John Connelly meeting librarians

Public Libraries News 2 Oct 2013: Stockport hours cut; Birmingham; Norfolk.

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CILIPS Mobile Donald Morrison Librarian

Scottish Parliament congratulates mobile librarian

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The Forum and Lincolnshire

Editorial

The imminent opening of the Forum represents a triumph of partnership between different organisations.  The library is a joint one between a local authority, a further education college and a university.  At £27m it represents a serious commitment to libraries from those organisations and firmly places it in the tradition of big new libraries that have served as a counterpoint to the darker news that everyone knows about.  It also continues the tradition (as already seen in Liverpool and Birmingham) of investment in the centre and reduced investment in the branches.

The campaigners in Lincolnshire have had a notably vocal and well-publicised campaign against those in their county.  The council there has been more obvious than most in using its consultation as a way of gaining volunteers to run libraries and also one of the more vocal in saying libraries are less important than once they were.  The widespread opposition to volunteers running them and the demonstrably huge reaction to the cuts does not, so far, seem to have changed their tune.

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Passing the Bucks: the DCMS blames libraries; having volunteers only brings on more cuts.

Editorial

The DCMS appears keen to promote the concept that libraries are in long-term decline and that they need to evolve or die. That the department has a vested interest in shifting any blame from itself (and the libraries minister who has recently been the first such in history to have had librarians pass a vote of no confidence in him) hardly needs to be said.  Thankfully, the opposing viewpoint – that the deepest cuts in peacetime history to libraries budgets combined with a hands-off policy from the DCMS may also explain the figures – has also been given billing in the media.  Closures and “hollowing out” of library services are necessarily going to adversely affect usage.

In some ways, Buckinghamshire has been several years ahead of trend when it comes to public libraries.  It pushed through closures which caused protests and then volunteer-run libraries more than six years ago. The relative success of these then led to yet more volunteer run libraries last year, with the lessons having been learnt.  A heartwarming Big Society success story? Hardly.  The council has just now announced yet more cuts to the service, despite Bucks being one of those councils least affected by the cut in government funding. Another hard-learned lesson from Bucks therefore may be that volunteering in libraries doesn’t stop the cuts, it just encourages more.

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“When there are less libraries, less librarians and less money to spend on stock you can’t be surprised if usage drops”

Editorial 

A few articles on national trends today.  We have the most recent Taking Part survey from the DCMS that shows that the proportion of the population using public libraries is continuing to fall (although not as fast as they have done in some years since 2005/6).    Other articles may give reasons for this decline.  The Express interviews Annie Mauger of CILIP who squarely places the blame on the cuts to library budgets.  An unrelated Neilsen survey sees a decline in child’s reading as partly due to the rise of social networking and a lot to do with the rise of tablet PCs and apps. The real answer seems to be, of course, a bit of both, with the continuing and accelerating decline in funding to libraries working in tandem with the rise of competitive technologies like the internet, e-books and apps.  There is also the point where cuts in funding mean that libraries, even if they wanted to, cannot keep up with digital change.  Simply because they cannot often afford it. Between a rock and a hard place, in other words.

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As it ends in Sunderland, so it starts in Derbyshire?

Editorial

Sunderland have confirmed nine out of their twenty libraries will close, much to the annoyance of those who hoped the future of the service would be voted on a full meeting of councillors.  That’s perhaps one end of the process there, although some of those libraries may survive in a non-council.  The other end appears to have started, with a fearful symmetry, in Derbyshire today, with the announcement that there will be major cuts to the library service there due to the whole council having to lose a third of its budget.  It was pointed out that closing every single library in the county today would not touch this amount.

Right, now some good news.  It looks like from what I can tell that this has been a real bumper year for the summer reading challenge.  Creepy House medals are in distinctly short supply.  So, that means that a ton of children have been using libraries this Summer and that they would have brought in parents as well (five times, normally – once for joining, three times for stickers and once for the awards ceremony) and that’s great for those, like all of us, who believe that libraries have a future, no matter what is happening in Sunderland or Derbyshire.

I wish only to emphasise that the library function will continue to be professionally managed as part of the Kirklees Council Library Service.  The Library Service will continue to supply one part time paid member of staff (as now) and that books, electronic resources, licences and equipment, hardware and software to enable access to the Library Service user database will be the responsibility of the library service.. Details of the project can be found here:  http://denbydale.theoriginweb.co.uk” Biddy Fisher.  See previous Public Libraries News post.

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Past President of CILIP helps lead plans for volunteer library

Editorial

The fact that the past president of CILIP will be involved in the volunteer takeover of Denby Dale Library in Kirklees is likely to raise a few eyebrows.  CILIP has a policy against supporting volunteer libraries and there is a strong feeling amongst many librarians, understandably, against volunteers (and especially retired librarians) doing library work unpaid.  The feeling is that such behaviour only encourages councils to close more and more libraries to the detriment of their ex-colleagues and the library service as a whole (see this page for a list of reasons against volunteer libraries).  On the other hand, it looks very likely that Denby Dale Library was going to close otherwise anyway and it’s also notable that the librarian was vocal in her opposition to the original plans and that there appears to be some continued paid library involvement with the new venture (see also this page of reasons for volunteer libraries). Indeed, the whole thing shows the dilemma that those who care about libraries face when Mr Cuts comes knocking at their door. From the outside, however, others may see the actions of such a highly esteemed librarian as a ringing endorsement of the volunteer model.  It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to this amongst the profession and beyond.

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3d printer woman in scanner in Brighton Library

Three controversial ideas – council overheads, 3D printing and LibraryPlus

Editorial

Controversial, at least, to some librarians and some campaigners … and they don’t come much more controversial than Tim Coates, the first of the three. Few librarians have a kind word to say the ex Waterstones chief and current Bilbary boss and outspoken library campaigner. Which is only to be expected, as Tim very rarely has a kind word to say about librarians. However, what he has pointed out today is worth looking at.  One of Tim’s strengths is figures and he has spotted that over a third of the Lincolnshire libraries budget goes into unidentified council overheads but only the non-overhead part (that is, the part actually spend on libraries) is to be cut.  It’s food for thought and one which strengthens the hand of those who believe that councils can cut budgets without cutting services simply through efficiency savings.  This seems to me inherently unlikely due to the massive nature of the cuts involved and the sheer level of waste such a viewpoint implies but it’s evidence that needs to be considered.  Whether this view will help libraries or not is a matter of debate but in Lincolnshire, at least, the overheads need looking at – if only to challenge those like Tim who believe that cuts of such a scale that they have no historic precedent can be achieved with little effect on the taxpayer.

The second idea is the very trendy 3D printing that was going on at Brighton Jubilee Library earlier this month. 3D printing is seen as a great hope by many (including, on occasion, myself) but is seen as a distraction by others. The third is the LibraryPlus programme from Northamptonshire which has taken the focus away from borrowing and into other sections like children’s centres, business and volunteering.  Anathema to some (see the comment on the article) but a possible route to follow for others.  We’ll see what role the three (efficiency, 3D printing and LibraryPlus) over the years to come.

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The library profession says “We have no confidence in you, Mr Vaizey”

Editorial

In what has been one of the most memorable weekends in UK public libraries in a period full of notable events, the annual general meeting of the library professional association CILIP voted through two key motions and a march of up to 400 walked through Lincoln to protest against the cuts there. Let’s go through these one by one.

By far the most important motion of the two (to everyone but a few) was the one passing a vote of no confidence in the current minister for libraries, Ed Vaizey.  This man has made non-intervention an art form over the last couple of years of the deepest cuts to public libraries in peacetime history, despite a history in opposition stridently advocating the opposite of what he is doing now.  It is therefore no surprise that 669 voted for the following motion with less than a third of that figure (200) against.  The full motion was:

“”n view of his failures to enforce the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, this Annual General Meeting of CILIP has no confidence in Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and instructs Council to work with all other interested parties to protect library, information and knowledge services”

The other motion, from the CILIP leadership, to change the name of the organisation to that of Information and Library Professionals UK, was lost by a margin of 356 in favour and 644 against.  This margin is made even larger being that two-thirds needed to vote for it in order for it to proceed.  This vote effectively ends the, in the eyes of many observers, distracting renaming debate in CILIP (although it does not end other parts of the rebranding process, as the official press release made clear).  Let us now hope a veil is drawn across the whole renaming affair and, as the membership made clear in the other motion, energies are now spent on campaigning.  An example of what is meant by this is the open letter by the Scottish part of CILIP against the cuts in Moray: to my knowledge, there has been no such letter by CILIP itself against particular cuts in particular authorities. Perhaps now that will change.

In another example of the new militancy associated with libraries, quite separately, up to 400 people marched through Lincoln demanding an end to the cuts in the county.  The photographs are quite astonishing. The message from this weekend has been clear: the library profession and library users have had enough.  Push us so far and don’t be surprised if we push back.  In a familiar phrase (well, at least to me): you know the situation is  bad if the librarians are protesting.

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East Ayrshire - Some libraries may be under threat – employees face redundancy months after moving into East Ayrshire Trust from council 

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Ian-Image-

“Shush” is not a dirty word

Editorial

Well, perhaps “shush” is but the idea of having quiet in the library has received support today from two articles, one on Birmingham’s new mega library and one from the USA.  Both question the rush in public libraries away from the quiet contemplative places of yesteryear towards the kid-friendly techy cafe-places of many a librarians’ dreams. I, personally, am a “loud” librarian – I chat to everyone, I do fun (well, I think they are) class visits and assemblies and don’t ban mobile phones anywhere.  However, that does not mean that “my” library does not have its quiet areas.  Quiet, you see, is important.  There’s not many public spaces where you can just sit and read, or study, without disturbance.  For many people, there’s not such a place at home either.  So, being quiet is actually a unique selling point for libraries and in the rush to ditch the half-moon and bun image, librarians are doing themselves down.  Big libraries should have space for both, small libraries can have separate times for both.  Libraries, you see, should be joyous community hives and contemplative study areas and hymns to the book.  We serve the whole community and they need different things from us: serving just one section (or what we think is right) runs the danger of neglecting the others.

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