Two interesting articles that at first sight have little to do with eachother have come to my attention.  The first is an interesting powerpoint presentation by the Society of Chief Librarians.  Within it, the SCL states that it “leads the professional debate” on the future of public libraries and that it is doing “quiet diplomacy” with politicians. The powerpoint also states the (hard to argue with) basic standards that the SCL believes that all library services should deliver:

  • Be designed to meet the needs of local communities and involve those communities in their planning and delivery.
  • Be a professionally delivered service.
  • Be a key delivery mechanism for local solutions to the problems faced by disadvantaged communities, in partnership with other providers. 
  • Not overlook the importance of the traditional elements of the service: quality book stock, current and historical information sources; expert staff to support customers; and safe and neutral community space.
  • Be led nationally and locally.
  • Do all this efficiently by ensuring that the best possible services are available at a cost that is acceptable to local taxpayers.

The “professionally delivered” phrase is perhaps misleading in this context.  It does not mean that there has to be paid members of staff in a branch or even as branch manager, it just means that at some point in the hierarchy, there is a professional (one assumes the SCL means a professionally qualified librarian but it is not clear) with some responsibility for the service delivery.  The front-line delivery can be by anyone.  In these tough times, the Society of Chief Librarians is willing to consider all alternatives.  The ends therefore justify the means and, being times are hard, the means are going to be hard too.

In many places the times are so hard that paid staff are being removed and volunteers are taking over, and this is where the second article comes in.  In this, the Camden Public Library Users Group suggests that librarians and campaigners are demonising volunteers because the …

“… Failure of top local authority managers and politicians is unlikely to lead to any retribution. They seem to be largely immune to criticism from the public. In other spheres, even banking, failure eventually brings its reward. Librarians are unable to touch those who are the real cause of their unhappiness and some of them are now beginning to blame the volunteers who have stepped in to save their libraries.”

The article goes on to question the belief of many campaigners that volunteer-run libraries are contributing to the problem:

“Among librarians, there is a school of thought which suggests that, if members of the public refused to volunteer for work in community libraries, there would not be any community libraries. Obviously, this is true, but it does not mean that the libraries would continue to exist and that there would be jobs to be filled. In the majority of cases, local authorities would revert to their traditional preferred option of permanent closure. They would argue that, if communities are unwilling to put in the effort, the libraries cannot be considered to be very valuable. The non-volunteering gamble would only work for a minority of libraries and communities throughout the country would be penalised.”

It also goes on to make another point.  A point that will not please the SCL:

“The overwhelming majority of the volunteers would support the Volunteer Good Practice Code statement: “Government and the voluntary and community sector undertake to: Recognise that voluntary activity should not be seen as a substitute for paid work” 1. It is the local government part of the government sector which is abusing the code, not the voluntary/community sector. The volunteers are just as much victims of this abuse, as the professional librarians.”

All of this is challenging for librarians to take on board.  Even more challenging is the last part:

“Thus, library volunteers need to acquire some of the skills that the professional librarians consider to be part of their core offering. As a result, the volunteers are not only reducing the market for those skills, but they are possibly also lowering the perception of the skills down to that of a DIY level – the mystique is in danger of being destroyed. The magnitude of the danger is inversely proportional to the real difficulty in mastering the skills. If they are genuinely difficult to learn, there is little danger and the professionals do not need to worry. If the skills are easy to learn, they have a great deal to worry about, because this development will be the start of a process which reduces the library profession down to a few very highly qualified, highly paid individuals.”

I will not comment on the validity or otherwise of the statements of the SCL or of CPLUG.  I will content myself (if that is the phrase) with saying that, looked at long enough, the two statements dovetail together all too neatly for professionally qualified librarians, and for those who believe in their importance, to breathe easily.


Shops for Libraries – Demco Interiors and Northamptonshire Council.  Five minute professionally produced video on how to put a shop into a library to improve income and services.  Northamptonshire now has a shop (inc. small trolley “shops”) in all its libraries. “Scott Grant, General Manager, Demco Interiors said:  “We have jointly produced this video as an introduction to anyone thinking of introducing a retail operation into their library.   Merchandising is a logical step for libraries; we are not talking about a retail renaissance, but scoping existing resources to improve the library visitor experience and generate additional revenue.  Hopefully the video will be a useful preview and a friendly reassurance for  anyone embarking on the road to retail.””


Local News

  • Brent – Council on the hunt for an artist to fuel creative talent in the borough – Brent & Kilburn Times.  “Brent Council is looking for an artist to spend six weeks in one of the borough’s libraries this autumn to see how reading rooms can fuel creative talent. A visual artist is being asked to take up residency in Kilburn Library in Salusbury Road, during October and November.”
  • Croydon/Wandsworth – Angry response to council’s library plans – Guardian series. “Last year, Wandsworth and Croydon councils joined forces and put their library services out to tender, with three preferred bidders chosen. One of them came from Wandsworth Council which has just revealed further details of its plan to do this by creating South London Library and Cultural Services (SLLCS), a private company with charity status.”.  Council says “”This creation of an external company, independent of the council, would complement the council’s big society policies and would help towards the general council aim of smaller government. ” … “But Colin Crilly, of Wandsworth Against Cuts, said: “Wandsworth Council are considering letting the Wandsworth library service run Wandsworth libraries. You couldn’t make it up could you?”
  • Darlington – Heritage Open Days at the Library – Darlington Borough Council.  “The tour will guide visitors around the Library building, which opened in October 1885, and includes a visit to the Library’s basement, home to historical local treasures including maps, photographs and paintings. The Crown Street Library Heritage Open Days tours will take place on …”

Essex – Learning with Essex Libraries – Essex Council.

“There were no fanfares, no Auld Lang Syne, no last night party, just a council press officer ‘keeping an eye on things’. “It was an ignominious end; an elderly relative left to rot. Damn the infidels. The place deserved better.”

  • West Sussex – New West Sussex Library Service survey launched – Midhurst and Petworth Observer.  ““The survey takes a realistic look at the present and the future, and asks how often people read books, whether they use traditional paper volumes, electronic readers or audiobooks,” said a county council spokesman.” … “The priorities include modernising library buildings, and providing services from different locations. There is also space for people to come up with their own ideas on what should be provided.”
  • Wigan – Leigh take on Wigan in a mile-eating challenge – Leigh Journal.  “part of a Health Week programme of events at the towns’ libraries. Health Week runs from Monday, September 17 and Saturday, September 22 with loads of events planned including storytime sessions for under fives centred around dental health and being healthy, healthy eating cookery demonstrations and an exercise bike challenge between Leigh and Wigan Library to see which town can clock up the most miles during the week.”
  • Wiltshire Library moves thousands of books to new site – BBC.  “More than 30,000 books, currently held at Trowbridge library, are being packed up and moved across the road to purpose-built premises in County Hall.” … “Currently the lending library is in one place and the reference library is further away – they’re both very old buildings and the idea is that we can have a nice modern library with easier access for everybody,”