Je Suis Charlie, Birmingham, Library song and the Magna Carta

Editorial

I was shocked to see the events in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices. I simply don’t know what the public librarian response to it should be but that by R. David Lankes below is a good place to start.  But, I hope, every librarian will stand up and be able to say “Je Suis Charlie”. Remember that when you’re asked to cut or not stock something just because someone doesn’t agree with it for some reason.

Birmingham Council appear to have shot themselves in the foot by publicising what appears to be their private imaginings about the British Library helping to save the Library of Birmingham.  The British Library has confirmed to me and to others that, while they wish the LoB every good wish, they simply had not even been approached by the council before the story was made public.  Sheesh.  No wonder Birmingham is in the mess it is in (well, apart from Austerity) if this is how they do things.

A new library campaign song has been recorded but pictures of closed/threatened libraries and/or of library staff who have lost their jobs (or users who now have no library) are needed.  If you can help, please email weneedlibraries@gmail.com.

Changes

Magna Carta & the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act – By Shirley Burnham

More >

The British Library mooted as saviour for the Library of Birmingham

Editorial

It’s great to see that the British Library, amongst others, may be coming to the aid of the gigantic new Library of Birmingham. The BL are, it has been reported in the Birmingham Post, looking at putting a “regional centre” in there.  Whatever this may turn out to be (and such a thing would naturally cause a precedent for elsewhere in the UK) it’s hopefully going to be a good thing. For, the BL has always seemed a little, well, stand-offish to me in public library circles, especially for those of us in still what is occasionally called “the provinces”.  This has, though, recently been changing.  Their business and intellectual property centres scattered around the country, like this one in Newcastle, are in libraries and, although reluctantly, they are now in charge of the Public Lending Right Unit. It’s also interesting to note that their chief executive, Roly Keating, was amongst the panel for the recent Independent Report on Public libraries. I’ve seen what an impact having a state library concerned with strategy and supporting public libraries can have, after looking into the excellent work of the State Library of Queensland and it’s a shame there’s nothing like it here. Such a relationship of research, support and expertise can made a big impact but it’s almost completely lacking here.  In fact, for most public library staff, the British Library is known for only one thing – being an insanely expensive lender of last resort which mercilessly penalises lost books.  The BL could be of so much more use for public libraries, but if it is content for now merely to rescue the largest public library in the European Union then that’s a great start.

Changes

Ideas

Correction

  • I had incorrectly listed the threatened Bob Lawrence Library as in Brent.  It is of course in Harrow.

More >

New Year’s Honours List

Editorial

Congratulations to the four people below who have been named in the New Year’s Honours List and have connections to public libraries.  All of the honours are richly deserved and reflect service over and above the norm.  However, the decision to honour the Staffordshire chief (currently managing deep cuts to her service – although the award was for work elsewhere) and the chair of one of the first volunteer-run libraries has raised some eyebrows.  The feeling is that the Government, intentionally or otherwise, is reinforcing a message already received loud and clear in many library services that the move towards volunteer run libraries is to be praised and a positive response to deep funding cuts. This represents a challenge for public library campaigners who need to argue loudly for paid staff, an argument that given the hostile climate now needs strong evidence and clear arguments to succeed.  This email I received highlights the challenge:

“The professional librarians answer to less money and lower library usage is not very clear. If anything their answer appears to be defensive and unsatisfactory i.e. if the taxpayer won’t give us the money to run all the libraries the way we would like then we should close the smaller libraries and retrench to just running the bigger libraries in the traditional way. Whilst that may be a neat and tidy solution for professional librarians I’m not convinced it is the optimum policy for residents.” Personal email received

    Anyway, here’s a look at the Honours winners in more detail:

  • -Janene Cox – Order of the British Empire – “For services to Libraries” – Janene has not only been responsible for Staffordshire Libraries but is also the Past President of the Society of Chief Librarians and a panel member in the recent Sieghart Independent Report on Public Libraries. The SCL (and Sieghart) has been notably pragmatic about changes to public library funding, accepting (at least in England) the need for volunteers and has maintained a professional and moderate attitude to the deepest cuts in public libraries in living history.  It has concentrated instead on pushing the reasons why public libraries are important to local and national agendas. More locally, 24 out of 43 of the libraries in Staffordshire are currently being considered for passing to volunteers and there are recently announced plans (see below) for the complete withdrawal of the mobile library service.  This makes it one of the authorities facing the deepest cuts in England and Janene is in charge of it (although she is Commissioner for Tourism and Culture now so presumably does not have direct operational control).  Having said that, it’s hard to find a senior library manager not having to cope with serious cuts at the moment or in the recent past and the award is for her work with the SCL. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although senior in library circles, Janene is just another officer when it comes to what her bosses want – so if she’s told she has to significantly cut the service then she has not choice but to do the best she can.
  • Tony Hoare – British Empire Medal - “For services to the community” – Organiser of the group that saved Chalfont St Giles Library when Buckinghamshire Council wanted to close it several years ago.  The success of this volunteer-run library, and that of neighbouring libraries, has been used numerous times in other councils in order to encourage similar.  Having said that, this library (and that of nearby Little Chalfont) have been careful to not directly promote volunteer-run libraries – they’re seen here (as I suspect in many places) as a last resort alternative to no library at all.
  • Annemarie Naylor – Member of the British Empire – “For services to community asset ownership” – Director at Common Futures, and an Associate Director (Community Assets) with Locality.  Annemarie assists in transferring council owned buildings to non-council community control. She has been involved with public libraries and. I know from personal experience that she is a keen and passionate supporter of them.
  • Martyn Wade – Order of the British Empire – “For Services to Culture in Scotland” – National Librarian and Chief Executive, National Library of Scotland. Martyn Wade is also chair of CILIP Council.

See the Full list of honours.

Changes

Ideas

More >

10 key UK public library trends: Review of the year 2014

Editorial

It has been as ever, a year showing wide variation, internationally and nationally.  With there being 151 library services in England alone, it could hardly be otherwise.  However, having read everything UK public library related over the last year, here are my key themes.

  • The fight for library buildings has (sort of) been won but the fight for adequately funded library services has never looked so fragile. Councils just aren’t closing many libraries: Cipfa estimated just 49 (1%) closed in 2013/14, 74 the year before.  That’s a lot less than most people would believe.  It shows that councils realise the tremendous detrimental political impact of closing a library.  However, this is not to say that we should all be celebrating because, faced with massive cuts from central government and strong pressure not to increase council tax, councils are cutting libraries in other ways.  The obvious one is to replace paid staff with volunteers, and that trend has only been growing this year, but other ways include cutting bookfunds (down to its lowest level for decades), When you see a flagship mega building like the Library of Birmingham having its opening hours cut almost in half, you know times are tough.
  • Times are looking good for new English library trusts – Although Wigan are taking library services back from the trust there, overall there’s never been as much pressure on councils to divest library services. Suffolk and York are being touted, most recently in the Sieghart Independent Report, as the great new hope … and the benefits they bring in terms of reduced costs are being scrutinised all around the country.  In Scotland, where slightly different rules apply, trusts now commonly run libraries: expect a flood of these south of the border in the next couple of years.
  • A lack of amalgamations. There’s been a surprising lack of different councils merging library services for economies of scale.  Perhaps there’s a strong element of turkeys not voting for Christmas in this one.  It is notable that GLL  are eyeing at least one more service but no-one has yet publicly announced they’re doing another Tri-Borough.
  • Private companies failing to make a dent - The US private library company, LSSI, has failed to pick up a single library service in the UK while Carillion – who bought out Laing last year with weeks of the latter taking over Croydon - have failed to expand.  There are suspicions that challenging councils in, for example, Lincolnshire is opening the door for private companies further down the line (the reasoning being that they can competitively tender against trusts etc) but there’s been no actual sign of this yet.  One to watch, though.
  • Usage falls as funding falls – Usage in England continues to fall roughly in line with reductions in funding, but usage in the US, Wales and Australia and other countries is stable or is increasing roughly in line with increases in funding.  The evidence is there that you get what you pay for: if you fail to fund libraries adequately then the public notice and cease coming meaning you get less customers and there’s more reason to reduce funding,  The vicious circle is there for all to see.
  • Dark times continue to be ahead – Both main political parties are committed to austerity and thus further cuts to council budgets until 2020.  Neither are willing to protect libraries from those cuts which means that you can expect, if anything, deeper cuts in the sector in the next parliament than this, certainly if the Conservatives win.  If Labour win then there is a chance their cuts will be less draconian but it is unlikely to feel better at the time.  We can hope, though.
  • Protest works. The success of the judicial review in Lincolnshire and of protests in Liverpool and Wales show that, actually, the key thing to protect your library is to protest cuts.  Simply using the library more has some impact but there’s been enough examples this year of well-used libraries going under threat to show that it’s not key.  Indeed, a well-used library may even be more at risk as the council thinks volunteers would be more likely to save it.  No, the key thing to keeping a library open is the presence of loud, well-organised protest groups.  This is going to be especially obvious until the General Elections next year but then expect it to be lot less important as politicians get down to the dirty work: the loss or not of judicial review (still going through parliament) will have a great bearing on whether local people are listened to or not in non-election years.
  • Lack of government intervention …? The DCMS has continued its hands off policy (otherwise known as malevolent neglect) on public libraries, with a stated belief that local authorities are the best to handle local services, regardless of any statutory responsibility it may have.  Having said that, the Independent Report on Public lIbraries was commissioned – but then only published the last day possible before Christmas.  The Report itself was also deeply pragmatic and conservative (small c)  in tone but, even then, the libraries minister has only agreed to one recommendation so far – and that is one which has no cost attached.  However, Mr Vaizey has continued annoying Sheffield council with queries about its consultation on deep cuts to its library service and he has still not categorically said he will not intervene,
  • National Libraries Day gaining acceptance.  Most library services ran at least one event in 2014 and I expect only the most reactionary and cautious councils to ignore it in 2015.  From its roots a few years ago as an instrument of protest, the Day is becoming used as an important advocacy tool locally and nationally.  A good thing to see. Similarly, the launch of the Library A to Z, crowd-funded largely by campaigners, has also gained widespread support in many public libraries – probably because it is very carefully apolitical and concentrates on the positive rather than the negative.
  • National organisations are upping their game. Although those going through PLUIO (Public Library Universal Information Offers) training may not appreciate it, because the online modules are sometimes cloggy and mind-numbingly tedious, the SCL have tried their best to make an impact on local councillor views and nationally.  The same can be said to some extent of CILIP who have been active, with Big Debates and other stuff, this year. The professional association’s obsession with navel gazing – sorry, modernisation – has also now apparently come to an end and has, at least, left the organisation on a firm financial footing.  Praise must also go out to the Carnegie UK Trust who have put their back into the LibraryLab innovation grants, leadership training and their advocacy work.  Great to see.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Merry Christmas everyone. Here’s to a better 2015.

Editorial

I often get asked how I find the time to do Public Libraries News. For any of you who don’t know (and I deliberately don’t emphasise this on the blog for reasons all of you will be able to guess) I do have a full-time job as a librarian and, yes, I also have a family that demands full attention as well. The answer therefore is that PLN is my leisure time.  Before, you see, I would slob out in front of TV or play computer games (strategy games mainly: I don’t have the quickest of reflexes) and now in some ways I have simply contributed one form of computer activity for another.  But of course this is far more rewarding than any computer game: this blog appears to actually be useful to people and does, in its small way, hopefully, help public libraries and library workers.  Being able to understand what is going on and to get the chance to know or at least meet many of the major characters involved are also bonuses.  And if you do something you enjoy you find the time to do it.  It helps also to have a supportive and long-suffering wife and family (my youngest child, who is eight, cannot remember me without the blog) as well.  So PLN, I guess, is now part of me and it’s got to the stage now when I’m not sure what I would do without it.

Thanks to all of you for supporting the website. Do please keep sending me your news and views.  Let me know if you want a particular topic covered or if the views expressed herein are simply wrong.  PLN depends on knowing what is going on and that involves on knowing all sides of the argument.  A correction or an opposing viewpoint is not an offense to me: rather it is a vital gift. So, please,  may I take this opportunity to wish you all – even in these dark times – a very merry Christmas and a happy, a better, 2015.  Keep on with your good work and remember to enjoy, celebrate and continue to fight for public libraries.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Special on Sieghart: The Independent Library Report

Editorial

The description of public libraries as a golden thread that is present throughout people’s lives is what will stick with me from this report but I am unsure what else will, for this appears to be a report written with the current government and politics in mind.

Sieghart knows that the Coalition is not going to accept a report that requires large amounts of money or goes against the doctrine of localism so he looks at what is needed and tries to pull the appropriate lever.  Need investment in getting new computers? Go for pushing the digital by default agenda and very carefully avoid giving a figure for anything.  Frustrated by the lack of central direction? Get together all of the current leaders in libraries, along with digital people (two birds, one stone) and give them priorities and times scales. As such, one way of viewing the report is to admire the Machiavellianism of people working out what is needed and couching it in terms that are acceptable to the decision makers. You can see the whole thing as being written in a careful code, tiptoeing around the reality of dire budgets and an increasingly atomised and demoralised service in order to try to keep something alive for better times. Indeed, one wonders why the Government, normally completely ignorant of subtlety, appears to have deliberately buried this key report on public libraries on the very last possible day before Christmas.

An opposing view of course is that this committee has been packed with people who think like the Government does.  Such a viewpoint would note that Ed Vaizey will not be choking while sat on his antique furniture over this one.  Indeed, the Report appears argues what he does, that massive cuts to public libraries can somehow be squared with a thriving service, that 151 local authorities will somehow be more efficient than a regional or national service and that best practice and nudging will do the work that in other countries require national strategy and direction. The Report thus misses the chance to make a big statement or a big headline and, one worries, a big impact. There’s no mention of standards or the possibility of them, which is a great shame as that is one thing that could make a change and, although there’s no way Vaizey would have gone for it, there’s another party out there and a general election in the offing.  Let’s face it, if the Conservatives get in next time then libraries as we know them are gone. The worry is that Labour will read this report and do too little to change.  Or it may be the committee believes that both parties are effectively the same (and there’s so little between them in so many things they may not be wrong) and so it’s time to get used to the new order, salvaging what one can.

The message that the media has taken away from this is that libraries should be like cafes.  But the country already has cafes.  What libraries are, can be and should be for the future health of the country is so much more than that.  To their credit, the committee does show their awareness of this many times but the media appear to have gone for the simple lowest common denominator description. So what do I believe? I think that this report is fine and the hard work that went into it is worthy of praise, however faint it may sound. It’s  frankly hard to argue with too much of it and what there is, if it happens as suggested,  will change things for the better.  But I also believe that it misses the chance to make big points.  It is just another, despite its protestation, report.  But then I guess all reports are.  If it stands a chance to be more than a report depends on the energy and motivation of those involved. This government, when it comes to libraries, has neither … so it will be up to the rest of us.  Therefore, whether the Independent Report will have long-term positive effects I cannot tell – the future of this, and thus the public library service, is hanging by a thread.  Golden or otherwise.

Number of times the word “book” is used, without being denigratory (e.g.”libraries are more than books”) = 3

Number of times the word “digital” is used =63

More >

Pathways

Editorial

I emailed Brian Ashley from the Arts Council about the grants thing (see my last post). His reply bears repeating in full.  The fact remains there’s almost no money for this sort of thing normally so well done to ACE for supplying it in this instance. Other things to notice this week include the multitude of ideas coming in to Bristol as part of its consultation (you can rate other people’s ideas, which I think is excellent, even if some of the ideas are yeah … but …) and also the call from the York Mutual for members for its AGM. I don’t know enough about York for some reason – it doesn’t get the publicity of it’s southern counterpart Suffolk – but it’s striking its own path, which others may wish to follow.

The funding for the Grants for the arts programme is from the Arts Lottery and we are required to ensure that it is used to deliver arts based outcomes. This still allows for a broad range of activity to be supported. In particular we encourage library services to consider how they can work in partnerships with arts organisations to advance their broader objectives.  

With this fund the Arts Council has ring-fenced resources for applications that are led by library services which makes it easier for them to secure funds this way than is the case for our more general Grants for the arts programme. Having committed to this for the first three years since we took on the development agency role for libraries in England, we are pleased to sustain that commitment for a further three years. At a time when many library services have found it difficult to develop new activity, this scheme has been successful in animating library spaces in new and imaginative ways.  

We are very aware that library services face financial pressures across the full range of their role, and our other development funding is used more widely, for example by supporting the SCL Universal Offers and the work of The Reading Agency. Responsibility for funding and delivering libraries sits with local authorities, and our contribution is not there to directly address these wider funding pressures.” Brian Ashley, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England.

Changes

“This is not our Britpop anthem. This is dedicated to everyone trying to keep libraries open.” Manic Street Preachers at Roundhouse concert this week.

More >

The money has been shown to count … so make it count

Editorial

So I did some calculations on the CIPFA figures yesterday (a national newspaper had emailed wanting some info – this sort of thing happens a lot: I had already helped Radio 4 earlier this week) and one thing jumped out.  This is that there may be a decline in English public libraries but there  is not in Wales, with the major difference between them – and I’m Welsh and living in England so I know of where I speak – is that Welsh budgets have been OK up until now while the English ones have been slashed. How slashed? Well, statistics are wonderful things but if you completely ignore inflation the minimum that English budgets are down  is 18% since 2010 and, if you include inflation using the Bank of England calculator, then the most that they’re down is a whopping, a gigantic, 38.6%.  Nearly two-fifths in four years?  Let’s just be quiet for a second, contemplate the horror, and then move on (See this page for more statistical details). There are also other differences tooof course – Wales actually has Standards and a nationwide e-book/e-zine offer for instance – that will have made an impact but the key for my money is, well, the money.  Let’s hope then that England becomes more like Wales, and not vice versa. Get those singing voices trained now, Limeys, because, trust me, I’ve been in enough English churches to know that generally you lot need the practice.

One money thing that has stayed the same in England the last few years, and it has been announced will do so for another three years, is the Arts Council England grants for arts in public libraries.  I’ve always been ambivalent about this.  On the one hand, they’re a great resource for libraries to gain publicity and to encourage new audiences.  On the other, well, it’s just plain strange to see often the same library authority announcing deep cuts and also some fancy arts library project in the same year and sometimes even in the same month.  The challenge for libraries taking on these projects therefore should be to make them count.  The time has gone, if it ever was here, where a service can get away with a nice feel-good project, employ a few artists, and then move on to the next grant.

Changes

More >

Lobbing it all away: shocking Library of Birmingham cuts

Editorial

The announcement of deep cuts to the Library of Birmingham so soon after opening are shocking.  Nothing shows the short-sighted nature of the supposedly long-term-focused austerity spending cuts than nearly having the opening hours of a £188m building opened the year before.  This is a building that serves so many purposes – a haven for those to learn, an icon for the whole city and a tourist attraction – and yet now it will forever be associated with short-term idiocy.  Naturally, everyone is blaming everyone else, with the current (Labour, not that it matters) administration blaming the previous one … and it is true that taking out such a large commitment just before the credit crunch is something that could only be done by an organisation that was, at the very least, engaged in boom-time groupthink. But, just think, at least they decided to build something as obviously useful as a library with the money.  I’m hardly going to blame them for building something that will have such obvious benefits. If you’re going to choose a symbol for your city, there’s few better than a place of learning open to all.

There are others, not in Birmingham, to blame as well for this mess.  The BookSeller report says that the “oleaginous” (it means oily, apparently) libraries minister had the cheek, when it had nothing to do with him, to be at the opening ceremony last year. Despite his presence then, you can bet he is feeling very hand-off and localist about it now.  But, really, he’s just one of a group, and no-one can accuse him of being a ring-leader. The blame also lies on all of those who think that cuts can be made to local government because they’re wasteful and lazy and that their cost outweighs their value.  In actuality, what is wasteful, lazy, costly and valueless is thinking like that.  Five years of cuts means there’s nothing left of that culture, if there was ever anything like it in the first place.  Take all the credit you want for that, Mr Vaizey, but don’t think it hasn’t come without a tremendous amount of pain and hurt and, if you are hell-bent (and that is a very appropriate phrase) to go for more, don’t think it’ll be as easy (as it doubtless seemed from your nice chair in Whitehall) as the last five years.  And don’t think the short-term savings you’re making now will make up for the long-term losses that cutting back on such value-giving services is going to involve.

More >

Librarians with swords, “libraries” in pubs

Changes

Ideas

More >