In the first Public Libraries News post for 2013, the articles doubtless show themes which will be with us throughout the year to come.  We have national government blaming councils for closing libraries and councils blaming the government for doing so.  We have questions over what public libraries are for – books are an important one here but increasingly with an – and questions over using new technology, with our old friend 3D printers making a controversial appearance once more.  Big names (step forward the New York Post, Independent and Guardian) argue for the importance of libraries while the decision-makers who really matter keep silent or blame eachother.

On a more local scale, we have further moves towards volunteers running libraries (with a noticeably increasing and controversial emphasis on this being able to improve the service) and for co-location.  We also have more evidence that, surprise surprise, closing branches actually directly reduces library use. Different forms of governance of libraries is covered, with the pros and cons of transferring a library service to a trust (“community benefit society”) looked at in York. Something new last month but that is being repeated a lot is using the new user-friendly Cipfa figures to embarrass poorly performing councils. Finally, we of course have public protest, with Newcastle in particular looking like the big flashpoint.

So, in summary, much of the same but a smattering of the new.  Another year of immense change is upon us.  It’s going to be exciting, dramatic, depressing, optimistic, frustrating and dynamic.  Buckle up, look for opportunities, work hard and … above all … don’t give up.


  1. Failing to close the “digital divide” – Libraries are playing an essential role for those without internet access in the USA but this is not something to celebrate but rather that the US is in trouble.
  2. More relevant than ever – “Libraries are more relevant than ever. They are a place for personal growth and reinvention, a place for help in navigating the information age, a gathering place for civic and cultural engagement and a trusted place for preserving culture. While the technology for accessing library materials has changed and will continue to change, our mission – to inform, to share and to gather – will not.”
  3. It’s not just story time and bookmobiles – Libraries are now “participatory sites of culture and learning that invite, ignite and sustain conversations … While libraries face many challenges – budget cuts, an ever-shifting information landscape, stereotypes that sometimes hamper how people see libraries, and rapidly evolving technologies – our greatest resource is community participation.”
  4. For gathering and for solitude – “For making knowledge and sharing change, we still need such places — and some of those, surely, we will continue to call “the library.””
  • E-book reading jumps, print book reading declines – Pew Internet (USA). “In the past year, the number of those who read e-books increased from 16% of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23%. At the same time, the number of those who read printed books in the previous 12 months fell from 72% of the population ages 16 and older to 67%.” … “This move toward e-books has also affected libraries. The share of recent library users1 who have borrowed an e-book from a library has increased from 3% last year to 5% this year.2 Moreover, awareness of e-book lending by libraries is growing. The share of those in the overall population who are aware that libraries offer e-books has jumped from 24% late last year to 31% now.3“.
  • England’s local government system must be fundamentally reformed, says MP – Telegraph. “Mr Pickles told local authorities to dip into their funds rather than reduce spending on libraries, parks, bus services and bin collections.”.  MP Graham Allen says such comments humiliate councils.
  • L is for Library – Independent. “The new year brings rare good news for embattled libraries and their communities. It does in Birmingham, at least, where more than two million books in 60,000 crates will be lugged a short distance through the city ready for lending when Europe’s largest library opens its doors in September”.  However, also mentions the cuts (4 libraries a week closed last year) and the cuts in Newcastle.
  • Let’s use, not lose, our public libraries – Parentdish. “The research – by The Reading Agency – found that 21.5% of children aged 4-11 said that ‘going to the library’ was likely to make them want to read compared with just 1.8% who said that ‘getting a book on an iPad or kindle’ would persuade them. I was delighted (and not a little amazed) by the research. As parents, we’re pushed into believing that technology is what inspires and excites our children these days.”

“Put it this way. It’s up to us. We use it – or we lose it. Or we end up paying for every single book our children get to read. Which means that the better-off get better at reading and the poorer get poorer. You get my drift.”

  • Melvyn Bragg and the value of culture – Telegraph. “He describes the closure of libraries as “just disgraceful”, and while he applauds Michael Gove’s plan to bring more rigour to schools, he worries about the arts being excluded from the syllabus.”
  • Mission creep: a 3D printer will not save your libraryIt’s not about the books. “We have 2D printers, 3D printers are just the next step” you say? Not so fast. Printing and copying in two dimensions is about making a copy of the information. Librarians have spent the last decade talking about how it’s all about content, but three dimensional products are not content, they are containers” … “The harsh truth is that there is no business case for public libraries to provide 3D printing. What this is really about is technolust and the fear of being left behind.” … “Tying your library to something like a 3D printer moves you in the wrong direction. It moves you towards manufacturing physical products. It leads you to the tangible – that’s not your job.”  So focus on the big new things that are directly related to libraries.
  • Phoney war is over: Campaign for the Book newsletter January 2013 – Alan Gibbons. It is clear that the Government has not interest in saving the public library service. Cuts have been passed on to councils which are often part of the problem themselves, closing libraries rather than finding other solutions.  Library services in other countries are thriving but active campaigning (such as in Newcastle) seems the only way to save libraries in the UK.
  • Tory shires in revolt over cuts – Telegraph. “The coalition, known as Sparse – Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services – said services in remote areas which faced being cut included local bus routes, libraries, leisure centres, public conveniences, and even council backing for rural broadband, as well as cuts in care for the elderly and children and education support.”
  • We need a coalition of resistance against local council cutsGuardian / Comment is free. “Let’s draw on the experiences of Occupy internationally, UK Uncut and the assemblies’ movement that has swept Spain. Why not mobilise communities to keep open services earmarked for closure, even if on a temporary volunteer basis like at Friern Barnet library? … In the 1980s, Labour councils like my own did organise a fightback. A price was paid, councillors were surcharged and forced from office. But resistance, far from being futile, mobilised communities. We won additional funds so that budgets could be set without cuts. Labour councillors today have the same choice – they can either lead a struggle against a vicious government or stand aside for those who will.”
  • What are public libraries for? – Good Library Blog / Tim Coates. “What we don’t value enough is the role that libraries can play -both efficiently and effectively. That is for people who can read and can access data digitally.. for these people it gives them access to the whole of world thought and literature. For a child who has discovered authors beyond those they are told about in school, a library is a direct line to civilisation… and from childhood onwards that abundance is what makes the intelligent world so wonderful.”
  • Why we need our libraries – Chronicle / Letters. “Someone I know is at present reading Euclidean and NonEuclidean Geometries Development and History obtained via interlibrary loans from a library in Kent, difficult to find, I imagine, in your local charity shop. My son had a book brought from a library in Co. Cork last year, unobtainable anywhere else. Free libraries are a mark of a civilised society. They are not in themselves ‘the arts’ but they are a means of opening minds to all human culture of which ‘the arts’ is only a part. It would take too long for me to list the values of the library service.”


Local News

  • Bolton – Central still a place for informationBolton News. “The first thing a visitor notices at Bolton Central Library is just how much there is to do there. There are not simply rows of people with their heads buried in books — although there are obviously plenty of books around, albeit with both the Mills and Boon and Westerns shelves conspicuously empty.” … computers, newspapers, local history, class visits, online access, DVD loans, etc, all show library is used.
  • Big drop in lending after library axe – Bolton News. Five out of fifteen libraries closed last year. “The report revealed that borrowing from Bolton’s libraries fell by 19 per cent between April and September, compared to the same period in 2011, while the number of library visitors fell by 14 per cent.”
  • Dorset – Roll out of community libraries in Dorset – Dorset Council. Arrangements finalised for seven branches to be moved over to be run by the unpaid. Puddletown first on 7th January then Chickerell, Wool, Colehill and Stalbridge.  Burton Bradstock Library and Charmouth Library have both already taken over and will open to the public shortly.
  • Durham – Libraries face hours cut – Northern Echo. 38 “public libraries will see their opening hours cut tomorrow (Wednesday, January 2). Facing a spending squeeze of nearly £200m over the next few years,”
  • Gloucestershire – Two libraries to shut for revamp – This is Gloucestershire. Self-service machines being installed.  See also here.
  • Hampshire – Council chief to open new library – Southern Daily Echo. “new library for a Winchester estate will open this month following the closure of the previous branch. The service for Stanmore will relocate to the Carroll Centre in nearby Somers Close. The county council closed the Wavell Way branch as it was one of the least-used and smallest libraries in Hampshire, with an average of 106 borrowers a month. Critics said the council had through limited opening hours made closure inevitable.”
  • Kirklees – Library expert Biddy Fisher criticises Kirklees Council’s short-sightedness – Huddersfield Daily Examiner.  “In a report of 15 comparable local authorities, Kirklees libraries emerged as the costliest per head of population.” … “However, instead of making economies of scale, it appears that Kirklees spent more without necessarily reaping any benefits. Even after proposed cuts in 2012/13, Kirklees will still be running the most expensive libraries, costing an estimated £18.50 per head, compared with an average of £15.13.”.  Long article, including Biddy’s proposals to share costs with other councils.
  • Newcastle – Protesters will take to streets over Newcastle cuts – Chronicle. Campaigners plan “a large-scale protest march against potentially devastating cuts in Newcastle. The city council must save £90m over the next three years – leading to 1,300 jobs being axed and the possible closure of libraries and swimming pools. The announcement has led to the Newcastle Coalition of Resistance to form plans for a march and rally next month to protest at the Government’s programme of cuts and privatisation.”
  • North Lincolnshire – Bottesford in line for new £150k library at Cambridge House – This is Scunthorpe. “Bottesford Library is currently located in a shop unit on Cambridge Avenue, but will reopen in the new facility next summer. Councillor Jean Bromby, ward member for Bottesford, said the new library would be more attractive for readers. She said: “At the moment, we have it in a shop unit and it is the most expensive small library in North Lincolnshire. “At Cambridge House, it will be in the council’s own property and we have got to think of the future.”
  • Oxfordshire – Benson Library opening – Friends of Benson Library. “It has been a little while since the refurbishment but we wanted an opportunity to get together, meet other friends and trustees and update you about what is happening at your library. The ‘official opening’ by our patron Lady Jay of Ewelme, will take place at 11:00am. You are very welcome to come along from 10:00am onwards.”
  • Surrey – Villagers volunteer to take over library services – Get Surrey.  90 volunteer to do the council’s previous work in Bramley Library. Parish council may pay for renovations, county council still owns building.  “The county council will continue to provide the buildings, stock, computer equipment, and free Wi-Fi.”

“Residents are not going to notice. Our volunteers will be as good, if not better as they will live in the same community.”

  • Thurrock – Library to close until March as community hub plans get under way – Thurrock Gazette. ““Councils across the country are closing libraries and we are investing to ensure we don’t have to do that. “These hubs or centres will become the way council services are delivered in years to come, working in partnership with the wider community so people’s needs are met in the best and most efficient way possible.” The plan is for public and community services to work side-by-side from the centre, offering a “market place” of information, guidance, and support for people in the area.”
  • Wokingham – Little explorer Ella is a library star – Get Wokingham. “A three-year-old who borrowed more than 300 library books in one year is the first young reader to collect all 10 Little Explorers Book Club certificates. The scheme, run by Wokingham Borough Libraries, encourages under-fives and their parents to use libraries more often.”
  • Library use on the up – Get Reading. “The number of people using libraries across Wokingham is on the increase, bucking the national downward trend. Annual Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) statistics reveal visits to borough libraries has increased by nearly two per cent between 2011/12 with 7,000 extra visits, an increase for the second year in a row. National figures show visits to libraries have fallen by 3.4 per cent during the same period.”
  • Wolverhampton – Home library service revamp to save £60,000 – Express and Star. “Almost 750 people, many of them elderly, use the service across the city – which currently sees books delivered directly to the homes of those who would struggle to get out to their local library. However council chiefs say they expect more users in the coming years as a result of the city’s ageing population and that the direct delivery service will become “unsustainable”. Instead bosses are now considering using a postal delivery service and setting up an electronic delivery service for people who have the facilities to read books via computer tablets such as the Kindle.”
  • York Libraries and Archives Community Benefit Society Annex 1 – York Council.  Weighs up the pros and cons of keeping York libraries in house and other options.
  • Libraries and Archives Community Benefit Society Committee Paper – York Council.  The official paper for discussion by the Council, outlining the position in York and why a community benefit society is being considered as an option.   Paper is going to Cabinet next week.
  • “Community benefit society” plan for York’s libraries moves step closer – Press. “City of York Council’s cabinet will be asked when it meets on January 8 to give the go-ahead for a business plan to be drawn up for a “community benefit society”, which would be tasked with operating the city’s library and archive services. The authority has to cut its libraries budget by ten per cent in 2013/14″

“The cabinet will also be asked to approve extra work to involve the voluntary sector in helping run the libraries and giving staff more say in their future operation. If agreed, the community benefit society would be backed up by expert advice and support from a Government scheme designed to help local authorities find ways of tackling funding shortages.”