Public library budget for the UK falls roughly one-tenth in one year. Ouch.

Editorial

Total net expenditure on public libraries went down from £842k in 2015/16 to £771k in 2016/17, a decline of over 8% in just one year. Add in inflation and it’s more like 10% (or it would be if salaries weren’t semi-frozen). That would be awful enough if that was a one-off but it isn’t: there’s been real cuts to expenditure every single year since 2009/10 and there’s inflation in that period too (of 17%) to account for. So, that’s mega isn’t it? Brutal in fact. No surprise then that usage is falling. The surprise is that it’s not falling faster, After all, visits are down a mere 3% when the cut to funding was three times more.

So that’s one horror story. The other is, of course, how the figures themselves  are collected. Given by councils, CIPFA then collates them when the financial year finishes in April, presumably then does something else for a bit (because it’s now December), sends out a summary press release as a sales pitch and then charges an eye-watering charge for anyone wanting the full package. But, hang on, these are our statistics. Which we’re stopped from using unless we’re rich and don’t mind waiting, let’s think, more than seven whole months to see. And this is for the library profession, which should be fairly good on information. I’m glad to say that things are changing though. All of the organisations (well, apart from, presumably CIPFA but I don’t know) involved (SCL, Taskforce, CILIP etc) are keen on improving on the current mess. I hope they succeed. Then we’ll be able to tell for free and in real-time how fast budgets are declining. Hang on, that doesn’t sound fun. But at least it’s not downright embarrassing, unlike the current situation.

Changes

More >

“Libraries Unlimited” indeed – Devon expands

Editorial

Devon are the first of the library-only mutual to expand beyond its borders by taking over Torbay.  It’s a natural fit – Torbay is small and next-door – but signals the mutual need not just stay in their boundaries. GLL may have competition in sucking up library services, especially with the Government/Taskforce so openly backing the library mutual model. Meanwhile in Sheffield, the bizarre scheme to sell the central library to the Chinese as a luxury hotel in a £1 billion development has hit the buffers of reality: there may a £20m scheme for the library instead, although there is support for simply refurbishing the existing building. Good to see a new library – delightfully named “Cat and Mouse” opening in Islington and also that Gateshead, faced with charging the unemployed for seeking work online, ending computer charges. On the downside, another school library service – that of Derbyshire – is under threat.

Changes

More >

Good news and Christmas

Editorial

Good to see library news connecting with the general goodwill of the season. A news article from Warrington reports that no libraries may close (a big turnaround from the original proposals), although of course the devil may be in the detail, as yet unseen. Also – and I love this – West Dunbartonshire are putting out to consultation (rather than just voting through) deep cuts in their library opening hours due to a well-timed letter from CILIPS. Well done Scottish CILIP people. And it may be Christmas for Derby libraries every day as the council catches on, finally, that Section 106 money from new housing can be used for library projects. But the big applause must go to the library team at Plymouth who are keeping their library open on Christmas Day. It can be the loneliest day for so many so this is a really warm-hearted move. Well done those who volunteered to work that day. I hope it goes well, and the mince pies are delicious.

Changes

More >

Christmas for GLL, London library property boom and Japanese success

Editorial

Some interesting news stories today. GLL have officially taken over another library service, meaning they’re now running, by my count, five. In a further sign, if any were needed, that London is an increasingly foreign city compared to the rest of the country, another library there gets a new building as part of a property deal that would not have been so possible anywhere without its insanely high property prices. And then we have Christmas creeping up on us, with a story in the Guardian of how dedicated librarians are even at Christmas. This article also mentions the large number of volunteers being used, which ties in with an advert also today for a paid PhD on volunteers, describing them as “crucial” for the library service. No mention of volunteers, though, from Japan, where a new combined bookshop/library/restaurant model is apparently going great guns.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Trustees and updates

Editorial

Congratulations to those voted in as Trustees for CILIP, especially public libraries blogger Leon Bolton whose blogging career I have watched with great interest. There’s a few ongoing fights in various library services, including an interesting suggestion from Warrington’s auditors about the need to consider other bidders for library services. The deep cuts to Northamptonshire libraries are again in the news too (and I’d like to point out they only had 36 branches to begin with, not the bigger number I have accidentally given them in previous posts), as are the final dates for some of Bury libraries to close. The long-running legal fight in Darlington will continue, with the judge saying there’s just enough evidence to move the review on to the next level.

Changes

More >

When a £50k cut comes as relief: Suffolk 2018/21. £950k cut in Bradford.

Editorial

It comes to something when a cut of £50k is something to be treated with relief but that’s the case in Suffolk Libraries, which appears to have negotiated a four-year agreement that will make pretty much every other library service in the country weak with envy. Well done to them. Bradford are not so lucky with a deep cut of £950k just announced, on top of the deep cuts which that city has had to endure a year or two ago. That cuts are the order of the day, and a £50k on can be seen as little short of miraculous, pretty much underlines the view of a roundtable discussion at the Palace of Westminster this week. But I wish it was not so. And it’s Christmas-time so, if you can, try to think positive thoughts and perhaps tune into #uklibchat soon to discuss all that is great and good in libraries. And, despite, austerity, that’s still quite a lot.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Bristol delays cuts due to government funds, and a CILIP-led school library protest letter

Editorial

Two key news stories for me this post. The first is from Bristol, which has temporarily a deep cut to its libraries while it looks in to the possibilities of mutual and co-locations. This is coming about from government money designed to encourage mutual and it’s unusual for such a delay in libraries due to Government funding, although the strong push towards such trusts has been notable for years. I suspect the depth of the cuts and the level of protest had something to do with it.

The other is a CILIP-led protest letter, signed by authors and others, against cuts to school libraries. It started with a tweet and snowballed into a major (well, for libraries, anyway) news story. I got some serious deja vu from it as you may recall a similar mass protest letter against public library closures a few years ago. The difference now is that CILIP was key to the action, while back in the old days of 2011, it hadn’t quite got the hang of protest or realised how deep and prolonged the cuts will be. That has all changed now and the organisation is earning its subscription fee to both public and school libraries.

Changes

Ideas

More >

Libraries are here to share info, not hide it: the joy of Open Data

Editorial

I was at the rather marvellous “Voyage of the Data Treader” unconference yesterday. There were quite a few big learning points for me during the day. The first was that “open data” if done properly can help reputation (not damage it, as many fear), save money (fewer Freedom of Information requests) and can lead to unexpected things. This last shouldn’t have surprised me because – you see that map on the righthand side of the website? – that was done by Libraries Hacked using PLN blog entries. I had no idea it was possible before he did it as I just don’t code. What made it “open data” is that I had taken the decision years ago to publish with a creative commons license meaning anyone could use it. I hadn’t realised that it was “open data” at the time (and it was 2010 so very few probably did) but I’m glad I made that decision. Newcastle is too, by the way – apparently, it’s adherence to publishing its data saves it £250k on FOI requests.

Another thought. Public libraries suffer a lot from not having their enough about them public. The Libraries Taskforce lacks the power to force authorities to make them public and there’s no chance the current government would give them that power. So “open data” in libraries has to be voluntary. To do this, there will need to be awareness of both the carrot (save money, look good to your public) and the stick (“what is your council hiding?”, how come it’s not one of the “open” ones?). We’ll see if that works. But the mood yesterday was clearly that things were moving towards more “open” sharing of information. And that can only be a good thing. After all, I’m sure none of us joined the library sector to hide information.

Changes

More >

Library chuggers coming soon? Suffolk Libraries decides the best person to run it is not a librarian

Editorial

Library trusts in England haven’t been around for long, with the oldest being just two or three years old. As such, their chiefs are the library managers who took them out of council control. So the first changing of the guard, caused by the retirement of the Suffolk boss Alison Wheeler, was an interesting one to watch, and not least because of the 17-page vacancy pack. No, it was one to watch to see who would get it and where they would come from. And now we know. It’s someone from a charity and with apparently no library experience. That gives a clear indicator as to the direction of travel Suffolk has already gone on: the skills needed are now those of an independent fundraiser and not of a public librarian. It’s a truism that the higher up an organisation one goes then the less specialist skills you need and that’s the case in libraries as well as elsewhere, and Suffolk is not the first library service to have a non-librarian running it by any means. But it gives a view into the future, and the present, that would perhaps have surprised those in the library sector ten years ago and shows the financial and political pressures that such services are expected to have to face.

Interestingly Hertfordshire have just announced that they’re thinking of going down to the libraries trust route because it is “supported by national government” and it’s certainly true the Taskforce is heavily pushing the model. As funding is reduced in authority after authority, on a cycle of every two to four years, the siren call of the Trust is going to get louder. But it means that library services will become more akin to charities than statutory council run services, with all that implies. The first library chugger may not be far away.

Changes

Ideas

More >

A quiet few days: Cumbria, Anglesey and a fracking fund

Editorial

A reasonably quiet couple of days with a few libraries threatened in Cumbria and more detail on what is likely to happen in Anglesey. There’s a somewhat hard to believe report that fracking will result in £1 billion of community grants for groups, but it specifically mentions libraries so here’s hoping. There’s also a couple of things about health and wellbeing from the LGA and Task Force.

Changes

More >