Go in poor, leave feeling rich

Editorial

The post title today comes from a wonderful summary of thoughts about libraries that have been put on Twitter.  There’s some great stuff there and I recommend a look. I have put some of the stand out quotes below as well.  Another thing that stood out for me today is an inspiring article summarising the changes that have taken place at Chattanooga’s library system.  I have put what are some of the key points below.  It shows the power of leadership and of fresh thinking that is possible in US libraries.  It may also be possible in UK libraries as well, of course, but I have not seen anything like it after reporting on the subject here for a few years.

This may be because of the different cultures of the two countries – we don’t shout about much and, far more importantly, councils appear to have libraries far more under their thumb in the UK than they appear to do in the USA.  Most importantly, though, I suspect is the incredible difference in funding.  UK libraries may have the buildings and we may have the staff but, in the current climate, they just plain don’t have the money.  At least I hope that is the reason, because otherwise we’re just plain second rate … and no librarian should accept that.  Nor, of course, should this country accept second-rate libraries but that is precisely what cuts of the current magnitude will provide.  If we’re lucky.

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If the pie is too small, the answer is to make the pie bigger

Editorial

The quote for this post is from a US librarian who argues that faced with smaller budgets, libraries are naturally going to be cut unless they find different funding streams.  The argument is most definitely not that of privatisation or outsourcing but rather of in-house entrepreneurial skill: to look for opportunities to expand libraries into activities that provide more funding.  The challenge here of course is in doing this while not alienating the core services of the library. As council services, public libraries do not have the luxury of ditching their clientele in order to try something new.

However, it’s not like we have any choice but to change. Derby has announced today that it’s likely to close libraries and other “discretionary” services.  OK, we know libraries are statutory, not discretionary, but that hardly seems to matter in this age of look-the-other-way libraries ministers.  In such an environment, it’s incumbent on all of us to look at ways of saving money and of making money.  It’s also important that each library authority looks to the future and develops an escape route (in quieter times, this would have been called a “roadmap”) to where it wants to be.  The State of Victoria’s strategy has been recommended to me by none other than Rachel Van Riel (of Opening the Book) as the best she’s seen so I recommend interested librarians (and if you’re not interested then you’re in even more danger than the rest of us)  have a look at it.  By thinking ahead, even if we can’t make the pie bigger, we can at least do our best to armour plate it.

Changes

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Playful libraries fill up with people

Editorial

The stand-outs for me today is the short video interview with Cory Doctorow and the rather great piece on “playful” libraries with lots of great pictures of libraries that understand the need for fun and utility to be combined.  This last article can be read in conjunction with a thoughtful piece on “how to fill the library with people” that will help those who can redesign their libraries or, even better, make new ones.

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National Libraries Day: there’s no excuse not to celebrate it

Editorial

The date of the next National Libraries Day has been confirmed as Saturday 8th Feburary.  It is to be the culmination of a week of celebration and events for all types of library.  Starting out less than three years ago as a spontaneous day protesting against library closures (with all credit for this going to Alan Gibbons), the event has matured at blinding speed into something which all aspects of the library sector should be able and willing to support.  So, if you have not done so already, get planning something special to help show the nation what excellent services libraries provide.

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CILIP’s suggested new name revealed, the e-lending pilot takes shape … and the rest of the news

Editorial

The pilots into different models of e-lending in English libraries have moved a step closer but the results are not expected until 2015.  This seems a very leisured approach in what is a very fast moving marketplace. On the one hand, it’s great that the money has been found to work out the best way forward.  On the other, a lot can happen in the two or more likely three years until something is actually implemented.  The last substantial physical bookseller in the UK, Waterstones, may no longer be round, for one thing.  This could lead to a monopoly (or duopoly) of online e-retailers with unprecedented power and only the public library service presenting a real alternative. So, what may seem a respectable and safe time scale to some may actually be a gamble. The results from the pilots had better be the correct ones because there may be no time for seconds before public libraries or real e-lending choice disappear for good.

Moving away from the urgent/essential into arguably more optional realms, we also have the rebranding of CILIP taking its next step with the announcement of the preferred new name for that organisation.  The reception I have seen to that name so far (on lis-pub-libs, Twitter, emails and blogs) has ranged from the grimly determined (“we cannot go against change”) to the frankly incredulous.  A summary of the facts, arguments and key statements so far is below.

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Croydon, judicial reviews, geocaching and Wikipedia

 

Editorial

Croydon has confirmed that it has outsourced its library services to John Laing for eight years. This means the company will be running 24 branches in the UK, having started in Hounslow some years ago. Croydon have not had the best of records in library provision and are touting the move as a way to improve their branches.  However, the situation is not quite as clear cut as that as my article published a couple of years ago I hope demonstrates to some extent.

It’s sad to see that the Government is making access to the judicial review process harder.  This has been the route of last resort for many communities that are unhappy with library closures/cuts and has proven remarkably successful.  From what I can gather, however, the changes may not really affect library reviews as they only bar those with no direct interest in the decision from being involved.  Being so many people use their local library services, this may not therefore be a big barrier in practice.

Finally, Public Libraries News has a new page on geocaches by or near public libraries.  If you’re not sure what geocaching is then have a look at the article here reproduced with kind permission of its owner.  In order to make the page as comprehensive as possible, do please send me (via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk) details of any caches you know about that can go on the list.

Library trends page on Wikipedia

The “Decline of library use” wikipedia page has undergone a major revamp (see the history and talk) and a retitling by Natalie Binder (Libraryowl) and is now available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_library_usage.  It’s worth a look.  However, it can do with more work done:

“I’ve made some changes to bring into house style. What it needs now are more wikilinks or explanations for specialist terms like ‘circulation transactions’, and especially content from a global perspective: it’s very much US-centric now.” Martin Poulter, Jisc Wikimedia Ambassador

Does anyone would like to add the experience in the UK to this?  Feel free to quote from Public Libraries News if so.

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Ideas

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Lincolnshire Council’s consultation gets into further hot water … and has national implications

Editorial

Lincolnshire Council appear to be producing a masterclass in how not to introduce cuts to a library service.  First, they announced a raft of closures as close as possible as they could away with to minimum provision while presenting no options other than closure or unpaid labour. Then the consultation itself appears somewhat skewed and has been called “a complete joke” by campaigners and five famous authors. Then some consultations for the libraries were arranged in places more than ten miles away from the threatened libraries themselves … and now we have the news that the “consultation” meetings themselves are little more than sessions being held on how users can volunteer in their libraries, complete with a facilitator from the University of Sheffield to help them to do it.  Why this matters is that there is a legal requirement for a genuine consultation before changes are made to a library service.  Even the supine Ed Vaizey repeatedly has mentioned the need for one as a sign that a council is complying with legislation.  Given what has been seen so far, Lincolnshire are sailing especially close to the wind in meeting it.

On the other hand, a councillor has appeared on ITV to say he can foresee the possibility of more “libraries” at the end of the process than at the beginning, due to the semi-forced use of volunteers, while saving £2 million for the Council. If the consultation stands and the cuts go through, that’s the sort of result that other councils will take notice of, much to the detriment of public libraries nationwide. Whether they get away with it or are called in for judicial review remains to be seen. It’s the sort of thing that in another era would have had the attention of the Libraries Minister but the current one, Ed Vaizey, will doubtless continue his policy of inaction, seeing how things play out on the ground and leaving it to cash-strapped locals to do what he has consistently not done himself. It’s worth noting that some CILIP members are not entirely happy with Ed for his past record on the subject and have set up a website to encourage a vote of no confidence in him at that organisation’s AGM. Of course, he may not listen to them as well but there comes a time when one has to make a stand on something … and the terminal decline of the local public library presided over by uninterested politicians seems to be as good a place as any to start.

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Ideas

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Different motivations … and zombie / lego librarians

Editorial 

There is some discontent in Birmingham as the board of trustees for the big new city Library appears packed with businessmen.  This has raised the ire of those who think it needs to be more diverse.  It comes down to different views of who is best to run a public library:  someone well-connected with money and a knowledge of business / how things work? Who can perhaps raise some money for it in these tough times? Or someone closer to the ground who understands local communities and ensures the library stays relevant to those people who need it the most?  It’s clear which way the council has voted.

The big cuts in Lincolnshire continue to make the news, with the ire now being directed against the council for choosing to hold the consultations sometimes ten miles or more from the libraries that may actually close.  The council argues this is to provide more space and that more meetings will be held if necessary.  Local users suspect darker motives.

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Idea

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The 9-foot statue of the Hulk in transit to Northlake Library.  See http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bring-the-hulk-to-the-northlake-public-library

Wednesday 24th July 2013

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Edinburgh visitors up 15%: the England/Scotland divide

Editorial

Good to see that the award-winning Edinburgh library service, well-known for its initiatives has had a 15% increase in visitors last year compared to 2010.  Doubtless the two new libraries helped but the embracing of new technology has also been a factor.  Helpful too has been the successful public protest that meant that cuts proposed in 2011/12 did not come to pass.  South of the border, such cuts largely do come to pass and so it’s far harder for library services to be as successful as their northern brethren.  The suspicion here is that library usage mirrors library funding – so cuts to the budget means less usage, which of course makes cuts to budget more likely. Just look at Lincolnshire where the cuts are being pushed through with the somewhat self-contradictory argument that libraries are (a) not strongly needed and (b) it’s expected that people will work for free to keep them open. One ticket to Edinburgh please.

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