Editorial: improving council library services

The Guardian ran an interesting online discussion about public libraries, with leaders and experts in the sector being involved.  The Improving council library and waste services: workshop was introduced with the paragraph “The future of libraries is always a contentious issue and one that people feel passionately about. So, how can the service be improved for the future? Sue Charteris, director of Equal Value Limited, said libraries are finding that health and social care partners are prepared to invest in initiatives that promote health and increase social connections. She has talked in the past about a campaign Reading Well, Books on Prescription, which provides help for adults for a range of issues including anxiety and depression.”.

The key challenges noted were:

  • budget cuts
  • changes in technology
  • changes in people’s lifestyles

Solutions noted were:

  • self-service (fast on the way already to becoming universal but still need human beings)
  • social enterprise managing services rather than councils
  • move towards libraries being creation/maker spaces rather than providing consumption
  • volunteers (but warnings about managing them)
  • ending mobile libraries (at least in urban areas)
  • testing new services in one or a few authorities first before national adoption (potentially funded by Arts Council England)
  • free up areas vacated by the ending of audio-visual lending for new services.
  • move services online even more
  • automatic library membership: at birth, school or other milestone (pilots noted)
  • reading groups and digital reading groups
  • national online and digital library presence
  • increased partnerships
  • cafes/wifi-enabled study/meeting spaces.

“reading as a social experience, supporting people to broaden their reading choices and experiment by providing advice and support to individuals and reading groups
– helping emergent readers – people who aren’t illiterate but find reading a chore, through schemes like Six Book Challenge
– being experts on the technology so that if an elderly customer (or anyone for that matter) says ‘can you show me how to use e-books’ we can whip out a device and give an instant demo. Libraries to be a sort of less intimidating more inclusive Apple store if you will
-helping children to become habitual and constant readers through social, group and individual activities – as a no-brainer get a lot of ipads in your libraries as they are magnets for the young ones”

Mike Clarke suggests unique selling points for libraries: Mike is the Director of Libraries at the Tri-borough Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea councils.”

“Managing libraries now means being fast and flexible – responding to the indiividual customer and to communities in general. That means not spending money on things that the customer doesn’t want – but providing what they do want. In an urban setting, that might be a good space for study, it might be access to reliable technology to use the Internet, it might be a craft group where you can meet other people, it might be a reading group to discuss books which interest and excite you. So it means learning to read the customer … (every pun intended) … and being willing to change the library offer” Diana Edmonds, head of libraries at GLL

UK national news

“I wrote a short piece about the way in which councils are circumventing EU tender procedures by using framework agreements to purchase equipment quite recently. (http://www.mickfortune.com/Wordpress/) I didn’t mention the premium paid to organisations like ESPO by consumers for fronting these deals.” Mick Fortune


  • Don’t borrow art books, borrow art – Muusings (Germany). “the artwork is hung all over the main library and beautifully interacts with the modern structure of the building designed by Mario Botta. The concept is intriguingly simple: You borrow an art work (painting or little sculpture), mostly from local artists, for 3 months, paying a little fee of max. 5 euros for insurance and take it home, enjoying it in the privacy of your own place, at your own pace and whenever you want.”
  • Ex- Fentress library director took public funds for private use – Herald Citizen (USA). “The former director of the Fentress County Library pocketed more than $40,000 in public money to cover her own personal expenses, an investigation by the state Comptroller’s office has found. Investigators determined that Leslie Pullins used a variety of schemes to take money from the library over a period that lasted nearly three and a half years.”
  • The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity – ALA (USA). “It is of the opinion of Lemony Snicket, author, reader, and alleged malcontent, that librarians have suffered enough. Therefore he is establishing an annual prize honoring a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact. The prize will be a generous amount of cash from Mr. Snicket’s disreputable gains, along with an odd, symbolic object from his private stash, and a certificate, which may or may not be suitable for framing. It is Mr. Snicket’s hope, and the ALA’s, that the Snicket Prize will remind readers everywhere of the joyous importance of librarians and the trouble that is all too frequently unleashed upon  them.”
  • What is a library? – Narrative.ly (USA). “no librarians work at the teen library—youth counselors run the place … The teen library’s daily and monthly programs are tailored to this vulnerable population, hosting daily GED prep classes, an annual college fair, health classes, gang awareness programs, a chess club, CPR training, a Regents Exam prep club, a streaming radio station via the recording studio, an annual science fair, and scores of other activities.”

“Libraries are aggressively moving into a range of services that aren’t necessarily related to book lending,” says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, a nonprofit research body that has published a series of reports about how technology is changing expectations of library offerings. “They are pretty radically rethinking their mission in the world”… “People walk in here and say, ‘This isn’t a library anymore!’ Well, you know what’s funny?” Anderson says, pausing to laugh. “It’s really not!” She says that sometimes people complain about the level of activity in the building, but she hasn’t been surprised to discover that much of her job description requires her to raise her voice above a whisper.”

Local UK news by authority

  • Derbyshire – Mobile library cuts will hit elderly and children, say Derbyshire villagers – Derby Telegraph. “The county council mobile library that visits Aston-On-Trent has more than 500 registered users, which residents point out amounts to a quarter of the village.” … council says “We’ve got some difficult decisions to make. Some services will remain, some will be run differently and some will have to stop. We don’t want to cut any services but we have no choice.”
  • Gloucestershire – Love your library and celebrate National Libraries Day – Cotswold Journal. “Libraries across Gloucestershire are taking part in the celebrations on Saturday, February 8 which will include meet the authors, Baby Bounce and Rhyme and the mobile library will be out and about around the county.”
  • Sheffield – Libraries are not a luxury – Yorkshire Post / Letters. “Anyone who says we don’t need all our local libraries needs to spend a day in one to find out what goes on. Talk to the users: why do they come, what do they need… what will they do if it closes? Because there are many people who simply can’t make it to the next nearest library. There are children, the elderly, the infirm, the poor, all depending on this gateway to a wider world.”
  • Staffordshire – Public invited to have their say on future of Staffordshire’s library service – Stoke Sentinel. “Coffee mornings will be held across the county’s main town libraries between February 4 and 14 as part of Staffordshire County Council’s consultation on its library service. Council chiefs say the service needs to adapt to the changing ways in which people access information. Mike Lawrence, cabinet member for communities, said: “Through the coffee mornings and the wider conversation, we want to hear what people value about their libraries, and how they think they could change to keep pace with changing technology, and lifestyles. This is about delivering a library offer that communities want and need, and that we can all afford.”