Northants Council faces the wrath of librarians

Editorial

Good to see a new library being built and a refurbishment going on. It’s also good to see David Byrne (of Talking Heads) seriously bigging up libraries. And then we have the continued fiasco of Northamptonshire Council which has managed to get Conservative MPs openly speaking against it and Conservative councillors shouting that the other should resign on Twitter. Set against that, the official complaint put in by CILIP is probably the icing on the cake. You can imagine the realisation on the councillor faces how bad the situation is when they discovered even the librarians were protesting.

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The librarian in winter

Editorial – It’s the library users without gloves I worry about

The Guardian asked me to write a piece on my experience of working in public libraries in winter. Many thanks to those of you who have tweeted and shared it. I include it below for those others of you who may be interested. I wrote it from the heart.

“There are a lot more homeless people using libraries these days. They will come in and stay in for hours and hours. Those who are dressed warmly are doing comparatively OK, but I wonder what those without gloves will do after the library closes. I hope they have a homeless shelter or somewhere else warm. We do what we can to help – sometimes we’ll phone the council hotline to try and find somewhere for them to stay. Many are so grateful when something is arranged.

The great thing about libraries is that everyone can sit down and be part of our community. The homeless people that visit us will see families, the young and old and, hopefully, feel part of normal human life. That’s just as important as the books and computers we offer.

Inside my library, there are also a lot of people you’d probably think of as quite well-off: such as retired types in tweed jackets. We see more of them in cold snaps, because they often live in quite big houses that cost a fortune to keep warm. There’s no social stigma about reading a book or a newspaper in the library. The thing about public libraries is they’re warm and open to all without any barriers. There will be no funny looks from the staff. You don’t have to buy a cappuccino to hang out all day and no one asks you why you’re there. My library does not even ask for ID if you want a library card to go on a computer.

We have groups of old men who wait for the library to open, even in the snow, and are there almost all day. They’ve formed a sort of social club by themselves and I am glad they’ve found each other.

In my experience, people who work in libraries love talking to people. I certainly do. I enjoy helping people, hearing their life stories on the way, and seeing what they really need, rather than simply what they have asked for. A good librarian is an extrovert and we use that to talk and to help. I’ve had people come in for a book and leave with computer course details, or signed up for an event. They’ll often know the names of my children, and me theirs.

Come the evenings, we see the teenagers. Sadly, many have been turfed out of their homes by parents who don’t appear to care what their child is doing, even in the cold. You can tell it’s freezing when they don’t cause a fuss, just simply sit down and talk among themselves. We also get kids using the library for quiet study. That’s a rare thing in some homes. I like to think we’ve helped quite a few get to college or university. Libraries are a place of warmth in the community throughout the year, but that becomes quite literal during the winter. The idea of libraries no longer being here? That gives me the shivers.”

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Northants imploding plus the first ever SCL Chief Exec

Editorial

There are some similarities between the collapse of Carillion and what we’re seeing in Northamptonshire. Both darlings of the Right and pro-outsourcing, it turns out that they were both houses of cards, with shiny exteriors but rotten inside. The big payoffs of their bosses as they collapsed are exactly opposite to the shabby way they treated front-line employees. Northants hasn’t quite collapsed yet but unless they get a big handout to avoid government embarrassment it looks like it will soon. Lashing out in any way it can to cut spending, Northants has given just six months for 21 libraries to find a way for paying for themselves or close. They’ve also reduced opening hours of some libraries to just one day per week. It’s good to see CILIP kicking a stink up about this one and it’s the first real challenge for the new libraries minister, whose constituency is in the same county. However, Northants is a Conservative authority so don’t expect him to be too critical.

The first chief executive of the Society of Chief Librarians has just been announced – and, no, she’s not a librarian. She’s an archivist who has worked for the National Gallery then the MLA then ACE and then the National Archives. The SCL description ermphasises she worked to “address resilience, digital capacity and impact in the sector. Within the first year she secured nearly £1m external funding for the plan”. Well, resilience and funding are certainly things libraries need. So, welcome Isobel. Looking forward to seeing you get to work.

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Conservative Woman questions CILIP diversity … and why this may be a good thing

Editorial

I was interested to see Conservative Woman attack the CILIP Carnegie Awards for bearing in mind diversity. OK, be shocked if you like but I see that as a good thing for a couple of reasons. One is that the decision needs to be defended and explained and one imagines CILIP will do so and, hopefully, change a few minds in the process. Also, it at least raises the issues. And, hey, libraries are being noticed by Conservatives. But the main reason I like it is that the fairly reasoned tone of the article was a pleasure to read compared to see some of the stuff I read from the USA. We may not be proud of the UK overly but, my gosh, we’re a lot more tolerant than some across the pond. I see this regularly with US articles frequently attacking such things as, horror, libraries having books in Islam, Harry Potter and LGBT books or even transvestite storytimes. Seriously, some try to ban books over there for not being intolerant. And they don’t go in for reasoned debate either. They just go straight for “it’s evil” or “satanic” or “witchcraft”. You can’t argue with someone who’s screaming. And don’t get me started on their gun laws, which means openly carrying a handgun in a children’s library is apparently an inalienable right and questioning it would perhaps lead to tweeted death threats if I was in the US.

There’s no reasoned way to argue with any of that, which is why their political system, and their nation, appears to be so broken. At least, over here, for now, at least on such a thing as a children’s book, there can be differences of opinion. And libraries should always encourage that and allow for information and different views so people can make up their own minds. And, perhaps, change them on occasion.

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Aberdeenshire waste £370k while trying to save money.

Editorial

Some more good news today as new library opens in Meopham. In other news, we have Aberdeenshire spending £370k before deciding moving libraries/leisure centres into a separate trust would not save money and abandoning the idea. That’s an impressive amount of money to waste on saving money. At the other end of the country, Cornwall continue their plans of shifting library expenditure on to more local councils in Redruth. Effectively, the town council agrees to pay for the service but it remains in many ways still part of the county scheme. This model has to be very tempting for library providing councils – but perhaps not as desirable for the town councils who presumably have to raise their taxes to pay for it. Still, it’s a clever way of getting around tax caps on higher tier authorities. Finally, and I know I’m banging on about this but I like it, another library service (this time a big US city) considers getting rid of fines. Oh go on. Go on. Go on. Go on.

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Portsmouth goes fine-free, a couple of new libraries … and Surrey ends newspapers

Editorial

Well, well, well. To be honest, I was watching the trend in other countries towards removing library fines and thinking that it would never happen here due to austerity … and. well, it’s happening. Portsmouth has joined four others in the UK (it’s the third in England) and announced it the move. Gosh. It’s a good news story for them and I hope others take it up as well. I’m also loving seeing stories about the new Colliers Wood Library and the official opening of Oxford Central (did you ever get the lift fixed?). But, hey, before we get too upbeat, let’s walk over to Surrey where there’s now no newspapers other than the “I”, their online provision and what the public feel like donating. Well, at least it means no taxpayers money there is going to the Mail.

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Throwing tables and spitting in the face: the lesser known side of libraries

Editorial

There are many  libraries, perhaps, that have no problems with antisocial behaviour. Where the worst that can happy is a child shouting “bogies” as they leave. Where the public tuts if someone swears loudly and then things go back to normal. Then there are the others: the ones with  drug users or alcoholics regularly using the place, where people have been known to throw chairs, and not just at empty space. Where groups go in to fight eachother. Where disgusting things are found on the carpet. Those are public libraries as well, and often serving quite as important purpose as all the others. The staff in these buildings need to learn strategies to deal with the behaviour they face: they learn not to shout, but to lower voices. They understand the importance of always going through with a threat if made. Some have learnt that a confrontation is only one where there are two sides: that acting bored or discussing their holidays with the troublemaker can be far more effective than threatening the police. But, sometimes, enough is enough. The police need calling and hopefully things get sorted. Sometimes even that does not work and, well, then it’s hard. This is not a well-known side to libraries, at least in the popular media, but it’s there. And, if you’re reading this and recognising your workplace as similar then I salute you.

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If variety is the spice of libraries …

Editorial

It’s interesting to see how widely charges and fines vary between library services. Last week, we saw that fines range from nothing to 50p per day per item. This time, there’s a news story about Cambridgeshire libraries introducing charges for computer use and author events. Such things are standard practice in many library services but apparently novel there. “Premier membership” is an idea that has been tried before, with uncertain success as far as I can tell. The most unusual thing I can see on the list is charging for storytimes which is unusual (but not unique – hello Milton Keynes).. And this is the thing, there’s so much variety in libraries  that the odds that the novel idea has probably been done elsewhere, sometimes surprising even a deep library nerd like me.

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Love Libraries, Love Reading

Editorial

It’s Valentines Day time and love is in the air. Included below is a short interview with Shirley Everall who was given the award a while ago for promoting Romances. It’s a section that gets some attention this time of year but remember, Romance is a section for all the year around, not just for Valentines.

I’d give to signal some love too to the libraries of the increasingly inappropriately named Reading Council, who are facing further cuts this year on top to previous ones. I know from emails received how hurt the staff are there and how they can see the service is being hollowed out, libraries kept open or no. The council makes no bones about placing the blame squarely on central government.  Mind you, a quick search shows the same council paid out over £4m in equal pay claims , with a provision of over £11m for it, plus £1.5m in legal fees battling the decision and, in addition, has recently paid £20 million on a big office block (the finances on this are really murky) so there’s perhaps a bit of blame for them too.

Finally, and I dread saying this, after the previous piece, but it needs saying, that, look, bad news gets the headlines. This is especially so on PLN as it’s a news compiler of media stories which are already biased towards bad news. “Libraries does well” does not get reported in the press so much but there’s still a lot of those around. I see some great examples of successful library services out there. The sad thing is that the recurring bad news more than camouflages this. But there is good news there, great librarians like Shirley Everall and, also reported on today, Dionne Hood, continue to do brilliant stuff. And my it looks fun. So I think we should remember that too. So my love to those suffering like Reading (and, yes, Northamptonshire, and Somerset and … look, I’m trying OK?) but also to those libraries still able to do the good stuff. The picture needs to include both.

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Unsettling: a new Chief Exec for the Libraries Taskforce

Editorial

Kathy Settle has left the Taskforce. In the process, I believe, meaning the team is cut down to just four to cope with what ‘s needed, including a new libraries minister. During her time, the Taskforce has done a ton of meetings, seminars and tried – without any formal powers – to pull together an idea of what is needed for libraries and to try to start getting it done. And quite a lot needs to. Some of those things – notably around trusts and volunteer libraries – has not met with universal acclaim but in such a controversial and heated sphere as this, that’s hardly surprising, especially when one considers that the Taskforce is basically Civil Service, with all that implies. With a revitalised CILIP and an expanded soon-to-be-charity SCL this year, the question will be which, or if, of these tasks moves out of the realm of the Taskforce on to others. It’s also been good to see the ACE chief showing an interest. The decision not to appoint a replacement but to have her role added to another within the Taskforce shows that expansion may not be in the works. What else is in the works remains a topic of interest.

The decision to remove all fines in Trafford has had a wide press, breaking out into the national media, and has raised much conversation online. I’m aware that there are strong factors why libraries still charge (not least finance departments who insist they do) but it looks like the time is coming for change. I’ve written a separate post, which I’m going to admit to being very proud of, called So you’re dependent on fines: The seven step plan to removing your addiction  which I naturally recommend you read. I’ve tried to keep it fun and thought-provoking. and it’s quite short too

Happy to discuss more, on anything, either through the comments or at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

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