Birmingham and Westminster

Editorial

I’m sorry to see cuts being extended in Birmingham to include closing two libraries, including in Sutton Coldfield one of its busiest. In addition, there’s a report that cuts have come to heart of London, with Westminster cutting libraries by £750k.  Both councils expect significant job losses. The decision by the DCMS to look into Lancashire’s deep cuts is also making noise. In other news, it’s great to see World Mental Health Day being celebrated – libraries do so much in this sector – and also, do find a short and simple piece on using social media in public libraries to best effect.

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DCMS intervenes in Lancashire: delay or something more?

Editorial

The new libraries minister has announced that his department will be investigating Lancashire over its shotgun closure of at least 21 libraries. Several Conservative MPs have called for an investigation into the Labour-led authority after considerable public protest about the deepest cuts to libraries in the country this year.  A dilemma now confronts Lancashire: whether it will continue with its plans or hold on until the DCMS makes up its mind. West Berkshire put its plans on hold when it was faced with concerns from the ministry that it had not done things properly.  However, things have perhaps gone too far already if libraries have been closed. This will be a key test for the Rob Wilson MP: will he wave through such cuts like his predecessor Ed Vaizey or will he show a different character.  We shall, as ever, see.

My article on the Idea Stores in Tower Hamlets has received a great deal of interest, with several different organisations asking me for more information and contacts, which I have supplied.  Below is an email from an Idea Stores managers who has emailed with the full permission of his managers. I hope it is of interest.

More on Idea Stores

You are spot on with everything you say. Having worked in lots of public libraries across London and the South East many are experimenting but getting it totally wrong. Massive cuts to staffing and opening hours make things worse. None of that applies here, if anything there are long term plans to expand the number of Idea Stores and to offer more services.

I would recommend a look at Idea Store Watney Market where they have incorporated a council ‘One Stop Shop’ into the Idea Store (Separate staff) you can pay your council tax, chase up about rubbish collection, find out your councillors contact details and then read some newspapers/ take out some books. All under one roof which takes One Stop Shop to a whole new level. There is massive potential for councils with vision to implement similar in their boroughs’ unfortunately there is so far (as your article mentions) little to no coherent vision (or attempts to build one) anywhere else in the UK.

One thing I would like to expand on is the Idea Stores retail focus. Have a good look at the way Waterstones presents their stock (merchandising). Front facing books, staff recommendations (shelf talkers). Add lots of clear signage, plus very tidy shelves and Idea Stores start to look very much like book shops. Why no one else has caught on to this is baffling as it’s so much easier to find things. It also promotes certain stock which ties in with the physical book displays and what’s on the screens (as you mentioned). All of this is commonplace in retail and Idea Stores, it’s time for libraries to catch up.” Mark Johnson, Idea Store Coordinator, Bethnal Green Library.

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Minister says the future is social enterprises

Editorial

Rob Wilson, the minister responsible for public libraries, has gone on record as saying libraries should move towards a “community hub” model, probably with social enterprises running them and ties in with health and wellbeing.  Being the chair of the Libraries Taskforce is boss of Northamptonhire, whose model Rob Wilson is so approving of, this is no surprise. The Taskforce – a major source of information to the minster – is hardly going to diss the views of their boss. In addition, Rob comes from a background of being very pro volunteer and social enterprise so it ties in with his pre-existing thinking. But, look at the webpage for “First for Wellbeing“, the Northants social enterprise, and you’ll see you need to scroll down for a first mention of libraries, if you can find it at all. It may be that FTW (great acronym, by the way) are indeed good for libraries but there’s sufficient worries in other non-library led trusts (hello again Warrington Livewire) to be more cautious of this approach than the minister apparently is.

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Don’t Keep It To Your Shelves

Editorial

One of the issues in public libraries is lack of promotion of the services they provide. For years, most library authorities have had zero publicity budget and have even had to bid with other council departments for use of the public relations and graphic design services .. and lack of budget,  heaven knows, is not going to get go away soon.  In two ways, though, public relations is easier than ever for public libraries.

The first way is when the library service is no longer under direct council con control.  In those library services which are run by library trusts, the internal bureaucratic barriers to publicity that councils excel in are removed. Library trusts can also have more freedom in allocating the budgets (sadly, no bigger than before) how they want, which can mean at least some is spent on public relations.  An exemplar of this is Suffolk which has (uniquely in my experience) a public relations officer and is pretty nifty with publicising everything it does. An anti-example, though, are those library services unlucky enough to be part of leisure trusts dominated by leisure officers who do not understand libraries and are negative about them. Warrington, at the moment, is the biggest instance of this, where glossy public relations is apparently being deployed by the Livewire Trust to justify cutting, not improving, the service.

The second way is social media. This has revolutionised what publicity can be done on a seemingly zero budget. Almost all library services, now, have at least Twitter and Facebook accounts and many have blogs and others as well. Most I see also do regular publicity emails to those who have signed up. There’s also the joy of working with partners (BIDs, hyperlocal news, blogs etc) who will publicise your event for you at the cost a single email. This is now such a key part of library services that one would be very suspicious of any member of library staff with any publicity duties at all who is resistant to it or, even worse, claims it’s not part of their job.

Because public relations is a key part of the job and it always has been.  It has just been that for years public libraries have been able to avoid it,  because the public kept coming in anyway. That’s now not always the case and, as our services expand while the budgets contract, we need to shout more and more about them. Make a noise in your library today.

PS. The phrase “Don’t Keep It To Your Shelves” was used at an Oxford University Press meeting I attended last week.  I love it. Feel free to use it yours(h)elves. I’ve promised to promote them (see how this game works?) in return so do have a look at their webpages for librarians.

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What are the ideas behind Idea Stores?

Editorial

Wherever I go, the most successful libraries are those who have a clear strategy and vision.  In Tower Hamlets, it’s based on location, on combining with adult education and on reading for pleasure. They have also, root and branch, changed their staffing.  There’s no bibliographic services department, at all. There’s no actual long term specialists, at all. There’s also no freedom to blue tack an amateur poster up or to say that an event isn’t happening, or say a computer problem can’t be fixed because that person is on holiday.

They’re pretty hard nosed about that, and rightly so. In times of crisis, inertia and existing working practices can kill. So now, in this time of crisis, they’re not facing a crisis. Because they know what they’re doing, they’re well used and they can defend everything they do in easy to understand terms. Sound good? Bite the bullet and see how you can learn from them. Because it’s kind of embarrassing that so many aren’t. The week I was there, they had a delegation from South Korea for goodness sake. But there’s not been much about Tower Hamlets seen in the UK recently.  It’s like because it has been there for a few years it’s not important any more.  Well, it is. And here’s why …

Read more at Idea Stores: what the ideas are and why they’re important – Public Libraries News. 

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Viciously reducing bookfunds

Editorial

There’s a chicken and the egg thing going on with bookfund and book issues.  Or rather, a vicious circle. Councils are reducing bookfund claiming that fewer books are being read and then claiming that being that there are lower book issues they can cut bookfund more.  And then, when things get really bad, they can close libraries too. But, of course, if you have fewer books in the first place, you’re going to see declines in usage. It’s hard to borrow something that isn’t there. The fact that it is always easier to reduce bookfund than staffing is a contributory factor in the popularity of this strategy.

Lancashire, who close 20 libraries this week, reduced their bookfund from £2,423,923 in 2011-12 to £1,554,814 in 2014/15 (source: Cipfa).  That’s a huge reduction of 35.8%. Warrington LiveWire, in the news for wanting to close seven branches, including the oldest public library in England (which they will try to move into a, I kid you not, ex shoe shop) have cut their bookfund from £231,496 in 2012/13 to £103,944 in 2016/17.

Look, book issues (but not booksales) may be falling but they’re not falling that much.  A council can admit that they’re reducing libraries because of reduced budgets – like Lancashire, to be somewhat fair, has – but to claim that you’re cutting libraries because no-one is using them after you have annihilated their bookfunds – should be no-one’s idea of a valid argument.

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There’s more than one way to ban a book

Editorial

There’s more than one way to ban a book. Forcing people to pay for it, when they can ill afford to, is one. Not letting people know of its existence is another. Downplaying the importance of it, or saying it’s evil, a third. Getting rid of people who know about that book and will recommend it at just the right time is a fourth.  Oh, there are many ways. The UK counts itself fortunate that it does not censor like so much of the world and do not have the kneejerk “Harry Potter Is A Satanist” viewpoint of some in the USA but we need to be careful: censorship can be subtler than simply having a Censor. The link between closing librarians and losing librarians and Banned Books Week is rightly drawn out by a few articles in the UK – I think for the first time – in the post below. Worth a read. Like so many things which are banned.

Also, please note that it’s #FollowALibrary day this Friday. Get your social media tweets scheduled in now. Tell your friends. And your politicians.

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Party political responses to library cuts, volunteers, Open+ and authors

Editorial

It’s getting to the stage where you can almost tell how a MP is going to react to library cuts depending on which political party they belong to. If a Labour MP, they’re going to regret the cuts and blame it on central government austerity but, actually, not do much to stop it. If a Tory MP, the response will be that the cuts are a necessary part of national belt-tightening, now in its seventh year, and that different ways of running libraries (such as the ironically nineteenth century solutions of volunteers or having them run by parish councils) will result in as effective service at a lesser cost. Such is the response by two Warrington MPs in this post. A Locality report into volunteer libraries seems to support the Government view (unsurprisingly as they funded it), going into the practicalities needed for volunteers to replace paid staff.  However a close reading of the report itself makes it clear that, actually, it’s not very easy to do and that all but the most well-funded, numerous and determined community groups are going to find it a real challenge. That is also the lesson from several articles in this post all wanting extra volunteers to come forward for ex-council libraries who are finding they don’t have the numbers, or money, they need.

Other news includes a big mass letter by authors asking for intervention in public libraries from the new minister (who has been relatively invisible so far) and a great pro literacy speech by Michael Morpurgo. There’s also a very interesting article from the Republic of Ireland about the prospective dangers of remote controlled (Open+ and its clones) libraries: there has been very little such debate about it in England, presumably because councils see it as an easy way of squaring the circle of reduced budgets and increased hours, often glossing over the down sides.

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Award ceremonies galore, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the rest.

Editorial

Updating Public Libraries News can be a challenge when I work multiple evenings and that is the case at the moment.  However, I’m really pleased about the late shifts because this is because I am presenting medals and certificates to hundreds of children who have completed the Summer Reading Challenge. One thing I have learnt this year is don’t do eight award ceremonies in 48 hours, it kills the voice. Ah, but it’s so much fun though … and it’s great to see so many kids and parents celebrating reading. Anyway, here’s (most of) the news below.  I’ll fill in the rest when I have another spare evening, which may not be until the weekend now.

The cuts to Lancashire continue to make big news and the ongoing cuts throughout Yorkshire has led to some big reports, and investigative journalism, by the Yorkshire Post. The deep cuts to Warrington (along with the now standard overly glossy statements by LiveWire) are still being reported as are new changes to Wigan (where the newspaper reports the budget could be more than halved).

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14 new or upgraded libraries so far this year, with the latest opening in Slough

Editorial

Good to see a new library opening in Slough, although it’s somewhat offset by cuts in Gwynedd but, look, I get tired of concentrating on the bad news so, please forgive me, while I give you a list of new or refurbished libraries this year (see this page for previous years):

  1. Blaenau Gwent Ebbw Vale Library refurbished. (June 2016)
  2. Caerphilly £48k refurbishment for Ystrad Mynach Library. (September 2016)
  3. Camden New (replacement) library, combined with Cockpit Arts, as part of housing development.
  4. Cheshire East Crewe Library moves into co-location with leisure centre.
  5. Enfield £4.2m “transformation” of Edmonton Green Library planned: with added IT Centre, study spaces, local history and museum. (Library closed for one year from September 2016).
  6. Flintshire New co-located library opens at Deeside Leisure Centre: replacing Hawarden, Mancot and Queensferry which will close this month.(Feb 2016)
  7. HaringeyMarcus Garvey Library reopens after £3 upgrade (July 2016)
  8. Manchester – Arcadia Library and Leisure Centre opens : replaces Levenshulme Cromwell Grove Library. (Feburary 2016). Chorlton Library to be refurbished (February 2016).
  9. Oxfordshire Bicester to move into new £6.6m co-location on 11 April. Library to be “larger and have better facilities”.
  10. Pembrokeshire £3.4m new library/gallery/café in Haverfordwest.
  11. Slough £22m “The Curve” library and cultural centre opened.
  12. Southampton Woolston Library reopens in new building as part of property deal. (8)
  13. Southend Kent Elms Library to be refurbished: new entrance and meeting room. (9)
  14. Warwickshire – Southam Library opens (part of £12.4m development project) (January 2016) Reopening via refurbishment.  Alcester moved into co-located Globe House.

Yes, a few of these are replacing stand-alone libraries, sometimes more than one, but it’s still good to get to see some genuine investment going on. There’s life in the library yet. Let’s make sure it stays that way as much as possible.

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