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:

  • Most authorities expect a cut of between 10-25% over next three/four years. It’s a sad statement of affairs that this figure estimate actually looks quite low.
  • Sharing services can save money (the figure of 5-25% was taken from the Future Libraries Report). It can also improve service to users e.g. with a shared catalogue in Lambeth and Southwark. A perhaps telling quote is one that says “the Borough boundaries are often meaningless to users of the library services”.  There are many places nationally where this could be said.
  • The Socitm ‘Better Connected 2012’ report revealed that public libraries are the fourth most popular reason for people to visit a UK council website,  That’s quite high and shows the leverage libraries have in their usage and as a way of driving online traffic to the council.
  • “Channel shift” towards social media and mobile needs to be embraced by libraries and can, if successful, be very cheap. Answering an enquiry online or via the phone is cheaper than having a librarian in a local building.  Edinburgh Libraries, have achieved digital success not by having new money but by moving funds from the physical to the online.
  • Self-service machines reduce costs and also, however one feels about it, the absolute need for staff. This can be either a straight cut or allow such staff to be used for other (possibly wonderful literature development) things, depending on the financial pressure and priorities of the council involved.
  • Only 70% of UK library authorities provide e-books.  70% is not a figure to be impressed with.  It means nearly a third of all UK authorities do not lend e-books at even a minimal level.  It is to be hoped that the Sieghart Review into UK e-lending is published soon and will help boost this figure.  It is also worth considering that the scenario below from Janene may be the best-case when one considers the financial pressures involved:

“If e-lending does increase significantly we will have to consider the impact on our library space – it may mean we can free up areas of the library for partner use, and generate more activity around our literary and learning programmes. It will help us to support that journey that people go on when they read, starting from physical picture books as children. I believe that hard copies and e-books will co-exist for a very long time” Janene Cox, Society of Chief Librarians

  • Over time we will move away from the idea that a library is a physical building and think more about the services on offer” is a quote from the report that sticks in the mind from this report.  The idea has been around a while.  Libraries may be virtual and not bricks-and-roofs before too long.  Virtual has some big advantages – it’s personal (far more “local” in some ways) and it’s cheaper.  However, it also means that the public library we all know and love may not be in the long-term plans of decision makers.  It also means that libraries that do survive may be a little bit different. Check out this quote:

“We need to make libraries more exciting for the next generation – they should rival Disney in terms of excitement. Why not incorporate moving walls or hologram technology, iPad tables or 3D printers? We should be seen as part of this technological age rather than as the remnants of another time.” Diana Edmonds, Libraries chief, GLL

Therefore, this report is going to make horrible and uncomfortable reading for those who like their libraries to be print book-based and well-funded.  However, public libraries – like it or loathe it – increasingly have to focus on ways to save money and concentrate on the online/mobile more. There are some opportunities here.  By all means, staff and supporters should campaign to save budgets but, if the arguments don’t work (and they, sadly, don’t always) then it’s going to be useful to have back-up plans.  “Protecting library services” also gives an idea for newcomers and professionals as to the likely medium term changes we’re going to see in public libraries. Which, if this report is anything to go by, may be quite different to today.


  • Digital exclusion ‘to hit benefit claimants’ – BBC. “Millions of pounds of Welsh government and European Union money is being spent trying to help people to use the internet in local libraries. Claimants will need computer access to demonstrate they are looking for work or face cuts in benefits.” 4 minute radio report. Lots of useful stuff in this interview.
  • Librarians go from ‘Geek to Chic’ – Otago Daily Times (New Zealand). “The ”Geek to Chic” fashion show at the Dunedin City Library was held as part of iD Dunedin Fashion Week. Fashion show organiser and Dunedin Public Libraries marketing co-ordinator Lynette Hartgill said it was the third year the show, which features librarians swapping their day clothes for vintage clothing from the 1950s to the 1980s, had been held. Seventeen took part last night.”
  • Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources – OEDB. ““…there’s another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement.”  Lots of good resources mentioned.
  • More Public Libraries Lost in 2013: Cuts Mean Closures Final Chapter. “The UK government doesn’t seem to have a budget for book lovers any more, and public libraries are dropping like flies as local authorities try to figure out which corners they can cut.”.  Looks at cuts in Southend and Newcastle. “This approach of “work there yourself for free, or lose your library” seems off to me. The public libraries of the UK serve the whole community, acting as a focus for meetings and action in times of upheaval, and providing relief for troubled minds through education and escapism.”

“The Crime Writers’ Association is planning to repeat Crime Writing Month this year – a promotion of the crime genre. They would love to hear from any libraries who would like to host author events in June/July this year. Crime writers are keen to take part in events and there will be no charge to the library. Contact “

  • NHS cash to turn libraries and pubs into digital health hubs – Public Service. “The NHS Commissioning Board has announced plans to get 100,000 more people using the internet to improve their own health. As part of a new partnership with the Online Centres Foundation, the commissioning board will provide funding to help develop existing UK Online Centres based in libraries, communities, centres and even pubs, so that they can become “digital health hubs”.”
  • Public Libraries: An overlooked part of kids’ learning process – Fox Reno (USA). “Early-childhood learning advocates say there’s a tremendous, sometimes overlooked, resource in most every community: the public library.And one of our local libraries is already writing the book on early literacy.”
  • Reading on computer screens motivates boys to read – Literacy Trust. More so than books, apparently.
  • There Used To Be These Things Called Public Schools & Public Libraries…. – Black Agenda Report (USA). “he first places to lose public schools, public transit and public libraries are black communities like Detroit, New Orleans, Philly, and now ominously, metro Atlanta. It’s a failure of leadership nationally, and in those places, the historic failure of the black political class,
  • Things That Make Me Smile in Public Libraries – I need a library job (USA). “The joy of a child reading their first chapter book without any help.” and a few other wonderful (and to a librarian, very familiar) things.
  • Why Advocate for Libraries? | Advocate’s Corner – Library Journal (USA). “Apply a two question test to determine if you need to advocate: is someone making decisions that affect you?  If not, could they?  Answering yes to either question means that you need to make your case.”

Local news

“Barnet Council have agreed not to sell off Friern Barnet library! The library will stay open and will be run by the local community. Control of the library has now been handed over to the trustees of newly formed Friern Barnet Community Library Ltd … This shows the power of what can happen when we work together as a community. We can overturn decisions made by others in our name and we can keep vital community facilities open for all to use.” Barnet – Re-open Friern Barnet library (via email).

  • Derby – New £1.4m Chaddesden library named after Derby MP Phillip Whitehead opens after 12-year campaign – This is Derbyshire. “This is a 21st-century iconic building. I can remember back to the 1950s when I first came to the library with my parents. It has served this community for half a century. “Now we have this superb building which is a testament to the hard work by councillors, local people and staff, especially when there have been savage cuts across the country to libraries.” The new building features community rooms, more computers and fully-accessible toilets.
  • East Sussex – Library and housing complex underway – Eastbourne Herald. “The new £6m East Sussex County Council development, at Warwick House in Sutton Road, will include a new library and cafe, supported living flats for adults with learning disabilities and day care services for older people.”
  • Newcastle – College Provides New Hope For Four Branch Libraries Facing The Axe – Sky / Tyne and Wear. “Newcastle College Interim Principal Carole Kitching said: “We feel passionately about the role of libraries in bringing literacy and education into peoples’ lives. “We have developed a proposal to work in partnership with the Council and local people to continue running these four libraries.”
  • Northamptonshire – Innovation award for library enterprise hubs – Daventry Express.  “Enterprise Hubs, which are run by libraries working together with Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, have won a prestigious EDGE 2013 award, which highlight and promote innovative and creative library projects.”

“Since the Enterprise Hubs were launched in April 2012, they have helped 350 people and a number of these are known to be already trading in areas ranging from cleaning services to gardening and from creative arts to children’s entertainment – about 10% of all the county’s start-ups in that period.”