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: www.mythical-maze.org.uk … and of course down your local library.”

National news

  • Arts Council England: Library-Hack-Makerspace Network – Common Libraries. “Common Futures has worked with the Carnegie UK Trust, The Creative Coop and Colchester School of Art to develop an innovative business model in relation to St Botolph’s Waiting Room. Together, partners have developed a ‘borrow/barter/buy/bespoke’ approach to business integration for library-hack-maker spaces (see: diagram – below), which is designed to help maintain the ethos of a library where its function to ‘facilitate access to all’ is concerned, in addition to introducing an income generation dimension to operations.” … “We were therefore pleased to prototype an income generating Library-Hack-Maker Space Network with a grant from Arts Council England. The project aimed to better understand the potential for library-hack-maker spaces, and affiliations between libraries and hack/maker spaces, to enhance the resilience and sustainability of libraries in future “
  • The Government needs to set out plans for the funding of care services – Telegraph / Letters. “Your report (April 27) of a letter from council leaders suggests that local authorities might close libraries to save money because they are a “local discretionary service”, although the LGA letter does not mention libraries at all. Public libraries are not a discretionary service, but are statutory under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Local authorities are entitled to organise library services in accordance with local needs, taking available resources into account, but no authority should close a library solely to save costs. We have been active in reminding local authorities of this statutory duty, which is why far fewer libraries have closed than would otherwise have done so. We have also made it clear that the duty to provide a public library service will remain, and we will look seriously at any authority that considers libraries an easy target to close. Ed Vaizey MP (Con)  Minister for Culture
    London SW1” see also Ed Vaizey states the blindingly obvious – Alan Gibbons points out that 10% of libraries and 10% of librarians have been lost during Ed Vaizey’s watch.
  • Library workers on #J10Strike – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. A look at media mentions of striking public libraries last week.
  • Mary joins the library – Jackie Morris Artist. A guide to public libraries for children, tied in with Mythical Maze.  Also photos and video.
  • Sean – working for CILIPS – 23 Librarians. “Advocacy is another topic that regularly features in my day. This is a real challenge as so much has changed in our wider profession due to cuts. We are constantly trying to write to councils or organisations with facts and figures to help fight the case for libraries or just support different groups who are fighting against cuts. This is not always possible and a lot of my current work involves creating resources that can help anyone that visits our website and give them quick advocacy support.”
  • Vera creator Ann Cleeves: I’m not interested in reading about psychopaths – Radio Times. “in September she’s undertaking a 24 Islands/ 24 Hours challenge with events on 24 islands in Orkney and Shetland to raise awareness about libraries and how they should be treasured. (She campaigns against council closures of libraries.) “


UK local news by authority

  • Brent – Ebook Lending in Brent more than Doubles – James Powney’s Blog. “I notice that Newcastle Libraries are reported to have great success with its ebook loans.  Newcastle is one of four authorities that were selected to pilot ebook lending.  Newcastle has seen its loans up by 78% in one year.  I thought it would be a good idea to compare this to Brent.  As part of the Libraries Transformation Project, Brent invested in a wider range of ebook titles, which is also a key part of the Newcastle scheme.  This seems to have paid off.  The figures below show a rise of 36.4% between 2011/12 and the following year.  Loans go up by a further 138.3% in the year after that (or by 224.9% over the two years).  Admittedly, the figures are still fairly low _ less than 12,000 loans out of almost a million in 2013/14.  It does however confirm that a good range of titles encourages usage.”
  • Croydon – Scandal’ of council’s £84,000 sale price for Ashburton Library – Inside Croydon. “The outgoing Conservative-run council in Croydon tried to sell-off the publicly owned old Ashburton Library building on the day before the local elections at the knock-down price of £84,000. Independent valuations conducted for the council had suggested that the building’s true price ought to have been nearer £500,000. Labour’s new administration at Croydon Council has now blocked the sale going through.” … ““It looks like a desperate fire sale of public assets, done deliberately before the Tories lost control of the Town Hall. The councillors and the council officials responsible for pushing such a deal through should be called to account.”
  • Gloucestershire – Cheltenham has a certain affluent image, but there are many strong, distinctive cultures – Guardian / Comment is Free. “The library is a beautiful Victorian building, topped with a statue of Shakespeare and, despite the recent cuts to the Gloucestershire library service, I like to imagine it standing proud, a force for progress. Or so it always seemed. However, Cheltenham library, like all of the county’s libraries, has had to face the most severe cuts in recent history. So while the building still stands tall, staff are stretched, often dealing with the workloads of two or three people. In line with national trends, our numbers have been heavily cut. For many of us who went on strike last Thursday, the dismal below inflation pay offer was not the only reason that got us out on the picket lines (for the first time in many cases). It was also about fighting against the erosion of a service that helps so many local people.”
  • Leicestershire – Leicestershire libraries plea for volunteers to sign up – BBC. “Leicestershire County Council has proposed to remove staff from 36 of its libraries in the region and has asked members of the public to take over. This forms part of the authority’s bid to save up to £800,000 a year from its £5.6m library budget” … “If volunteers can be found that’s brilliant,” he said. “But it is important that we keep these services… we need to have a fallback position where the council will step in and provide professional library services.””
  • Lincolnshire – Inside the #LibraryJudicialReview – A Campaigner Reports – Save Lincolnshire Libraries. ” Towards the end of the afternoon, there appeared to be a claim that under the new system, anyone who could not get to a library could phone in and have books delivered to them” and other snippets of news from the court.
  • Lincolnshire – Libraries fight in High Court review – Lincolnshire Free Press.
  • North East Lincolnshire – Outcry at libraries shake-up proposals affecting Humberston, Scartho, Willows, Grant Thorold, Nunsthorpe & Laceby – Grimsby Telegraph. “One library worker in the area, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Libraries are a hub for the whole community. We see a wide range of people, particularly the young and elderly, walk through the door to use our centre. It would be a real shame if these libraries had to close, or even shut for more hours in the day, because they offer so much to the area. If we only have libraries in the town centres, it would be far less convenient for so many people in the outer villages.”
  • Nottingham – Dawn of the Read flashmob highlights library plight in Old Market Square – Nottingham Post. “The Dawn of the Read event on Saturday saw readers sit on the floor at the strike of 12pm to get out their favourite tome and have a quiet read. The subdued flashmob was organised to highlight the importance of hard copy books and protest against the closure of libraries across the country. Andy O’Hara, 30, of Sneinton, said: “I thought it was a great event, and that it is vitally important that we do everything we can to safeguard the future of our libraries.” … “Over 100 people attended and took over the concrete around the Brian Clough statue to the surprise of passersby.”
  • Powys – Libraries under threat – County Times. “As many as 11 libraries could be axed under council cost cutting measures. Powys County Council (PCC) said it is considering the closures as one of three plans for the future of libraries in the county. It wants to save £554,000 on the £1.9 million library budget.”
  • Sheffield – Sheffield library plans to be decided – Star. “An assessment panel of officers and experts will meet to look at the proposals for libraries which were controversially relinquished from Sheffield Council’s control earlier this year. The meeting was initially scheduled for two days ago, after plans were submitted last week. However, that was delayed by the public sector strike that saw thousands take to the streets.” … ““Some groups are probably itching to start on October 1, so it depends on their business plan – we need to do whatever we can to help.””
  • Surrey – Library Direct: bringing your library closer – Youtube. “This video shows what services libraries offer for disabled and housebound readers.”
  • Swindon – Arts Council funding to boost literature development in Swindon – Swindon Link. “Artswords, an outreach project for Swindon Libraries and Information Service, has secured an additional £46,000 over two years which will be used to continue its programme of literature development for readers and writers in the borough.” … “A new initiative is also being run, which will invite non-literature arts organisations to animate library spaces on selected days. It is hoped the use of performing and visual arts will present libraries as a great place to promote imagination.”
  • Wirral – Senior Lib Dem calls for Wirral’s ‘bin tax’ surcharge to be refunded – Wirral Globe. “Even if people do not have direct access to a computer personally, Wirral libraries have publicly-accessible machines where residents can get 30 minutes free internet access. ” [unfortunately, 15 out of 24 branches may close or be passed to volunteers – Ed.]