Taken out of context: House of Commons Library and the DCMS

Editorial

It looks like my last editorial pointing out the inadequacies in the House of Commons Library report on public libraries which somehow missed the existence of CIPFA and selectively quoted DCMS figures helped contribute to quite a stir.  I had foolishly imagined that the HoC Library had actually asked the DCMS for the information but it turns out that the department knew nothing about the report until it was published.  So much for joined up government.  Many thanks, though, to the Head of Libraries at the DCMS (Simon Richardson) for basically answering my questions point for point in his post on the Taskforce blog.  It looks like the devil is in the detail of definitions, meaning that while you, I, my dog currently asleep on the sofa opposite, etc know that many libraries have closed or at the very least left council funding, or been hollowed out almost to the state of oblivion, the official government figures for closures are very conservative (small c, obviously). This clearly needs sorting out and I’m glad to see the Taskforce is trying to do that, because otherwise our MPs and others are in danger of being misled about the impact of what is going on.

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  • Unprogramming – Simplifying events to increase attendance.
  • Wordblend – Ask public to write extract from favourite book on wall, in their own native language.

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Being economical with the truth

Editorial

So I have a page listing what august publications have linked to Public Libraries News or quoted it. One of the first I put on there, many years ago when I was impressed by such things, was the House of Commons Library which mentioned the total number of threatened libraries which I had pieced together.  It was therefore with some deja vu that I read their new report (I wonder if they do one every five years) and noticed me quoted again.  Not that my name is mentioned. No, apparently I’m an “online campaign group”, which is amusing. It then notes that while the blog covers the issue, “the DCMS has not made any assessment of the accuracy of the information” which I publish. That is also a bit funny as I know they use the website quite a lot. So how come the caution? Everything I count has the original source linked to. Just click on the links guys. Hmm, odd.

The same research paper notes that the DCMS estimate the number of library closures in England since 2010 as a mere 110. As anyone with half an interest in the subject knows, this is a laughably low figure and can only, charitably, have been reached if every library which has become staffed by volunteers is not counted as closed.  Which means the DCMS is counting them as statutory. Which goes directly against what the minister has said time and again.  They’re also not counting mobile libraries, naturally. The report also then mentions 77 new public libraries in the same period. Wow, sounds like a golden time. Of course, they don’t mention the majority of these are replacements or co-locations.  The DCMS also seems unaware of the official CIPFA figures when quoting the figure of 110. Which is strange, as Ed Vaizey has this very week very carefully quoted them to show an increase in libraries in Wiltshire (I assume they took some time looking down the list until they came to a service which reported an increase  – they must have been getting very frantic as they got all the way down to the Ws) and that Labour-controlled Wales had a decline in comparison. It almost looks like, and imagine my shock at this, that the government is selectively quoting figures to back up its case and carefully ignoring anything which may get in the way of their rose-tinted narrative. Shocked gasps all round.

Anyway, I spent Saturday in the glorious library at Oldham.  They were holding a TEDx there.  It was a sold out event and absolutely fascinating. The auditorium at Oldham can only fit around eighty so it’s possible to hold these at many other libraries too.  Think of the street cred for your library service if you do.  I also spent a good hour or two walking around the building.  I was seriously impressed by it and there were some good ideas there. All in all, I recommend a visit to you all.  Just don’t be put off by their naff website if you do plan a visit. Read my review of the place here.

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Idea Stores, beautiful libraries, and cuts in, gosh, Australia

Editorial

It was a real tonic to read about Idea Stores. Set up way before the austerity, and well-funded, they’re continuing to be successful.  The tricks appear to be to genuinely co-locate with an allied service, to invest in buildings so people want to come to them and, well, several other things, including avoiding supplier selection. Good also to see Manchester Central (in stark contrast to its brash debt-laden Birmingham cousin) doing so well.  As it should, the place is a palace and such a pleasure to visit. Extra bonus points also, apparently, for Oxford where the Central Library is to be redeveloped with the – ever important – children’s library being extended.  Good also to note that the level of protest against library cuts in Bradford has meant at least more libraries will retain paid staff than previously thought. In other new, Bibliotheca have launched what seems to be a real alternative to Overdrive for e-books. Hmm, this is sounding really positive, I love it. In other news, Bucks are considering some serious cuts so are examining being a non-profit trust (but that’s just a continuation of news from a year ago) and there’s yet more on the Open+ seriously-self-service library option.

In fact, for genuinely new without doubt all-bad news, one has to go to Australia. Yes, Australia. Where there’s something depressing going on with their National Library.  Please try not to do any more of that, my Oz friends.  You might make Public Libraries News gloomy.

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Arts funding, Scotland, Birmingham and finding volunteers for 40 branches

Editorial

A few things this post.  The first is there’s a lot of Arts stuff going on, not least in the small Slough authority (just seven branches) which has been given £625k for events by the Arts Council. That’s a lot of money for a borough of 140,000 people and we can hope to see some brilliant things coming from it, even though much of the money is not for libraries. On the other side of the scale, there’s a lot of the now standard cuts happening, with the notable difference being that it is now as likely to happen in Scotland – long seemingly protected from cuts – than it is south of the border.  Special mention nationally must go, again, to Birmingham where, unsurprisingly, drastic cuts to funding has led to a decline in usage. The cost of the Library of Birmingham is staggering (superlatives get used a lot when talking about this place: it’s £70,000 per day due to the repayments and interest) and, even though visits still work out at a very impressive 3 or 4 per resident per year, it’s hard not to expect further worrying headlines about it in the future.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by BBC Radio Lancashire on Friday morning about volunteer libraries (link here: Locality at 1′ 10″, myself at 2′ 14″).  The general tone of the breakfast show was very pro-volunteer, with a speaker from Locality being a notable salesman for the income opportunities possible.  Sadly, of course, libraries are simply not geared up for income generation (if you’re making money from a library, you’re doing it wrong) and, although, volunteer libraries can be – and are – successful (with caveats like long-term uncertainty etc being hopefully understood) in some places, it so depends on the location and number of willing volunteers. Finding enough for 40 branches in Lancashire (one-fifth of all libraries put under threat in the least year are from that council alone) is going to be a tough ask.  And pretending otherwise does no-one any favours.

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200+ : time to think about the future

Editorial

More than 200 libraries have been placed under threat since the start of the current financial year, April 1st 2015.  They’re spread over 36 authorities, of varied political hue. Lancashire – with a whopping 40 endangered – represents a fifth of the total.  It’s therefore an apt time for CILIP to call for a strategy for public libraries in England.  After all, pretty much everywhere else has one and you’d think actually having a plan for the future is a basic requirement of any service that, well, wants a future.  Mind you, we’re talking about a country, England, whose library service, quite literally, does not have any Standards, as the people of Lancashire (and West Berkshire, and Bracknell Forest and the increasingly ironically names Reading) have recently found out. In fact, CILIP are not asking for much.  That they’re unlikely to get even that is not to discredit them but the laissez-faire disinterest of the politicians ultimately in charge.

There’s a load of other changes today, including a worrying trend by two authorities to say that libraries are at risk without actually naming them. Clever that: it means that local opposition does not get an early start.  That’s something quite vital at the moment as the Government, keen to ease through cuts, has reduced the consultation time from a widely accepted 12 weeks to a vague “whatever is appropriate”.  In other news, there’s also another Open+ library  and the now normal range of opening hours cuts and co-locations.

One (welcome) correction: Plumstead Library is not closing but is being redeveloped, with improved facilities being planned.  There are also two new builds scheduled for Greenwich right now, plus one major refurbishment. So that’s good news at least. They must have a strategy or something.

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Temple of literacy and the city’s heart

Editorial

Three library closures confirmed in East Ayrshire (following on from three more last year there) and a proposed co-location in Greenwich are the main physical changes. In other news, there appears to be a combined response to library cuts in northeast England.  There are also, unusually, two positive stories about volunteer libraries, although I know from campaigners to take the one about Walcot Library in Swindon with a large dose of salt. Going abroad, there’s a lovely story about a Greek library – inspired by bustling British ones – that shows what’s possible in austerity, even if that austerity is in Greece and not in England.

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Parishing, church libraries and goodbye to a school library

Editorial

A good point has been made in Leon’s Library Blog about a trend which has been notable in recent years of public libraries effectively being farmed off to parish/town councils. This maintains the service but causes other problems. At the moment, though, as with volunteers, the mere fact that the library service survives is seen as reason enough to do it by many.  Expect to see this becoming a standard weapon in the armoury of cutting councils, if it is not already, from big rural authorities like North Yorkshire to smaller urban ones like Swindon.

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Philanthropy experiment ends in Birmingham: cuts in Stockton + Warrington. Increased hours in Levenshulme.

Editorial

A death knell for philanthropy as a panacea for cuts in Birmingham this week.  The problem being that private companies and millionaires don’t want to pay for council cuts, and that seems to be what they thought they were doing.  Cuts reported today in Stockton, Warrington and – even worse than previously described in West Berkshire – will likely not be improved by rich benefactors.  Well, except in West Berkshire due to the Government reducing the amount it is cutting from rural councils. Good to see increased opening hours – and a nice new building, albeit co-located – in Manchester though … and the idea of combining a building society with a library in Stockton is a bit of an eye opener.  I wonder it will have a large amount of reserves.

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Speaking up for libraries; deep cuts to West Berkshire and Darlington. Refurbished library in Warwickshire

Editorial

The campaign for public libraries hotted up still further with the Speak Up For Libraries lobbying for parliament. Some great speeches were made. Sadly, it looks like the only national news source to pay attention was the Guardian, although it has to be said that that newspaper has covered a lot of library stories recently.  However, it’s only when Conservative papers like the Telegraph start paying attention that one feels a breakthrough will have been made.

In other news, more details of the deep cuts announced in West Berkshire and some new information about cuts to Darlington.  Both authorities would, if cuts happen as proposed, be down to nearly one library each, like Swindon proposed last week.  This looks like the new lowest level in the “race to the bottom” that councils are willing to go to with cutting libraries.  After all, it’d be hard for even the current minister to keep a straight face about the statutory importance of libraries if a council proposed no libraries.  Although one feels that even that is only a matter of time. Deep library closures in rural areas may be less than expected, however, as it looks like the Government is reducing the level of cuts in the countryside at least in the next year or two.

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It was a Happy National Libraries Day

Editorial

It has been brilliant seeing all the images about various events for National Libraries Day.  I really enjoyed taking part in it myself, going to a local leisure centre and asking people what they thought about libraries.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive and gave a real buzz.  As did seeing the National Libraries Day hashtag trending at number two on Twitter.  Pretty much everyone, too, got into the spirit of it, with notably fewer authorities seeing it with suspicion as being a campaigning thing (as it that were a bad thing) than previously.  All in all, it felt like a real birthday for libraries and everyone was partying, with public libraries being given a small modicum of the attention that they deserve, if only for a day.

The one duff note in the whole affair was libraries minister Ed Vaizey, comic villain of many a past PLN editorial (the reason I’ve not posted much recently is because I’ve been in pantomime last week by the way), claiming that he intervenes in libraries all the time and that Labour is the one that closes libraries.  You may “intervene” Ed, but you never actually stop any cuts happening, and library authorities – like Conservative-run Swindon just this week who want to get rid of 14 out of 15 – know that. And, by the way, since April, in those authorities which threatened library services with a majority party in control, six are Labour controlled and eight are Conservative. I thought people should know that, even if the libraries minister apparently does not.

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