It’s a barbaric world … so let’s learn to speak Barbarian

Editorial

We live in a barbaric world where money talks and culture walks.  Maria Miller, the advertising executive Culture Minister, has made it clear that the only culture she is interested in is that which makes money. This we can decry and cry about, feel superior with and generally protest about but it does not affect the fact that it’s true.  So, if the current Government persists in power (and, let’s face it, Labour are disturbingly similar to them in many policies) then we had better start speaking their language, or at the very least be able to win arguments using their own terms.  This may be ideological heresy to some but its pragmatism does not change the truth.  As such, the news that Arts Council England are launching what one suspects is the largest scale research project in the world on the economic benefits of public libraries is to be welcomed.  Previous research suggests that there is a notable magnifier between the money that goes into libraries and the benefit that the community reaps from it.  Let’s prove that to be true.  Let’s quantify the quality … because if public libraries can’t, then they run the danger that there won’t be much of them left, either in quantity or quality.

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Bradford – 3 mobile libraries under threat.

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Goodbye Advisory Council on Libraries

Editorial

After effectively abolishing the Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL) a couple of years ago, the government has finally got around (several months later than was promised) to formally consult on the subject.  This is something which the DCMS are required to do by law and it is clear that they’re not happy about it: the report makes very clear that they don’t want the ACL to be reconvened.  The view is that the ACL’s only job is to advise the DCMS on whether it should intervene in local councils and, being that they were not consulted the first and only time this happened, there’s no need for them.  Never mind that they presumably jolly well should have been.

Moreover, the report states that other bodies (such as ACE, the SCL, LGA and CILIP) provide this consultation and so the ACL is not needed.  This means that £2,500 (yes: just two and a half thousand pounds) per year it cost in terms of expenses etc can be saved. Critics of the abolition have pointed out in the past that the ACL provided a relatively independent and expert view at almost no cost.  However, this does not appear to matter – the Minister decided during the Bonfire of the Quangoes that it had to go and so it has effectively already gone.  Anyone is welcome to put their own views on the subject during the consultation but the clear subtext is that this will be politely ignored.  The ACL, barely noticed during its lifetime but providing an effectively free, expert and independent service nonetheless, is seen as a mildly embarrassing heirloom to be junked.

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Alice web header

Adventures in Libraryland

Editorial

One of the more wonderful things that libraries provide are events for children.  A theatre group can bring wonder to classes of kids and encourage some major library use.  However, getting funding for such activities is (it will come as no surprise to any of you to hear) is getting harder and harder.  So I was fascinated to see a library theatre group looking to address its funding by appealing online.  So I contacted them to get more info and here it is:

Alice web header

“Open Book Theatre Company creates innovative adaptations of classic novels in libraries.  We are a not-for profit organisation currently fundraising for our second project, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ ( http://www.sponsume.com/project/alices-adventures-libraries). With so many public libraries threatened with closure, our aim is to remind people why libraries are such a vital part of our communities. We bring literature to life among the bookcases, encouraging people to explore their local library and reinventing the space in a lively and exciting way. Our hope is that, by rekindling enthusiasm for local libraries and reminding people of the great stories lining the bookshelves, libraries will see a rise in membership and support.

Our first project, ‘Dracula’, was performed in London libraries in October 2013 and received excellent reviews:

“This production is intimate and engaging and an event not to be missed…sticking two fingers up to the funding cuts which are resulting in libraries being closed…” Hannah Elsy, A Younger Theatre

“highlighting the connection between the great works of literature and the vital place libraries have in our society.” David Norman, Clandestine Critic

For more information, please see our website www.openbooktheatrecompany.com.  If you can help in any way, please to not hesitate to contact us at openbooktheatre@gmail.com. ”

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£1.5m cut in one authority, £56k for new works of art in another.

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  • Repair cafes - “Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). The types of items that can be repaired and reused include clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances and toys.”

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For good or for ill: change and inquiries

Editorial

A couple of things spring out to me today that show how libraries may change in the future, or are in some cases already changing.  An excellent article from the Wall Street Journal looking at how libraries are changing in the digital age, shows how libraries have always changed in the past as well.  It concludes that failure to innovate is the real dangers that libraries face.  I suspect that is very much the same thought behind the new website/group Common Libraries (from the Locality team) which looks to assist those who, in management speak, think out of the box – things I really like the idea of such as Maker Spaces are part of their bag.  Of course, they have an uphill struggle to convince campaigners and others that they’re not just Trojan horses for volunteers … but I think they deserve that chance.  Stop throwing the tomatoes at me: we’ll all be far better using the energy (you throwing, me dodging) in examining what they’re actually doing and seeing if it is useful.  From reading all of the news reports every day, I’d say we’re a good two or three years behind the USA in implementing change in public libraries and anything which can give us a leg up should not be automatically rejected.

There’s also a promise of change in the new national English inquiry into public libraries.  Most people aware of it are pretty sceptical that is the case but, hey, let’s hope it is. I put the word “English” in there to distinguish it from the Welsh inquiry into public libraries (what do you mean, you didn’t know there was one?) which comes from a very different mindset (less emphasis on volunteers for one thing).  We’ll see which makes the biggest difference, for good.  Or for ill.

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Teddy Bear sleepovers and reading to cats

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Lincolnshire judicial review request … and the City Business Library

Editorial

Legal action is being launched in Lincolnshire against the library cuts there.  There are four different grounds for a request for a judicial review.  Having followed this story from the beginning, I have been impressed by the hard work put in by the campaigners but, frankly, unimpressed by the work put in by the Council. We’ll see how it goes.

This is a weird time when there is a national push for libraries to provide services for businesses while simultaneously budget cuts elsewhere mean many libraries have less and less business resources.  I was therefore curious when contacted by Sophie Robertson of the City Business Library.  With the admittedly massive advantage of being in the City of London itself, this appears to be a thriving enterprise (check out its events webpage) … and it is also apparently the only stand-alone Business Library operating in the whole of the UK public library scene.  So I asked her a few questions which are printed with her replies below. From my point of view, it shows how diverse and excellent public libraries can be but also how much further the country has to go in order to spread such services out to all areas and not just Central London.

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Two cheers for National Libraries Day

Editorial

All of the public libraries near me had National Libraries Day displays and activities going on and, if Twitter is anything to go by, librarians and their supporters up and down the country were enjoying it immensely.  Alan Gibbons, the man behind the day in the first place, has his eye on the cuts going on in libraries (the thing that started the Day in the first place) and urges everyone to submit evidence to the Sieghart Inquiry into public libraries.   Two cheers then for National Libraries Day: which has now gained widespread acceptance amongst public library staff as well as those campaigning to save the libraries themselves and even, I noticed this year for first time, library suppliers.  The third cheer will come when the depressing decline in libraries is reversed.

For Alan is quite right to be concerned as the Changes below show some fairly depressing news (apart from in Warwickshire where closures have been avoided).  The glaring point I notice from them is that Birmingham and Liverpool – both authorities with expensive big new/refurbished central libraries – are having to severely cut back their branches in order to pay for them. This confirms the worry that, in this time of severe cuts, it’s the little libraries (with a population at least partly unlikely to be able to afford to travel) that are being cut and the big central libraries (used at least in part by those who can afford to travel) that are surviving.  There’s a problem there about fairness and access to local services that may not be being addressed.

If you have any news, thoughts, comments or questions, please email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.  Thank you.

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Special post: Government announces dramatically wide ranging libraries report

Editorial

In what appears to be a somewhat incongruous attempt to ride off the back of National Libraries Day, two Government departments (the DCMS and the DCLG) chose it to announce that they have together commissioned an independent report on England’s public library service.  The terms of the review are to look at what the future “core principles” of the public library should be; whether the current model is the “most comprehensive and efficient” and to look at the role of volunteer (“community”) libraries.  This is therefore about as wide ranging as it is possible to get, for these terms mean it will be looking at whether the public library service should change what it actually does, how it does it and who does it.

The chair of the committee will be William Sieghart, who may be a familiar name to you due to his recent review into e-lending. A frequent library user, when he did a very short interview with this website last year, he identified the main barrier to e-lending in libraries as “fear of change”. This phrase is what many more cynical observers think could be ascribed to Ed Vaizey, who called the last government libraries review “a classic ministerial excuse for not acting”. It is good though that it is not just a DCMS report: libraries are far more about Culture and so the involvement of the DCLG is to be tentatively welcomed, although the suspicion here is that it’s actually all about the budget cuts.

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