Archive for July, 2014

The deepest cut in UK public library history? Kirklees goes (almost) all out


Kirklees is the latest authority to announce the large scale cuts to library services of a scale far greater than the current libraries minister, Ed Vaizey, thundered in disgust about when he was in opposition. Indeed, in terms of numbers of branches under threat as a proportion of total branches, this is the deepest proposed cut so far announced, almost certainly in peacetime UK history.  Granted, the Isle of Wight, back in 2011, suggested closing all but two of its libraries but it only had 11 to begin with, while Kirklees appears to have over 20. The proposed budget cut is over 50%:  truly gigantic, but my sources tell me, even this may not be the lowest announced over the next couple of years. Kirklees frames its proposals around the now-familiar offer to the community – that is, volunteer or your library will close – and, interestingly, they mention the  earlier takeover of one of their libraries, Denby Dale, by a community group (which includes an ex President of CILIP as one of their number).  However, my guess is that they’ve been keen on cutting libraries there for years – my first reference is in the first year of the Coalition – and so such cuts would have happened anyway.  It’s austerity that is the killer here, not volunteers.

Other news this week can be seen as the same story as Kirklees but with different local flavours.  Hull are deeply cutting opening hours by almost a third, with a few volunteers and a move to a Trust thrown in.  This is especially sad to me as I remember a phone call with their councillor that was then responsible for libraries a few years ago who told me how great libraries were and how he’d never cut them. Time have changed.  Sheffield, further along the line in its cut cycle than Kirklees, has announced all libraries will stay open, but with at least ten being run by the unpaid with limited council support.

Right, to balance out this depressingness, let’s get two positive stories in.  The first is the Welsh public libraries report which looks very useful and promotes the essentialness of the service in local communities.  Secondly, Birmingham have been given a substantial amount of money from the Wolfson Foundation for promoting their libraries to young people.  iPads, ebook readers, projectors and 3D printers are mentioned … I hope they will also do music and Minecraft as well.

Moving away from the public sector but in a move that has already been seized upon by at Forbes – who should know better – as suggesting that public libraries can be cut still further, Amazon have announced a lending scheme for some of its books.  Initial looks at it I have seen suggest there’s a few, a very few, famous titles in there and hundreds of thousands of titles few would want to read. Crucially, Amazon’s new off does not appear to offer a community atmosphere in a local building, someone who knows you, neutral expertise, study space, personal computers, printed books, a photocopier, newspapers, storytime, reading groups, display space or coffee.

Finally, you may have noticed that this is the first Public Libraries News post for a week. This was due to illness. The next one is also due in a week but this is for a happier reason: I’m off on holiday.  In the meantime, and despite everything, keep being awesome my friends.

Do you have any comment or news?  Then please send to  Thank you. Positive news stories and library ideas warmly welcomed.


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What’s the effect of volunteer libraries on the Summer Reading Challenge?


I was curious about the practical effects of volunteer libraries on the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC), which is the biggest part of the promotional year for most public libraries.  So, I checked with the Reading Agency and then with Little Chalfont Community Library, which is perhaps one of the most established and certainly one of the most famous of them.

Anne Sarrag, Director of the SRC, was kind enough to speak to me about the experience with volunteer libraries.  She reports that the Challenge is well-established, with the budget for it often being ring fenced by authorities.  A common model is that the parent library service will still buy materials and provide training for the volunteer library staff.  Of course, the volunteers may not be able to open the library as much as before or have as much quite new stock but it gives back up to the paid libraries and access to those who cannot get to them.  So, at least, I gained the impression from talking to her, that they’re  better than a closed library.

Indeed, sometimes the volunteer library may wish to purchase more promotional materials than the parent authority can due to cuts in budget.  Volunteers have in some cases raised funding to buy more than council.  However, the TRA preference is for all branches in an authority to offer the same provision.  At the other extreme, there are some volunteer libraries who have been cut adrift by the parent authority and are not supported by them.  In this case, the non-statutory branch have occasionally asked for free materials to which the TRA has to, with regret, decline. I gather that the TRA have to tread a fine line here: they cannot help those campaigning against the closure of their library – even by tweeting – because this would cross the path into politics.  In addition, the agency also has commercial sponsors, with the programme being supported by Tesco in Scotland, which may be scared off by any sign of a loss of absolute neutrality.

Keeping the same standard SRC offer means that volunteer branches are not allowed to charge users for joining the scheme and must talk to the children’s manager in that authority in order to co-ordinate the offer to the public.  Otherwise, there’s be a danger of competition between paid and volunteer branches in schools.  The SRC also ensure that any such volunteer staff visiting schools are CRB checked, which is something that not all paid library staff visiting schools are.

Overall, there appears to have been no reduction in SRC take-up due to volunteer libraries or library closures.  Indeed, there was a healthy increase in SRC membership last year.  This may be due to all sorts of reasons, including an overall improving trend masking a local decline, the efforts of volunteers being successful or children moving to libraries that are still open, or a combination of all three.

Now for an idea of how this translates to a particular volunteer library:

“Buckinghamshire only give us a small selection of promotional materials which is not enough to make any presence felt in the library and restricts our ability to get involved fully. I think it presents quite a negative image for community libraries left out of a national scheme if visitors come in expecting us to be part of it. Three local schools promote the scheme for us so we buy more packs, medals and information leaflets to meet potential demand. It may seem expensive but I have to buy in set pack quantities from the official printers. We have shared costs with Chalfont St Giles in the past split packs but now we’re both enrolling more children it doesn’t work the same.

Over the past two years we have grown our participation from about 12 to 89 children and last year 23 of those completed the course & earned their medals. I think it definitely helps to keep our borrowing figures up in the summer months; families who take part are always very positive about it. I’d like to increase our activities in the library around the challenge with fun days like the circus one a few years ago and … we may be able to do a bit more this year. One limiting factor for the volunteer libraries is the demographic of the volunteer staff, many of whom find the children’s section confusing and lack confidence promoting the scheme to visitors unless asked about it. I need to increase the volunteer training to overcome some of the resistance I’ve felt in the past.” Ruth Penn, Little Chalfont Community Library.

“I would say that it goes well with us because Ruth puts in a great deal of time and effort, liaising with BCC and the SRC organisers, and in publicizing it with local schools. So you get back what you put in” Rohan Dale, Little Chalfont Community Library

Now, Little Chalfont is a very well established volunteer library which can be expected to be a “best case” scenario for the genre.  Doubtless, there are other libraries of the same ilk who are not doing half as well but the impression I get from my tiny amount of research on this subject (which is more, mind you, than anything done anywhere else – public libraries are not exactly good at this sort  thing) is that, overall, we’re not seeing the widespread destruction on the ground which may be feared, which is something that all of us who have seen the positive effects of the SRC on children can be fully grateful for.
Does this ring true to you? Have you any other experiences of volunteer libraries running the Summer Reading Challenge that you are willing to share? If so, please send this and/or any other news to


In the previous post of 17th July, I said that the Gloucestershire judicial review merely meant that the council redid the necessary parts and then acted as it would have done previously.  It has been pointed out to me that this is not the case and that three static libraries remained opened due to the decision.  My thanks to @FOGLibraries for the correction.


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Lincolnshire Council loses judicial review on two grounds: all the chief points, links and analysis


So the judge has agreed that Lincolnshire Council failed to do things properly on two out of the four grounds that they were challenged on. Here’s the key stuff reported in the media:

  • The consultation was fundamentally flawed, with a key thing being that the decision had already effectively being made. However, as campaigners in Gloucestershire discovered a year or two ago, there appears to be nothing stopping council simply consulting again, this time properly, and then doing the same thing, although in that case significant changes had to be made by the county which, saved three static libraries.
  • Lincolnshire failed to properly consider the alternative proposals made by GLL to run the service.
  • The judge did not reprove the Council with regard to the 1964 Act or over Equalities legislation.
  • Judge says that council “would have difficulty putting in an appeal” suggesting he was not overly impressed by their arguments on the two lost grounds.

For Lincolnshire, therefore, how things move depends on how seriously the council wants to cut the library budget and pass branches to volunteers.  Every indication so far is that they are very set on this and so this may be just a temporary reprieve.  However, it is in no way a waste of time or money for campaigners – for one thing, it means the Council will have to do things correctly, which is something that everyone (including the Council itself, if it thought about this properly) should want.  For another, every month gained is another month closer to the looming General Election.  Do the councillors there really want to close libraries months before a vote? And anything could happen after that election.

Councils should take from this, at the very least, the need to genuinely consult their public before making the decisions.  This is, however, very difficult for some councils who are used to doing things their own way and are in the habit of seeing consultations as, at worse, a tick box exercise or a necessary annoyance.  In their defence of course, it doesn’t help, of course, that councils are under great pressure, often with lack of time and resources to do anything else.  In library circles as well, “consultations” are also often used as a thinly veiled recruitment campaign (or blackmail exercise, depending on how badly it is done) for volunteers to run the buildings the council has already effectively decided it can no longer afford to run.  This, the judge appears to have agreed with today, is an unlawful way to go about things.  Put simply, consult before you decide otherwise you’re not consulting lawfully and you may have to waste money by backing down or doing it all over again.

The other decision here is that the alternative proposal to run the service by GLL was not properly considered.  This will be viewed with decidedly mixed feelings by some who doubt the good intentions of the social enterprise.  Leaving the merits of that case aside, the decision means that councils should beware not considering other proposals for their services other than the one they have their hearts set on.  But hang on, for those councils who seriously want to do the best thing for their libraries, this is what should be happening anyway.  For those councils who do not do things properly – and it’s pretty clear that the Judge thinks Lincolnshire Council comes under this heading – then let this be a warning.

In plain language to any chief librarians reading this (hi there), the judge said make sure your council does its research and consultations properly and that it’s able to show it has.  If enough someones don’t agree then there’s a strong possibility of a legal challenge and then a whole pile of unnecessary pain awaits.

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Tom Roper fallout, the Duchess of Cambridge and Doctor Who

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Speaking volumes and CILIP troubles


A really nice piece of pro-public libraries material (“advocacy” as it is often called) has been published today by Carnegie UK Trust. Called “Speaking Volumes”, it “sets out the range of ways in which public libraries can affect the wellbeing of individuals and communities, and how libraries are relevant to four main policy areas: social, economic, cultural and education policy.”. Coming as both a leaflet and as a poster,  I especially like all the nice friendly illustrations too. It’s free to download and print. If anyone would like any further information or a hardcopy of the leaflet please contact Carnegie UK Trust directly at  [Please note I did some consultancy work for Carnegie on this and so please treat this square brackets thing as a declaration of interest.  It’s still good though – Ed.]

If only everything was such happy reading. I was sorry to learn today that Tom Roper, recently identified by the BookSeller as a Rising Star (and the only librarian to be so honoured) and a colleague of mine in Voices for the Library, has resigned from CILIP Council.  This has been over what he sees to be a move away from democracy in the proposed new governance structure, where the CILIP President will not be directly elected by the membership but rather by the Council, themselves becoming one third unelected. This governance thing could be shaping up as almost as big a fiasco for the body as the defeat over rebranding in 2013.  Whether it will do anything to reverse the decline in membership (now at a historic low of just 13,342) is another matter.


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The high point of the year: Summer Reading Challenge 2013


The Summer Reading Challenge is, each year, without a doubt, the best thing that happens to British public libraries. During the weeks it runs, hundreds of children come to my libraries asking to join, getting excited about the stickers and proud at the medals.  The parents come along of course as well.  The branches are a hive of activity.  Last year, over 500 (five hundred) children joined the Creepy House challenge from a town of only 30,000 people. That’s a take-up rate way beyond anything else that libraries do and way up on the year before.  Unfortunately, I could not attend the official launch this year but Laura Swaffield and Elizabeth Ash of the Library Campaign did and I indebted to them for the following write up (Laura) and photos (Elizabeth):

Malorie and Sarah

Malorie Blackman, Sarah McIntyre … and Medusa

“The 16th – yes, really! – annual Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) is now officially launched.  Congratulations to The Reading Agency (TRA) for this brilliant scheme that last year kept a record 810,000 kids enjoying books through the summer holiday (and ta to Arts Council England for chipping in with some of the funding).

It’s significant that the British Library provided a posh venue for the launch event plus an enthusiastic speech by BL boss Roly Keating, who clearly gets how important public libraries are. As he’s a member of the Sieghart inquiry panel, that has to be a good sign… I hope. “This is the kind of initiative we love,” said Roly, describing SRC as “a summer nationwide festival”. “It’s great, he said, “to have an occasion to celebrate the whole [public library] system… whatever we [ the BL] do, we want to have the on-the-ground impact that SRC has…” and more of the same.

Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman also took the chance to talk up “how vital public libraries are to our children, and to the whole process of reading for pleasure”. She quoted various kids and parents. One kid had “never liked reading, but I’ll definitely do more reading now”. A parent talked of her child’s new-found “confidence, fluency and, most of all, enthusiasm – reading for pleasure, not because the school said so”.

As local libraries crash and burn by the score, what are the chances of retaining a “whole system” of libraries? As more and more are dumped on to reluctant “volunteers” to do the best they can, what are via delivery on a national scale?

Sue Wilkinson, TRA’s chief executive, outlined some of this year’s goodies – developed via feedback from previous SRCs. Book recommendations, from participants and celebrity writers. Stickers and certificates are the classic and now proven SRC motivators. Some stickers Ed.] There’s also stuff for kids with visual impairments, thanks to collaboration with RNIB as well as quizzes, clues, quests, mazes and more. “Digital magic” by Solus, with (inevitably) an app, and all kinds of audio-visual content including messages from mythical creatures. Plus there’s loads of publicity material that (sadly) shows up the inadequacy of the usual public library “advocacy” stuff (what there is of it).

Above all, the promotion benefits from great illustrations. “The artwork is critical to SRC’s success,” said Sue. No worries here, with funny, colourful, imaginative images by the award-winning Sarah McIntyre. Sarah turned up in a suitably colourful outfit, including a writhing green Medusa hat. Sarah is already a favourite at The Library Campaign for her clever poster “A librarian is a powerful search engine with a heart“, which is still downloadable for free. Meanwhile, all is revealed at SRC’s website: … and of course down your local library.”

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You know you’ve got problems when …


North East Lincolnshire continue the run of authorities who are announcing that more than half their existing library provision is in danger of being closed or passed to volunteers. Cuts, of varying amounts, have also been announced in Poole, Torbay and Powys.  Meanwhile, things don’t look good for Lincolnshire Council who appear to have had an unpleasant second and final day in the judicial review.  When one of your main arguments is the strength of feeling against your own consultation, you know you’ve got problems. Mind you, if Lincolnshire win after what appears to be a chronically inept consultation and decision-making process, then we’ve all got problems.


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Library strike: when not working in a library is the best that one can do


Many libraries will be closed tomorrow. That’s unfortunately hardly not a rare statement these days but this time it will not be by the Government and not by councils but by the library workers themselves in industrial action over a 1% pay offer.  As someone who will be on strike myself I need to say that such strikers do not take this action lightly.  I love libraries and all they stand for.  Every day in work and, heaven knows, every night I do Public Libraries News, it is made obvious to me how much people depend on libraries.  But any library (unless they are one of the increasing number passed to the unpaid) need well-paid staff in order to function and I have, like my colleagues, received a 20% cut in pay in inflation-adjustedl terms when compared to four years ago. That’s, I’ll say it again, 20%.  In fact, it’s more than that because I used to be paid time and a half for the Saturdays that I worked and I don’t any more.  I’m going to be brutally honest at this point therefore: it’s coming to the stage where I find it hard to pay the mortgage.  I love libraries but not enough to lose my house over them.  I care deeply about the job and above all I care deeply about the people I serve but I will need to go for a job outside the sector if these pay cuts (hidden as pay freezes or “increases” below inflation) continue.  Indeed, being that such cuts are not unknown in the private sector as well, then I may even need to leave the country.

And that’s just me … and I’m a manager, albeit a very junior one.  Now what about those other library and council workers? Well, two-thirds of council workers are paid below the Government’s own poverty threshold.  Two thirds. One third are paid even below the living wage. If I think it’s bad, with what my parents would call my lower middle class life, then heaven knows what some of my colleagues are going through.

Alright, so that’s tough isn’t it?  There’s no money, right? Well, no. Local authority reserves have risen from £2.9 billion to £19 billion during this time of “austerity”. Even the government deficit doesn’t demand it when looked at historically. Moreover, over half the cost of a decent rise would be recouped by the Government in terms of increased tax revenue and decreased benefits.  Now this strike may do no good. The Government and the majority of the media care not a jot for council workers and they’re unlikely to care more after tomorrow.  But David Cameron and the Mail and the rest have been at war with providing decent council services since before 2010.  The money is there, what we’re looking at is an ideological campaign against council provision and for lower taxes, and higher private profits at any price. We’re getting to a point where we can’t take much more and still offer a good service. So we need to do something … and this is the only thing left for us to do.

Thanks for reading this.  I hope that this will be the last strike I am in.  I hate striking.  I want to keep libraries open, not closed.  But sometimes a library worker has got to do what a library worker has got to do.  Including not working in a library.


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Lincolnshire Judicial Review Day 1, school libraries parliamentary group report , Staffordshire



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Less are taking part … but why?


Well, this is depressing but perhaps not unexpected. Figures released on Friday from the DCMS Taking Part survey show a 23.2% decline in visits between 2005 and 2013.  This tallies well with CIPFA statistics which showed a 28.3 % reduction in borrowing  from 2005 to 2013.  So, why the decline?  Well, the obvious one is decline in budget and, interestingly, other figures show that the public libraries budget did indeed go down almost identically by 29% in the same period if one takes into account inflation.  However, a look at the individual years show not such a strong correlation, with visits and membership going down even in periods when budget went up.  Certainly, the declining trend in visits seems to have halted at the time of an increase in budget but the decline in membership looks like it didn’t.   There is also an issue with taking inflation into account as some argue that inflation does not affect libraries budget so much.  For example, staffing is a large proportion of the total budget but pay freezes mean this has barely risen since 2010. However, this is so much sophistry to me: budget is doubtless to my mind a big factor in the decline but we have to say that it is not the only one.

So what other reasons could there be?  Well, the obvious one is technological change.  The adoption of ebooks and an increasing amount of people with online access has doubtless hurt visits and membership, especially as the spread and depth of  e-lending has been distinctly mixed in England … and I say England because this trend is not apparent in some other countries.  After all, the US has seen budget cuts as well but their overall library is actually going up.  So, either there is a big difference between the two countries’ library services (and there certainly is: the US doesn’t have as high household online use or even job centres for a start … but is that enough?) or there’s something going specially wrong in England.

It would, at this point, also be great to compare trends in the EU.  It would be especially useful to look at usage in comparatively well-funded France and Germany with numbers in badly-hit Portugal and Greece.  This would be doubly beneficial as Portugal at least has gone for keeping staff and cutting book buying while in the UK we’ve gone all out in both.  That comparison will have to wait until another day (Public Libraries News is a part-time hobby, after all, not a full-time occupation) but it needs doing.  Because otherwise we’re simply guessing at what is going on and that is a truly terrible situation, with councils keen to cut funding on one side, commentators like Tim Coates (see below) blaming library leaders on the other side and those same library leaders working under high pressure in a research-free haze caught in the middle.

Public Library change in use


Comparison budget and use

Tim Stats

Combined statistics courtesy of Tim Coates


“When you look at the table – as I hope you will –  you will see clearly, I hope, why Desmond [Clarke] and Shirley [Burnham] and Alan Gibbons and others are so angry about the operation of the public library service. From idiotic so-called ‘ library professionals’ to overpaid civil servants and public officials, to highly rewarded operators of charities and do -gooding consultancies – we have an army of idiots who are responsible for public libraries. It might be a surprise to look at such appalling figures, if we didn’t know that – at exactly the beginning of the period they record (2005) Gerald Kaufmann and the Culture Select Committee had not looked at the same figures for the previous ten years and observed the same story of miserable incompetence in every quarter.   His sensible recommendations were raucously ignored in every quarter – and now we see the results. To put alongside that the simple information that this decline has occurred only in the UK –   it is not mirrored in European or Asian or American countries – is to ward off the pile of excuses to which we will be exposed.  Nobody should fund a service which is so incompetently managed.  The public library service pays more in salaries and fees, than the entire UK publishing industry – it is not a trivial endeavour in any way ….    Tim Coates via email


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