The meeting between the Society of Chief Librarians and a selection of library campaigners on Tuesday 30th April covered a lot of important issues and made clear the role that SCL views it can take.  The main topics covered were:

  • Volunteers – Campaigners wanted SCL to provide clear guidance to authorities as to what was acceptable.  The SCL did not see it as in their power to do so,  In addition, when it came to the question of what is happening to the 5% of volunteer libraries which are not “statutory” the SCL was clear that it was not their responsibility,  Indeed, the point was made that this was the whole point of them not being statutory – they were on their own and needed to cope as they could.  From my point of view, it was interesting as to how the debate has moved on from an abhorrence of volunteer libraries to one that accepts them as something that is here to stay and need to be coped with the best they can.  It was noted by campaigners that even some statutory libraries (notably Walcot in Swindon) are run in a semi-independent way, up to and including reducing bookstock.
  • The profile of libraries has been raised – There has been a notable improvement to the importance given to libraries by local authorities and by the media.  This, combined with increased advocacy by the SCL, has led to them being invited along to attend or speak at events they would not have been several years ago.  This is also notable with campaigners.  Of course, the reason for this increased profile is largely due to the national and local protests against cuts to libraries.
  • E Books – Pilots will be run by the SCL this year in three or four authorities testing different e-lending models.  It was noted by Desmond Clarke (who should know – being a big ex-publisher himself) that the Big Six publishers won’t want to agree to anything in the UK that may tie their hands in their prime market of the US.  There is a sense of urgency in all of this and a worry that Amazon will win it all if a successful model is not found soon.
  • Merging library authorities to save money.  Increasing efficiency in libraries so that they can cope with cuts without having to affect the front-line was a major theme. Desmond Clarke in particular was a keen advocate of this amongst the campaigners, although this was not a universal view.  The SCL made clear that although mergers could deliver “shed-loads of savings”, it was not up to librarians but rather to politicians as to what merged but they are positive towards it themselves – the director of the Tri-Borough libraries (who was there) was, as would be expected, especially keen on this.  Interesting the boss of Newcastle Libraries (much in the news recently due to cuts and closures there), also present, said that they had asked a neighbouring authority to share a service but had been rebuffed.
  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way – The tri-borough has managed to combine (including one library card for all three councils) despite each authority having different systems and computers.  What was needed was a “can do” attitude and compatibility issues could be taken care of when computers needed replacing naturally, costing nothing more.
  • It’s up to the Government, not the SCL.  The Society is not in a position to direct authorities to do anything.  They can provide best practice and be a representative but cannot be a decision maker.  That’s where the DCMS comes in and (it was my impression anyway) that the frustration felt by campaigners about inaction by the Government was shared by the SCL.

The meeting was notably more co-operative than the previous one, showing at the very least that just talking to people can help improve relations.  Campaigners were also pleased with the recent work of SCL in advocacy.  However, there is frustration that the organisation cannot be more than it has been – the lack of a bossy voice protecting libraries, pushing for best practice and really speaking out for the profession has been really notable in the last few years.  The SCL is certainly not such a voice but it is at least showing some willing and it argues that it can do no more.

Further reading


  • 94% of Parents Think ‘Libraries Are Important for Their Children’ – Galley Cat. Pew Internet report shows libraries still very important.  “parents in lower-income households are more likely to say it is important for libraries to offer librarians to help people, free access to computers and the internet, quiet study spaces, research resources, jobs and career materials, free events and activities, and free meeting spaces for the community”.  See also Pew Report: Parents Depend on Libraries to Nurture Reading Habits – Publishers Weekly.
  • Ashley appointed ACE library director – BookSeller. “Brian Ashley, formerly Nottingham City Council’s director of culture, will take on the role of Arts Council England director with a focus on libraries, following the re-organisation announced last year. He is expected to take on the role in July 2013 when the changes are implemented, and will be based in Nottingham.”.  Includes a brief biography [NB. Brian will be only half-time for libraries, the other half being other ACE duties – Ed.]
  • Brazen Bibliophiles of Timbuktu How a team of sneaky librarians duped Al Qaeda – New Republic (Mali). “Starting in early May, every morning before sunrise, while the militants were still asleep, Haidara and his men would walk to the city’s libraries and lock themselves inside. Until the heat cleared the streets in the afternoon, the men would find their way through the darkened buildings and wrap the fragile manuscripts in soft cloths. They would then pack them into metal lockers roughly the size of large suitcases, as many as 300 in each. At night, they’d sneak back to the libraries, traveling by foot to avoid checkpoints on the road, pick up the lockers, and carry them, swathed in blankets, to the homes of dozens of the city’s old families.”
  • Libraries in New York City: Why We Give a Damn and Why You Should Too – Huffington Post (USA). “We are, in our small neighborhood libraries, a kind of secular clergy, a trusted ear and an unbiased source of information and support to anyone who walks in the door. This is the compact we have at the deeper levels of our engagement with our communities past the bestsellers and free internet. There is a web of trust.”
  • Photo competition – Voices for the Library.  “We need a new image on our front to brighten things up a bit. What we are looking for is an interesting image related to libraries. If it’s something that shows the slightly non-traditional side of libraries, that would be great”
  • Recommended Reading for New and Not-So-New Librarians – Librarian by day (USA).  Marketing, new technology and workplaces all covered.
  • Rural Libraries In China Abused And Turned Into Internet Cafes – Ubergizmo (China). “rural libraries in China have slowly become home to internet gamers who have taken advantage of the library’s internet and computers to play video games.”
  • Sold to the highest bidder; a trip to the Public Sector Show – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. A critical view of private companies and mutuals taking over public library services.
  • Teething troubles on day one of universal credit pilot scheme – Guardian. There’s a spelling mistake on the first page of the online form and no-one used the system on day one.  There is no save function during a process that can take 45 minutes.

“Staff have been recruited to help people improve their computer skills so they can claim online rather than over the counter at the jobcentre, and 130 computer terminals have been made available in libraries and elsewhere in the borough for claimants who have no internet access at home … Protesters said that because such large numbers of claimants were without home internet access, local libraries would be overwhelmed with demand for computer time.”

Local News

  • Birmingham – Library of Birmingham future operation – Birmingham Council.  Council squashes fears that the management of the new Birmingham Central Library will be outsourced, at least for the moment: “A procurement process for the operational management of the new library was started earlier this year but is not currently being progressed.”
  • Birmingham – £188m Birmingham library project ready for finishing touch – 2.3m books – Guardian. “The £188.8m project, at a time when local authority libraries all over the country are being closed or cut back, has not been without controversy. Opening hours have been reduced at the city’s branch libraries, but the library budget has actually been increased, and Gambles said no closures had been made or were planned. “The community libraries are and must remain an integral part of our plan – we recognise that there will be people who will always go to their library just down the road instead of coming here, and we don’t want to break that link.””
  • Harrow – The Civic Centre library, in Station Road, set to close as part of service merger – This is Local London. “Harrow Borough Council will be closing The Civic Centre library in Station Road and merging all services into Gayton Library, in St John’s Road, by the end of August. The council says the Civic Centre library is underused and combining the two libraries will centralise services for Harrow.”
  • Havering – Have your say on plans for new-state-of-the-art library in Harold Hill – Romford Recorder. “Consultation on the proposals for the new library opens from today to Thursday May 9 at the current library in Hilldene Avenue … The new library is set to replace the existing 1950s building and will offer new improved facilities.”
  • Southend – Who uses our libraries? – Southend Standard. “The future of Southend’s Libraries is a hot topic, with some branch libraries facing changes or potential closure. Central Library, in Victroria Avenue, is closing in favour of a new £27m Southend Forum Library, due to open later this year. But who is it that uses libraries nowadays? What is their purpose?” … looks at who is using libraries inc. students, mums, tots, senior citizens.
  • Southend – Work almost complete on new Southend library – Southend Standard. “brand new £27million library is taking shape on the site of the old Farringdon car park. Work started on March 5 on The Forum which be the new joint public and academic library. The shell of the building is virtually complete with the abstract glazing design finished. The Forum will house state of the art teaching and learning facilities for both the University of Essex and South Essex College and also the Focal Point Gallery. There will also be a new café and lecture theatre.”