Hang on, we’ve seen this before: Isle of Wight + North Yorkshire go for Round Two

Editorial

Two councils which led the wave of cuts to libraries at the start of the coalition government have both announced or confirmed a second wave of big cuts at the start of the term of the new one. The Isle of Wight passed on five of its libraries to volunteers in 2011, more than halving paid staff over the course of one year.  This time it is quoting the example of these volunteer libraries in support of transferring a further three more, although this time with a paid member of staff, computers and stock, away from council funding.  Quoting austerity, the council says that otherwise it would simply close more libraries.  Meanwhile, North Yorkshire, which closed or pass to volunteers 7 libraries in 2012 and 10 mobile libraries in 2011, have confirmed deep cuts, again quoting the volunteer libraries from the previous round as evidence to pass more to volunteers this time.  It notes the large public response against such cuts during the consultation but, other than not cutting quite as deeply as initially suggested, has essentially gone on ahead as planned.

So, will we see a re-run of 2010-15 now in 2015-20? Watch out for announcements of closures from Brent, Gloucestershire or Somerset over the next few months to see how spooky (and depressing for those involved) this is going to be.

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The importance of being careful in emails … and charging for the latest in lego

Editorial

The Support for Axminster Library campaign have gained a pile of Devon library related emails from a Freedom of Information request.  There’s a ton of them, many confusingly listed or with bits blacked out, but what there is has been combed through.  The result is that the campaign has come up with several things including the fact that Axminster Library is indeed funded below what it should be in terms of its usage and that there was a visit to the library by decision makers that was kept quiet in order to avoid campaigners being present.  This is being seen as important due to major cuts in funding, including the suggestion that Axminster may face closure if volunteers do not support it. Which is a shame because Axminster Library is pretty hot stuff – it’s busy, well-supported, has a lego club and even the only seed library I’m aware of in a UK public library – and the library campaign is understandably not happy.

To my mind, though, there’s no major scandals in the emails between the chief librarian (and current President of the Society of Chief Librarians), the relevant councillors and others.  Which is just as well for them because what there is is being used by the campaigners for all that it is worth. The major take-home lesson for all library workers from this is that all library-related staff – and councillors – need to be very careful in what they say even in internal emails.  Imagine if there was a disparaging remark about even one person in one of those discovered in Devon? It would have been easy enough for something to slip in what must be a stressful and busy time there.  So, treat every email as if it is a public one and write only what is publicly defensible.  This may sound like a bind but, frankly, professionals should be doing that anyway shouldn’t we?

In other news, my thanks to Carillion-owned Cultural Community Solutions Ltd for sending me details of the new lego activities that they are starting from the Summer in their several library services.  This includes the new and impressive (I can vouch for this as I’ve been shown the stuff myself by Lego Education) lego learning sets.  Most interestingly for those looking at income generation (and, on the other hand, those fearful of it) is that the weekly clubs will be charged for, as will lego parties, lego class visits and even lego teambuilding sessions for businesses.  That’s taking it to the next level … but in these days of deep budget cuts, perhaps it is the only way.

Finally, I’ve learnt that the public libraries debate between Ed Vaizey and Alan Gibbons is provisionally booked for 10th September.  Keep that date free. If the DCMS libraries section (hi folks, I know you read PLN regularly) would like the proper statistics for use in this debate, please email me at the address below. I’ll even tailor them for England only if you want as I know your boss Mr Vaizey has said in parliament that he refuses to use them as they mention Scotland and Wales occasionally. I’ve already sent them to Alan. While you’re here, you could also look at the international news section for how Australia is using its libraries to boost all sorts of things, including community cohesion and STEM.

Please send your news, views, government departmental requests for information, comments and corrections to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

Carillion Libraries and Lego Education

Carillion Libraries are working in partnership with LEGO Education to deliver exciting resources linked to the STEM and literacy curriculums to children developing an interactive learning environment in the library. Carillion manage library services on behalf of the local authorities in Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Hounslow. Library staff have been trained on how to use the resources and deliver sessions and session plans are included as part of the resource. The resources include computer software that helps children build models step by step adding sensors to the models which brings them to life using basic coding and robotics.

Carillion Libraries will be launching the resources with a visit from LEGO Education to each of their four boroughs in July, with some taster sessions in the summer and the offer of regular LEGO clubs using the box sets of resources and computer software on a weekly basis from September. The aim is to deliver sessions in partnership with Family Learning and with schools. The websites give further information an example is the Ealing Libraries website.

The range of resources include:

The libraries will offer free taster sessions over the Summer. From then on there will be weekly lego clubs as well as other activities not previously seen in public libraries including “Lego parties”, the hiring out of Lego sets for INSET days in schools, team building sessions for businesses and – interestingly – class visits to libraries which will include 45 minutes in the normal library and 45 minutes using the lego. It is expected that most, if not all, of the latter will be charged for, with the class visits being pitched at £100.

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  • Using lego to make money – Carillion Libraries will charge for weekly lego club, class visits including lego, lego parties and business teambuilding events.

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Quiet please, at least some of the time

Editorial

It’s been interesting watching the response on my Twitter feed to an article from a library user complaining about the noise of a tots groups upsetting the peace and quiet of the library. The general viewpoint is that such an attitude is appalling and, indeed, the writer does not give themselves any favours by the angry and undiplomatic writing style. However, in continuance perhaps with my having sympathy for chief librarians in the last post, I have some sympathy for the complainant’s position.  One of the unique selling points of libraries – along with free internet access and free loan of books – is the provision of quiet study space, something which is in short supply elsewhere.  If we completely ignore that USP then we’re going to annoy people, including some dedicated users of our service, while we delight others.  The solution I tend to pursue is, in my ever middle-of-the-road opinion, to be a bit of both. Zone the space in the library so noisy activities can be in one space and quieter activities in another.  If the library is too small for that then zone the time, so people know when there’s going to be extra noise happening. The fashion needle has swung in many libraries from “shush” to “loud and proud”, and that’s great (I love being loud myself and a buzzing library is a happy library) but sometimes I feel that we can be condescending/abusive to some of our users if we ignore their needs. And can we afford to ignore a key selling point or a significant part of our users in 2015?

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This US library made at least $400k from being sponsored by its users, including in wills

Sympathy for the devil: why even chief librarians don’t have it easy

Editorial

There is an image amongst some who care about public libraries that chief librarians are somehow selfish bureaucrats who care only for their own careers.  I regularly see and hear senior library staff being spoken of disparagingly and, as someone who sees a little of both sides, inside and outside of libraries I can both understand this viewpoint but at the same time fully understand and sympathise with the situation that senior library managers are in.  The problem, you see, is that the British electorate have voted for large cuts to public services.  They may never say that aloud but those who have voted for any of the three main political parties would understand that that came with the territory.  Those that argue that our voting system is broken and that the will of the public was somehow malformed due to the first past the post system have to bear in mind that that very same public voted against proportional representation.

So we have to live with democratically imposed reductions to budgets and it is the senior staff in each service, especially those as seen as more expendable like (sadly) libraries who have to somehow implement them. I know of, directly, two chiefs who have been privately in tears over what they have had to do.  They would not have been emotionally so affected if they were somehow callous self-seeking individuals. Don’t get me wrong, such nasty people do exist, especially those that spend their lives too much in meetings and not enough on the front line, but they are not, please to goodness, the majority and all should not be painted with the same brush of blame.

So, don’t shoot the messenger.  It’s the task of those who care for the sector to work out how best to retain and change it over the next five years being in mind that austerity is going to continue to be our travelling companion.  We need to look at ways to reduce costs, increase income and usage while at the same time maintaining the neutral welcoming free ethos of the public library. If that strikes you as a tough call then you, too, may have the beginnings of sympathy for the chief librarian.

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The best of times, the worst of times

Editorial

It’s been a very busy few days for me, with lots to think about for the future of libraries interspersed with more prosaic but no less important domestic matters. The thing that has come from it most clearly for me though is the need for a positive, open and optimistic frame of mind.  It is all too easy in UK public libraries in 2015 to get depressed or focus on the tasks immediately ahead of you and not further afield.  Sometimes, perhaps, at the moment it’s impossible to do otherwise.  But if one has the chance to look up (and one is not fearing immediately for one’s job) then, and I’m going to annoy a few people here, this is actually a most interesting time to work in the sector.  Libraries have never been in such pressure as now and so, counter-intuitively, there should be never a better time to try something new, to re-examine priorities and to (heavens above) look what the community wants and try to serve those needs.  This may even be concentrating on what libraries have traditionally been good at (study areas, expert advice and free materials are actually pretty good unique selling points) or it could be something radically differeny.  The point is that there’s a world of innovation out there and it needs to be critically examined.  We need to look atthe things we do and ensure that they’re right and we need to look at new innovations – and I’m loving the books on buses idea – and how to fund them if they stand up to scrutiny.  This is not easy, perhaps the hardest thing to do we can but, you know, we have to.  And, by doing so, we can make public libraries better than they ever have been before. Especially if we can take the decision makers with us. More on that, perhaps, in another post soon.

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So if it’s going so well over there …

Editorial

One for the things I notice scanning the library press is how different the situation is in different countries.  Reports today show libraries are booming in the US and Australia yet here they are not doing so well.  There is more than one answer to why that is the case there but not so much here. Libraries have more independence in those countries to campaign and do long-term planning for a start.  In the US, also, the divide in society is such that so many more people don’t have access to the internet or indeed space that the library is vital, especially in a country that does not appear to have Job Centres or the other paraphernalia of a caring state that we are (still) familiar with.  In Australia, adult literacy is seen as a big thing for libraries and they get funding for that.  In some places in the US like Columbus it’s educating children outside of school that is key. In the UK, none of these, not even internet access, are such big deals and thus the libraries have less leverage for the final big over-arching factor. That other big difference is, of course, money.  The other countries have cuts to be sure but nothing, apparently, in the same league as the UK.  To keep the sporting allusion going, therefore, we need that strategy quickly if we are not to get demoted yet another division.

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March photo

Strife in Fife? Library cuts go further than expected

Editorial

16 out of 51 libraries are under threat in Fife.  That’s a lot of buildings and more than I can remember seeing in danger in Scotland, a country that has avoid the cuts better than England.  Doubtless some of those branches are unsustainable in terms of usage or the state of the building (or both) but the scope of the cuts there are more than most people were expecting.  Expect a whole bunch of voluntary (probably not compulsory) redundancies.  This, while it sounds fairly civilized, and may well be welcomed by some in that library service will affect and worry even some others who accept it.  After all, most people work in libraries because they love them (see the great Guardian article on the magic of libraries for more about this) so having to leave them will be a shock and, also, a gamble, for some involved. Working in libraries for twenty or thirty years is not uncommon and voluntary redundancy can feel like being cast adrift. This cut will not disturb the sleep of the DCMS as Scotland does not come under their responsibility so it cannot be used in the debate that Alan Gibbons confirms will go ahead with Ed Vaizey.

Meanwhile. the first annual report is to be debated for Explore York, a mutual which is being seen as a possible model for libraries elsewhere in England.  I look forward to reading it.

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Legal action against the DCMS over cuts to public libraries: appeal for information

Editorial

Paul Heron from Public Interest Lawyers has been in touch with regard to gaining national information on the failure of the DCMS to properly investigate and respond to cuts to public libraries.  The full details are below. Please respond if you can help.

Judicial Review challenge of Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s failure to investigate Sheffield library closures 

What we’re doing 

Public Interest Lawyers are acting on behalf of a client who lives in Sheffield, and is supported by Broomhill Library Action Group (‘BLAG’).  We are challenging the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (‘DCMS’) and their failure to conduct an inquiry into the changes of library services in Sheffield.

We have sought permission to make an application for judicial review. This is the first step of a judicial review claim, in which we have to show that we have an arguable case against the Secretary of State. If we are granted permission (which is not guaranteed) the matter will be heard at a full hearing in the High Court.

Why? 

 As you will be aware library provision has changed dramatically across the country over recent years, with many Local Authorities making cuts to jobs and services. Some libraries have been shut and in others volunteers are expected to bridge the gaps.  The DCMS has a responsibility to oversee library provision across the country, and to ensure that Local Authorities satisfy statutory provision requirements.  We are aware of at least seven library campaigns who have asked the DCMS to hold an inquiry into the changes. Each of those requests have been refused. Indeed the Secretary of State has not conducted an inquiry since 2009 in the Wirral.

At this stage it would appear that the DCMS is either:-

  1. Not considering requests for inquiries properly or at all, or
  2. Has a ’blanket policy’ which has lead it to refusing to conduct inquiries, or
  3. It is not fulfilling the duty to superintend library provision

What can you do? 

We would like to hear from individuals or campaign groups who have contacted the DCMS, asking for them to consider an inquiry into local library services.  Did you request an inquiry but receive no response? If you received a response what did it say? This information will assist us in building up the bigger picture of the DCMS and their apparent refusal to engage in any inquiries into local library provision changes.

Please contact Emily or Paul if you think that you could help: Emily.mcfadden@publicinterestlawyers.co.uk or Paul.Heron@PublicInterestLawyers.co.uk or 0207 404 5889.

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Library stereotypes in the national media + the volunteer dilemma

Editorial

The BBC will soon be recording – in front of a live studio audience so, hey, get a ticket – a radio comedy about libraries.  Sounds good but the title of it – “Shush!” – and the description of the characters are absolutely hideous and cling to every stereotype going.  On a similar note, the stereotypes in the article on the Express on Stoke changing its bye-laws to allow people to be loud and to sleep did not surprise me.  Many journalists have problems with the fact that libraries have changed in the last fifty years.  What did surprise me was the need that Stoke has to have its bye-law change ratified by the DCMS. In this age of minimal funding combined with minimal interference, the fact a local council has to ask the minister before allowing people to speak loudly seems a bit behind the times.

In other news, figures from Warwickshire show book loans from libraries taken over by volunteers has halved.  That’s pretty bad but the council points out that without volunteers there’d be no loans there at all.  I am aware that some librarians, fearful of their jobs and the national implications, would much rather have seen the library close than be passed to the unpaid but, on the ground, that’s a far harder call to make. If I was not a librarian, I suspect I would much rather live in a community with a volunteer library than none at all. But then one has to wonder about the quality of those volunteers and their training: would I be (to the delight of the BBC and the Express) be shushed as I entered? Would I be able to contain myself if I saw something that would not be acceptable in a council library? Or would the volunteer library, full of enthusiastic people who want to be there, be better than what they replaced (and I hear in some poorly funded areas where staff were poorly managed before that this was the case)? What would be my – or your – feelings about that?

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Wales feels the pinch; SCL and ASCEL positivity

Editorial

Interesting to see how many items today are from Wales: looks like the cuts are having an impact there as much as in England now. In other news, there’s some positive stuff from the SCL and ASCEL.  That last stand for the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians and, to my shame, I had to check that up.  It’s not an organisation that has played a prominent role in public libraries news and that’s odd because there’s no more important demographic for public libraries as children.  I look forward to seeing more from them.

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