Books, librarians and quiet

Editorial 

Further Pew Internet Research survey results continue to show the importance of public libraries (and of books and of librarians) to the US public.  It also demonstrates, to my mind at least, the need for such research in the UK as it would be a powerful weapon for library services in their dealings with policy makers. Interestingly, the two most important services, as seen by the public are books and library staff, with quiet study space not far behind.  This ties in with what Norfolk Libraries say today about their continued success as the most popular library service in the UK – that keeping well maintained book stocks is key.

The other item of note is continuing talk about the proposed job losses by Carillion.  The company has recently become one of the few controllers of multiple library services in the UK (alongside the Tri-Borough and GLL) after purchasing the library arm of John Laing.

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Official figures show fewer closures; big rise in volunteers; decline in usage and funding

2012/13 Official library usage figures

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) released these figures on 6th December but they’re charged for and so ordinary mortals need to wait until the press covers them, which was on the 10th December.  The main points from this coverage are:

  • There were 74 static and mobile libraries fewer at the end of 2012/13 than at the beginning (compared to 201 lost in 2011/12). The rate of closure has therefore dramatically slowed, although it is unclear how this figure is affected by volunteer libraries .
  • 4.4% cut in expenditure (£1.,048bn).  Staff costs were static due to a pay freeze but inflation would have added to this figure to some extent in reality. Estimated figure for 2013/14 is £995m representing a further cut of 5% (with staff pay being 1% “up” this year).
  • 6% fewer physical visits  (288m)
  • 25% more web visits Therefore, if you add physical and online visits together and there was a 1.5% increase year on year (410m)
  • 2.3% fewer books held (92.2m)
  • 6.6% fewer book loans (262.7m)
  • 10.4% fewer non-book loans (19.7m)
  • 6.8% reduction in staff (20,302)
  • 44.5% more volunteers (33,808)

The major trends from are:

  • councils have continued cutting expenditure as before but realise there are less politically poisoning ways of doing it than closing libraries. Hollowing out of services (reductions in paid staff/bookfund/everything in fact) is going on instead.
  • The massive jump in the use of volunteers year on year is an indicator of one way that authorities are meeting the cuts.  That’s a gigantic year on year change and suggests something revolutionary is going on.
  • decline in use roughly reflects decline in funding.  There’s something deeper than this though.  I say this because it’s not simply less books meaning less borrows because the reduction in loans was three times greater than the reduction in bookstock. This is where e-books come in perhaps. One can assume from everything one sees on the street that e-books are affecting book loans but this is not an over-riding factor in these figures: the decline can be explained by cuts in expenditure rather than a shift to e-books.
  • online use is shooting up.  This is notoriously difficult to measure but, if you’re of an optimistic frame of mind, then if you add all the physical and online together, there was an increase in overall library visits last year.
  • audio-visual loans declining fast, presumably due to commercial online provision.
  • Having said that, UK libraries are managing to decline in a recession while usage in other countries (notably the USA) is generally increasing.  There is no clear answer to why this is so other than the sheer depth of the cuts being incurred (although I would hazard the guess that the broader level of households being online here than the USA has had some impact).

This is what other commentators say:

“”In a recession, and one with bookshops struggling, you would expect to see more people using libraries for the books and for the facilities. That seems to be the case in places like the US and much of Europe, so why isn’t that happening here? Ultimately there are deep issues. Austerity plays a part, but it is the failure to realise that simple presence of books and availability of reading are what make libraries useful for most of the people who want to use them that is the cause of the decline.” Tim Coates

“‘The figures show that councils are learning a new trick. You don’t shut libraries outright, because your voters will hate you. Instead, you dump them on to volunteers to run and call them “community libraries” … The headline statistics show the national trend, which overall doesn’t look great. ‘You need to drill down to the local details. These would show where library services are booming – as many are. Even more important, they would help show the factors that lead to success. But this analysis is not provided. Laura SwaffieldLibrary Campaign

“People seem to be missing the main trend which is less authorities are submitting figures: 2011-12 figures were missing in their entirety from 1 metropolitan authority, 3 unitaries & 3 Welsh authorities, financial figures were missing from another metro & 2 unitaries. 2012-12 figures were missing in their entirety from 2 London Boroughs, 4 metros, 4 unitaries and 4 Welsh, financial figures were missing from further authorities. It is difficult to compare when the largest metropolitan authority (Birmingham) does not supply figures – last year they were listed as having 286 staff. Looking at the volunteer figures Gateshead, South Tyneside and Leeds all reported a similar number of total volunteer hours but Gateshead volunteers averaged 5.7 hours a year, Leeds 35.5 and South Tyneside each 165.5 hour per year (29 volunteers providing 4800 hours). Can we really draw conclusions? It is year by year becoming less of a national picture.” Lionel Aldridge on Lis-Pub-Libs

“By my calculations visits are as follows: 2011/12 (000s): 404,312 (physical + web visits) 2012/13 (000s): 410,402 (physical + web visits).  Which equates to a 1.5% increase in visits year on year. So, library usage has increased slightly rather than decreased, despite cuts. Imagine how well the service would do if it was funded properly…” Ian Clark

  • CIPFA records continuing library closures – BookSeller. “The estimated figure for expenditure in 2013-14 drops below the £1bn mark to £995m, representing a drop of 9.4% from 2011-12.”
  • Library volunteers up by half in a year - Herald Scotland. “The institute said the data showed people are using libraries in new ways as a community hub, with storytelling sessions, reading groups and author visits all hosted in the buildings. Rob Whiteman, chief executive of CIPFA, said: “Local authorities have worked hard to identify savings and reduce spending, but also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public.”
  • Rate of library closures slowing, CIPFA survey finds – Public Finance. “The rate of UK public library closures slowed last year”

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Connecting all parts of society with eachother and the skills they need

Editorial

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank unintentionally highlights the need for public libraries.  In a report that is full of questions about how to integrate older people into their communities and linking them up with the internet, there is only one mention of libraries and that is about reading groups.  Perhaps if public libraries were a new thing then their wonderfulness connecting all parts of society with eachother and with the information and skills they needed would mean that the IPPR would be all over them.

I know that Public Libraries News is seen as a campaigning blog and because I cannot hide my love for public libraries and all they stand for, rightly so, but this does not mean that only one side of the argument is shown on its pages.  Published today is  a case study from the non-profit trust Fresh Horizons in Huddersfield that shows a successful non-council model for libraries provision.  It makes impressive reading.

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“If you put in libraries, the reading scores go up”

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What’s your library doing for National Libraries Day?

National Libraries Day 8 February 2014

Authorities all across the country are gearing up for National Libraries Day.  What is your library service doing? If you work in one, do let me know and, if you don’t, this is a great time to email them to ask – at the least, it’ll help concentrate their minds to get something going.  I understand from the Society of Chief Librarians that every library authority has signed up for it last year and so they expect promotion all across the country.  Please send me what you find out.

There’s also something else that you, personally, can do no matter who you are. We’re looking at getting a libraries video together for the “We Need Libraries” song and need 350 pictures of different people holding their library cards in order to do it. Please send your photograph to weneedlibraries@gmail.com.  You’ll be joining celebrities like the comedian Robin Ince who has already said he’ll support it.

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Ideas

  • Half late fees if you bring a toy to donate throughout December - USA.
  • Kickstarter campaign for art space - New Cross Learning.

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Maria Miller would be proud: Lincolnshire and that Arts Council England grant

Editorial

After a long and hard fight against the proposed cuts to Lincolnshire libraries, which have involved 23,000 names on petitions, marches and a much-criticised consultation, the council decision-makers have decided to go ahead and either close or pass to volunteers around 30 libraries. This, and the budget cut of £2m, makes the county’s library system one of the most substantial victims of the Austerity. Councillors see things differently, though. saying that due to volunteers coming forward, the county may end up with more libraries than it started with.  Campaigners point out that such unpaid branches have questionable futures but to little avail.  Indeed, Deepings Library campaigners now face the stark choice of volunteering (a position they strongly opposed) or seeing their branch close despite a 9,000 name petition to the contrary. Around 100 library staff will lose their jobs as part of all this and, no matter what side you stand on (and the councillors did not mention library staff once in their final debate), one’s heart must go out to them and to the dramas that they face.

I briefly mentioned the £100k Arts Council England grant for artists in North Yorkshire in my last post.  I, along with other “campaigners”, find it hard to reconcile the priority of keeping a viable library system open in the country with the priority given to artists in residence shown by the move.  This is, let me be clear, not a complaint against Arts Council England, whose remit is clearly to do exactly what they are doing, but with the Government that think that Libraries are all about culture and what looks like the increasingly out-of-fashion arty side of things. It seems to me and other observers that such projects, while laudable, are a more elegant offering for a more civilized age than the harsh barbaric one in which we live. It’s hard to see, after all, the sense of £100k in national money going to artists in one county while 30 libraries are effectively withdrawn in another. Indeed, North Yorkshire itself could presumably do with the money in other areas themselves: 2 libraries were outright closed last year with five more passed to volunteers. The year before that, ten mobile libraries ended and there was a £1.7m cut to the libraries budget.  Do you see what I mean? £100k is lovely and I hope much enjoyment and good work will come from the project but, goodness me, talk about skewed priorities.

And there is the sadness and the clear sign that the philistines have won the debate.  For the campaigners are all on the philistine side. In this harsh new world, we would much rather have the money for core priorities than for artists.  We’d much rather have it for keeping libraries open for goodness sake (and for their cultural, social and economic benefit) than for nice extras that perhaps make life worth living in those that survive.  Maria Miller, with her view that the only good Culture is a money-making Culture, would be proud.

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£100k to North Yorkshire for Arts projects

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The Library is the space where creativity happens, magic is what the library needs to do

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Ideas

  • Pinterest Board - Sefton.  Devon also has one.

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The future of libraries: what the Guardian online debate found

Future of libraries: keeping the service alive – Guardian.

The Guardian held one of its online debates on libraries today. The discussion between several library experts (managers, campaigners, councillors) and anyone contributing online. Around 200 comments were made so it’s a little condfusing: I’ve endeavoured to summarise below, although doubtless I have missed some things which some would consider important. Main threads and arguments.

  • Are libraries declining due to technological change? Libraries are still needed, in some ways more than ever: internet/online access essential and libraries provide the access and skills to those without either or both. Seven million have never used the internet. Wikipedia etc don’t cover all information and are prone to deletion, accidental or otherwise and is also not entirely trustworthy anyway.  Libraries provide quiet study spaces.  Children need the books and everyone needs serendipity that bookshelves allow.  Bookstock is declining due to budget cuts.  It’s not black and white – books and e-books will co-exist. Books are still in demand with 244 million loans in England 2011/12,
  • Joined up thinking required between school and public libraries (But … safeguarding issues) sharing resources e.g. Tri-borough, co-locations. Essex sharing buildings with parish and district councils.  Children’s services a natural to co-locate with.  But … need to be sensitive to needs of library to avoid them being sidelined in co-located buildings.
  • Governance e.g. industrial and provident societies, private companies, social enterprise solutions? Conflict of interest over profit in private companies, but some social enterprises have been successful and/or hopeful.
  • Volunteers: they need start up grants and council support , Fresh Horizons in Huddersfield and Alt Valley Community Trust doing well, adding value (if additional/complementary) But … questions over sustainability, is it a destructive trend? Need to have at least one professional/paid member of staff with skills.  Australia doesn’t have money volunteers because of worries of public liability insurance. Exploitation of the volunteer also a worry
  • Libraries are more than books: Idea stores (issues up 20% over ten years, staff appointed for enthusiasm for books), Edinburgh’s digital strategy lauded.  Provide welcoming space/social centres, play sessions, reading groups, job-seeking, music, films, local and family history, coffee (but make it good), e-books (should be done nationally and not by authorities), online catalogues (should be better), self-service (but not liked) and for using technology/online, wifi, Need 24/7 access. iPad access in Brent.  Public health via the Reading Agency.
  • Improve what we already have: don’t reinvent.
  • Campaigning: strength of local campaigns suggest a national one would not be lacking in support.  Need to stress the economic benefits of libraries.
  • No national steer or strategy for libraries unlike NZ or Eire.  But … deliberate to run it down?
  • Prioritising big libraries (esp. Birmingham) over smaller ones.  Great library But … at the cost of running down smaller branches where people cannot afford to get to Central. Less small libraries, improve the surviving? But … being local is a strength. Need to improve the small ones.
  • Austerity/cuts. Hollowing out of services.  Councils see libraries as easy target and see it as retreating not reinventing But … ideological and no real reason to cut.
  • Outreach e.g. Brent with 130 locations being served inc. cafes and hospitals.

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Free e-magazine service for all Wales … but not a good day for mobiles

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