Michael Rosen quote supporting libraries

Speaking up for libraries 2016

Editorial

I am passing over the editorial section of PLN to Speak Up For Libraries today in order to promote the lobby of parliament on 9th February. Get there if you can.

Alan Gibbons holding Support for Libraries Overdue sign, with Westminster Hall in background
“Speak up for Libraries’ Rally at Westminster Central Hall, London.
Photo shows author Alan Gibbons.

Best-selling writer Jake Arnott is the latest celebrity to sign up for the Speak Up For Libraries (SUFL) lobby of Parliament on 9 February. “Throughout our history,’ he says, ‘the library has proved to be the most effective and resilient memory system for our culture and civilisation. The public library creates a collective consciousness. Any attack on it simply adds to a social dementia.”

The day begins with a public rally at Central Hall, Westminster (10am-1pm), with a line-up of speakers chaired by campaigning author Alan Gibbons. All welcome, whether joining a lobby or not. Alan’s Campaign for the Book is part of the SUFL alliance, alongside librarians’ professional association CILIP, campaigners’ charity The Library Campaign, UNISON and Voices for the Library. Supporters from as far away as Gateshead, Shropshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire will then descend on the Commons to lobby MPs to focus on the root cause of libraries’ grim situation – apathy and ignorance in local and central government. “These people are fighting hard locally to keep libraries alive. They are desperate to show this is a major issue for the whole nation,’ says Laura Swaffield of The Library Campaign. “And it’s not too late for others to join us.”

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Last chance to apply for up to £15,000 funding and expert advice and mentoring.

Huge response to SCL statement: at least we all care about libraries

Editorial

There was a pretty much unprecedented response, in terms of blog reads and comments,  to the President of the Society of Chief Librarians’ post on the previous edition of Public Libraries News.  Some, not all, of the responses can best be characterised as extremely opposed, although I personally understood the SCL position a bit better at the end of it, even if I wish they’d start putting their head at least a little above the parapet. I don’t want to enter the fray too much again here, perhaps I have done too much to stoke the fires as it is, but would recommend you read the comments on the previous post if you want to understand it all. For me, I can at least take comfort that all sides genuinely and deeply care for the service and with the fervent hope that numerous chief librarians and library staff will jolly well get on the board with the #MyLibraryByRight campaign anyway. And also that everyone involved will sign the petition for goodness sake, and get people you know to sign it as well.

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Ideas

  • Apply to YA Shot for author visits
  • Community skill sharing – workshops and courses provided by community members. In the village of Red Hook these recently included languages, bee-keeping, brewing and maple tree tapping.
  • Memory Lab – a project funded by the Library of Congress raising awareness of personal archiving and digitising. The Memory Lab will be a free DIY space where the public can transfer obsolete formats such as VHS and audio cassettes to digital files
  • Patron request system – automatically buy one copy of any book or DVD the first cardholder in the service asks for.
  • “Senior Services” – “a relaxed, comfortable area with armchairs, newspapers, book and dedicated programming, giving senior citizens a homelier library space. “

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Ciara Eastell, President of the Society of Chief Librarians

Tangible benefits: the SCL defends its record

Editorial

The decision by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) not to formally support the #MyLibraryByRight campaign caused a furore amongst supporters of libraries on social media, lis-pub-libs and probably other places as well.  There was even a comment or two on my previous post.  Similarly, there was much debate about welcoming Halifax bank employees into libraries to help with It issues. So much so, in fact, that I have done a special page listing all the arguments for and against commercial involvement in public libraries. The President of the SCL (and chief of Devon Library Service and, coincidentally a classmate of mine from library school, all of which kind of puts my career into perspective), Ciara Eastell has taken the trouble to write a piece for PLN, which I very happily publish it here.  One of the things I’ve noticed doing this blog over the years is that everyone, on all sides, care deeply for public libraries and make valid points and Ciara is no exception. Over to her (with the choices for quotations being mine).

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Halifax give a little extra help (or do they?) and the SCL fail to directly support #MyLibraryByRight

Editorial

My twitter feed was full of people being angry about the new scheme where two thousand Halifax Bank employees will help with IT training in public libraries. The scheme, brokered by the Society of Chief Librarians is supposed to greatly increase the amount of training sessions available.   The anger was not over that but the commercialisation of libraries it implies. When many of us were trained, perhaps too many years ago now, one of the key things we were taught was not to show bias towards a particular company.  When I do talks to people one of the key things I say is that we provide a place, alone in the town centre, free of commercial adverts and people wanting your money.  Halifax argue that nothing has changed and the training is done entirely impartially.  However, even taking into account their benevolence, there is an obvious clash of values here that is nowhere acknowledged in the official coverage.  Perhaps in these days of frequent cuts (South Gloucestershire gets it in the neck today) neutrality is something we cannot afford and we take what help we can. Or perhaps in these times it is more important than ever (like having quiet study spaces) and we forget about it at our peril.

Keeping with the SCL, it is regrettable, but not surprising, that they have failed directly to support the #MyLibraryByRight CILIP campaign.  The SCL has always seen itself as an apolitical organisation which cannot, as a collection of council employees, make any overt stand on the big issues of the day. Rather, the body works – as well as what amounts to a largely voluntary organisation of hundreds of equal members can – to provide some sort of national training, initiatives and co-ordination.  At the end of the day, if ever a history of this dark chapter in libraries is written, the SCL are unlikely therefore to be seen as the heroes of the story. But they would argue, as the old CILIP used to, that they work better behind the scenes and do more that way than by waving placards. CILIP have realised that that simply does not work, for them, in the current climate. But SCL are in a different situation (or at least think they are) and see things differently. On other hand, the Society of Authors and the Reading Agency (neither of which are run by librarians) have no such scruples and have come out in support of the campaign. Well done to them.

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Fun Palaces, memory support library cards and silent bears

Editorial

I was delighted to receive a piece by Zoey Dixon on Fun Palaces in Libraries.  They’re creative and popular, causing an extra 5,000 (five thousand!) people to visit a Lambeth library in one day.  It doesn’t cost much and really fits in with encouraging science and the arts in libraries.  Another great idea is from Essex, where a “Memory Support Library Card” means those who have dementia will not have to pay late fees.  A simple, understandable, idea which it would be great to see go national.

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No money, no policy and shouts of protest

Editorial

A piece in the Telegraph on the drastic reductions in library book stock since 2010 is made fascinating by the DCMS trying its best to make the figures look like a good thing. Apparently, it’s all about “removing costly unused stock” (which I assume they mean to be reference books but those are not included in the figures mentioned: do your research, DCMS) and concentrating on the rise of e-books. The fallacy of that last is shown by the percentage quoted. A quick tip here, by the way, is that unless a total actual base number of issues is given, a percentage in the hundreds is meaningless.  If anything, it shows how small the actual figure is if it can be increased by 420 per cent.

Ed Vaizey – much loved (or at least mentioned), as you know, by myself and many of the readers of these posts – has now celebrated more time as arts minister than anyone else in history. It is unlikely that many librarians would see this as a good thing, although he at least does use a library occasionally even if he has not shown himself not overly willing to effectively superintend them.  His statement on the arts quotes that a minister should give “money, policy and silence”.  Since 2010, libraries have been given drastically reduced amounts of money, no policy and have been in the limelight like never before, with shouts of protest drowning any imagined silence.  Unless of course he means the silence of closed libraries. In that, at least, his tenure has been successful.

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Democracy of space

Editorial

Good to see some more publicity for the campaign for the statutory nature of libraries: Joanne Trollope leads a useful article in the Guardian. It’s a shame, though, that there’s still at time of writing fewer than 10,000 names on the petition. Time to encourage some more to sign.  This is especially important as the cuts march on. Newcastle have announced that total opening hours will be more than halved, which is pretty major.

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The future of English public library websites?

Editorial

The report on the digital side of public libraries was released today. At first sight, it is a solid and useful report on public library usage that will fall firmly into the “too long, didn’t read” report for many. Certainly, I’ve only skimmed it. I can report that it looks thoroughly researched, although it looks surprisingly insular and seems focused on technological explanations for library usage. There does not appear to be any international comparison with library services which may have helped change some of the assumptions: for example, the decline public library use is blamed fairly and squarely on technological change while it is fairly obvious from other countries that usage can increase in public libraries which are consistently funded. I’m sure a few other countries may have researched going down a unified library website approach as well (although, I can’t think of many off hand) which could be learned from.  Not having it read it fully, I can also not comment on the recommendations, there may even be an international section (although words like USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand or “international” or even “Wales” or “Scotland” are entirely absent when doing a word search).  The big question, though, is that many would find it hard to believe that £20 million over three years will be found willingly from public library authorities facing budgetary decimation. Either that money therefore won’t come at all and nothing will happen or it will come from other, as yet, unknown, benefactors, possibly even the obvious choice (at normal times but possibly not in austerity Britain) of the Government.

It will probably take a few days for me to read the full report and I’d welcome any feedback on the report in the meantime: please comment or email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. Confidentiality, if desired, is guaranteed.

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Hereford and the Library of Things.

Editorial

Good to see Herefordshire finally ordering the removal of asbestos at Hereford Central Library.  It has been closed since September and, combined with the proposed other cuts to the service, the council was beginning to strain any credible definition of a “comprehensive and efficient” library service. The council is now working with a library user group to work out plans for the library.

The “library of things” idea, where one can borrow all sorts of items (from lawn mowers to pictures to fishing rods) seems to be, if not fully accepted, in the USA then at least at the stage that Maker Spaces were two or three years ago there.  See the article in the international section below. And, like with Maker Spaces at the same time, UK public libraries haven’t touched the idea yet, with those examples I’ve seen not being in public libraries.  We will see whether it is a flash in the pan or a trend that we should be picking up on in due course, and hopefully not too late.

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Help keep the barbarians from libraries by signing the petition

Libraries: “The thin red line between civilization and barbarism” Neil Gaiman

Editorial

No more news of cuts, thank goodness, although many reverberations (especially in Lancashire) from reductions already announced.  On the good news side, Access to Research, the (in my view anyway) under-used and under-publicised but very useful e-resource will be continued in public libraries.  Next week, apparently, we will be reading a report on a possible £20 million “unified digital platform” for public libraries.  This sounds great but the devil will be in the detail like (a) who pays, (b) will it simply be a cumbersome addition on top of existing library webpages and (c) will BiblioCommons who is writing the report win the contract for the service they themselves recommended.  Should be fun.

Great to see the CILIP petition break through the 5,000 mark today, helped by a wonderful quote by Neil Gaiman.  Do sign yourselves and encourage others to do so if you can.

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