Lincolnshire campaigning masterclass, children’s webpages and e-readers

Editorial

The coachload of Lincolnshire campaigners who visited Parliament and Downing Street have shown great ingenuity and determination in trying to save libraries.  Seven MPs, including two shadow ministers, met them in parliament – with others offering support – and a specially produced book “The Tip of the Iceberg” was presented to 10 Downing Street.  The whole thing showed a great deal of commitment and an example of best practice for any other library campaigners out there.  I’ve added it the A to Z of library campaigning tactics page.

I asked a couple of days ago about whether there were specific library webpages for children.  A few of you have got in touch with examples, with the major one being from Devon and called “The Zone”.  I’m told that “the site won an award from CILIP PPRG in 2005 but has been redeveloped since. It still proves very popular and we use it as a vehicle not only to promote services but also reward their work.”.  I especially like the “Spin” banner for highlighting parts of the site, its colour and general fun-ness.  Downsides are that it’s quite small (but, then, a whole lot bigger than a pile of authorities who don’t have anything at all) and it’s still advertising World Book Day.  Otherwise, children’s library websites tend to be of a simple listing type like Hampshire or Cambridgeshire.

So why this paucity?  Well, I think it’s a mixture of things – council IT policies saying no, it being neither the children’s librarian job or the IT specialist’s job, lack of financing, imagination or, possibly, a suspicion that children will not use the service.  Whatever the reasons, Devon shows that it can be successful so let’s hope more come to light or are created.

I recently asked another question about libraries providing e-readers.  It appears that Aberdeenshire and Suffolk are both piloting e-reader lending.  Sadly, I would say this puts the UK a comfortable two or three years behind the USA in this matter: although I hope more evidence comes to light.  Now it may be that this country has gained by being slow about this as e-readers are probably a transitional technology, with tablet PCs replacing them.  Being e-readers are now as cheap as £25, though, the risks (and, crucially, costs) of lending them out – and providing advice on how to use them – is becoming less. We’ll see if UK authorities, fighting as they are with major cuts, get a grasp on this issue or leave it to go the way of children’s library webpages.

Please send news, comments and thoughts to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Leicestershire have 36 in danger; Ceredigion; and awards.

Editorial

Every UK public library authority now has at least a webpage or two advertising its services but how many have a webpage just for what libraries provide for children? I don’t know of any.  For such a key part of the library clientele, this seems to be a bit odd … so I hope you’re all going to impress with me with tons of great examples now: please send them in (along with any news or thoughts) to me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk, thank you.

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Total annual expenditure in England, inflation adjusted as percentage of 2012 spending

Good luck to the Lincolnshire campaigners tomorrow

Editorial

The figures below are similar to the ones from yesterday but just for England.  They show the cut in overall budgets is 30% since 2009/10.  Perhaps the wonderfully determined Lincolnshire campaigners can mention that to Number Ten when they’re there tomorrow over the little matter of the council giving away 32 out of its 45 librariesPerhaps also the Culture Secretary Maria Miller may be willing to give a donation the cause as I understand she may have some extra money hanging around at the moment that is causing her some embarrassment.

Total annual expenditure in England, inflation adjusted as percentage of 2012 spending

Total annual expenditure in England, inflation adjusted as percentage of 2012 spending

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UK libraries spending reduced by up to 29% in just three years

Editorial

Tim Coates put in the comments section a few days ago the total expenditure on libraries in the UK over the last ten years.  He is, amongst other things, a key holder of library statistics, with the ones cited coming from Cipfa.  I had a play with them and came up with the following graphs that may be useful (and added them on the statistics page too).

The figures below show a drop in spending of 29% from its peak in 2009/10 if one takes in to account inflation. This is likely to be an exaggeration, however, as spending on staff salaries has been frozen (or nearly so: it was 1% last year) for the last three years and staffing represents a large percentage of overall library costs. If one ignores inflation completely, the decline from peak is more than halved at 13.8%. The true answer will likely be somewhere between the two figures.

 

2002 to 2012 raw stats

Source: Cipfa figures. Percentage calculated using Bank of England calculator at http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/calculator/flash/default.aspx

If we accept the inflation adjustments, we can see that spending is fallen by around a fifth compared to the average of the good times before. We can also see that the drop has been 10% per year since the coalition government took over, which is really quite something to think about.  If one is being optimistic and completely ignores inflation, libraries are back to same level as the decade before. Aren’t statistics fun?

2002 to 2012 percentage of 2012

Total annual expenditure inflation adjusted as percentage of 2012 spending

Well, no, they’re not.  These statistics are a tragedy, marking the sorrowful ripping apart of the false dawn of public libraries whose final glories have only just finished in the opening of Manchester Central Library (admittedly, though, some of the money could have been better spend – for example at the Library of Birmingham).  Just look at that precipitous drop, which even the non-inflation adjusted chart below is showing. Bear in mind also that some authorities, notably in England, are doing markedly worse than others.  The figures are improved by showing that of the other constituent parts of the UK. 

2002 to 2012 chart showing all

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DCMS, Powys, Northern Ireland and a whole ton of maps

Editorial

A parliamentary question by Helen Goodman has revealed that libraries will received £93 million in grant in aid from the DCMS in 2015/16.  This appears to compares to £111 million in 2012/13. Another day and another news items suggesting deep cuts in a council’s library service: this time in Powys where two-thirds of their libraries are now considered under threat.  Gone are the days when Wales was seen as being more protected than England when it came to cuts.  Over in Northern Ireland, though, well done to a nice animated feature tooting the fact all libraries there have WiFi. To round off this survey of one news item from each part of the UK, I was delighted to see that the Scottish are providing free online access to many thousands of old English and Welsh maps.  That’s going to be really useful for a whole load of people.  Thank you kindly.

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Devon shows how hard things are … and more on the Unnecessary PIN.

Editorial

The news from Devon is not good.  After a 30% cut over the last five years, the service is undergoing a further 20%+ cut in the next three years.  That would be difficult to sustain for any organisation and I do not envy them the task: the blame for such a move must primarily be borne by central government who have mandated such a huge cut in Devon’s budget and by the libraries minister who has oh so carefully made it clear that there’s no way he’s going to intervene in library cuts under any circumstances.

The service, under Ciara Eastell, the President-Elect of the Society of Chief Librarians, is looking for ideas and offers on how to cope.  The options listed are what I am getting to see as the increasingly normal ones: retrenchment into fewer big libraries, co-location with other services and an appeal for volunteers/community groups to take over the smaller ones. However, the three month consultation is looking for ideas so other options may come forward.  This is, as far as I can tell, an information seeking exercise.  Expect harsher and tougher decisions if no good answers come back.

Another thing to bear in mind in this is that Devon is widely seen as a very forward thinking library service.  It’s won awards and, soon, will have one of the first (the first?) dedicated public library Maker Space in the country. The bosses there (from what I can tell from this distance – and I know others may argue differently) are very keyed into what works.  In the US or in South Korea, they’d be doing exciting things and looking forward to an expanding situation. They’re just facing a very much darker and difficult situation here and, I suspect, are really trying to do their best.

How the cuts are written about, incidentally, could be used as the very model an academic exercise in how people with different agendas report the same story.  The council press release is the epitome of rosy-tinted wonderfulness.  It’s the sort of thing that pleases councillors and infuriates those who actually understand what’s going on, not least of which any library supporter who will see right through it into the cuts beyond. The piece by Ciara Eastell, intended for a library practitioner audience, is far more moderate and, while obviously not pessimistic, is more realistic in tone.  There’s some real hope there. Then we have the BBC which, naturally, concentrates on the headline that 28 out of 50 may close.  The truth is, I suspect, some will close but some will be taken over by volunteers and some will survive in a council-run state.  Time will tell.  Best of luck to all involved, not least of which the many staff in the affected branches who have got to be feeling very bad right now, awards or no.

On another matter, my piece expressing bewilderment at the need to require PINs as well as library cards on self-service machines for taking out books in some authorities has caused some feedback.  It seems some library authorities do, some don’t.  Those that do argue it’s for security reasons.  Those who don’t, well, haven’t noticed much difference either way. There’s been, of course, no actual research done on whether PINs do improve security. It’s just guessing. For me, I can see the need for it, perhaps (and I remain to be entirely convinced) for adult films/games and some need of security for online subscriptions in order to stop someone in France accessing a subscription bought in Manchester.

But for books? Please. The unspoken truth in library circles is that, actually, it’s really easy to steal a library book.  I’m not going to go into details here for fear people will think a bunch of criminals read Public Libraries News and will seize on it to go on an orgy of theft.  I will instead content myself with giving difficult clues for just two of the multitude of methods that every library assistant knows every library thief is aware of. Ready? Thinking caps on, folks, here it comes.  Method 1 – books have tags in.  Now this impossibly hard hint for Method 2 – libraries have windows.  If you’ve managed to solve those two riddles, congratulations. I hope you’ll join with me in thinking that PINs for books just prevent legitimate usage and do nothing to prevent theft.

No, the only reason for PINs for book stock is over caution and lack of actual research, with perhaps some group think thrown in. Please don’t see technology as an opportunity for putting in new blocks to usage, folks. We need to encourage people into our libraries, not give them reasons to be frustrated with them.

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Really? A library card AND a PIN to take out a book?

Editorial

Two things that have drawn my attention.  The first is that a library service is asking people for a PIN as well as a library card in order to issue items on self service machines.  This surprised me so much I had to check (Thanks Mick) I’d read it right because my own authority has had self-service for three years and we don’t ask for PIN and – you know what? – it simply has not been a problem. Think about why for a moment. Like in every non-self service library in the world, the library card is enough. We don’t know everyone personally.  Anyone can come in with a library card, issue an item with a member of staff and go.  Why should the self-service machines be any different? Besides, I bet if I found a card in the street I could go up to a counter in that authority’s branches and ask for “my” PIN and they’d give it to me.  Yeah, you’re going to put off one or two especially unintelligent and lazy thieves but you’re also going to put off a hundred times that number of honest people who can’t remember their number and are too shy/busy/why-should-I to ask. We should be removing barriers, not adding to them. Putting an extra step in the way ain’t going to help your usage, folks.

Secondly, some good people from Spain have sent me a summary of what is going on in public libraries in that country.  It’s very like the UK in that there are deep cuts, less staff and less bookstock.  On the other hand, it’s quite different.  There’s no mention of large scale library closures or volunteers.  Spain has also seen a 20% increase in visits whereas English libraries have seen a decline.  This mirrors an increase in foreign countries I’ve noted elsewhere, notably in the US. Why the difference in the trend? I don’t know because no-one as far as I can see has done any meaningful research on the subject.  I’m just guessing, though, that it has something to do with long-term funding shortages (notable in the buildings themselves) exacerbated by short-term sharp cuts.  Or perhaps it’s because they don’t ask for PINs.

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April Fool’s Day

Editorial

On this April Fool’s Day, we have the government still keen on preventing prisoners receiving books despite the benefits that literacy gives. We also have a council closing down a school library service thus ensuring more people will presumably, eventually, end up in prison.  Finally, we have another council which appears to want to move a town library somewhere out of town to save expense.  What an appropriate date.

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Customer service: welcome the complaints and damn well enjoy yourself

Editorial

I was surprised and delighted to win the “Customer Service of the Year” award at the local Mayor’s Oscars on Friday. This is the second time I have won the award, with the 2012 one now having to move up to make space in the downstairs toilet.   After the shock wore off, it got me thinking about what makes, in my eyes good and bad customer service and so that’s what this post is going to be about.  Now, there’s a danger that this whole editorial is going to come across as arrogant blather and if it does then move on and ignore it.  However, it’s what I’ve learnt over 20 years and they work for me so they may work for you.  As you will see, if you disagree with any of them, I would positively welcome your complaints ….

  • Never be too busy.  The main point of my job is to serve the customer.  Yes, I manage a couple of libraries but that person is standing in front of you now and needs help.  Giving him or her inferior help so you can get on with the paperwork is going to make it more likely they don’t come back. Which brings me on to..
  • Think long term. That young parent with children asking for a picture book may take up a long time but she’s going to remember that help and come back.  Her kids will too.  You could be saying no to several people’s life use of a library if you say “no” to helping them as well as you can. I notice this having worked at the same place for twenty years … schoolchildren I remember serving are now bringing in their own kids. They wouldn’t have done if I’d have been nasty to them just once.
  • Treat customers like friends and they become friends which means that pretty soon you’re not working but going to see your friends each day which means the job is fun which means you’re good at it.  But beware of not …
  • Treating everyone the same.  It’s tempting to give more time to the nice ones and ones you know, less to the others … but that person who you don’t like serving is as worthy of help as anyone else.  You can quite often make more of a difference to theirs lives too.  Also, people notice if you treat some people better than others.
  • Find ways of ending conversations.  Always be polite but if someone else is waiting then you need your own plans about how to stop the conversation as nicely as you can.  It may be fun but you’ve got work to do. Chatting 15 minutes to a friend is poor customer service to everyone else.
  • Don’t gossip about customers.  Ideally, don’t talk about them at all, off or on desk.  While often a human failing, gossip can lead to disparaging of customers and a decline in service … and if customers hear you do it, they’ll write you off (after all, if you gossip about x then you’re going to gossip about them too – you wouldn’t want that to happen in shops you went to, would you?).
  • Don’t clump.  Humans are social animals and so it’s natural for library staff to chat to eachother in quieter periods.  However, this means that they look busy to customers and also, have their backs to them.  It also means that anyone walking in will think only one thing … that the library is overstaffed. Not a good idea these days.
  • Outreach breeds publicity breeds usage. I’m an extrovert, can’t help it really.  I do pantomimes, I do public speaking, storytimes, the works. The bigger the audience the better. If you speak to 200 people for five minutes and you make an impression then that is as much as a whole day or two at the desk.  The rules are to be relevant and not to be boring.  That’s it. The rest is window dressing.
  • Self service doesn’t mean the end of customer service.  We’ve had self-service machines for two years but that award was still won.  Smile at users as they walk in – every customer should have some sort of acknowledgement.  Measure them up, see if they need help.  You’ve been doing this job for years: you know the signs. Smile and say hello to those who don’t need help, help those who do. Not a challenge.
  • Go the extra mile.  You don’t know the answer so take down details and ask others until you find the answer.  You don’t have the book so phone up a library that does and get them to put it to one side for them.  Buy in the book if it is not in stock.
  • Check check check.  You know the best way to deal with an enquiry: open questions, closed questions, answer then check to see if the answer is correct.  Then check to see if the user needs anything else.  Do that and you’re winning.
  • Complaints are welcome. I love complaints.  They tell me what we’re seen as doing wrong, for free.  Take them as a gift to improve things.  Thank the complainer.  Look into the reason for the complaint and change practice if necessary.  There’s always room for improvement.  We never have all the answers and we’re never always right.  If we think otherwise then we’re wrong.  Similarly, I deal with hundreds of enquries a month but I still remember the ones from years ago that I did not do well and hopefully have learnt from them.
  • Enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying your job, you’re doing it wrong.  Find a way to enjoy it.  Game it if necessary. People notice if you’re not enjoying things.  They even notice, would you believe it, on the phone … and my personal theory is they notice it in email too.  They’ll certainly notice it on Facebook.
  • Be your own manager. Don’t look for your manager or colleagues for praise or for how best to do things.  If they do help then great but they may be too tied up to notice. Look to yourself for how you do things and take the pride with you. You’re the one that has to live with yourself after all.
  • Be proud.  You’ve got the best job in the world, in a place you fought hard to work in, helping others.  People campaign to support you.  You provide a valuable service that people rely on.  So be proud of it and others will be proud of you.

Some of these of course rely on there being sufficient staff and resources but not all.  Anything which I have missed? Anything you disagree with?  I’d welcome your comments.

Please send any comments, thoughts, news or anything else to me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. I’d love (and enjoy) hearing from you.

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Thanks for reading: a couple of offers, queries and the news

Editorial

I’ve had a professional award-winning photographer contact me – he wants to take pictures of public library users for an exhibition.  He’s also interested in photographing campaigners. Initially, he’s most interested in Northwest England but may go national.  Let me know if you think you could help him out.

In addition, I’ve had a member of the public contact me who is concerned about her local town centre library being moved out of town to a place with no public transport.  She wants to know the following:

  • should there be a public consultation?
  • are there any studies/research that shows the impact of when a library is in the heart of the community?
  • are there any studies that show the impact when they are located out of town?

If you are interested or can help in either case, please contact me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.  I am also of course interested in any news stories, comments or thoughts you may have on public libraries.  Thanks for reading.

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