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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In praise of local libraries and school library services

Editorial

Sorry to see Coventry being the next library service to take massive cuts to its service provision. Suggesting closing all the libraries and moving what can be salvaged into five council “hubs” is a new one on me.  Normally, at least a few of the larger buildings are left.  The concerns here are manifold: how much of the new “hub” would actually be for the library, the cost involved in setting up all of these new places and what happens to the old, often beloved, library buildings.  The biggest concern, of course, is that there’s only going to be five libraries in the whole city: Helen Skelton in the Telegraph points out that this could be the first generation of children in the UK who do not grow up with widespread access to free books and, by the sound of it, those who cannot afford transport in Coventry will shortly be agreeing.

Also, sorry to see Falkirk losing its school library service (SLS).  A good SLS can be a fantastic value multiplier for schools who not only gain from bulk discount and frequent exchanges of stock but also expert advice as well.  Indeed, a SLS can be self-financing, as schools pay in to support a service which is of such obvious use to them.  I do hope Falkirk Council have considered that option before they decided just to delete a line in the budget which may have such an impact on the literacy, and life outcomes, of so many children.

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Je Suis Charlie, Birmingham, Library song and the Magna Carta

Editorial

I was shocked to see the events in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices. I simply don’t know what the public librarian response to it should be but that by R. David Lankes below is a good place to start.  But, I hope, every librarian will stand up and be able to say “Je Suis Charlie”. Remember that when you’re asked to cut or not stock something just because someone doesn’t agree with it for some reason.

Birmingham Council appear to have shot themselves in the foot by publicising what appears to be their private imaginings about the British Library helping to save the Library of Birmingham.  The British Library has confirmed to me and to others that, while they wish the LoB every good wish, they simply had not even been approached by the council before the story was made public.  Sheesh.  No wonder Birmingham is in the mess it is in (well, apart from Austerity) if this is how they do things.

A new library campaign song has been recorded but pictures of closed/threatened libraries and/or of library staff who have lost their jobs (or users who now have no library) are needed.  If you can help, please email weneedlibraries@gmail.com.

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Magna Carta & the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act – By Shirley Burnham

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The British Library mooted as saviour for the Library of Birmingham

Editorial

It’s great to see that the British Library, amongst others, may be coming to the aid of the gigantic new Library of Birmingham. The BL are, it has been reported in the Birmingham Post, looking at putting a “regional centre” in there.  Whatever this may turn out to be (and such a thing would naturally cause a precedent for elsewhere in the UK) it’s hopefully going to be a good thing. For, the BL has always seemed a little, well, stand-offish to me in public library circles, especially for those of us in still what is occasionally called “the provinces”.  This has, though, recently been changing.  Their business and intellectual property centres scattered around the country, like this one in Newcastle, are in libraries and, although reluctantly, they are now in charge of the Public Lending Right Unit. It’s also interesting to note that their chief executive, Roly Keating, was amongst the panel for the recent Independent Report on Public libraries. I’ve seen what an impact having a state library concerned with strategy and supporting public libraries can have, after looking into the excellent work of the State Library of Queensland and it’s a shame there’s nothing like it here. Such a relationship of research, support and expertise can made a big impact but it’s almost completely lacking here.  In fact, for most public library staff, the British Library is known for only one thing – being an insanely expensive lender of last resort which mercilessly penalises lost books.  The BL could be of so much more use for public libraries, but if it is content for now merely to rescue the largest public library in the European Union then that’s a great start.

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Correction

  • I had incorrectly listed the threatened Bob Lawrence Library as in Brent.  It is of course in Harrow.

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New Year’s Honours List

Editorial

Congratulations to the four people below who have been named in the New Year’s Honours List and have connections to public libraries.  All of the honours are richly deserved and reflect service over and above the norm.  However, the decision to honour the Staffordshire chief (currently managing deep cuts to her service – although the award was for work elsewhere) and the chair of one of the first volunteer-run libraries has raised some eyebrows.  The feeling is that the Government, intentionally or otherwise, is reinforcing a message already received loud and clear in many library services that the move towards volunteer run libraries is to be praised and a positive response to deep funding cuts. This represents a challenge for public library campaigners who need to argue loudly for paid staff, an argument that given the hostile climate now needs strong evidence and clear arguments to succeed.  This email I received highlights the challenge:

“The professional librarians answer to less money and lower library usage is not very clear. If anything their answer appears to be defensive and unsatisfactory i.e. if the taxpayer won’t give us the money to run all the libraries the way we would like then we should close the smaller libraries and retrench to just running the bigger libraries in the traditional way. Whilst that may be a neat and tidy solution for professional librarians I’m not convinced it is the optimum policy for residents.” Personal email received

    Anyway, here’s a look at the Honours winners in more detail:

  • Janene Cox – Order of the British Empire – “For services to Libraries” – Janene has not only been responsible for Staffordshire Libraries but is also the Past President of the Society of Chief Librarians and a panel member in the recent Sieghart Independent Report on Public Libraries. The SCL (and Sieghart) has been notably pragmatic about changes to public library funding, accepting (at least in England) the need for volunteers and has maintained a professional and moderate attitude to the deepest cuts in public libraries in living history.  It has concentrated instead on pushing the reasons why public libraries are important to local and national agendas. More locally, 24 out of 43 of the libraries in Staffordshire are currently being considered for passing to volunteers and there are recently announced plans (see below) for the complete withdrawal of the mobile library service.  This makes it one of the authorities facing the deepest cuts in England and Janene is in charge of it (although she is Commissioner for Tourism and Culture now so presumably does not have direct operational control).  Having said that, it’s hard to find a senior library manager not having to cope with serious cuts at the moment or in the recent past and the award is for her work with the SCL. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although senior in library circles, Janene is just another officer when it comes to what her bosses want – so if she’s told she has to significantly cut the service then she has not choice but to do the best she can.
  • Tony Hoare – British Empire Medal – “For services to the community” – Organiser of the group that saved Chalfont St Giles Library when Buckinghamshire Council wanted to close it several years ago.  The success of this volunteer-run library, and that of neighbouring libraries, has been used numerous times in other councils in order to encourage similar.  Having said that, this library (and that of nearby Little Chalfont) have been careful to not directly promote volunteer-run libraries – they’re seen here (as I suspect in many places) as a last resort alternative to no library at all.
  • Annemarie Naylor – Member of the British Empire – “For services to community asset ownership” – Director at Common Futures, and an Associate Director (Community Assets) with Locality.  Annemarie assists in transferring council owned buildings to non-council community control. She has been involved with public libraries and. I know from personal experience that she is a keen and passionate supporter of them.
  • Martyn Wade – Order of the British Empire – “For Services to Culture in Scotland” – National Librarian and Chief Executive, National Library of Scotland. Martyn Wade is also chair of CILIP Council.

See the Full list of honours.

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10 key UK public library trends: Review of the year 2014

Editorial

It has been as ever, a year showing wide variation, internationally and nationally.  With there being 151 library services in England alone, it could hardly be otherwise.  However, having read everything UK public library related over the last year, here are my key themes.

  • The fight for library buildings has (sort of) been won but the fight for adequately funded library services has never looked so fragile. Councils just aren’t closing many libraries: Cipfa estimated just 49 (1%) closed in 2013/14, 74 the year before.  That’s a lot less than most people would believe.  It shows that councils realise the tremendous detrimental political impact of closing a library.  However, this is not to say that we should all be celebrating because, faced with massive cuts from central government and strong pressure not to increase council tax, councils are cutting libraries in other ways.  The obvious one is to replace paid staff with volunteers, and that trend has only been growing this year, but other ways include cutting bookfunds (down to its lowest level for decades), When you see a flagship mega building like the Library of Birmingham having its opening hours cut almost in half, you know times are tough.
  • Times are looking good for new English library trusts – Although Wigan are taking library services back from the trust there, overall there’s never been as much pressure on councils to divest library services. Suffolk and York are being touted, most recently in the Sieghart Independent Report, as the great new hope … and the benefits they bring in terms of reduced costs are being scrutinised all around the country.  In Scotland, where slightly different rules apply, trusts now commonly run libraries: expect a flood of these south of the border in the next couple of years.
  • A lack of amalgamations. There’s been a surprising lack of different councils merging library services for economies of scale.  Perhaps there’s a strong element of turkeys not voting for Christmas in this one.  It is notable that GLL  are eyeing at least one more service but no-one has yet publicly announced they’re doing another Tri-Borough.
  • Private companies failing to make a dent – The US private library company, LSSI, has failed to pick up a single library service in the UK while Carillion – who bought out Laing last year with weeks of the latter taking over Croydon – have failed to expand.  There are suspicions that challenging councils in, for example, Lincolnshire is opening the door for private companies further down the line (the reasoning being that they can competitively tender against trusts etc) but there’s been no actual sign of this yet.  One to watch, though.
  • Usage falls as funding falls – Usage in England continues to fall roughly in line with reductions in funding, but usage in the US, Wales and Australia and other countries is stable or is increasing roughly in line with increases in funding.  The evidence is there that you get what you pay for: if you fail to fund libraries adequately then the public notice and cease coming meaning you get less customers and there’s more reason to reduce funding,  The vicious circle is there for all to see.
  • Dark times continue to be ahead – Both main political parties are committed to austerity and thus further cuts to council budgets until 2020.  Neither are willing to protect libraries from those cuts which means that you can expect, if anything, deeper cuts in the sector in the next parliament than this, certainly if the Conservatives win.  If Labour win then there is a chance their cuts will be less draconian but it is unlikely to feel better at the time.  We can hope, though.
  • Protest works. The success of the judicial review in Lincolnshire and of protests in Liverpool and Wales show that, actually, the key thing to protect your library is to protest cuts.  Simply using the library more has some impact but there’s been enough examples this year of well-used libraries going under threat to show that it’s not key.  Indeed, a well-used library may even be more at risk as the council thinks volunteers would be more likely to save it.  No, the key thing to keeping a library open is the presence of loud, well-organised protest groups.  This is going to be especially obvious until the General Elections next year but then expect it to be lot less important as politicians get down to the dirty work: the loss or not of judicial review (still going through parliament) will have a great bearing on whether local people are listened to or not in non-election years.
  • Lack of government intervention …? The DCMS has continued its hands off policy (otherwise known as malevolent neglect) on public libraries, with a stated belief that local authorities are the best to handle local services, regardless of any statutory responsibility it may have.  Having said that, the Independent Report on Public lIbraries was commissioned – but then only published the last day possible before Christmas.  The Report itself was also deeply pragmatic and conservative (small c)  in tone but, even then, the libraries minister has only agreed to one recommendation so far – and that is one which has no cost attached.  However, Mr Vaizey has continued annoying Sheffield council with queries about its consultation on deep cuts to its library service and he has still not categorically said he will not intervene,
  • National Libraries Day gaining acceptance.  Most library services ran at least one event in 2014 and I expect only the most reactionary and cautious councils to ignore it in 2015.  From its roots a few years ago as an instrument of protest, the Day is becoming used as an important advocacy tool locally and nationally.  A good thing to see. Similarly, the launch of the Library A to Z, crowd-funded largely by campaigners, has also gained widespread support in many public libraries – probably because it is very carefully apolitical and concentrates on the positive rather than the negative.
  • National organisations are upping their game. Although those going through PLUIO (Public Library Universal Information Offers) training may not appreciate it, because the online modules are sometimes cloggy and mind-numbingly tedious, the SCL have tried their best to make an impact on local councillor views and nationally.  The same can be said to some extent of CILIP who have been active, with Big Debates and other stuff, this year. The professional association’s obsession with navel gazing – sorry, modernisation – has also now apparently come to an end and has, at least, left the organisation on a firm financial footing.  Praise must also go out to the Carnegie UK Trust who have put their back into the LibraryLab innovation grants, leadership training and their advocacy work.  Great to see.

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Merry Christmas everyone. Here’s to a better 2015.

Editorial

I often get asked how I find the time to do Public Libraries News. For any of you who don’t know (and I deliberately don’t emphasise this on the blog for reasons all of you will be able to guess) I do have a full-time job as a librarian and, yes, I also have a family that demands full attention as well. The answer therefore is that PLN is my leisure time.  Before, you see, I would slob out in front of TV or play computer games (strategy games mainly: I don’t have the quickest of reflexes) and now in some ways I have simply contributed one form of computer activity for another.  But of course this is far more rewarding than any computer game: this blog appears to actually be useful to people and does, in its small way, hopefully, help public libraries and library workers.  Being able to understand what is going on and to get the chance to know or at least meet many of the major characters involved are also bonuses.  And if you do something you enjoy you find the time to do it.  It helps also to have a supportive and long-suffering wife and family (my youngest child, who is eight, cannot remember me without the blog) as well.  So PLN, I guess, is now part of me and it’s got to the stage now when I’m not sure what I would do without it.

Thanks to all of you for supporting the website. Do please keep sending me your news and views.  Let me know if you want a particular topic covered or if the views expressed herein are simply wrong.  PLN depends on knowing what is going on and that involves on knowing all sides of the argument.  A correction or an opposing viewpoint is not an offense to me: rather it is a vital gift. So, please,  may I take this opportunity to wish you all – even in these dark times – a very merry Christmas and a happy, a better, 2015.  Keep on with your good work and remember to enjoy, celebrate and continue to fight for public libraries.

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