Volunteer “sticking plasters” are not going to save libraries, says WI

The main news today is the production of a report by the WI (in which I must declare an interest in as I facilitated the workshop for it) that looks into volunteer-run libraries.  The main thrust of the report is that volunteers are doing great things but risk being only a temporary stage between council-run branches and closure.  For this to be any other way, there needs to be properly supported and well-managed, both locally and nationally. So far, in too many cases, they have been inadequately supported and left to sink or swim on their own.  Of course, to do any other than this is going to be hard for councils who are only considering volunteers in the first place due to unprecedented and urgent cuts to their budgets.

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“What does a library look like in 2013?” Summary of Guardian online chat

The Guardian Culture Professionals Network ran an online chat on the subject of public libraries on Friday 11th January.  It went on for two hours and had several prominent people on the panel.  It also, as importantly, had lots of interaction from the public, all of whom cared deeply about the service and made many many useful contributions.  Taken together it gives as good a snapshot as I have seen of how many of those involved but, importantly perhaps, not politicians, see the current state of play in libraries. It was, though, a bit long and rambling in places.  I have therefore tried to summarise it below.  In doing so, I may well have missed some important points and so would appreciate anyone letting me know what else needs including.

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Islington warn on closure of all its libraries

Islington Council have said that they may have to close all libraries in 2014 if the cuts continue.  The spokesman did not appear aware that libraries were a statutory requirement.  However, she can be forgiven for this being that the legal nature of libraries has been downplayed or just plain avoided in cuts up and down the country.  It only appears to be public protest that has an impact on proposed closure plans.  Sheffield have also signalled that they may cut everything but statutory services, with 14 already under threat.

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Libraries are more than about culture, Mr Vaizey: have a look at Newcastle, Gateshead and Liverpool

Quite a few items of note today.  Public libraries were a topic of debate in the House of Commons with Ed Vaizey defending their transfer to Arts Council England because they’re about culture.  I thought they were about literacy, information, community and education as well but, oh well, never mind.  Mr Vaizey makes a second appearance today in an announcement that he’ll be speaking at a press conference – along with the Society of Chief Librarians, the British Library and the Reading agency – “unveiling the exciting new initiatives that all public libraries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, are rolling out throughout 2013.”.  Should be fun.  I’ve just been sent a video of one of the exciting things that happened last year, a 3D Printer / Tech Fair, that took place in Gateshead and is worth a watch.

The protest meeting in Newcastle was well attended (between 250 and 300 packed in) with some forceful speeches including a call for direct action. The campaign there is also still causing some brilliant articles that clearly show the continued need for libraries.  A city that is facing it’s own share of library cuts, Liverpool, is also about to reopen a somewhat amazingly refurbished Central Library, of which there is a video here, and hopes to double its visitors each year to an impressive one million.

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York joins the movement towards non-profits

York has decided to go ahead with looking into handing over the running of its libraries to a “community benefit society”.  The city is the latest of a series to consider such a move, following on from Suffolk and – in the form of Trusts – a large number of councils including, notably, a lot of Scottish ones. The pros and cons of running a library service in this way have been made public by York in this document.  There are other reasons as well and, in a very timely fashion, a consultant in this area looks into it in the Guardian today,  It’s a subject that can raise a lot of fear and suspicion, as the reaction of Unison makes clear.

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“I was angry about the closure of Newcastle’s libraries before I spent time at Cruddas Park; now I’m furious”

Pride of place today has to go to the wonderful article by Ann Cleeves on why Cruddas Library in Newcastle has to be saved. It resonates with me and, I am sure, it will with you as well.  The campaigners in Newcastle are doing a notably impressive job in protesting against the cuts, proving that one does not have to be in London to have the eye of the media.  With further cuts planned in others places far to the north of the metropolis (such as Sheffield and Gateshead, also both in the news today), it’s shaping up to be another high-profile year for public library cuts.  With that in mind, it’s interesting to see that the Guardian (Culture Professionals) are choosing the topic of community libraries as their first online chat of the year, this Friday 12 noon to 2pm.

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Discovery, warmth, knowledge, dreams, welcoming … what’s your five words to describe public libraries?

National Libraries Day, barely a month away, now has an interactive map to see library events planned for the day.  There’s just two on it so far (including one I’ve just put on) so get your local library to add their events quickly.

It’s worrying that the Libraries director for Arts Council England, Nicky Morgan, is leaving that organisation in July.  Her replacement may have no direct previous libraries experience but rather be someone who missed out on a job in the cuts late last year.  It is therefore quite possible that what is one of only a tiny number (in fact, can anyone think of anyone else?) of full-time posts with a national remit for public libraries will go to someone with no background in that field.

The IFLA Public Libraries Standing Committee is running an interesting survey on what five words people associate with public libraries.  My five words were welcoming, neutral, expert, helpful and free.  Another suggestion I’ve seen is “Discovery, warmth, knowledge, dreams & ‘great buildings'” which is pretty cool, especially the warmth and dreams ones.

The ongoing trend to use public libraries to support small businesses has received a boost with six cities being chose to partner the British Library.  Another national scheme, that of joining children into public libraries automatically is also rolling forward – albeit in another pilot phase – with Surrey now joining the fray.  It was sad to see Nicky Morgan quoted in the last’s press release.

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“An environment in which knowledge appeared valued and precious”

Tim Coates (ex boss of Waterstones and now boss of e-book company Bilbary), on the last Public Libraries News post, commented on Phil Bradley’s article on 3D printers.  Phil has responded to the comment below.

“I’m not sure what point Mr Coates is trying to make, since even a cursory reading of my article makes it perfectly clear that I’m considering the role of these printers across the board. Indeed, the specific point that I make regarding public libraries is that they are NOT yet appropriate. With regard his other issues with my statements; he says that libraries should provide people with information when they want it. I agree entirely, and that is what libraries do, and in some instances this helps people back into work, improves or empowers them and by doing so, helps to improve their community. I’m sorry if he thinks that this is ‘pretentious’ or ‘ridiculous’, but since he’s in agreement with me I’m not sure what else I can say.” Phil Bradley, via email.

In other news, the importance of internet access in libraries is underlined by a report that says a third of poorest pupils do not have it available at home.  There is also considerable coverage of Chris Packham’s criticism of cuts to his local library and to the ongoing Newcastle library cuts.

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Library cuts “a betrayal of trust and an insult to sensibility” says Chris Packham

It’s great to see Chris Packham join the ranks of celebrities speaking out to defend public libraries.  It’s also good to see the ever-excellent US Geek The Library campaign’s page on debunking the myths behind US public library finance.  It would be useful to have a similar page somewhere in the UK too to challenge those who think that all council services are padded and wasteful. A recent Oxford University report which shows the altogether disastrous impact to teenage studiers of not having an online connection is also useful ammunition in the fight to highlight the continued importance of the library.

The good effects of having a far-sighted and dynamic, and perhaps well-funded, public library service is shown further down today’s post in the success of Edinburgh.  It’s also good to see a vacancy in Norwich for someone to keep up the good work there.  It’s not often one sees a job advert like that these days.

As to what public libraries should be for … well, that’s always been a contentious issue.  There are some who see libraries as simply for the provision of literature and information and others who see them as having an altogether wider remit.  The response, below, by Tim Coates to an article by Phil Bradley on 3D printers shows this difference of opinion in sharp relief.

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Buckle up for the new year

In the first Public Libraries News post for 2013, the articles doubtless show themes which will be with us throughout the year to come.  We have national government blaming councils for closing libraries and councils blaming the government for doing so.  We have questions over what public libraries are for – books are an important one here but increasingly with an – and questions over using new technology, with our old friend 3D printers making a controversial appearance once more.  Big names (step forward the New York Post, Independent and Guardian) argue for the importance of libraries while the decision-makers who really matter keep silent or blame eachother.

On a more local scale, we have further moves towards volunteers running libraries (with a noticeably increasing and controversial emphasis on this being able to improve the service) and for co-location.  We also have more evidence that, surprise surprise, closing branches actually directly reduces library use. Different forms of governance of libraries is covered, with the pros and cons of transferring a library service to a trust (“community benefit society”) looked at in York. Something new last month but that is being repeated a lot is using the new user-friendly Cipfa figures to embarrass poorly performing councils. Finally, we of course have public protest, with Newcastle in particular looking like the big flashpoint.

So, in summary, much of the same but a smattering of the new.  Another year of immense change is upon us.  It’s going to be exciting, dramatic, depressing, optimistic, frustrating and dynamic.  Buckle up, look for opportunities, work hard and … above all … don’t give up.

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