York Gardens Library in Wandsworth was used by Radio Five Live (2h 44 to 2h 55) today as an example of a Big Society project.  It certainly proved to be a brilliant choice. It showed not only why people volunteer in libraries but the problems they face and, sadly, how they are being used by politicians.  
First, some background. York Gardens, in the most deprived ward in Wandsworth, was scheduled for closure by the Conservative council there.  Locals, after losing a campaign to keep it run by the council, made the difficult decision that it would be better to help run it than to see it closed.  The council spent £35,000 on “refurbishing” (in effect, reducing the library size and creating more rooms, giving some space to the local college as well) and gave the volunteers £5,000 of “Big Society” funding to help them out.  Two members of staff – a manager and a children’s librarian will also be retained by the council.  The good news is that the library reopened on 1st November after a few weeks of closure, still with some paid staffing but now with 12 volunteers as well, and is evidently buzzing again.
The volunteers have an uphill struggle though.  For one thing, they will need 12 to 16 volunteers to keep it going – “which on an ongoing basis is going to be quite difficult” says volunteer Thea Sherer.  She also says that not only will they be expected to staff it but will need to raise £70,000 (presumably per year) in order to keep the place open. This fundraising appears to be through room hire.  Knowing how much one can hire a room out for in a deprived area, I know that is not going to be easy.  The £5,000 from the council she describes as a “drop in the ocean”.  When asked if it’s going to be a success, volunteer Sandra Munoz-Alvorez says “hmm, we’ll have to wait and see” then Thea says “let’s come back in twelve months time and see”.  The thing is, you can hear in their voices that they realise it’s going to be a hard slog and that they are doing this because they are being forced to in order to save the library that they love, rather due to some sort of idealistic pro-Big Society passion.  I felt for them.
Councillor Jonathan Cook, though, is bouncing with optimism and energy. He thinks these clearly blackmailed volunteers are “tremendous” and it is “very exciting”.  He goes on, “it points the way perhaps to some future models for libraries working much more closely in partnership with libraries”, saying that volunteers are “providing extra capacity”.   However the radio interviews make it clear that, in York Gardens, they’re not providing “extra capacity” – they are the capacity.  Councillor Cook then goes on to say they have his “full support”.  Presumably, that is, so long as they raise 14 times more money than he is willing to fund them with.  
Then the radio article shifts to a debate between Councillor Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council and John Bird, creator of the Big Issue magazine.   John thinks that the Big Society is great because it helps get volunteers into work.  He does not see that the Big Society appears now to be pushing people out of work in order to be replaced by volunteers. Finally, we have this final exchange between Councillor Anderson and the interviewer.  It shows clearly the thinking that if a neighbourhood does not provide free labour to run its libraries then it doesn’t deserve a library.  Listen to it yourself (2h 53 to 2h 54):
Joe: … when we’re closing libraries, we shouldn’t be saying to volunteers and to the community in Liverpool that the only way we can run your library is through using volunteers.
Interviewer: Well, why not?
Joe: Quite simply because if we don’t get enough volunteers then does that mean that it closes?
Interviewer: Well yeah
Joe: Then that’s it, then that means that it’s not working and the Government is…
Interviewer: Hang on, it works if enough people volunteer
Joe: Well what if they don’t?”
Interviewer: It’s their library, you know…
Volunteering is not only becoming a political football, it is becoming a weapon pointed at communities throughout the country.  Best put your body armour on now, folks, it’s going to be a rough ride.
429 libraries (340 buildings and 89 mobiles) currently under threat or closed/left council control since 1/4/11 out of c.4612 in the UK, complete list below. Librarian professional body CILIP forecasts 600 libraries under threat (inc. 20% of English libraries).  The Public Libraries News figure is obtained from counting up all reports about public libraries in the media each day.
Things you can do today


  • A vital library we should not lose – Yorkshire Post.  “…the loss to Yorkshire of the Wakefield Music and Drama Library has not been fully reported. Almost it seems by stealth, or under the smoke screen of other spending issues, the 10 local authorities who have long supported this facility, unique in Yorkshire at least, are of a mind to pull the plug completely.”
  • Has the Big Society been a big success or a big waste of time?Radio Five Live (2h 44mins to 48mins).  Covers York Gardens Library (Wandsworth).  Council closed it but volunteers reopened it on 1st November, most deprived ward in Wandsworth.  12 to 16 volunteers need if library is to kept open “which on an ongoing basis is going to be quite difficult” and need to raise £70,000 via room rental.  Library again well-used though.  £35,000 council refurbisment plus £5,000 grant “from the Big Society” described as “drop in the ocean”.  Local councillor Jonathan Cook thinks volunteering is “tremendous” and “very exciting, it points the way perhaps to some future models for libraries working much more closely in partnership with libraries … providing extra capacity through volunteering … they have our full support”.  Volunteers asked if Big Society is working in library, volunteers pause and say “Hmmmmmm, we’ll have to wait and see”, “let’s come back in twelve months time and see”.  Councillor Joe Anderson, Liverpool boss (2:53 to 2:54) says he will be closing libraries.
  • Justin Tomlinson MP needs to hear your story – We Heart Libraries.  “Do you want to share the story of what libraries have meant to you, and how they’ve been a positive influence on your life? Or maybe you just want to get your feelings about the recent cuts off your chest? Well, here’s a new opportunity to do just that…”
  • Libraries have thrived, despite technological developments – Vancouver Sun (Canada).  “Libraries are essential today, as they have been for years. The fact that we live in an information age does not mean there is no place for libraries; in fact, they are more important than ever. John McTernan’s thoughts on the future of libraries, which were printed in The Vancouver Sun on Oct. 28, have already appeared in several newspapers in the British Isles. His opinions have been roundly criticized there, for good reason. He is wrong.” … “For many people, losing their library access would mean losing a vital part of their lives. Libraries are that important.” … long, detailed defence of libraries.
  • Attack on libraries misreads public sentiment Vancouver Sun (Canada).  “If you unplugged my cable TV I probably wouldn’t notice, but close my public library and my world would turn from colour to black & white. A final comment from my sixyear-old son, who, when I told him that some people didn’t bring their children to the public library, said, “But that’s just mean!” (and he was serious).”
  • Why this working class whinger needs public librariesFrom the Shop Floor. The one response Mr Mcternan liked.

“I asked: should the whinging middle classes complain quite so much about library closures: The response? A whingefest.” (John Mcternan, Twitter)

  • New figures show how cuts are damaging the library service nationwideWe Heart Libraries. “‘Death by a thousand cuts’ – it’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s also exactly what’s happening to the public library service around the UK, as new usage statistics have just revealed.” … “We believe library cuts are a false economy because depriving people of access to their services will only lead to the need for costlier and more difficult interventions later on – child literacy is a perfect case in point. It is also arguable that people experiencing the kinds of problems that lead them to seek social care benefit from early access to information and advice that goes some way towards reducing the pressure on acute services.”
  • New political group to focus on literacy – National Literacy Trust.  Amazingly, Parliament did not have an All Party Parliamentary Group for Literacy until last Tuesday. Which is  why I found myself in Dining Room B of the House of Commons explaining how to speak ‘dragonese’ to a backbench MP with a couple of members of the West End show Wicked….”
  • The stock of the Scientific Library of Mainz city must not be dispersed! – Open Petition (Germany).  City of Mainz Scientific Library (670,000 books) may be broken up.  “Libraries are not just collections of books: they are treasure houses of the Spirit, a witness of the culture of a city and region. For the last two hundred years this been true for the Mainz Town Library, the successor to the Bibliotheca Universitatis Moguntina. Its historical and regional collections hold unique treasures from the Ninth Century to today”.  Petition has over 3,000 signatures. Please note article is in German.
  • What can libraries learn about customer service from the retail industry –  ALIA (Australia).  Includes an examination of all the promotional techniques that can be used including stock rotation, marketing, greeting, etc.

Local News

  • Row over Brent’s “you’re always near a library” claim – London Evening Standard.  “In defence of Brent’s decision to axe half its libraries council leader Ann John had said that – despite the closure of libraries in Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston and Tokyngton – “every resident in Brent will still be within 1.5 miles of one of the six libraries staying open in the borough”. But council bosses were forced to backtrack after new maps showed hundreds of residents in Brent already live more than 1.5 miles from a library since the closure of Barham Park.”.  Closures will increase this figure further.  This article also reported as Row over council’s Brent libraries claim  in the BookSeller. 
  • Dorset – Top literary figures appeal to council over Dorset’s threatened libraries – Dorset Echo. “Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and Minette Walters have written to Dorset County Council asking them to save nine libraries faced with losing funding ahead of a crunch meeting this week. “.  Meeting on Thursday morning to try to overturn decision to close libraries.

“I have it from the very top of the party that if savings can be achieved without the loss of libraries, nobody will be happier than they. The fact that both Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in Dorset support the movement to save the county’s libraries is surely a powerful argument for the truth of this.” Lord [Julian] Fellowes.

  • Fife – Trust to “protect” future of culture – Fife Today.   “The new trust will manage and operate libraries, arts, museums and archives on behalf of the council, as well as theatre provision currently provided by ON at Fife (Adam Smith Theatre, Rothes Halls, Lochgelly Centre and Carnegie Hall) and the Byre Theatre, St Andrews.”
  • Hertfordshire DIY libraries plan could spell new chapter for customers – Herts & Essex Observer.  ““To help make the most of these important public spaces, we’re offering local voluntary groups the chance to use them out of hours. “While the buildings will not be staffed during these extended hours, the county council’s customer services team will be available to provide support via telephone.
  • Northern Ireland – Fears that cuts to library hours will eventually lead to closure – Belfast Media Group.   “Carryduff councillor Geraldine Rice said she was “disappointed” by the news and urged Libraries NI to keep the current opening hours. “Three hours may not seem like very much but that’s how things begin. If the library has its hours cut and cut, it will continue to lose visitors and therefore it will become much easier to close it permanently somewhere down the line.”
  • Oxfordshire – Keith Mitchell: End of an era at county hall – Oxford Mail.  “Blunt, outspoken, and unashamedly politically incorrect, Keith Mitchell has never shied away from making enemies.”… “But as cuts started to bite and Mr Mitchell fronted plans to cease funding youth clubs and libraries, his abrasive style began to alienate sections of the public. In increasingly personal attacks, he branded authors Colin Dexter and Philip Pullman as “well known Oxford lefties” and used The Oxford Times letters page to accuse one library campaigner of showing no love for vulnerable people – despite the fact she was an NHS psychologist who counsels dying cancer patients.”.  Philip Pullman wished him “a long and happy retirement”.  [This blog wishes him the same – as long as he does not even mention libraries ever again – Ed.]
  • Suffolk – Libraries edge closer to IPS control – Diss Express.   “The running of 44 libraries in Suffolk is set to be transferred to an Industrial and Providential Society (IPS) after the move was backed unanimously by Suffolk County Council’s cabinet this afternoon.”
  • Roads and library plans approved – EDP.   “The library service is to be transferred to an Industrial and Providential Society (IPS) if the move is agreed by the next full meeting of the county council on December 15.”
  • Surrey – Dorking Library plans go on display at new venue – Get Surrey.   “The new multimedia facility will open on January 23 following the closure of the old library in Pippbrook House on New Year’s Eve.” … “Surrey County Council, which pushed through with the plans for the move despite opposition from campaigners keen to see the library remaining in Pippbrook House, said it would offer more space and benefit from technological advances.”
  • Sutton – Libraries buck the national trend Sutton Council.   “…in Sutton, there was a 4.12 per cent increase – with 1,484,976 visits to the borough’s nine libraries”.  “The figures show how highly valued our libraries are in our communities. While other authorities are closing branches, we’ve found that by locating them with other services, such as at the Life Centre, the Phoenix Centre and from the end of next year at the new Westcroft Leisure Centre, it enables them to stay open for much longer than was previously possible and attract more visitors – including many who wouldn’t use a traditional library.”
  • Warwickshire – Village libraries call for your help to open longer – Courier.  “In a round of grants for groups hoping to take over libraries, Harbury Library received only £13,000 of the £23,000 it was hoping for. Given the need for maintenance on the 150-year-old former school, parish council chairman Cllr Tim Lockley said replacing equipment and buying new furniture might not be possible.”