Birmingham old and new

This pictures of Birmingham Central Library shows how close it is to completion.  I include them here because it’s (a) a slow news day and (b) that new building looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen.  People are not going to be able to make up their minds about whether they like it or not.  I really look forward to visiting it when it’s open to decide for myself.

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Protecting library services? A look at the new Capita report on public libraries

capitaCapita have launched a new report,  ‘Protecting Library Services’ today.  It looks into the largely technological ways that libraries can survive in a time described in its executive summary as when “they are facing the biggest set of challenges they have ever had to face in their history”.  Before I look at it though, please be aware of three caveats.  The first is that Capita is a private company so they clearly want to sell the technology.  The second is that some would argue that accepting the budget cuts to libraries is defeatist and that one should fight to the last to protect libraries rather than changing its essence.  Finally, the third, is that I was consulted when the company wrote it and, indeed, I’m quoted in it and so this cannot be an unbiased summary.

Given all this I would still argue that the report is useful in that it looks at what Capita and senior library managers believe are “the most innovative practice within this sector”. It’s worth a look, in other words, even if you don’t agree with it as it shows what the people in charge are thinking and planning. It includes shared services, online library services and social media and “examines how technology is helping libraries adapt, survive and innovate to defend front-line services in this time of change”.  The options put are simply (a) cut services or (b) innovate.

Things that stand out are:

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Southend, Cambridgeshire, Accra and Schrodinger’s Cat

The papers report in detail on the cuts in Southend and there’s a battle in Cambridgeshire between the union and the council on the effect of cuts to libraries. Further up north, Nick Clegg blames the Labour party for cuts to his local Sheffield libraries while local Labour officials imply he may be partially to blame himself. Moving to a different continent, a radical new library for Ghana is proposed via KickStarter and research shows the wonderful impact libraries have in such areas.

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the bell jar anniversary

Southend and Trafford will have more volunteers, Derby will have a new library.

Plans in Southend and Trafford will lead to more volunteers, although the latter council is at pains to say that all libraries will have at least one paid member of staff.  This will presumably have something to do with the large protests last year against turning some libraries entirely to the unpaid. Southend is aiming for a large central library, jointly inhabited with the local college and university and two “hubs” while the rest are offered to volunteers or closed.  A different approach is evident in Derby where a new local library building is opened.

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It figures? A look at the real spending on English public libraries 2007/12

There has been some debate about Ed Vaizey’s claim of £820m “investment” by local authorities into public libraries over the last year and the figure of £1 billion or more I mentioned yesterday as the high water mark a few years ago. Tim Coates has very kindly provided me with the Cipfa figures for the last five or six years that sheds some light on the matter.  First off, it’s important to say that these figures are for England only:

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“I don’t think so” – Ed Vaizey on UK public libraries

It’s tough being a Minister having to put as good as possible spin on things when there’s a crisis.  The basic first step, of course. is to deny there is a crisis at all.  This is what Ed Vaizey the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries did when he spoke at the Local Government Association Conference on 7th March.  He admitted that authorities face difficult choices, caused by a crippling budget deficit and that this meant that everyone had to “cut their cloth” accordingly but then put the best possible of glosses onto the effect of this.  This is not to say that the speech falsifies real or important improvements in the sector: Mr Vaizey was quite right that there are some and that they are very real, notably the pilot introducing library cards to all schoolchildren and the work being done partnering libraries with businesses. Rather, the speech resolutely avoided all mention of anything else and then claimed that, therefore, nothing bad was happening. The first half of the speech took this line about the Arts and then the second – more relevant to the purposes of this website – took the same line about libraries.  This must have been especially difficult for Mr Vaizey, and his audience, considering the LGA have just a few months ago said that libraries could become “almost unsustainable” due to cuts and with rises in other costs.

Let’s look at Ed’s point in detail, in the order he mentions them,  I have added in links and put in my comments in italics.

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Newcastle 10

Newcastle finally agreed on ten libraries being under threat, with the possibility of five of those being taken over by volunteers.  This is roughly the same number decided on by Liverpool.

A whole borough which is no stranger to threats is Brent, whose closed libraries have epitomised what is happening to libraries for many commentators. The figures from there show a 1% increase in issues and a 1.2% decrease in visits so far this year compared to the same period the year before.  The figures, sent to me by the Brent councillor in charge for libraries will be used as a vindication for the policy of retaining spending but on a smaller number of libraries. Those who have fought, and are still fighting, for their local libraries three years on, may hold different views.

NB. An earlier edition of this post inadvertently connected to an old article about Swindon.

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World Book Day or no

World Book Day is here and I’ll be reading stories in schools on the day.  Today (Wednesday) I did a school assembly and four class visits. On Saturday, my library will be the only place in town where children can exchange their £1 book vouchers.  The Day is a brilliant boost for the most important skill that a person can have – reading.  Such activity in libraries goes on everywhere and there will be multitudes visiting or hearing about libraries and the joy of reading on the day nationally and in one hundred more countries worldwide. That’s the plus side, now read Lucy Mangan’s article for the down side. 

More downside, too, in council decisions up and down the country.  There have been more cuts in Newport (including two libraries becoming unstaffed and the closure of its Bibliographic Services Unit) and the loss of a mobile in Nottingham.  All is not dark, though, as at the same time, a refurbished library has reopened in Nottinghamshire.  Another council starting with N – Newcastle – is deciding its budget as I write, Twitter reports on the session say it has been extended and is descending into personal insults, with at least one councillor in tears and commentators comparing the scenes to a “primary school playground”.  Unlike children, though, these councillors are deciding on closing libraries.  Liverpool have also agreed to today in Council to consult on closing ten libraries.  Library closures are becoming, these days, rather common, World Book Day or no.

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Enterprising community libraries?

The Enterprising Community Libraries event took place today (5th March) in London.  It’s aim was to look at the ways volunteers are taking over threatened libraries and how this can be developed in the future.  Senior figures such as the libraries minister Ed Vaizey, Direct of Libraries for Arts Council England Nicky Morgan and Miranda McKearney of the Reading Agency were in the room.  Certainly, from photos taken, it looks busy:

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EDGE Award 2013 - digital skills sharing project win

Going Dutch: Private company takes over 4 Dutch libraries for half the cost.

Some news from Holland surprised me today: a private company is taking over four branches for half of the current cost.  It is not known what the service level agreement is but that kind of puts the current deals in the UK in perspective.  By the way, there is no statutory provision for libraries in Holland so there have been some very heavy cuts of up to 100% (yes, 100%) in some authorities.  However, I understand, that although 80% of library services are facing cuts 2010-14, most are facing a maximum 10% cut.  So, the overall situation is four times better (yes, libraries in the UK are facing up to a 40% cut) than in the UK but individual authorities have more carte blanche to make their public libraries a lot worse, or even non-existent, than here.

Mind you, just before we think “it could be worse”, it was pointed out to me today that the standard maximum distance to a city library has being going up quickly over the last couple of years:

  • Library standards to 2008 – 95% within 1 mile; 100% within 2 miles
  • Welsh standards (and Bolton Council 2011) – 95% within 1.5 miles
  • Manchester (2013) – “most within 2 miles”

The brings home the fact, of course, that there really is nothing really “standard” any more, at least in England.  With no clear, let alone enforceable, guidelines in the UK and a government (and an opposition too) that is highly unlikely to intervene, each authority effectively has carte blanche to push the boundaries as far as they like.  Expect the first proud boast of “most perople are still within 3 miles” at any time.

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