Shambles

Editorial

Manchester are delaying the closure of several libraries amidst talk of an “omnishambles”, with the new proposals meaning they stay open but with some sort of reduced service.  In a similar level of apparent competence or otherwise, it is becoming clear that somehow Herefordshire’s decision makers were not aware of the statutory nature of public libraries,  The decision by Croydon to outsource its libraries is gaining some coverage, notably due to the decision by the councillor in charge to both outsource it and call in his own decision for scrutiny.  Finally, there’s a very full report on the new and rather wonderful Liverpool library.  I’m aiming to go there tomorrow and hope to take some pictures.

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Public library campaigning: the easy bit may have just ended in Herefordshire.

Editorial

The level of opposition to the proposed closures in Herefordshire have taken every by surprise, most especially the council.  Over 8,000 people had signed the petition against a 75% cut, including closing all but one library.  This was unprecedented, as was the packed attendance at the council meeting which discussed the cut, which was standing room only.  Faced with such resistance, the Council have changed their plans.  Instead of closing, they’re looking likely to go with volunteers (or some form of non-council organisation) running the five town libraries under threat but still close the four smaller ones.

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The name is Library, Public Library

Editorial

Some promising news from Herefordshire where the local MP reports that the cabinet member responsible for Culture says “It is my clear view that we can not close our Market Town Libraries as that would be a failing in our statutory duty”.  It looks like the 1964 legislation still has some teeth, which will come to the relief of many. Sad news for Sefton, though, where it looks likely that seven libraries will go.  “Mitigators” like abolishing the 80p reservation charge have been suggested but well. hmmm, I’m not sure that that is going to be quite the same somehow.

Something else I am not sure about is the rebranding that the professional association of librarians, CILIP, is going through.  Options for renaming include several names (including the execrable “The Knowledge People”) but none which actually have the word “library” in.  Well, technically (as its President Phil Bradley pointed out to me on Facebook), one could keep the name CILIP where the L stands for library but that’s it.  As Lauren Smith (who was briefly its Vice President) has pointed out, any trade whose professional body is too ashamed to speak its name is, well, not in a very good state.

Finally, more reactions have come in about the Arts Council England report. How it has been received appears to be:

  • Those with a vested interested in supporting it have supported it.
  • Those who are neutral or who have a dim view of Arts Council England think it is at best a missed opportunity and, at worst, the sign of bad times to come.

I am, sadly, in the second group.  However, I hope to be convinced otherwise by the ACE libraries director Brian Ashley when I am on panel talking to him on the 29th June.  Details below and I hope to see you there:

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Adapt and survive: Arts Council England’s stark message under the gloss

Editorial

The major research project Envisioning the library of the future and the ACE response to it, both released today, make clear that the hard times are here to stay and that libraries will either face dramatic change or go under. The research sees no respite for a decade and does not offer any escape other than a dramatic retooling towards an increased reliance on the community and exploring alternative, distinctively entrepreneurial, methods of funding.  As such, it recognises the grim reality of the situation, accepts it and tries to work out possible solutions.

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“The only place where I would willingly obey the laws”: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on libraries

Editorial

The idea of Keith Richards once being an avid public library user is a wonderful one and is even better because it’s true. Another wonderful thing is a new library, and there are a couple in the news today.  You can get married at the one in Derbyshire due to it being co-located with a Registrars.  The other one, just announced, is in Bradford and is going to happen only because the existing building has serious asbestos problems.  More information on cuts are coming out from Sefton (where 40 staff could go) and Southend (where there may soon be only three professionally qualified librarians for the whole borough).

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Two cheers: Monday 20th May 2013

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UK libraries one third less funded than USA counterparts.

Editorial

International comparisons are dangerous but I have often been impressed by the provision in US libraries.  Now I know how.  There are 9,000 of them and they are funded with around $10bn.  We have 4265 libraries (at the last official count) and fund them with, at current exchange rates, around $1.5bn.  So a UK library has, on average, 3.87 times less funding than the average US one.  That’s a massive difference and suggests something more than simply that their individual libraries may be bigger.  Another difference is that the US population is 5 times bigger than ours with 6.6 times the funding.  On average then, their public library system is 1.3 times better funded by head of population.  Of course, they have nearly half of the number of libraries per head as well: 1 library per 14686 in the UK, 1 library per 34877 in the US.  This last difference is presumably because of the far wider geographical spread over there. So, on average we have over twice as many libraries per head but they’re each funded nearly 4 times worse than the average US one. Remember that if ever you wonder why US libraries are doing better than British ones at the moment.  If anyone else wants to do comparative figure for other countries, by the way, this website looks good for getting the number of people per library, although the all-important budget per country appears more elusive.

Moving away from the global picture, Essex have opened their first new library in 25 years but, in a sign of how times may have changed since the last one, it is being staffed by volunteers from the start, with paid staff in support.

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Two surveys show the importance of libraries

A couple of national surveys have some bearing on public libraries. The first from the National Literacy Trust shows that children spend more time on computers than on print-reading for the first time ever and also goes on to say that those who read print are twice as likely to be above average readers than those who read digitally. The second is from the Office of National Statistics and says 7 million Britons don’t have online access and 16 million don’t have even basic online skills.  Both show the need for public libraries which are the key providers of printed works to children and online provision for all.

In local news, the decision on the stark cuts proposed for Herefordshire have been delayed until full council on 24th May.  In the few days since the news of the cuts have become public, nearly 5000 people have signed the online petition against it and a paper petition is being started.  Also locally, Dorset have opened the £2m refurbished Christchurch Library while Cheshire East have decided to move towards a volunteer-staffed library for the first time.

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hulkstatue

“Every library should have a Hulk”: An interview with the man behind a great libraries idea

Editorial

I saw a great project a couple of days ago from a small town called Northlake (30,000 residents) near Chicago which shows how imagination and the internet can be used together in order to, at next to no cost, publicise a library and raise funds for it.  The plan, you see, is to purchase a nine-foot-tall statue of the Incredible Hulk for the library.  That, I think, would be reason enough but that is actually only the “hook” to get funding for a lot of new technology for the place.  Technology that will spectacularly position the library at the forefront of provision for its area. Why the Hulk? Well, the branch itself prides itself on its graphic novel collection (it was 2,300 but it’s even bigger now – someone saw the publicity and donated 1,000 more) but also, I think, it’s the sheer incongruousness of the concept that’s the winner.  It’s relevance to the UK is that it shows clearly what can be done with no resources.  Even if they don’t get their Hulk statue, Northlake has gained more publicity than ever before, probably revolutionised its image and gets to keep whatever money has been raised, which already runs to a couple of thousand dollars.

I hope after reading the words of Tom Mukite, a trustee of the library, who is intimately involved with the project, that you will agree with the Ron Marz, known for his work on Silver Surfer and Green Lantern,  that “Every library should have a hulk”

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Deja vu from 1976 … and CILIP Scotland express deep concern over cuts in Moray

Editorial

It’s interesting to note that the Scottish side of the librarian professional body CILIP has issued a statement expressing its “deep concern” about cuts in Moray.  These cuts (7 out of 15 may close) are of proportions familiar enough to those in England but may be a worrying harbinger of things to come north of the border.   CILIP (England) itself has long since given up (if it ever started in the first place) producing announcements for each new authority that announces cuts in its own turf, presumably because their frequency would get a bit monotonous.

Speaking of cuts, as I so often do, I should point out the current bete noir of Herefordshire faces an unconfirmed 9 branches being withdrawn, not 10.  The tenth, Peterchurch, is already volunteer run:  a possibility interestingly missing from a 1976 article on library cuts that is otherwise quite eery in its similarities to today.

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