What, you still here?

Editorial

CILIP have called for ministers to clarify their position on volunteer libraries after the official government site gov.uk released seemingly glowing guidance on how to run one. Indeed, typing in “community library” into gov.uk is a sobering experience to anyone who believes that branch library work should be a proper paid job, with the top three hits being (1) how to create a volunteer library (2) Communities Minister Dan Foster giving his backing to volunteer libraries and (3) principles for volunteer libraries.  As the cuts bite, there is an observable steady move in Government to be more and more in favour of the unpaid running libraries as an alternative to cash-strapped councils. There are also suggestions from various quarters (in the Daily Mail every day, the recent BBC opinion survey and in the Times for two) that the public are not noticing a decline in council services or, if they are, are not attaching it to cuts in funding but rather to council inefficiencies.  This all strengthens the Government position, explicit or not, that councils are wasting large amounts of money and that cuts are forcing alternative or more efficient ways of delivering services.  Volunteers, in this model, are not just a last resort .,. they’re efficient and cost-effective too.

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Would Carnegie want to “save the libraries” if he was alive today?

Editorial

Speeches on public libraries can be wonderful things that affirm one’s own beliefs and re-energises one to battle on further for the cause.  Neil Gaiman’s speech earlier this week was one of those.  Another type of speech, perhaps no less important, is one that challenges traditional views, and either helps change them for the better or forces one to come up with arguments that shoot it down.  This second sort of speech was made by Helen Milner who dared to say, in a Carnegic UK sponsored event, that if Carnegie was alive today he would not be interested in “saving libraries”.  She suggests that emphasising online connections, community centres and friendly skilled assistance (amongst other things) should be paid for instead.  Hmm, that sounds a lot like a modern library to me, albeit without the, ahem, books being mentioned in this new model.  Indeed, Janene Cox (current boss of the Society of Chief Librarians and something senior in Staffordshire got in touch with me to say that “the power of reading for pleasure and how that develops literacy is missing from this”.  Libraries play a vital role in reading for pleasure which boosts literacy which improves … well, just plain everything.  Including tech’d up community centres.

In other news, an ACE-funded economist has released a report on English libraries and notes how effiicient they are.  Less welcome for some, though, is another conclusion that “management and external factors” often hurts efficiency.  Also announced today, the Society of Chief Librarians has arranged a deal for cheaper online resources, with a possible £6 million being saved nationally. That’s a lot of money, although some are questioning the amount and whether smaller bodies could have negotiated just as well. Certainly, in the current climate, tough negotiation skills are becoming more and more important for every library service.

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Gov.uk promotes volunteer libraries; Welsh cuts; Scottish intervention; Dolan on OECD

Editorial

I chatted to a group of Welsh librarians a year ago who were looking in horror at what was happening in England and were worried that it was only a matter of time before it was going to happen to them. Sadly, it looks like that time is coming fast, with Rhondda Cynon Taff announcing that 14 out of 26 of its libraries are under threat,  Austerity in Scotland had also seemed to arrive with the recent announcement of major library cuts in Moray.  However, in a move which hopefully will help shame her passive-at-best English counterparts, the Scottish Culture Secretary looks set to intervene. Now compare that approach with the current English Government which has set up a webpage on Gov.uk called “Create a Community Library” with the following lines “Contact your local library authority to see if you can get involved. If you want to take over a library building, or if you want to run the library service, the ‘My Community Rights’ programme has advice and practical help, including details of funding.”

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Neil Gaiman “”We have an obligation to tell our politicians the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens.””

Editorial

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Reading Agency is the strongest force for boosting public libraries in the UK. Their national promotions, most notably the Summer Reading Challenge and the Six Book Challenge (but also other things like its work for reading groups), allow the multitude (in some ways, atomised) of library authorities to take advantage of national promotion and materials.  The agency networks amongst the very highest in the land, including an event held this year in 11 Downing Street and is highly regarded by – as far as I can tell – pretty much everyone.

I gain the impression that the Agency views the deep cuts in libraries budgets as a spur to new action rather than a barrier. One of these new initiatives, launched last year with Jeanette Winterson, is the annual Reading Agency lecture. The aim of these are to provide “a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries as we explore how to create a reading culture in a radically changed 21st century landscape.”.  This year, one of my personal heroes, Neil Gaiman spoke and gave it both barrels in his defence of reading and of libraries.  Details of his speech are below.  If you work in a library, print off his remarks and re-read them when you’re feeling low or, even better, act on them when you can.  If you don’t work in a library, spread the message and influence those who you can.  If you see a politician, tell them, again and again, until it sinks in.

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“Feral child raised by librarians” Neil Gaiman to speak on libraries

Editorial

There will be elections for the important CILIP Council positions this year as more candidates have stood than places.  These voluntary posts are vital for the direction of the organisation which provides essential official representation for the public library profession in the media and other places.  Councillors are also the guides behind initiatives, which can be good or (and the unpopular renaming process springs to mind here) bad.  The aggro that these CILIP volunteers can receive is perhaps one reason that no-one has stood to become Vice-President (and this President next year) this year.  It remains to be seen how this is resolved.

Neil Gaiman has been, as well as a brilliant writer, a high profile supporter of public libraries for many years. He has described himself as being raised as  a “feral child” raised by librarians. So his speech tomorrow in the invitation-only second Reading Agency Annual Lecture on libraries at the Barbican Centre should definitely be one to pay attention to.  I look forward to reporting on it soon.

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Ideas

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A minister in tune with the public

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Reasons to be cheerful or, well, part of one: the BBC public opinion survey.

Editorial

Many observers of public libraries have treated with sceptism the report by the BBC that more people think libraries have improved than declined over the last five years.  The news article – Public service cuts – did we notice? – BBC. says that “many people in Britain think the quality of public services overall have been maintained or improved in the past five years despite government cuts, a poll for the BBC suggests. More of the 1,031 people surveyed feel bin collections, parks and libraries, schools and bus services have improved than those who think they are worse.” … “libraries – the subject of many anti-cuts protests – three per cent more people say they’ve got better than worse, but among library users the score is plus seven”

The figures were naturally seized on the government as a sign of how well their policies are working and as a chance to put the boot in to those authorities who are not toeing the line:

“Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “This survey shows that in many areas such as rubbish collections, schools and libraries, services and value for money are improving, illustrating how councils can both deliver sensible savings and protect the frontline. “But some councils are making lazy choices due to their failure to get a grip on cutting waste and inefficiency.””

But how statistically significant are these results? More >

OECD publish damning report on literacy; deep cuts expected in Wales; a loss in Doncaster … and goodbye Dan Jarvis

Editorial

A few items of note today:

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Northamptonshire experiments with Children’s Centre services in libraries

Editorial

Plans to move certain services away from children’s centres into libraries in Northamptonshire is raising some eyebrows.  On the one hand, there’s a natural fit between libraries and parents, as anyone who has ever been in a children’s library will attest.  On the other, there’s a worry over confidentiality and the suitability of discussing problems over the library counter.  In the final analysis though, it was recently revealed that Northamptonshire’s libraries suffered from over 120 closed hours due to staff shortages and, perhaps not entirely unrelatedly, a reduction in visitors of a fifth over two years.  Anything which will improve these figures is likely to be grabbed,

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Libraries of the rich and famous, of the poor and unknown and everyone inbetween

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