Pia Long

Guest post: Farnham Library, a fairytale library in the Internet Age

Pia Long first came to my attention when she wrote an excellent piece called “Are Public Libraries Obsolete?: The Shelf Life of a “Dream Vision” back in 2011. We talked to each-other about our mutual love of libraries and she promised to write a piece for Public Libraries News.  Here it is, sixteen months later.  I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s been worth the wait…

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Ways through the minefield

The future of libraries appears to be a theme that exercises minds on both sides of the Atlantic. From having read most of it, the main point that stands out is that the unique combination of local buildings and trusted neutral spaces mean libraries occupy an enviable position in reaching people,  Three examples of this are covered in the news today:

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We Don’t Need No Library Fiction?

The Herald Scotland article will stay with me for a while.   Following on from Deary, the writer questions the need for fiction books in libraries and questions what the point of stocking them is.  For myself, I have always seen fiction as the sneaky way to improve people’s brains – one might be enjoying it but one is also learning spelling, grammar, incidental facts, all sorts of things at the same time.  Fiction sucks (or suckers) the child into having a joy of reading and thus literacy and a degree and a good job.  Fiction, also, saves those on the edges (and perhaps not just the edges) of society from madness, tedium or loneliness.  To fail to understand the need for fiction in libraries shows a failure to understand its underlying benefits that bodes ill for the debate and for the failure of libraries (probably through no fault of their own – this should have been done nationally, for years) to explain their mission.

On the plus side, props to Devon for asking the public what it wants from a refurbishment of Sidmouth Library and, similarly, Los Angeles for asking the public what it wants from its libraries generally.  The user needs to be fundamentally involved in the provision of services, most especially in any changes, and it’s great to see this being done.

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Deary, cuts, refurbs and Amazon

The hullabaloo about Terry Deary’s comments on libraries show signs of finishing off, but not without coverage from as far away as the USA and Australia. Big guns like Neil Gaiman, Julia Donaldson and Terry Pratchett have some on side to defend the noble cause and much useful argument has been had.  On a not entirely unrelated topic, the launch of a bookless library in the USA, that is not replacing but rather is additional to normal libraries, causes comment in the Guardian.  Mr Deary will have even more to complain about shortly as Amazon are showing yet more signs of world domination by clearing the way for selling secondhand e-books.  Finally, a survey has found that a quarter of UK adults haven’t read any kind of book, library or whatever, in the last year,

Locally, Newcastle have announced a couple of branches will not close and a few more will likely be taken over by volunteers. A thousand people marched there this weekend against the wide range of cuts.  Similarly, in Sefton, a massive public reaction against closures has meant the council is delaying closing branches there.  One of the options there includes selling fruit and veg in the library building. Meanwhile, Sheffield are strongly pushing for community groups to take over their threatened branches and have even launched a prospectus, Options there include faith groups taking over.  Further south, Haringey are looking to close their mobile, housebound and school library services.

Good news includes a £50k refit in Bracknell Forest and the co-location to end all co-locations in Hertfordshire where a the library will be moved into a building that will house it as well as a youth centre, a museum and, a community centre.

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Deary Day 3 … plus House of Commons on library cuts

Ed Vaizey somehow scored a few points off Labour in the Commons on library closures today but that’s not the main news.  No, the big one is the massive reaction to Terry Deary’s comments.  It gained publicity in most of the broadsheets. Terry has, though, refused a public debate, going to say that the media distorted his views. He has also clarified (some argue, changed) his position by saying “I want all people of all ages to have access to literature” and questions if libraries are still the best place for this.  Some others have agreed with him on this and I recommend everyone to read Shoo Rayner’s chilling piece.  Others are more half and half (see Jabberworks).  The others pretty much think he’s Satan.

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Learn from the UK library slaughter, say the Swedes

Well, that’s a gruesome post heading, isn’t it?  It’s from the translation of a Swedish article about what is happening to UK libraries.  Kind of puts things in perspective.  News today includes Moray losing almost half of its libraries.  Suddenly, Scottish libraries don’t looks so comparatively secure as they did before.  It also includes libraries in Essex taking over as information points for Epping Forest District Council.  It is to be hoped that this move saves them from the library “slaughter”.

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Terry Deary: a vested interest acting against his own interests. Rebuttal, with main responses so far

I covered Terry Deary’s comment about libraries yesterday but there’s been more coverage today and more things to be angry about.  Therefore, more needs writing on the subject … and here it is:

Terry Deary has at least put the nail in the coffin that authors who support libraries are merely being selfish by claiming that libraries hurt authors and how he’s out of pocket because of their existence.  Perhaps the answer to his question “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” is that other authors are not being as nakedly and shortsightedly selfish.

Those authors in favour of libraries (see here for a list), especially those of children fiction like (but also so unlike) Deary are aware that most of the population with a reading habit cannot afford to buy everything that they want to buy and that limiting access to those with an ability to pay severely detriments literacy and so the future success of the country.   This is especially the case with children who may be effectively barred from reading outside of school if their parents cannot afford to pay. Such children of course would not be able to buy Horrible Histories and thus he is not out of pocket.  In fact, he’s gaining on the deal as the library is buying a copy of his work which the poorest child would not be able to afford.  For those more in the money, the library serves to introduce them to the books and to get them hooked so they’d be more likely to buy them.  So, Terry wins again.  His argument against “something for nothing” therefore is revealed into what it really is – an author wanting to charge highly for his cake and to be able to eat it too.

In addition, there are many who are not as fortunate as the wealthy Deary – say, for example, those at the edge of society as well as the elderly and the unemployed – who would face a far harsher existence without the libraries that he has taken such a dislike to.  A man came up to me a couple of years ago and said he would commit suicide without libraries.  Those who work in libraries are all aware of the many people who say “I don’t know what I’d do without a library”.  In Deary’s world, they’d need to find out quickly – and I suspect they would lead lonelier, colder, sadder and, yes, shorter lives.  Even in purely economic terms (and that’s always a dangerous thing, putting a price on knowledge) public libraries make national sense.  Have a look at these reports if you don’t believe me:

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Oh Deary me: Horrible Histories author says libraries have “had their day”

A shock today as an author said libraries have “had their day” and appeared to welcome closures.  The author in question is Terry Deary, the creator of the Horrible Histories books, speaking about proposed cuts in Sunderland.  Apart from being the only author to go on record as opposing libraries, it’s also odd as children’s borrowing – and he’s a children’s author – has been going up not down.  Digging further, it appears he has some form in this matter, though.  He has controversially come out in favour of child labour and he complained about libraries biting into his earnings in a Look North television interview.  This seems odd as his website boasts of his high lending rates in libraries, saying he is the seventh most popular children’s author.  Hmm, not amongst librarians and library supporters, though, not after today.

Other news includes Baroness Bakewell in the Lords questioning the Government about library closures.  The answers to her show the current brief on what to say about the cuts and are looked at below.  The “rationalisations” today include a £850k cut in Sunderland (a cut of one-fifth).  Balanced against this is the welcome news that the closure of up to seven libraries in Kirklees have been delayed for at least a year.

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Mixed bag

A mixed bag today.  The final echoes of National Libraries Day are fading away. The Government is perhaps trying to keep the feel-good vibes going a little longer by announcing £600k of funding per year (half by DCLG, half by ACE and BL) to  encourage libraries to provide intellectual property service for businesses.  It’s a shame, as I have seen pointed out, that all of the authorities involved (including the perhaps slightly reprieved Newcastle) are also having to otherwise drastically cut their library budgets but the initiative itself is promising.

Locally, there’s a real mix in fortunes.  On the negative side, Wrexham may close a quarter of its libraries and nearly halve its number of public computers.  On the balance (depending on how one feels about private companies taking over libraries – I imagine most readers of this blog would be very much against) Ealing appears to be outsourcing its libraries and has cut down its bidders to two,  More positively, it looks like Northumberland is bucking the trend (at least in terms of visits and members) by a rqnge of measures that could bear further examination.

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60 - JJB speaking + trophy

National Libraries Day … I love you

National Libraries Day was a highpoint for many library workers and visitors on Saturday.  My own library now has loads of post-it notes written by users saying why they love libraries (and lots of “I love stickers” on the board in the children’s section for those too young to write), many happy memories of an animal-handling event (be rest assured, traditionalists, that many of the people attending then took out books) and lots of other happy visitors.   Then, checking twitter and other news channels when I got home, there was a lot of positive messages about libraries.  It was lovely to see.

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