Liverpool “does a Newcastle”

Liverpool, fresh from closing three libraries last year, has announced that another ten out of its surviving nineteen are under threat. PFI for the newly refurbished Central Library is going to cost the Council £2m per year for the next thirty years and the closures will cover around half of it.  So, a great library for those who can get to the Centre, not so much for local communities.  Such a PFI deal made a lot of sense when the sun was shining but now looks a little suspect now the clouds of austerity have blotted out the light.  This is a very similar situation to that in Newcastle where similar cuts are proposed against a backdrop of a big cut in Central Government subsidy and a shiny new PFI’d central library.  Those working in and depending on branches in Birmingham and Manchester – both big cities with shiny new central library projects – cannot be optimistic about the future.

The other main news today is the passing to the community of Friern Barnet Library following months of a highly-publicised protest squatting.  The success of this “direct action” may or may not encourage similar exercises in other libraries.  We shall wait and see.

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Celebrate the good news about libraries by all means but don’t dare pretend they’re “not in crisis”


Despite all the bad news and the inherent danger in sounding like the Government who says that libraries are “not in crisis”, it is worth looking at the more positive side of things.  It will do all a disservice just to concentrate on the bad and a portrait that just shows one side of a face is either a Picasso or unfinished.  So what’s good?  Well, I’ll concentrate on two things. I’m already noticing a lot more National Libraries Day stuff than I can remember seeing last year.  A lot of councils are getting on board and sending press releases out.  The best of the bunch so far, of course, is Midlothian whose pole-fitness sessions have – and I can’t think why – appeared to have grabbed the imagination of much of the national media.

Another positive thing is that, like a quiet counterpoint to the loud orchestral crash of libraries closing, there are some libraries opening or being refurbished.  My list (itself an amalgam of information supplied by the DCMS, SCL and many authorities/interested onlookers) has been used as one of the sources for a listing by Designing Libraries which comes the closest yet to something that can claim to be comprehensive.  They count 135 new or refurbished library buildings open or committed to since the start of 2011.  That’s less than half the number of libraries which closed or were “volunteered” in the same period – and 40% were co-locations (which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how it’s done) – but it’s better than nothing.  And, yes, a lot of these have been “committed to” but not yet built but. come on, it’s still good news.

Along with the Universal Offers last week, there’s some hope for public libraries over the last week or so.  Long may it continue.  However, if the bosses at the DCMS are foolish enough to pretend that this means somehow all is well in libraries then they will be lampooned again, as they were in the comments of the BookSeller:

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Some contrarian stuff from the very first article on the list today, pointing out that the need for quiet study areas is as equally as important in the Pew Research survey than online services. Of course, you cold always give away seeds instead. But whatever you do, don’t expect your website to be much cop promoting it as the SocITM have produced a report on how bad library websites are (answer: very).  Even if you do get it fixed, it’ll be too late for two more libraries (Anlaby and Regent’s Park) as they look set to close as does an important enquiry service in Somerset.  Finally, for those of you into that sort of thing, Northamptonshire have put together a video showing several ways volunteers can work in libraries.

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Government response to Inquiry into Library Closures: no worries and, besides, volunteers “grow” the service

Fresh from the Universal Offers launch, another important bit of library news comes along today with the Government’s reponse to the Select Committee Inquiry into Library Closures.  Turns out they’ve seen the error of their ways and will order direct interventions in ten authorities on Monday.  Only kidding.  To the surprise of no-one, it’s clear they see themselves as facilitators and spreaders of best practice only. A summary of their response is below with the CILIP view presented with gusto, as always, by President Phil below.

In other news, Cardiff and Swindon look set to cut opening hours and Coventry Central is having a refurbishment.  The Universal Offer (well, OK, Books on Prescription), by the way, was all of the Guardian page three today – which is a very impressive showing, as are the 340 plus comments on the corresponding webpage.

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Special report: “Libraries of the 21st Century” versus “offering a new dress to a plague victim”

A major effort to improve and protect public libraries was announced today in a joint conference by:

  • Janene Cox, President of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL)
  • Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture
  • Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library
  • Miranda McKearney OBE, Director of The Reading Agency
  • Nicky Morgan, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England.

A summary of what is planned is here and a full description is here.  I’m going to look at the good bits and then into the not so good bits in turn.  I will, as tradition dictates, start with the Pro:

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National Audit Office highlight libraries as suffering from cuts

I’ve been in touch with the Cabinet Office regarding their support for the move to mutual status for York Libraries.  It was reported yesterday the Government was offering a share of £10 million to assist authorities in making such a transfer, with £100k being given to the northern city.  I was wondering if other authorities had been in touch and if they were aware that Suffolk had already got a similar model up and running (York was described as the “first”).  This is the response:

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£10 million from Government to take your library out of direct council control

The Cabinet Office has sent out a press release about the £100,000 it is giving to York to help on its way to forming a mutual to run its library service.  Many will already know that Suffolk was the first to go down this route and it is perhaps too early to see how successful or not it will be.  There are 65 mutuals in other sectors already working and there is a map showing them for those who are curious. The people of Suffolk have learnt that being in an IPS (Industrial and Provident Society) does not necessarily protect it from closures, with some mobiles likely to close in that county, but it’s certainly now seen as one of the main future directions library governance is taking, with the others being straight closure or passing to volunteers (although of course, Suffolk IPS has a fair amount of volunteers involved in governance and fund-raising).  Whatever one thinks of trusts ( and unions tend not to think much of them), the money will be welcome to many councils who, I am sure, will be looking at this route:

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Around three or four mea culpas

Some reality checks have come in from other people.  This is good.  It’s important to be constantly open to what is going on, as regardless of prejudice as possible.  Otherwise what’s the point of facts?  So in the grand tradition of people who did not do their homework properly, I needed to look at what I said – and the evidence – again:

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An “entirely insane week” for public libraries

Continuing disagreement with the Arts Council England report on volunteer libraries seems to the order of the day. Some reports suggest that the evidence – at least in Camden where the move to volunteers resulted in a collapse in usage – may not have been given the attention it should have deserved in what will be seen by many councils as a blueprint for shedding paid staff.  The feeling is that the “cons” of volunteer libraries have been downplayed in the report.  The use of workfare volunteers, apparently by Eco Computers in its Lewisham libraries is also not a popular move. The spectre of people being forced to work in libraries for free has been raised, although the owner of Eco Computers disputes this.  It’s therefore not surprising that Phil Bradley called last week an “entirely insane” one for public libraries.  Also not popular, at least amongst those holding the purse strings, are mobile libraries, with three more announced as likely to disappear.

In amongst this carnage, questions about the use of technology in libraries may seem academic, but there is some discussion in the US – presumably where survival is not such an all-consuming topic – about how this should be approached, with 3D printers being the poster boys/girls.   Pew Research apparently shows the public want books and reference librarians first, though, and a 21-point list of when it is wise not to innovate include at first glance up to 16 (can you spot which ones?) that may mean it’s not an overly wise thing to do in the UK at the moment.

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Guest post: @ My Library, the Laos “medicine chest of the soul”

We can sometimes get sucked in far too much into our own little world of sorrows in the UK.  Public Libraries News does cover stories from the rest of the world but I am all too aware that so much is going on that is not mentioned.  So, when veteran anthropological researcher Dawn Starin got in touch about a remarkable library in Laos, I was interested. Dawn is evangelical about what good work this library does and, after reading this piece, I can see why.  Perhaps the decision-makers in this country could benefit from reading it too.  So, over to Dawn and a trip to Laos….

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