The announcement from the Tri-Borough Libraries (Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham) that members of one authority can use the libraries of the other two is good news.  It makes sense and improves the value of the library card in the pocket at no cost. Access to a million books, for free, is a great thing, as equally is the simplicity of not having to carry around three different library cards. Even better in these dire times, the councils claim that the merge of the three authorities will save £1.2m.

The tri-borough is but the highest profile of many different mergers and consortia amongst library services.  Other merger authorities include that of Bexley and Bromley and also the case of Slough Libraries which are run under contract by Essex.  On a smaller scale, the new “Hive” in Worcestershire combines a public library and a university library.  On a smaller scale yet again, there are many many libraries that have now joined with One Stop Shops, museums and a whole host of other services. In the current environment of the deepest cuts in peacetime history for public libraries, this merging-mania makes more sense than ever before.  If the cuts have to happen then better, perhaps, that they are done in a way that limits the effects to the public.  This point is driven home today by an article on the situation in Oxfordshire which points out its proximity to Buckinghamshire and the savings that could be made there, rather than forcing volunteers into branches.

However, don’t get the impression that these changes are painless.  Mergers make real people lose their jobs.  The Tri-borough has led to the loss of 31 posts.  Bexley and Bromley expect to put 35 people out of work [NB. This post originally said 70 but the head of shared library services for the two councils has been in touch to say that the real figure is 35.  Please note the information in the link is therefore in doubt – Ian 11/11/12].  Because the posts are often managerial then these also tend to be skilled and professional staff.  The mergers also doubtless cause one heck of a lot of confusion and problems in the first few months and years and need to be managed very carefully (by a management team which may presumably be on occasion signing its own death warrant) so that the local character of the services are not lost. Those who are gung ho about the opportunities of efficiencies in this way need to go into it with eyes wide open and not with a blinding ideological zeal.  It’s also worth reflecting that the only jointly funded public library in the country (and, by all accounts, one of the most efficient) Upper Norwood Joint Library, is under threat itself.  Nothing at the moment comes without consequences but some of it comes with deep irony.


  • Beyond the book – Hollyrood.  Very interesting and useful look at the current and future role of libraries.  “. “Public libraries have no right to exist; they have to earn that. But there is a strong and powerful role for them.”
  • Children need exciting non-fiction books: and libraries – Guardian.  “We are writers of children‘s non-fiction, all of us sharing a love for producing exciting, informative books that interpret the world for young readers. Once, there were hundreds of such books available, covering every topic imaginable. But overnight, it seems, the market for them has almost vanished. Why? Not, we think, because children don’t want to know about the real world. It’s partly because of the dearth, or even death, of school and public libraries. And then there’s the belief that the internet provides all the information anyone needs. (If it could, how is it that adult non-fiction sells so well?)” Signed by 27 authors.
  • Ebooks, public libraries and the publishing industry – Infoism.  ” Publishers seem to have forgotten that, for many, borrowing a book is like dipping a toe into the sea.  It is how many discover new authors.  Libraries are a licence to experiment.  They provide an opportunity to seek out the latest Booker Prize winning author to see what the fuss is all about.  If they like it, they may well seek out more…but to purchase rather than to borrow.  Once they know what they like, the purchase isn’t quite so much of a gamble. “
  • Joint libraries: models that work – American Libraries (USA).  “A public/community college joint-use library is an especially good combination. The missions and the service populations are similar enough to provide significant overlap and allow for excellent services to all users. For example, community college students find that the public library’s collections of materials and resources meet many of their academic needs and provide an excellent complement to the materials owned by the college. Likewise, community college students respond well to the friendly service orientation provided by a well-trained public library reference staff. I think that other combinations, such as a high school/PL or university/PL joint-use library, present additional challenges to good service that we do not face.”
  • Letters Independent. “My local library in West Norwood has been closed for eighteen months for want of £750,000 investment. Yet the current Labour administration has failed to collect over £20m in council tax, one of the worst records in the country.”
  • Library chief’s selected for national role – This is Staffordshire.  “Ms Cox, who is president of the Society of Chief Librarians, said: “Lending e-books and audio downloads is already an important part of the offer for many public libraries. “It does offer a great new way for people to access library services through the web and their mobile devices. “I don’t believe that they will replace printed books or other information sources totally, but they will complement and enhance them.””
  • London library users gain access to two extra boroughs – BBC.  “Members can use their existing library cards but will need to register the first time they borrow a book from a different borough’s library. The move forms part of the authorities’ “tri-borough” project, combining management of children’s services, adult social care and pensions and treasury departments. The strategy for merging library services has led to redundancies across the three boroughs, mostly at senior and middle management level, said a Westminster Council spokeswoman.”
  • Needs of the many outweigh the few – Question Everything.  “Holton where the library service is based is for OCC is 17.5 miles away from the Bucks County Council in Aylesbury. This is where the library service is based for Bucks. Looking at the management and professional data and the service support for Bucks (they included all staff so I excluded library manager roles) They spend about 4.1 million in the back office supporting their library service. Amazingly in Oxfordshire County Council, their service support costs have gone from 3.1 million in 10/11 to 4.4 in 11/12, this combined with the management and professional costs of about 1.4 million gives OCC a back office total of around 4.5 million. “
  • Single library card tri-borough scheme launched – BookSeller.  “Westminster City Council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham Council are all taking part in the scheme, which will allow library users to access books and all other facilities from across the three boroughs with their current library cards. The three councils made the decision to create the One Library Card policy last year, in a move to save money and protect frontline services.”

“At the 21 libraries across the three boroughs, users can now access one million books, use the 470 available PCs, attend all events and access specialist collections, including Westminster Reference Library and the fashion collection at Chelsea Library. To celebrate the move, Hammersmith-based artist Gianandrea Traina has created a sculpture at Victoria Library, spelling out “1,000,000” with books.”

  • We are united for libraries – American Libraries (USA).  “We all know that public libraries have become local employment agencies, e-government one-stop shopping centers, providers of free entertainment for those forced to drop cable and book or e-book purchases, and a place to gather and explore the internet without having to pay the price of home service. These are all good and valuable roles that have been highlighted in the last several years. But … are libraries simply becoming the information welfare system for the have nots?”