Subsidy loss + Read On Get On

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Don’t look at the man behind the curtain

Editorial

Two more libraries – presumably because of the financial new year – have been passed on to Trusts but the main news is that the politics is heating up.  People are noticing there’s a general election coming up. The Labour Mayor of Liverpool, who has been busy cutting libraries, claims that you ain’t seen nothing if the Conservatives get into Number 10 – he says there won’t be a library left by the end of the term if they do. Leon, on the other hand, in his blog, points out that it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the Tories or Labour when it comes to libraries: the only real hope lies with the “small” parties.

There’s also an excellent piece on the grim reality behind volunteer libraries by Dawn Finch and a no less superb piece by Pedronicus pointing out that there’s a disconnect between all the shiny talk about 3D printers and the cuts actually taking place.  Someone pointed out to me while discussing this that in one consultation they were asked about 3D printers while the council was looking to cut several hundred thousand pounds: it was like being asked what type of Ferrari you wanted while not being able to afford the Mini any more.  Or being distracted by the big shiny lights while the man behind the curtain pulls the levers and steals your library.

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Erratum

My calculations about the number of libraries per head in Lincolnshire that Ed Vaizey has agreed is acceptable was in error due to not taking into account that North Lincolnshire, as well as Northeast Lincolnshire, are unitary councils.  They therefore have libraries and so their population needs taking into account.

North Lincolnshire Council has got 167,500 population so that makes a total for Lincolnshire County Council alone of 682500.  682500 divided by 15 branches equals a still eye-watering 45500 people per branch.  England has a population of 53 million, that divided by 45500 equals 1100.  There’s 2900 libraries in England so that still makes 1800 libraries that Ed Vaizey would accept are not needed under this revised figure.  It is also worth noting that Lincoln, which has a population of 94600 would only have one branch under the council’s proposals.

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2000 fewer libraries? Ed Vaizey again decides not to intervene

Editorial

Mr Vaizey has again decided not to intervene in a library service that is severely reducing it’s number of branches and budget. In his letter saying he is “minded not to intervene” in Lincoolnshire, he makes it clear that 15 static libraries, online provision and a housebound book delivery service meet the statutory requirement for provision.  It accepts that the other 30 branches can be closed or passed to volunteers but, crucially, does not include them in making its final judgement – they are therefore effectively entirely optional and the council can do with them as it pleases, electorate willing.  The county council of Lincolnshire accounts for around 850,000 people so that raises the bar to 56,000 people per branch library being an acceptable figure.  So those who think that one should have a library in anything smaller than a middle to large town should consider writing to the minister before 24th April.

It’s worth bearing in mind, by the way, that that ratio would mean the secretary of state would be happy with less than one thousand libraries in all of England: 2000 – or two-thirds – fewer than now. One of the reasons for this acceptance appears to be that housebound library services are a “replacement” for those who cannot get into a local library, which is a scary thing where someone delivering the books to an incapacitated person in their own home can be used as an excuse to close down a vital service.

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Stewart Parsons, Libraries Cool Meister

Getting it Loud

Editorial

We’re often, it seems to me, behind other countries at the moment in terms of initiatives and programmes in libraries but there’s one thing which I have been aware of for years in the UK which is way and above what I have seen elsewhere.  This is the Get It Loud in Libraries phenomenon that brings some pretty darn good music to local libraries.  I finally caught up with one of the prime movers of this, Stewart Parsons, a couple of weeks ago and we got to talking.  While chatting – it was at a libraries conference – the manager of Skelmersdale Library came up to us and told Stewart that the gig he had put on in her library the week before was the best thing that had happened in her career.  Now that shows what a great impact this programme can have, and it’s not a one-off because I see stellar feedback from Get It Loud all the time on Twitter. So, of course, I asked Stewart to write a piece for PLN and I am very pleased that he agreed.  Please find it below and, um … rock on.

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“Amplifying Libraries – Loud In Libraries Style” by Stewart Parsons of Get It Loud in Libraries

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Shropshire 22 out of 28 to be community-run + ACE research.

Editorial

So today we have the news that Shropshire appears to be going the way of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and so many others and forcing most of its libraries to be run by “community groups”.  On the same day, we have Arts Council England bring out a definitive report showing that both users and non-users of libraries would be willing to pay more on their council tax in order to maintain their services.  Indeed, they’d be willing to pay almost twice as much, and the same report shows that health and wellbeing benefits of libraries alone repay most of the costs. Well done to ACE for conducting the research which will hopefully help reduce the number of such bad news stories from library authorities in the future.

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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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Ideas

  • 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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"A little less conversation" says Nick Poole

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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