Staff meeting Gavin Extence 12.6.13

The road not taken: the French and English library systems compared

I had the opportunity to meet with French librarians last week and have a look both at the city of Lyon and its main public library.  The first thing to note is that austerity has not hit France.  Libraries there are facing small-scale cuts, sure, but more akin to the normal background level of cut that librarians and users have been familiar with in the UK for decades.  This does not mean that it’s all perfect over there: they’re notably scared for one thing about what is happening in austerity/crisis countries, of which the UK (as well as Italy, Portugal and Greece – In Portugal, by the way, it sounds like they haven’t had new books for years and are charging room hirers in books rather than in cash) are included. They are also in awe of the public support that libraries have over here – the French librarians could not see such protests happening in their country and they feel more vulnerable as a result.  This, they partly ascribe to the longer tradition of public libraries here, stretching back to the nineteenth century rather than the twentieth in continental Europe and the fact that we also appear to have had, at least until recently, a higher percentage of library usage.

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New library in Southwark, nine less in Sunderland

Changes

Ideas

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Blog posting suggests Yinnon Ezra exists. Evidence less clear on Maria Miller’s understanding of the point of libraries

Editorial

The part-time specialist advisor on libraries to the DCMS, Yinnon Ezra, has written a blog posting giving his views on the job so far.  It looks like it involves a lot of networking with different organisations and library authorities.  Yinnon sees tieing in with local and national agendas and making savings by sharing services as important, with the whole picture being described by him as “variable”.  This is not going to shock anyone but at least there is now some evidence that he is doing his job.

Meanwhile his departmental boss, Secretary of State Maria Miller, who has not said a single public word on public libraries to my knowledge during her tenancy has again stressed that Culture needs to pay for itself in apparently strict and short-term monetary terms. In terms of her contribution to libraries, Maria is failing on her own parameters but it appears that libraries are beneath her notice.  Presumably because they are unlikely, due to their shockingly unprofitable business model, to tie in with her very focused views on what Culture is about.  Which is a shame as illiteracy costs the country £81 billion per year but, it appears, not in the short term or simple easy to understand ways that she cares about.

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Accentuate the positive .. but not by eliminating the negative

As said in the previous post, it is good to see positive library stories in the news and Miranda McKearney from the Reading Agency has been in touch to point out that the Summer Reading Challenge as well as Books on Prescription have been doing their bit to boost the public awareness of the services public libraries can offer.  Her list has been included below, just after the news section.  To see the impact such as scheme can have, I am indebted to Suffolk Libraries for sending this link to me.

However, to concentrate on just the good – such as Mr Vaizey and, it seems, one or two national agencies like arguably Arts Council England do, publicly at least – is to do a disservice to what is happening in just the same way that concentrating only on the bad can do.  Over the last year or two, this blog has moved from a campaigning-the-only-news-printed-is-bad-news-agitprop-approach to more balanced coverage and I hope that this has been better for everyone who reads it.   For instance, today, we have job losses in York but we also have a new library being planned in Halifax and evidence of positive stuff happening on the ground.  To report only the job losses or only the new library would have been wrong.  Public libraries deserve more than single-sided coverage or, worse, two different sides both retailing their own line at the exclusion of the other or the reality on the ground.

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LtoR Prof Sue Bailey RCP, Dr James Kingsland, Janene Cox SCL, Neil Frude BOP Wales, Minister Ed Vaizey, Miranda McKearney TRA, Debbie Hicks TRA

Reading Well: A great national scheme that helps people, libraries … and the bottom line

Editorial

People say that libraries change lives and it is true: I have seen it myself. A person comes in worried about a problem and the library solves it for them.  Sometimes it is a book and sometimes it needs more than a book.  That person needs more assistance and sometimes libraries can be the one to give them that extra.  My own library runs a mental health reading group where people’s lives have, quite literally, been changed.  Members are more confident, talk to eachother and to us, hang out in the library and blatantly live better lives than they would have done before.  In a time where the bottom line is all, this means that these people cost less in pharmaceutical bills and in trips to the doctor.  You see, making people’s lives change is not just good per se – it saves money as well.  As such, it is that most relevant of things for a public library today – a clear financial argument for keeping them open.

Such is the thinking with the Reading Well scheme just launched. Rather than having some patients clogging up the waiting rooms and taking expensive drugs, it is better for everyone (the patient and the NHS) if they can help themselves … and with a little help from the library they can now do so.  The doctor will suggest they read a book on the subject and give them a “prescription” (a tick of a book on a list in a leaflet) which they then take to the library which will hopefully have the book (they’ve bought loads more of the suggested titles) or reserve it for them, hopefully for free.  This may not sound like much but I have had direct personal experience of people coming in to me, often with depression or other mental health issues, and – after having been given a relevant book – being notably better afterwards.  The scheme works, saves money, ties in different agencies/ministries/services, helps the patient and increases the standing of public libraries in everyone’s eyes.  What’s not to like?  Well done to all involved.

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The view from France: what did we expect?

Editorial

I am in Lyon tonight, courtesy of the Assocation des Bibliothecaires de France who I am speaking to tomorrow about the state of English public libraries.  As such, perhaps I am seeing things a bit more remotely than normal but here goes … It’s probably fair to say that the “live chat” session with Brian Ashley, who is responsible part-time for libraries for Arts Council England (ACE) was seen as a little bit of a disappointment by campaigners.  Brian was never going to say what was wanted by campaigners – he works for a national agency and admitting that things are as bad as many agree them to be would hardly be a good move for a man in his position.  What he has said, below, is that ACE will work with others to develop and share best practice.  Not exactly awe-inspiring but then a dispassionate observer would hardly be expecting it to be.  That the chat took place at all, and that Brian is brave enough to come to the Library Campaign meeting on 29th June (all invited …) is to his credit at least.

The CILIP rebranding debacle continues, with a meeting being called to discuss it by more than 100 members.  That the meeting will take place in London on a Friday has not impressed a few but this is where CILIP is based and is therefore, again, not surprising.  CILIP have amended the consultation so that members can suggest their own names.  Expect a lot of them to have the word “library” in it.  Personally, I hope that people lay off the President a bit – the unpaid Phil Bradley is becoming something of a lightning rod for criticism merely for being brave enough, at as I see it from France, to broach the subject and give his (remarkably non-partisan) view.

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New Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman will “bang the drum” for libraries

Editorial

After the pro-public library Julia Donaldson, it is great to see that the next Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman has made clear that she will be of similar vein.  In all of the articles seen (the BookSeller, Telegraph and BBC News), it is mentioned she is “likely to be a vocal children’s laureate, campaigning for libraries …” and that she will be “banging the drum” for them.  When she goes into more detail, moreover, it’s clear that she has done some research on the subject (she even knows about the 180 libraries built in South Korea two years ago) and has, one suspects, been talking to Michael Rosen about his great ideas for libraries, including giving every child a library card.  Wonderful stuff.

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vtfl teaser

Rebranding and self-promotion can work, honest …

Editorial

The CILIP rebranding survey has caused so much controversy that a number of members have requested a meeting to halt it. I don’t want to go into the rights and wrongs of this myself (but I do rather like the word “library” … even if half the current members of CILIP don’t have that word in their job title) other than to use it as a way to remind everyone of the positive nature of some rebrandings.  This is shown today in a timely article about York:  I hope the overhaul of the Voices for the Library website, launched today (Monday), is as successful.

Another article today is about the importance of self-promotion so, taking a note from its writer, I will mention to you my review of the wonderful new Liverpool Library (with loads of pictures) and a sneak preview of the presentation I’m doing at the French libraries conference on Friday about the main themes of the last few years in UK libraries. You know, it feels odd self-promoting this stuff (must be a British thing I guess) but every library and authority should be doing similarly, especially now when it is so much more important than ever before.

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DCMS in crisis? Oh no, it’s thriving.

Editorial

To the surprise of no-one, the DCMS has officially declared that it will not be intervening in Bolton (5 out of 15 libraries closed) and Isle of Wight (5 out of 11 closed).  If one wonders what the department actually does with its time, it seems you’re not alone – George Osborne rumoured to be considering abolishing the department regardless of what the completely-invisible-where-libraries-are-concerned DCMS boss Maria Miller tweets to the contrary.  Her deputy, Ed Vaizey has gone on record to say that libraries are not in crisis but are, rather, “thriving” so there does seem to be some history of denial in that department.

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Well done to Edinburgh. Not so well done to …

Well done to Edinburgh Libraries who have emailed me to say that they have fully a fifth of the shortlisted places for the Scottish Connect Awards.  This covers all council services in that nation and shows what public libraries can do.  Their tremendous success is due to some imaginative initiatives and a general can-do attitude that can be see in this document that demonstrates how they are changing lives.

Not so well done to CILIP for their rebranding consultation exercise that came as an unwelcome surprise to the admittedly not-as-large-as-it-once-was number of public librarians who are still its members.  It also appears to have come as a bit of a shock to its President as well. The suggestions for new names that it contained, none of which contain the word library. have been met with strong distaste and some incredulity. The general manner of debate on the bulletin board Lis-Pub-Libs got so heated that it was enough for its co-owner to start deleting posts.  At a time when libraries are in crisis, all this is hardly helping. I include a collection of representative and important items on the subject here for your interest and for the record.

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