Scottish national library strategy: North Yorks deep cuts: Cambridge Central

Editorial

Scotland is the latest country to give English public librarians an inferiority complex by publishing a national library strategy. As it says, this is necessary to give an idea of destination and direction of travel over the next five years.  We have nothing like it in England, although the Public Libraries Task Force is saying similar things about wifi for all libraries and the need to look at alternative methods of provision.

North Yorkshire is continuing its bid to lead the field in the latter, due mainly one suspects to having one of the most cut library service in the country, with the recent proposals being represented as an improvement on the original proposals, even though they include a reduction of £4.23m.  Even the biggest libraries will have a cut in staff of 40%, with most being expected to get by almost entirely on volunteers.  It’s worth noting that the success of the first wave of volunteer libraries is being touted by this council: while that’s great, I wonder how those volunteer libraries already in existence feel about their example being directly used as a way of softening the news impact of the loss of large numbers of paid staff.  I also wonder (though one suspects one knows) about how those paid staff feel.  However, of course, there’s no saying that the two are causally linked and it’s fair to say that the cuts would have come anyway, considering the depth of the austere budget imposed.

It’s also probably fair to say that, further south, the decision to let out the third floor of Cambridge Central Library to a private company as an “enterprise centre” was not well received.  Problems don’t just include the loss of space for a busy library but also questions over proper political process (with not one of the meetings deciding the issue before it went public involving a councillor) and even tax avoidance. Readers of Public Libraries News will be very familiar with councils approving unpopular decisions and this one has proved no different but it’s notable that it only squeaked through by one vote.  Far from being a role model for other libraries, therefore, Cambridge may become more of a lesson on what to avoid.

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Tardis-like, local libraries combine physical presence and virtual connection. "

CILIPS and Lincolnshire: one full week of public libraries news

Editorial

I was hoping to be in Dundee about now for the CILIPS 2015 Conference but a brush with gastroenteritis has put paid to that. This is a great shame as I find there is nothing better than being at a conference to get a feel for what is really happening.  Doing this blog has given me a good vantage point for what is going on but it is only ever that – a position to see what is going on at a distance.  To really understand what is going on, one has to speak to those involved and there’s little better than a conference for that.  I tend to adopt a talk to everyone strategy at such things that pays real dividends and builds up vital links.  I therefore recommend them to you, not least of course the CILIPS one because there is quite a lot of interesting stuff going on.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful CILIPS team for taking the news of my cancellation (I was down to do one of the optional talks) so well and at such short notice.  I hope to see them all in the future and express my thanks personally.

The hard fought campaign against cuts in Lincolnshire, which has already seen successful legal action and the threat of more, takes another turn this week with the announcement of the six bidders for the library service there.  The list includes one for-profit company (notably not a recognised public library “player” before) and five leisure trusts, including four which already run public libraries.  It will be very interesting to get to see who is successful and how successful they are in identifying ways of cutting the budget without cutting library services.  I find it curious no “big player” library profit companies (LSSI, Carillion etc) are on the list – whether this is because they’re not interested (with the profit seen as too little) or for another factor, I don’t know.

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Hayle Library, Cornwall

The South West Has All The Best Library Views

Editorial

Many thanks to those who have sent in pictures of their libraries.  I thought my view of a pet shop from my office was good until I saw some of these.  It looks like, though, that the South West of England has all the best views.  The one that kicked it all off was from as South West as one can get, the Scilly Isles, and the ones featured today are from Devon and Cornwall.  Mind you, the Americans really took it to heart when I posted the picture on the ALA Think Tank (ALATT) Facebook group: have a look at the pictures here.  ALATT, by the way, is an informal and friendly group where librarians post queries, curiosities and funny things that have happened.  There’s nothing like it I’m aware of in the UK … but I have been tempted to start one up.  Let me know if you want to give it a try.  Email address as usual is ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

I must also point out the great idea that is storyspheres.  This gives you a chance not only to show the items you want on the internet but also to add sound files to them.  So that a library user could potentially “walk” around your library virtually and listen to stories (or the relevant sounds of the place) as they do so.  I’ve plugged this a few times and I do think that it’s worth a go.  Have a look at the video below for further delectation.

Salcombe Library in Devon

Salcombe Library in Devon

 

 

Another view from the lovely Salcombe

Another view from the lovely Salcombe

Hayle Library, Cornwall

Hayle Library, Cornwall

Hayle again: imagine what it looks like when the sun is shining

Hayle again: imagine what it looks like when the sun is shining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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View from Ilfracombe Library - not bad, my friends, not bad

South Ayrshire, Bromley … and a Herts Attack

Editorial

News includes the frightening news that South Ayrshire may be closing all their libraries. That seems like an exaggeration to me … let’s see what the real story is when it emerges.  Further south, Bromley is looking at six libraries being “community-managed”.  That phrase can mean a lot of things, from basically “volunteer-run” to volunteers raising funds for a mix of paid and volunteer staff.  In other news, the Guardian reminds Ed Vaizey that he has agreed to debate Alan Gibbons and lists recent cuts announced.  The one about Hertfordshire, though, understates the problem – it’s not just “cuts to mobile libraries” but rather closing all seven of them.  Finally, my thanks to Devon for this view from one of their libraries – it may not be on the beach like Scilly but it’s still darn good.

View from Ilfracombe Library - not bad, my friends, not bad

View from Ilfracombe Library – not bad, my friends, not bad

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Is this  the most stunning view from any library in the UK?

The most beautiful library view in the world?

Editorial

Linda Thomas, the manager of St Mary’s Library in the Isles of Scilly has sent me this rather amazing picture of the view from her workplace window and has laid down the challenge to everyone: can anyone beat it? I’m looking for photos from your library so we can judge if there is any better view out there.  Send them to me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk and we’ll see if Linda gets the kudos of Most Beautiful View From A Public Library or not.

St. Mary's Library, Isles of Scilly: Is this  the most stunning view from any library in the UK?

Is this the most stunning view from any library in the UK?

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Calm (ish)

Editorial

One week after the election and things are still quiet, although it’s hard to say the mood is optimistic …

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Literally taking the cake: Ed Vaizey continues, under new boss John Whittingdale

Editorial

Although utterly revolutionary in many respects, as those in public service can testify, David Cameron is very loath to change his ministers once appointed.  This can be a good thing – after all, they can learn their brief far better than if they are just parachuted in for a year or so – or it can cause groans across entire sectors who had hoped to get rid.  I’ll leave it up to you to consider which category Ed Vaizey falls into. He knows public libraries well but we know that he won’t ever intervene. However, it’s unlikely any Conservative minister would.  He’ll also put on the best possible spin on the situation, again like any minister. Tampering around the edges, as much as can be done with the prevailing belief in his party of minimal government funding combined with minimal government direction, will be what will happen. He’ll continue doing small-budget things which may at one extreme nudge national impacts e.g. over WiFi (with the first vacancies currently being advertised) or, on the other extreme, may do nothing at all.  So we know who we’re dealing with and we know he knows the service fairly well. We also know he’s agreed to debate Alan Gibbons, which should be fun to watch, especially now blood sports are (officially at least – although Mr Whittingdale is a keen supporter of fox hunting) banned.  Ed’s new boss knows libraries too and, while he may be  little distracted dismantling the BBC, he’s probably better than the uninterested Sajid Javid.

Of all the possible people that could have responsibility for the library service, therefore, under a majority Conservative government, these two (shocked gasps) are not the worst … and possibly some of the best that we can hope for amongst those eligible.  We’ll see how optimistic or pessimistic that statement is over the years to come.

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Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

Five more years: new boss same as the old boss?

Editorial

So now we know: the Conservatives will not only be a partner in a coalition but, to the surprise of almost all, the holders of a parliamentary majority.  Most librarians I know are fairly depressed or shocked by this but we will need to at some point work out what this means for the sector and how we will respond it.  Here are my (completely uninformed and random) thoughts:

  • There will continue to be deep cuts to public library budgets, probably on the order of 20 to 50%, depending on local authority, over the term of this new parliament. This is similar to what has happened in the last parliament but will seem, if anything, to have more impact due to the service already having been cut. Councils will be desperate to save money any which way and so there will be as great as pressure as ever to put as many services as possible into council buildings – expect libraries to move into council offices, or vice versa, at an accelerated pace.
  • There’s going to be a lot of announcements of changes, for which read cuts, over the next year or so as councils push through decisions that have been delayed until the uncertainty of this election.
  • Volunteer libraries – which have been growing quickly in number but are rather unsupported and individual – will be increasingly assisted by local councils and, especially, national government.  This will take the form of best practice, guides and expert advice and perhaps central funding.  This will be necessary as more and more libraries (another 500? more?) are given the option of closing or having the paid staff removed.
  • The government will work at reducing the ease with which legal challenges can be made. This will reduce the power of local communities to challenge cuts to libraries in court and allow councils to reduce services with little regard to pressure, beyond concerns over adverse reactions at the next election.  This last will also not be a large feature as it is now clear that, when it comes down to it, insufficient people (both politicians and voters) care enough about public libraries for it to be an important electoral issue.
  • Those working in public libraries will be given the choice of adapting to the new conditions (more council orientated work, supporting volunteers, etc) or leaving (either pre-emptively or via voluntary, even compulsory, redundancy). Being that many qualified librarians have already gone, the next five years may effectively mean the end of professionally qualified librarians being a requirement in most authorities and may spell the end of qualified public librarians as a significant force, even if they are now. “Fighting” of course, as has already been pointed out on Twitter, is also an option and will continue, as it has in the old parliament, although with a weakened impact now that the Government has a majority, although this may change closer in the next two years or so due to by-elections or closer to the next election. This campaigning may divide the profession, as seen currently in Manchester, where the decision has been made to exclude some protesters from the library, which has resulted in some fairly negative comments from the Guardian and from Voices for the Library.
  • Whoever in central government is in charge of libraries (and it may well be Mr Vaizey again: we’ll soon find out even if it has not been announced by the time you read this) will be ideologically against intervention and will provide only limited, if at all, guidance to local authorities.  “Let a hundred localised flowers bloom” will be the order of the day, very much like it has been. It will be up to councils and others – notably the taskforce and the SCL – to do what they can.  It is likely that libraries will still remain under the Arts aegis (if Arts Council England survives) rather than in more politically important sectors like education.
  • Heaven knows what will happen in Scotland.  The nation already feels notably different to the rest of the UK.
  • If you’re in paid employment in a mobile library or a small library (and even in a larger one to a lesser extent – see the cull at the Library of Birmingham for example) then you’re going to be in constant doubt about your future for the next five years. One commentator has even done this amusing cartoon to suggest a possible (rather extreme but that’s the point of cartoons) future for mobiles…
Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

But, frankly, none of us really knows what will happen even in broad strokes, let alone in detail.  What I have said above is simply a continuation of what has gone before and life is rarely like that. I hope that my prognostications are proved amusing wrong in the next few years.  There remains the obvious success of public libraries (as reported today in the USA and Singapore) in other countries, where usage is increasing and – with growing inequalities between rich and poor, those online and not online – libraries are needed as never before.  There are also – sometimes competing – trends such as for the need for quiet study spaces, for out-of-school literacy and for creative workspaces that may yet give ammunition for the sector.  The only thing that we do know is that the current boss will think much the same as the old boss, but without a putatively more centrist partner, and you are best to draw your own conclusions from that.

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Ed Vaizey agrees to defend his record … if he’s around long enough

Editorial

The minister in charge of public libraries, Ed Vaizey, has agreed to debate Alan Gibbons on his record.  This follows Mr Vaizey’s claim , reported previously, that everything was fine and thriving in the sector and almost no libraries have been cut.  Alan – who as a close observer of what is happening but unaccountably has a different view on the matter – has called him out on it.  Whether the debate takes place depends on whether they both agree terms and, of course, if Mr Vaizey remains being the relevant minister after Thursday … and that depends on all of us getting out to vote, one way or another.

Legal action brought by library users over changes to their libraries has become a bit of a feature of the last five years – I look forward to Mr Vaizey explaining why this is so in such a claimed great time for the sector – but what is happening in Shropshire has its own special twist: it’s not a council-wide action but rather specifically about one library that not even be closed down but rather just moving location. How this has got to the stage of legal action in the week of the General Election is beyond me but probably is some sort of combination between strong local feeling, poor proposals, dire council need and a lack of perceived genuine willingness on behalf of the council to listen to concerns.  It promises to be an interesting one to watch.

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Alan Gibbons + Private Eye calls Ed Vaizey out on figures, the SCL … and Obama cares

Editorial

The election is near and there’s still few comments, if any, on public libraries by politicians.  The one who has said something – Ed Vaizey – has, presumably as a joke, said that there’s been no major cuts to libraries and few closures.  Well done that man for putting the best possible spin on things at least.  Alan Gibbons calls him out on his figures, using Public Libraries News statistics., as does Private Eye.  And this is the thing, Ed knows the figures are there (he declined to use them himself recently, bizarrely arguing that because they include Scottish figures, they’re outside of his remit) that show he’s being economical with the truth but he’s still doing it because he thinks not enough people care or know to do him harm. Hardly the attitude you’d want for someone in charge of public libraries and an attitude he’d have criticised all over when he was in opposition.  My reading of him so far is that Mr Vaizey was one of the best shadow library ministers  and probably one of the worst library ministers in history.

Well done, therefore, to the 14,000 public library staff who have completed the SCL E-learning programme.  There were a few technical problems with one or two of the modules but it represents a vital first stage in getting all public library staff geared up and ready to help.  Such training needs to continue.  You may well know someone who works in a public library who still is not sure how to get someone an email address.  Such lack of skills does not help the library locally, nationally, the customer or indeed the member of staff themselves.  Well done to the SCL too of course.  It shows that, although limited in scope, such an organisation can actually do things.  Let’s hope they do more … and as much as possible of it publicly and not behind closed doors, as with their recent day on “alternative delivery models” for libraries.

By the way, did you know Amazon owned Abebooks? No, me neither, but they have been for seven years.

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