A Regional Manager from the MLA gave a talk yesterday to the Cambridge Library Group on “Libraries and the Big Society”.  Annie Johnson, who was there, has kindly sent me a summary of this talk which I have tailored for posting below. It is worth reading as it gives an overview of what stage public libraries are at now, albeit a surprisingly upbeat one and one which some library staff/campaigners would disagree with on a few points:

There are many negatives to the current situation. There have been falling (physical) visitors since 2005-6, Libraries and Culture are being disproportionately cut by councils, the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act makes libraries statutory but in a “hard to define” way, there are too few library advocates “higher up” and Public Library Service Standards are now abolished so there is no way for libraries to demonstrate performance.  Cutting because one has to is not a good way to review a service or to prepare for the future.

In other ways, there’s some positives. Libraries are now constantly in the news and high on the public agenda, campaigns have proved that libraries have an unprecedently high level of public support and “creative solutions” to the cuts are being found.

Public libraries are, and are seen to be, an embodiment of the Big Society in action (and were long before this became a political buzzword). The values that are important to libraries include community empowerment, information literacy, openness of public services, social enterprise. Volunteers are a difficult issue. Volunteers should not replace paid employees, but creative use of volunteers as a supplement to paid staff is good, filling gaps in services libraries would like to provide but can’t due to budget constraints (e.g. silver surfers, local history etc.).

Possible efficiencies (this does not mean simply cost-cutting) include less back-office staff, more self-service, more collaboration (eg. Essex runs Sloughs’ public libraries), more market research, more shared services and shared locations (eg. with trading standards), more commerical businesses (e.g. cafes).

My thanks to Annie Johnson for the reporting.

455 libraries (383 buildings and 72 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK (for the complete list by area see the page “Tally by local authority”)  


Are libraries a dying breed? – Barbara Talley.  
CLG talk on the Big Society – Wee Bookworms.
Don’t be afraid to go in you library and read every book – Voices for the Library.  Matthew Hyde guest posts “Nowadays people don’t tend to be burning down libraries, at least not in Dudley, but they’re under threat. It’s easy to take them for granted, but in a world where we can access a mountain of information with next to no quality filter, librarians should rule. Somewhere along the line, that building full of books has seen the skillsets of the people who work there gain in currency.”
Government plans to block extremist websites from public internet – v3.  “”Internet filtering across the public estate is essential. We want to ensure that users in schools, libraries, colleges and Immigration Removal Centres are unable to access unlawful material,” the report said.” but, on the other hand, Jim Killick of the Open Rights Group calls it a “step too far” – “Libraries are a resource for sharing knowledge and study, no matter who you are. Adults must be assumed to be responsible and capable of making their own judgements,”

Libraries and the WIWalk You Home.  Lauren Smith was there.
Public libraries briefing – CILIP.

“Next time you’re driving or walking past your local library maybe break the habit and step inside. It’s even cheaper than Amazon… all of it’s free. No wonder those that use libraries regularly are up in arms about proposed closures of them. It just strikes me as something a nation can boast about – we lend people books for free.” This place will lend you books for free – Sabotage Times. See also the excellent comments (and not just the one recommending Public Libraries News).

Windows on the world, keeping them open: the prospects for public service broadcasting, libraries and arts – Voice of the Listener and Viewer, public meeting in Leeds, 16th July.
Women’s Institute will campaign for libraries – BookSeller.

Change to library services

Camden – 2 more under threat (1 branch, 1 mobile) – 3 libraries to transfer to being run by volunteers, Mobile Library to close, Regents Park Library to close. 10% opening hours cut for all, bookfund cut, 35 jobs lost,

Local News

Bexley – Mobile library service faces axe – Bexley Times.
Brent – Another chapter in bid to save librariesWembley and Willesden. 
Cambridgeshire – Longer opening hours for Linton Library – Haverhill Echo.  3 hours per week more but library still under threat of “divestment”.
Cambridgeshire – Huntingdonshire library open hours cuts planned – Hunts Post 24. ” “I would say I do not see the point in knocking two hours off the opening times. The library should be the hub of the town. It should have the tourist information centre there. In some communities, the town council offices should be there.”
Camden – Library funding cuts: Town Hall approves plan for three branches to be run by volunteers – Camden New Journal.  Camden, Belsize and Heath to be managed by volunteers by mid 2012, or closed, mobile to close, Regents Park Library to close (mothballing may happen).  ““The lack of trust in the management of Camden’s libraries is palpable. We will be holding meetings to discuss our options. One major issue will be having faith in the Town Hall to work with us.”
Isle of Wight – Library campaigners meet officials today – Ventnor Blog.  Meeting appears to have been positive but, as normal, with no guarantees of action. Also covered on Isle of Wight Radio.
North Yorkshire – Council U-turn over village facility – Craven Herald & Pioneer.   Gargrave and Embsay Libraries will not survive without volunteers, council withdrawing broadband “churlish”.
North Yorkshire – Kirkbymoorside and Helmsley libraries saved by people power – Gazette & Herald.  Malton and Norton libraries, though, will be shut and a combined library opened instead.
Northumberland – Cafes could help to keep libraries open, council told – New Post Leader.  Councillors also suggest charging for libraries and suggests German public libraries do this, less management, more opening hours.