Archive for March, 2013

Public Library E-Lending Review published


So it has come at last. The findings of the independent review on e-lending has been published and it looks, at first blush, pretty good.  The Government has also, to its credit, not backed away in horror from it.  A summary of its findings are below with the (completely positive) response to it so far.  For myself, I think it is as good as could have been hoped for and, in its pragmatism, offers a way forward that was perhaps not there before.

There are a series of tests the results of the Review will now go through to see if it amounts to anything which include (a) the response to it by publishers, (b) the willingness of Government to push through the legislation and to knock heads together if either side refuses to play ball (and I’m looking at you Amazon and you Big Publishers) and, finally (c) how library services can afford to pay for both an adequate supply of e-books and printed books at a time when its budget is under threat as never before.  The devil is in the detail but the Review itself looks pragmatic and a solid basis to work on.

Far more sadly, and on the same day, it has been announced that the Public Lending Right unit will be absorbed by the British Library.  This is despite 948 out of 1015 responses being against this move.

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Guardian reports that paid staff “have learned a lot from the volunteers”


The Guardian have published an article on cuts to public libraries that positively portrays volunteers as an alternative to paid staff.  This is noteworthy as that newspaper as been at the forefront of covering the impact of cuts to public libraries over the last couple of years. The article, “Libraries run by volunteers as councils look to save money“, looks at the cuts in the Isle of Wight where five libraries are now volunteer-run, with a local councillor saying that it was the only way to save the branches and that the “permanent staff have learned a lot from the volunteers”.

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Hollowing out and new libraries in the country’s postcode lottery

Cuts in Peterborough and Bournemouth focus around keeping buildings open but cutting other things.  Both, disturbingly, identify buying less books and having less staff as an option.  This places both in the “hollowing out” part of the cuts equation.  As a nice change from the debacle over Friern Barnet Library, Barnet Council announce a nice new library – but, hang on, they’re selling the old one and only renting the one that is replacing it.

On the more positive side of things are Lancashire and Dorset.  It’s good to see that the former is continuing its largely good recent track record by putting in a £2.4 million “Youth Zone” (that sounds very Millennium Dome-ish doesn’t it?) in the same building as its Chorley library, although it will not directly affect it.  A new development that will directly affect a library is in Dorset where a new library (co-located with an adult learning centre) will open soon.

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The Librarian Unemployment Act of 2013

The headline today is from a quote in the Economist on the impact of e-lending.  Another item of note is an article arguing against the findings of the Capita report.  Both, for different reasons, make compelling reading (Ed.)

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Developed Countries Libraries down, Developing Countries Libraries up?

Some more disquiet on the decision by ACE/SCL to commission a survey to promote their new public library that resulted in research that suggested most people would not mind that they would close.  Most notably, The Reading Agency has dissociated itself from the research. Having said that, it is worth pointing out that the website (Bookmark Your Library) itself is a useful initiative and something that has been needed for years.  In addition, it is hardly the fault of ACE/SCL if the public are turning away from libraries.  However, without knowing the methodology of the research it is hard to know for sure, although the large sample suggests it’s accurate.

Two more items along this line are worthy of note.  The first is a newspaper article that argues that so many libraries as we currently have are not needed any more and so it makes sense to close a few in Sheffield.  The second is all the way from New Zealand and reports a big drop in usage, brought about by e-books and the internet.  This suggests a reduction in usage may be worldwide, which makes sense if the technology (and access to it)  is same everywhere, which in the developed world it largely is.  The increase in library usage in the USA would argue against this until one notes that there is an extreme poverty gap there and also that there are not the job centres that we are used to here, with libraries taking on their job search/application role.  On the other hand, in less developed countries, libraries seem as important – or possibly more so – than ever.  Articles today from Romania and Pakistan suggest that it is recognised that more money is needed in libraries there.

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National “Bookmark Your Library” website opens for business, with some worrying survey results

The official launch of the Bookmark Your Library website was marked today by the launch of a survey into attitudes to public libraries.  The survey showed that a large part of the respondents (a respectable sample at 2000) have not recently used libraries and were not aware of what they had to offer.  This is hardly surprising considering the lack of publicity and marketing that has been carried out but it is depressing.  More worryingly even than that though was that only a relatively small number said that they would be upset if the library closed down.  Perhaps because they did not know what was within it. Being that the website is a joint venture by several key national bodies concerned with libraries, this could be seen as somewhat shooting oneself in the foot, as one observer noted to me via email:

“One has to ask oneself (and I’m happy to be quoted) why the outfits behind Bookmark Your Library – inc. ACE,  part of whose remit is to ‘promote’ public libraries – have used their first Press Release to encourage negative reports in the media.” Shirley Burnham

Those behind the website hope, of course, that it will boost the opportunities for others to see how important libraries are. There’s some useful stuff on the pages and I recommend it to you to have a look at.  It allows you, for instance, to find your local library or even the nearest one which has the book you’re after.  The searches I did on the site showed that it was not overly user friendly and could be said to be downright wonky, but it’s better than nothing and at least provides ground for improvement.  Let’s hope that happens.  At least before any more similar research is published by library bodies that could be used to argue against libraries rather than for them.

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Book review: “3D Printing, The Next Technology Gold Rush” by Christopher D Winnan

There are many who advocate 3D printers as a logical next step for public libraries.  Others (such as this notable article) argue it is a distraction.  Whatever, odds are the technology is going to play an important part in all of our futures, in libraries or not and I was therefore very happy to read this book when I was sent a copy by its author.

It’s clear from the book that 3D printers are moving out of the early adopter stage and into the realm of “I know someone who has one”. I can attest to this from personal experience. A chap came into the library I work at today and chatted to me about a 3D printer he has – he’s not wealthy, he’s not a notable mad scientist, he’s just a normal person and the library I work at is not in a big city.  He was just interested and there must be many more like him. This is not to say 3D printers are mainstream yet of course. Almost all of the other people in the library probably had no idea what they are.  But that one chap is a harbinger of things to come … and it’s possible it’s going to be big. So, it’s worthwhile knowing about it and at only $3.31 for 120 pages, this book will not be a big cost to either your pocket or your time.

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Use it or lose it

The overarching concern of many articles listed in Public Libraries News is the cuts in public funding.  This is not surprising in that they are probably the deepest in modern peacetime history.  However, there are two more interlinked concerns that are not covered so much but are equally as important.

The first is, of course, technological change.  Those queues of people who asked me for answers and information when I joined the profession twenty years ago are no more.  There are people who require this service but there are notably less than they were.  I can easily deal with more computer-related queries than I can information-related ones during the course of a normal work day.  The internet has, largely, removed the public library from the essential list of many people when they come to find an answer to a question.  “Just google it” is the new “ask a librarian” for many people.  That has, to a large extent but by no means completely, removed the reference function.

This challenge to the librarian has recently been joined by the advent of the e-book.  I am seeing an increasing number of people now who use a Kindle or an iPad rather than printed books.  A new shock occurred yesterday when someone came up to ask for an author’s books and it turned out that they were only available on e-book.  Only 70% of UK libraries have e-books at all and many of those have a limited selection, with every single one not being able to lend every book due to restrictions by publishers.  It is to be hoped that the Government Sieghart Review will get to grips with this and we all look forward to its arrival.  Soon please.  Even worse, even if a printed book is required,  if it is not available in the branch, many people will buy it on Amazon rather than reserve it – it often costs no more and it can take less time.  And, of course, you get to keep the book.

These are very serious challenges to the need for the continuation of so many public libraries and bring us on to the second overarching concern.  This is of course that, faced with a reduced need for public libraries, less people may use them.  This is not helped by budget cuts which mean that many libraries are not well-maintained or have sufficient bookstock.  If a councillor or a MP walk into a library and it is quiet then they may question its continued funding even if lack of funding helped make it quiet in the first place.

This is why in the recent Capita report, I said that the “reduction in library funding combined with new game-changing technology have together created the perfect storm.”.  A reduction in the perceived need for libraries, coupled with a reduction in usage is coming at the exact same time as councils are looking around to cut budgets.  Faced with such a dire conjunction of events, those who support libraries need to do the most important thing of all – use them. It is only by demonstrating that the institution is still relevant that we can ensure that they will continue into better times.  A major aspect of this is the search for different services that libraries can provide, be it council information or online benefits or as maker spaces or as business incubators or as arts venues or as … well, a whole pile of different things.  Let us hope that all of this works and that people continue to come in without compromising the core purpose of libraries in the first place or we will lose libraries as surely as if they were boarded up.

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Birmingham old and new

This pictures of Birmingham Central Library shows how close it is to completion.  I include them here because it’s (a) a slow news day and (b) that new building looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen.  People are not going to be able to make up their minds about whether they like it or not.  I really look forward to visiting it when it’s open to decide for myself.

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Protecting library services? A look at the new Capita report on public libraries

capitaCapita have launched a new report,  ‘Protecting Library Services’ today.  It looks into the largely technological ways that libraries can survive in a time described in its executive summary as when “they are facing the biggest set of challenges they have ever had to face in their history”.  Before I look at it though, please be aware of three caveats.  The first is that Capita is a private company so they clearly want to sell the technology.  The second is that some would argue that accepting the budget cuts to libraries is defeatist and that one should fight to the last to protect libraries rather than changing its essence.  Finally, the third, is that I was consulted when the company wrote it and, indeed, I’m quoted in it and so this cannot be an unbiased summary.

Given all this I would still argue that the report is useful in that it looks at what Capita and senior library managers believe are “the most innovative practice within this sector”. It’s worth a look, in other words, even if you don’t agree with it as it shows what the people in charge are thinking and planning. It includes shared services, online library services and social media and “examines how technology is helping libraries adapt, survive and innovate to defend front-line services in this time of change”.  The options put are simply (a) cut services or (b) innovate.

Things that stand out are:

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