No longer just a bossy inter-lending service: The British Library in 2018

Editorial

Congratulations to LIz Jolly who becomes the chief librarian at the British Library shortly. I don’t often mention the BL, which to some extent is a worrying sign, either for me for missing it or for the BL for not doing enough. Having said that, the BL has definitely upped its game with public libraries noticeably over the last few years. Once upon a time only known in public library circles for its harsh and bossy attitude when it came to inter-lending books, the national library is now branching out into business outlets in various libraries and has recently put its toe in the water with screenings of readings in a a limited number of libraries. It’s unclear why they’re limited – the joy of digital technology is that the same thing is freely replicable an infinite number of times – but it’s better than the nothing we had before and hopefully one day they’ll cease the artificial limit, which is on offer to only a few chosen (it’s not clear how) library services. The recent Harry Potter tour is also to be welcomed as is an increasing involvement in discussions on public libraries at national level. However, to too many of us, the British Library remains a distant establishment. It’s still more a London Library With Good Intentions than something which, hand on heart, feels national to those of us in the majority who do not live in the capital. I hope Liz, who I have respect for, and others there continue and expand on the good work begun. And, perhaps, the days of prohibitive high late charges and bossy inter-lending notes will be forgotten, as will the attitude that we (mistakenly or not) assumed came with it.

Changes by local authority

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Answers on visas, Welsh libraries funding and your chance to question the new SCL Chief Exec

Editorial

I always find, as a librarian, the best way to find an answer to a question is to ask an expert. So, due to the various expressed uncertainties about the public library scheme, I emailed Isobel Hunter, the new Chief Executive of the Society of Chief Librarians. She kindly quickly answered them and the details are below. Following on form this, she has also agreed to answer more general questions, which I’m working on now. But it seems to me some of you may have questions too. So if you want me to ask any, email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. and let me know if you want it confidential or not. If there’s too many questions, I’ll try to work out questions that cover themes.

In other news, the Welsh Government has just announced funding that will help several libraries. Great to see. It’s worth pointing out that, scaled up to England’s size, that would be a very impressive £23m. Come on, Libraries Minister, make it happen.

Changes by local authorities

A short interview with Isobel Hunter, the new SCL chief executive, about the new Visa programme.

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Visa applicants and libraries

Editorial

The Society of Chief Librarians has been subcontracted by French company Sopra Steria to provide assistance for visa applicants from October 2018. The SCL press release says its for 56 library services, although other news reports, including Sopra Steria, say 56 libraries, which is quite a difference. The process seems quite involved, with the need to submit “biometric information including photos, fingerprints, and signatures and their supporting evidence at a single appointment”. My twitter feed, naturally full of library campaigners, is raising lots of questions about neutrality, training, confidentiality, work time and if library staff would be obliged to report anyone who it turned out was in the country illegally. I’m sure all of this has been thought out and so I have emailed the new Chief Exec Isobel Hunter to ask these questions and look forward to an answer. For the SCL, the reasons for taking on the contract are fairly clear – raising profile, and income, from amongst the government.  I just hope, though,  no-one from the government has looked at the SCL website recently, which is still leading on news from 2016 and promotes five (not six) Universal Offers. I hope the website will be overhauled soon with the forthcoming name change for the organisation.

Changes

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An Ode to Libraries in Finland

Editorial

That’s it, I want to work in Finland. OK, I don’t speak Finnish and can’t stand cold or dark nights but, darn it, just look at how they treat libraries over there. as important learning and education centres, with over three times more spent on libraries per head than in the UK. And that new library, the beautifully named “Ode”, looks rather nice too.

OK, deep breath, back to the UK. Well, looking on the bright side, at least most of us don’t work in Northants. The council there is asking towns and parishes to not only take over running public libraries but to pay full whack for the privilege. This includes buying the building which, in one case, the parish council gave to Northants in the first place. Unsurprisingly, some councils are complaining about this treatment and refusing to take them over. Across the border in Wales, Cardiff are implementing cuts to their libraries by co-locating services. That doesn’t sound so bad but I’ve seen what has happened to Cardiff Central where a proud and well-equipped central library has been replaced with crammed in sections between various other council services, with the added presence of suspicious security guards. Let’s hope the city approaches the other libraries differently.

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Right time, right place: StoryHouse, Chester

Volunteer libraries looking fragile, staffless concerns … and some much-needed research

Editorial

Two volunteer libraries in two weeks have announced they can’t go on due to lack of finance. This is in addition to the three in Lincolnshire that folded due to the charity that ran them closing down, and which have now temporarily been taken over by GLL. While still only small numbers, this is as many volunteer branches getting into trouble in a month as I can recall in the last five years. Indeed, the resilience of these branches has been most impressive up to now. However, as councils provide less and less support to community groups, and indeed sometimes none at all, we can expect these five no to be the last, and possibly a harbinger of things to come. After all, something for nothing is rarely a viable business strategy,

The Telegraph has written a piece critical of staffless libraries and an Observer journalist has tweeted what a “sham” they are. The conversion of UK libraries to “open” technology is picking up pace and now rivals the adoption rate of any country in the world. It remains to be seen as to if such a negative response is indicative of a genuine problem for councils or it’s similar to the initial criticism of self-service machines, now generally adopted in the country. I suspect, like self-service, it depends on why it has been adopted. If it’s to blatantly replace paid staff and to give a paper provision that is deeply inferior in practice, then may will feel the rotten eggs deserve to be thrown. If it is genuinely an extension of the service then the adoption is to be welcomes. Sadly, in many library authorities, it is too often the former.

Finally, it’s great to see some academic research come out on the impact of cuts to library services. Few studies have been done on this subject and some that have been are too obviously biased. So it is to be welcomed and, I hope, used.

Changes

The Write Time, Write Place programme of creative writing workshops for beginners in Libraries 

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Keep on making the difference

Editorial

A generally quiet few days for libraries, as befits a bank holiday Monday. I hope you all enjoyed the sunshine or did something (or several somethings) fun. Now it’s back to the world of public libraries. energised hopefully from the time off.  That should help you to keep on making the difference to the, oh so many, people who use your branches.

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Passing it all to parishes, plus staffless issues

Editorial

Two things that spark my interest today. The first is the continuing, and little publicised outside of the county, move by Cornwall to transfer numerous branches to town and parish councils. The media suggests Bude-Stratton, Redruth, Camelford, Falmouth, Launceston, St Ives, Bodmin, Camborne, St Austell and Penryn are all being transferred this way. This makes sense as lower-tier councils are not capped in the same way as top-tier ones and of course there’s co-locations happening in a few of these. Cornwall are clearly going for it big time with this option, as are a handful of others such as Swindon. I’d also expect others are quietly exploring this route.

The second is a couple of mentions of staffless/open libraries. Leicestershire are installing a lot of this in their libraries and, interestingly, one branch which is not having it is described as “missing out” in the local press. Such a description would not one suspect be shared by the Irish “Staff Our Libraries” which has uncovered evidence of widespread and repeated examples of people using the libraries without library cards. including children. It’s worth noting that there appears to be little actual problem or serious incident with this, yet, but the worry has to be that something really bad will happen in one of these branches and the council will then have to prove due care and attention was given. Something to weigh up when doing the risk assessment at least, including in Bristol where a few libraries will be going down this “extended access” route shortly.

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Labour are making a mess of public libraries

Editorial

It’s local election time in my of the country this week and libraries but will have a part to play. Some will be polling stations and many will have people coming in and asking where the local polling station is or how come they never got a polling card. In addition, libraries will be part of many local manifestos, with politicians making a big thing of keeping libraries open, albeit often with the how of reduced resources or volunteers glossed over.

The interesting thing here, as Alan Wylie notes in an article below, is how badly Labour does in such campaigns, especially when the deep cuts are largely due to the Conservative line of ever-continuing austerity. Labour should be the party for public libraries, as they are for other public services, but so often they are not. In my region, the North West, the Conservatives speak of reopening libraries that Labour closed. And they’re right, they have. They have also, in one authority, got rid of fines. Yes, the Conservatives – who have done more to destroy library budgets in 2010 than anyone else in modern history – see libraries as a vote winner.

On the other hand, Labour’s record is blemished, with dubious London councils rubbing shoulders with colleagues nationwide defending closing libraries or even supporting the Big Society solution of replacing paid staff with volunteers. Labour’s policy on libraries is thus confused and confusing, and they will not be able to make the capital out of this open goal that they should have been able to. And my take from this is that they’re just not very good at campaigning, with the larger picture meaning that we can envision the Conservatives, and the library-destroying austerity that currently goes with them, lasting for yet longer than the next term.

Have a good week folks.

Changes

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2 new mobiles in Angus, Capita/Barnet troubles, Quick Reads endangered

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“Down to a t”: the new confusing world of public libraries

Editorial

Things are getting complicated in libraryland. It used to be that councils ran libraries, kept them running – or not – and that was it. Now, all sorts of different organisations run libraries and we’ve had our first case last week of one non-council library organisation (GLL) coming in to keep open three Lincolnshire libraries that another non-council library organisation (now defunct charity “Learning Communities”) no linger could. It used to be that councils funded events or programmes, or not. Now we have a libraries mutual, York Explore, seeking to crowdfund the Summer Reading Challenge, the first such attempt at this I’ve seen. And then we have GLL – that name again – settling a strike with library workers in Bromley, without any council involvement. The reason for all this is, of course, money (or the council’s lack of it), a fact which means that it’s likely Hertfordshire will be going that way soon too. And, confusingly, for us typers, Herefordshire too. Which allows me to make the puny observation that trusts now suit some councils down to a “t”.

And then we have volunteer libraries. Read the post below from the “Community Managed Libraries Conference” to get the state of play there and draw your own conclusions, not least from the recorded speech of the libraries minister (embedded).

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