It’s nearly Christmas and so it’s a good time to have a look at what the main public library events and trends have been in 2013.  They’re in what I consider to be rough order of importance and, being I’m a librarian and not a journalist. I’m naturally putting the most important one first.  Of course, we all have different views and I’ve doubtless missed something out you’d like to have seen included.  Therefore, please use the comments to put in your own views or email me at ianlibrarian at

1. Big cuts continue …

The deep year-on-year budget cuts are continuing.  Official figures showed budgets fell by 4.4% in 2012/13 with the official estimate being a further 5% for 2013/14 meaning that the overall national budget may dip below £1 billion this year. To put this in context, that means that the total budget for all of the UK will be more than £63 million less than it was just for England six years ago. This one fact has more bearing on the year than anything else below and is, indeed, responsible for much of it.  Indeed, one cannot emphasise the importance of the cuts enough … it’s historic and explains almost (e-books notwithstanding) all that is happening to, at and in public libraries at the moment.

2. But with less closures

The surprise then is that the number of actual library closures has reduced in 2012/13 compared to the year before and is still low for the rest of the year. with 61 withdrawn from April compared to 201 for all of 2011/12. So how is this happening?  Well, a few different ways, which can be roughly divided into “efficiency” and “hollowing out”.  The former include merging services, different types of governance, co-locations and all sorts of other factors.  The latter include cuts in bookfund, opening hours, services provided and volunteers. However, some would argue that some of the former also counts as “hollowing out” and some others would doubtless argue vice versa.

3. The inexorable rise of the volunteer-run library

Official figures showed that the number of volunteers rose by a staggering 44.5% in 2012/13 and there’s no reason to doubt that the increase slowed in the rest of the year.  The figure may now be as high as 425 branches as of now, meaning 12% of all branches (almost always the smallest ones in any given authority) in England may now be volunteer-run.

Lincoln libraries protest march

Lincoln march against library cuts

4. Large scale protests continue

Campaigns up and down the country (including, amongst others, Lincolnshire. Moray, Herefordshire and Newcastle) continue to show how much the public think of their libraries.  Petitions in the thousands, and marches in the streets, backed up by legal action continue to be the order of the day in those authorities that consider cuts.

5. The advent of the multi-authority library service.

Up until 2011, with one or two exceptions, there was one library organisation running the library service of one council.  That has now changed.  Starting with the Tri-borough (Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster) in mid 2011, London now has three multi-authority services.  The second is Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) who run Greenwich and Wandsworth as part of a non-profit Trust.  The third is Carillion who now now run Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Hounslow libraries after purchasing them from Laing in late October.  Within weeks, they then announced prospective large-scale job losses.  The purchase of this library contract is, I believe, the first time in history that one private company has bought the contract for library services from another in the UK.  There are signs that this phenomenon may expand beyond the capital, with GLL having been interested in Lincolnshire. These multi-authority organisations may de facto end up providing the economies of scale that spectators have been advocating for years but with, at least in the case of Carillion, the danger of those efficiencies going to shareholders rather than to the taxpayer.

6. Usage strong amongst children, not so much with adults … and all that entails

The fantastic Summer Reading Challenge saw a 9% increase in usage this year.  This project, where children gain rewards for reading, is 99% taken up by library authorities and is administered Reading Agency.  On the other hand, adult usage appears not so strong, possibly because of alternatives such as e-books. This, especially amongst those who have never used libraries before in the first place (step forward more than a few councillors) is being used more and more as an excuse to cease funding them.  This is regardless of the increased demand placed on libraries as providers of online access for job-seekers and others who find that the internet is now essential.

The Library of Birmingham: if the cuts continue there, it may indeed become the only one.

The Library of Birmingham

7. Big Shiny New Library 1: The new Library of Birmingham

The largest public library in Europe opened in a brand new building this September.  No expense was spared on it, with some £188 million being spent, which (with PFI) will become considerably more in the future. The exterior, with its coloured layers and circles, has been compared to a wedding cake or a mosque.  I like it but it’s controversial, as perhaps all big new projects should be.  Inside, it’s a mixture of really quite big public spaces, bookshelves, multimedia displays, impressed visitors and quiet study spaces.  Two months in, when I visited, I was still overhearing people talking about it in the town centre, with definite pride … and I am aware of more than a few people having made the trip to the city just to see it.

8. Big Shiny New Library 2: Liverpool Library reopens

This is on a smaller scale to the new Birmingham Library but it still cam in at over £50 million and is utterly fantastic in its own right.  For my money, its merging of the old and the new was far more successful than that of its larger kin.  Several utterly beautiful (there’s no other way to describe it) period rooms living side by side in perfect harmony with the modern.  My thoughts on the library are explored in more detail elsewhere hereThe only disappointment in the project, at least to me, is the children’s library which appears to be multi-purpose in design and uninspiring. Everyone else also loves the place, with it becoming the number one tourist spot in the city according to TripAdvisor.

9. Wales and Scotland libraries start joining the England libraries crisis

I remember being at the CILIP Wales conference two years ago and everyone there being worried about what was happening in England and concerned that it would spread across the border.  Well, 2013 is the year that that happened, with cuts announced in many Welsh authorities.  Similarly, in Scotland, where the councillors in Moray showed that there was nothing being done in England that couldn’t be done as badly north of the border.  However, the differences between the two nations and England is instructive.  Here, there has not been a murmur from the Minister (of which more later) but in both Scotland and Wales the relevant ministers have issued stern statements about the danger of cuts.  Whether this will be enough will be seen next year.

Still the same name and logo in 2014

Still the same name and logo in 2014

10. CILIP rebranding

A bit of librarian navel-gazing perhaps with this one but it certainly exercised a lot of librarian attention this year, even if the organisation itself is – probably quite rightly – trying to put a gloss over the whole affair and move on.  The professional association pushed strongly for a change of name but its proposals, finally resting which the much-maligned suggestion of “Information and Library Professionals UK” (with an emphasis that the obvious and unfortunate initials ILPUK would never be used by anyone, ever, no sir, of course not, how dare you suggest an ridiculous possibility) failed to gain significant support and thus lost by a large margin at the AGM.  Possibly linked to, or not, to this was a notable changing of the guard on CILIP Council.

11. No confidence in Ed Vaizey

It’s probably fair to say that the morale of the public library profession has never been so low as now. Faced with an official 6.8% cut in numbers in 2012/13 and no sign of slowing this year, this is hardly surprising, but there is more to it than that.  When faced with the perfect storm of budget cuts and technological change, it’s hard to know who to blame.  Or, it would be, if there wasn’t a minister in charge of libraries who was adamant in their defence while in opposition but has barely lifted a finger to save them while in office.  Step forward Ed “Evaizive” Vaizey who managed to get the legendarily non-militant library profession to pass a vote of no confidence in him.

12. Arts Council England increasingly on stage

Or not, as the case may be, depending on what you think they should be doing. ACE been spending the £6 million the Government gave them according to the brief given which means that Libraries up and down the country have benefited from projects with artists, museums, sculptures and such-like.  Some, like the one below in Bristol, are quite something.  On the other hand, such spending in times of austerity can lead to some pretty weird looking decisions.  Step forward Bury where ACE is helping to convert two-thirds of the ground floor of the Central Library into a sculpture centre … and the aforementioned Bristol where the Council has decided to rent out a few floors from the very same library where the moving artwork is based to a Free School.