It looks like Ed Vaizey, the minister most in charge of public libraries, is showing some action.  In a detailed letter to Sheffield Council, Ed demands clarification and explanations of fifteen different points in order to help him make up his mind about whether he should intervene.  He has also instructed them not to make any changes to library services until the end of October, to give him time to consider the results and override the council if necessary.  That last may either force him to action or make him look very weak indeed as the council has made it clear that they have no intention to stop changes and will move forward with having volunteers take over its libraries.  So, it looks like Sheffield, home to Nick Clegg and a Labour Council, is going to be a key battleground in deciding who has the final say in public libraries: local councils or the Secretary of State.  The lines are drawn.  Now let’s see if it’s the council or Mr Vaizey who is humiliated.

In other DCMS related news, the department has to the surprise of no-one, decided to go ahead with the formal abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries.  This group had already practically been abolished in 2010 but a consultation had to be done in order to make this legal.  That has now been done and the ACL is now formally consigned to history.



Ed Vaizey’s letter to Sheffield: summary and analysis

The letter from Ed Vaizey to Sheffield is causing some ructions because it is pretty detailed and looks like he may actually be considering intervening.  Let’s have a look at it:

  • “The Secretary of States view is that decisions about local issues should be taken by democratically elected local representatives accountable to local voters.” No difference to the normal situation there.  Ed’s position is that local is best and his statutory duties are as a last resort only, one which he has compared to the past as a nuclear option.  Because of this, councils have been able to cut services however they like throughout his tenure, unless local library users do Ed’s job for him and organise judicial reviews.
  • “In addition, a Pre-Action letter on behalf of xxxx was submitted to the Secretary of State which sought confirmation that the complaints will be examined” Local campaigners have put a lot of work into getting legal advice and other experts to look at the Council proposals.  Something which Ed should really have done. They have now contacted Ed with so many problems with the Sheffield decisions that he has had to write this letter to show he is still doing his statutory duty.
  • “Given the detailed nature of these representations it is determined that Section 10 (a) of the 1964 Act applied i.e. (a complaint to the Secretary of State that any library authority has failed to carry out duties relating to the public library service imposed on it by or under this Act).” Hang on. Wait a moment.  What’s this? This says that Ed is actually going to do something.  That is, ask the local authority if they have been as naughty and/or incompetent and/or brazenly one-sided as the campaigners suggest and to jolly well explain themselves to him. Of course, if they can then say “what me? Oh there’s a perfectly good reason why we’ve decided to close the third busiest library in the whole town and that is …” then Ed will be let off.
  • “The local inquiry can be commenced either on receipt of a complaint or of the Secretary of States own motion.” Up to now, the chances of the Secretary of State commencing one of his own volition has been seen as roughly equivalent to that of him defecting to the Scottish Nationalists.
  • The reasons why Ed may intervene are then listed including, amusingly, “Whether the local proposals are likely to lead to a breach of national library policy”. Being there is no national library policy, this could be a hard one to judge.  He also says that the legal requirement is for a “comprehensive and efficient” service, deliberately or otherwise missing off the end of that sentence of the Act which is “for all persons desiring to make use thereof”.  That is, it is to be efficient and comprehensive for the user and not for the council, an important distinction normally lost.
  • “The Secretary of State’s present position is that there is insufficient information to enable him to decide whether a local inquiry is necessary to resolve any real doubt or uncertainty about whether the Council is complying with its statutory duty. ” This is the meat of it and is, indeed,  typed in bold in the letter. Ed is implicitly saying that there may be weight to the campaigner’s arguments.
  • “The Secretary of State would therefore welcome further information from the Council, in particular on the following issues relating to its needs analysis:” followed by fifteen (Fifteen!) detailed questions. If I was the council, I’d be having a heart attack at this point.  This is the Secretary of State saying that there are fifteen important points that he is not confident about in the council position and he wants them to explain themselves sufficiently on them so he has an excuse not to intervene.  That’s going to be a lot of work for the council (work, a cynic would suggest, the council should have done in the first place but still …) with the danger that if they fail to get it right, they run the hypothetical chance of Ed actually intervening.
  • “The additional information requested above should be sent to … by 5.00pm on Friday 3 October 2014.” That’s quick and suggests that Ed wants something done quickly, possibly because, if he is going to intervene, he wants to do so before the General Election (and bear in mind that Sheffield is Labour, not Conservative – a nice target therefore)
  • “The Secretary of State will then further consider the representations made and make a determination by Friday 31 October 2014 as to whether he is minded to order an inquiry.  In the light of the above, I should be grateful if you would confirm that the proposed changes to the Sheffield Library service will not be implemented until the Secretary of State has taken a final decision on whether or not to order a local inquiry.”  Because so many councils cut library services before the end of legal processes (hello Lincolnshire I’m looking at you): Ed is saying that this is not an option and that they’d better jolly well make sure that they don’t do something irreparable.

All in all, this is an extraordinary letter.  One cannot help but wonder if the closeness of the General Election and Ed’s general reputation as a  non-intervener in libraries is worrying him.  While it is doubtful he would actually launch a local inquiry (the last thing he’d want, surely, would be news stories about cuts to public libraries in May 2015) it will do him no harm to be seen as less toothless. It’s going to cause significant work for Sheffield Council and hearten the campaigners.  It also, and this is an important point, reduce the chances of Ed Vaizey himself being taken to court for his failure to fulfil his duties as Secretary of State … something which, with every deep cut announced and his so far pretty much complete inaction … was looking more and more likely.


  • From Amazon to ebooks: are libraries outdated? – Battle of Ideas. Debate at Barbican Theatre, Sunday 19th October 10am.  “In a world of Kindles and free downloads, do we really need physical places to house books? Last November, children’s favourite Terry Deary controversially demurred from the consensus that public libraries are necessarily a Good Thing, arguing this ‘Victorian idea’ has to evolve, and that giving out e-readers would be cheaper than keeping libraries open. He was roundly denounced by fellow authors who described his views as ‘downright irresponsible’ and ‘ignorant twaddle’. Ironically, though, Deary’s belief that libraries must become part of the electronic age seems to be shared by many librarians.” … Have libraries had their day, or can they be saved without sacrificing the books at their heart?”. [I am one of five speakers – Ed.]

Do you know a Local Studies Librarian that has gone the extra mile? Have they pioneered an amazing project or given a career of excellent service to their community? If you do, nominate them for the 2014 McCulla Prize, the annual Local Studies Librarian of the Year Award. We welcome nominations from colleagues, local historians, family historians and anyone who knows a local studies professional who has made a difference. To nominate, please follow this link: http://lslibrarians.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/nominations-open-for-local-studies-librarian-of-the-year/post on Lis-pub-libs

  • Government response to the public consultation on the proposed abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries – DCMS. Decision to proceed as before, after taking into account nine responses.
  • Show me the money – Leon’s Library Blog. “I’ve thought long and hard about the proposals and while the modernisation of the governance structure is to be welcomed the undermining of the fundamental democratic principles of a membership organisation is not. Therefore, it is with reluctance that I shall be voting against the changes. Whether Council is in tune with the general feelings of the membership or we see yet another debacle similar to the defeated name change last year will only be decided by the vote.”
  • Was the CILIP Governance Review conducted ‘in plain sight’? – Tom Roper’s Weblog. “I am afraid that Nick Poole is simply wrong when he says that the discussions on the Governance Review were carried out ‘in plain sight’. The review began in 2012. The minutes of the March 2013 Council meeting state, ‘C2013/05 Governance Review Report Council discussed and agreed proposals from the GovernanceReview Board’. Intrigued by this, on 11 July 2013 I wrote to ask when the proposals would be in the public domain. The Chair of Council replied to say that they would be available in October of that year …”
  • Win tickets to see Alan Bennett in performance for National Poetry Day: Reading Agency competition launches – Reading Agency. “On National Poetry Day (2 October), Alan Bennett will present his anthology of verse, Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin, accompanied by his own enlivening commentary at the National Theatre in central London/ National charity The Reading Agency is thrilled to be partnering with publisher Profile to offer a pair of tickets to the sold-out event To enter the competition to win the tickets, poetry fans are being asked to name their favourite poem, and give a short commentary about the poem to be in with a chance. For inspiration, entrants can read what Alan Bennett had to say about the poem MCMXIV (1964) by Phillip Larkin


  • Day of libraries celebrated today – Belteleradiocompany (Belarus). “There are about 4 thousand libraries in Belarus. Today they celebrate the Day of libraries This holiday was initiated in 2001 by a Presidential Decree … Many young people today become readers of the library in a virtual mode. They visit the library not physically, but through the computer. All new books and periodicals are automatically placed into the national database.”
  • Libraries Balk at OverDrive Changes – Publisher’s Weekly (USA). “In a letter to OverDrive CEO Steve Potash, the ReadersFirst coalition of libraries has protested a change that would require new users of OverDrive’s app to register accounts directly with OverDrive. Stressing that “libraries, not the vendors we pay,” should own the customer relationship, the letter expresses “concern with the storage of private patron information” and posits that establishing the OverDrive account is not necessary and is “essentially a marketing opportunity” that could “erode the relationship that the library has with our patrons.”
  • Redefining the Public Library Using Open Source Ideas – Foss Force (USA). “The Takoma Park Library takes advantage of the multiseat feature built into Fedora, which allows multiple monitors, keyboards and mice to be operated from a single desktop box. Shapiro has been so impressed with how well this set-up works that he’s made a YouTube video demonstrating Fedora’s implementation of multiseat running on an “obsolete” laptop with low specs. Interestingly, the move to Linux was met with little push back from the patrons using the machines.” … “One idea is the notion of “co-working spaces,” an area of the library that would remain open for long hours, say from six in the morning until midnight, seven days a week, which would require a small monthly fee from users to cover the cost of staffing. In a way, these co-working spaces would be like an expanded version of a “Starbucks office,” without the pressure to spend twenty bucks a day on coffee — or the need to BYOD.”
  • Shelved – Economist (USA). “Americans tell pollsters they love them, but fewer use them. In June the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency, published data showing that library visitor numbers have declined in recent years. Polling published on September 10th by the Pew Research Center, a think tank, revealed that more people say they are going to the library less than going more, with a sharp gap among the young.”.  Cuts in funding and rapid technological change are challenging the existence of libraries.

UK news by local authority

  • Devon – Ashburton Library could move into post office – BBC Devon. “A Devon library, which is one of 28 facing closure, could move into a post office to try and safeguard its future. Ashburton is one of the county’s small libraries facing the axe because of budget cuts … Friends of Ashburton Library say moving it into the post office would benefit both parties.” … “So far 9,000 people have responded to a [council-wide] consultation on the issue.”
  • Leicestershire – Library cuts on agenda at County Hall – Loughborough Echo. “Proposalsfor some local libraries to be run by the community or face closure and others to have their opening hours reduced are to be considered by Leicestershire County Council’s cabinet tomorrow (Friday).”
  • Lincolnshire – Libraries campaigners set up petition calling for County Council Executive resignation – Lincolnite. “The campaigners’ reason for the petition are directed at the Executive: “You mislead us, your electorate, regarding the timing of the decision-making process. “You then mishandled the consultation regarding the library service and due to the amount of electorate’s money you wasted on a consultation where the decision had already been made by the Executive Committee.””
  • Lincolnshire – Long-service recognition for community-minded Mel – Market Rasen Mail. “Mel Fenwick received her Lincolnshire County Council 30-year service award from the Library and Heritage manager Jonathan Platt. “Mel gives the best wherever she goes and to whatever she does,” said Mr Platt in making the presentation. “She has boundless energy, is kind and thoughtful and would do anything for anyone. “She is a brilliant team member; we are lucky to have her.” [Lincolnshire is still trying to go ahead with removing paid staff from 32 out of 45 libraries – Ed.]

“I love working with people and to serve the community – I feel that is what I can do.”

  • Sheffield – Minister calls for Sheffield libraries plan to be put on hold – Star. “Community takeover of Sheffield libraries is to go ahead at the end of the month – despite the government calling for the process to be put on holdCulture Secretary Ed Vaizey has asked for a delay while he decides whether to order an inquiry over concerns the council is not fulfilling its legal duty … But council leaders have decided to press ahead to avoid the possibility of libraries being closed while the decision is made.” see also Minister call to delay the takeover of city libraries – Sheffield Telegraph. Campaigners say ““It has been a long hard struggle to get the minister to take our concerns seriously and look into them, and it is a great pity that this action has come at such a late stage. We recognise that this has caused considerable problems for the council and that the council needs to save money. However we firmly believe that the benefit of libraries in the community is so great that they save money not cost it. “

“I am staggered by the fact that it has taken so long for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to respond to concerns raised by members of the community many months ago, and am astonished by their request to us to delay plans less than three weeks before responsibilities will be transferred to community groups. This is tantamount to telling us to close libraries in Sheffield.” Coun Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield cabinet member for communities and public health

  • Sheffield – Press release – Broomhill Library Action Group. Ed Vaizey has written a detailed letter to Sheffield Council asking for clarification on many points. “The letter asks a number of detailed questions relating to the Needs Assessment which was used in the selection of libraries to remain open. On the basis of the answers to these questions, Mr Vaizey will decide whether or not to order a judicial inquiry into the the changes. This decision will be made by Friday 31 October 2014. In the meantime he has requested that the proposed changes not be implemented until this decision is made.” … “BLAG has never found a satisfactory reason why Broomhill Library, which is the 3rd busiest in the city for book issues, has been selected for closure”
  • Southend – What is planned for Southend’s libraries? – Echo. “All Southend’s libraries will keep at least one paid member of staff – and offer users free wi-fi internet connection – under plans to strengthen the library service. The news has been announced by Southend Council’s new coalition administration – reversing the previous Tory regime’s plan to radically cut back the library service and save £378,000 over three years. Independent, Labour and Lib Dem councillors who now jointly run the council say their plans will save just as much, but without laying off more staff.” … “Each branch would be expected to rent space to businesses and community groups to raise revenue for the service. Southchurch Library’s longawaited redevelopment would be carried out “as soon as possible” .. “Shoebury’s two libraries would merge, probably on the Delaware Road youth centre site” … this involves “closing Thorpedene and Friars libraries and moving them to the Delaware Road youth centre”
  • Vale of Glamorgan – Huge £250,000 revamp set to give historic South Wales town’s library a makeover Wales Online. “Llantwit Major library will close from Monday to allow workmen to begin turning it into a modern facility. The project is funded by a grant from the Welsh Government along with funding from the Vale of Glamorgan Council. It comes at time when spending cuts are being implemented across the library service in the county. The work will include remodelling the inside of the library to create a “bright and attractive space”, upgrading the lighting and heating to make the building more efficient, and improving the external appearance and access to the library. … Meanwhile, a strategy aimed at slashing £500,000 from the cost of running libraries in the Vale of Glamorgan is being implemented.