Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

Five more years: new boss same as the old boss?

Editorial

So now we know: the Conservatives will not only be a partner in a coalition but, to the surprise of almost all, the holders of a parliamentary majority.  Most librarians I know are fairly depressed or shocked by this but we will need to at some point work out what this means for the sector and how we will respond it.  Here are my (completely uninformed and random) thoughts:

  • There will continue to be deep cuts to public library budgets, probably on the order of 20 to 50%, depending on local authority, over the term of this new parliament. This is similar to what has happened in the last parliament but will seem, if anything, to have more impact due to the service already having been cut. Councils will be desperate to save money any which way and so there will be as great as pressure as ever to put as many services as possible into council buildings – expect libraries to move into council offices, or vice versa, at an accelerated pace.
  • There’s going to be a lot of announcements of changes, for which read cuts, over the next year or so as councils push through decisions that have been delayed until the uncertainty of this election.
  • Volunteer libraries – which have been growing quickly in number but are rather unsupported and individual – will be increasingly assisted by local councils and, especially, national government.  This will take the form of best practice, guides and expert advice and perhaps central funding.  This will be necessary as more and more libraries (another 500? more?) are given the option of closing or having the paid staff removed.
  • The government will work at reducing the ease with which legal challenges can be made. This will reduce the power of local communities to challenge cuts to libraries in court and allow councils to reduce services with little regard to pressure, beyond concerns over adverse reactions at the next election.  This last will also not be a large feature as it is now clear that, when it comes down to it, insufficient people (both politicians and voters) care enough about public libraries for it to be an important electoral issue.
  • Those working in public libraries will be given the choice of adapting to the new conditions (more council orientated work, supporting volunteers, etc) or leaving (either pre-emptively or via voluntary, even compulsory, redundancy). Being that many qualified librarians have already gone, the next five years may effectively mean the end of professionally qualified librarians being a requirement in most authorities and may spell the end of qualified public librarians as a significant force, even if they are now. “Fighting” of course, as has already been pointed out on Twitter, is also an option and will continue, as it has in the old parliament, although with a weakened impact now that the Government has a majority, although this may change closer in the next two years or so due to by-elections or closer to the next election. This campaigning may divide the profession, as seen currently in Manchester, where the decision has been made to exclude some protesters from the library, which has resulted in some fairly negative comments from the Guardian and from Voices for the Library.
  • Whoever in central government is in charge of libraries (and it may well be Mr Vaizey again: we’ll soon find out even if it has not been announced by the time you read this) will be ideologically against intervention and will provide only limited, if at all, guidance to local authorities.  “Let a hundred localised flowers bloom” will be the order of the day, very much like it has been. It will be up to councils and others – notably the taskforce and the SCL – to do what they can.  It is likely that libraries will still remain under the Arts aegis (if Arts Council England survives) rather than in more politically important sectors like education.
  • Heaven knows what will happen in Scotland.  The nation already feels notably different to the rest of the UK.
  • If you’re in paid employment in a mobile library or a small library (and even in a larger one to a lesser extent – see the cull at the Library of Birmingham for example) then you’re going to be in constant doubt about your future for the next five years. One commentator has even done this amusing cartoon to suggest a possible (rather extreme but that’s the point of cartoons) future for mobiles…
Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

Cartoon courtesy of @noHogarth

But, frankly, none of us really knows what will happen even in broad strokes, let alone in detail.  What I have said above is simply a continuation of what has gone before and life is rarely like that. I hope that my prognostications are proved amusing wrong in the next few years.  There remains the obvious success of public libraries (as reported today in the USA and Singapore) in other countries, where usage is increasing and – with growing inequalities between rich and poor, those online and not online – libraries are needed as never before.  There are also – sometimes competing – trends such as for the need for quiet study spaces, for out-of-school literacy and for creative workspaces that may yet give ammunition for the sector.  The only thing that we do know is that the current boss will think much the same as the old boss, but without a putatively more centrist partner, and you are best to draw your own conclusions from that.

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Ed Vaizey agrees to defend his record … if he’s around long enough

Editorial

The minister in charge of public libraries, Ed Vaizey, has agreed to debate Alan Gibbons on his record.  This follows Mr Vaizey’s claim , reported previously, that everything was fine and thriving in the sector and almost no libraries have been cut.  Alan – who as a close observer of what is happening but unaccountably has a different view on the matter – has called him out on it.  Whether the debate takes place depends on whether they both agree terms and, of course, if Mr Vaizey remains being the relevant minister after Thursday … and that depends on all of us getting out to vote, one way or another.

Legal action brought by library users over changes to their libraries has become a bit of a feature of the last five years – I look forward to Mr Vaizey explaining why this is so in such a claimed great time for the sector – but what is happening in Shropshire has its own special twist: it’s not a council-wide action but rather specifically about one library that not even be closed down but rather just moving location. How this has got to the stage of legal action in the week of the General Election is beyond me but probably is some sort of combination between strong local feeling, poor proposals, dire council need and a lack of perceived genuine willingness on behalf of the council to listen to concerns.  It promises to be an interesting one to watch.

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Alan Gibbons + Private Eye calls Ed Vaizey out on figures, the SCL … and Obama cares

Editorial

The election is near and there’s still few comments, if any, on public libraries by politicians.  The one who has said something – Ed Vaizey – has, presumably as a joke, said that there’s been no major cuts to libraries and few closures.  Well done that man for putting the best possible spin on things at least.  Alan Gibbons calls him out on his figures, using Public Libraries News statistics., as does Private Eye.  And this is the thing, Ed knows the figures are there (he declined to use them himself recently, bizarrely arguing that because they include Scottish figures, they’re outside of his remit) that show he’s being economical with the truth but he’s still doing it because he thinks not enough people care or know to do him harm. Hardly the attitude you’d want for someone in charge of public libraries and an attitude he’d have criticised all over when he was in opposition.  My reading of him so far is that Mr Vaizey was one of the best shadow library ministers  and probably one of the worst library ministers in history.

Well done, therefore, to the 14,000 public library staff who have completed the SCL E-learning programme.  There were a few technical problems with one or two of the modules but it represents a vital first stage in getting all public library staff geared up and ready to help.  Such training needs to continue.  You may well know someone who works in a public library who still is not sure how to get someone an email address.  Such lack of skills does not help the library locally, nationally, the customer or indeed the member of staff themselves.  Well done to the SCL too of course.  It shows that, although limited in scope, such an organisation can actually do things.  Let’s hope they do more … and as much as possible of it publicly and not behind closed doors, as with their recent day on “alternative delivery models” for libraries.

By the way, did you know Amazon owned Abebooks? No, me neither, but they have been for seven years.

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When librarians should fear the quiet

Editorial

It’s a quiet time at the moment doing Public Libraries News as everyone’s eyes are on the election: councils are avoiding doing much that will be averse to them or, conversely, is positive and thus fall foul of the rules of purdah. The sad thing of course is that this should be anything but a quiet time.  That the sector is not being mentioned much is worrying for it and suggests that none of the parties realise the importance of libraries as a provider of equality, literacy and social welfare.  One would have thought that they would have noticed all the protesting and campaigns.

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New worlds and growls

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It’s your time … at least in the US

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“Getting rid of a member of your team”: a ten year old’s view on library cuts

Editorial

I get tired of writing about libraries occasionally so it’s great that I sometimes get sent people’s thoughts that I can publish.  The one below is a rather wonderful letter (I’ve transcribed it, keeping in the original spelling and grammar) from a ten year old girl to her pro-library grandfather.  It’s a bit of a gem.  Enjoy.

“Dear Grandad

Below, I have written a letter attempting to to persuade the government and county council to keep librarys going. xxx

Critics of libarys have had the idea to demolish the treasure trove of books, causing hundreds of people to be sad or / and angry. This would destroy some hapiness for all the community – Mothers, Fathers, babies, children and senior citizens. For these reasons, it has come to the attention of many people why libarys should be kept alive.

Many critics would argue that children no longer need books or enjoy them and are much more intrested in gadgets. However, without books, children’s literacy levels would shoot down. So therefore books help childrens spelling and vocabulary. In addition to this, children discover lots of new facts and information from books, and it is impossible to argue with the fact that they cannot learn of the information they need from their own books at home. If a child was collecting a series of books, they can find a new one that have not brought yet in the library for free.

Although some people against the idea may say no-one goes in the library any more so there is no point in it, it is a well known fact that it is commonly used as a meeting point. It is a safe point and is useful for preparing children in year 5 and 6 for there next school, as they will be used to walking with friends and by themselves. Furthermore, older children can arrange to meet their friends by it, as everyone knows where the library is, because it is a safe environment to be in.

Even though critics argue that it lies unused by teenagers who are uninterested by books, that is untrue. It is obvious that librarys have computers that teenagers can use for homework if they do have one at home. Moreover, teenagers would enjoy watching the range of films that the library holds. Because of this, it is clear that teenagers do enjoy libarys.

In conclusion, the points about keeping libraries open are more powerful and compelling then the points against. Therefore why do we have to close out wonderful librarys, when they do not cost much and are part of our community? Can you imagine having to get rid of a member of your team? Therefore it is obvious that we must keep our libarys open!

I also recommend reading the article on the “Real Purpose of Libraries” by the wonderful Scott Bonner below.  It’ll set you up for the week.

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Lib Dems and Green manifesto mentions: big cuts in Enfield and Trafford

Editorial

A big thank you to Post Lib for allowing me to publish their article which includes statements from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens on public libraries.  Since my last post, UKIP and the Lib Dems have published their manifestos.  UKIP barely mention libraries (apart from noting that they’re run by local councils) but the Lib Dems have more to say:

“Complete broadband rollout to every home, and create an innovation fund to help keep local GPs, post offices and local libraries open … Develop the Community Budgets model for use in rural areas to combine services, encouraging the breaking down of barriers between different services. This will help rural services like GP surgeries, pharmacies, post offices and libraries open by enabling them to cooperate, share costs and co-locate in shared facilties … Support local libraries and ensure any libraries under threat of closure are offered first for transfer to the local community” Liberal Democrat Manifesto

To my embarrassment, I had not noticed that the Greens decided to publish their manifesto as a non-searchable image file rather than as a PDF like the other parties.  I therefore missed their statements on libraries (because they did not show up using CTRL-F).  Their full statements are below:

“We need to improve the way the UK is governed, passing power back to the people, back to where they live and work. Local councils have been starved of the funds they need to do their job. That is why requests for social care go unheeded, libraries are shut and public parks neglected …” under Localisation

“Increase government arts funding by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open.” under Media,Sports and the Arts

“We were treated to post-election surprises such as increased VAT and huge cuts to essential public services such as benefits, libraries, children’s centres and mental health support. By contrast, the Green Party produced a worked-out financial plan in its 2010 manifesto.” Chapter 16 Green Party Manifesto

Away from the election, Enfield (Labour) has announced major cuts to libraries while Trafford (Conservative) have confirmed closure of two with significant cuts to others.

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Party Manifestos: Tories mention libraries in 2 or 3 sentences, Labour and Greens not at all

Editorial

There are no mentions of public libraries in either the Green or Labour Party Manifestos.  The Conservatives give two or three sentences:

“We will continue to support local libraries. We will help public libraries to support local communities by providing free wi-fi. And we will assist them in embracing the digital age by working with them to ensure remote access to e-books, without charge and with appropriate compensation for authors that enhances the Public Lending Right scheme.” Conservative Party Manifesto

Those who read PLN (and thank you for doing so) will know that this short paragraph hides a multitude of sins but the fact that Labour and (rather shockingly) the Greens don’t mention the sector once is rather shocking, especially given the unprecedented media coverage given to libraries over the last electoral term.

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The bottomless well: the lack of Library Standards in England

Editorial

The absence of standards for libraries in England is an increasingly glaring one but whenever I ask chief librarians or other very senior staff about it, the answer is that standards simply mean a dive to the bottom, not to the top.  The idea goes that in times of cuts, councils would look at the minimum level of service required and cut their funding accordingly.  The problem with using this argument is of course that councils will do that anyway, minimum standards or no. What we’re seeing at the moment is many councils (with Lincolnshire being the most obvious recently) looking at seeing what they can get away with, seeing that they can get away with a lot (at best, one library per 45,000 people at the last non-intervention by Vaizey) and going with it or perhaps pushing it a bit more. Where there are standards in other countries (like Scotland and Wales)  then at least there is a minimum.  We don’t even have that in England.  How far can you fall when the well is bottomless?

A guide to the defunct English Library Standards can be found by clicking this link

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