Get out and meet people

Editorial

So public librarians know that, far from being the quiet shy people stereotyped in popular culture, we’re actually dealing with people all the time.  Being an extrovert is a positive advantage in this profession.  Library staff deal with the public every day but probably not enough with other library staff outside of their own organisations, especially in these days of limited and sometimes non-existent training budgets. But it is worth the effort to get out there and meet people with different experiences and views.  I think this is one of the reasons why the Librarycamp movement is doing so well as is #uklibchat.  I recommend both even though I’m not involved enough in either.  More traditionally, there’s a pile of events listed below, from the biggest like CILIP 2015 to webcasts.  I’d also recommend for your perusal the Library Campaign AGM because these are people who give up their time to fight for libraries and your jobs.  They work really hard and they care and, I think, they’d really appreciate a few librarians along to give them support and some inside (and totally confidential) views on what is really going on.

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Andy McNab at Oxgangs Library Edinburgh May 2014 - 2 (1)

What do library 3D printers and buses have in common?

Editorial

3D printers look to be the same as buses: you wait for one for ages then two come at once.  Dundee have let me know that they had their machine set up last Tuesday while Exeter, tardy things, only opened theirs up to the public on Thursday.  The Scottish library service is using theirs in quite a novel way too: to print out characters which are then used in story-telling sessions for those with additional needs. It will also be used for printing items for reminiscence packs. Genius.

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Three changes to public libraries due to the local elections

Editorial

Right, let’s talk about the local elections and not mention a certain anti-EU party. What the media has not talked about, strangely, is what the results mean for libraries.  Well, let’s remedy that odd omission. The three key things here:

  • Hammersmith and Fulham is now Labour controlled.  This will place strain on the Tri-Borough council which, originally, consisted of three Conservative councils (with Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster being the other two). Whether such a cross-council partnership will survive different party allegiances will be closely watched.
  • Croydon is now Labour controlled.  The Labour party beforehand promised to reverse the decision to outsource its libraries to a private company (Laing and then Carillion). It’ll be interesting to see if it tries to do so and what problems it will raise.
  • The Local Government Association (LGA) now has Labour as its largest grouping. One can expect them to be more vociferous against cuts to services because of this … but by how much and to what effect remains to be seen.

By the way, the 31st July of this year will be fiftieth anniversary of the Public Libraries and Museums Act which made public libraries statutory. This completely passed me by.  Is anyone doing anything for this day?  Do let me know.

Please email any thoughts, news or comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Just giving out library cards doesn’t hack it … and more on Exeter

Editorial

A report on Radio Four “You and Yours” about giving library cards to babies is worth a listen.  It’s part of a number of pilots funded by Arts Council England on encouraging library membership.  The results are good but Brian Ashley, the ACE libraries boss, points out just passing over a library card “doesn’t hack it” and the service needs to constantly engage with the user in order to join a library card owner into a library card user.  Laura Swaffield from the Library Campaign interviewed in the same programme points out that young families are more seriously affected by cuts than others as those prams make long journeys to a surviving library more difficult.

Then there is more today on the reopening of Exeter Central Libray’s after its refurbishment.  Some more pictures show a definite retro look that gives it, in my mind, a different look which is to be welcomed.  After from that stylist difference, the presence of a Fab Lab (the first in a public library in the UK I think – although St Botolphs has had one for a while) needs a mention as is the fact that the refurbishment came with significantly more books rather than the cuts in bookstock one often sees in such cases. Money came for all this, at least in part, from the sale of Exeter Airport.

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Mergers, charitable trusts and retro Maker Spaces

Editorial

Well, a lot going on today, in the headlines and behind them but the key stuff is fairly obvious.  In no particular order, we have two London boroughs (Camden and Islington) looking to merge library services, with a view to rationalising library provision where they both have branches close to eachother on the border.  Think of this, perhaps, as a Labour-run Bi-Borough to rival the Conservative Tri-Borough (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham).  Because that’s how it seems to go: the councils need to be of the same party in order to get along, at least initially.  

Secondly, we have Kent – one of the very biggest councils in terms of branches at least (nearly a hundred depending on your definitions) – thinking about moving libraries (and Registrars and Archives) into a charitable trust similar to that currently being run in Suffolk or York.  This model is getting a lot of attention at the moment and I expect to see more going this way soon.

Finally, we have the refurbished Exeter Central Library reopening.  From the pictures I have seen it looks weirdly retro – the building is 1960s and it was decided to go with that look – but it also has the country’s first public library library Maker Space within it.  This opening is coming at a time when Devon is going through a painful review with 28 out of 50 branches being potentially under threat (although definitions are disputed) and it is notable that there is a certain “that’s nice, what about us with our library maybe closing?” chatter on Twitter on the subject.  But I am sure Exeter needed the upgrade and I’m not going to diss a new library project in this day and age.  I really hope it goes well and I’m looking forward to seeing more about it.

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“For all persons desiring to make use thereof”

Editorial

That thing about public libraries being a statutory service is well-known and most librarians can quote the “comprehensive and efficient” bit but those three words are not the whole sentence.  No, the whole sentence is:

“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” General duty of library authorities, 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.

Now that’s important because it says for all persons: not just those with transport to get to the big town library and not just those who have use of their legs.  It says “for all persons”.  It seems to me that this is vital because it goes a lot further than the woolly “comprehensive” and the even more indefinable “efficient”.  It is also clear from the drafter of the Act that it was always meant to be a stronger piece of legislation than some current council legal departments think it is.

What makes those words even more important is that almost all legal challenges to library cuts have not been on procedural grounds and not on the level of service.  It’s on Equalities Act stuff or on the consultation precisely because it’s hard to win a case on such woollyness as the 1964 Act has previously been famous for.  As it is, councils don’t have to worry about minimum provision: they can simply redo the offending thing if they get caught out and cut away.  In a country like England with no Library Standards then it’s even more crucial we have something.  What is needed is some sort of legal challenge, successful legal challenge, on minimum provision …. and those forgotten line “for all persons desiring to make use thereof” could be handy.  Frankly, it could save public library provision in smaller towns.  So let’s not forget those extra lines and let’s hope someone clever in the legal provision can do it. Because then councils will be scared of cutting libraries, will give them more protection and that will give public libraries some valuable breathing space.  And we all need to breathe.

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The new children's library

Last library service standing

Editorial

In the last editorial I wrote on the poor showing that Carillion appear to be giving for those who would argue for outsourcing library services.  It is worth mentioning, as one commenter did to me, of course, that there are other options for outsourcing.  There’s not too many others, admittedly, but they are there. There is in fact only one other, GLL, which are present in the UK market as a multi-council operation and, unlike Carillion, they are a social enterprise and so are not in it (strictly speaking) for the profit. LSSI are the other obvious contender but, as yet, despite running a fair few in the US, they do not currently have a single UK libraries contract.  They’d also like to distance themselves from Carillion as shown by this tweet I received from one of their senior UK people: “if they’re going to be outsourced, the profession should seek out the ONLY professional libraries operator! “.

There are also of course libraries run by non-profits in single councils: with York and Suffolk being the libraries-only concerns and the others being leisure services as well.  So, outsourcing remains an option but, as in other things (not least individual traditional council-run libraries, some of which are excellent and some of which are dire) there is quite a variation.  Working as we do in a time of tremendous stress, we will see over the next few years if this option is a successful and viable one … forced evolution will do its work and we will see which one these new options, and the old ones as well, are left standing.

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Straw Men and Amateurs

Editorial

Nottinghamshire councillors have announced that they were considering the closure of 44 libraries but, instead, the council has decided (like Devon already has) to seek support from community groups (including a community radio station), volunteers and funding from parish councils.  But hang on, that option of closing so many libraries looks suspiciously like a straw man: the councillors can blame the officers (who had no choice, presumably, but to give it as an alternative) and can say that they’re trying their best to save the service by passing it to someone else who will do the job for less.  So, a bit of a double whammy to the poor council workers there – they get put in the position of bad guys by their own councillors and other council workers are then likely to see their jobs lost as others, unpaid or otherwise, take them over instead.

What Nottinghamshire haven’t mentioned is passing on the service to a private company to run at a profit.  Which is probably good, because Carillion, according to reports, are doing the cause of outsourcing public libraries to private companies no favours in Croydon.  In the third negative article in the local press I’ve read in the last month, a student attacks what appears to be a frankly ridiculous system where the libraries have “student” tables and “leisure” tables.  It comes on top of another article which, admittedly written by a hostile witness (a Labour councillor) who points out that the Central Library there has been reduced to one entrance/exit, effectively closing the main entrance. He also notes:

An entire floor had no staff on it. The children’s library had no librarian on duty either. Carillion, the private company that now runs the libraries, has purposefully “de-skilled” the borough’s libraries, employing as few professional librarians as possible.

Of course, Croydon Council never agreed to Carillion taking over its libraries in the first place.  It agreed to Laing taking them over who then, six weeks later, simply sold the business to the new owners.  As a case study in how to turn people off “privatisation” of public libraries, this can hardly be bettered (worsened?).  Indeed, so so ironically, Carillion appear to be showing how amateur a private library company can be.

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Public libraries given means of assessing their own value to users

Editorial

ALMA-UK (no, I’ve never head of them either but apparently it’s “a voluntary cross-nation partnership, dedicated to enhancing the public value of archives, libraries and museums UK wide”) has come up with some useful findings to help keep your public library afloat.  It also provides, for free, a sample questionnaire and spreadsheets which any library service can use to find out the economic impact of its service.  The results of its survey incidentally is that the value of each library trip for the user is between 5.5 and 7.5 times the cost of provision.  Which is a pretty good multiplier and places it at the high end of studies which normally place the return on investment of public libraries as from 1.6 to 5.6.

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“Trying to make people reading brilliant books smile”

Editorial

Some mentions of libraries are starting to surface in councillors battling local elections.  Not many though. Perhaps that can be changed with the  Speak Up For Libraries manifesto.  Or perhaps we just need more teenagers putting messages in books saying how great they are.  It may not be very earnest, but I love it.  See below.

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