There’s been a spirited exchange of comments on a post on this blog about who actually is supervising the UK public library service.  The comments were left by myself, the library campaigner Shirley Burnham and an anonymous but obviously very well-informed person using the tag “Revisit History”.  The conversation starts with a statement by “Revisit History”that the claim that the MLA had a superintendent function “is a myth”.  I then point out the quote from the libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, in parliament which says:

““A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service.” : Hansard – 12th September 2012.”

It says “now responsible” which suggests Ed thinks that it has simply taken over the function from the MLA, which it replaced. Sadly for Ed, the Arts Council have repeatedly made clear, first to the CMS Select Committee and then in official press releases, that it has no such function.  Saying:

“it is not the Arts Council’s role to report back to the DCMS on whether a library services meets the statutory requirements of the 1964 Act.” Arts Council England, 7th November 2012.

It’s an easy mistake to make, perhaps, especially if one takes into account that the predecessor of the Arts Council, the MLA, did indeed pass on to the DCMS its thoughts on the statutory performance of local authorities.  And there are quotes in the comments from its chief, Sir Roy Clare, to prove it:

“Wirral’s key features were a “perfect storm” of the following factors: #. Stated intention for large numbers of closures #. Driven by asset-review, not social outcomes #. Ineffective consultation with public (and staff) * #. Potential of library services not well recognised * #. No workable strategy for service improvement * #. ‘Good Practice’ elsewhere not being considered. It was the combination that led us to consider appealing to Secretary of State. In our view one or two of these factors on their own would not be sufficient grounds to cry ‘foul’. Each is important, but those marked * are fundamental. Hope that helps? Roy,  Roy Clare CBE, CEO, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council” 18th November 2010.

However, it then becomes clear that the MLA had no statutory basis to make such suggestions. “Revisit History”retorts:

“The email says “we can also make recommendations to ministers”. Well, so can I. And so can you. The minister is not compelled to pay them any heed at all under law and there never was any formal role for this now defunct body. The only body with any role here was ACL. Which has been abolished.” Revisit History, 12th November 2012.

So who the heck are the ACL?  Well, it’s the Advisory Council on Libraries, that was done away with in the bonfire of the quangoes in 2010.  Which should cause an “oh dear” moment for anyone who cares about libraries for a number or reasons.  The first is that ACL is mandated by the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  It states:

“National Advisory Councils.

(1)There shall be two Library Advisory Councils, one for England (excluding Monmouthshire) and the other for Wales and Monmouthshire, and it shall be the duty of each Council to advise the Secretary of State upon such matters connected with the provision or use of library facilities whether under this Act or otherwise as they think fit, and upon any questions referred to them by him.

(2)The members of each Council shall be appointed by the Secretary of State, and he shall appoint a member of each Council to be chairman thereof and shall appoint an officer of [F1a Department of the Secretary of State]to be secretary thereto.

(3)Each Council shall include persons who have had experience of the administration of the service provided by library authorities and also persons who have had experience of the administration of libraries managed by bodies other than those authorities.

(4)The persons appointed to be members of either Council shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of their respective appointments, and on ceasing to be members shall be eligible for re-appointment:

Provided that a member may at any time by notice in writing to the Secretary of State resign his office.

(5)Each Council shall determine its own procedure, but the quorum at meetings of a Council shall be such as may be determined by the Secretary of State.”  Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

Yes, it appears the Secretary of State abolished something he could not legally abolish.  There have been no amendments to that Act.  He simply did it. That’s bad enough.  The second thing that should concern us is even worse.  Because, if ACE doesn’t advise Ed and the ACL, which should, doesn’t actually exist any more then no-one is advising him.

This will come as no surprise to those who have followed the performance of the Secretary of State over the last couple of years. There’s no one with the official role of advising him.  There’s no-one presenting evidence, apart from campaigners and the councils. There’s no-one neutral to tell him otherwise.  The fact that he somehow believes that there is, and is willing even to claim that there is, in parliament, is a cause of concern. Sadly, even if he does not realise it himself, the minister for libraries has been effectively left to decide these things alone.


  • Arts Council England announces 22 projects to test automatic library membership for children and young people – Arts Council England.  “Nicky Morgan, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England, said: “These projects will test out genuinely exciting, new ways of encouraging children, young people and families to join and access their local libraries. “Libraries are the very heart of their communities and are centres of knowledge that are available for everyone to use. Through these projects, we hope that children and young people will be encouraged to use their libraries now and in the future, and will develop a real love for learning and a natural curiosity about the world around them.””
  • Automatic library membership for young people – DCMS.  “he 22 projects which are supported by DCMS and the Department for Education(DfE) will share around £55,000 to test automatic library membership for children and young people.” Includes projects on “birth registration services to offer library cards at birth, nurseries and school library services to promote library memberships to local children and families, leisure services to offer combined library and leisure cards for children and young people”
  • Making the case for a public library makerspace – Public Libraries Online.  “All this buzz about makerspaces has got me wondering and what makerspaces have to do with fulfilling the public library’s mission in society. My conclusion: a makerspace is a tool that can advance the fulfillment of the public library’s mission, especially when paired with an effective program of instruction.”
  • Marketing your library – American Libraries.  Interview with “guru of strategic marketing in libraries” Terry Kendrick.
  • Public libraries: the go-to place for jobseekers – EIFL. “As queues at government employment agencies lengthen, anxious job-seekers are turning to their public libraries for help. A 2010 study in the US found that 40% of library visitors used library computers for career purposes, including searching for jobs, writing CVs and filling in application forms. A six-country study in Africa (2011) found that 12% of library users visited the library to look for jobs or work on their CVs and 10% looked for information on starting or running a business.”

At the library, I learned how to advertise my skills on the internet and to create a website. I sent out resumes and looked for a job online. Fortune smiled on me!’ Kuanysh Dyusupov, trainee of East Kazakhstan Oblast Pushkin Public Library’s youth employment service.”

  • Tale of two cities (and a borough) – Question Everything.  “What annoys me is the rush by Gateshead and Newcastle to either close the libraries or hand them to volunteers when they have three separate authorities all with three separate management and professional and service support structures. They can join forces to bid for capital of culture but not to save the library service. We know from Surrey and where I am in Oxfordshire that because of the costs, handing the libraries to the “Big SocietyTM”  doesn’t really save any money, if any. So why are the three authorities not working together to pool the back office costs? I grew up in the area and had to listen to the Labour Councils take credit for everything they could and if anything unpopular has to be done blame the Tories. The same happens in the Shires but they started blaming the last Labour government for everything once their party go into government.””
  • What do librarians do? Day three: school librarian – Voices for the Library.  “We are a safe space for students, always open, always welcoming, with understanding staff who do not have to exert the same pressure to produce results that teachers do. Libraries are often said to be the heart of the school. I think that’s true.”


Local News

““The council are philistines. One of the councillors said we didn’t need libraries now, you can do everything at Starbucks.” A chain cafe looked to be the likely fate of the building. Residents also feared a supermarket or a new block of flats.”

“All my books were destroyed in the Rwandan genocide. Imagine my joy when I discovered them here again, the Latin and Greek texts I had studied at school. “I will never, ever forget that day.” He falls silent for a moment, then adds: “So yes, you could say this library is important to me.””

  • Carmarthenshire – Council “led destruction of libraries” – This is South Wales.  Trimsaran Library closed , Tumble Library closed (but only “one user a week”), Pontyberem run by volunteers “And in a welcome turnaround, longer opening hours have recently been introduced there due to its popularity.” … “”A major £3.6 million investment has just gone into Llanelli library and we are committed to delivering library services around Llanelli.””
  • Dorset – Plans to reopen Charmouth Library as community hub now in hands of volunteers- Bridport News.  “The Friends of Charmouth Library set up Charmouth Central Ltd, which last week took over the freehold of the building from Dorset County Council. A ‘pound and a peppercorn’ were paid to the council so the price would not put too much strain on hard-earned funds.”
  • Haringey – Libraries carry out service survey – Tottenham and Wood Green Journal.  “More than 36,000 visits are made to the borough’s libraries each week, and Haringey Council are carrying out the survey in order to determine whether services can be improved. Cllr Richard Watson, cabinet member for communities, said: “We value our libraries and we know users value them too, but we need to know if there are services we could be offering that we are not, or if there are services we offer that nobody wants anymore.””
  • Newcastle – Library closures attacked in open letter from authors – Guardian.  “”This is no time to cut libraries. It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts,” write the authors, who also include Malorie Blackman, Beverley Naidoo and prominent library campaigner Alan Gibbons. “It is not the role of a Labour council to act as a conduit for the coalition government’s ‘austerity’ cuts which disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable. We call on Newcastle’s councillors to reconsider this wrong and immoral course”

“Public-spending cuts mean the city council must make savings of £90m over the next three years, a third of our total budget. Faced with agonising decisions about child protection, care for the elderly and emptying bins – where do libraries, leisure centres and culture rank? I think we all know the answer,” he wrote in a piece for the council’s website. “Yes, the service will be smaller with the closure of some libraries and leisure centres, and I am under no illusion that there will be a public outcry at some of the measures we will propose. But our remaining buildings will be modern and accessible, offering rich services, geared towards the best in customer service, with the best staff in the country.” Tony Durcan, Director of Culture, Libraries and Learning, Newcastle (and CILIP Councillor).

“Frankly, it is library users that so far have made all the running in trying to save services. Cultural and professional bodies have done little, and done it quietly, behind closed doors,” said Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign. “The situation is beyond critical now. Campaigners will be upping their game. And we will work with any organisation that cares about literacy and libraries.””

  • Alternatives to library closure – Chronicle / Letters. “The Chronicle’s Save Our Libraries campaign is right: libraries are an enormously important resource which we should treasure. The threatened closures are a result of deep spending cuts imposed by the Tory-led Government which is savaging public services. Instead of destroying valuable public services, we should be pursuing the super-rich tax cheats and making them pay their share.”
  • Sunderland – £340,000 books boost – Sunderland Echo.  “Spending on books across Wearside’s libraries fell from £406,465 in 2010-2011, to £141,268 in 2011-2012 – a reduction of 65 per cent – as the council tried to save £58million. The authority said it will double that amount to £350,000 for 2012/13. A total of £340,000 will be spent on books, while £10,000 has been set aside for CDs and DVDs.” … “Spending on books across Wearside’s libraries fell from £406,465 in 2010-2011, to £141,268 in 2011-2012 – a reduction of 65 per cent – as the council tried to save £58million. The authority said it will double that amount to £350,000 for 2012/13. A total of £340,000 will be spent on books, while £10,000 has been set aside for CDs and DVDs.”
  • Worcestershire – Wyre Forest planning committee objects to gallery proposals – Shuttle.  “Worcestershire County Council is consulting the district council in its change of use planning application which would see social services staff move into the library’s top floor. A gallery space would be re-provided on the first floor and the Steinway grand piano would be moved to Kidderminster Town Hall. The objection does not mean the proposal has been defeated as it will go before county planners before the end of this year. It is, however, a significant blow to the libraries and learning service – which has to save £1.8 million from its budget.”