Well, that’s not subtle: the new libraries minister is also minister for volunteers

Editorial

Rather confusingly, there is a new libraries minister.  It turns out that Matt Hancock, who has taken over most of the outgoing minister, Ed Vaizey’s, responsibilities, will not have the public library brief as well.  That honour goes to Rob Wilson MP who, rather delightfully, is also an MP for Reading. Less happily, his other duties are all about boosting volunteers and non-profits.  That may give a rather blatant pointer to where he will be standing on some of the key issues in libraries: it’s hard to see him coming out against increasing volunteers at the expense of paid staff in libraries when his other role is all about increasing them.  In addition, his own constituency is seeing some fairly major cuts to libraries.

The big news, other than this, is the big reduction to libraries announced in Derby.  Normally, before, the Central Library has been the branch most likely to be considered safe, with it being kept much the same as before while the poor branch libraries bear the brunt.  Not so in Derby.  There, it is specifically Central that will close, along with a massive 11 of the other 13, in order to cut costs. So that will keep a bare minimum of library provision in that city.  But don’t expect out new libraries minister to protest: after all, most of those others will be going to volunteers.

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Chris Riddell (L), Ed Vaizey (C - discovering he's the same height as a Twit, honestly) and Sue Williamson at the official Big Friendly Read launch.

Goodbye Ed Vaizey

Editorial

So Ed Vaizey is no longer libraries minister.  Readers of Public Libraries News will know what he has done, and what he hasn’t, for public libraries in the six years he has been in charge. Before being in power, he stridently called for interventions in libraries but when he was in power, he did not intervene effectively – other than nodding through deep cuts – in a single one. A nice enough chap, even charming I understand, he was perhaps constrained by his background, his ideology, notably that of localism and austerity, and by his colleagues in doing anything more.  Certainly, the Sieghart Review and the Taskforce are welcome, although they However, claiming that libraries were thriving when they self-evidently were not and calling in question the number of closures and depth of cuts when the evidence was there was all to see was, I suspect, all him. Or is it? We will see with his replacement, who has already claimed on Twitter to be a supporter of libraries has a similar relationship with cold hard. politically uncomforable, facts.

In other news, I’ve been following news of Pokémon Go visits to libraries throughout the country and many library services have not been slow in taking advantage, at least in social media. That’s all great to see, as are all the wonderful pictures of children joining the Big Friendly Read.

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Swindon: Campaigners were out in force to show their support for Swindon's libraries ahead of a full council meeting

Wifi, digital inclusion, NHS public libraries and a new Culture Secretary

Editorial

A couple of useful reports on public libraries – one on wifi and one on digital inclusion – to have a read through in this post. Arts Council England have also announced that the procedure for libraries to apply for their grants will soon change. In addition, there’s the amazing news that a Friend’s group in Suffolk has raised £30k for its library.  That’s a lot for a support group but, of course, small scale for a council but, if the council does not have any money …  There’s also an interesting article about the NHS in Staffordshire (there’s more info here by the way).

Speaking of Staffs, the new Culture Secretary comes from around there and has had some dealing with libraries in the past, speaking warmly of coffee mornings and attending the transfer of Werrington Library to a wellbeing centre, staffed by volunteers, So, she has at least shown an interest but, unsurprisingly, is of the same camp as other Conservatives on the way forward for libraries in these difficult times. By the way, Ed Vaizey has, at time of writing, not been promoted (or demoted) as far as I can see but is now a member of the privy council so will now be called “The Right Honourable”.

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11 million books for 5p per day, plus free internet access? It's a no-brainer, Wales

The increasingly ironically named Reading, Ealing’s Primark Library … and Pokémon Go

Editorial

Some pretty major cuts to libraries have been announced, with two things in common.  One is that they blame central government cuts. The other is that a big thing is made of the council not actually cutting more, often pointing out other authorities are doing even worse things to the people’s chances of equal access to information and literacy.  Ealing – the one that’s halving the size of its central library and selling 87,000 of its books – even says it’s proud it is not being even more savage.  So, these councils should be grateful to the seriously malicious library cutters, such as the recent Swindon, who make such a defence possible. Meanwhile, in the afore-mentioned Swindon, a member of the public – not even a public official – is straight-faced calling the cuts a new opportunity for community empowerment.  Doublethink appears to have won the argument.

But fear not, for a possible library saviour is coming across the horizon, and he may be yellow with a spiky tail.  Pokémon Go, when it gets here, is apparently quite keen on making public libraries centres … so expect lots of young people coming on to the premises looking everywhere with their mobile phones. And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, find out, and work out how to make the most of it.

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Poem and illustration by @duddledum

Trusts cost more; co-locations, New York success and libraries meet UN targets

Editorial

A fair few changes over the last few days, with a fair bit being positive, mixed in with the normal depression.  Interestingly, Wrexham has decided to buck the general trend towards moving to Trusts, with their research showing it would cost £200k more per year to move to that model. Away from the UK, there’s a story from the USA about how libraries are thriving once more due to a revival in investment and there’s a report from IFLA on how libraries are able to meet every single one of the UN targets.

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The Big Friendly Success: Here comes the Summer Reading Challenge 2016

Editorial

It’s my favourite time of the year. No, not Christmas and not my birthday, or (ahem) my wedding anniversary but the start of the Summer Reading Challenge.  I love doing school assemblies promoting it and I’ve already had two whole junior school’s worth of children chanting “B F R”.  It’s the little things in life I enjoy.  And the impact that this has is lasting. I was in Asda the other week and a young man (16?) shouted “It’s Ian” and came up to talk to me.  Turns out he remembers the school assembly I did at this school six or seven years ago when I got them all chanting “Space Hop” (my assemblies don’t change that much) and was keen to tell me how he was doing and how he was going on to study further.  There’s a man who has a very positive association in his mind with libraries and an experience that is being repeated in its thousands up and down the country at the moment. So here’s to all the libraries, all the teachers and above all, all the children and parents who will make the Summer the busiest time of the year for libraries again this year. Long may it continue.

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So, what does the Referendum result mean for public libraries?

Editorial

I know from talking to many people in public libraries and the public sector generally that it’s been a depressing few days, which at times has affected them more than even many general elections. There’s been no end of analysis of what the referendum result means for the country but none about what it means for public libraries. Let’s change that now:

  • Public libraries have been notable for not being used by many to find out information on the facts during the campaign. I’m aware of only a tiny handful of enquiries.  The great majority of libraries did not go out of the way to inform people either: indeed, they would have been often discouraged to do so because they’d have been accused of bias by one or the other side. The rules of council “purdah” may also have been invoked.  If libraries are a strongpoint of democracy and neutral information – as many believe they should be – then they signally failed in this test and need to plan to do better next time.
  • At this moment, it looks significantly likely that Scotland will have another independence referendum, which will probably result in a Yes vote. This means that the large number of leftwing MPs elected to parliament from north of the border will no longer be there.  This will cause a significant shift in the ease that Labour can hope to get in: basically, you’d need votes like those previously associated with landslides in order for them to stand a chance. In turn, this means that governments are probably going to stay right-wing, being more likely to continue to favour limiting public spending, and thus library budgets, in the longer term. Personally, also, for me, it means that I’ll have to start putting Scottish News in the International News section, which is just going to be plain weird.
  • As uncertainty rocks businesses and, at the very least, they will have to get used to new procedures, there is likely to be slowdown in economic growth. This may to some extent be offset by the cost of sterling though but, on balance, and especially looking at recent FTSE results, it’s not looking good for large parts of the British economy. This, again, means we’re more likely to face more cuts to public services than before.
  • Thankfully, public libraries don’t get much investment from the European Union in this country. They get some for new builds but there’s not much of that happening at the moment, although a few places are likely to notice. So, we’re not likely to significantly lose much money that way, Phew.

This is all guesswork of course. It may be that some of the money repatriated from the EU goes to public services and thus negates the impacts of austerity.  It’s possible that Scotland won’t go independent. But, at the moment, the balance of probability is that the short and medium term impact on public libraries will be negative.

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Embracing Digital Services #futureoflibraries

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Chris Riddell loves libraries

A quiet couple of days for libraries: Hull enters centre stage?

Editorial

A quiet few days as, I suspect, the nation held its breath over the referendum. Good to see more Summer Reading Challenge references (I always love this time of year) and also nice to see good news from Birmingham, although it’s only an expansion of what we already knew. What I did not already know was that there’s an independent charitable trust in Hull with loads of money and a strong interest in libraries which wants to make itself known nationally. It will be interesting to see how that develops.

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Amazon linking revisited … and … Ed Vaizey says it’s all OK

Editorial

I’m always pleased, and a niggling part of me is surprised too, when I get feedback on something in an editorial.  My thanks to Jon Scown of Somerset Libraries who responded to my recent post on the linking to Amazon on the Libraries West catalogue:

“We noticed with interest the editorial in last week’s Public Libraries News about LibrariesWest linking to Amazon from our website, not least because we’ve been doing this since 2005 so it’s nothing new! I guess the profile of this has been raised since we launched our new website following our recent migration to the Symphony LMS.

I thought it might help to explain why we make the link and the benefits to the service and to customers. We’ve used the income to support a number of successful promotional campaigns over the years which we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. For example, we ran a Join a Friend campaign to encourage library members to recommend the library to friends and family, and a marketing campaign when we launched our e book and e audio book services. The income from Amazon allowed us to produce high quality publicity materials and to buy prizes to support the campaigns. Alongside these campaigns we’ve also run a number of consortium wide promotions to support the Summer Reading Challenge and National Libraries Day.

I’m sure this will be of interest to the readers of Public Libraries News and demonstrate that there is value in making the link to Amazon.”

Jon then went on to say that “over the eleven years we’ve been doing it we’ve made several thousand pounds. So, there’s an idea, especially as it is balanced out by a link to a “buy it on the local high street” webpage as well, which I think is an excellent idea.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard from someone else that their authority tried it, “earned pennies” and then stopped. And it’s worth noting that a few thousand pounds would be worth possibly at tops one tenth of one percent of library income over the period described, although it’s clearly put to good use and ringfenced (always a good idea to do that if you can).

Ultimately, I think faced with an ever-shrinking budget individual library authorities (and others definitely in that boat –  Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, for instance – have done the same) it’s an offer many will find too tempting to refuse.  Strategically and nationally, one still fears that it’s allying with an enemy who basically wants you closed down, while alienating potential supporters such as many booksellers and authors. But, faced with the needs we face, many library services will be willing to make that deal. And, by the look of it, Ed Vaizey will congratulate them for modernising at the same time.

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Humanity First

Editorial

A murder of an MP as she was leaving a library. Not many people think of violence when they think of libraries but it’s there. I’ve personally called the police numerous times, broken up fights before they started, called the ambulance after they ended, seen a few knives, dowsed the flames of an arson attack. But (and I’m aware there are one or two US readers of this who would disagree, sadly)  I would before last week never think that anyone would ever be shot in one, least of all an MP. Words cannot express. My best wishes to the staff and volunteers who were there on the day and to all the library staff, everywhere, who know that violence may be part of the job. May it not be the part in any MP’s job again any time soon.

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