Don’t Keep It To Your Shelves

Editorial

One of the issues in public libraries is lack of promotion of the services they provide. For years, most library authorities have had zero publicity budget and have even had to bid with other council departments for use of the public relations and graphic design services .. and lack of budget,  heaven knows, is not going to get go away soon.  In two ways, though, public relations is easier than ever for public libraries.

The first way is when the library service is no longer under direct council con control.  In those library services which are run by library trusts, the internal bureaucratic barriers to publicity that councils excel in are removed. Library trusts can also have more freedom in allocating the budgets (sadly, no bigger than before) how they want, which can mean at least some is spent on public relations.  An exemplar of this is Suffolk which has (uniquely in my experience) a public relations officer and is pretty nifty with publicising everything it does. An anti-example, though, are those library services unlucky enough to be part of leisure trusts dominated by leisure officers who do not understand libraries and are negative about them. Warrington, at the moment, is the biggest instance of this, where glossy public relations is apparently being deployed by the Livewire Trust to justify cutting, not improving, the service.

The second way is social media. This has revolutionised what publicity can be done on a seemingly zero budget. Almost all library services, now, have at least Twitter and Facebook accounts and many have blogs and others as well. Most I see also do regular publicity emails to those who have signed up. There’s also the joy of working with partners (BIDs, hyperlocal news, blogs etc) who will publicise your event for you at the cost a single email. This is now such a key part of library services that one would be very suspicious of any member of library staff with any publicity duties at all who is resistant to it or, even worse, claims it’s not part of their job.

Because public relations is a key part of the job and it always has been.  It has just been that for years public libraries have been able to avoid it,  because the public kept coming in anyway. That’s now not always the case and, as our services expand while the budgets contract, we need to shout more and more about them. Make a noise in your library today.

PS. The phrase “Don’t Keep It To Your Shelves” was used at an Oxford University Press meeting I attended last week.  I love it. Feel free to use it yours(h)elves. I’ve promised to promote them (see how this game works?) in return so do have a look at their webpages for librarians.

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What are the ideas behind Idea Stores?

Editorial

Wherever I go, the most successful libraries are those who have a clear strategy and vision.  In Tower Hamlets, it’s based on location, on combining with adult education and on reading for pleasure. They have also, root and branch, changed their staffing.  There’s no bibliographic services department, at all. There’s no actual long term specialists, at all. There’s also no freedom to blue tack an amateur poster up or to say that an event isn’t happening, or say a computer problem can’t be fixed because that person is on holiday.

They’re pretty hard nosed about that, and rightly so. In times of crisis, inertia and existing working practices can kill. So now, in this time of crisis, they’re not facing a crisis. Because they know what they’re doing, they’re well used and they can defend everything they do in easy to understand terms. Sound good? Bite the bullet and see how you can learn from them. Because it’s kind of embarrassing that so many aren’t. The week I was there, they had a delegation from South Korea for goodness sake. But there’s not been much about Tower Hamlets seen in the UK recently.  It’s like because it has been there for a few years it’s not important any more.  Well, it is. And here’s why …

Read more at Idea Stores: what the ideas are and why they’re important – Public Libraries News. 

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Viciously reducing bookfunds

Editorial

There’s a chicken and the egg thing going on with bookfund and book issues.  Or rather, a vicious circle. Councils are reducing bookfund claiming that fewer books are being read and then claiming that being that there are lower book issues they can cut bookfund more.  And then, when things get really bad, they can close libraries too. But, of course, if you have fewer books in the first place, you’re going to see declines in usage. It’s hard to borrow something that isn’t there. The fact that it is always easier to reduce bookfund than staffing is a contributory factor in the popularity of this strategy.

Lancashire, who close 20 libraries this week, reduced their bookfund from £2,423,923 in 2011-12 to £1,554,814 in 2014/15 (source: Cipfa).  That’s a huge reduction of 35.8%. Warrington LiveWire, in the news for wanting to close seven branches, including the oldest public library in England (which they will try to move into a, I kid you not, ex shoe shop) have cut their bookfund from £231,496 in 2012/13 to £103,944 in 2016/17.

Look, book issues (but not booksales) may be falling but they’re not falling that much.  A council can admit that they’re reducing libraries because of reduced budgets – like Lancashire, to be somewhat fair, has – but to claim that you’re cutting libraries because no-one is using them after you have annihilated their bookfunds – should be no-one’s idea of a valid argument.

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There’s more than one way to ban a book

Editorial

There’s more than one way to ban a book. Forcing people to pay for it, when they can ill afford to, is one. Not letting people know of its existence is another. Downplaying the importance of it, or saying it’s evil, a third. Getting rid of people who know about that book and will recommend it at just the right time is a fourth.  Oh, there are many ways. The UK counts itself fortunate that it does not censor like so much of the world and do not have the kneejerk “Harry Potter Is A Satanist” viewpoint of some in the USA but we need to be careful: censorship can be subtler than simply having a Censor. The link between closing librarians and losing librarians and Banned Books Week is rightly drawn out by a few articles in the UK – I think for the first time – in the post below. Worth a read. Like so many things which are banned.

Also, please note that it’s #FollowALibrary day this Friday. Get your social media tweets scheduled in now. Tell your friends. And your politicians.

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Party political responses to library cuts, volunteers, Open+ and authors

Editorial

It’s getting to the stage where you can almost tell how a MP is going to react to library cuts depending on which political party they belong to. If a Labour MP, they’re going to regret the cuts and blame it on central government austerity but, actually, not do much to stop it. If a Tory MP, the response will be that the cuts are a necessary part of national belt-tightening, now in its seventh year, and that different ways of running libraries (such as the ironically nineteenth century solutions of volunteers or having them run by parish councils) will result in as effective service at a lesser cost. Such is the response by two Warrington MPs in this post. A Locality report into volunteer libraries seems to support the Government view (unsurprisingly as they funded it), going into the practicalities needed for volunteers to replace paid staff.  However a close reading of the report itself makes it clear that, actually, it’s not very easy to do and that all but the most well-funded, numerous and determined community groups are going to find it a real challenge. That is also the lesson from several articles in this post all wanting extra volunteers to come forward for ex-council libraries who are finding they don’t have the numbers, or money, they need.

Other news includes a big mass letter by authors asking for intervention in public libraries from the new minister (who has been relatively invisible so far) and a great pro literacy speech by Michael Morpurgo. There’s also a very interesting article from the Republic of Ireland about the prospective dangers of remote controlled (Open+ and its clones) libraries: there has been very little such debate about it in England, presumably because councils see it as an easy way of squaring the circle of reduced budgets and increased hours, often glossing over the down sides.

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Award ceremonies galore, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the rest.

Editorial

Updating Public Libraries News can be a challenge when I work multiple evenings and that is the case at the moment.  However, I’m really pleased about the late shifts because this is because I am presenting medals and certificates to hundreds of children who have completed the Summer Reading Challenge. One thing I have learnt this year is don’t do eight award ceremonies in 48 hours, it kills the voice. Ah, but it’s so much fun though … and it’s great to see so many kids and parents celebrating reading. Anyway, here’s (most of) the news below.  I’ll fill in the rest when I have another spare evening, which may not be until the weekend now.

The cuts to Lancashire continue to make big news and the ongoing cuts throughout Yorkshire has led to some big reports, and investigative journalism, by the Yorkshire Post. The deep cuts to Warrington (along with the now standard overly glossy statements by LiveWire) are still being reported as are new changes to Wigan (where the newspaper reports the budget could be more than halved).

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14 new or upgraded libraries so far this year, with the latest opening in Slough

Editorial

Good to see a new library opening in Slough, although it’s somewhat offset by cuts in Gwynedd but, look, I get tired of concentrating on the bad news so, please forgive me, while I give you a list of new or refurbished libraries this year (see this page for previous years):

  1. Blaenau Gwent Ebbw Vale Library refurbished. (June 2016)
  2. Caerphilly £48k refurbishment for Ystrad Mynach Library. (September 2016)
  3. Camden New (replacement) library, combined with Cockpit Arts, as part of housing development.
  4. Cheshire East Crewe Library moves into co-location with leisure centre.
  5. Enfield £4.2m “transformation” of Edmonton Green Library planned: with added IT Centre, study spaces, local history and museum. (Library closed for one year from September 2016).
  6. Flintshire New co-located library opens at Deeside Leisure Centre: replacing Hawarden, Mancot and Queensferry which will close this month.(Feb 2016)
  7. HaringeyMarcus Garvey Library reopens after £3 upgrade (July 2016)
  8. Manchester – Arcadia Library and Leisure Centre opens : replaces Levenshulme Cromwell Grove Library. (Feburary 2016). Chorlton Library to be refurbished (February 2016).
  9. Oxfordshire Bicester to move into new £6.6m co-location on 11 April. Library to be “larger and have better facilities”.
  10. Pembrokeshire £3.4m new library/gallery/café in Haverfordwest.
  11. Slough £22m “The Curve” library and cultural centre opened.
  12. Southampton Woolston Library reopens in new building as part of property deal. (8)
  13. Southend Kent Elms Library to be refurbished: new entrance and meeting room. (9)
  14. Warwickshire – Southam Library opens (part of £12.4m development project) (January 2016) Reopening via refurbishment.  Alcester moved into co-located Globe House.

Yes, a few of these are replacing stand-alone libraries, sometimes more than one, but it’s still good to get to see some genuine investment going on. There’s life in the library yet. Let’s make sure it stays that way as much as possible.

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The library news since 8th September

Editorial

It’s looking to be a good year for the Summer Reading Challenge from reports I hear: I’m aware of more than one authority which has had a record number of starters. I look forward to hearing the final numbers from the Reading Agency.  In other, less upbeat news, the deep cuts to Lancashire libraries dominates the local news, with one (Conservative) MP even  asking for the ending the (Labour) council.

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A rallying cry against library volunteers

Editorial

Dawn Finch has upped the pressure again, after an excellent fact-finding interview with a volunteer a couple of days ago, with a “rallying cry” for those who know library volunteers are “exploitative and unsustainable”. Have a read of her original article, if you have not already done so, then perhaps her words in the BookSeller.

In other news, Lancashire has chosen World Literacy Day to rubber stamp the closure of large parts of its library service. They probably couldn’t read the calendar properly in order to appreciate the irony of this. Perhaps they need to visit libraries more to help them out. Oh, too late.

Finally, Warrington LiveWire – who, you will remember tried to push through several closures under the pretence it was modernising and expanding its service – woke up to a big front page with pictures of the libraries in question and the headline saying they are under threat. Should have been honest and upfront to begin with, guys. You’re opening yourself up to legal challenge if not just a ton of reputational damage. Mind you,  I understand some people who have been filling in the consultation get a reply saying thank you for enquiring about swimming lessons so perhaps it’s just being seen as them as a cunning cross-promotional drive for their pools.

“I know that for many this makes grim reading, but it is an important truth that many are trying to ignore. I have a thick skin and can take the flak and it’s worth it to get the truth heard. The post has been very well received and in the last 48 hours it has been read almost 2,000 times. Since I posted it on Monday afternoon I have had many messages from volunteers in both libraries and museums who all say that their situation is almost exactly this, but that they too are afraid to speak out for fear of alienating their every-diminishing pool of volunteers. They also say that they “don’t want to upset” the local authority as it will “only make things worse”. I want this to be a rallying cry, and a kick up the pants for anyone who thinks that handing everything over to volunteers is anything other than exploitative and unsustainable.” Dawn Finch, President, CILIP via email

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There’s consultations and then there’s …

Editorial

Consultations are oftentimes done well. They have the information, it is presented clearly, no decision has been made by the council beforehand and real options are given. Sufficient copies of the consultation are produced in paper form, and online, and it is well-publicised with a long enough period to allow everyone with an interest to, well, actually be consulted. Then, on the other hand, we have councils – and, of course, others – who appear to think that the best way to consult is to put their proposals in the hardest to understand terms possible, with the rosiest picture of the end result given, and, presumably, a firm hope that everyone will be fooled. Sometimes it is also abundantly clear that minds have been made up beforehand. These organisations, it can appear to the disinterested observer, make a travesty of the consultation protest and are doing it only to pay lip service to their legal obligations.

For an example of a consultation done badly, you need look no further than LiveWire in Warrington who have made their consultation so flowery that one needs a deep critical analysis to actually understand what is being proposed. The sad fact is that, of course, in the end, no-one is fooled by these exercises in public relations. If they’re fooled at the time then they’re jolly well not fooled when the library they’ve gone to for years suddenly has a padlock on it. For instance, compare the LiveWire papers with the newspaper report which makes it clear at least five branches are under threat (I actually think it’s seven, by the way: five possibly to volunteers and two are being turned just into book drops). Indeed, it only causes more anger amongst those who care for the service and make it harder for them to have a reasonable dialogue which, considering LiveWire want to pass five libraries to volunteers, is not a sensible thing for them to have done. These pseudo-consultations are almost anti-public relations.  They make everyone dislike and distrust whoever writes them.

So, if you’re looking to cut your library service soon, please tell the public that. Make sure people understand why you’re doing it and what the real options are, not just the ones you fancy. Use clear language. Give the public the respect they deserve (they pay your wages after all) and, who knows, something good may come of it.  They may actually come up with ideas that can help or make such a fuss that you realise how important that library is to the local people. Because, you do want to know that, don’t you?  You don’t want to be thought to be deceiving them or discounting them, do you? Do you?

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