£1.5m cut in one authority, £56k for new works of art in another.

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  • Repair cafes - “Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). The types of items that can be repaired and reused include clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances and toys.”

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For good or for ill: change and inquiries

Editorial

A couple of things spring out to me today that show how libraries may change in the future, or are in some cases already changing.  An excellent article from the Wall Street Journal looking at how libraries are changing in the digital age, shows how libraries have always changed in the past as well.  It concludes that failure to innovate is the real dangers that libraries face.  I suspect that is very much the same thought behind the new website/group Common Libraries (from the Locality team) which looks to assist those who, in management speak, think out of the box – things I really like the idea of such as Maker Spaces are part of their bag.  Of course, they have an uphill struggle to convince campaigners and others that they’re not just Trojan horses for volunteers … but I think they deserve that chance.  Stop throwing the tomatoes at me: we’ll all be far better using the energy (you throwing, me dodging) in examining what they’re actually doing and seeing if it is useful.  From reading all of the news reports every day, I’d say we’re a good two or three years behind the USA in implementing change in public libraries and anything which can give us a leg up should not be automatically rejected.

There’s also a promise of change in the new national English inquiry into public libraries.  Most people aware of it are pretty sceptical that is the case but, hey, let’s hope it is. I put the word “English” in there to distinguish it from the Welsh inquiry into public libraries (what do you mean, you didn’t know there was one?) which comes from a very different mindset (less emphasis on volunteers for one thing).  We’ll see which makes the biggest difference, for good.  Or for ill.

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Teddy Bear sleepovers and reading to cats

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photo (32)

Lincolnshire judicial review request … and the City Business Library

Editorial

Legal action is being launched in Lincolnshire against the library cuts there.  There are four different grounds for a request for a judicial review.  Having followed this story from the beginning, I have been impressed by the hard work put in by the campaigners but, frankly, unimpressed by the work put in by the Council. We’ll see how it goes.

This is a weird time when there is a national push for libraries to provide services for businesses while simultaneously budget cuts elsewhere mean many libraries have less and less business resources.  I was therefore curious when contacted by Sophie Robertson of the City Business Library.  With the admittedly massive advantage of being in the City of London itself, this appears to be a thriving enterprise (check out its events webpage) … and it is also apparently the only stand-alone Business Library operating in the whole of the UK public library scene.  So I asked her a few questions which are printed with her replies below. From my point of view, it shows how diverse and excellent public libraries can be but also how much further the country has to go in order to spread such services out to all areas and not just Central London.

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Two cheers for National Libraries Day

Editorial

All of the public libraries near me had National Libraries Day displays and activities going on and, if Twitter is anything to go by, librarians and their supporters up and down the country were enjoying it immensely.  Alan Gibbons, the man behind the day in the first place, has his eye on the cuts going on in libraries (the thing that started the Day in the first place) and urges everyone to submit evidence to the Sieghart Inquiry into public libraries.   Two cheers then for National Libraries Day: which has now gained widespread acceptance amongst public library staff as well as those campaigning to save the libraries themselves and even, I noticed this year for first time, library suppliers.  The third cheer will come when the depressing decline in libraries is reversed.

For Alan is quite right to be concerned as the Changes below show some fairly depressing news (apart from in Warwickshire where closures have been avoided).  The glaring point I notice from them is that Birmingham and Liverpool – both authorities with expensive big new/refurbished central libraries – are having to severely cut back their branches in order to pay for them. This confirms the worry that, in this time of severe cuts, it’s the little libraries (with a population at least partly unlikely to be able to afford to travel) that are being cut and the big central libraries (used at least in part by those who can afford to travel) that are surviving.  There’s a problem there about fairness and access to local services that may not be being addressed.

If you have any news, thoughts, comments or questions, please email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.  Thank you.

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Special post: Government announces dramatically wide ranging libraries report

Editorial

In what appears to be a somewhat incongruous attempt to ride off the back of National Libraries Day, two Government departments (the DCMS and the DCLG) chose it to announce that they have together commissioned an independent report on England’s public library service.  The terms of the review are to look at what the future “core principles” of the public library should be; whether the current model is the “most comprehensive and efficient” and to look at the role of volunteer (“community”) libraries.  This is therefore about as wide ranging as it is possible to get, for these terms mean it will be looking at whether the public library service should change what it actually does, how it does it and who does it.

The chair of the committee will be William Sieghart, who may be a familiar name to you due to his recent review into e-lending. A frequent library user, when he did a very short interview with this website last year, he identified the main barrier to e-lending in libraries as “fear of change”. This phrase is what many more cynical observers think could be ascribed to Ed Vaizey, who called the last government libraries review “a classic ministerial excuse for not acting”. It is good though that it is not just a DCMS report: libraries are far more about Culture and so the involvement of the DCLG is to be tentatively welcomed, although the suspicion here is that it’s actually all about the budget cuts.

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All news is the best news

Editorial

Since giving Northamptonshire a fair amount of positive space recently, I’ve been asked to point out that all is not sweetness and light in that county’s library service.  I am happy to do so and the link is below.  I guess where I’m coming from in all this is that it’s not all sweetness and lignt anywhere and it simply cannot be considering the level of cuts and challenges that library authorities are facing.  However, as well as all the bad stuff, which makes PLN such depressing reading on occasion, it is useful to draw attention to different ideas and methods of working.  In this I find myself (somewhat uncomfortably given the number of times I have repeatedly criticised him on these pages) in the company of the Libraries Minister, Ed Vaizey, who chose this very week to visit Northamptonshire and praise them. I’ trust this marks the  start of a trend of him thinking like me and he’ll announce major investment programmes and interventions soon.

Please if you have a comment or further insight on this news coverage or have a news story or anything else that you feel may be of interest, please contact ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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A starving man accepts any crumb … and this is quite a nice one

Editorial – my thoughts on the free e-journals from Access to Research

Many library authorities, such as the one I work in, no longer have access to magazines or periodicals at all due to budget cuts. Similarly, our online periodical presence is limited to ten or so populist titles plus the national newspapers. This means at the moment that, when someone walks in and asks if we have a journal or research on a particular sector then the answer is almost always no.  It is against such an environment that locally this initiative will be judged.  Make no mistake,  I’m not talking about the highly online capable who will get it some other way but rather about someone who barely uses a computer, can’t afford to get to college much and needs something for an assignment that instant.  Thankfully, this free offer will mean that we don’t have to turn people away.

I would agree with the comments on the THE that it makes little sense to limit the offer to physical buildings but we’re beggars not choosers.  Yes, it’s a crumb off the table but if we’re being starved of food (and we are) then that’s fine by me and we’d be mistaken to turn it down.  Of course the publishers have an agenda but, at this juncture, their agenda tallies with ours – getting people in through the door and not disappointing them. This is not to say that nationally we should not argue for something more.  We should.  There is also a danger that this project will be used by those who amusingly suggest that e-books should only be downloaded by physically visiting a local branch.  However, I’m happy with this gift horse today.

This editorial was also used in a reply on Lis-Pub-Libs

If you have any news, thoughts or information that you would like to share then please email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Think big by thinking small: Fab Labs for everyone

Editorial

As we all know, the United Kingdom once led the world in inventions and, perhaps not coincidentally, in manufacturing and some feel that public libraries can help see those days come back.  A big statement? Not according to Charles Vulliamy who emailed me from the USA. about something that, probably because of lack of investment is largely being ignored in the UK but appears to be taking the US library world by storm.  This something is Maker Spaces. Or Fab Labs or Hack Spaces or even Maker Faires: they’re all basically the same thing, with the difference in terminology showing how new and exciting it all is. It all boils down to a public  space (not necessarily a big one) being aside for computer design, programming, 3D printers and other such small things. The White House has just announced its own Maker Faire and library after library in the US (notably Chattanooga and now Toronto and Chicago) are getting on board.

“It’s certainly the case that the UK needs better tech education.. A makerspace in every other town would create a kind of mini Menlo Park in each community, which would create a good number of people with the kind of hacker mentality that gives great benefit to technology and industry at large.  I recently read that the main reason why the industrial revolution started in the UK was because there were so many hacker-types who each engineered incremental improvements to the machines that, collectively, enabled the scale of production that occurred. ” Charles Vulliamy

The idea is that future inventors, programmers, engineers and anyone interested can come along, learn more about the technology and work together.  The hope is that such a thing will provide the new skills vital to win the global competitive race.  The fear is that the UK is going to be left behind.  To see how far behind we are, have a look at these pages on the current UK position compared to that abroad. I noted the other day that the plans for the refurbished Exeter Library will include a Fab Lab and just yesterday that Northamptonshire have coding clubs but there could be so much more. This depends on political will and the push of professionals to make it so.  Perhaps it can be a national offer like books or information or online access.  I think it should. I for one am tired of tired libraries.  I’m tired of a tired country with declining industry and declining skills.  Perhaps it’s time to think big … by thinking small.

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Code Club in Northamptonshire

Free journals for all, an Early Day Motion and Northamptonshire

Editorial

The big news today is the official launch of the Access to Research Initiative which allows access to over eight thousand online journals free of charge to the public if they physically come into the library.  It’s also, crucially, free for the public library authority as well.  This initiative is one of the best news stories for libraries for ages. One hopes that all library authorities will sign up to it quickly, with many thousands of extra visitors coming into libraries because of it.  Click here for a librarian’s guide to the programme.

Mind you, there’s other big news out there as well in the shape of an Early Day Motion in parliament in favour of National Libraries Day.  It’s a cross-party affair and all those who care for libraries are asked to get their MP to sign it in order to boost its impact.  National Libraries Day itself has been notably more accepted by what passes as the library establishment this year: library suppliers are offering discounts to celebrate it, a major league author (organised by the Reading Agency) is officially patron of it and, crucially, it looks like pretty much every library authority is taking part in it.  The day has come a long way since Alan Gibbons wondered if it would be a good idea (and, I remember very proudly, emailed me to ask my view) three years ago and that’s because it makes so much sense. Well done to all involved.

Finally, I’m turning over a section of this post to Northamptonshire Libraries. This service is clearly taking the need to be innovative and to change in order to improve (and survive) very seriously and I’ve reported on them before.  Below, I’m very pleased to have a short interview with one of their Principal Librarians and from a brief report on a children’s initiative from another.  Have a read and see if you agree and/or want to adopt some of their ideas.

If you have anything you would like to see covered in Public Libraries News, or have a news story or point of view, please contact me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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