A wondrous thing to behold: the simple reason for public libraries everywhere

Editorial

I was asked a few questions recently about the role of public libraries: I thought I’d share with you some of my response:

The purpose of the public library has not changed since their inception. It is to provide equality of access to information. In the past, this has been almost entirely in physical forms and so building based. We are currently in the process of providing equality of access in digital forms for use anywhere.

Libraries can aid social mobility by continuing to provide equality of access to information, which is now more a key to social mobility than ever before. The ideal is for the public library to provide anyone, regardless of location, background and ability to pay, with an equal playing field with those who can afford to pay. This not only includes books and e-books but also access to e-resources and to a quiet place to study (not always available in homes) and computer/wifi access. There is also a role for libraries to give basic training to those who need it on how to access these resources.

Libraries should embrace change by remembering what their core purpose is and by publicising that to others. There is a danger that libraries can be distracted by fashion (and you’ll know it when you see it) and spend time on those better suited to concentrating on providing and being ambassadors for the core service.

Because, we can get caught up in all long and convoluted ways of expressing what libraries are for and, in doing so, get confused about what we should be doing. But, in the end, it’s simple. It’s “Providing Equality Of Access To Information”. What’s complicated,is how best to do it. But, when it’s done right, it’s a wondrous thing to behold.

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Will US Libraries be Trumped?

Editorial

I was sorry, but unsurprised, to see President Trump – a philistine politician if ever there was one – taking an axe to the US federal budget for libraries last week. US public libraries have, at least to my UK shell-shocked eyes, been experiencing something of a golden age, with usage up and exciting new initiatives being started, often copied a couple of years later by ourselves. There are hopeful signs that this can continue, as American libraries are more independent than their British counterparts (they can complain and lobby for extra funds for instance) and they also have a, gosh, lobbying group. Librarians there also appear to be more militant and vocal. We can hope that this will save them.

Change

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone.  Only authorities with 6 or more are included. :

  • Lancashire (12, +6), Plymouth (8, -2), Bath and North East Somerset (7, -2), Liverpool (7). Manchester (7, – 1: this is all positive news), Bradford (6). North Yorkshire (6). ).

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A prize for promoting reading in libraries: now there’s an idea

Editorial

I’m loving the £5k prize – just for Gloucestershire libraries, sorry everyone else – for the library which best promotes reading.  That’s got to be concentrating minds in that county, although the fact that Weakest Link judge Anne Robinson is judging entries may scare one or two off. Reader development was also exercising the minds of the Society of Chief Librarians, who have produced a useful report on what is currently happening (although there’s some fairly obvious problems with its evidence base and methodology – see if you can spot them – librarians just aren’t scientists and, to be fair, the research has been done on a shoestring) and have produced some recommendations.  Sadly, none of them include in annual prize of £5k for each library service in the country but I want it to be known that if anyone does stump up that cash, I’m willing to be a judge.  Gosh, what a great way to push motivation and share best practice.

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Good news in Liverpool and elsewhere; dubious claims in Lancashire and Bath

Editorial

Well, well, well, some good news.  Liverpool, having had their funding cut reduced by central government, have overturned their £1.6m cut to libraries. That would have really hurt. In addition, we’re looking at new libraries (albeit co-locations) in Conwy, Leeds, Renfrewshire (£5m !) and West Lothian.

There’s continued hassle in Lancashire, with lots of problems transferring ownership to others, but that’s to be expected when you cut libraries like that.  What’s not to be expected is claiming that no books will have been lost to the public in such a big cut, as a councillor did last week. That’s a ridiculous thing to say as anyone involved with closing libraries will tell you, and that’s not even taking into account a formal apology that, um, the same council had to make to Freckleton for losing all it’s special collection. Continuing the theme of councillors being economical with the truth, Bath have claimed the move of their central library to a location half the size further away from town had been agreed by the Libraries Task Force. I’ve checked with the Task Force and they confirm that’s simply not true and, indeed, they would not get involved in particular cases.  Perhaps the councillor meant the DCMS library unit.

By the way, did you know that there’s a search box on the right hand side of the PLN webpage, about a screen down?  Type the term you’re after into it and it’ll come up – type in one word (e.g. Bath) or, if you’re looking for two words,  you can search for (for example)  “local studies” by putting the quotation marks around them.  This will bring up the posts with those words in – then search that post (CTRL and F works) for that term.  That will bring up every use of that term or word on PLN.

Changes by local authority

Ideas

  • Dial-a-story – recorded storytimes for users to phone in to hear.
  • Sensory friendly hours – Dedicated opening for those with special needs or on the autistic spectrum.

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone.  Only authorities with 6 or more are included. :

  •  Plymouth (10, -1), Bath and North East Somerset (9, -2), Manchester (8,= – this is all positive news), Warrington (6, -2), Devon (6, =), Lancashire (6, =), Bradford (6).

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Combining library services

Editorial

Wow, what a lot of changes to library services today. The stand out to me is the combining of the Bournemouth and Poole library services, Such schemes have been slow to get off the ground, despite the needs of austerity, presumably due to local politicians not wanting to sign over services to others. Another two news items recount two separate community group run libraries that have been successful in gaining grants for refurbishments. Speaking of refurbishments, there’s a reassuring large amount of that going on as well. Finally, looks like GLL are in the running to run yet another library service – that of Bromley. Their expansion over the last few years is impressive and may make them the largest library operator in the country soon, depending on how you measure it.

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World Book Day, having a Bath and income generation

Editorial

Several key strands I think today:

– World Book Day. Some lovely pictures and news from around the country where libraries have been quite rightly promoting themselves to schools in connection with this day. My prize goes to Manchester, source of so much positive news recently, who provided thousands of free books to commuters. My thought for the future is that World Book Day is one which every library service should be involved – much like the Summer Reading Challenge – and it would be great to see a more national approach to this being taken rather than the atomised approaches I’m seeing from different library services.

– The mishandling of the change of location of Bath Central Library is truly the news story that keeps on giving. The council have quietly extended the “consultation” (although council workers are clear that the move, to a smaller and more remote site, is definitely going ahead – perhaps they did not get the memo?) and changed it, without telling anyone. The phrase “Having a bath” now means in my mind “hopeless library consultation”. Perhaps Warringhton Livewire have been advising them?

– The Taskforce have produced two very pro non-traditional income generation posts. One is very obvious but the one on Warwickshire starts out being on lessons learnt on their library redesigns but ends as an advertisement to use their framework for other library services for a fee [NB. my original version of this post suggested this was for consultancy, it was not – Ed.]. The taskforce have always been very much in favour of such things, and not simply as a way of mitigating the effects of budget cuts, with there being very little (or indeed no) noticeable pushback from anyone in senior library management about the problems this may have in conflicting with the public library ethos, or indeed in setting one library service in competition with another. I say this not as a dyed in the wool leftwinger – I’m not – but as someone who is aware when one side of the argument is not being given sufficient prominence (although to be fair the social media I see is very much in the opposite direction).

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Ideas

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone.  Only authorities with 6 or more are included. :

  •  Plymouth (11, -6), Bath and North East Somerset (11, -1), Manchester (8 – this is all positive news), Warrington (8, =), Walsall (6, -1), =), Bury (6), Darlington (7, +1), Devon (6, =), Kirklees (7, +1), Lancashire (6, =),

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CILIP stealth rebrands: now CILIP “the library and information association”

Editorial

Old logo of CILIP showing full name

Out with the old…

New logo with "The library and information association" as words to right

.. and in with the new

NB. Please note that this editorial has received a few edits, shown as text in square brackets, as more information from CILIP and others came in after the post was originally posted.

Without any publicity at all – no press release, no statement, nothing – CILIP have undergone a complete rebranding, with a new logo that retains the CILIP acronym but without any other indication of what CILIP actually stands for. Instead, the words “the library and information association” (in lower case) are put to the side of it. The absolute secrecy in which this was done is doubtless because of the bitter feeling (and pig’s ear) caused by the attempt a few years ago to change its name to (gosh, it’s still painful to type it) ILPUK. That abortive rebranding exercise [would have] cost £35k but we don’t know how much this new one has cost [I’ve been assured this cost a lot less than last time as this was done in-house – Ed]. The fact that CILIP have done it without any consultation, or publicity, at all is. well. a tad bit dictatorial in a democratic association and presents a worry mark for the future. [ I understand the log was sent out to member networks for discussion but that, obviously, quite a few did not see it – or I’d have known about it beforehand].

Well, that’s the “cons” bit. But the truth is, I actually quite like the new logo (apart from the neither-here-nor-there slope on the end) and if it replaces the impossible to say “Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals” (or whatever it was) then fine. So that’s good. Because if they’d done this without consultation and the rebranding had been anything like as bad as ILPUK, there’d have been hell to pay. So, Nick et al, you may have got away with it this time (but that remains to be seen at time of writing) but try something like this again, or get too complacent with the changes you make without telling anyone, and the reception may not be so soft next time. CILIP have painfully rebuilt a lot of goodwill over the last couple of years but this will have taken the shine off it a bit. Consult next time. Or at least let the information professionals have some information about it.

Here’s the official response I got from CILIP when I asked them about it (I checked the Action Plan: there’s no mention of a rebranding in it I can see):

“First impressions count and presentation matters. We can be doing and saying all the right things but if our presentation doesn’t have impact and make the best impression we won’t connect with the audiences that matter; the students deciding which career to pursue; the people in this sector who haven’t joined yet; the national and local politicians; the employers and the organisations we want to partner with. “CILIP’s 2016-2020 Action Plan sets a fresh vision and mission for CILIP and our community. It reconnects us with our Royal Charter and sets the path to create a stronger, more visible and influential organisation with a clear and independent voice to champion to interests of the information, knowledge management and library sector. We are committed to promoting and representing the sector, to do so we need the right presentation and visuals to support our evidence and messages, and create a strong impact with the right audiences.

The new brand is part of a wider programme to improve the impact of our work for the sector that stems from the Action Plan. Other parts of this programme include securing greater political influence, gaining support from famous people for libraries through our posters, running campaigns such as highlighting #Amilliondecisions that information professionals support across the healthcare sector every day, developing a more open and inclusive approach to membership and doing more to showcase the value and impact of the sector. The new brand launched on the 28 February and we are currently communicating this and rolling it out. It’s an important part of our Action Plan to create a stronger organisation that champions and represents the information, knowledge management and library sector.” CILIP

And here’s a quote from a parody account on Twitter which has come to life again over this rebranding:

And here’s what happened when I asked people on Twitter (I think you’ll need to vote yourself to see the result but as of 8.10pm it was 59% don’t care, 34% “should’ve consulted” and just 7% “did the right  thing):

Do also read Phil Bradley’s blog post below.

In other news, I understand that the news from Dudley that GLL is now taken over the service somehow as a staff mutual was a bit confusing. It turns out the press release from the council was, ahem, confusingly phrased and that there was a competitive process for running Dudley, one of which options was as a staff mutual – which lost – and one of the others was from GLL, which won. At least that’s what I’m told at the moment. If anyone else can shed some light on this (and won’t risk losing their jobs from doing so), do let me know

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Disappearing bookstock, Dudley and Devon

Editorial

The reduction in amount of books libraries have on their shelves made several national newspapers this week while, on the other hand, a local piece ascribes the success of Cheshire East in attracting borrows to its substantial book-stock.  Could be a lesson there. There’s also a question about how much stock is “officially” on the shelves but is actually lost. This is a question that haunts many library services, whether it is down to theft or to inadequate housekeeping practices or both. Meanwhile, a very interesting blog post by Leon questions several aspects of the decision by Dudley Council to pass its library service on to GLL and another news article with some more detail (some of it showing the shocking impact the cut will have on some salaries) on the loss of Saturday enhancements for staff in Devon.  Both posts are worth a read.

Changes

Media mentions heatmap

This shows longer term trends in authorities than this post alone.  Only authorities with 6 or more are included. :

  •  Plymouth (17, -7), Bath and North East Somerset (12, +2), Manchester (9 – this is all positive news), Warrington (8, +2), Walsall (7, =), Cornwall (6), Darlington (6, -1), Devon (6, new), Kirklees (6, =), Lancashire (6, =),

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Enhanced payments for weekend working and Austerity

Editorial

I was sorry to read that Libraries Unlimited in Devon, still a new organisation, is removing enhanced payments for weekend working from its staff. However, before we all say that this is another bit of evidence to show that it should only be councils that run libraries, it’s worth pointing out that many councils have done the same thing, and some of them considerably earlier. Here’s a short and doubtless very incomplete list. The press statement from Devon also points out that they haven’t closed any libraries, unlike many traditional councils (hang your head in shame, Lancashire). The truth is that, regardless of governance, library services up and down the country are all working on different ways of reducing the impact of austerity.  It’s the central government agenda of reducing funding on council services that’s at fault here … and we need to remember that that decision was decided on democratically, or at least as democratically as this country is (which, admittedly, is hardly perfect). Mind you, councils that distort the truth (like Bath who refused to accept they were doing a U-turn even while their “your library is moving” sign was still on display, nice going there) come a close second.

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A glass half full

Editorial

It’s good to see that public libraries have the highest customer satisfaction of any public service. It’s lovely also to be able to report on plans for improving libraries in several authorities. This ties in nicely with a conversation I had with a national journalist today who was clearly interested in the bad news happening in libraries and not necessarily about the good: the good is always there and not “news”. This reminds me to say that, look, good things are happening in libraries. For all the bad news about cuts that I have to include every night, I’m sure there’s a hundred stories about how great libraries are and what a positive impact they are in people’s lives – it’s just that this isn’t reported because it’s always going on. So, nationally, the glass may be half empty but it’s also half full as well. As a post on communication from the Taskforce (also below – it’s like today has a theme) indicates, the great things that libraries do need trumpeting. So grab your musical instrument of librarianship and blow.

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