Big Questions

Editorial 

The “Changes” section shows a few different trends.  The first and most positive is a bit of a “no brainer” but has a corollary that politicians do not seem to understand.  That is, that if you build a new library, or upgrade an older one, then usage goes up (see South Lanarkshire and Stapleford for this).  Pretty obvious.  However, the corollary is that if you do not upgrade libraries then usage falls.  So, failing to invest in libraries and then blaming decline in usage for further reductions in investment stands the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling and vicious circle.  The question is whether in the current financial climate whether libraries will be given a decent chance to break the circle.

Then we have outsourcing with two stories today suggesting that (some at least) private companies may not be an entirely good thing for a library service.  Carillion’s very first action when it bought the library services of four London authorities (without any apparent link to democracy by the way) last year was to announce job losses.  Those are now starting with eight in Croydon.  Elsewhere, Birmingham’s contract with Capita somehow allowed it to spend more than one million pounds on the website for the new central library.  The council is now reported as reviewing how to get out of the contract but they may not be able to.  The question here is whether outsourcing delivers the benefits that the glossy brochures suggest it will.

Then we have the most seemingly constant of all recent library news: volunteers.  Windsor and Maidenhead appear to be approaching things a different way than most, by using them to increase opening hours rather than replacing paid staff.  This is unlike Lincolnshire where it appears thirty libraries will be taken over by volunteers who prefer that as an alternative to seeing their buildings closed.  The questions with this one are so many that I’ll stop it here.

Changes

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Key challenges for public libraries and their solutions: library leaders speak

Editorial: improving council library services

The Guardian ran an interesting online discussion about public libraries, with leaders and experts in the sector being involved.  The Improving council library and waste services: workshop was introduced with the paragraph “The future of libraries is always a contentious issue and one that people feel passionately about. So, how can the service be improved for the future? Sue Charteris, director of Equal Value Limited, said libraries are finding that health and social care partners are prepared to invest in initiatives that promote health and increase social connections. She has talked in the past about a campaign Reading Well, Books on Prescription, which provides help for adults for a range of issues including anxiety and depression.”.

The key challenges noted were:

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" Our Big Lottery funded Junction 3 library opened in March with a Reading Tunnel and Slide in the children’s library. It has caused a stir – it is fair to say, with both staff and the public but how lovely to have the space to cause a stir!" Bristol - Sent in by Kate Murray, Head of Libraries

“To claim that paid staff can in any way give a better service is ridiculous”

Editorial

More children’s libraries stuff is coming in, all of it good.  Not so good is the difference of opinion in Swindon between two letter writers, one in favour of paid library staff and one in charge of library volunteers.  The claim by the latter that “To claim that paid staff can in any way give a better service is ridiculous. The job is neither difficult nor too demanding and the one thing they do bring along that paid staff cannot is local people talking to local people.” may make some of you reading this choke a little.  If so, you may want to read a new piece about the dangers of mixing volunteers and personal data and breathe a little better. Breathe, damn it!

An interesting Arts-Council funded initiative has been announced by Locality, which is researching ways public libraries are making (and can make) money from non-traditional library services/ideas.  They are asking for the completion of a short online questionnaire by 11th February.

Finally, a story has surfaced from the United States that means that those interested in UK public libraries may want to keep an eye on the salaries of the leaders of any new libraries trusts.  It turns out that the boss of the Queen’s library trust in New York has a salary of $390k (£235k – more than the mayor) plus gets a nice car free every three years and (get this) apparently also a 250 square foot area of desking, built with teak tile, as a “private smoking area” by his office.  I may have to move there.  Except, sadly I wouldn’t get a job as the same trust has lost 130 posts too, which must make for some interesting staff meetings.

Please continue to send your children’s library pictures and thoughts to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.  I also welcome any news public library related stories, thoughts or comments on the same email address.

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Kids Library Barbican

“My two children would disagree with you”: Children’s libraries strike back

Editorial

Some lovely images have poured in from librarians responding to my challenge about children’s libraries.  Here’s the Barbican children’s library which is big on colour and animals, always big easy wins as far as I’m concerned. Extra points for the mobiles hanging from the ceiling too, although that “no mobile phones” sign is something I’d think twice about:

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UK children’s libraries could do better

Editorial

I am really disappointed in the state of children’s libraries in this country but, then, my imagination has high standards.  To me, the children’s section should be a place of wonder and of entertainment.  The basics are weekly rhymetimes, story times, colouring in sheets and loads of books in colourful displays.  Extra points for play cookers, teddy bears, cushions and toys.  Ideally, I’d also be going for big animal shaped kinderboxes, reading caves, frequent class visits and a primary school reading group too, with full marks only really gained for aquaria and petting zoos. Children’s libraries are for a clientele with a radically different taste than our other customers and so they should be demonstrably different in looks and feel to the rest of the library: they should be friendly, exciting and also a place of safety. In this, the world has some truly amazing examples like this mountain of books in Mexico and, noted today, the co-located children’s library and hands-on museum in New York.

So, it was with some disappointment that I visited the two biggest new libraries (Liverpool and Birmingham) recently. Both of their children’s libraries were pretty boring places, with the biscuit taken by Liverpool where, apparently, a dedicated space can’t even be found and the place serves as an auditorium as well.  Birmingham – which has had truly mind-boggling sums of money thrown at it (which is noticeable everywhere apart from the somewhat non-awe inspiring room stuffed with old books at the top) – has a tedious children’s section, notable only for a stepped section which was being used by no-one when I visited.  So, if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to be in charge of, building or refurbishing a children’s library, come on and make it exciting and different. Children, as the Summer Reading Challenge has shown, are an ever more important part of the public library mix and they deserve, generally, better than many UK libraries are currently giving.

Send me pictures and information to prove me wrong (or right) via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

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“Get over it. The library is about books. Celebrate it. Exploit it. Don’t abandon it.”

Changes

Ideas

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New Marylebone Library confirmed

Lots of stuff: digital inclusion, Japan, e-lending, Manchester and Westminster

Editorial

A checklist for councils on digital inclusion has been launched by the Government. It’s up for consultation until the end of the month so consider commenting on it, not least because it does not mention public libraries.

In other news, I was saddened to see that the newly refurbished, no doubt wondrous and full of panache, Manchester Central Library will not be open on Sundays.  This is unlike its spiritual brothers, the new Liverpool and Birmingham central libraries, and seems such a waste being the refurbishment alone cost £48 million.  Cuts sometimes rarely make best use of resources I guess.

Sue Charteris, elsewhere on Public Libraries News, gives us her observations on Japanese public libraries.  Did you know 10% of them are run by private companies?  I didn’t.  Also, in “they do things differently abroad” category, there is news of 135,000 free e-books for lending in Norway and 5,000 in the Netherlands.  These are both central projects and show how far behind the UK is falling in this field: I hope the current e-lending studies in this country report back soon (and to be fair I have been assured that they will) and then something may actually, at long last, get done.

Finally, great news from Westminster that they have the go ahead for a £12 million new library in Marylebone with nearly twice as much space as the original library plus with all the mod cons. The reason they can afford it, of course, is that they’re selling some of the space for accommodation, which I understand can be slightly expensive in Central London. No-one said postcode lotteries were fair.

Changes

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We need libraries

Editorial

My wording that scrolls along the bottom of the screen during the rather wonderful video for the “We Need Libraries” song has raised some interest so here it is below.  Watch the video too of course … and remember to check what events your library is putting on for National Libraries Day via this website.

We need libraries
For the preschooler at storytime and the parent to meet others
For the many children who do not have a book at home
And for the child who reads more than any parents can afford
For the student to study and for those looking for a job
For the lonely, the lost and for those in need of comfort
For the businessman for the wifi and for the busy to meet
For the community that need a place to meet on always equal terms
For the nation to be literate and have access for all
We need libraries to be a modern civilised nation
So it’s time to stand up now libraries need us

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Bonkers

Editorial

I didn’t mention it in my look at the DCMS report on public libraries yesterday because it’s been done before but there is a dispute about the number of libraries closed in the last couple of years.  The report said that, as far as they could tell, it was around 90.  This incensed others who called the figure “bonkers” and point out that Cipfa count about three times that many and Public Libraries News a fair few more.  The reasons for this disparity is all down to interpretation of the statistics. The DCMS count (for some reason, can’t quite put my finger on it, someone help me out here) the very minimum ignoring volunteer and mobile libraries, Cipfa count those councils tell it about and this blog counts absolutely everything, including those that are just under threat and not closed yet.

However, the scary thing is that “as far as they could tell” bit. Because the DCMS, the Central Government for goodness sake, has no access to reliable facts. Cipfa includes a general up or down figure on the number of service points and relies on councils telling it the honest truth to consistent rules … which is a big ask.  When it comes down to it, that means that there’s really no independent checking, which makes it a bit of a joke if you’re actually wanting something as ambitious as truly comparative data between authorities and between years.  No-one else official counts up the figures at all so it’s left to guesswork. Which is probably how the minister wants it.  Which is the true madness here.

Changes

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DCMS presents the best picture, Doncaster the worst

Editorial

The DCMS have produced their review of the state of play in UK public libraries called the Report under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 for 2012/13. It’s purpose is to show what great work the DCMS is doing in public libraries and, as such, it is more a work of propaganda than a serious overview (for example, it notes approvingly the CILIP Knowledge and Skills Base but, for some reason, doesn’t mention the vote of no confidence in Ed Vaizey by the same organiation)  but it does, at least, provide a summary of all main national projects going on and the agencies involved.  I therefore recommend a look as there may be something here you don’t know about that could be of interest.

Doncaster have announced that a further eight of its libraries will turn volunteer or close, on top of 12 that turned volunteer in 2012.  The mobile library is also to close.  This will leave the city with just 4 of its 24 branches run by paid staff.  It also adds further evidence to the suggestion that, with the best will in the world of all those involved, volunteer libraries cause more volunteer libraries.

Changes

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