Archive for February, 2013

How to spend £100k plus and get nothing while trying to save money: Laing surprise Croydon

John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) have caused confusion in Croydon by, apparently, changing their offer – on staff pensions – at the last moment. This means the contract has to go back out to tender.  Regardless of how one feels about private companies running libraries, this is hardly looking to be a textbook advert for outsourcing library services.  The whole point of the process is supposed to be to save money, not spend more and more with nothing to show from it.  Tendering has already cost Croydon at least £94,000 with no end in sight.  Even when a bidder is finally chosen, it is the stated desire of Labour councillors to return libraries to public control if they become the party in power again – which, with nightmares like this, seems more likely by the day.  In a time when every penny is sacred for councils, getting the tendering out of services wrong is starting to look like a dangerous and expensive distraction.

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Without that library, I’d be working on a farm, or in jail, or dead

I get a lot of emails about how wonderful libraries are but this one struck a chord.  Read and be re-energised in your struggle for great public libraries, be you a library worker, a politician, campaigner or just plain interested bystander.

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Little acorns of hope from the austerity oak tree … and calls to cut costs

Councils have, over the last couple of years, got a lot cleverer at keeping branches open while cutting costs.  The different ways they’re doing this can be seen in the articles below. A few libraries (one in Kent and one in Worcestershire) will be transferred from county council control to that of the parish, with volunteers to some extent taking on the workload.  In another alternative to straight closure, a library building in Kirklees looks likely to be sold off, with the books and staff being co-located in the town hall. Meanwhile, a Somerset Library will move a children’s centre and extend its hours with self-service machines and volunteers. Finally, in a welcome reversal of trend, Hampshire have announced a refurbishment and, with the help of self-service machines, an extension of opening hours at Hythe despite an expected 20% cut in budget over four years.

There’s many other approaches being tried too, although one that notably hasn’t as far as I am aware is that argued for by Tim Coates – he of ex-Waterstones and now Bilbary fame – who has renewed his call for the standardisation of book processing and for a radical reduction in back-room costs.  Desmond Clarke agrees, pointing out that mergers of library services saves money but recent history has seen a fragmentation instead.  The strangeness of this division can be seen in Hull where a library is being closed partly because 12% of its users come from another authority and so don’t seem to count.  They’re just the wrong kind of users. An ending to this kind of divisive thinking would indeed be an acorn of hope.

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Here’s how we designed our own

Wales is not looking quite the safe haven for libraries it once did, with the announcement of substantial opening hours cuts in Cardiff.  Doncaster, fresh from cutting libraries last year, have converted their Central Library to self-service.

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£1m for Brum and Manc Central Libraries. Others not so lucky

Great to see £1 million being given to libraries by the Wolfson Foundation in order “to show the future shape of public libraries at a time of debate about their future role.”.  Clearly, Wolfson, thinks the future lies in mega libraries: half of the money is going to £190m Birmingham Central Library and the other half to the £48m Manchester one.  Drops in the ocean for them then but more than five times the cut announced in St Helens that will cut a fifth off their entire opening hours across the borough. This may be bittersweet for campaigners as they often care about the small local branch and not the massive showpiece five miles up the road. Great news, though, for the Government who have advocated philanthropy as a way of making up for public spending cuts.

Unalloyed good news from Portsmouth’s increase of 8% in children’s usage last year appears likely to be at least partially due to the issuing of library cards to all schoolchildren from July last year.  Portsmouth is a pilot scheme for the project which many hope will be brought in nationwide.

There’s some irony about the decision in Worcestershire to reduce the Gallery at Kidderminster Library due to the need to cut council costs. It was built less than twenty years ago with a third of a million pounds from Arts Council England. This is the same organisation that has been given £6 million by the Government last year to improve links between Arts and public libraries.  Just the sort of thing that the gallery at Kidderminster Library does.  Or, rather, did.

Health may be an expanding area for saving libraries. A Sefton doctor has said that closing her local library could cost more than it will save as it may “have a severe impact on physical and psychological wellbeing”.

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Pia Long

Guest post: Farnham Library, a fairytale library in the Internet Age

Pia Long first came to my attention when she wrote an excellent piece called “Are Public Libraries Obsolete?: The Shelf Life of a “Dream Vision” back in 2011. We talked to each-other about our mutual love of libraries and she promised to write a piece for Public Libraries News.  Here it is, sixteen months later.  I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s been worth the wait…

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Ways through the minefield

The future of libraries appears to be a theme that exercises minds on both sides of the Atlantic. From having read most of it, the main point that stands out is that the unique combination of local buildings and trusted neutral spaces mean libraries occupy an enviable position in reaching people,  Three examples of this are covered in the news today:

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We Don’t Need No Library Fiction?

The Herald Scotland article will stay with me for a while.   Following on from Deary, the writer questions the need for fiction books in libraries and questions what the point of stocking them is.  For myself, I have always seen fiction as the sneaky way to improve people’s brains – one might be enjoying it but one is also learning spelling, grammar, incidental facts, all sorts of things at the same time.  Fiction sucks (or suckers) the child into having a joy of reading and thus literacy and a degree and a good job.  Fiction, also, saves those on the edges (and perhaps not just the edges) of society from madness, tedium or loneliness.  To fail to understand the need for fiction in libraries shows a failure to understand its underlying benefits that bodes ill for the debate and for the failure of libraries (probably through no fault of their own – this should have been done nationally, for years) to explain their mission.

On the plus side, props to Devon for asking the public what it wants from a refurbishment of Sidmouth Library and, similarly, Los Angeles for asking the public what it wants from its libraries generally.  The user needs to be fundamentally involved in the provision of services, most especially in any changes, and it’s great to see this being done.

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Deary, cuts, refurbs and Amazon

The hullabaloo about Terry Deary’s comments on libraries show signs of finishing off, but not without coverage from as far away as the USA and Australia. Big guns like Neil Gaiman, Julia Donaldson and Terry Pratchett have some on side to defend the noble cause and much useful argument has been had.  On a not entirely unrelated topic, the launch of a bookless library in the USA, that is not replacing but rather is additional to normal libraries, causes comment in the Guardian.  Mr Deary will have even more to complain about shortly as Amazon are showing yet more signs of world domination by clearing the way for selling secondhand e-books.  Finally, a survey has found that a quarter of UK adults haven’t read any kind of book, library or whatever, in the last year,

Locally, Newcastle have announced a couple of branches will not close and a few more will likely be taken over by volunteers. A thousand people marched there this weekend against the wide range of cuts.  Similarly, in Sefton, a massive public reaction against closures has meant the council is delaying closing branches there.  One of the options there includes selling fruit and veg in the library building. Meanwhile, Sheffield are strongly pushing for community groups to take over their threatened branches and have even launched a prospectus, Options there include faith groups taking over.  Further south, Haringey are looking to close their mobile, housebound and school library services.

Good news includes a £50k refit in Bracknell Forest and the co-location to end all co-locations in Hertfordshire where a the library will be moved into a building that will house it as well as a youth centre, a museum and, a community centre.

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Deary Day 3 … plus House of Commons on library cuts

Ed Vaizey somehow scored a few points off Labour in the Commons on library closures today but that’s not the main news.  No, the big one is the massive reaction to Terry Deary’s comments.  It gained publicity in most of the broadsheets. Terry has, though, refused a public debate, going to say that the media distorted his views. He has also clarified (some argue, changed) his position by saying “I want all people of all ages to have access to literature” and questions if libraries are still the best place for this.  Some others have agreed with him on this and I recommend everyone to read Shoo Rayner’s chilling piece.  Others are more half and half (see Jabberworks).  The others pretty much think he’s Satan.

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