If you want a job doing …

Editorial

So I had a very interesting Sunday and Monday, the first day walking two Australian library chiefs around Storyhouse in Chester and the second attending the Libraries Global Excellence Tour conference in London. There were a lot of learning points from talking to experts in this country, Australia and the USA. The big ones for me were how libraries were seen by the Aussies as sometimes putting artificial barriers in front of their users. Seriously, the Australians looked at us pityingly for charging fines for adults. And then one questioned why libraries demand online renewals of items, wondering aloud if it was for our stats rather than for helping users. Questions like that as well as one about coping with the eventual disappearance of cards in wallets fair sent heads spinning. And don’t get me started on floating stock, seemingly widely accepted in the antipodes (and in Peterborough by the way, it turns out) but avoided most other places.

There was also a vision of another world – where Australian state libraries hold budgets and co-ordinate training and development and where libraries had to cope with only the one crisis (that of technology) rather the two (austerity). Oh and, by the way, their pay is something like twice ours, even taking the varying exchange rates and costs of living into account. Mind you, spiders.

But there’s no point dreaming for something different than what we have. As a friend far more knowledgeable than I (hi Mick) pointed out, the One Card achievement of South Australia pales a bit when one considers its population is only that of Kent and there’s a One Card situation in 19 Scottish authorities and in Manchester, as well as (I think?) Wales. These were achieved without the UK government doing anything and that is I think the brutal truth. If libraries need to achieve wonders, then that will nee to bee achieved by themselves. Collaboration for mutual benefit is the key here. Heck, it may even save money. Relying on Whitehall has not been a viable library strategy since around 1964 and wishing it was not so will not change matters.

Or move to Australia. Just, you know, big sharks too.

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  • Cinegi£100 cinema film hire.
  • Esports – Free computer games increase library use in kids [well, yes, they would wouldn’t they? – Ed.]

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PMLG

Sauna yet so far? Lessons from Finnish libraries

Editorial

This copy of PLN is coming out a day early as I am attending a conference on Monday so there’s not as much news as normal. The article that stands out for me is the one on Finnish libraries, which show them to be booming in both people and new ideas, with one even opening soon with a sauna. The legal protection in libraries under the law there is the explanation for this success, with it being noted that there has to be a minimum number of qualified librarians per library, unlike in this country where there is effectively no minimums of any sort, due to lack of government intervention and the lack of any library standards in England.

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Austerity + Localism =

Editorial

I was talking to someone else concerned about public libraries the other day. She asked (a) what could be done to prevent major cuts to libraries and (b) how come other countries are not undergoing the crises of the UK. My answer to the first was, simply, government intervention. One decision to intervene by a minister due a council reducing the budget too much would do it. After all, library budgets are tiny compared to other services the council provides and are only really worth attacking, given the public support for them, if it’s clear there’s going to no statutory response. The reason the government does not intervene is likewise simple: austerity is their decision in the first place (albeit one shared by many) and secondly localism – allowing the local councils to decide where to cut – is part of the unspoken deal that stops councils rebelling more than they are.

The answer to why other countries are not undergoing the UK crisis is closely allied to what I have already said. An organisation can cope with one major crisis at a time but UK libraries are coping with two: massive technological change and deep budget cuts. Places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand are faced with one but (largely) not the other, and generally have far superior library usage because of it.

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Volunteer library report plus “libraries as the mind of the city”

Editorial

Some new research has come out form the DDCMS / Task Force on volunteer libraries. This is much needed as it has been apparent for a while this is a part of the sector with an ever increasing impact but very little research. The report itself is notable for several inconvenient truths for both sides in the debate. For those who believe volunteers are a fine alternative to paid staff – and there are such people – then there are many problems listed, not least of which in the long term. For those who refuse to accept that volunteer libraries can be anywhere near as good as paid staff, there’s some evidence to the contrary here. The truth of course, as in so many things, lies between the extremes. There are some brilliant volunteer libraries and there are some dire ones. Some will be continue doing well in the long term, some will not. Such a patchwork should not be acceptable for an important public service in a wealthy country but that is what we have. Austerity and localism see to that. More research (and this was a pretty self-selecting sample) and evidence is needed, and quickly, to inform the debate.

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Let CILIP know any interesting library facts you may have via @CILIPinfo or by emailing  mark.taylor@cilip.org.uk.

In praise of children’s libraries

Editorial

OK, I’m biased. I order children’s stock as part of my job and I love doing class visits and school assemblies, with the Summer Reading Challenge aware ceremonies being a particular joy. But it’s been noticeable for some time how excellent the options are for chilldrens’ stock are, with serious superstars like Rowling and Walliams, leading the charge to keep kids interested. So it’s great to see a 16% increase in book sales to kids.

But this leads to the observation of a failing in public libraries, at least in many UK examples. One of the things widely know about that libraries need to work out is how to cope with the decline in adult book stock.  However, one of the things I rarely see mentioned is the need to rebalance space so there’s more for children. Walk into any decent library and it’s likely it is the “junior library” that’s packed, if anywhere is, often for rhymetimes. Yet that section is often given far less proportional space than anywhere else. Add in the need for housing prams and you sometimes get the odd situation of a packed children’s library and a quiet “adult section” taking up four or more times the space.  Yes, I know kids are smaller and aren’t in all the time but they normally bring a full-size parent along with them and, when it’s peak time for them, boy do you know it. Library planners need to give the amount of attention this key part of the business deserves. Why the section is often ignored is a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps children are just not seen as “serious” enough in meetings where normally adults are of course the only ones present. But this needs to change. Library design is not child’s play, but perhaps it should be.

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Designed specifically for library staff noticeboards. So I upload an image to PLN. Oh well.

No national public libraries website until at least 2019

Editorial

After a recommendation in 2014 and two reports, the news is that a single digital presence for public libraries will have to wait at least another year and a half while another report is being produced. A “single digital presence”, incidentally, is simply a website (and if we’re lucky, an app) offering e-resources and/or catalogues. Or possibly not,, as no decisions have yet been made even on what it actually is. Meanwhile, there’s a patchwork of hundreds of library websites, some very good but some lamentably bad, all around the country. The reasons for the delay I suspect is that there’s (a) no money, (b) too many different authorities with (c) no-one actually with the authority to direct action and possibly (d) not enough actual technical expertise and know-how amongst the decision makers. As such the chances of a national library website by 2020 [Edit – originally said 2010 as a typo – or perhaps I like making sure-thing predictions? Ed.] is looking slight and the temptation to kick things into the long grass quite high. So that’s me being pessimistic. Sorry about that. I really hope I’m proven wrong and there’s something really impressive in sight before the end of the decade. But I’m having difficulty actually believing it. Anyone willing to take a bet?

Now for two impressive things. The big promising trend I’ve been seeing for a year or two is libraries feeding children over the school holidays. It’s an idea originating in the USA that is taking off here with some really good results. Have a read below about what is happening in Rochadale. The other seriously good thing is happening literally a world away – Auckland have been done some really good life-changing things with the homeless, up to and including reading groups and cinema screenings. Have a read of their story here.

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Find out more via http://www.libraryexcellence.com/

And the food is good as well

Editorial

So I’ve been following the news about public libraries for a while now. There’s a lot of depressing  and reactive stuff out there but gosh there’s a lot of good stuff out there too (check out this ideas list).  There is a danger of seeing just the trees near you, be they axed or blossoming, and not the wood. This is one of the reasons I do PLN (apart from the obvious lack of a social life I mean) : to give a sense to all who read it a sense of the big picture, be it nationally or internationally. But in the final analysis, however I try to balance it, it’s just one person’s view and bias always creeps in. And I can get terribly side-tracked or, sometimes, just plain wrong, on occasions. And this is why I like attending conferences – because there you can get the point of views of others, often the very best in what they do. You still have to watch out for bias (it’s a rare conference speaker who will criticise their audience or the organiser, for instance) and groupthink but there’s a lot to gain from it.

Which is why I try to go to as many as possible. It’s not easy, these days, not least because the work is always there waiting for you when you come back home, but I’ve never yet been to one which I regretted. This is always the more so when one hears from people from difference countries. We can get so caught up in our own mindsets and what is seen as possible and desirable, and miss out on what people are doing elsewhere. More mundanely, it gives one a chance to look up when so often we only have the chance to keep out heads down. So, I’d like to recommend going to conferences when you can, such as the “Global Excellence Tour” below. I promise you that you’ll come away with new ideas. And the food is normally good too.

Future Libraries – Global Excellence Tour

Global excellence

“These seminars examines the development of global excellence in libraries across the world. They will look at smart libraries, smart ways of working, smart cities and smart citizens. Find out how properly funded  libraries could underpin so much more than you think.  How are Australia, US and Europe transforming and delivering on civic and government agendas?

While 8 out of 10 people using the internet on a daily basis, these statistics hide a deeper digital divide. How can digital excellence free up libraries to deliver on their key community, inclusion and literacy roles? Key messages include:

·        Over the past year, growth in internet use has stalled. This suggests that all those who want to be connected, can get a connection and can afford the cost, have done so.

·        People that lack confidence, skills or are unable to afford connectivity are being left behind.

·        21% of adults still don’t have basic digital skills and can’t fully benefit from being online. Just because someone can use Facebook doesn’t mean they are confident in applying for jobs online.

·        Increasingly online benefits systems risk disenfranchising those who are already excluded. Approaches to addressing digital exclusion must be embedded in a broader approach to tackling social exclusion. Who but the public library?

Key discussion points will include::

  • Lessons so far – from those who have delivered on academic, local, national and regional initiatives. Learn about skills development, knowledge sharing and funding;
  • Data – the way forward for harnessing data plus options for deriving value
  • Investment – in light of funding pressures in local government, what innovative approaches are emerging to financing, new partnerships and collaborative working;
  • Standards – assessing the development of standards and interoperability frameworks, and the customising of services to local needs;
    Infrastructure – in light of Digital Strategy, how can it be ensured that libraries digital infrastructure is viable
  • Policy priorities – key issues for us involved in digital strategy, smart cities, local authorities and communities, and the citizens using smart city services.

Locations are London Kensington Conference and Events Centre (Monday 11th September), Glasgow Grand Central Hotel (Tuesday 12th), Dublin Hilton Garden Inn (Wednesday 13th), Cardiff Central Library (Thursday 14th). Speakers vary between venues.”

[I will be attending in London as a guest of the conference, make sure to say hello if you see me there and tell me ideas from your service that should be shared – Ed.] 

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National news

  • Ambition Progress Indicators – the story so far (a lot can happen in a year…) – Libraries Taskforce. “Was it only 12 months ago that I started my secondment with the Libraries Taskforce? Released one day a week from my ‘day job’ as service manager for Sheffield Libraries and Archives service back in May 2016,”
  • Blood, bookworms, bosoms and bottoms: the secret life of libraries – Guardian. “I recently had the privilege of circling the world to write a book about libraries. My timing was excellent: after a short-lived e-books scare, physical books are back in fashion, and libraries are the place to be.” … “Only after I’d finished my library tour and my book could I see the image that emerged from the pulpy jumble of bookish stories. The picture is nothing less than a new understanding of what libraries are for – not art, architecture, education, politics, antiquarianism, digitisation or information science. Instead, it is about humanism and self-preservation. “
  • Commuter Hubs in libraries – Libraries Taskforce. “The first phase of the library commuter hub pilot included a number of libraries across London and was a success with overwhelmingly positive feedback. A recent survey showed that staff enjoyed a reduction in commuting costs, improved work/life balance and reclaimed precious time to spend with family and friends” … “This collaboration has benefited not only MoJ staff but also libraries in giving them an extra income stream from otherwise redundant (back office) space” [No balancing view is provided – Ed.]
  • Community Libraries Network – Community Libraries Network. “The Upper Norwood Library Trust, in partnership with Locality, the Libraries Taskforce and the Society of Chief Librarians, have established the Community Library Peer Network, a new initiative funded by Power to Change to be developed over the next 18 months. The project aims to expand the existing Locality-run Community Knowledge Hub by growing its membership to include a further 200 community libraries with shared interests and goals; developing cutting edge content and ensuring its long-term sustainability.” [This appears to be a basic free off-the-shelf Wordpress site, which normally is associated with hobbyists, but it appears genuine – Ed.]
  • Library cuts planned in Wales and Lincolnshire – BookSeller.

An online bookclub from Axiell
International news

  • Jamaica – National Library of Jamaica Lobbies United Kingdom Diaspora’s Support – Jamaica Information Service. “During the week-long working visit, the team made a special presentation to members of the Jamaican diaspora entitled ‘The Importance of Archives: Exploring NLJ’s Special Collections – Miss Lou Archives’ at which Mrs. Douglas said the NLJ is increasing its efforts to find a new home for the archives. She noted that in addition to the Jamaican diaspora, the team also anticipated the support of UK Government agencies and individuals.”
  • USA – Position Statement on Labelling Books with Reading Levels – AASL. “Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels. Only a student, the child’s parents or guardian, the teacher, and the school librarian as appropriate should have knowledge of a student’s reading capability.”
  • USA – Public Libraries Are for Everyone: A Response to the Illinois Family Institute – CBLDF. “Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute thinks that librarians who celebrate Banned Books Week are hypocrites. In an article on the organization’s website last week, she argued that the real banned books are not the oft-targeted ones like And Tango Makes Three which depict same-sex parents or other LGBT characters. Rather, she says that what she believes to be the ideological opposite of those books — that would be “books that challenge Leftist assumptions about the nature and morality of homosexuality” — never even make it into libraries in the first place due to bias on the part of librarians” see also Florida: Public libraries still pushing Islam – Tea Party.
  • USA – Virtual reality headsets bring stories to life at San Jose public libraries – Mercury News. “The downtown library and Evergreen branch are two of ninety state libraries to launch virtual reality through Oculus VR and the California Library Association this year. The SPJL VR headsets are open to the public at no cost. Ball said Oculus hopes this initiative helps people who may not otherwise be able to experience virtual reality due to their economic and social circumstances.”

Local news by authority

  • Aberdeenshire – North-east prison inmates are brought to book – Evening Express. “Inmates at Grampian’s superprison are spending their time learning about evil gangs, tattoos and even brushing up on their English by reading the dictionary in the library.”
  • Bath and North East Somerset – Let’s get my library figures in order – Bath Chronicle / Letters. “as I illustrated to Kirsten Elliott, library usage has dropped nationally by over 30 per cent in a decade. If you extrapolate this going forward another decade, it follows that usage could fall below 20 per cent. So, despite Kirsten’s belief that we should maintain status quo, I suggest the re-think proposed by the Council represents good strategic planning and forethought.”
  • Brent – Five bright murals by Sudbury artist to brighten up Wembley Central – Brent and Kilburn Times. “The Friends of Barham Library (FOBL) recently received a financial boost from Wembley Futures and have commissioned one of their “artists in residence” to brighten up the area.”
  • Buckinghamshire – 35 children’s centres across Bucks face axe – Bucks Free Press. “A consultation has opened with people and organisations around Bucks being asked to complete a survey, available online and in Bucks libraries”
  • Calderdale – Opening date set for new £9m Halifax central library – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “The new £9m central library in Halifax, next to the recently revamped Piece Hall, will open to the public for the first time on Tuesday, September “
  • Cheshire West and Chester – Animals take over Northwich Library for summer challenge – Northwich Guardian. “children have been flocking to Northwich Library for as part of the Summer Reading Challenge. Libraries across the borough have been holding a host of events for youngsters”. Including Chester Zoo.
  • Cornwall – Camborne Library to close on Friday for repair and refurbishment – Cornwall Live. “Camborne Library will temporarily close for several weeks to allow an extensive repair and refurbishment programme to be completed. Ownership of the building will be transferred to Camborne Town Council and the badly needed improvement works will allow the library to be used for greater community benefit.”
  • Coventry – Eight ways savvy parents can save money as kids go back to school – Coventry Telegraph. Includes libraries.
  • Croydon – Council on standby to take back control of public libraries – Inside Croydon. “As well as Hounslow kicking Carillion out of their libraries, Oxfordshire County Council is planning to exit a significant proportion of its contracts for various outsourced services. Croydon could be next.”. Councillor says “Following the contract termination on July 31 by Hounslow, Carillion have to make alterations to how they manage the Croydon contract and we continue to press for improvements to the service.”
  • Dorset – Friends of Weymouth Library (FOWL) has launched a new website to enhance their work – Dorset Echo. “Friends of Weymouth Library (FOWL), a volunteer group which raises the library’s budget and profile, has officially launched its online portal for residents. With the help of the library’s resident Digital Champion David Smith the group now has a shiny new website where upcoming events and library news will be shared.”
  • Glasgow – ‘The House that Heals the Soul’ by Nick Thurston at CCA, Glasgow – Blouin Art Info. “The exhibition focuses on the social as well as the political status of libraries. It’s a result of the active collaboration of the artist with the CCA. The exhibition will open up the space to house a selection of library and self-publishing resources alongside connecting artworks. The exhibition will explore the library space through various histories of, and approaches towards, protection and presentation of libraries’ collections, infrastructures and their users.”
  • Hackney – This week in Hackney 30 years ago: Fury as collection boxes are removed from libraries on mayor’s orders – Hackney Gazette. “Charity collection boxes featuring Noddy figures were booted out of Hackney’s libraries to make way for collection boxes for the mayor’s own charity – but she had not yet chosen one. “
  • Hull – Hull Central Library gets 3D printer and other hi-tech gadgets after £300k investment – Hull Daily Mail. ” section of Hull Central Library is set to be transformed into a new high-tech area with 3D printers, digital embroidery machines and vinyl cutters thanks to an investment of almost £300,000. The Makerspace/Fablab will be created on the second floor of the city centre library and will provide access to a variety of equipment, technology and tools.”
  • Manchester – New events and activities help make Manchester Libraries more popular than ever – Manchester City Council. “The total number of visits recorded rose to 2,917,370 in 2016/7, from 2,784,449 in 2015/6, while attendance at library-based activities and events increased by 30 per cent – with the total number of activities offered rising to more than 134,000, from less than 100,000 for the previous year.”
  • North Lincolnshire – £1m makeover set to give new lease of life to Scunthorpe Central Library – Scunthorpe Telegraph. “Scunthorpe’s Central Library is to be given a new lease of life with a £1 million project to transform it into a community hub.”
  • North Somerset – Refurbished library and children’s centre ready for grand opening – North Somerset Times. “The High Street facility has been closed since the end of April to enable North Somerset Council to transform the services it provides. The children’s centre, which was previously based at the infant school around the corner, has been moved into the library. The overhaul is one part of North Somerset Council’s community access review, which will enable the authority to make long-term financial savings. But, to ensure services remain protected, the council has invested more than £800,000 to transform libraries such as Yatton.”
  • North Yorkshire – Austerity ‘challenges’ facing Harrogate libraries volunteers – Harrogate Advertiser. “The library service has seen its budget almost halved from £7.8m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2017/18.” … “While libraries in many parts of the country are closing, North Yorkshire’s flexible, co-operative approach and the massive support of 1,200 newly recruited volunteers has resulted in the recent reconfiguration of the service being implemented without losing any libraries.” … “most people this newspaper spoke also said there were challenges and worries about the new community library system.”
  • North Yorkshire – Free computer help at community library – North Yorkshire County Council. “Bentham Community Library, Pioneer Projects and North Yorkshire County Council’s Adult Learning and Skills Service (ALSS) are to launch a weekly internet and digital help session on Tuesday afternoons.”
  • Northumberland – Anger as multi-million pound plans for three Northumberland leisure centres are shelved – Chronicle. “Multi-million pound plans for three new leisure centres have been shelved – because the charity behind them lacks an “operational business plan” … “The centre earmarked for Morpeth was set to house a new town library and council customer services centre, with a hotel and restaurant completing the town’s riverside development”
  • Sheffield – Telegraph Voices: How could an alternative venue replace the Library Theatre? – Sheffield Telegraph. “I’m fond of it. But facilities – stage, backstage, bar, disability access – are completely unacceptable and the fabric of the building is crumbling expensively away. Given the kind of money spent recently on libraries in Manchester and Liverpool (think upwards of £50 million) you could gut the Central Library and turn it into a fabulous attraction. A ‘destination building’ with a computer-age library using a fraction of the overall space. As it does now.”
  • Sunderland – New community library with ‘honesty policy’ opens – Sunderland Echo. “Shiney Advice and Resource Project (ShARP), a community centre in Shiney Row, opened its new library in July and has already reported a successful month, with its ‘honesty policy’ to book-loaning proving to be just the ticket for bookworms. The Beatrice Terrace-based community hub, which provides a range of services including an Electronic Village Hall that receives technical support from Sunderland City Council, has seen a number of new people access the centre, and hopes to be able to engage them with the additional support services it offers, including welfare and debt advice. “
  • Surrey – Walton library baby changing toilets an ‘in joke’ for parents unable to use staff-only facility – Get Surrey. ” parent of a two-year-old has questioned why Walton Library has a baby changing facility that is not for public use. The Walton resident, who asked not to be named, regularly takes their son to the library, which is part of The Heart shopping complex, to read the large selection of children’s books. ” .. “I’ve found that it’s a bit of an in joke with local parents, the baby change is now seen as a VIP area that you’re very lucky to be allowed in to,”

“I spoke to the librarian who informed me that the toilet is not usually available to the public as there is no budget for the toilet to be cleaned by professional cleaners, and it’s not part of their job”

  • Windsor and Maidenhead – Library staff assure residents there is privacy at new customer service desks – Maidenhead Advertiser. “Staff have assured library users that there is privacy available for customer services on offer after concerns were raised. Last week the Advertiser reported the concerns of a library volunteer, who said the new scheme to move customer services from the town hall to the library had led her to overhear a private discussion about emergency housing when she was stacking books on shelves. This week the council agreed to show the Advertiser the new layout in Maidenhead Library which includes three private interview rooms and ‘contact points’ where residents can discuss customer services seven days a week from 9am-7pm.”

 

Cheshire West and Chester - Librarians taking pride at Chester Pride

Libraries Week: more resources now online

Editorial

One of the things one learns early on in libraries are that events, if they’re to be done properly, need a fair bit of planning and resources. It’s therefore good to see extra images and information on Libraries Week becoming available. It’s never been more important to get the message out about libraries and I look forward to seeing all the things happening in, eek, only a month or two’s time.

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10:1 : volunteers replacing paid staff

Editorial

There’s not many commonly accepted figures when it comes to volunteers in libraries and, it comes to something, where I’m the one offering some of the most comprehensive data as a hobby in the evenings. This came up again when  I said on Twitter a week ago that there were roughly 10 volunteers needed to replace one paid member of staff. Leaving aside the myriad debating points about the pros and cons of volunteers, a few people asked me where the data to base this on was.  Well, there’s no real data. The state of public library research is such that no-one really knows. But the figure was based on reading seven years of media reports and noting the number of volunteers mentioned in a “new” volunteer library. It’s also based on the rule of thumb that it’s a rare volunteer that would volunteer more than half a day per week, and even though there are some that do, there’d be those who do less. And of course volunteers would likely take more holidays than a paid person. I suspect, in fact, that there’s more than a ten-to-one ratio but it’s one that is easily memorable and probably as good as any,

If anyone has any more data or thoughts on the issue, do let me know. The ratio is important because it shows the difficulty implicit in sufficiently training volunteers and the number needed when thinking of closing down a paid library. But as in so many things, the data just isn’t there at the moment. And it should be. Because otherwise a lot of what’s going on at the moment looks dangerously like guesswork and thus roulette with a national public service.

NB: The PLN server broke down last week which meant you’re getting a bumper post today. Hopefully, more frequent posts will be the order of the day from now on.

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The problem of the time-poor and the money-rich

Editorial

I had a most entertaining meal with a few Australian library types a couple of evenings ago and discussed all sort of things, occasionally accompanied by sharp shocked intakes of breath as my companions realised how different the UK system was to theirs. One of the things discussed was the idea that libraries are increasingly used by those who have plenty of time and/or those who cannot afford an alternative. Depressing I know but hear me out. The thing here is that back before Amazon, Google and the internet even those short of time had limited alternatives to the public library – driving into town and reserving/buying a book from the local bookshop (probably a Waterstones even then) did not take that much less time than going to the library for the same thing. In fact, the library was probably closer. Nowadays one can purchase a book online at home via a click and have it delivered to your door the next day or even, if it’s an e-book. that second.

This means that those who have less time or more money are less likely to use a library now than then. There’s also another reason of course: many libraries have been hollowed out in that time, becoming less comparatively attractive. That is more to do with lack of investment than technology, as is clear to me when I visit a well-funded and beautifully appointed library (such as Manchester Central) as they all have a definite busy buzz about them. One of the reasons for this (by no means the sole one) is that they’re as attractive as many of the commercial alternatives to a person’s time. Now I’m not talking about stinking rich people here – they’ve rarely ever used public libraries anyway –  but rather that the number who make the rational decision about their library use, and decide against, are likely to be the more wealthy or more short of time. But those deciding against using libraries are becoming less and less comparatively rich or busy as technological change and cuts continue.

I don’t have any easy solutions to this. It’s just an explanation why many public libraries have the clientele they do: time-rich children and parents, money-poor jobseekers and students and time-rich (and often money-poor) senior citizens. Technology and hollowing out has made this more pronounced over the last decade or two. The very best libraries I’ve seen find alternatives: they provide things commercial alternatives do not (e.g. connecting people and empowerment in all its forms) and by doing so gain the trust and support of politicians who keep their funding. But there’s virtuous and vicious circles both at play here and you can probably tell which camp you’re local library is in quite easily. Just go in and look at the demographics.

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