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.


  • Canada’s federal librarians fear being ‘muzzled’ –  Library staff employed by federal government have been told attending conferences is a “high risk” activity as they could be held responsible for anything you see being seen as against their employer. ““Once you start picking on librarians and archivists, it’s pretty sad,” says Toni Samek, a professor of library and information studies at the University of Alberta. She specializes in intellectual freedom and describes several clauses in the code as  “severe” and “outrageous.””
  • Capita Report; ‘Protecting Library Services’ or “would you buy a used car from this bunch?” – Stop the privatisaiton of public libraries. Articles argues for full or increased funding of libraries rather than reduced service or IT/etc efficiencies. Questions sharing services as means loss of skilled staff; attacks self-service; “the whole ‘report’ has got nothing to do with users or communities but increasing profits”

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport with reference to the Government response to the Third Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2012-13, on library closures, Cm 8535, page 6, when her Department plans to issue guidance highlighting potential efficiencies from sharing services.

Hugh Robertson (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport; Faversham and Mid Kent, Conservative)

The lessons learned from the Future Libraries Programme, a joint Local Government Association (LGA)/DCMS initiative, were published by the LGA in “Local solutions for future local library services” in June 2012. The publication includes advice and examples of shared services work being undertaken by local authorities, as well as the potential benefits that can be derived. In addition, Arts Council England (ACE) developed the Library Development Initiative to test new approaches to library service delivery, including shared services. LGA and ACE have also now engaged directly with nearly 100% of elected councillors with executive responsibility for the library service through joint leadership seminars and peer support, and this included learning about models for shared library services. A crucial part of the LGA’s work is to spread best practice, including shared services, and they also have a wider programme looking at shared services across all kinds of services, not just libraries. The Department will continue to engage with LGA and ACE and provide further information relating to sharing services as it becomes available.”

  • Community Libraries: looking to the past to inform the present by David McMenemy – Cultural Value Initiative. “As of the 1st October 2012, responsibilities for museums, library and archives was distributed between Arts Council England and the National Archives. The folding of the MLA inevitably means the loss of precious institutional memory and specialised staff, considering that the MLA’s previous incarnation, the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries started operating in 1931: David’s call for an historical awareness of past debates and policy solutions is especially poignant.”  Problems identified that the current system, currently under threat, replaced look oddly familiar:
  1. Units of service that are far too small
  2. Authorities which are unable or unwilling to provide the necessary means
  3. Lack of co-ordination
  4. Often lack of guidance and inspiration
  5. Inadequate personnel
  • Google Reader Shutdown a Sobering Reminder That ‘Our’ Technology Isn’t Ours – Forbes (USA). But libraries are.
  • Library masturbation leads to lifetime universal library ban – Daily News (USA). Public masturbation leads to draconian, presumably unenforceable, ban from any public library.  Story picked up as far afield as Nigeria where ban is extended to whole planet.
  • New Welsh Minister for Culture … and thus for libraries – CILIP in Wales. “t appears that libraries, museums and archives now fall within the remit of the new Minister for Culture & Sport, John Griffiths AM. We look forward to working with John, but at the same time will miss Huw Lewis who has proven to be a very supportive and constructive minister for libraries in Wales.”
  • Provenance of Ambition – Literary Rejections. A hymn to libraries: “Those with no education, or money, are welcomed and encouraged by librarians the world over to become active members of their own library. In a society where schools and financial aid have failed them, the library card does not. This golden ticket not only opens the door to their curiosity, it is the quintessential all access card to the written word. Many first learnt to read within the sanctum of their library. Others passed exams based on the study materials they could borrow, that they otherwise could not have afforded to buy. A library is more than bricks and mortar. A library changes lives.”
  • Solution to the ebooks in libraries problem will probably come from the US – Good Library Blog. US libraries are handling cuts and the challenge of e-books better than UK ones.  When they solve the e-lending problem, the UK will likely adopt the same model.
  • Study shows sharp drop in reading habits among young graduates – Borneo Post (Malaysia). Opening more libraries seen as solution: ““The village library initiative was introduced to promote reading habits among the children, students and also the older generations to inculcate reading habits while encouraging continuous studying,” Raslin added. To date, more than 1,000 village libraries have been built at various locations nationwide.”
  • SXSW: These Days, Libraries Are About More Than Just Books – Mental Floss. “”Maker spaces are starting to show up inside libraries, and [libraries are] building relationships with maker communities.” … “”They’re exploring the options of doing things like, you know, ‘I broke this piece of my bed, and it’s going to cost me $40 if I order it online. Can I just print it because somebody already did the work of creating a file?'” … also a “portable, private digital distribution system is a router that connects to a battery pack, and acts as a self-contained webserver”
  • Twenty Rules for Better Book Displays – Ebsco.  A good guide with twenty rules.  I’d add three more: “don’t make them look naff”, “always leave a space so it’s clear books can be taken” and  “WordArt is not your friend”.
  • What Can be Done for Public Education – Marxists / Lenin.  Lenin liked libraries.


Local news

  • Brent – Project launched to improve library services for Dollis Hill residents – Brent and Kilburn Times.  “The Dollis Hill ‘‘Love Books’’ Project will see books from Brent’s Library Service collected and brought to the area’s cafés, eateries and shops.” … including a pub, a cafe, an Italian restraurant and a Chinese supermarket.
  • Croydon – Emergency meeting called on sell-off of public librariesInside Croydon. “There will be an emergency meeting of Croydon Council on Monday evening, when Tim Pollard will be called to account for the shambolic handling of the Conservative-led administration’s attempts to sell-off the borough’s libraries.”.  Council in trouble over Laing’s last minute change of its tendering process and deep connections with council’s outsourcing agenda. Agenda for meeting suggests Labour are looking at a co-operative model instead as an alternative to the Conservative outsourcing plan.
  • Croydon – LGPS dispute stalls Croydon Council procurement – Professional Pensions. “JLIS subsequently amended its bid to cap the upper level at which it would be liable for increases in contributions to the LGPS for transferred library staff. The change in JLIS’s bid was significant enough to stall the procurement process” … “Croydon Council spokesman said the council had budgeted for a total procurement cost of £250,000. This is still expected to be met, although the commencement of the outsourcing contract will likely be late summer or early autumn, rather than early spring.”
  • Islington – Library ‘secret’ sparks stand-up row in the street between by-election rivals – Islington Tribune. “Labour are furious that the Lib Dems have put out a leaflet describing plans to demolish and rebuild John Barnes library in Tufnell Park as “secret” and which questions whether the library would be rebuilt.”
  • Manchester – Petition Save Fallowfield Library – Ipetitions. “Over a dozen community groups use the library, as well as our local primary schools, young people, families and senior citizens. This is the only community meeting venue we have in the Fallowfield area, and it generates an income through its partnership with the NHS.”
  • Northamptonshire – Free wi-fi rolled out in libraries – Northamptonshire Telegraph. “T James Telecoms, of Kettering, signed a deal with Northamptonshire County Council to install the necessary software and hardware in 36 libraries and the county record office. The system will be managed centrally to reduce the running costs and it is hoped to introduce similar technology at other sites in the county.”
  • Northern Ireland – ‘Use your library or lose it’, warns MLA – Ballymena Times. “if local people still want a library in their village, and I am referring specifically to the villages of Kells and Connor and Broughshane, then they must use them.”
  • Nottinghamshire – West Bridgford Library reopens after £5.3m rebuild – BBC. “Three years ago the authority cut its budget for new library books, and reduced the opening hours of some of its smaller libraries. It claimed the savings on books had helped prevent the closure of some of Nottinghamshire’s 60 libraries. The new library, which also has a recording studio and performance area, opened on Saturday morning.”
  • Rochdale – ‘Libraries to stay open’ insist town hall chiefs – Manchester Evening News. “Rochdale council is currently consulting with the public before revamping the borough’s library service. But Coun Peter Williams, cabinet member for customer services, said while libraries would have to change, there were no plans to close any of the borough’s 19 branches.”

“We have not gone down the same road as other authorities which have got themselves into legal difficulties because they have closed libraries while not following the correct procedures. But we have to acknowledge that technology is changing and library use is changing. We are trying to make libraries more than a place where people can go to get books.”