The other 11% are just plain misinformed

The other 11% are misinformed: 89% say public libraries are crucial

Editorial

After an impressive 24,000 votes were cast in a Money Saving Expert Poll, 89% said that libraries were crucial.  That’s pretty impressive and shows that politicians – and certain media (I’m looking at you Jeremy Vine) – may not be entirely with the public when they question the role of the public library in the modern age. I’d also recommend them watch, an excellent TedX talk by Laurinda Thomas, former president of LIANZA in New Zealand, which demolishes such superficial shows and points out how important libraries are for communities. Perhaps Shropshire also need to have a look (and perhaps even more of a look at what constitutes as legal), being it took local users going to the courts to stop them moving Church Stretton Library where the locals did not want it moved. The worrying thing here is, like in West Berkshire, it looks like the council failed to do its legal homework properly before trying to cut costs. Obey the law, guys, it’s kind of expensive otherwise. Finally, our colleagues school libraries were feeling the media focus as unions asked for them to be included in OFSTED inspections in order to protect them.  Finally? Well, perhaps not quite, as I recommend to you the continuing twitter feud between Orkney and Shetland Libraries.  It’s the social media gift that keeps giving.

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Crazy Horse the Librarian - Available via this link

Crazy horses?

Editorial

As of the time of being published, I understand that the occupation of Carnegie Library in Lambeth is still going on by protestors (“just” plain library users many of them) keen to see it not being turned into a gym. There’s even a plan to have a Carnegie Occupation march on Saturday. This is all horribly embarrassing for the council there but is it enough? There’s lots of news coverage on it below. Also this issue I have a short interview with Alan Duckworth, who sounds quite a character, about his experience of being a reference librarian for 40 years. I don’t see public libraries going the way that Alan thinks reference libraries are going: they’re far too important and wonderful for that.

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A short interview with Alan Duckworth, author of “Crazy Horse the Librarian”

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Lessons from last week: an extreme message works

Editorial

Extremism works in news coverage. That’s the message that the excellent PC Sweeney writes about, after his experience of forming the only US pro-library lobbying group and that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after studying all of the news about libraries (and I mean, all of it) since 2010. We saw this last week. That was one gigantic amount of media coverage on Tuesday, and it was factually based and researched (even understating the true state of affairs) but the reaction to it by those who fail to fight for libraries (Ed Vaizey) or who actively want them gone (the Institute of Economic Affairs) was extreme. Ed made two statements – that budget cuts were not influencing library closures and that volunteers were not replacing paid library staff – that were demonstrably untrue and simplistic, but they got national air play. The IEA argued that no-one used libraries and that no-one should therefore worry about them closing and got on BBC Breakfast. This is the standard of debate amongst our opponents – to exaggerate or to have no regard to the facts but to say a simple message and hope no-one checks. To counter this, we need to stay factual (look, we’re supporting libraries, I refuse to adopt the dirty methods of our opponents) but we also need to shout loud, very loud, about what is going on, or we will be drowned out by those who want libraries gone.

This goes against the “Ambition” document of the Libraries Taskforce and the policy of the Society of Chief Librarians, who are pushing for a consistent “positive narrative” for libraries. That’s great, and I’d agree in a perfect world, but it’s clearly ineffective when campaigning.  You don’t and won’t see people with “Our library is closing but Central is doing great things with 3D printers” placards. And as a national media strategy, it’s a complete non-starter. Because an evolving library service is good for nothing but a two minute interest piece every couple of years or so, and that’s not time we – or the 111 libraries the BBC conservatively estimate are under threat this year – have. So why push such a moderate rose-tinted agenda? Because being positive is how you get on in any organisation. I don’t mean that in an insulting and nasty way. There are many good committed and genuine people in the Taskforce and the SCL.  I just mean that it’s a category mistake.  Such a positive narrative is a necessary one for getting along in an organisation and a feasible one for encouraging people, long term, to use libraries but it’s one that makes no sense to a campaigner out there to save their library or for those of us who see this as an altogether more short-term and brutal affair. Look at the Lambeth protests below. That is an excellent demonstration of how to make a noise, get noticed and an all-else-has-failed throw of the dice. The Council is getting a bloody nose out of this and hopefully will think again, or not do cut libraries next time.  A positive narrative would have done nothing. But it would have been music to the ears of Ed Vaizey and the IEA.

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The most publicity that UK public libraries have had this century?

Editorial

Well, that was quite amazing.  I woke up to public libraries on the radio, had breakfast to libraries on TV, drove to work with libraries on the radio, had lunch to libraries on the radio while reading about libraries in the newspaper  and ate my tea with libraries mentioned on TV. This may be the most publicity public libraries have had that I can remember and it has been an honour, although a terrifying one (I live in fear of saying the wrong thing) to be involved.  Well done to the many many library advocates (notably Alan Gibbons, Lauren Smith and Nick Poole but so many others) who waded in on the pro library and librarian side.  It’s worth noting that a particularly telling and key advocate was Jim Brooks from Little Chalfont who, even though a volunteer, made it clear that he’d far prefer the council to run the library.

It was interesting, and depressing, to see some of the responses on the other side.  The opaquely funded rightwing thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, on BB1 Breakfast, clearly did not understand that people still depend on libraries and wouldn’t have cared if it did. Ed Vaizey, whose reason behind his normal silence on libraries is normally guessed to be a lack of awareness of what is going on, spoke out loudly to say volunteers are not replacing paid staff: thus proving he really doesn’t know what is going on. Over in print form, ex New Labour spin doctor (and librarian for a few minutes before he got a better paid job) John McTernan argued in the Telegraph that the internet has made libraries obsolete, presumably not noticing that the same argument could be used to disprove the newspaper he was writing for. Those interviewers, notably Jeremy Vine on Radio Two, who asked what special skills training a librarian could possibly have and why they should be paid, were  answered well, although  I really wish someone had asked him what special training a radio DJ needed and how much he was paid.

Some other things to ponder. Those statistics, dark as they are, seem on the low side. It looks to me like a lot of authorities had their cake and ate it too, saying that libraries were not closing and not counting the volunteers who took over those libraries that they withdrew paid staff from. I’m looking into this but they may have got away with it, this time. Another thing is the response of the profession.  Do we, as the SCL and the Taskforce are sometimes seen to do, insist that usage and libraries are just changing and agree with Ed Vaizey that libraries are thriving, just in different oh-so-exciting ways? Or do we go the doom and gloom route? I can see the reasoning for both views. The answer is, as ever, one suspects, somewhere in the middle but, as the sometimes contrived debates of yesterday shows, the media – and politicians – may not be interested in nuance.

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Special post: changes to public libraries

This is a special post for the many hundreds of people who are coming to this site from the BBC news footage.

For detailed linked reports to what is happening in your library service, choose from the links below:

For a list of libraries that have turned volunteer, see:

For a list of new or refurbished libraries, see:

For reasons for libraries, see:

For ways libraries are changing, see:

Thank you, and remember to visit your local library!

Ambition, volunteer toolkits and a media blitz

Editorial

I’ve been wanting a national libraries development agency for England for a while but, sometimes, you don’t notice something obvious until it’s slapping you in the face.  From the “Ambition” document just releases, it looks like the Libraries Taskforce is such an agency, although far more dependent on other agencies and shorter on money than I was thinking of. The “Ambition” documents is full of concrete and relevant proposals – such as universal child library membership and every authority doing the summer reading challenge – with timescales and suggestions of how to get them done.  The problem is, of course, as the report itself recognises “To successfully achieve all these purposes, we need to ensure that the public library network in England is secured on a long-term sustainable footing.”. That is going to be the challenge and that is the ambition. All else is just wishes on the wind. But at least there a wish list now.

Released at the same time is a second version of the good practice toolkit for “community libraries”.  The Taskforce would have lost a lot of street cred with campaigners just by calling volunteer libraries that, as “community libraries” pretty much summed up paid branches at one point in what seems now a golden past.  It also got some criticism by seeming to be a simple “So you want to make your staff voluntarily redundant” guide, with all of the benefits listed and not much else. However, look at those “considerations” it lists: those are cons, it’s just that they couldn’t bring themselves to say it, being trained to be positive about everything.  The case studies included – sadly with one propagandistic management-speak exception (you know who you are) – are useful and open, pointing out the difficulties.  The big thing I noticed is that these libraries need ten to twenty times the paid full-time-equivalent staffing to keep them running, and there’s no real answer to long-term funding. Well, that’s two massive nightmares right there. But it’s good to have most of the issues out in the open and at least councils, and users, can get an idea of what is happening now rather than scraping around and coming up with their own risk-laden approaches.

Finally, I’ve been fielding a lot of BBC media enquiries the last few days about public libraries. Trust me, if I’d have said yes to half of them, even I’d have been sick of me – but, thankfully for all of us, I need to work so couldn’t do them. Thankfully, there’s a full on Avengers-style bunch of library advocates out there nowadays who have also been asked: I’m looking forward to hearing what Nick Poole, Alan Gibbons, Laura Swaffield, Lauren Smith and Phil Bradley, amongst others, will say.  This is all about a big, serious, fully-researched BBC report on the real numbers of libraries closed, staff made redundant and budgets cut since 2010. I helped out a little with it and I’m really hopeful it will help put the pressure on the minister to do something.  Perhaps even a fully resourced national libraries development agency.

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Countries of Culture

Editorial

Protests Local news from all over the place, with the stand out for me being the strike and protests in Lambeth. The Carnegie UK Library Lab winners for this year are announced tomorrow so more information on them with the next post. Finally, due to the horrible events in Belgium, the release of BBC research into changes/cuts to public libraries, including a series of BBC radio (and some television) pieces, have been pushed back to next week.  I was involved in helping out in small ways with the research at various stages but not seen the final report as yet.

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Sadiq Khan, standing to be London Mayor, gets ambushed by Lambeth library defenders when he visited Camberwell Library in Southwark. Campaigners are angry that Labour's Lambeth is cutting libraries at the same time as his manifesto supports libraries.

The House of Stories

Editorial

I love the new name for the combined library/theatre/cinema in Chester.  “Storyhouse” neatly combines the common elements of all three services that will be sharing the refurbished and expanded building.  In fact, it seems to me that story house neatly sums up libraries more than most terms, on many levels.  On the most basic grounds, there’s a ton of stories housed in a library. As I tell anyone, you can read about anything, be anyone, when you read a book from the library.  Moving further, the users of the library tell many stories to the experienced eye.  The student typing away using the wifi, the senior citizens catching up with eachother, children hopping around in delight, the quiet figure searching for a job … they all tell stories, not least how good the library is.  Further, the health or even presence of a library tells a story about the community which it serves.  A bustling library, in a good quality building,  filled with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things says wonderful things about the local neighbourhood. A dilapidated library building up for sale in Lincolnshire not so much. Ultimately, the health of the public library service can provide a narrative for how well a country is doing.  A thriving library service, full of new ideas – like I see in countries overseas – says so many positive things about that country.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide what story the current state of UK libraries tells.

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DCMS (sort of) intervene in West Berkshire and the nightmare of Barnet’s IT problems

Editorial

In the first time I can remember, the DCMS has told a council it cannot close libraries until it does things properly.  Normally, the DCMS barely notices but, this time, the radical decision by West Berkshire to close all but one of its libraries, with insufficient regard to its population, has prompted a different response. The ministry has said West Berkshire Council will need to produce a proper needs assessment before it is sure it can meet its requirements under equality legislation and, importantly, the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  As such, the council has had to find £425k of money (this is hardly generous – it was previously cut from the libraries budget after all, and seems to have some from a special pot)  to keep at least some of its libraries open until it can show it has done the technical legal minimum. It’s worth pointing out that the minister is unlikely to stop the drastic cut to just one library once it has done so, but at least the ministry is saying that the law needs to be followed first. That, for this government, which takes such a laissez faire approach to council cuts, is actually – sad to say – enough to make this the most significant intervention since 2010.

“Discussions with DCMS revealed the need for a detailed Needs Assessment to inform any changes to the way Libraries operate. Research will be commissioned to provide this before finalising the future structure and scope of the service … The Council will fail in its equality duty, and also its statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, if it proceeds with a major reduction in its Libraries service without due process. I recommend the proposal be reconsidered so that libraries are retained pending the outcome and recommendations of an independent Needs Assessment”  Equality Impact Assessment Template – Stage Two – West Berkshire Council.

Ever had the nightmare of worrying what would happen if your library data went down the drain? Well, Barnet are living through it.  Here’s their council report on what caused the catastrophic loss of their library data and how it is, in particular, really messing up their Open+ branches, as well as losing them income.  Heaven knows what it is doing to their credibility as well. Now’s the time to check your systems and your back-ups, people.

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Ideas

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Not one of the world’s most literate nations

Editorial

A new study, the The World’s Most Literate Nations, places UK low down on the list, not least because of the relatively poor showing of UK libraries compared to that of other countries.  In fact, it’s very low down for libraries: 29.5 compared to 17th overall. One wonders where it would have been in 2010.

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