In a press release today, the DCMS has announced its new library advisor:

“Yinnon Ezra MBE, a former Director of Culture, Communities and Rural Affairs at Hampshire County Council, has been appointed to a the part-time role at DCMS as an expert advisor on the public library service, working closely with Arts Council England (ACE) and local authorities. Yinnon will work directly with library authorities who are identified as being ‘at risk’ of falling short of their statutory duty as a result of revisions to their library services.  He will also advise ministers on their duty to superintend library services.”

It’s great news that the department has appointed a library advisor and that someone will actually be informing the ministry on which authorities may not be adequately performing.  As comments on this blog point out last week, this is a position that was apparently lacking beforehand.   It’s also beneficial that there is a clear liaison between DCMS and ACE.  Having said that, and it’s a sign perhaps of the opaqueness of the the department, that it is unclear if there was an expert advisor before.  If there was, and I suspect there wasn’t, he or she was invisible.

Anyway, this appointment suddenly makes Yinnon one of the most important and influential people in public libraries today. So what can we expect from Mr Ezra?  Well, he’s customer driven, which is no bad thing:

“Mr Ezra said: “My main obsession has always been on customers and providing quality facilities that will encourage more people to use them – our many awards and increased visitor figures prove this … Paying tribute, chief executive Andrew Smith said: “Yinnon has revitalised the cultural and artistic services he has been involved with. His leadership and judgement in rural, cultural, community services, museums and libraries has created an enormous legacy for communities across Hampshire.”  Gazette 13/12/10

Some more good news:

“Yinnon has a strong track record in finding innovative, radical and inspiring solutions to delivering Cultural Services which aim to engage communities fully. Through the senior posts he has held in the London Borough of Ealing, Kent County Council and more recently as Director of Culture, Communities and Rural Affairs for Hampshire County Council he has always been at the forefront of local government advocating the transformational power of Culture in re-generating communities. In Kent this was expressed through his early leadership of the Turner Centre project, and latterly in Hampshire re-invigorated libraries  through the pioneering Discovery Centre  programme, widening access for all and designing responses around those who “do not” use these services. His energetic customer focus has caught the attention of many Secretaries Of State, and is seen as best practice amongst those he has worked with and advised. ” Heritage Lottery Fund,

On the other hand, he seems to have a lot of other interests – although this could equally be a strength – and so may not be able to commit all the necessary time to the (already part-time) libraries post.   Far more worrying – and something I have already seen cause raised eyebrows – is Mr Ezra’s views on fiction:

“During his time at the council, Mr Ezra has hit the headlines by questioning whether fiction should remain in libraries “as most people buy books”. He also axed qualified librarian posts, and raided the library book fund to pay for building refurbishments. But revamping traditional libraries in Winchester, Gosport and now Basingstoke into multi-million-pound discovery centres has been hailed a huge success.” Gazette

“Yinnon Ezra (head of leisure services at Hampshire County Council, the third biggest library service in the country) stated that “We have to ask whether fiction should remain in libraries when most people buy books.” Guardian 29th August 2007

Considering the current parlous state of bookfunds around this country, Mr Ezra may just get his wish.  There is also another very useful, far more recent, source that shows where he is coming from on the topic of public libraries: his submission to the CMS Inquiry into Library Closures.  There’s a few spelling mistakes, which is disconcerting, but some good lines:

“To arrest the decline nothing short of the radical re-invention of local libraries as welcoming learning, community, cultural, information spaces, stocked with books, other media, open when local people want to use them and completely in line with the latest views of the local community are the ingredients of positive creative survival.”

Good, books are mentioned.  Several times, as well, there is mention of the unique power of libraries as local neutral welcoming spaces.  His suggestion for the future is:

“The future must be the bringing together of public libraries as being local and the clear responsibility of local authorities- with any future S of S creating a framework for creative “outcomes based –principles based” supervision. The abandonment of an “output” based framework to one that seeks the views of local people as to “what they want” and tests whether this has been delivered. It is this building of a bridge between the role of the S of S, local authorities and local people which is the first step rather than a debate about a structural framework. The teasing out of what these precious “outcomes” could be will by its very nature depend on local people—the structures, incentives, means by which local government can own and respond has always eluded the government of the day. Maybe it will be different next time?”

Is that clear to you?  No, nor me either. It is unlikely whether we’ll get a return to public library standards (“output” in his description) under Mr Ezra but it has been clear that this was not on the cards anyway.  What the public wants and, due to Austerity, what local councils can provide may be two very very different things and it is not going to be easy to square the circle.

So what do we have?  Well, we have a libraries expert, albeit part time, in the DCMS.  We also have someone who is not wedded to traditional ways of thinking about libraries and someone who is not going to be a keen advocate of intervention.  This will disappoint some.  However, we were never going to, under the current administration, ever get anyone else in this post.  I doubt Alan Gibbons was even considered.  In the final analysis and it’s not much to say perhaps, by the very existence of this post, there is more hope today than there was yesterday.  Exactly how much more hope I leave it to you, and to the future, to decide.

In other news, some key weapons in the library campaigner arsenal – and a major headache for some councils – are soon to be abolished.  David Cameron has announced the end of equality impact assessments and a significant increase in the difficulty needed to gain a judicial review.   It is no exaggeration to say that these two measures, taken together, could result in pretty much the death knell of any local legal actions against library cuts and closures.  The devil, though, will be in the detail and what the final shape of the reforms turns out to be.


  • British Library to share its business service across the UK – Fresh Business Thinking.  “The British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and six major UK city libraries signed an agreement this week stating their joint intention to establish a national network of services for small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country, modelled on the services offered by the Library’s Business & IP Centre.”
  • Brought to book: boosting the profile of our libraries – Channel Four.  Jeanette Winterson calls for public libraries to be paid for by Dept of Education, not by the Culture department of local councils which are prone to the worst cuts.  Says libraries are for literacy, not so much for leisure.  “Libraries could be at the centre of real life-long learning where books could be at the heart of lives”
  • David Cameron axes equality impact assessments in war on “red tape” – Guardian.  “David Cameron has axed standard assessments used to gauge how policies affect different social groups as part of a drive to get rid of the “bureaucratic rubbish” that gets in the way of British business.”  Judicual reviews also to be cut: “a reduction on the time limit for bringing cases, charging more for reviews “so people think twice about time-wasting”, and halving the number of appeals for “hopeless cases” from four to two.”
  • Public libraries are thriving – Japan Times. “That Japanese public libraries are thriving may come as no surprise to anyone, but an education ministry report found that the number of books checked out by elementary school children from the 3,274 public libraries nationwide reached an average of 26 per child in fiscal 2010. That is up from 18.8 in 2007, a significant and commendable upswing to the highest level ever. The total number of books checked out by all people was also at a peak of 663.6 million books nationwide.” Reasons: economic downturn, more manga, investment in buildings and staff.  “The number of libraries is now the highest ever, up 3.4 percent from the last survey, with 11.3 percent more library workers.”

“Libraries remain a place where young people can develop their interests, learn at their own pace, become active in their acquisition of knowledge, and find a refuge from the outside world.”

  • Put libraries in education budget says author Jeanette Winterson – London Evening Standard.  “In a speech at the British Library to mark the first decade of The Reading Agency charity, the novelist will argue that libraries should be placed under the national educational budget.”
  • Running the library service is not the same as campaigning to save it – Good Library Blog / Tim Coates.  “The reason for making this distinction amongst the campaigners is that both CILIP and the SCL are actually in a position to improve the service.. There is an awful lot that they could do to address problems, show leadership and make changes. So I think it is wrong to find them cheerleading the campaign and organising ‘Days to show the value of libraries’ – that is something that other people can do. CILIP and the SCL should instead be showing that they understand the problems and doing something about them”
  • Winterson: “tax Amazon, Google and Starbucks to fund libraries” – BookSeller. “”We might save ourselves a lot of agony if we took libraries out of local council leisure budgets and put them into the national education budget, allocating a basic spending allowance for local authorities that they could not use for anything else, and allowing them to bid for extra funds on top of that basic spend” … she went on: “Either we stop arguing and agree that libraries are doing their best to reinvent themselves and that with a bit of help, financial and ideological, they belong to the future – or we let them run down until they disappear.””

“”Libraries and literacy cannot be separated. I don’t see how this can be classed as ‘leisure’ not do I see how we have a choice between getting our bins emptied and putting cash into libraries.” Jeanette Winterson

“Librarians across the country are at the heart of this [The Reading Agency’s] work and continue to transform their reading services despite the harsh conditions they are facing in many places.” Miranda McKearney

Local News

  • Brent – Kensal Rise Library to be turned into flats – Cherwell.  Campaigner says “Although the College do- nated the land, the library building from which the College and Mr Gillick now seek to profit was not paid for by the College, but by public subscription and a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist.” In a press release, campaigners asserted, “The Friends of Kensal Rise Library were shocked at a recent meeting with the College’s Bursar, Mr Thomas Seaman, to be told that the College was selling the library to a property developer to be turned into flats”
  • Camden – Campaigners’ delight as Highgate Library wins a two-year reprieve – Ham and High.  “Highgate Library will remain open for the next two years despite fears it was on the brink of closure due to council budget cuts. “… “The Friends of Highgate Library said it will give them enough time to come up with a way of keeping it open and financially viable. “
  • Dorset – New chapter for Dorset libraries – Dorset Echo.  “new year will mark a new era for seven Dorset libraries as they begin life under community management. “
  • Durham – January date for Durham County Council library cuts – Northern Echo.  “Thirty-eight public libraries will see their opening hours cut from January 2. Facing cuts of nearly £190m, Durham County Council’s cabinet voted in July to reduce opening times to 36 hours a week at 11 town centre libraries and 20 hours a week at 27 community libraries.” … “The mobile library service will also be reduced, so vehicles will only stop at communities more than three miles from a library building; and only once in each community. “


  • Kensington and Chelsea – Borough libraries get new Arabic-English titles – Kensington and Chelsea Council.  “Libraries across the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are stocking 70 new Arabic-English titles as a result of a partnership between the Council, Nour Festival and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. The new collection, including fiction, non-fiction, biography, arts and children’s books, was officially launched on the 15th of November at North Kensington Library.” … “Kensington and Chelsea Libraries will arrange a number of events and activities to help promote the collection. Library members can also use their library card in neighbouring Westminster’s libraries, where Paddington Library also has a large collection of Arabic books. “

“Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, Cabinet Member for Libraries, said: “We pride ourselves on having excellent libraries at the heart of our community and always want to make sure that our book stock is relevant and up-to-date. I’m very pleased that a new range of Arabic-English titles is now available.”

  • Southend on Sea – Saturday Singalongs – Southend on Sea Council.  Good sounds coming from Southend Library. “Singing on your own is ok…singing in a group is better!  The Saturday Singalongs sessions have been made with the sole intent of having fun and enjoying songs together. No matter your talent, if you enjoy singing out loud, come along and join in! Everyone is welcome, and the only requirement is enthusiasm and an open-ness to all genres of music. “
  • Wandsworth – Greenwich Leisure Ltd set to manage Wandsworth libraries – Guardian.  “Councillors have given the green-light for a social enterprise to run the borough’s libraries. Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) are set to take control of all 11 of the libraries and the Wandsworth heritage service, which runs out of Battersea Library. It comes after Wandsworth and Croydon councils joined forces to put their library services out to tender, which will save the council £500,000 a year.”

“Labour councillor Councillor Leonie Cooper said: “The Wandsworth Conservatives have undertaken this process doggedly determined to find a private provider to outsource the library service to – but what this expensive process has shown is what we told them from the start. “Not-for-profit organisations are running modern libraries successfully up and down the country, and could and should do the same here in Wandsworth.” GLL will run the service from April 2013 for a period of eight years, if councillors approve plans at full council.”