The new president of the Society of Chief Librarians, Ciara Eastell, has outlined the new priorities for the organisation in a speech last week that has just been made public.  As to be expected from someone who is also chief of a service that has recently announced the need for 28 out of 50 branches to be taken out of direct council control or closed, she has made clear that volunteer libraries and non-council run libraries will be a priority.  She also wishes to work on how best to put the case for public libraries to political parties and the electorate with the General Election coming up next year.  Finally, her speech is noteworthy for mentioning some important projects which would otherwise have completely passed me (and presumably many of you by) which is the projects and funding recently (and quietly) announced by the Carnegie UK Trust.

Here are five new things I took away from Ciara’s talk:

  1. There is £150m of new government funding for community-led enterprises, with yet more government funds for “new models of delivery”.
  2. SCL will develop a new “Universal Offer” – Learning – Showing libraries support lifelong learning
  3. SCL will provide resources and framework for supporting volunteer libraries
  4. Carnegie Trust singled out as important new partner
  5. SCL will work out how best to put forward case for libraries in the run-up to the General Election

When faced with cuts of the scale she is facing in Devon and her colleagues (her presidential predecessor is facing moving volunteers to take over 24 out of 43 libraries*) are facing nationwide, what else could she say?  Especially with the current Government willing to both withdraw money to traditional services and throw it at non-traditional ones? That councils, including employees, need to avoid spending cuts to libraries and cut something else? That direct council control is so important that some should close to retain it? That public libraries should prefer death and glory in the form of closure rather than keeping open under volunteers?  No, she has to speak this way, at least until circumstance allows for a new narrative, and that can only happen in different political circumstances where national politicians realise the importance of libraries and are willing to invest in public libraries … and that can only realistically happen with a General Election.  So get your manifesto ready now people because getting our elevator pitch up and running for the the election could be vital.

*Being president of the SCL seems to be a very unlucky thing to be when it comes to having to convert libraries to being run by volunteers: with both Ciara and her predecessor facing some of the top ten worst library cuts in the country. 

Laura Swaffield’s report from the Library Campaign AGM.

Laura is the Chair of the Library Campaign and I am indebted to her for this report on their annual general meeting held last Saturday:

“We had a wide range of people, from all over the country. It’s clear that, whatever the disagreements, all present had a lot more in common than they had differences. All agreed that the whole network of libraries has become a catastrophic mess on minister Ed Vaizey’s watch. People in all the political parties understand the value of public libraries. But none have any faith that their party will really take the issues on board.

There are hopes that the Sieghart report on public libraries (due at the end of the year) will come up with useful ideas. When it does, we’ll hold a wide consultation with the people who matter – library users. If they support its proposals, we will campaign hard to get every political party to commit to it – before the general election. But Sieghart can’t undo the damage that has already taken place. Nor can it counter the effects of continuing savage cuts to local authorities – unless all of them are made aware of the real costs of wrecking their library services.

There’s widespread recognition, too, that many local councils are not playing fair. Consultations are skewed, and their findings ignored. Millions are wasted on vanity projects, consultants, uncontrolled central service costs and high-paid senior posts. The trend is to pick off the most vulnerable small libraries – the very ones that are most needed, and least likely to survive without council support. The true agenda, in many cases, is to ignore all viable alternatives and enforce a chain of volunteer libraries that are pretty certain to fail. At that point, the council can claim that it did its best – and can now sell off the buildings. As it always intended. Another trend to watch is rocketing charges. ‘Charges for internet use have been creeping in for some time, and one local
authority is now charging £10 for inter-library loans

Everyone agreed that public libraries should be publicly-funded and professionally staffed. That applied to all who run volunteer libraries. None had done so until they had campaigned long and hard for a proper service to be retained by their council.

Unsurprisingly, the one area of disagreement was about the quality of volunteer libraries and their chances of survival. Is a volunteer library better than none? And anyway, do all council services offer all that a good public library should? Above all, comes the dilemma – if decent, competent people offer to help their local community, the answer will likely be: “Thanks, chum. Now we can close down even more public services and spend your money on things you don’t want.” Cynical public service cuts are poisoning the well of civic goodwill.

It’s significant that Arts Council England and the DCMS were barely mentioned. The former does nothing relevant, the latter is positively hostile. Neither engages with library users.

So, plenty to campaign for. Much work to do. Library users and campaigners will have to pool their resources and do the research and campaigning that’s really needed. And they need to pull in information from library users everywhere on what is really going on.

A long list of ideas was put together which is listed below. We want feedback on what to prioritise so do let us know … and more more suggestions too would be welcomed:

  • Research – do volunteer libraries really save money? what are their problems?
  • Advice/toolkits on campaigning, understanding local authority budgets, spotting excessive and unnecessary spending
  • Publicity material for councillors and the general public on what public libraries offer and why they matter
  • Direct attack on the DCMS for not doing its job of defining – and ensuring – a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service
  • Proper analysis of CIPFA figures to see what works, how good services operate, how poor services match up
  • Amass information on dodgy consultation by local authorities.
  • Campaign for enforceable standards.
  • Checklist of all that a public library service should offer – so both volunteer and public libraries can tick off what they have, identify gaps and keep alive awareness of libraries’ full potential.
  • Campaign to reinstate clear standards for public libraries in England.
  • Campaign for all libraries to be restored to the public service.

National news

  • Carnegie Library Lab – Carnegie UK Trust. “Carnegie Library Lab is a new programme to support innovation and leadership in the public library service. It aims to support applicants with a range of experience and learning.” … 2014-17 including (1) online learning platform (2) funding for “innovative projects” (3) mentoring (4) network for participants (5) external evaluation.
  • Ciara Eastell Delivers Priorities for her Presidency – Society of Chief Librarians. “Incoming SCL President Ciara Eastell set out her priorities for SCL and libraries in a speech given to the SCL Seminar in early June. She emphasised the enormous role that libraries play as enablers for local people and communities, laid plans to create a Learning Offer to expand on SCL’s current 4 Universal Offers, reaffirmed SCL’s commitment to strengthen libraries’ digital capacity and vowed to help libraries boost advocacy efforts locally and nationally in the run up to the 2015 elections. SCL will also develop more learning resources for library staff, especially in the areas of digital leadership.”
  • Enterprising Libraries – Carnegie UK Trust. “We are working with four projects to explore the potential and impact of libraries in promoting economic wellbeing by supporting the creation of enterprise, or by supporting people to improve their prospects of employment through the development of new skills” … include (1) Gateshead (digital workshops with private companies) (2) Northamptonshire (encouraging enterprise hubs in other authorities) (3) Neath Port Talbot (Technoclubs for children inc. lego robotics) and (4) St Botolph’s (hack/maker space).
  • The SCL and volunteer-led libraries – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. “Sustainability and viability are the crux of the issue here, but it seems that not only have the SCL decided to give up the fight, if they ever started one, to protect the profession and service but have also come to the conclusion that volunteer-led libraries are a viable and sustainable option. What evidence have they based this upon?” … “Maybe in that case then they should adopt the motto “Anything is better than nothing’ as many others in the profession have already done so”

International news

  • Public libraries now outnumber retail bookstores by two to one in the United States, and are fast becoming the only in-person book browsing option for the residents of many communities. Futuramb’s crumbs. “publishers soon won’t have any physical outlets part from the libraries. If the publishers realize this predicament they can take two different paths: boost their presence and build their market base around physical contact with customer together with libraries or, since libraries are not very responsible to commercial logic, increase their transition speed towards a completely digital model where physical outlets becomes irrelevant”
  • Who are public libraries for anyway? – Talking under random dribble. “Oddly, the biggest threat to the concept of the public library (the library managed in the best interests of the community) in the modern age, appears to be the community itself. Or rather, the fact that our different communities seem convinced that public libraries are being managed for the benefit of somebody else’s clique. The ‘taxpayer/ratepayer’ community (better known as the community that – often incorrectly – perceives itself as being the only ones that fund government) perceives libraries as being funded for the benefit of the disadvantaged, the ‘disadvantaged’ view libraries as being funded for intellectuals (but featuring services that they get to take advantage of every once in a while), intellectuals view libraries as being historical archives that provide books with big letters for the elderly, the elderly think they’re being managed for the benefit of foreigners, and foreigners are just glad they don’t get pinged for talking loudly into the internet.”

UK local news by authority

  • Birmingham – MBE for Library of Birmingham chief Brian Gambles – Birmingham Post. “Brian Gambles joined Birmingham Library Services in 1987 and worked on the project to bring a new landmark library to the city which opened last September. He said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. I almost regard it more as recognition for the Library of Birmingham. “Over 5,000 people have worked one way or another creating the library and it just gives you a tremendous warm glow when you experience the reaction of visitors”
  • Cornwall – Mobile library service likely to be axed in Cornwall – West Briton. “Cornwall has come one step closer to losing its mobile libraries after councillors voted to axe the service. The decision to abolish mobile library service in the duchy was narrowly passed by four votes to three at a Cornwall Council partnership portfolio advisory committee today. Three possible options were discussed in the meeting, but councillors voted against the retention of one or two library vans.” … “Instead the committee advised that the council get rid of all mobile libraries and replace the service with micro community libraries in village buildings and an expansion of the volunteer run home library service.”

“Councillor Kaczmarek said a recent survey has shown that 66 per cent of Cornish residents would be majorly affected by the loss of the service, while 21 per cent would suffer a minor affect.”

  • Newcastle – How library volunteers in Jesmond are writing their own stories – Journal. “Ever read a book and sneaked a glance at the last chapter – only to find it’s missing and you will never know how it all ends? That’s what it’s like for the hundreds of volunteers in the North East who are running public libraries which were closed by the region’s councils and are now in the hands of the community. A new chapter has been started and no-one can guess what happens next.” … ““We set up a charitable company with eight trustees and a board of 15 but it is the 60 volunteers who are the heart what we do,”
  • Wolverhampton – £54,000 spin chief recruited by cash strapped Wolverhampton City Council – Express and Star. “Wolverhampton City Council appointed Ian Fegan as its head of communications in April, just after a budget came into effect that imposed swingeing cuts on services and slashed the opening hours of libraries.”