An interview with Jacqueline Cooper, Librarian, West Berkshire Libraries and Public Librarian of the Year 2014 

My thanks to Jacquie for agreeing to share what she does in libraries. This will be the first of a short series of interviews with those who won the awards.  So, over to Jacquie …

Jacqueline Cooper, Public Librarian of the Year

Jacqueline Cooper, Public Librarian of the Year

“I love the sheer variety of my current role – a mix of stock work, service development, front line customer services, budgeting, marketing and promotional activities, staff management and more. I’ve been lucky enough to lead on a number of projects over the years, including staff training for the introduction of a new LMS, a partial refurbishment at Newbury Library and introduction of RFID and self service, and most recently the development and delivery of an ACE-funded project to encourage arts in libraries, which I’m told was partly what led to my nomination for the Public Librarian of the Year award.

In this, with fantastic help from West Berkshire’s Arts Development Officer, we commissioned professional artists to work with targeted groups in community venues and libraries over 6 months (25 outreach sessions) and we also ran a 7 week ‘LibraryFest’ between World Book Day and World Book Night, which included professional shows, author talks, digital workshops and a range of arts and crafts activities for all ages, introducing people to new skills and encouraging new members into the library (a total of 31 public events and a further 10 closed events for groups such as schools). We were particularly successful in reaching a number of mental health groups in the area and these are contacts we hope to develop further over the coming year. This also led to closer working with colleagues in West Berks Public Health, plus our participation in a Dementia Action Alliance launch event in the town centre of Newbury.

These types of activities, where we take the library service to events outside our buildings, can bring valuable feedback on the major concerns of local residents, show us opportunities to help in ways that other organisations cannot and create important links with other groups. For instance, at the DAA event I began chatting to participating volunteers from our local Citizens Advice centre. It wasn’t long before they were telling me about the overwhelming demands they are receiving from job seekers, who now need to make online job applications in order to receive benefits and yet are frequently unable to use a computer sufficiently well to make this practical. In turn, I was able to tell them about a new post we are establishing which will offer 1 to 1 help for people in these situations. We talked about what exactly is needed and how best to let people know. A lot can be achieved in a 15 minute informal discussion like this.

“I’ve always spent my ‘spare’ time working with numerous community organisations”

As you’ll gather, I’ve not been as focussed on public library work over the years as many of my colleagues and, apart from when I was involved with IAML(UK), I haven’t held any positions within our professional organisations. I’ve always spent my ‘spare’ time working with numerous community organisations, usually on events management of various sorts. It was always my intention, though, to return to full time, paid employment once my children had left home. But it was not to be. With fantastically bad timing, I met the common place service cuts of recent years coming in the opposite direction. Five years ago we had 6 full time equivalent librarians in West Berks; now we have 3 and none of us works full time.

As a result, in recent years I’ve often had paid work outside libraries as well and perhaps this has given me a different perspective. There’s always a chance, when we’re considering what libraries should be doing, that librarians end up talking only to each other. But if libraries are changing, perhaps librarians are, too. I’ve worked with so many different people, in the private sector and in various voluntary and community groups in varied capacities, that whenever I send someone an email outside of work, it always starts something like “Wearing my XXX hat…”, since it could be one of many! The overlap is useful and actually I’m never quite ‘off duty’ so far as library work is concerned. For instance, I am a member of our town council’s working group looking at commemorations for World War One across the district. I’m representing Newbury Choral Society at this, as part of a committee involved in putting together a programme for an autumn concert with a First World War theme. But I was also able to tell the working group that West Berks Libraries will have a display of resources relating to WWI at Newbury Library throughout September. It’s really a question of finding out what’s going on, what local people are talking about, what they need, what concerns them and being involved with them.

“There’s always a chance, when we’re considering what libraries should be doing, that librarians end up talking only to each other. But if libraries are changing, perhaps librarians are, too.”

Since the PLY award stressed my community work, this is what I’ve told you a bit about here. But actually I think public libraries should always be looking towards the national picture as well; both, once again, to be aware of major public concerns and areas where we can help, but also in order to promote a coherent picture of a 21st century public library service. Our role in assisting those who find it hard to cope with a general move towards ‘digital by default’ (such as the job seekers mentioned above) is important everywhere. Likewise the need to communicate in different ways with library users, especially through social media, is common place – your ‘community’ surely includes a virtual one now. I think that national schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge and Books on Prescription are great ways to show people what public libraries can do everywhere; and it is fantastic for us to have professionally produced resources and evidence for the effectiveness of these services provided for us by The Reading Agency. I hope we’ll see more of these across-the-board initiatives in the future and then it is up to us as librarians to build relationships with our local schools, GPs and medical practitioners, job centres and other organisations, in order to show them how what we do can benefit everyone in our local communities.

You asked me for any ‘tricks of the trade’ when it comes to positioning public libraries at the centre of their communities. I’m not sure there are any. The conversations are already happening. We just need to join in and then the rest should follow.”

“You asked me for any ‘tricks of the trade’ when it comes to positioning public libraries at the centre of their communities. I’m not sure there are any. The conversations are already happening. We just need to join in and then the rest should follow.”

UK national news

  • Malorie Blackman faces racist abuse after call to diversify children’s books – Guardian. Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman has vowed that “hell will freeze over before I let racists and haters silence me” after facing an outpouring of racist abuse following her call for more diversity in children’s books. The attacks began after the award-winning author spoke to Sky News about diversity in children’s literature, saying that although “you want to escape into fiction … and read about other people, other cultures, other lives, other planets”, there is “a very significant message that goes out when you cannot see yourself at all in the books you are reading”. [If you’re a librarian, perhaps you can purchase a children’s book with a non white character – if you can find one – in support. Ed.]
  • Motion: There is No Longer a Need for Public Libraries – Debating Matters. Resource for schools on public libraries. Looks at the main issues and arguments for and against public libraries, with links and extensive background reading.
  • The Guardian view on the loss of public libraries – Guardian. “We used to understand that access to the culture was an unglamorous but essential social good. What happened to that vision?”.  88 comments at time of reading. “No one expects things to get better, or even to stop getting worse. But it did not need to happen like this. The collapse marks a failure of will and imagination not an inevitability.” … “This is not a technical problem. Libraries are as well equipped as anyone to distribute digital media and some have done this the right way.” see also The evolving role of libraries in the digital age – The Guardian which includes letters in response to the article including one from volunteer-run Friern Barnet Library.

“This vision of public libraries as an essential part of a functioning literate nation was lost here before we realised it was gone. In the great general turning from the state we failed to understand that one of the things that taxes ought to fund is a general, unglamorous and reliable access to culture for everyone. Libraries could have provided a means of collective payment for digital goods. They could have paid for electronic access to journals for everyone, had they been properly and imaginatively funded. But this would require a government committed to a vision of human flourishing that was wider and deeper than the hellish paradise of a global shopping mall.”


  • A Brooklyn Librarian Will Now Make You a Personalized Reading List, and You Don’t Even Have to Put on Pants – Village Voice (USA). “This has been, without a doubt, an excellent summer for New York’s libraries. In Manhattan, the Stephen A. Schwartzman branch set up a beautiful outdoor reading room that was open for the past two weeks before closing on the 22nd. A group of seafaring booklovers announced that they’ll launch a floating library aboard the Lilac Museum Steamship for a month come September. And now, in a less temporary and totally genius move, a group of hardworking librarians across the Brooklyn Public Library system will make you a personalized reading list. You don’t have to leave the house, dress yourself, or talk to another human being to put in a request for one. The future is here, and it is glorious. The BookMatch program launched quietly about two weeks ago. It’s completely free: just fill out the online form telling the nice librarians what you like to read, and they’ll come back to you in about a week with a list of five or six recommendations. You can even specify what type of format you prefer: ebook, for example, or a nice paper book if you’re a normal, civilized human being.”
  • Fears in the field as CSIRO shuts library doors – Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). “The print collection was reduced by 7.6 kilometres last financial year and another five kilometres would be assessed for duplication or obsolescence before the residue is transferred to the supply centre at Black Mountain, Canberra, a CSIRO spokesman said.

    Former Great Barrier Reef Marine Park librarian Suzie Davies said: “They have a warehouse, and what they can’t keep, they’ll chuck. The staff [at the supply centre] won’t be expert in the various fields, and it will be impossible to build up relationships with scientists,” Ms Davies said.  “And no matter how hard they Google, they won’t find what they want.”

  • Floating library – Floating Library (USA). “The Floating Library is a pop-up, mobile device-free public space aboard the historic Lilac Museum Steamship berthed at Pier 25 on the Hudson River in New York City for September 6- October 3, 2014. The people-powered library is initiated by artist Beatrice Glow and brings together over seventy participants to fortify a space for critical cultural production by pushing boundaries under the open skies that are conducive to fearless dreaming.The ship’s main deck will be transformed into an outdoor reading lounge to offer library visitors a range of reading materials from underrepresented authors, artist books, poetry, manifestoes, as well as book collection, that, at the end of the lifecycle of the project, will be donated to local high school students with demonstrated need. Ongoing art installations include a Listening Room that will feature new works by six sound artists in response to literature, site-specific paper rope swings, The Line, by Amanda Thackray, and Leading Lights by Katarina Jerinic in the Pilot House.”
  • How Streaming Media Could Threaten the Mission of Libraries – Chronicle (USA). “The licensing model stands to become the norm as physical media get phased out, says Mr. Hoek. “This isn’t just a music problem,” he says. Anything made of “ones and zeroes” can be kept on a leash. Librarians see this state of affairs as an “existential crisis.” That is how a group of them put it in a summary for a grant they have received from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to study the possible effects of a digital regime. “As more and more books, videos, and sound recordings are licensed and distributed through online-only means, the amount of materials available for libraries to collect is shrinking,” wrote the grantees.”


  • Inspiration, Knowledge and Support: Libraries Promoting Economic Wellbeing – 2 October (0945 – 1545), The REC Centre, Towcester Road, Far Cotton, Northampton NN4 8LG.  “Can public libraries continue to be prosperity centres – institutions where everyone who wishes to can find inspiration, knowledge and support for self-improvement and to open up the kind of life opportunities otherwise not available to them? For many users in the early days of public libraries it was this access to opportunity for self-help and advancement that made libraries so important.  How can we ensure public libraries continue to promote economic wellbeing in the 21st Century? This one-day conference brings together a range of contributions, including four different case studies from library services that are actively addressing this challenge – plus the national perspective from the British Library.   There will also be plenty networking and discussion built into the programme.
  • Joining the Dots conference – “Do you manage people?  Do you have to make decisions? Are you looking for inspiration or new ideas?  If you are, then don’t miss out on the Lancashire Libraries Joining the Dots conference in Lancaster on 14 and 15 October.  Come and hear Paul McGee (SUMO Guy) deliver our opening keynote, then attend your choice of workshops, a gala dinner and a chance to win an iPad Air.  Day two includes visits to some of Lancashire’s libraries and the closing keynote will be delivered by Wayne Hemingway MBE.  You’ll also have the opportunity to visit our industry exhibition – all this, including accommodation and meals for £249.00! The programme and registration details are on our website at Bookings will close soon so make the most of this opportunity to be a part of this brand new conference.
  • #uklibchat “is running a live twitter chat on Tuesday 3rd September 6.30 – 8.30pm BST. The chat is about Accessibility and libraries. How accessible are we and to whom? How can libraries support wider accessibility? Join us! The agenda is here:  – please help to shape it by adding your questions. You can also find out more about #uklibchat and how to join a twitter chat on our webpages, and see past summaries and feature articles.”

UK local news by authority

  • Cornwall – Cornwall Council bombarded by a barrage of criticism – Cornish Guardian / Letters. First letter: “At a time when public loos are being closed and mobile library service cuts are being made, I find it absolutely astonishing that, a couple of weeks ago, this household received three letters, one for each family member, requiring us to re-register to vote.”.  Second letter: “What now surprises me in these days of impending savage budget reductions (a little under £200 million) was the apparent lack of a fourth option to the three described by Councillor Cole: that being the closure of those static library buildings which have, over the past several years, seen continued reductions in usage. The closure of underused libraries and the resultant savings may have allowed for the increase in the mobile service, thereby not only maintaining the rural areas’ lifeline, but allowing the use of mobile services within the area of any closed library, maintaining a reduced but sustainable service across the county.”

“I visited the new library which opened its doors today. It is wonderful with two floors of books, a café, computers, a children’s’ area, a quiet reading area and meeting rooms. Everyone is thrilled with their new library and the staff are delightful and most helpful. Library users were also impressed with the impressive self service points and the enthusiastic staff helping them to use them. And it has 33,000 new books to borrow. One of the library assistants said she was thrilled to be working in the new library. Many congratulations to the staff of East Sussex Library Authority for providing a wonderful library for the residents of Seaford and the local Sussex Downs villages. The official opening is expected to be in October.” Desmond Clarke on visiting the new Seaford Library in East Sussex.

  • Hampshire – Emsworth Library provides excellent value’ – readers hit back at proposed move – News. “Hampshire County Council is proposing to move it into Emsworth Community Centre to reduce costs. Mr Smyth made a Freedom of Information request and the response shows that, based on the large number of people visiting the library, the facility is actually offering value. Last year there were 150,431 visits to the library. Comparable libraries, such as Lee-on-the-Solent, had only 43,561 visits, with 31,961 at Bishop’s Waltham. Overall, there were 83 visits every hour, compared to 33 at Lee-on-the-Solent and 27 at Bishop’s Waltham.”
  • Kirklees – 80 residents rally to save Skelmanthorpe Library as top councillor speaks of challenges Kirklees Council faces – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “Cuts in services will affect us all and I did not become involved in politics and public service to make anyone redundant or take away services from the residents of Kirklees. It’s not what I believe or what I want, but the present government is waging a war on northern local councils and the public are the victims. “The next step forward is to hold a meeting with those members of the 80-plus audience who wished to look at alternative ways of protecting the library service in the village. It’s hoped that this will be in the next few weeks.”
  • Kirklees – Kirklees library plan leaves me in total disbelief – Mirfield Reporter. “So we are training the library staff to deal and help with vulnerable people who may have been a victim of crime but do not feel emotionally strong enough to visit the police. Maybe they would be frightened of going to the police. That is a really good idea. It must cost a fair amount to give these great people the training to deal with vulnerable people at a time of need and no doubt we the tax payers are paying for it. I am sure that they would have had to go through the Disclosure and Barring Service and by law they will need an enhanced DBS, which again we have paid for. This sounds great and all worth while until you remember that our Council and its leader want to close all but two of our libraries!”
  • Poole – Borough of Poole to offer new apprenticeships – Blackmore Vale. “The Council currently employs 16 apprentices across its services and will have apprenticeship vacancies across a number of areas including libraries, conservation and natural habitats, web editing …”
  • Staffordshire – Recruitment slashed at Staffordshire County Council – Express and Star. “Staffordshire County Council will only replace what it calls ‘essential’ staff for the coming year and has halted recruitment of jobs it classes as non-essential … volunteers are being drafted in to run 24 of the county’s 43 libraries in a bid to save £1.3 million.” with “the future of some libraries and youth centres still not known”
  • Stoke on Trent – Volunteers launch ‘library’ in Abbey Hulton after cuts – Sentinel. “Volunteers are in the process of setting up the service at St John’s Welcome Centre in Abbey Hulton. The lending-service will hold around 500 books to start with, which are being provided by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s library service. And the books on offer will change on a six weekly basis as 10 per cent of the stock is exchanged for new novels – based on what residents want to read.”