Libraries on the Edge: some great ideas

Ed(ge)itorial

I’ve just had the honour and privilege of chairing a couple of sessions at the Edge library conference in Edinburgh, which is my most recent excuse for the lateness of this post.  I learnt many things there, which I will be covering in depth later issues but here’s the overview …  Patrick Losinski of Columbus Ohio seriously impressed with his tale of a library service that has effectively “claimed the space” of children when they’re out of school, gaining many millions of dollars in funding as a result.  Artefacto’s Library Wall – downloadable ebooks on a wall accessible via QR code – impressed with the passion and sheer ease with which it was done.  It was shocking that no library authority I am aware of in the UK is doing something similar. Libraries Without Borders talked about their work in refugee camps.  Seriously, all I could do was be in awe of their work. I also heard about the long-term large-scale partnership Glasgow libraries have with Macmillan Cancer Support to put their volunteers and surgeries in libraries.  The budget was in the millions.  That opened my eyes.

But what impressed me equally was the work of Edinburgh. They’re doing great things in many areas, including online and digital.  They also cleverly put on a library conference that pays for itself and they can send a lot of their staff to, meaning new ideas are part of their normal. The library service appears to have revolutionised it’s work with teenagers and I heard about some outstanding stuff reintegrating Polish migrant workers – sadly, often now unemplpyed and suffering from alcohol abuse – into the community.  They were all optimistic and open-minded.  It was a pleasure and well done to everyone.  So the next time you go to Edinburgh (and it was my first visit) make sure you go into a library as well.

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A weekend of library news

Editorial

The pre General Election frenzy is becoming apparent with more politicians than normal taking pot shots at eachother over libraries. Good to see Islington delaying cuts but sad to see that cuts, as yet unspecified, may affect Fife, home to the reportedly first ever Carnegie Library. In other news, it’s a shame to see the antisocial behaviour (familiar to many a library worker, me included) reported in Edinburgh but heartwarming to see the report from the decidedly pro-social child on Worcestershire’s The Hive.

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Cuts, ideas and appeals

Editorial

Protests about cuts in Thurrock may have assisted in reducing the impacts of the cuts there, although the small print may mean the improvements are more apparent than real.  Anouncements of cuts have come out in Hartlepool and more details on deep cuts have come out about Lambeth.

Moving away from the general depression, there’s some interesting initiatives like Raspberry Pi workshops (not a new thing but one I have not highlighted on these pages before) and also, would you believe, literary anarchists.  Finally, for something completely different, there’s an appeal to help out recording a play based in a library and for your local library card to be sent for a collection forming in Australia.

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A home for the homeless

Editorial

One of the things you notice about libraries is that no one is turned away.  As long as you’re not disturbing anyone or trashing anything then it doesn’t matter who you are, what money you have or where you come from, you can come in.  A library is the one place where you should be able to come in, no questions asked. Which is why this tweet below showing a picture from a San Diego Library so annoyed me.  It’s a way to keep the homeless out – if you’ve got big bags then you can’t come in.  Doesn’t matter if you disturb anyone when you get in or not, tough, your misfortune means we can say no.  The sneaky policy means the library service can say, hand on heart, that it has no policy against the homeless.  Just that, strangely, they don’t see that many any more. Fancy that. Like the twitterer, I like nothing about this.

 

This is an example of a deliberate barrier put in place but there are many other, less obvious barriers that we can all be guilty of.  Way back when, my library service required two forms of  ID to join.  I was turning away people who wanted to use the service.  Now, we require no ID at all and – you know what? – it’s made no noticeable difference on lost stock but it sure as heck means I don’t turn people away now.  It also means that if you are guilty of the crime of not having an address then you can join the library.  Which is how it should be. Don’t get me wrong, if someone is disturbing other people in the library, they are ejected and if they steal things, we treat it seriously – but to stop people using the service because of bureaucracy is not somewhere we should be in 2015. The library’s place as the home for the homeless, the temple for all religions and none, places a heavy task on library staff to leave their prejudices (conscious or not), not bags, at the door.

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Being open about weeding

Editorial

The withdrawal of 240,000 books from Manchester Central Library – and their selling to booksellers/recyclers – has again raised its head, three years after the original story.  For me, it illustrates the need for trust and open-ness. Librarians need to, when getting rid of a ton (especially many tons) of stock remember that the stock is not theirs.  It is owned by the council and thus the public.  Staff therefore need to be able to justify what is being cut in terms of a policy and, as (as a possibly pre-emptive step never before undertaken), actually let the public know they’re doing it.  Public libraries are the most open of buildings and staff rightly pride themselves on the skills that they have, but one of those should be being up front about what is happening to books.  It’s not, after all, waste or bad practice to get rid of books.  No library, except those desperate cases with no new stock coming in at all, can survive for long without weeding its stock. We should be proud of the process and explain why and how we’re doing it rather than – as is so often the case – hiding the fact.

Let me be clear, I have no reason to believe that Manchester did anything wrong in getting rid of stock – it had a policy, apparently only duplicates were got rid of, and everything else that I have seen about that building impresses the heck out of me – but the negative news coverage goes to show that public relations is very important.  Perhaps councils, because it’s a rare library service that actually controls its own PR, should be up front and say that each item costs money each year to store (I’ve recently seen the figure of £4 per item quoted) and now of all times we simply can’t afford to do that for all books, let alone ephemera and paperbacks published ten years ago. Being open about such things may inspire trust, and trust is exactly what we need to remember we hold the items in.

Using my time machine, I can confidently predict that Ed Vaizey will say that he will not be intervening in Sheffield when he produces his final decision on 27th February.  Oh OK, you got me, I don’t have a time machine … but who needs one to be able to predict what this most non-interventionist of ministers will decide?

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The Vacuum Cleaner performs his autobiographical one man show Mental. (copyright Karen Thornburn)

Necessity is the mother of invention? Libraries in 2015

Editorial

There’s a ton of imaginative stuff going on in libraries, if one pushes past the heavy curtain of budget cuts.  My thanks to St Helen’s libraries for sending me details of their Arts in Libraries project, which was brought to my attention after a piece written on the need for more theatre in libraries.  The boss of their service tweeted me saying they’re already doing a ton of stuff … and indeed they are. The thing is, of course, that these things are now never dependent on internal resources: ideas have to be free (see the fantastic Hovermark idea below), cost very little or have the capacity for commercial sponsorship (I have hopes for Awesome Boxes in that regard), receive outside funding (like St Helen’s) or require partnership (see this excellent US article). There’s more stuff going on as well: a conference in Edinburgh next month will be covering innovations and I’m including further details about this today: I’m going so I hope to see you there and would love to hear from you about what is going on in your service.

Changes

  • Hertfordshire - (Clarification from council) – £2.5 million cut in library service per year expected to be reached by third year (£1m cut each Year 1 and Year 2, £500k cut Year 3).

Ideas

  • Awesome boxes - Customer puts the library book they loved in a special box when returned in branch or online.
  • Hovermarks - Downloadable copyright-free bookmark that points towards the spine, not cover, allowing the bookmark to be read when books is shelved and not on display.
  • “Play stations” at story times - Provide toys, with play activities and “play tips”, integral to programme.

Arts in Libraries – St. Helen’s case study

Since 2011, St.Helens Council’s Arts and Libraries services have been working together to programme high-quality arts participation projects and performances. The Cultural Hubs programme, funded through The National Lottery and distributed through Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts (Libraries) fund, began in 2013. It has enabled a programme of performances, plays, gigs, workshops, courses, events and exhibitions in all 13 libraries within the borough of St Helens.

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A week of public library news

Editorial

A bumper edition of a week of news today.  The lateness is partly due to library stuff – organising the county final of a schools poetry competition (Poetry By Heart) and staffing a stall at a community event on Saturday.  Anyway, let’s look at what’s going on – more details about the cuts in Hertfordshire and more on volunteers in Staffordshire combines with cuts to Shropshire and the ongoing saga in Lincolnshire.  Breaking news from the last is that the DCMS will be looking into the cuts after it agreed to take a letter of complaint from a campaigner seriously.

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Glory days

Editorial

Some positive news today.  The good people of Cardiff have campaigned mightily to save seven threatened branches and the council has agreed to save them all, although it is unclear in what format. Meanwhile, in Scotland, West Dunbartonshire has not only backed down from closing Balloch Library but is going to buy it a new public toilet as well as spending a mighty £500k to improve Clydesbank Library. Meanwhile in Walsall, it has been announced that, while eight libraries will still be closed, it’s going to happen three or more months later than expected.  That last one provides a bit of a hint as to what may be going on – councils may not be keen on closures in May, what with the election and all. Indeed, the next few months may be glory days for saving threatened libraries as councils realise a closed local civic building is not a votewinner. But only if people campaign.

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It's a bit colourful.

Sanctuary, celebration and love: not bad, people, not bad.

Editorial

It’s been a great weekend.  Loads of people have used libraries, of all ages and backgrounds, finding in them what they need, regardless of their ability to pay.  By their presence, the buildings have contributed to local communities, provided equality in a world increasingly without it and been appreciated by hundreds of thousands.  Oh, and it’s also been National Libraries Day. There’s been a lot said (and great to see the Sunday Mirror printing an application form) about closures and cuts and anger but the main words that have sunk into my mind are sanctuary, celebration and love.  Those are not half bad words for any job. Be proud.

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David Whitehouse on the importance of libraries More >

LibrarianFirst?

Editorial

The findings of the Independent Report on Public Libraries included the suggested action to do something like Teachfirst for public libraries in order to encourage new and talented young people into the sector at an affordable price. With the help of the Society of Chief Librarians, The Creative Society and Arts Council England, that suggestion has now become reality.  The details are:

  • 50 paid internships for unemployed 16-24 year olds in England to work in the public library sector.
  • Only for posts where “where job roles and skill sets are common to arts organisations. For example: front of house, education and outreach, marketing, digital media.”
  • Organisations can apply for “part wage grant”, explaining what post it is for, its sustainability etc.
  • For one year or more, “Learning how to do the job by doing it”.

The press release is here and more details are here. If I understand this right then that second point means there is a barrier against the apprentices being used, as some fear, to simply replace paid employees or to fill vacancies.  The challenge for library services will be to find roles that fill the criteria and are sustainable. But that is fine. After all, we want new people coming in doing this kind of thing and if it means that library services can experiment, at cut rates, with new roles then there will be few complaints.  At the not exactly young age of 44, I am often the youngest working in some branches I visit and so an initiative like this is to be welcomed. It is also great that action points in a report on libraries is actually being implemented, rather than being just talked about and bodes well for the other suggestions as a whole.

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