The library news since 8th September

Editorial

It’s looking to be a good year for the Summer Reading Challenge from reports I hear: I’m aware of more than one authority which has had a record number of starters. I look forward to hearing the final numbers from the Reading Agency.  In other, less upbeat news, the deep cuts to Lancashire libraries dominates the local news, with one (Conservative) MP even  asking for the ending the (Labour) council.

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A rallying cry against library volunteers

Editorial

Dawn Finch has upped the pressure again, after an excellent fact-finding interview with a volunteer a couple of days ago, with a “rallying cry” for those who know library volunteers are “exploitative and unsustainable”. Have a read of her original article, if you have not already done so, then perhaps her words in the BookSeller.

In other news, Lancashire has chosen World Literacy Day to rubber stamp the closure of large parts of its library service. They probably couldn’t read the calendar properly in order to appreciate the irony of this. Perhaps they need to visit libraries more to help them out. Oh, too late.

Finally, Warrington LiveWire – who, you will remember tried to push through several closures under the pretence it was modernising and expanding its service – woke up to a big front page with pictures of the libraries in question and the headline saying they are under threat. Should have been honest and upfront to begin with, guys. You’re opening yourself up to legal challenge if not just a ton of reputational damage. Mind you,  I understand some people who have been filling in the consultation get a reply saying thank you for enquiring about swimming lessons so perhaps it’s just being seen as them as a cunning cross-promotional drive for their pools.

“I know that for many this makes grim reading, but it is an important truth that many are trying to ignore. I have a thick skin and can take the flak and it’s worth it to get the truth heard. The post has been very well received and in the last 48 hours it has been read almost 2,000 times. Since I posted it on Monday afternoon I have had many messages from volunteers in both libraries and museums who all say that their situation is almost exactly this, but that they too are afraid to speak out for fear of alienating their every-diminishing pool of volunteers. They also say that they “don’t want to upset” the local authority as it will “only make things worse”. I want this to be a rallying cry, and a kick up the pants for anyone who thinks that handing everything over to volunteers is anything other than exploitative and unsustainable.” Dawn Finch, President, CILIP via email

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There’s consultations and then there’s …

Editorial

Consultations are oftentimes done well. They have the information, it is presented clearly, no decision has been made by the council beforehand and real options are given. Sufficient copies of the consultation are produced in paper form, and online, and it is well-publicised with a long enough period to allow everyone with an interest to, well, actually be consulted. Then, on the other hand, we have councils – and, of course, others – who appear to think that the best way to consult is to put their proposals in the hardest to understand terms possible, with the rosiest picture of the end result given, and, presumably, a firm hope that everyone will be fooled. Sometimes it is also abundantly clear that minds have been made up beforehand. These organisations, it can appear to the disinterested observer, make a travesty of the consultation protest and are doing it only to pay lip service to their legal obligations.

For an example of a consultation done badly, you need look no further than LiveWire in Warrington who have made their consultation so flowery that one needs a deep critical analysis to actually understand what is being proposed. The sad fact is that, of course, in the end, no-one is fooled by these exercises in public relations. If they’re fooled at the time then they’re jolly well not fooled when the library they’ve gone to for years suddenly has a padlock on it. For instance, compare the LiveWire papers with the newspaper report which makes it clear at least five branches are under threat (I actually think it’s seven, by the way: five possibly to volunteers and two are being turned just into book drops). Indeed, it only causes more anger amongst those who care for the service and make it harder for them to have a reasonable dialogue which, considering LiveWire want to pass five libraries to volunteers, is not a sensible thing for them to have done. These pseudo-consultations are almost anti-public relations.  They make everyone dislike and distrust whoever writes them.

So, if you’re looking to cut your library service soon, please tell the public that. Make sure people understand why you’re doing it and what the real options are, not just the ones you fancy. Use clear language. Give the public the respect they deserve (they pay your wages after all) and, who knows, something good may come of it.  They may actually come up with ideas that can help or make such a fuss that you realise how important that library is to the local people. Because, you do want to know that, don’t you?  You don’t want to be thought to be deceiving them or discounting them, do you? Do you?

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Staffordshire, Sunderland, Bedford and … Ping Pong

Editorial

Staffordshire have started passing several libraries to volunteers while Sunderland have just started a consultation on cutting the library budget. At the other end of the consulting process, Bedford has announced that all libraries will stay open but, perhaps worryingly, have not said what shape that form will take. Councils can mean all sorts of things by “no libraries will close” including the traditional pre-2010 meaning of no change and more recent meanings like retired people staffing them in their spare time or the installation of  remote-control technology. Meanwhile, in Wales, Ystrad Mynach (l’ve always loved that name) Library is having a refurb, Malta is experiencing a lending surge and some USA libraries have installed table tennis tables.

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Lancashire cuts fallout, South Glos goes Open+ plus catalogue concerns

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Lancashire, Labour and Libraries

Editorial

The big news has to be Lancashire, where the council confirmed 29 libraries are to have their funding withdrawn late on the Friday before the bank holiday weekend. Suspicious timing aside, by my calculations, all the pain that this will put communities through accounts for barely one half of one percent of the cuts that the council has to make, while kicking up a maximum stink for the politicians at the same time. It just does not seem worth it, but the council seems intent on pushing through with the unpopular move.

The other big news is that both Labour Party leadership contenders have come up with big proposals for public libraries. Jeremy Corbyn proposes  a new library development agency and the creation of an “open knowledge library” where UK universities and public  won’t have to pay to access the research the government has already funded. Owen Smith, on the other hand, suggests closer collaboration between library services and longer term government funding settlements. This news comes after my last editorial ran saying Labour had been quiet about public libraries, following Chi Onwurah’s revelation she had planned a library campaign but then had to stop it because she wasn’t sure whether it was in her job description.

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A Labour library mess-up and the police in libraries

Editorial

You know where the parliamentary Labour Party has been when it comes to standing up for public libraries over the last year or so? Absolutely nowhere. And now we know why: the minister for libraries, Chi Onwurah, wanted to do something about it – indeed, did do a fair bit of research on it – but confusion as to who was doing what messed up the whole deal. I’ve emailed and tweeted Chi asking for the release of what research she has done as it would be such a shame to see such work going to waste.

Moving police, and traditional police jobs like lost-and-found forms, into libraries has also made the news.  Councils, and police forces, see the co-operation as sensible one to deliver services at reduced costs. Meanwhile, others worry that a police presence in libraries spoils their neutrality and would deter some (no, not criminals, although presumably they won’t be impressed either, I mean some ethnic and religious groups) from using them.  In practice, we’re all seeing such co-locations more and more often as cold financial reality makes bedfellows of more and more services that would once have been separate. There’s also advantages to a library for having, say, PCSO surgeries in the buildings. What’s needed, is a proper consideration of the impact before decisions are made.

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Fewer are Taking Part so let’s have a National Demonstration

Editorial

I’ve just had a very sunny week in Norway hence this is a combined news summary for the period since August 10th. So it’s a big one. The main news is the reduction in library usage – from, roughly, one half to one third of the population – in the last decade. That’s quite a steep decline. Public library popularity have also reduced in other countries of course but from the figures I have seen the reductions in budgets and usage are less, offset by increased visitors for “non-traditional” services and a slower decline in traditional numbers because, well, the stock is still good and the maintenance and furniture budget means they’re still attractive places to go. It’s also not helped, of course, by a rampant misunderstanding of the purposes of public libraries by some free-market extremists in this country – step forward the Adam Smith Institute below – who are positively gleeful at the destruction of something whose value they cannot, or will not, understand.

I’m glad to see that there will be a national libraries (and museums and galleries) demonstration on 5th November, an easy date to remember, to heighten the awareness of what is being lost.

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Since this picture was taken in Lough Library, the boy has persuaded his parents to buy a Labrador puppy.

Leading the way? Reading dogs in public libraries

Editorial

There’s some great initiatives in public libraries around the world but one I always think we don’t see enough of in the UK is that of bringing in dogs to help children with reading.  GLL mentioned that Lincolnshire libraries had a few reading dogs a week or two ago so I asked them for more information. The main story below is from them, followed by other links you may find useful. I’m aware Barnstaple also has reading dogs but does anyone else in the UK? If not, it’s worth asking yourselves if they’re possible – they do wonders getting reluctant readers into libraries, are great publicity and, frankly, the dogs are absolutely gorgeous.

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Lincolnshire libraries and reading dogs

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BFG at Louth Library during the Big Friendly Read

The quietest of times, the busiest of times

Editorial

The Summer counts as the quiet season for library news but the busiest for public libraries on the ground.  Tons of children coming to the desk asking for stickers and staff encouraging them to read more makes this the best time of year, with more events going on now than any other month. This post we have a report from Lincolnshire on what is going on there and I am sure it is being repeated elsewhere.  Do send me your stories about the great things you have done as well.

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The Big Friendly Read in Lincolnshire

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