Many observers of public libraries have treated with sceptism the report by the BBC that more people think libraries have improved than declined over the last five years.  The news article – Public service cuts – did we notice? – BBC. says that “many people in Britain think the quality of public services overall have been maintained or improved in the past five years despite government cuts, a poll for the BBC suggests. More of the 1,031 people surveyed feel bin collections, parks and libraries, schools and bus services have improved than those who think they are worse.” … “libraries – the subject of many anti-cuts protests – three per cent more people say they’ve got better than worse, but among library users the score is plus seven”

The figures were naturally seized on the government as a sign of how well their policies are working and as a chance to put the boot in to those authorities who are not toeing the line:

“Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “This survey shows that in many areas such as rubbish collections, schools and libraries, services and value for money are improving, illustrating how councils can both deliver sensible savings and protect the frontline. “But some councils are making lazy choices due to their failure to get a grip on cutting waste and inefficiency.””

But how statistically significant are these results? Well, if you want to see them, the full survey results are here and the file just for libraries is hereIt’s quite a low sample size of 1031 which means, spread nationally, that only 49 respondents from the East of England (an area including the threatened Lincolnshire) and 57 from Wales and South West.  To give you an idea, when a survey was done just of Rochdale libraries in 1996, those carrying it out were worried about whether 856 was too small a sample.

So there’s a worry about the sample size … and it gets even worse in that only 54% actually used libraries. Combine that with the regionalised nature of the report and you get really low figures … so there were, for instance, only 25 library users asked from all of East of England.  Now, if one does not actually use the service in question then you either just plain don’t know or you guess the answer – which explains the 29% of sample who said they didn’t know if libraries got better or worse or stayed the same. The other 17% of the respondents who were not users presumably just guessed. So, discounting non-users that gives a sample size of 557 people – that’s hardly impressive but it is still (just about) statistically significant , although with a margin of error that suggests the conclusion that people on average think libraries have improved could be illusory.

Having said all of that, it’s important not to discount the figures entirely.  For one thing, many libraries have improved despite everything that the Government has thrown at them. Big new libraries have been built (Birmingham, Liverpool, Canada Wharf and a host of others) which are spectacular improvements on what has gone on before.  Of course, many of these were started before the Coalition took office but any Government would take the credit for them. In addition, the last five years has seen the introduction of widespread wifi and ebook provision in libraries; something that simply did not exist five years before.  Add on to that online renewals, emailed newsletters and reservations and you do have a system that is better than five years ago in many areas.  The fact that there are less staff than there were five years ago and they’re all being paid less in real terms does not come into it.  Furthermore the cuts tend to be disproportionately in the smaller branches and thus affect smaller populations – none of those 25 asked in the East England could have come from a village or affected areas.

So, it is perhaps not a complete shock that the survey, flawed as it is, came up with the result it did.  What is a shame is that the sound bite nature of the news means that none of the problems around it were explored.  It’s taken as gospel fact, even (perhaps especially) at the highest levels.  See the prime minister’s reaction:

“David Cameron on hearing my report on BBC poll: ‘I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.’ @Number10gov#PMQs” @BBCMarkEaston via Twitter

Now that’s not going to help anyone.  The Government will continue even more strengthened than before.  Non library users will start thinking that everything is OK (apart from potholes, apparently) and library users will face worse services because of it. Library staff, facing the deepest peacetime cuts in history, will be dumb-founded and question the point of working so hard foe less if that is just going to encourage further cuts. In fact, the only people who gain from this (apart from the Government) is the BBC who are now in that much of better light with the Coalition. But they surely wouldn’t think like that. Would they?

UK Changes by authority

UK news

“I see the most creative future for everyone involved in “arts and health” lies in the emerging  “libraries and health” partnership developments that are now taking shape. In fact I am now completely  convinced that the GP within the NHS  has no enjoyable or creative future until the arts led “libraries and health” partnership work is understood, valued and firmly supported in every possible way by both GPs and Librarians  across the whole of the UK. Community Arts people are in a very strong  position to lead this much needed transformation of both GP practice and the Community Library Service.” Dr. Malcolm Rigler, GP North Somerset quoted in West Midlands Health and Wellbeing

  • Jarvis leaves library role, replaced by Goodman – BookSeller. “Jarvis’ role will now be taken by Helen Goodman, who will have a wider brief within the shadow culture team. Goodman was previously parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department for Work and Pensions, with responsibility for child poverty and childcare. Jarvis has moved to the justice department, taking on a role as a shadow youth justice and victims minister. The Barnsley MP had been an outspoken critic of his opposite member Ed Vaizey, the current libraries minister, during his time in opposition. He has regularly pressed Vaizey on the number of library closures, and accused him of ignoring the views of campaigners. He has also suggested the need for a national body to oversee libraries, following a Labour Party policy report on the library service.”
  • Library events for World Mental Health Day 2013 – Reading Agency.  List of what is happening around the country.

International news

  • Bring a costume, take a costume at library swap event – Statesman Journal (USA). “Check out the National Costume Swap Day … Youngsters can swap an old costume for something brought in by another family. Library staff promise many costumes to choose from.”

  • The Library Cop – Seinfeld (USA).  Need a laugh? Watch this Book Recovery Officer on the job.  It’s hilarious.  Don’t just take my word for it, read Reminder: The Library Cop Scene Is The Best ‘Seinfeld’ Scene – Warming Glow.
  • The Great Library at Alexandria was destroyed by budget cuts, not fire – io9.com. The destruction of the Great Library was a gradual process, with the reduction of staffing and maintenance leading to eventural destruction.  A well-researched and itneresting read.
  • Illicit and Thrilling and Magical: A Conversation with Meg Wolitzer – Public Libraries Online (USA). ” I worked in my public library as a teenager, and I have spent a lot of time reading and writing in libraries throughout my life. To this day, libraries have a big part in my interior life as well as my actual daily life; I find them extremely important places, and I have known librarians who have had a big influence on me and my reading tastes. As a young mother, going to the library with my sons was a significant part of our day. One of my favorite jobs at the library as a teenager was staying late to show the movie downstairs, especially because, when I went back upstairs, I got to be alone in an empty library at night, which felt illicit and thrilling and magical.”

  • Sammy the Shelfmaker – (USA): A video aimed at young children to encourage them to keep books in order.

UK news by authority

  • Enfield – Libraries’ updated computer systems ‘riddled with faults’ – North London Today. Complainer about problems with new computer system suspects that “the council’s IT contract with Serco, billed as saving the authority 20 per cent in technology costs over five years, is at the root of the latest raft of “teething problems”.  200 computers to be upgraded.  “To improve the computer service available to residents we are in the process of upgrading our systems so that every machine is connected to a central server and each will have uniform programmes, upgrades and hardware.”
  • Hull – Thousands face sack in Hull City Council contracts row – This is Hull and East Riding. “union members emphatically rejected proposals put forward by the council over new terms and conditions. They include cutting overtime and allowance payments as well as seeing some staff switching to a four-day working week.” [This will likely affect library workers who will currently receive extra pay for working weekends – Ed.] … “The council’s cabinet has now agreed to start a 45-day consultation with staff over the “termination of current contracts”, with the aim of replacing them with new terms and conditions of employment.”
  • Monmouthshire – The final chapter for Usk library? – Monmouthshire Beacon. “residents of Usk met on Monday evening (7th October) to discuss a threat from Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) to close the town’s library.  Around 150 people packed into the top floor of Usk’s Memorial Hall after worried library user Julie McGowan spread the word about the proposed closure.  At the meeting, a group of seven people came forward to create a committee that will lead the campaign to keep the building open.  MCC’s cabinet will begin talks tomorrow (10th October) on how £9million can be saved from the council’s budget over the next year due to a reduction in money granted to the county by the Welsh Assembly Government. ” … “I only started this campaign because I went into the library on Thursday and saw these distraught ladies who had just been telephoned and told that the library might be closing,”

“A recent report into areas where money can potentially be saved has been published, and will be discussed in the meeting. The report highlights Monmouthshire’s library service as a key money-saving area, and names Usk and Gilwern as sites that, if given the go ahead, will be shut within eight weeks of cabinet say-so.  The report brings forward the idea of combining one-stop shops and libraries into single buildings.  It claims the budget for the county’s libraries should be cut by £180,000, but that services in towns will not be lost entirely. “

  • Moray – Library campaigners highlight Moray Councillors’ ‘broken promises’ – Inside Moray. “Save our Libraries Moray has published extracts from pledges made by Independent and Tory councillors ahead of their being elected to office in May last year. These include an undertaking by the leader of Moray Council, Councillor Allan Wright, “…. to oppose any move to close sport, leisure and community facilities across Moray.”.  List of campaign (allegedly broken) promises included.
  • Northern Ireland – Libraries Oral Answers to Questions – They Work For You. “Libraries has a 2014-15 budget of £34·5 million.  Future budgets are, as yet, unknown as they are dependent upon the outcome of the next spending review.  That budget is used to run 98 libraries and approximately 37 mobile libraries and home call vehicles. Investment projects over the next few years include £28 million for the e2 project to replace the library computer system; new libraries in Lisnaskea and Kilkeel at a cost of £2·5 million; and £1 million plus of maintenance work that is also scheduled to take place this year. Libraries promotes events in its buildings through engagement with the press and also by the use of social media.  It also has promotional partnership arrangements with other organisations, including DARD, to assist rural dwellers, and DEL. Around access to benefits and job assistance.”
  • Reading – Celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who as the Tardis materialises in Reading – XN Media. “The Reading Central Library Doctor Who day will include activities for children as well as talks celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Doctor. Throughout the day, you will be able to meet the Daleks and, if you’re brave enough to risk extermination, you may even get your photo taken with the metal meanies … the library will hold a treasure hunt … there will be a craft session for children, and … Tom Nichols will present a Show and Tell session so you can see props from the series. Author Nick Walters will be dropping in … for a special question and answer session.”
  • Swindon – Questions to Swindon Borough Council on Libraries – Question Everything. A full and honest council reply to many questions about volunteer-run Walcot Library.
  • Wrexham – Libraries, sports facilities and street light all under threat as Wrexham Council face £54m cuts – Daily Post. “Libraries, sports facilities and street lighting could be cut  if an estimated £54m is slashed from a council budget.” … “At an executive board meeting  councillors heard libraries and museums could be shut, leisure and sports facilities closed down, half of the county’s street lights turned off between midnight and 5am, and cash to repair the highways slashed, if a worst case scenario for the local  authority is realised.”