To no-one’s surprise the Secretary of State responsible for libraries, Maria Miller, has finally announced that her decision over the cuts to Lewisham’s library service is to do nothing.  Her reasons are in bold below, with my gloss in italics:

  • The Secretary of State’s view is that decisions about local issues should ordinarily be taken by democratically elected local representatives accountable to local voters.  Thus, there is a presumption at the most basic level against intervention.
  • The Secretary of State also notes that the local authority is entitled to take account of cost in deciding whether a proposal is efficient. The 1964 Act makes no mention of cost: just that the service has to be “comprehensive and efficient”.  This is therefore a reinterpretation of the law.  It also, given the current widespread cuts to local government spending, also again gives a blanket presumption against intervention.
  • The Secretary of State has also borne in mind that too ready an intervention would risk preventing or discouraging prompt and efficient reforms of library services. This, again, could be argued to fit all authorities and all circumstances.
  • The withdrawn libraries have seen a reduction in use but “were comparatively little used”.  “Between April and September 2012, visits to the community libraries increased by 33.5%, but issues were down by 35.4%“.  The council claims that this decline may be because of “visitors reading at the library, and taking advantage of the better facilities there (e.g. cafes)” and thus taking out less books.  Surprisingly, this explanation appears to have been taken seriously by the DCMS (presumably a lot of winking went on when this interpretation was conveyed).  The increase in visits combined with a decrease in borrowing also suggests a radical change in usage of the facilities away from library borrowing – this ties in very well with the addition of other services to the withdrawn libraries such as computer recycling and charity work.
  • At the seven borough libraries, opening hours have been maintained or improved. In addition, the new Deptford Lounge library has seen an increase in hours and usage.
  • Not every alteration in library provision will justify a costly local inquiry and the uncertainty that it brings. The DCMS has not ordered an inquiry for any authority despite the deepest cuts to provision in peacetime history and unprecedented public protest. This therefore, again, can be seen as a catch-all line against intervention.
  • For the purposes of her assessment as to whether to order a local inquiry, the Secretary of State has based her
    view solely on the seven borough-run libraries, and the home library service. Interestingly, the withdrawn libraries were not considered and the Council’s record is acceptable just on the performance of the surviving council-run branches.  However, the decision states as evidence that “No libraries have closed”.
  • The Secretary of State has also noted the absence of any response from residents in areas where libraries have been taken over by community groups. This is taken as evidence that everyone is happy with the current arrangement rather than as lack of evidence either way.
  • The transfers to community libraries were based on a library review. There was a fair public consultation and a detailed Equality Impact Assessment. Proper provision has been made for vulnerable groups. This, as the judicial reviews against some councils has shown, is crucially important.
  • Finally, the core libraries are accessible – Lewisham is an urban area with a good public transport network. This may therefore not bode well for library services in similar urban settings.

The positive in this report is that the Council has continued to invest in its surviving libraries.  This appears also to be the case in another quthority whose usage figures have, coincidentally, dropped into my inbox today – that of controversial Brent.  This authority, you will remember, closed down half of its libraries despite mass protests and the stated desire of campaigners to run them on a voluntary basis.  The aim was to concentrate dwindling resources on the remaining branches.  According to its latest statistics, this tactic has led to an increase in visits and a small decrease in issues, The refurbishment of Kilburn Library has contributed to these figures.


  • Asset transfer: the path to success and pitfalls of failure – Guardian / Co-operatives and mutuals hub. “what may have an emotional or historic importance to a community – say an old library or Victorian swimming pool – may simply not be realistic in economic terms to sustain. Some local authorities are trying to get rid of many of their ‘assets’, in the form of buildings, which may actually represent, or have the potential to become financial black holes. These buildings, take libraries for example, may be symbolically important to a community, but they may have huge costs associated with running them and the risk is that they may be taking on a liability, rather than an asset.”

“No matter what our hearts tell us about libraries and their value in providing access to learning, I suspect that the reality is that more of us reach for our smartphone, tablet or computer and go to Google than take a walk down to the local library.”

  • Decision letter on local inquiry into library provision in the London Borough of Lewisham – Gov.uk.
  • Editor’s Letter: The rise and (mostly) fall of British Politics – I. “Now, I do like the idea of a US-style “library” despite the obvious irony of the Conservatives forcing so many public libraries to close.”
  • Free school meals may be scrapped by councils under ‘tidal wave’ of cuts – Independent. “Closures of municipal theatres, leisure centres, libraries and play groups will accelerate because of a 50 per cent reduction in local authorities’ spending power, according to a report from an independent think-tank.” … “On current trends, the best case scenario is that by 2018 the public will pay more for a lot less – no council leisure centres, far fewer libraries, an end to education support and tighter constraints on who receives social care.”
  • Library collects food instead of fines – Wausau Daily Herald (USA). “For the 14th consecutive year, library patrons are encouraged to settle their overdue fines and, at the same time, help others in need through the Food For Fines program.T.B. Scott Free Library will offset $1 of library fines for each item of food brought to the library’s circulation desk. Food donations will be given to the Merrill Food Pantry. Up to $50 in fines per patron may be waived through Food For Fines.”

Your public library – Sutter County, California (USA)

  • What do libraries mean to you? (Part Two) – Jack Croxall. “To watch someone’s face light up as you read, or to see them completely lost in your world as they listen, is something that is indescribable. Without the co-operation of the library services, this would not have happened to me and my fellow students.”

“Libraries are wonderful creatures; creatures that battle the political, social and economic changes that modern life throws its way, with a quiet sort of steadfastness, and it’s an institute we should all make a proud stand to protect.”


Local News

“June Brassington, Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Libraries Services Manager, said: “It’s great to be working alongside members of the community for the benefit of everyone. The role of the volunteers is a very sociable one – we give full training and all that is essentially needed is an ability to get on with people and help them, a love of books and reading, and basic knowledge of computers.”

The figures I am quoting are for all visits and issues of Brent Library service, including the former libraries for 2011:

                 2011/2012                    2012/2013
Visits.         1,506,852.                     1,526,095
Issues.          985,590.                        963,188

So visits went up by 1.3%, and issues went down by 2.3%.  I think that when we decided our strategy in 2011, many people would have found such a performance unbelievable.  Of course, we also have the users views from the PLUS survey that the service is much better than it was in 2009.  I think it is a great tribute to the library staff that Brent libraries have come so far so quickly.” Brent – Full year figures for Brent libraries out – James Powney’s Blog.

  • Devon – Library service shortlisted for top national award – Mid Devon Star. “The service is one of only seven from across the UK to be selected for the coveted Library of the Year accolade at the forthcoming Bookseller Industry Awards. Ciara Eastell, Head of Devon County Council’s Library Service, said: “We know that our library service is highly valued by our residents, and despite a tough couple of years with significant reductions in budget, we have continued to grow this successful service.”
  • Inverclyde – Village library move completed – Inverclyde Now. “The library has moved from Inverkip Primary School to allow for the expansion of Inverkip’s nursery. It offers an improved selection of books and DVDs, photocopying and fax facilities plus four free public access computers. There are plans to install free wi-fi and a coffee machine in the near future.”
  • Inverclyde – Digital services start at libraries – Evening Times. “”The new eBook service is free and you don’t even need to remember to return your book as will automatically delete on the return due date if you don’t ‘return’ it by then. We will have a number of downloadable audio titles available if you prefer to listen to audio books via an iPod or suchlike.” The Inverclyde Librar- ies mobile app is available for iOS, Android and BlackBerry and will all interaction with the library from Smartphones or tablets.”