The real reasons may not be so black and white

Charities and volunteers replacing public libraries is not so black and white

Editorial

I was interested to read about a charity that is delivering books to children, fulfilling a niche vacated by closing or closed public libraries in that area. The irony of it is that the charity. if I’m reading the figure right, are doing the same job at a far higher cost than the public library was able to achieve before. This ties in with an article in LocalGov that asks if cutting public services is a false economy. Certianly, the research I’ve on the subject concentrating on public libraries seems to conclusively show it is. David McMenemy, speaking at the CILIP conference last week, said that the replacement of paid public servants by volunteers and charities may be seen as a positive plus by politicians and others regardless of the need to do so and that seems to be the case. Well, at least sometimes.

The real reasons may not be so black and white

The real reasons may not be so black and white

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Bursting bubbles: CILIP Conference week

Editorial

I took a couple of days off work in order to be able to attend and speak at the CILIP Conference. The stand-out moment for me was, and was always going to be, listening to the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. A truly inspirational librarian. Then there was the chance to hear about what else was going on in the country (you’d think I’d know all that, but there’s nothing better than hearing the people themselves), a chance to think deep thoughts (on future trends and on the nature of information), actually consider ethics for one of the few times in my life and, of course, meet a whole ton of people who I’d seen on the internet for years but never actually met. And, of course, it was great that the conference was in Manchester, which benefits from some beautiful libraries, and whose ten-year-plus long-term library strategy seems to be paying off. There were a few announcements, such as on ethics and the public library skills strategy that I will doubtless cover separately later.

Outside of the conference bubble, this was the week that Lancashire promised to bring back 14 libraries (albeit with 5 run by community groups). It was also the week that Shropshire announced a long-term plan that will cut its libraries fro a respectable 28 in 2015 to a handful in five years. The Conservative LGA chief also warned that there may be no libraries by 2020, which to me sounds like major scare-mongering and as an opening negotiation position but was still downright gob-smacking to see in print.

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In praise of the People’s Network … and conferences.

Editorial

We take public computers in libraries for granted now. There’s often rows of them and they’re normally one of the busiest places in the library. People use them for all sorts of reasons: social, buying stuff (boarding passes a speciality), job-hunting, everything. And there’s normally a member of staff nearby helping out, working out why something hasn’t printed or patiently explaining how to do something to someone who simply does not have the computer experience to know. It’s one of the key ways that public libraries go some way to helping equality of access to people who would otherwise be barred by ability to pay. So it’s good to see a free e-book launched celebrating the People’s Network, without which libraries and communities would be poorer places than they are today.

That the launch was in the same week as the CILIP Conference in Manchester is not a coincidence and do expect further announcements this week to tie in with that.  I’ll be there both days and will tweet what people say. Well, not while I’m doing my session obviously but I’ll probably share that later anyway. I always find conferences tremendously useful but then I’m in the privileged position of being a speaker at the ones I attend (or these days can blag a press pass) and therefore get in for free. It’s notable that the numbers of those going to them from public libraries is reducing in this country as councils cut back on training.

That’s a long-term false economy but not a surprising one, when one sees the reductions going on. Thoughts this week to the paid staff of the 12 libraries who are either now volunteer or soon will be. I wish the volunteers well but it is a tragedy that such an important public service as libraries is being given to amateurs.

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2nd July 2017

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the Frog Pod and is essentially an iPad kiosk for children. The concept is that children learn through play by using specially loaded Apps within the library to help them with reading, writing, maths, creativity, problem solving, coding and much more. My concept is that the pods complement the traditional book offer, and prepare children for digital skills, rather than replace it. See www.frogpod.com for more info

It’ll be here soon: Libraries Week 2017

Editorial

Libraries Week is not long away. Events often need a lead time of several months and there’s the Summer Holidays between now and October, with its’ twin threat of staff being on leave or being too busy to do anything else because of the Summer Reading Challenge, So I’m pleased to see a bit more information on the Libraries Week webpage and a chance for services to put their events on. And it’s going to take some preparation as the webpage says “To take part your library must be ready to run a week of compelling activities designed to appeal to your community and give visitors a great experience and exciting day out”. So get your thinking caps on. It will be here before you know it.

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NPO Oh Oh: £6m extra over four years. But bad news for Bury

Editorial

The existence of “National Portfolio Organisations” (NPOs) will come as surprise to many of us but they’re a big deal. Arts Council England provides £1.6 billion (yes, billion) over four years to them. This year is the first that libraries became eligible to apply and today it was announced that there were seven successful candidates. While an insignificant part (1/118th) of the total number of NPOs and an even smaller proportion of the funds (1/255th), the £6.27m given should be enough to make a significant impact. I’m hopeful this will especially be the case with the (normally cash-strapped) Society of Chief Librarians who get £2 million as a “Sector Support Organisation”. That’s £500k per year to advocate for public libraries and it should be a game changer for them and, hopefully, for marketing for public libraries generally.

It’s also great to see the Reading Agency keeping its funding (£475k per year – yes, SCL will get more than the TRA). Overall, £30m is going to non-library literature based groups. It’s interesting to see that 3 out of the 6 library services to get the funding, by the way, are non-profit trusts. This is proportionately way higher than one would expect. The bids were also not public so it’s unclear, apart from what can be gained from press releases, as yet, as to what they will mean.

However, it’s not a good day for everyone. Bury has confirmed that 10 out of 14 of its libraries will cease with only one previously under threat saved and no “extra” money found to help the library service to provide for it. There’s also reductions in staffed hours in North Somerset, although overall hours may increase as Open technology is being installed there. There is obviously a structural issue with extra Arts funding on one hand and library services not being able to keep libraries open on the other but that problem lies with central government and not with those services who have quite rightly bid for the money.

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Staff shortages in Kent

Prime Suspect

Editorial

I will shortly be speaking at the CILIP Conference on the reasons I’ve seen advanced against public libraries and my suggestions as to how counteract them. Almost all the reasons to cut libraries have not got any stronger than when I wrote this piece against them in 2011 but here is one which has – then two-fifths of people in the UK used libraries but the latest figures, just five years later, show the figure now at a third. That’s a big drop in five years and is used as a stick to beat the sector with. I’ve seen opponents such as The Institute of Economic Affairs cheerfully argue that such a trend means that the poor few remaining library users should be charged for the privilege.

However, one of the wonderful things about being in the world is that, somewhere, another country may be doing things differently. Such is the case in France which has reported no reduction in usage over the same period and, vitally, has not cuts on the scale of the UK.  In scientific experiment, such a country could be described as a control. In a murder mystery play, it would be seen more as a smoking gun. So, whereas there are doubtless other factors (such as e-books and the internet) to consider, austerity – with its big reductions in library staff, opening hours, stock and libraries themselves – creates less appetising libraries leading to less enticing offer leading to fewer people using them. Such a vicious circle is plain to see in many places. What the twin experiments of France and the UK shows is the relative strength of the factors in play. If ever the treatment of UK public libraries ever gets to be treated like a murder then the comparative trends of the two countries make it likely that Mr Austerity will be treated as a prime suspect.

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Fact-checking the Kensington closed library

Editorial

I was asked about the closing library in Kensington yesterday. You may remember the emotional interview Channel Four did with people near Grenfell, which started with a local complaining that the council had sold the library to a private school. There was a challenge about whether it was correct or not? I also noticed a claim by the council that they were building a new library. So, let’s do some fact-checking:

– Yes, the council is planning to sell a library – North Kensington Library – to a prep school, although it looks like it’s a lease rather than a straight sale. This report from last year suggests that the school (Notting Hill Prep) will be given the first year free to pay for refurbishments. It will then pay c. 365k per year to the council.

The library is described by the council as “spread over three floors making it difficult for those with mobility issues and young children to navigate. Added to this the building is poorly insulated, expensive to heat and is also listed, which makes it hard to renovate to meet modern library requirements.”. The library has been used for 125 years.

The Friends of North Kensington Library have different views. They’re concerned about the loss of the building for public use and worry about the reduction of council provision in the area. A 3000 name petition has been collected to support this. The campaign suggests the move of the library to a new site would cost £11m.

– The council wants to move the library to the site of the nearby (50 metres away) Lancaster Youth Centre. It promises larger floor space, an improved range of books, magazines and newspapers as well as e-books to borrow, excellent Wi-Fi and IT facilities, space for children’s activities, quiet study areas and meeting rooms for groups, public toilets with baby change facilities..

So it’s a bit more nuanced than the fat-cat council simply selling off a public library but there’s more going on than simply a move to a more modern building. The local community clearly feels very strongly about the move but the council clearly also thinks it is improving matters. I don’t even live in London and can’t claim to know who is right but the one thing clear about this is how much people care about public libraries, the numbers that can be mobilised (3000 in this case, to some extent or another) and how councils need to tread carefully.

If you know more about this issue and you’d like to give a view, please email me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. Thank you.

Ideas

  • Card swaps – Display with pocket for each trading card, on a take one / leave one principle.

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An attempt to sum up what public libraries do, but with some problems attached. For my presentation at CILIP Conference - http://cilipconference.org.uk/engaging-audiences/

A surprise mention at Grenfell, and ideas

Editorial

I, like so many others, have been deeply affected by the sheer tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and the issues surrounding it. One media report from Channel 4 News videoed local people about how they felt about the situation. The very first person on the video pointed out that the local libraries have been sold off.  I was not expecting public libraries to be brought into this but it shows their importance – they’re part of the community and to lose one, especially in the wealthiest borough, is seen as a measure of how much the council cares, as it is  in so many other places.

I’ve included no less than four new “ideas” in this post, which is quite a lot. I was quite taken aback by the crowdfunding the building of a library one. There’s something about public librarians that they’re always soming up with new ideas and being happy to share them. The ideas and innovations page regularly gets the most view on PLN – if you hve come up with an idea and want it included, please email me.  

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Hi John Glen, libraries should not be pigeonholed and income generation’s not the answer

Editorial

Welcome to John Glen MP, who takes over the libraries brief in a more traditional portfolio than his predecessor including arts, culture, heritage, museums and tourism. It’s always interesting to see where libraries are put as it gives an idea of where our place is seen. Arts are brilliant as is everything else on the list – but one can’t help but think libraries are the odd one out. We could fit just as easily in Education.

Also, have a look at the quote by Nick Poole on the need for more action in the sector too. And does anyone know of a library authority that makes more than 10% of its budget on income (and I don’t mean fines)?

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