It’s that time of year again – Essex announce one-third cut, Kent £1m

Editorial

It’s that time of year when councils need to announce their budget plans for next year if they are to have enough time to consult. Hence, Newcastle’s one third cut last post and this post’s news of a one-third cut, with up to 43 libraries closing or turning volunteer, in Essex and Kent’s £1 million cut. This will all deeply affect library provision in each of the services, with Essex being the stand-out due to the sheer number of libraries involved. It’s not often over 40 are threatened. The last time I clearly recall was Lancashire and, as news in this very post shows, that surprisingly ended with may reopening. Essex are at pains to show they have consulted already on the shape of their service and will consult on the proposals. It’s worth remembering the ultimate reasons for these cuts lie not with Essex or Kent or Newcastle but with the central government’s decision to continue austerity in practice, if not in name. There’s a petition about that if you’ve not already signed – it seems to have stalled again at just under 30,000 so now would be a good time.

I wrote a fairly critical editorial about Cardiff a short while ago and have given the council the right of reply below. Interestingly, and I have had a look, what I said and what Cardiff say, are not mutually exclusive. It’s all down to one’s point of view. As is so much else, especially I suspect in Essex today.

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Unbothered petition response, CIPFA as an active barrier to library data, and Newcastle woes

Editorial

A few things this week, led by the Governments unbothered response to the libraries petition. In a standard cut-and-paste response, the reply is that everything is fine, the Government is putting loads of money in and that funding is, anyway, a local matter. Everyone knows the first two are – shall we say? – not entirely accurate and the third one is, along with austerity, the problem in the first place and indeed the whole point of the petition. The takeaway from this is that library users will have to shout a lot louder to make a difference. So get more names on that petition, please. The second big thing over the last few days that angered me was reading a letter from CIPFA strongly encouraging local library services to avoid handing out usage data. As discussed below, this letter is only the latest piece of evidence strengthening the view that CIPFA is past its sell-by date and is now actively part of the problem and not part of the solution. But read the letter, and CIPFA’s reply, as well in order to make up your own mind.

The biggest bit of local news is the cutting by over a third of Newcastle’s library budget, including to the flagship Central library and the recently invested in East End Library. Forced by central cuts to council budget – and thus proving the lie to the Government’s petition response – the reductions will result in much false economy for what was once, but probably not for much longer, a top-notch library service. Also in the news, we have a whole array of previously largely standalone libraries moving into joint locations. Well, it’s cheaper and there may be some mutual benefits but the suspicion is that these are disguised cuts to the service, not improvements. I hope to be proved wrong on that.

But finally, a piece of joy. One library service is allowing any well-behaved dog – not just guide dogs – into its libraries on Fridays. Speaking as someone whose dog is currently dozing on my left, I have to strongly encourage that. There’s an article I briefly saw saying that “dogs are the new library cat” and I hope that is never proved wrong. Woof.

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Cardifficulty

Editorial

Sad news from Cardiff, as it has become apparent the council is severely cutting the library service by stealth, cutting many paid and experienced library staff under the guise of a reorganisation. Time has shown that this is the easiest way to gut a public library service without having significant public protest. A closed library causes placards but one renamed a hub with half the floorspace and staff causes annoyance but little more. News received last week – and confirmed by exchanges on social media – is that many of the staff remaining are being quietly pushed out, with housing managers taking over many of the top jobs. You may not see this in the press but you will see sadly see this if you go to one of the libraries. Councils are learning to camouflage their cuts but the damage to the community will, I fear, not be so easily disguised.

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Petition hits over 24,600: tell a friend

Editorial

It’s great to see the petition to safeguard libraries for funding reaching (at time of posting) 24,582 signatures. This is already making an impact, with it being used in evidence when CILIP and others met with the libraries minister and others yesterday. I’d forgotten but there was another one back in 2012 and that, in six months, reached 17,569 names and the new one has five months left to go. Every extra person signing is that little bit extra pressure, and that little bit more evidence that libraries matter. Tell a friend.

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Libraries petition hits 15,000, helping to influence government

Editorial

It’s been great over the weekend to see the outpouring of support for public libraries for the “Protect library services by ringfencing government funding for libraries” petition. On Thursday, it looked like the petition would not reach 8,000 but due to the support of many people commenting on how important libraries are and retweeting, it hit the magic 10,000 – where the government needs to respond – on Saturday lunchtime and is now at a respectable 15,401 and going up at a couple per minute when checked. Notable supporters include – squee! – JK Rowlling, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Joanne Harris and Frank Cottrell Boyce and a ton of other authors. Thank you to Frances Belbin for starting the petition and to everyone who has taken part. It’s not over yet: the petition stays on the books until 24 March 2019 and if it hits 100,000 then it needs to be debated in parliament. It’s a dream. None of us are foolish enough I think to believe this will change government policy but it keeps the pressure up, means every one of us can do something and keep the snowball rolling. And it gives help. Sign now if you haven’t already – it takes 30 seconds and you need to confirm your email address – and tell others. It will give you, and libraries, hope. and the government a reason to think about libraries. I understand it is already helping in conversations with them.

My thanks also to my old tutor, Dr Bob Usherwood, who has taken the time to write below. It’s worth a read. And, yes, I know I am publishing pieces opposed to eachother but, well, I should . It’s what being balanced is all about.

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The Great 2018 Universal Offers Personality Test, if you ever get around to doing it

Editorial

Ooh, so much to talk about today. The bigotry of American fundamentalist Christians when it comes to any view but theirs continues to be in evidence, with one of their number literally burning books to make his point. There’s a not very good historic precedent about that somewhere.

Thankfully we don’t tend to do that here. What we do in this country, and do very well – someone eviller than I would comment we’ve had years of practice –  is procrastinate. Which can annoy. Like for instance, the way it can annoy Michael Rosen who is completely banging his head against the wall of government inactivity when it comes to trying to get them to make every child have a library card. Now, I know it’s not as easy as all that – “you can lead a horse to water” etc, oh, and GDPR – but it’s such a basic move and I can remember listening to Mr Rosen talking about it several years ago in the presence of a schools minister (Nick Gibb I think) who then spent half an hour talking about how great synthetic phonics was, to the collective groaning of his whole audience.

Then we have the “single digital presence”, of which no-one knows quite what it is but there’s been reports written on it since at least 2005. I wish the British Library good luck, and they mean well, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to get meaningful national action, especially in the aforesaid absence of a government willing to do anything meaningful. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that groundwork will be laid for when/if we have a change in government next election. Well, we’ve waited 13 years already, what’s a few more?

Finally, there’s a review of the Universal Offers going on. I don’t have much to say about that other than hope against hope that not more Offers are added. Heaven knows, I find it hard enough to remember all eight now.  Can you? Go on, test yourself. Write down what your remember and see what your score says about you with the fun guide at the bottom of this post.

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“Sick of all the doom and gloom”: Ayub Khan seeks to redress the balance

Editorial

I was at a meeting of the Library Campaign on Saturday, after nipping into the People’s Vote march beforehand. It was full of deeply committed people from all around the country fighting for what they believe is right against a government who needs to pay more attention. And, yes, so was the march.

There is much polarisation in this nation and what’s going on in libraries and with Brexit shows it in sharp relief. But there are good things happening as well. I see some beautiful refurbishments and new buildings, as well as genuine creativity – I love especially toy sleepovers, drag queen story times and dog reading partners but there is at least a new idea a week and so many passionate people. Focusing just on cuts would be to do the library service a disservice, and would personally make me far too angry and depressed to carry on. So it’s good to see Ayub’s piece below trying to redress the balance.

Finally, I need to mark the retirement of Phil Bradley. I knew him first via his CILIP column and his time as president and I was very pleased to be able to catch a chat with him at his home a few years ago. He’s a lovely man, who knows his stuff so well, is passionate and done so much for libraries. Thank you, Phil, thank you.

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O Canada

Editorial

If you like to see nice shiny new libraries the have a look at link below to a whole pile of new Canadian libraries. There’s nothing there that would strike someone as particularly shockingly innovative – well, apart perhaps from the community kitchens – but it’s good to see so much money being spent. Looking back to this country, it’s great to see, gosh, actual books being bought in Hampshire – shockingly, a public survey showed people wanted them, who’d have thought – and sad to see a deep cut confirmed in Hertfordshire, although I understand the council there is genuine in trying to seek the best possible future for libraries after facing some fairly stiff cuts. If you think, though, like apparently many Canadians, that there’s a lot of life left in libraries and that they give huge value rather than cost, then there’s a Library Campaign meeting this Saturday and a protest march on Saturday 3 November, both in London.

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That was the Libraries Week that was

Editorial

Last week, as I imagine absolutely everyone reading this will know, was Libraries Week. Scanning all of the news about the sector, as I do, it’s obvious that the Week does raise the profile of the public libraries. Most interestingly, the libraries minister himself, Michael Ellis, was seen in a public library or two, and even spoke about them, and I understand that even the DCMS minister his or herself (I see their name so rarely I can’t remember) was seen to show a momentary interest too. All the normal allies of libraries – basically, authors and the Guardian – raised their interest and it was notable that the BBC mentioned it a few times too. Most public libraries these days, unlike back when it started, marked the week as did Libraries Connected. And, of course, befitting the origin of the Week in protest, Labour used it to publish the result of a cuts survey. Much of the publicity, indeed the majority, was positive and that’s great because, frankly, the two things Joe Public thinks they know is that libraries are closing (they’re not, massively, but rather being hollowed out) and are becoming outdated due to ebooks (just no).

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The good and the bad

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I was asked this weekend why there’s only bad news in Public Libraries News. Well, there isn’t. A look at the stories today (and I’ve, honestly, not done a special feel-good edition) shows a 11:2 ratio of stories that are positive comparted to two which could be taken as negative in the national and international news. However, in the local news, the situation is reversed with the ratio being 13 :5  negative to positive.  Well, that’s interesting. I suspect part of the reversed polarity here is that, quite simply, there’s quite a few cuts going on in the UK when compared to elsewhere. Certainly, the news I see from the EU, Australia and New Zealand is almost all about investment and new ideas and even in Trumpian USA, there’s a more positive feel, although how long that will last is open to question. But I do do some editing – for example, I only cover a smattering of the enormous number of ACE-funded theatre shows in libraries covered because, well, it’s not really news to anyone else but those wanting to go. And I must admit to taking the decision to not cover the business event in Northamptonshire libraries, although perhaps I should have done (especially to balance out the unremitting disasters otherwise now associated with that borough once lauded as fantastic innovators) because there’s a ton of those as well everywhere. I just assume everyone knows they’re happening. So it’s bias but, hopefully, justified. Let me know if you think otherwise.

But, yes, there’s a lot of good stuff going in the UK too and it’s easy to forget that. In local news, it’s the bad stuff – the cuts – that gets the attention not the good. It’s like that phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” and that’s what PLN reflects when I summarise the reportage. I try to include both the good and the bad and while I once, yes, only really covered the bad news (PLN was described, approvingly as it happens, as “agitprop” in 2011) that’s no longer the case. If one wants a largely only a good news storyline then the Taskforce blog (and I’m not criticising them, I understand the reasoning and I’d do the same in their shows) is the way to go. I imagine Libraries Connected, if it ever does do news (and there’s not much of it at the mo) will be the same.

However, if you have good news to share – and I know many library authorities do – and you want it covered in PLN then I will. Do send in a few words (no more than 200) to me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk and I will see what I can do.

By the way, a note on Devon having 60,000 new members reported last time. I think this is the gross figure but, overall, the loss of existing members means it has seen a reduction in gross terms: from 104,445 in 2015/16 to 98,412 in 2016/17 according to CIPFA.

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