So what does Lancashire and Newfoundland have in common?

Editorial

More information has come out about the cuts in Lancashire. It’s pretty bad. The press release from the council is an unfortunate example of the best possible gloss being put on a bad situation, with the real needs of users (and the feelings of library staff, not to say their jobs) seemingly pretty much ignored. Canada is not a place I normally associate with deep cuts but it looks like the politicians in Newfoundland are trying to change that.  It’s heartening to see the national reaction, not to say revulsion, that this is causing in that country, though. So things may end differently there. We can hope so. Meanwhile, there’s a nice refurb in Bradford and an extension of the embarrassing closure in Hereford and something very interesting going on in a Malaysian airport …

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Stephen Fry1

Libraries “save lives” says Stephen Fry

Editorial

I’m going to pass over my editorial to Stephen Fry today. The image is shareable and copyright free.

Stephen Fry1

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Lewisham - Unison poster organising march to "save Lewisham Libraries"

“Fund it better”

Editorial

My thanks to a PLN reader who pointed out that the Atlantic article on the decline in usage of US libraries over recent years stated that the drop had a lot to do with budget cuts (or increases in areas which saw usage rise).  I neglected to mention this in my summary. It’s something which has resonance in the UK where the decline in library usage mirrors closely (or, much of the time, is less than) the cuts to their budget.  English library budgets have fallen far more than the 14.3% decline in usage that the BooKSeller reports or the larger figure that the DCMS figure itself suggests. Don’t get me wrong, budget cuts are not the only woe. I’m sure that some of the decline is due to general global trends like e-books – research I’m doing into the usage and budgetary trends of libraries in Europe and beyond show that it’s not just the UK that’s seeing drops, and also it’s not just those countries who have seen big cuts to budgets. That’s not a message that will be popular with everyone. However, the Atlantic article ends with a sentiment I think almost all of us can agree with: ” if the public wants to reverse the trend and make the local library more useful, it should do one thing that evidence supports: Fund it better. “

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Taking Part and Polish train station libraries

Editorial

The DCMS “Taking Part” survey has done a special focus on public libraries.  It’s useful as it looks at adult usage over the past ten years. The trend shows a clear decline – I think we all knew that that would be the case, with reasons being arguable, but with the given reasons of those surveyed being, quite simply, e-books and preferring to buy.  It’s also noteworthy how important a factor children are in adult’s use of libraries.  There’s a lot of crossover there that perhaps library design does not always follow.  Elsewhere, I’m loving the Polish train station converted into a library.

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Cuts in North Somerset, a strike in Bristol and petitions over library moves

Editorial

North Somerset – quiet on these pages for a few years – has announced that libraries and children’s centres will co-locate (with all the benefits and problems that implies) for an overall cut of £500k. Meanwhile, nearby in Bristol, all libraries will be closed for day while staff strike over changes to working conditions which mean, they claim, that many are effectively being paid less for working more. Over in Staffordshire, it looks like quite a few branches have had to close temporarily due to staff shortages and, in addition, the county has received over 6,000 names on a petition over the move of Lichfield Library. People in Brighton and Hove are not looking delighted over the move of Hove Library either.

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A few good nights to be a librarian

Editorial

It’s been an interestingly varied few days – helping to host a thriller writer at a library event on Wednesday and then, three days later, helping out at a magic show in another library.  The writer, Martin Edwards, is up for two awards in the USA this week but spoke a lot on how important joining the library was – the library he was speaking at, as it happens – in helping his career.  The magic show was from a professional  theatre company, funded by Arts Council England, and it was superb. Both were very well attended and top notch and I was proud to be part of them.  But they were as nothing compared to being was master of ceremonies for a town award’s night on Friday.  It was a real pleasure to realise I knew so many of the people in the audience and so many of the winners as well.  I knew them because I’d simply worked in the town library for so many years. You get to know people. And people get to know you. There was a lot of smiles and laughter and an awareness, hopefully not just on my part, of the key role libraries play in the town.  All in all, it was a good few nights to be a librarian.

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More remote-controlled libraries and digital trends

Editorial

Axiell have jumped on the remote-controlled libraries technology offer (for the pros and cons of which see here) meaning that the majority of library system suppliers in the UK offer something in this field.  For councils, this is quite tempting – increase your hours while cutting costs – but there’s down sides to it as well, as those locked out due to IT problems or those under 16 are discovering. In other news, by coincidence, the same company Axiell has sent me a guest blog which includes somethings I’ve not come across before (“Internet of Relations” anyone?).

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Top digital trends for libraries to follow in 2016; Influencers that make community engagement better 

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Moranifesto, promoting libraries and party manifestos

Editorial

Some good “think” pieces about libraries this week, notably from Caitlin Moran and from Nick Poole. Malorie Blackman bigs up libraries in the Guardian, pointing out how important they are to having a fair chance in life. We also have a look at the manifesto for the Welsh elections by the main political parties, which always show – when it comes down to it – what parties really think about libraries. Looks like UKIP don’t think anything. Then there’s a surprising amount on libraries in Islamic countries (and all the more welcome it is for being unusual), including some spectacularly heroic work in Mali and Afghanistan. Finally, there’s a whole ton of local news, fleshing out the cuts in Hampshire but also noting library promotions like Books on Prescription and World Book Night.

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Harry Potter and the DCMS library investigation

Editorial

I’ve had a week off so there’s a lot of news today with the main personal bit I’d like to share with you being how utterly fantastic the Harry Potter Studio Tour is. Gosh, I remember those books when they first came out and getting them in libraries … anyway, in main library news, Dudley (not Dursley, keep up) becomes a mutual in order to meet cuts to budget. Leicestershire has announced yet another major round of cuts to libraries and Powys has also announced many of its smaller branches are under threat.  Meanwhile, at the DCMS, the minister has (as expected) said there’s no problem in Lincolnshire slashing its library services but – to some shock, not least of all by the council one suspects – it has announced it will look into the cuts in Lambeth made famous by the recent sit-in.  But an investigation is actually nothing much. That’s what it did to Lincolnshire. What matters is if it says that the council has not met its statutory duties.  And that I’ll believe when I see it.

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The only hand of cards left: the strength and weaknesses shown in the Lambeth protest

Editorial

The power and limitation of protest was seen in Lambeth, in spades, this week.  The sit-in – for a very impressive week and more, with quite a few involved – attracted a lot of attention and culminated in what appears to be well over a thousand marching in the borough’s streets on Saturday.  I’ll say that again, well over a thousand. Marching, In the streets. For a library. The protest deeply embarrassed the council (or should have done, of which more in a tiny bit) and was reported in the national as well as local media. The local councillors, and anyone else paying attention, now conclusively know that libraries are a (in the words of the Institute of Economic Affairs ant-library spokesman a week or two ago) “hot button” issue and, if you close them without co-opting the public onto your side (e.g. “Volunteer or the library will close”) then you’re in for a world of political hurt.  The reputation of GLL, who must have come into this thinking they would be seen as the good guys, has also been somewhat tarnished by association.

Now for the down side. The council simply got a court order and would have evicted the protesters, if the latter hadn’t left peacefully.  Also, at time of going to press, the councillors also seem not have changed their attitude one jot and the cuts will still occur. In what they apparently consider to be safe seats, councillors instead turned the blame onto the protesters themselves – accusing them of drinking wine, of all things, and suggesting they were bored of the whole thing with one councillor (seriously) tweeting a picture of a cat yawning – instead of having a hard look at why people were angry. As the Guardian points out, it made the local Labour councillors the defenders of the Conservative Government’s and directly associated them with Austerity, as well as with arrogance and a bit of incompetence thrown in.  But, these are councillors with the electorate (who voted them in) and the law on their side.  They can do what they like for their term in office and they have the power. Using power against them, in the terms of sit-ins and protest marches, is a last-ditch gamble, as many campaigners knew. Having failed to persuade the councillors by other means, it was time for the placards. But, faced with a council, which had clearly already made up it’s mind, it was the only hand of cards they had left.

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