancashire – go figure).  Because every link is attached to a dot, differently coloured due to the number of media mentions, it’s easy to spot the areas under the most scrutiny.  It’s worth pointing out that such mentions may theoretically be for positive reasons as well as for negative ones but I’ll keep an eye out for those and mention them if they occur. They haven’t done so yet.

So, for the first one, the red “danger” areas are Lancashire, with a massive 27 mentions reflecting the sheer number of branches being cut there, and Plymouth with 13.  In the still-scary orange dot category are Bath and North East Somerset, Birmingham, Darlington, Swindon, Warrington and (seemingly everpresent) North Yorkshire. I hope that by doing this I’m hoping this will give the reader an at-a-glance heatmap of the state of UK public libraries.  We’ll see how it goes.

Ideas

National news

  • ElucidateCILIP UKeiG. “Amy Icke, recipient of UKeiGís Early Career award, reports on the IASL (International Association of School Librarians) Conference 2016, held in Tokyo, 21st – 26th August 2016. The theme of the event was ìA school library built for the digital ageî and Amy outlines and discusses key conference themes illustrated with examples delivered by librarians working in a range of countries including Japan, Australia, Sweden and Canada. Key messages for our readers in all sectors includes..”
  • Family Learning in Local Communities – Libraries Taskforce. “A new project from Common Vision sets out to study the informal activities that lay the foundations for healthy, resilient communities and contribute to intergenerational mixing and exchange. With the decline of the traditional town centre and new forms of technology facilitating social interaction, the ways in which we form and strengthen relationships are changing. This applies to relationships within families as much as other social groups” [There is a survey you can take part in.  I found it, though, quite obtrusive when I completed it, as it demands your personal contact details right at the start, with no explanation as to why.  You can put false information in the fields easily if you would prefer anonymity. Let’s hope this apparently professional company learns to do surveys correctly next time – Ed.]

“To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, how many public libraries have closed since February 2016. ” Tim Farron MP

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport monitors proposed changes to library service provision throughout England, however the Department does not hold complete figures on total public library closures since February 2016.” Rob WIlson MP – Public Libraries: Closures: Written Questions – Parliament UK. [My working theory is that the only reason the Government is not keeping these figures is because they do not want to know / do not want to have to answer this sort of question because they’d find it embarrassing – Ed.]


International news

  • Canada – Arnprior’s librarian named Public Librarian of the Year by the Ontario Library Association – Inside Ottawa Valley. “One of her major achievements has been the launch of the iPod Project, where the library partnered with the Grove Nursing home to provide its residents with iPods and personalized playlists. ” … “The library raised nearly $4,000 to purchase 60 iPods and the music for the individual playlists”
  • Global – 10 most extraordinary mobile libraries – Ebook Friendly. “From donkey-drawn trolleys to huge ships, you’ll see here outstanding vehicles that are designed to carry the most important cargo in the world – wisdom.”
  • USA – Library Cats Leave Some Sneezing, Others Feline Fine – American Libraries. “Though everything turned out all right for the lucky kitty, the incident illustrated just how contentious having a cat in a library can be, even when the cat is popular with patrons. Perhaps that’s why the number of library cats in the United States has declined drastically in recent decades.” … “In an attempt to minimize the allergens present on library materials, staff members swipe each book with a Clorox wipe. Still, Sharp knows patron allergies are an ever-present concern.” … “Before adopting Stacks in 2009, Zumwalt consulted local veterinarians about allergies. “They said that as long as we kept the hair vacuumed, we really shouldn’t have any problems,” ” … “Frannie Shue, Centre County library director, is a big fan of “Saturday Caturday,” saying, “It’s a nice alternative for libraries that do not have cats—but love cats as much as books.””
  • USA – Mirrors and Windows: Diversity in Children’s Picture Books – Public LIbraries Online. “Working for an inner-city library, I am very conscious about choosing books that reflect what my storytime children look like and the culture to which they can relate. When searching for non-white main characters in picture books, I find it is much more dif­ficult than it ought to be.” … “Books are windows, but also mirrors. We often can relate to most any story in some way, however, if we cannot connect to the illustrations that do not mirror us, we will become apathetic to stories.”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Job Opportunity: Library Manager based in Barnet – Inclusion Barnet. “We are a voluntary organisation in Barnet, North London and we are about to take over the running of two branch libraries as community-based ‘partnership libraries’, working with the London Borough of Barnet.” … “we can offer an attractive salary, a positive and inclusive working environment and a warm and supportive team around you, including a CEO with a background in library management”
  • Bradford – Volunteers urgently needed to help run Thornbury library – Telegraph and Argus. “Unless more volunteers respond to an appeal soon to help keep Thornbury Library open, it will close on April 1. Bradford Council announced in February last year that the branch based in the Thornbury Centre in Leeds Old Road would be one of fourteen libraries across the district to shut unless local communities could find enough helpers to staff them. But the take-up at Thornbury Library has been “a bit slow so far” according to parish priest and chairman of the Thornbury Centre, Father Nicholas Clews.”
  • Darlington – Crucial vote delayed again as Tory councillors force deferral in the battle to save Darlington’s Crown Street Library – Northern Echo. “The proposals would see the town’s mobile library service axed, Cockerton Library given over to volunteers and the historic Crown Street library closed, with the majority of its resources to be transferred to the Dolphin Centre” … “In an unexpected move, opposition councillors have provided the much-loved library with a last minute stay of execution by demanding further scrutiny of Darlington Borough Council’s long-opposed proposals. Responding to concerns repeatedly raised by campaigners, Conservative councillors have ‘called in’ the agenda item concerning library services ahead of Thursday’s final vote on the issue.” see Library Call-In – Darlington Council and Forward Plan – Darlington Council.
  • Hounslow – Library to re-open partially after two month closure following ceiling collapse – Get West London. “Part of Brentford library will reopen this weekend more than two months after the ceiling collapsed. The Grade II listed building on Boston Manor Road has been closed since November 10, last year, after the plaster from one of the ceilings in the children’s section fell overnight.” … “However the children’s section will remain closed until works are completed with the aim of fully re-opening on March 11”
  • Leeds – Chief Librarian – Leeds Council. “Leeds City Council is delivering an ambitious programme of more locally determined and integrated services which help ensure that all who live, visit and work in the city have access to quality public services. As part of this development, an exciting opportunity has arisen to lead and develop the Library and Information service across the city, an integral part of our proposition to deliver more integrated and accessible services.  ”
  • Leeds – Mannequin Challenge – YouTube. [I’ve seen a few of these now and this is pretty good – Ed.]
  •  Plymouth – Anthologia: Library Closure Special  – Tall Tales. “In response to the local library cuts suggested in Plymouth this week, several local writers have banded together to form ‘The Library Party’. This group has the aim of raising awareness of the proposed cuts and helping the public voice their concern and objections to the closures. This special Anthologia has poetry and micro-fiction from local Plymouth writers. Each piece focuses on the issue, libraries or the essential service provided by this ancient institution. There are also images explaining what is proposed and links to the petition within this page. “
  • Plymouth – Council told libraries are ‘community hubs’ at first public meeting over closures – Herald. “Jennifer Pointer, a mother of two, who attended the meeting with her family, felt that the closure of the school’s library would be wrong as for her libraries are “a life-line”. “I had quite bad post natal depression,” said Mrs Pointer, “The library was a good way to meet other mums and talk about it – they are a bit of a life-line.”. Many responses ask for investment in libraries to improve them rather than closing them.
  • Swindon – Libraries minister comes to Swindon as community deadline looms – Swindon Advertiser. “Last month Coun Mary Martin met with MP Rob Wilson, whose ministerial portfolio includes libraries, and on Thursday he came to Swindon to take a closer look at the plans” … “As part of the visit, he was shown the central library as well as Covingham library, which is well-advanced in its set up as a community run facility.” Covingham is one of the few community libraries where a clear path to a secure future has emerged. A trust model, devised by ward councillors and recently registered with the charities commission, has received the backing of local library supporters and the borough council” … “”It was a productive meeting to give the minister an update on the work that is going on towards protecting our vital libraries and to discuss further options for where the government can provide assistance. “I’m greatly encouraged, we seem to be making good progress.”

Campaigning for libraries before they’re under threat

Editorial

A quiet couple of days when it comes to library news and, actually, I quite like that.  I’m tracking quite a lot of protest though.  Here’s some examples. In Plymouth, there’s a large amount of love being expressed for the threatened libraries there – I’ve just been speaking to a journalist there who was if anything unhappier than I am about cuts to libraries.  Warrington has not gone entirely quiet either – there’s some concern that news that all libraries have been saved there is not quite what it seems.  Finally, the good people of Darlington are getting really quite upset about the projected loss of their central library. So, there’s all this energy for libraries but it’s all after the cuts happen.  But i many ways that’s too late. What we need is preparation beforehand and enough support that councils don’t reach for the axe so much in the first place.  It’s therefore great to see the advocacy/campaigning and lobbying being discussed by EveryLIbrary in the USA. Closer to home, I’m delighted to see a very timely post from Irvine Welsh about Scottish libraries (in good time for their elections) and also a new chair, ex-librarian Sheffield MP Gill Furniss for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for libraries.  It seem we are learning, slowly and painfully, that placards are not as good as avoiding  the need for protest in the first place.

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Ideas

  • Boxheads – design your own Minecraft head.

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The Minister for Libraries speaks

Editorial

I’ve heard rumours about the new libraries minister, Rob Wilson, for a while now.  Some suggest his ardent pro-volunteer bodes ill for libraries and others earnestly hoped that he would be an interventionist. Rumours that reached my ears about his speeches at the Ambition sessions held by the Task Force included suggestions he wanted large-scale closures. It turns out he’s not as extreme as all this suggests: well, not for a Conservative minister anyway.

Unlike his predecessor, the ever-optimistic (and sometimes possibly wilfully blind) Ed Vaizey, he’s openly acknowledging that there are problems. He repeats (like Ed Vaizey) that he will look into library closures but (unlike Ed, in office anyway) has actually taken an active interest in visiting an authority where deep closures are taking place. Don’t get too excited, though – Lancashire are still happily transferring libraries even after his visit so they must strongly suspect he’s not actually going to do anything.

He’s also keen on initiatives and ways to lessen the impact of the cuts, even suggesting (as so many do) that somehow, given the right management and genius thinking, libraries will be fine. Someone should show him the deal in the Isle of Man where an online  gambling company is financially supporting the mobile library service, taking over from another one. Taking advantage of low-taxed gambling companies to keep libraries open? Now that’s innovative.  So, having seen the last few months and read the speech by  Rob Wilson, my verdict he is not Satan but he’s no St George either. Libraries remain as wonderful and as under threat as ever and need to find our own solutions, without the strong shield of government.  Well, no-one can say we’re not used to that.

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Libraries: where facts trump lies

Editorial

My only thought today is for the USA, which is now being run by a President who does not understand the difference between a fact and something he wants to be true but is demonstrably untrue  (or “an alternative fact” as it was memorably described today). I have become used over the last six years to look enviously at the USA as country which largely values its libraries and has high usage.  I’m not quite so envious now.  But this is a situation where by merely being there, and not pushing a partisan message, American libraries can prove their worth like never before. I hope the new president is unable to stop them.

News

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Bury proposes 10 out of 14 branches cut: Bristol will cut deeply too.

Editorial

Two big announcements of library cuts today.  Bury will be closing/transferring at least 10 out of 14 of its libraries in a £1.4m cut.  The last deep cut I am aware of from there was 2013/14 (£570k) which was scary enough but the £1.4m cut announced there now is, by my calculations, a full halving of their total libraries budget.  By coincidence,, another library authority beginning with a B – Bristol – has also confirmed a £1.4 million cut to its libraries. While they have not officially announced what this means in terms of library closures, one unofficial source tells me that this could mean up to 19 of 28 libraries closing or being passed to volunteers/community groups. Their last deep cut was in 2015 where £1.1 million was taken from roughly £5.7m budget (this figure extrapolated from media reports) which led to big protests and thus the closing of only one library. It may well be that this further cut means such hollowing out is not an option this time and we can expect far more in terms of closures (hence the alleged scary figure of 19) but we shall see.  If all this is right, by the way, then that’s 39 libraries under threat in three days. Gosh, I hope this year does not continue in that vein.

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