Oxfordshire, Cornwall and, my goodness, it’s the Library of Birmingham again

Editorial

Oxfordshire has announced cuts of £1m per year to its libraries, with customer service staff being placed in libraries.  Meanwhile, in Cornwall, the council is aiming to pass as many of its libraries to the control of parish/town councils as possible, with other options in reserve if that doesn’t work. The saga in Birmingham continues with more money being spent on the new highly expensive Library of Birmingham in order to replace public space with class rooms for a language school.  This is intended to raise enough funds and staffing to allow the building, which greatly reduced opening hours barely a year after opening, to be open a bit more commensurate with its size and cost.

Also included today is more details on one of the winners of the CILIP PMLG Library Champions Awards: John sounds like a bit of a gem and Essex Libraries are rightly proud of him.

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It’s not alright on the Wight

Editorial
Public Libraries News has been going for five years now and so some of the councils I remember from the start of that time as going through cuts are going through it all again, with a pretty strong feel of deja vu for everyone involved. The Isle of Wight is one of those, with three more libraries and the mobile likely to be severely affected soon. 5 out of the then 11 libraries were passed to volunteers, amidst much protest in 2011. Legal action and an appeal to the DCMS (such appeals then not quite as hollow a joke as it is now) achieved little. From £1.8m a year in 2010, the budget was cut to £1.4m in 2011. There’s been further cuts since then but the further £280k proposed is likely to mean the libraries budget has been almost halved in six years. I hear that people who move the Isle from England are already surprised by how sparse libraries are. With these changes as well, it’ll be even less alright on the Wight.

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All champions: Russell Allen, John MacNab and Annie Brierley

Norfolking Libraries?

Editorial

I was so sorry to see the big reduction proposed for Norfolk Libraries, especially as I associate them with the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library which regularly comes up as the most visited in the country.  The £1.59m cut, which may see 27 out of 47 libraries go, is the deepest but sadly not the only cut they have suffered over the past few years:

Now that £1.59m cut announced looks pretty bad but combine that with the cuts over the last five years and the true devastation becomes clear.  This is a library service that has show it can deliver the best results in the country but it’s having the means to do this withdrawn bit by bit, year after year.

Happier news, thank goodness is of the PMLG Awards, celebrating the achievments of library staff over the last year.  I hope to bring more details on each of the winner shortly.

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Lament for Lambeth

Editorial

Lambeth council’s decision to cut libraries dominates the news today, with even a Labour MP coming out against the decision of her own party’s councillors. The decision to keep some libraries open by installing “gyms” – GLL-run mini leisure centres – within them has not gone down well but the main ire is against the council for cutting libraries at all.

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Lincolnshire - "Cheers for Volunteers".  Council brochure celebrates volunteers replacing paid library staff.

Not so bright in Brighton

Editorial

I was really sorry to read about the potential closure of Hove Library.  This was the site of one of the most famous campaigns against closure back in 2003/4 where five thousand people put up “save the library” posters and it made national news. The plan is for Hove to move into a museum and two other libraries to move into a school and a children’s centre. They’re not closing as such so the public response is likely to be muted.  We’ll see how muted in the next few weeks.

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Lambeth - Tate South Library Fado Evening. "This library is in Lambeth's 'Little Portugal' - gets people of all nationalities together, possibly better than a pay-to-use gym would..."

Library Campaigner, Pragmatist or Believer: which one best describes you?

Editorial

It’s always interesting to hear viewpoints from loads of different people and, as sole proprietor of Public Libraries News, I read messages from pretty much the full way across the spectrum.  I have for some while been mentally categorising different people, groups and organisations about where they are on an imaginary “library line” and I’m going to share this with you now, along with the important caveat that not everyone is always the same on every topic, people can move position or may be not quite one label or another and I’m not going to place “good” or “bad” labels on anyone:

  • Campaigners. Those often wanting no cuts to libraries at all. Often either from the left wing or from those who care deeply for public libraries or who work in libraries or all three.  Very likely, but not always, to question the whole belief in austerity or wanting a special exemption to be made for libraries on the grounds of the great things they do for the country. Highly likely to be completely against volunteers (calling them different names but not “community libraries”) replacing paid staff, outsourcing or any commercialization of libraries, believing that giving ground will irrevocably damage the merit of public libraries and lead ultimately to their adulteration. Likely to be concerned about the co-location of libraries with other services but not always automatically against them. Likely to call reductions in budgets “cuts” and unwilling to accept that the government actually has any strong feelings of support for libraries at all and, indeed, may be maliciously cutting them for ideological reasons. Could well be trade unions, Corbynites [Addition to original post: I mean this as those who voted for Jeremy Corbyn so really I mean Labour – Ed.]  or (pretty obviously) campaign groups but, really, could be anyone who really likes libraries.
  • Pragmatists.  Often with beliefs around the centre of the spectrum, although can be left or right wing on many issues. Those who accept, even if they don’t like it, that austerity is happening, and likely to continue to happen until at least 2020 and that they need to work within that framework in order to do the best they can for libraries. They may also note that the government has been democratically elected, however imperfect that democracy may be. While privately (and even occasionally publicly) against austerity, volunteers or any of a thousand cuts to the service, this group will do what is necessary to meet budget cuts (they are likely, but not always, to call these “savings”), seeing it as something that needs doing.  Frankly, many would lose their jobs if they didn’t. Very likely to accept co-location of services as a more or less desirable option. So this is the group that may, with gritted teeth, install volunteer-run libraries (likely to call them “community libraries”) or indeed be library volunteers.  They will also look at the government agenda and see how libraries fit into it, arguing the case for them in terms the politicians understand and use themselves. Likely to be more senior librarians, professional bodies or New Labour but, again, could be anyone from any field.
  • Believers.  Normally, although not absolutely always, on the right wing of the political spectrum.  Firmly believe in the need for austerity and the efficiency of private enterprise over public authorities, may even argue that “community-managed libraries” can be not just cheaper but often better than those run by paid staff.  Will see no problem in private enterprise taking over public services and may even see this a preferred option, with a willingness to see all sorts of services taking over large parts of public libraries if they will make money.  This group will see co-locating any other services with libraries as a no-brainer win. May be strong believers in libraries (and genuinely want to reform them for their own good) or may not see any “special” place for libraries at all and will expect them to fight with other public services for their slice of an ever decreasingly sized pie.  Very likely to call reductions in budget “savings” or “efficiency savings”. Likely to be technophiles, Conservatives (many Liberal Democrats and some New Labour too) or non library users but, as with all other groups, could be anyone.

You should be able to recognise everyone, or any organisation, involved amongst one of these three headings.  So, have fun putting people in these groups … but then bear in mind that life is never quite as easy as that and, people always have the capacity to surprise.  In case you’re wondering what CILIP is, I think it is in  the difficult position of being somewhere between campaigner and pragmatist. The Society of Chief Librarians is most definitely pragmatist (although it has elements of all groups amongst its members) and Judy Terry quoted below is stongly on the “Believer” side.  It’s pretty obvious who the campaigners are, although even within that group you will find disagreements.  What has happened with CILIP yesterday and today is the organisation trying to be pragmatist but coming up against the fact that many members (or ex-members) of CILIP are, naturally, campaigners. That’s quite a disconnect but one probably inevitable considering the situation … how CILIP react and learn from this and the developing situation (expect George Osborne to announce extra deep cuts to council budgets soon) will say much about it.

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Bibliotheca buys 3M Library Services / Barnet, Lambeth and Lord Tope on Sutton

Editorial

Doubtless the big news today for public libraries isn’t about a public library service: it’s Bibliotheca (or rather its shareholders) buying out one of their major competitors, 3M Library Systems.  I know that for many of us these are the two big players when it comes to RFID and self-service so it’s going to have a possible bearing for when it comes to getting best value … or it may make things more efficient and wonderful, of course.

Other than that, we’ve got three London boroughs making waves. There’s a lot of action, notably from Unison, about Barnet’s proposal to cut library services and almost half their library staff in the process. Amazingly, the Shadow Chancellor comes out with a fulsome note of support for the protestors.  That’s a real, very real, change from pre-Corbyn days. Whether it’s a good change or a bad change depends very much on where you sit politically. Secondly, people are really not impressed about changing libraries into “gyms” in Lambeth, are also unimpressed about the consultation and are not happy as well (again this is Unison) about losing a quarter of the staff there. Finally, I quote Lord Tope on the recent announced cuts in Sutton.  He was the ex-lead of the Libraries all-party parliamentary group before the election until the rules changed which means the lead needs to be an MP.  His points can be summed up as get involved in the consultation and there’s going to be cuts and so it’s up to you help decide where they’re going to fall.  A tough message but a true one.

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Richard O'Neil at ChorltonFest 2014

Cuts in Barnet and Lambeth … and the joys of storytelling

Editorial

Bad news in Barnet as major cuts are announced, although library opening hours will actually be increased due to using Open+ self-service remote-control technology.  Lambeth also announced major cuts but, again with far fewer closures than expected, due to GLL taking over some libraries as “healthy living centres”.  This adds another borough arrow to GLL’s quiver as it already runs libraries in Greenwich and Wandsworth.  Both Barnet and Lambeth represent challenges to the traditional view of libraries as, in both, considerable numbers of library staff will lose their jobs but the councils can claim, with a clear enough conscience to appear to the media with, that they have maintained a library service.  Meanwhile I am receiving via email and Twitter heart-rending stories of library staff losing their jobs and the impact it will have, in reality, on the service that councils provide.

I am also including today a feature about a storyteller and what he does for libraries and literacy.  This is the sort of project that Arts Council England, amongst others, support (although I don’t know if they have done so in this case) and shows the power of outreach and not being limited  to the buildings themselves.

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Electric dreams

Electric dreams, digital inclusion and uncertainties

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Lewisham claim making staff redundant “enhances” their service … and refugees.

Editorial

Some bad news from Lewisham, not made any better by the council claim that making the paid library staff redundant and replacing them with volunteers may “enhance” the service.  There’s one for CILIP to get their teeth into, if it becomes official council policy.

Otherwise, the thing I’d like to draw your attention to is the joint SCL and ASCEL statement welcoming refugees to the UK and the short notice from John Vincent below.  For me, one of the many strengths of public libraries is that they provide refuge for all, from the poorest to (if they choose to) the wealthiest.  I remember when hundreds of Poles suddenly made their appearance.  I also remember knowing about a community of East Timorese moving into the town before anyone else, simply because they joined the library first in order to gain online access.  I am sure public libraries will have similarly important roles to play with the Syrians and others coming in and we should be very proud of it.

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