A noble librarian faced with adversity triumphs

Editorial

Ferguson Library in the USA recently stayed open during pretty bad times.  More than that, it became a classroom for children whose schools were closed and a place of safety and regeneration in a community desperately in need of healing.  It’s manager, Scott Bonner, is understated when asked what he achieved but was very clearly the right person at the right time.  Have a listen to the podcast interview here and the Guardian article here for the full-on wonderfulness of it all.  So I’m really delighted about the winner of the best named prize in the library world, the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Ferguson is an example of the importance of public libraries in communities, of their vital nature if the community itself has problems and of the danger in ignoring them to save a pound or two.

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No problems with neutrality with this one? MacMillan in Glasgow

Why buy happiness when the library shares it?

Editorial

There’s been a lot of talk recently about two cases of non-council organisations taking over areas of libraries. The first, which has been rumbling around for a while, is in Bristol where two floors of the Central Library are being taken over by a Free School.  The concerns there are over loss of storage/office space for the library, a suspicion that the Free School has been given too good a deal and some doubt over the ideological motivations of the relevant councillors in the move.  The second is the taking up of considerable space in Cambridge Central Library by a private company for business offices.  This has similar themes – with extra concern over the commercialisation of the library and the speed with which the decision was made.  As well as these two, there are also mutterings about BT and Barclays providing WiFi and assistance in some branches nationally.  All of this ties in with the theme over exactly how public and neutral public libraries area.  In the end, of course, they are only as public and as neutral as the local council wishes them to be.  There’s no national rules in play.  If a council wants to set up the MacDonald’s Central Library with Tesco taking over two floors and the DVD collection sponsored by Netflix then there is nothing to stop them. It is purely the public reaction – and that of officers, too, however internal and quietly they do it – that will stop them.

The key here is  if such services are complementary or damaging to the core public library service.  This is a judgement that we see a lot with council One Stop Shops and other services in libraries and it’s part of the, I guess, risk assessment that each library needs to go through.  Something which I have no doubt is positive is another example I picked up at the Edge Conference.  This is the partnership that won the social category award – with MacMillan Cancer Support with Glasgow Libraries where the charity takes advantage of the neutral, welcoming and local space of the libraries and the library service takes advantage of the usage and – frankly – money that the other organisation brings.  Because the library service is being paid for by this, and is not losing overly much (apart from some space of course) so it looks to me like a true a win-win. Which is the essence of successful partnerships.

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£7.4m for WiFi & success in the Arts

Editorial

It’s not every Budget that public libraries get mentioned but it happened this time. Over £7 million to help ensure all libraries get wifi plus another 57 libraries to be assisted by BT and Barclays.  This is stemming from the Sieghart Review and, fair play, it’s not the first of its recommendations to be enacted, which means that this review is that rarest of things: a report which is getting some results. This will not be enough for some, who are more than aware of the deep cuts that have affected libraries, but it is something. I like somethings … they’re so much better than nothings.

I went to the rather wonderful Arts in Libraries conference in St Helen’s today. Readers of my editorials will know that I am not certain about the positioning of public libraries in the Arts sphere: literacy and education currently look to be safer spheres but what is happening there (and in Blackpool, Lancashire and Manchester amongst others) sure is impressive.  Most impressive is that St Helens ascribes a good part of it’s trend-bucking rise in usage and issues to tapping in to the success of its Arts programme.  So it’s been a good couple of days for optimism. Shame about the drip drip of cuts below really but let’s hope that tap, at least, is turned off.

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  • Libraries are “marketing channels” - that should be funded for recommending things.
  • Library of things - loaning of items people vote for, including cameras, sewing machines, board games, bike repair.
  • Use spare library space to offer to an artist as a residency - Idea from Arts in Libraries conference.

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Task Forces and Tardises

Editorial

The England Libraries Task Force has had its first meeting and it’s all positive sounding but, then again, of course it would be.  The challenge will `be in delivering. There;s certainly no shortage of senior people on the Force (hmm, Force – that sounds a bit odd) as the list published below shows so we can but hope but, for me, the whole nature of it is a little diffuse, in keeping with the desire to link libraries to multiple agendas.  We’ll see if that’s a strength or a weakness over the next year or two.

Also this edition I’ve got a guest post from Matt Finch who will familiar to many for his work and has been mentioned a few times in PLN.  He’s back in the UK now and I hope to hear of great things from him.

“Re your interesting editorial on Columbus Metropolitan Libraries – looking at Wikipedia (sorry librarians!) the annual cost of the Columbus libraries is $45m (= approx. £30m) a year. So with a population of 0.875m the cost per head cost is £34.28. The CIPFA library stats indicate that UK public library expenditure per head in 2013/14 was £13.60 (english metropolitan districts spend was similar at £13.68). Does this indicate that UK councillors undervalue public libraries? In the UK the public get no vote on specific funding for their public libraries.” Comment by librariesmatter

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The TARDIS on your streetcorner: Matt Finch on the public libraries of today and tomorrow

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New CILIP boss - A face to remember?

Be the King of one thing, don’t Jack it all in: Lessons from Columbus, Ohio

Editorial

One of the highpoints of the Edge Conference was listening to, and having a chance to talk to, Patrick Losinski, who is CEO of Columbus Metropolitan Libraries. I found what he is said very inspiring and useful but, as he himself said, the US system is different to ours (they can publicly campaign for funding for a start) so it’s more a case of working out what is common between us rather than blindly following.

Columbus is a big system – it has 22 branches, 875 staff, 874,000 users and 37,000 friends on facebook places, making it better used than any UK authority.  It’s interesting that those comparatively few branches are clearly a lot bigger than ours and more heavily used.  But a few years ago they feared that times were changing and wanted to change with them so they  did some useful research into what the public thought about what libraries were in their childhood compared to ten years from now.  The “old” public descriptions of libraries were on a theme of “quiet, research, reading and books” while the “new” ones are “community, technology, research, information and access”. They realised that print books were not as dominant as once they were (indeed,  Mr Losinski was bullish about ebooks and thinks that they are the future) but noted thatt the five largest publishers weren’t selling to libraries.  So, in a daring move that I can’t see UK libraries doing, the US libraries hired a lobbyist and effectively changed their minds.

“The “old” public descriptions of libraries were on a theme of “quiet, research, reading and books” while the “new” ones are “community, technology, research, information and access”.

However, the big learning thing for me was how Columbus spotted what, I guess, in commercial terms would be a gap in the market.  Very sadly, a large number of children in the city were behind in terms of literacy and kept on being behind throughout school  … and it was often of course kids from the same, poorer, areas.  So, the library service moved into this sector.  They have full-on programmes over the school holidays (where the difference between wealthier children – who go to Europe and get tutored – and poorer kids, who hang around on the streets, really kicks in), in the evenings and even on school buses.  Library workers go out, in teams of two, to churches, shelters and laundromats and give out a pack of books and a library card.  They aim for those with children, because people care deeply about their own children and hope for a better life for them. They go into a thousand homes in Columbus to work one on one with parents … not the kids.  Wonderfully, each Summer, they photograph pre-school children in graduation dress and the year they’ll graduate, such as “class of 2029″.  Tellingly, some parents argued with staff that they had got the graduate date wrong, because they did not realise they meant college, not high school. Their aspirations were simply not that high, but that of the library staff was.

“some parents argued with staff that they had got the graduate date wrong, because they did not realise they meant college, not high school. Their aspirations were simply not that high, but that of the library staff was.”

This is all working well,  Indeed, Columbus are currently building ten new libraries (more than probably all of the UK at the moment).  Columbus libraries aim to “own the out of school time for kids”. The new libraries are built for connections – with big windows, open spaces and  “Ready for kindergarten” centres.  The libraries aim is no longer to be just”efficient book delivery people” but rather vital for the future and society of their communities. They offer two year associate level classes being offered right in the middle of the building. When a company came calling asking to use libraries for coding, Columbus insisted that they do it in a high unemployment area. Using words like “workforce optimisation” really worked well with politicians. By the way, speaking of words and presenting information, the Columbus libraries strategic plan is a model of simplicity and I would recommend you all having a look and, frankly, crib from it.

“The libraries aim is no longer to be just  “efficient book delivery people”

For me, the whole thing was reminiscent of Australia, first in Queensland and then nationally, where libraries there “claimed the space” of adult literacy.  In Columbus, similarly, they aimed to “own the out of school time”.  Same tactic, different sector targeted due to local factors.  Tellingly the UK public library service has signally failed to do anything so simple or even, until recently, anything at all.  The Public Library Universal Information Offers, while useful, are far too diffuse and numerous for this purpose.  It’s hard, after all, to shoot multiple targets with only one arrow.  Patrick says that Columbus Libraries are “no longer in the library business, now we are in the youth of Columbus business” … and there’s always a future in youth. It is not longer being all things to all people: rather, it has decided what it wants to be I think this is the big learning point for us.  After all, UK public libraries don’t have much time to find their own speciality, rather than becoming poorer and poorer jacks of all.

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Soon to be in a library dictionary near you

Ook: Sir Terry Pratchett OBE (1948-2015)

Editorial
The death of Sir Terry Pratchett today hit me with surprising force.  My teenage years and onwards were filled with his books, with each new one a big event.  His titles combine the ability to make one laugh out loud with the shock of making you have to think as well.  You will recognise personalities and political stances, prejudices and whole historical periods in the Discworld books.  Sir Terry had a gigantically wide knowledge (both pop culture and some pretty darn academic stuff) along with a devilish skill with the pun.  But, cards on the table, of course one of the reasons I liked the Discworld books so much was the ape (don’t ever call him a monkey) librarian.  He was one of the key characters in the books despite being able to only say ook.  Genius.  This wasn’t entirely an accident: Sir Terry loved libraries and claims to have received his education in one.  See this video below.  It’s also interesting to think how important he was in the struggle to publicise dementia, something that public libraries are now thankfully taking a leading role on.  Yes, indeed, we have lost a great friend in him but we will never lose his books. Let’s try to make sure that our doors will remain open.

If you want to help them [the oppressed], build a big library or something somewhere and leave the door open.The character Rincewind in “Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett.

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A nice new library in Medway.  Good quote too

Ed Vaizey: “there appear to be no grounds on which he would intervene in libraries ”

Editorial

Ed Vaizey, to the surprise of no one, has decided not to intervene in Sheffield.  His decision includes a decision that the cuts do not go against national library policy, which again is no surprise as there does not appear to be a national library policy that anyone can discern. Here’s the view of a Sheffield campaigner:

“He’s saying that the needs assessment is at fault, but it doesn’t matter because it’s still a comprehensive and efficient service – even though the flawed needs assessment results in a patchy, uneven distribution, leaving a quarter of the city, by area, without a library. Try telling that to the 6 local primary and infant schools who bring their children to our, now voluntary and financially very vulnerable, library. He’s still referring to “national library policy” without saying what that is, and doesn’t give the criteria by which he judged the service comprehensive and efficient. He’s also saying that libraries aren’t important enough to justify the expense of an inquiry. Basically there appear to be no grounds on which he would intervene in libraries – we already knew that, but he’s really excelled himself this time.” BLAG

For library users who are, therefore unsatisfied with a final decision by the council, it appears that legal action is the only effective step one can take.  It may therefore be opportune to read the following piece by a solicitor who has fought judicial reviews and has some experience of successful legal actions against councils.

On brighter news, hey, look … not one but two new libraries have opened in the last week.  Both look lovely, although it’s interesting one has opened despite protests about losing the old library. I’ve also added a new section, “School libraries”, at the end of the post because there seems to be a lot of links between them and public libraries.  Do let me know your thoughts.

Please email any news, views or corrections to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

Legal Funding for Library Campaign Groups Fighting Closures – Solicitor Michael Imperato writes …

“There are times when you have to fight for your rights.  Libraries are under threat across the country and campaigners should not be frightened to seek legal advice.  The main concern is of course costs.  However, Legal Aid (LA) may well be available.

To obtain LA in such circumstances you need a “man of straw” i.e. someone (it can be a woman) who is on low income and has no real assets.  That person should have some link to the area in which the library is based but does not have to be a prominent campaigner themselves.  Ideally the campaigners should instruct a Lawyer who has credibility and good contacts with the Legal Aid Agency (LAA).  LA will be applied for in the name of the “man of straw” to allow the matter to be further investigated.  If LA is granted the Lawyer can undertake substantive work and, if need be, instruct a Barrister.  Win or lose the Lawyer will be paid (albeit at a low rate!) and the nominal client has the protection of the shield of LA in that he/she cannot have any costs orders enforced against them if Court Proceedings are issued but the case is ultimately lost.

The form of Legal proceedings in such cases is known as Judicial Review (JR).  Time is of the essence in a JR case so campaigning groups should line up their “man of straw” as soon as possible.  It is possible the LAA will ask the campaign group to make a contribution towards the costs but unless the library of concern is in a hugely wealthy area this should be nominal and well within the reach of most groups who do a little fundraising.

Therefore, campaigners fighting library closures should not commit themselves to paying large amounts of money on legal costs.  Instead they should explore the option of Legal Aid.  Armed with a “man of straw” and good arguments they should be able to obtain Legal Aid to take on the might of the Local Authority.”

Michael Imperato is a solicitor at Watkins & Gunn and is recognised as one of the country’s leading public law lawyers acting for individuals and campaign groups fighting service cuts. He has  advised in successful library campaigns and been involved in a number of high profile Judicial Review cases.

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Libraries on the Edge: some great ideas

Ed(ge)itorial

I’ve just had the honour and privilege of chairing a couple of sessions at the Edge library conference in Edinburgh, which is my most recent excuse for the lateness of this post.  I learnt many things there, which I will be covering in depth later issues but here’s the overview …  Patrick Losinski of Columbus Ohio seriously impressed with his tale of a library service that has effectively “claimed the space” of children when they’re out of school, gaining many millions of dollars in funding as a result.  Artefacto’s Library Wall – downloadable ebooks on a wall accessible via QR code – impressed with the passion and sheer ease with which it was done.  It was shocking that no library authority I am aware of in the UK is doing something similar. Libraries Without Borders talked about their work in refugee camps.  Seriously, all I could do was be in awe of their work. I also heard about the long-term large-scale partnership Glasgow libraries have with Macmillan Cancer Support to put their volunteers and surgeries in libraries.  The budget was in the millions.  That opened my eyes.

But what impressed me equally was the work of Edinburgh. They’re doing great things in many areas, including online and digital.  They also cleverly put on a library conference that pays for itself and they can send a lot of their staff to, meaning new ideas are part of their normal. The library service appears to have revolutionised it’s work with teenagers and I heard about some outstanding stuff reintegrating Polish migrant workers – sadly, often now unemplpyed and suffering from alcohol abuse – into the community.  They were all optimistic and open-minded.  It was a pleasure and well done to everyone.  So the next time you go to Edinburgh (and it was my first visit) make sure you go into a library as well.

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A weekend of library news

Editorial

The pre General Election frenzy is becoming apparent with more politicians than normal taking pot shots at eachother over libraries. Good to see Islington delaying cuts but sad to see that cuts, as yet unspecified, may affect Fife, home to the reportedly first ever Carnegie Library. In other news, it’s a shame to see the antisocial behaviour (familiar to many a library worker, me included) reported in Edinburgh but heartwarming to see the report from the decidedly pro-social child on Worcestershire’s The Hive.

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Cuts, ideas and appeals

Editorial

Protests about cuts in Thurrock may have assisted in reducing the impacts of the cuts there, although the small print may mean the improvements are more apparent than real.  Anouncements of cuts have come out in Hartlepool and more details on deep cuts have come out about Lambeth.

Moving away from the general depression, there’s some interesting initiatives like Raspberry Pi workshops (not a new thing but one I have not highlighted on these pages before) and also, would you believe, literary anarchists.  Finally, for something completely different, there’s an appeal to help out recording a play based in a library and for your local library card to be sent for a collection forming in Australia.

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