“Poster child” Chester: cuts in Barnet and Walsall

Editorial

The Arts Council England chief, Sir Peter Bazalgette, visited the site of a new combined library/theatre/cinema in Chester and called it a “poster child” for showing what Arts and Culture can do to “turbo-charge” its neighbourhood.  He also points out the synergy of having all the Arts users, including library members in one place with all the cross-selling that that implies. I’ve noted interest in the project from around the world in the past.  It’s a strange one for me as it’s in my own library authority (and I don’t like reporting on that for obvious reasons) but it does look like something which could have national implications. Not least because Sir Peter holds quite a large budget and has libraries under his remit.

Major cuts in Barnet are being proposed with several options listed that could close or turn volunteer half of the branches. Two items of note on this one: the first is that the report notes that they have less volunteers than other councils and it’s time to catch up and the second is the suggestion that they rent out library car park spaces.  Both have some interesting implications. Walsall have also announced major cuts but, I guess, car parking spaces are less of a premium there.

Changes

Ideas

  • Streetlife - A social media site that encourages local communities and can provide free advertising for libraries.
  • Renting out parking space in library car parks – Barnet.

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The Library of Birmingham used as the icon of the city: on half-marathon shirt

Getting back to the future: Battle of Ideas debate + the rest of the public libraries news

Editorial

Libraries are no longer about “shush” and about telling people what to read … many librarians, myself included, care a great deal about keeping their libraries buzzing, with stock that the public wants to read as well as stock that the public should read.  And that, if we’re not careful, could cause us a great of support. My experience at the Battle of Ideas conference held at the Barbican over the weekend was that some of the key things that people value about libraries is quiet and quality bookstock and that, if we don’t have that, then they’re not so bothered about us closing because we’re not so much use to them any more.  The session lasted 90 minutes and attacked a pile of public library orthodoxies, mainly I suspect because it was not for and by public librarians.  Read my notes and thoughts on the day here.  I have heard complaints from users too much about the noise to wave away such complaints as middle class prejudices. There is a problem about noise in many of our libraries and we are failing in one our unique selling points if we ignore it.

I was surprised to see that Annie Mauger will be leaving her post as chief executive of CILIP early next year.  I know that the leadership of CILIP over the last few years has not had the easiest of rides, especially at AGMs (rebranding … Vaizey no confidence vote … governance) and I guess I could go on for a while giving a review of the “the Mauger years”.  I wont’ do so now but one key thing springs to mind: that the last five years have hopefully put CILIP on to a financial footing where they will hopefully survive … and a body like CILIP is very useful for public libraries when it comes to all sorts of things such as representation, publicity and advocacy.  But, like a library, it’s of no use if it’s not there any more.

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Going postal?

Editorial

What appears to be the first post office run by a public library has opened in Stradbroke in Suffolk.  Writtle Library in Essex already has a post office inside it but it is run separately by post office staff. Stradbroke post office, on the other hand, will have its own library staff providing the post office, as an income generation exercise, service to the community and as a way of increasing footfall … and you thought having to do badges for disabled parking was a stretch.

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Russell Brand, social justice and surveillance. Seriously.

Editorial

I’ve had various responses to the news that the Reading Agency’s annual lecture will be by Russell Brand.  The most common reaction is that he is way cool, funny and is bound to get the headlines … but there’s a strong minority (well, we are librarians) not impressed with his scandals and general demeanour.  Whatever, I think that no matter what he’s going to be good entertainment and is going to make headlines which reading surely needs.  Well done to the Reading Agency for getting him.  Now, let’s hope he isn’t so scandalous that I’ll have to eat my words.

A good piece also on social justice today. In these times where we can barely keep libraries staffed, where the majority of those librarians employed five years ago have probably left the profession and where volunteers are taking over branches, social justice is perhaps understandably not as high up the agenda as it once was.  It appears that many authorities consider it, consciously or otherwise, something that can be downplayed when the going gets tough.  We must ask ourselves if it is really the luxury that some of our (in)actions suggest it is.  There’s also the question of how aware of the issues those volunteers who are taking over libraries are.

Finally, I’ve been reading a lot about US librarians being strongly anti-surveillance and ensuring that the personal privacy of users (OK, customers.  OK, clients. Damn it, what should we call them?) is not abused by the police and others.  I wonder how many library workers are aware of the ethics of the profession. Are you? And do we ensure the police have a warrant? If you’re not sure of the situation, check out the CILIP Code of Professional Practice (D4 is the one).

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Let’s BOP until we drop

Editorial

It is good to see the success of the Books on Prescription scheme.  Public libraries sorely need national publicity campaigns and resources, as well as alliances with major partners, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the NHS. I know from direct personal experience how useful it is to be able to have the right book at hand to answer a problem from an, often ill and worried, member of the public so this is all good.  It need not stop there of course.  We need to work ever closer with the health profession to provide easy access to information (online as well as print) and staff need to be trained in how best to deal with the, often tricky, situations that this field presents.  As such, I’m looking forward to doing the Public library Universal Information Offers (shortened to the Italian sounding PLUIO) training over the next few weeks. This is going to take a while for all of the short-staffed libraries to do but, heaven knows, we don’t get enough training so it’s something to cherish.  I hope it lives up to my expectations.

Finally, the names of the councils under the “changes” sections are increasingly like old acquaintances, although it is worth pointing out that the cuts have already been announced earlier and these are merely more information.  These are councils who have already seriously cut their budgets once in the last few short years and are now doing it all over again. Havering already have 380 volunteers and so confidently expect to be able to replace the 50 (out of 94) paid staff that it will be losing.  My rule of thumb with such things is that you need between five and ten volunteers to replace one paid full timer so let’s hope there’s at least two to three hundred more people in that borough fancying working in a library. Getting them all trained on PLUIO is going to take a while too.

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That's not a shelf of print books, you know

Library Walls, Liverpool petitions, Scottish Book Week

Editorial

One of the more interesting things happening at the moment in libraryland is putting virtual bookshelves in public places.  Titles on these “bookshelves” are often accessed by QR codes and are then downloaded on to the user’s device.  Sara Wingate Grey of Artefacto caught my interest with a “Library Wall” that she helped design that is attracting attention in Haringey.  Read her post for more information.  I especially like the way that the “Wall” tweets what people has borrowed from it. Anyway, I got into contact with Sara and she answered a few of my questions.  Here they are:

That's not a shelf of print books, you know

That’s not a shelf of print books, you know

Q. Do you have the copyright free ebooks on a website somewhere to allow download?  If so, are you able to give me the address?  Is it via something like Gutenberg or GitHub instead?

A. You’re right that we’re hosting the specific Library Wall content – we got the original source texts from various PD sources we found available online (see my blogpost) and then spent time (a lot of time, it turned out) creating epub files suitable for download. We’re not intending that where we’re hosting the content be accessed except by mobile device when Library Wall is scanned at point of access, and the book downloaded as an epub file then (or bookmarked to save for later etc.) so there’s no web address to give out.

Q. Also do you have a LibraryBox or something hiding behind there too to offer the download and/or connectivity for those without smartphones?

A. No. You’re right that a LibraryBox would have enabled those with an electronic device eg. tablet, phone, laptop, to logon and grab any books we provided on that network, but this would make then make interaction with the actual physical Library Wall irrelevant and not really required, and so for this, and the reasons detailed above we did not go down this route this time.

Q. I’m also curious about where the funding is coming from.

A. Only the materials for the project were funded, and Kate and myself (working as Artefacto) and all those who collaborated with us in various degrees gave their time freely. The materials fund came from Haringey Arts (again, see blogpost for more details). We’re really happy to talk to anyone who’s interested in Library Wall, our aim for the project was just to demonstrate what it’s possible to imagine (and then go and #makeithappen!)

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Martina Cole plus readers

Donation boxes, longer mobile stops and other changes

Editorial

Norfolk have started putting donation boxes into its libraries.  While not a new phenomenon (the new Manchester Central Library has them and others), it’s strange to see them at the flagship Millennium Library, which is normally named the most used library in the UK. It’s an odd for one users too: to donate will only beget more donation boxes but not donating may mean deeper cuts. A difficult decision for the user but, doubtless, no easier for the proud Norfolk librarians.

Another library authority is involved in changes which, on the face of it at least, have less to do with budget cuts than may be assumed.  Oxfordshire is more than halving mobile library visits from 463 to 200 but this is not because they’re cutting the number of mobiles but rather that they’re making stops longer.  Anyone living with a mobile that stops for only 10 or 15 minutes each fortnight could probably see the point of this – what if your clock is 5 minutes fast? – but it’s unfortunate for those who lose their stop. It will be interesting to see what happens to mobile library usage there.

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Brent usage up; volunteers reopen and win awards; Library of Things

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An idea for free: how libraries can be a vital radar for other council services

Editorial

So here’s an idea I came up with recently that you can have for free: public libraries are often the first council service to know about an influx of a new ethnic group.  Why?  Because the first thing a newcomer does is join the library in order to use the internet … and if they don’t need other council services then they will otherwise invisibly appear (can you invisibly appear? you know what I mean) in an area and the council is none the wiser.  Even more nicely, many library services automatically collect data on what is the main language of a new joiner so you can see, almost in real time, what new minorities are coming in, into which libraries and over what time period.  This can be passed on (anonymised obviously) to the rest of the council so they get to know what’s happening and can tailor their services accordingly.  Even even more nicely, the council could then put leaflets in the relevant language by the public access computers, giving the new users a chance to engage if they need to and jolly well go around their own business otherwise.  This gives the council a chance to engage and the newcomers a chance to engage or not with everyone’s dignity still intact and the group as empowered as is possible to be. This is just one of the many ways that libraries can make themselves useful to the council and show their value to the decision-makers.  I’m sure there are tons of others.  Try to think of one today.

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Sheffield takes last step, Lincolnshire does it again … while others give hope

Editorial

Sheffield have gone through with passing many of their libraries to volunteer despite Ed Vaizey’s letter asking for them to freeze.  I’ve seen their letter back to him, by the way, explaining their actions, and although publicly they’re defiant … well, let’s just say that their offical letter to him, is more pleading.  Still, it’s in Ed’s court now.  He has the information he asked for, he knows they’ve defied him publicly (if not privately) .. so will he take further action or have his lawyers informed him he has done enough to forestall any national legal action against him for failing in his statutory duties to intervene?  I know which one I have money on.

Council leaders in Lincolnshire have responded to the judicial review that said, in part, that their consultation was, well, a little bit undercooked by launching another consultation.  They’re calling it an extension, not a forced attempt to do the job right this time.  Whatever they call it to save face, one can’t help but wonder whether it’d be nice if they spent some of the money they have as reserve in the bank (£165 million) on supporting libraries rather than on trying to cut them.

Now on to some hope. Devon are looking at volunteers raising funds for libraries and in adopting at least some elements of the model already taken by Suffolk, rather than closing libraries or replacing paid staff.  The Suffolk model is gaining more and more traction nationally, with William Sieghart publicly lauding it and loads of other library services giving it a long hard look to see if it is for them.

There’s also some good news with one new library opening and the announcement of another one to be built shortly.  And, if you’re ever short of ideas, just have a look at the US Knight News Challenge submissions for funding. At time of writing, there are over 670 ideas publicly available on their website.  So, I guess, steal away.  I won’t tell.

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