Manchester has announced five libraries may close and one other will be combined with a leisure centre.  But that’s not what’s making history today,  Announced plans for closures are hardly ground-breaking.  No, the big news is that, in the first letter of its kind during the current libraries crisis, an open letter from library staff – from Westminster Libraries – has been published criticising the cuts to the service.  It notes that the workload of libraries staff is going up while their budget and numbers are going down.  The letter also points out that the councillors have refused to take any pay cuts themselves while expecting library staff to take a 10% cut.  It goes on that the council has hired two new highly paid officers for the same amount of money than it would have cost to keep a closed library open.

The interesting thing about this letter is that Eric Pickles would have no trouble with it.  It does not question the need for cuts but blames the cuts on poor decisions by councillors.  If Westminster was a Labour council, the Government would approve of the letter and quote it.  But Westminster is heartland Conservative … and so the Government will not say one word.

It is the first word heard from serving library staff criticising their Council (and thus their employers) for a good reason of course – publicly criticising one’s employers is a disciplinary offence.  However, this is signed from all staff.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens and if it encourages other workers in other parts of the country to protest in similar fashion.  Many campaigners have wholeheartedly welcomed the bravery of the letter.

Open letter from the staff of Westminster Libraries – Voices for the Library.  A short letter that needs to be read in its entirety so it’s reprinted below.  Also reprinted at The Library Campaign.

“To the Councillors of Westminster,

Westminster Libraries currently uses less than 1% of the council’s overall budget. We have 11 libraries, an archives service, a reference library, a music library, a home library service and the largest online database for any public library service in the UK. We provide books, DVDs & CDs, Internet access, CV building workshops, Under 5s sessions, class visits, language and computer courses, community groups and workshops and engage teenagers through projects like Fast Forward which has taken over from the connexions career Services: We promote health, community and citizenship and provide a free space to work, socialise and study for residents and visitors.

We now have Parking, Council tax, Rescard, Housing and OneStop services incorporated into our day-to-day duties with no additional funding as a service or as employees; In fact we’ve provided all these services at this low cost whilst going through 5 years of cuts that has already closed libraries, reduced our budget and decimated our staff levels each and every year.

When employment goes down, our workload goes up, and as homelessness increases and incomes plummet, our footfall increases. Year-on-year we’ve risen to the challenge of providing all these services for that ever shrinking less than 1% of the council’s budget.

In 2011, Westminster Council hired two new department directors at the rate it cost to run St James’s library which they were closing at the same time.

In that same year, Westminster councillors refused a 5% reduction to wages above £100,000 to save £3.5 million because the saving would be too insignificant to justify; but library staff have been asked to bear double that cut for only 10% of that saving.

The solution to unemployment cannot be to fire people, and the solution to debt is not to cut income generating, job creating, and crime preventing services.

Not only is it a statutory requirement to provide this service, it is our moral obligation to do so. With new challenges, we need new ideas, not old mistakes and any further cuts to our library service budget would be a drop in the ocean compared to almost any other department in a council that has often stood in the spotlight on the international stage.

We ask that this race to the bottom is brought to an end; and that Westminster council commits to investment rather than cuts so we can continue the good work that we do for the small budget we have.

The Staff of Westminster Libraries”


  • BK libraries striving toward the future with new technology – Brooklyn News 12 (USA).  One minute video: “With the help of a $3.25 million grant by Brooklyn native Shelby White, the library now features a 36-seat wireless learning lab, desktop computers, private meeting rooms and a recording studio.”
  • Influence of libraries and bookstores eroding for children  – Publishers Weekly (USA). “A recent study by Bowker has found that among children, there has been a marked decline in bookstore and library influence as a source of recommendation and acquisition, and that many purchases are instead migrating online to vendors like Amazon. The study is part of Bowker’s Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age study.”
  • Libraries “fundamental” says Hurd, as TRA celebrates Reading Challenge rise – BookSeller. “More young people than ever are getting involved in reading schemes at their local libraries, charity The Reading Agency revealed last night (15th December), at an event held at number 11 Downing Street, residence of the chancellor George Osborne. Meanwhile Nick Hurd, minister for civil society, told The Bookseller that libraries are “fundamental”, and “very key in supporting young people”.”

“Libraries are fundamental. Many of them are under pressure, but they are very key in supporting young people, and being a fun place where they can discover reading.” Nick Hurd MP, minister for civil society

  • Post Lib December 2012 – Publication of CILIP retired members guild (PDF attached produced by permission All members of CILIP, whether retired or not, are entitled to join the Retired Members Guild. Those who are not members of CILIP, may join as Associated Members.  The current subscription is £10 per annum. To cover administrative costs a small charge is made for attendance at events. Further details can be found at: contains several items of interest: (1) Terms of Trade (Bob Usherwood) looks at House of Commons Select Committee on Library Closures (remember that?) and questions its conclusions.

“the language (“trade”, “customer”, “shop”), reflects a commercial model of librarianship that has been peddled and sadly adopted, sometimes with enthusiasm, around the library world. At some point the profession needs to decide if it wants to maintain public libraries as social institutions serving the public good or as quasi retail outlets that simply seek to maximise their popularity by responding to populist demands” Bob Usherwood

(2) Stay calm and carry on quietly? I think not by Frances Hendrix looks at the libraries crisis and the people involved in campaigning against the cuts, including her own reasons for getting involved. (3) From naked librarians to children’s art: a look at library calendars and (4) Convivial public library by Daniel Grace includes some excellent material:

“When we consider the future of the public library service the pragmatic approach certainly has its uses. However, if we approach our understanding of what public libraries can be in a purely reactive manner, without a vision to oppose the bulldozer of austerity, we’ll be left with nothing but fragments of a once great public institution.” Daniel Grace

  • Sound of silence is yet another sales tool – Financial Times (viewable after free registration). “Refuges of tranquillity are under siege as peace and quiet becomes an increasingly rare commodity”.  Mentions Guardian article discussion that libraries are taking on other roles and perhaps threatening one of their unique selling points.
  • Why public libraries matter: and how they can do more – Forbes (USA). US libraries are “dynamic, versatile community centers.  They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen.  More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. “.  Long article with some very powerful ammunition for those who want unlimited free e-lending.

“Big six publishers limit public libraries’ access to eBooks at their own peril.  They fail to see that public libraries are an integral part of the fragile ecosystem of reading in America.  Without libraries to encourage new readers, foster book groups and promote communities of reading, publishers will find fewer readers for their biggest titles, and readers will have more difficulty discovering works not on the bestseller list.”


Local news

  • Dorset – Future of Wool library handed over to new volunteers – Daily Echo. “At least 35 volunteers, who’ve been training since mid-October, met for their final two-hour training session three days before the grand opening. Volunteer co-ordinator Christine Reber put the team though their paces … Before Wool Library opened for business at 3pm, the Dorset County Council sign was unbolted from the wall and replaced with a “Wool Community Library” sign. Although run on a volunteer basis, Dorset County Council will continue to support the community libraries with a package worth around £5,500 a year that will include books and IT services.”
  • Gloucestershire – Council spent £238,000 on library closure case – BBC. “The council had wanted to cut its library budget by £2.6m a year, with 10 libraries handed over to the community. In the end seven libraries were handed over and the mobile service saved, saving the council £1.8m.”

“The DCMS should pay this bill. They let this happen. It was clear to everyone who stopped to have a little think about it that GCC were breaking the law. DCMS, who incidentally STILL has not given us a “minded too” decision two years later, fundamentally failed in their duty and the Secretary of State failed in his duty to superintend” Johanna Anderson on Lis-pub-libs”

  • Islington – Libraries are statutory, councillor – Alan Gibbons. Points out Islington should know that libraries are statutory,
  • Manchester – Brutal budget cuts – ITV. “Council tax will go up and swimming pools and libraries could be closed in Manchester’s latest round of harsh council cuts. At least 830 jobs will be lost if an £80m new savings package is approved today.”
  • City council publishes proposed budget – Click Manchester. “The Council has invested heavily in libraries in recent years, with 65% of the library network significantly improved. Its library strategy for 2013/15 will ensure that the council meets its obligations to provide a high quality, accessible library service with a network consisting of a transformed Central Library and 13 neighbourhood libraries. It is proposed to replace six smaller libraries with outreach libraries or community book collections in alternative community premises, with some ICT provision as we have already done in Clayton and Northern Moor and are doing in Barlow Moor. These would be managed by a community group or partner organisation. The libraries affected are Burnage, Fallowfield, Miles Platting, New Moston and Northenden. Levenshulme Library is proposed for closure but a new library facility for Levenshulme will share a building with the new leisure centre.
  • Cut pain goes onManchester Evening News. “Miles Platting would lose both its swimming pool and library under the plans. Four other pools,  including Broadway near New Moston, and five other libraries – including New Moston – also face the axe.”
  • Newcastle – Old library buildings to be sold off – Chronicle. “It says it wants community groups or businesses to take on the running of the services. But the buildings, some of major historical importance, could be sold or even demolished if volunteers do not come forward.”
  • Nick Forbes: Newcastle’s king of cuts – New Statesman. “Then the conspiracy theories started: the figures are exaggerated to give Forbes a political weapon; the libraries are being cut ahead of other services because it’ll provoke the most publicity (Andrew Gilligan suggested that in the Telegraph); ambitious Forbes is using the cuts to raise his profile and climb the Labour ranks. So now everyone is attacking Forbes, rather than the Government. So I asked him for an interview and he said yes.” … “The figures are vague, considering the council is using this document to persuade people their libraries need to close.”

“Two figures are given for inflation – £20.8m on one page and £21.7m on the next page. Mistakes happen, but surely there shouldn’t be a discrepancy of £900,000 on the main document you’re using to persuade people their libraries have to close? Forbes says nothing. The press officer says I shouldn’t have brought this to Forbes. I repeat that mistakes happen, but it shouldn’t happen on this document. Forbes says nothing … why is the council less familiar with its budget document than the guy who wrote Billy Elliot is?”