I was unable to get to the satellite IFLA conference in Birmingham but I heard many good things about it. I was therefore delighted when Dr Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust agree to write something for Public Libraries News on the main points she took away from it.  Have a read of it below, it’s worth it.

Fit for the Future: five things to take away from IFLA Birmingham

jenny peachey

Dr Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Written by Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

The IFLA 2014 satellite conference sparkled: from high-tech mobile libraries that serve as spaces where senior citizens reminisce and teens receive sex ed, to displays and book clubs that bridge the physical and digital divide, to the first all-digital library. It bubbled with examples of how to engage communities, fizzed with ideas of how to support learning, literacy, social relationships and access to information – but most of all, it effervesced with a passion for public libraries and with positivity. Here are five things I took away from the conference.

1. Innovation is only fresh for a moment 

Providing a contrast to an overarching concern with digital and high-tech, Corinne Hill from Chattanooga Public Library informed us that 3D printers have been moved from the ‘test zone’ to the ‘regular’ section of Chattanooga library. Meanwhile, gigantic hand operated weaving looms have been brought in. When asked how she made innovative ideas come to fruition, Corinne’s (paraphrased) response was: ‘be proactive, build a network, be comfortable with losing control, and keep moving – innovation has a shelf-life!’

2. How to integrate digital and physical 

A presentation on ZLB Topic rooms in Berlin revealed how to blend librarianship with ‘creative civic engagement.’ These rooms combine elaborate book displays with films and online resources (twitter and the news) displayed on screen. These curated displays bring together in-depth and up-to-speed information around themes – Israel after the election, poor and rich, the Eurozone. Meanwhile, book clubs can bring people together physically and, via skype, across a country or an international border. These online book clubs can help the socially excluded and rurally isolated feel part of a community.

3. People and a sense of ownership are key to successful change

Time and time again, presenters emphasised the value of ‘their amazing staff’. Staff define the culture of the library, transform a service into an experience and imbue a building with spirit and heart. The message to individuals having to change the nature of their library service was to engage their staff in this journey as far as possible and not forget ‘the hearts and minds’. Equally, conference attendees were reminded not to relegate their communities to mere guests, but treat them as key stakeholders with whom libraries should work with rather than for. Ownership, we were reminded, is a process.

4. Skills

Some presentations and conversations touched upon the skills and qualities required to deliver the public library of the future. Skills identified included working in partnership, business management, and digital knowledge and literacy. The opposing abilities of collaborating versus competing, and controlling versus creating, were also lauded as important capacities to be identified and nurtured in (different!) members of staff.

5. General trends but specific solutions

An Independent Senior Adviser and Consultant from Denmark observed that though it is possible to identify general trends in how public libraries are developing, the solution for each library must always be specific: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just as assets, needs, wants and communities differ, so too must the specificities or form of libraries’ offers.



  • “Paws to Read”: Guide dogs as reading dogs – ask visually impaired library users if library can have their guide dog for children to read to (safe animal, improve literacy, improve understanding of disability).
  • Selling “library boxes” – Somewhere for library users to keep their books at home so as they don’t lose them.
  • Use Little Free Libraries to promote pubic libraries – Wandsworth.


  • A response to “This Librarian Is Not Impressed With Your Digital, No-Books Library” – Phil Bradley’s Weblog. “It’s not the format that’s important surely, it’s the words and images contained within them … what I see are information professionals who want to see how they can best harness different technologies to improve the lot of their members, and to make their activities better and more effective …  don’t believe that it’s the right, or indeed the responsibility of the librarian to make assumptions based on what they see people doing. I think that it’s an arrogant and patronising librarian who says  that socializing on Facebook is of little gravity”.  Libraries need to promote online resources more. “We cannot interpret the future by looking at what we have today – we need imagination and vision, and yes, we need to be prepared to take risks, to try things out and to learn from our mistakes” [See Yet Another Bookless Library for another, similar perspective, to that Phil responds to – Annoyed Librarian]

“It doesn’t matter if we like it or not – the provision and availability of information is changing faster than we are able to comprehend. We need to embrace that change, not to fight against it. Yes, of course we’ll have books for a long while to come, but if we’re to work with our communities, and particularly our children and students, we need to embrace digital as a tool and effective resource, not to decry it as a pale shadow. We need to concentrate on the community and the activities of that community and by having a wide understanding of all the tools assist them in the most appropriate way. And that’s increasingly going to be digital.” Phil Bradley

  • Librarian of the year is from Newbury – Newbury Today. “Mrs Cooper has been involved in many community activities together with her work as a librarian, including a call for local residents to highlight what living in the area means to them in the form of hand-made postcards. The initiative attracted 740 submissions ranging from art to poetry, which were displayed at Newbury library earlier this year. “Libraries are changing significantly” Jacquie said. “What we are trying to do in West Berkshire is to see them exist in community spaces. The link with the community is the natural way to go.”
  • Little libraries aim to make a big, big difference – Independent. “At a time when library closures are making the headlines, the idea of opening 100 new ones within a year may seem a little fanciful. But book-loving communities are signing up to help do just that, with libraries popping up everywhere from front gardens to cafés. The not-for-profit Little Free Library Project (LFLP) is installing small, house-shaped wooden boxes outside the homes or businesses of volunteers who stock them with books. Local people can then help themselves to the titles, or donate their own volumes.”

“Nick Cheshire, 39, who set up the LFLP with his wife, Rebecca, stressed the project was not designed to replace local council libraries but to be an additional source of books. The project has an informal partnership with Waltham Forest borough in London, where little libraries promote events at the mainstream libraries and receive their surplus books in return.”

  • Malorie Blackman: “Children’s books still have a long way to go before they are truly diverse.” – Guardian. ” “I was always at my local libraries,” she says, “and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be talking right now. There is no way I would be a writer without libraries.”
  • Ray of light – Times Higher Education / Letters. “It is important to highlight three misleading claims in “ ‘Dismal’ start for free public open access service” (News, 14 August), since these will potentially damage a valuable new service that local libraries are offering to the public” … level of usage, Finch Report, scheme not funded by public money.
  • Recent consultation case highlights the court’s willingness to intervene in public sector – Lawyer. “All health sector bodies thinking about taking decisions that are subject to a period of public consultation should take heed of the High Court’s recent judgment against Lincolnshire County Council’s decision to dramatically reduce its number of funded libraries. In that decision, the court demonstrated its willingness to intervene if it considers that the consultation process that was undertaken prior to the final decision being made was either flawed or failed to take into account relevant information.”
  • Wikipedia, Librarians and CILIP – UK Web Focus.  Looks at encouraging librarians to be creators of information on Wikipedia as well as just users of it [You know you all are, despite earlier protestations against it – Ed.].  Also looks in detail at CILIP memberships, discovering in 2013/14 “a sharp decrease in membership numbers in Spring (possibly when annual subscriptions must be paid) with a much smaller increase in numbers over the rest of the year, perhaps when new members join.”  Down from 23,000 at time of establishment in 2002 to around 14,000 now.


UK local news by authority

  • Brighton and Hove – New chapter as library opens – Argus. “The new Mile Oak library has been built as part of the development of Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (Paca). The new library, which opened on Monday, is a joint initiative by Brighton and Hove City Council library service and Paca. Councillor Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the economic development and culture committee, said: “I am delighted that we are opening this wonderful new facility, particularly at a time when many local authorities are closing libraries.”
  • Devon – Union warns Devon County Council not to ignore public views on library cuts – Express and Echo. “Andy Bowman, Branch Chair at UNISON Devon County Branch, said: “Whilst it’s great that thousands of people have responded, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the response rate was so high because the people of Devon are seriously concerned about the Council’s proposals and they don’t want to see services cut and libraries closed. “Consultation should be meaningful but the Council’s ruling Conservative administration hasn’t got an exemplary record when it comes to genuinely listening to the views of others. It banned key council officers, trade unions, families and carers from giving evidence at its scrutiny meeting back in June on the decision to close residential care homes and day care centres. We don’t want to see the same level of disregard dished out to library campaigners.”
  • Devon – Young East Devon campaigners interview top authors for You Tube video in bid to save their library – Exeter Express and Echo. “Ollie MacAllister and Milo Godwin-Coombs, both aged 12 and from Budleigh Salterton, took the initiative to enlist support from some of the high profile authors on the line-up of this September’s Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. In their video, Save Budleigh Library The Interviews, which has had hundreds of views on You Tube, the Exmouth Community College pupils conduct numerous interviews of a range of people pledging their support for the campaign to save the library. Ollie said: “The message that came out of the film was that our libraries are important and the authors all said they won’t want our libraries to shut.”
  • East Sussex – Public Art Project: Transparent Newhaven – East Sussex County Council. Artists invited for three glass/window commissions in libraries. “We wish to test a new model for engaging the public. We will ask you to share your creative process with our customers and the wider community. We want to avoid the compromise of obliging you to design by committee but ensure your creative process is Transparent in order to engage people and encourage an affinity with the final results.” … “The selection panel will be made up of library customers, elected members, members of our Youth Cabinet, members of our Seniors Association, members of the local access group, a library specialist and arts specialists.”
  • Halton – Plans to cut library opening hours attracts record response from residents – Runcorn and Widnes World. 1000 residents given views. “The library service currently costs £2 million to run annually and two proposals to reduce opening hours could save £400, 000.” … “The move comes as the Government further reduced the money it gives to Halton Council, which means that the local authority must find savings of £46m over the next three years.”
  • Hampshire – Closing time for Emsworth library? – Chichester Observer. “Following outcry over the news, Hampshire county councillor Keith Chapman defended the proposal, saying no decision had yet been made.”
  • Leicestershire – Meeting to find staff to run library – Loughborough Echo. “The council has warned that if community groups do not come forward to run the libraries, they may close and be replaced by a weekly mobile library service. The council says the consultation findings will be considered by cabinet in early autumn.” see also Consultation on libraries to end – Burton Mail.
  • Oxfordshire – Parishes team up to keep librarian on the books – Oxford Mail. “Councillors in Milton-under-Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood and Ascott-under-Wychwood have agreed to pay more than £7,000 between them. This will cover a third of library manager Ruth Gillingham’s wages, allowing the Milton-under-Wychwood library to operate 21 hours a week with a professional librarian. Remaining costs will be covered by Oxfordshire County Council’s library service but one part-time librarian will be made redundant. It comes as the county council will halve staff funding from 21 of its 43 libraries from April next year.” … “Volunteers working nine hours per week will help”

“We felt quite strongly that the library is a central part of these villages.”

  • Sandwell – Future uncertain for five Sandwell libraries in bid to cut £700k – Express and Star. £700k cut expected 2015/17. “Sandwell Council will launch a consultation on proposals which will cover a range of options from closure to combining services with community centres and libraries being run by more volunteers.”. Five libraries (Hill Top in West Bromwich, Oakham in Tividale and Langley, and Brandhall and Rounds Green) are under threat. “The major costs of the service are staff and buildings, but the closure of any library is the absolute last result and I am hopeful we can find another way. “There are three main suggestions, including working with volunteers and community partners, moving libraries into shared premises or bringing other services into libraries to reduce running costs and provide multi-use centres for local people.”
  • Sheffield – Community group prepares for a new chapter for library – Sheffield Telegraph. “Community volunteers in Stannington are gearing up to take over the local library from September 29 – and it will be on their minds at the Stannington gala on Saturday, August 30.” … “Obviously the loss of experienced library staff remains a disappointment for everyone who uses the library, but we have two former members of the Sheffield libraries service on our team and they are able to lead this part of the project with confidence and professionalism”
  • Southend – Victory in library cuts battle – Southend Standard. “A review into the borough’s libraries, currently being done by the Independent, Lib Dem, and Labour administration, is to propose that the facilities should not be completely reliant on volunteers. The previous Tory administration put in place changes to the borough’s libraries in a bid to shave £378,000 over three years, which led to mass demonstrations. The changes included making Westcliff and Southchurch Libraries volunteer-run only, but the new administration put the plans on ice after taking office in June and could now staff them.”