The report “Rural library services in England: exploring recent changes and possible futures” has just become publicly available.  Commissioned by Defra and Arts Council England.  It’s a major bit of research that will be of use not just for those library authorities with countryside but also for others looking at direction for travel, what’s happening elsewhere and best practice, which I guess is what most of you read Public Libraries News for.  The report is especially useful in looking at volunteers and sharing buildings with other services.  There is also a new phrase that I suspect will become common parlance soon: co-locating with other service provide “economies of scope” rather than “economies of scale.”.  That’s a useful way of looking at things. Have  a read of the report if you’re interested in what is happening elsewhere and for ideas.  It’s not going to be easy reading for you if you hate the idea of volunteers or love the old traditional idea of libraries (whatever that was) though … but then I guess not much is at the moment.

Speaking of reports, I’d not seen the Arts Council England report Automatic library membership before: I’ve not read it yet but, to me, it’s a no-brainer.  I always groan inwardly when a parent says “oh, I didn’t realise young Johnny could join the library: he’s only five” or, even worse, those who never join who I don’t meet.  That’s the worst.  And that library card will be a positive reinforcement of libraries, of literacy and the love of reading each time they see it. Get it done.

Finally, thanks again to Jo Norris for some good ideas that many us may find familiar but others won’t.  Ladies and gentleman, it’s Summer Reading Challenge award ceremony season! My authority has been inviting parents and children in to special certificate giving evenings for years and it works well.  Another option is to present them in school assemblies.  Make a big thing of it.  Make those children proud of going to the library.  Make their parents proud of them going to the library.  And get them all library cards.


Ideas from Jo Norris, runner up to the Library Champion of the Year

Library champion runner up has 1960s moment

Library champion runner up has 1960s moment

  • At the end of the Summer Reading Challenge we held a children’s ‘Graduation Ceremony’ where children who had completed the challenge brought in their medals to an awards ceremony where each of them got a further small medal certificate and a handshake – just like a real graduation ceremony. This went down really well – especially with pre-schoolers who usually just pick up their certificates from the library. We incorporated a story time and craft as well and it really seemed to help keep the momentum of the SRC after the back to school lull.
  • We have also promoted the service through organisations such as the Co-Op who kindly supplied us with some  vouchers as part of our health event (in return for us displaying a poster for their services). With the vouchers we made up a food hamper which included healthy foods (although I did sneak a couple of chocolate bars in there for balance!!) which customers could then enter a prize draw to win – which included their library card to encourage them to join. With the rest of the vouchers we were able to have a healthy snack storytime for pre-schoolers – which involved foodie stories (Like Handa’s Surprise) and the chance to sample some of the foods from the book. It was great that we were able to make the event appealing for different customers and it went down really well both with customers and the local press. We also got several new members – which is always nice.

The main thing (and I guess most libraries probably do this already) is to work with other local organisations and businesses to help promote services wherever possible. Most places I’ve approached (Such as Hedingham Castle, local preschools and nurseries etc) are more than happy to support us in any way they can. Currently we have been talking to a local building contractor who is building 200 houses opposite the library and given them information about library services they can pass on to their customers. And rest assured they will all be getting a leaflet trough their doors once they’ve moved in.


  • Automatic library membership – Arts Council England. “This programme told us that providing every child with a library card at an early age is an important step for the child and/or parent to encourage reading. Following that up with multiple and sustained engagement is even more important, using schemes such as Rhymetime and Bookstart, which are already in place. Libraries can learn from the experience of these projects, including whether they are as pro-active as they could be about encouraging sign up, and that they have minimised, as far as possible, the barriers to joining the library.”
  • Rural library services in England: exploring recent changes and possible futures – OPM. “In recent years, public library services have undergone – and continue to undergo – a huge amount of change. That change has been felt across library services, but due to their limited size and lower footfall, rural libraries have been placed under particular pressure and have gone through some of the most radical changes in the way they are operated. Commissioned by Defra and Arts Council England. Following the 2013 reports Envisioning the Library of the Future and Community libraries: Learning from Experience, this research explores what the experience has been – and could be in future – for rural libraries specifically.”

“The general conclusions are positive, highlighting that rural communities face specific challenges and opportunities but have rallied around to improve and expand library services.  Building on this, the most successful and sustainable rural libraries will contribute to a range of local outcomes, attract income and provide access to many different services and activities, otherwise missing in many rural areas, if local authorities plan strategically.” (OPM webpage)

Community activity has usually (though not always) been forged in reaction to the threat of losing a library building. Across our case study areas we saw how challenges related to that back-story persist, but we also saw many more examples of good, productive relationships emerging between councils and community groups. Moreover, the most proactive groups have gone beyond ‘saving’ their libraries, and are extending the functions of those buildings / services and expanding the role that they play in their communities. These innovations are inspired by a need to generate income, a desire to establish their library at the heart of the community and, often, a combination of both. (p.5 of report) 

In rural communities, we believe it will be more prudent to co-design library services with other services to secure economies of scope, rather than looking to economies of scale.

“it was evident that the majority of volunteers engaged in community-supported libraries in our case study areas were retired people. In some cases, both officers and other volunteers were concerned about the direction of travel in specific library branches where that ‘culture of civic participation’ appeared narrow and even ‘cliquey’, making it difficult to encourage others to join in”

“At the Penton Book Drop, for instance, members of the community comes together through pre-existing event, soup and cake are provided by local volunteers, and people come to sell things or offer services on rotation (sometimes linked to other public services). It provides a focussed time and place for social interaction, of which books are a part.” Extracts from the report

International news

  • Editorial: New Upland library management exemplifies benefits of outsourcing – Press Enterprise (USA). “If you’ve visited the Upland Public Library in the past month, you may have noticed the longer hours and expanded collections. In addition to all these enhancements, the library will actually cost Upland residents less than it did in years past. That is because after years of consideration by local officials, a private company has taken over the management of the city library.”
  • If I was Prime Minister . . . – Stuff (New Zealand).  Eleanor Catton, author of Booker Prize winning “The Luminaries” says ‘If I were prime minister I would double the number of libraries in New Zealand and radically increase funding for library collections. A library is one of the few places in the world where you can transform yourself and your opportunities at no cost. I’d also make sure that every family in New Zealand had access to books and library facilities.”
  • Libraries dumping of books could signal a new dark age – Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). “The evidence is compelling. Libraries and bookstores are dying in droves. Historians, I sometimes think, will see ours as a time of biblio-plague, when the world was swept by a strange libriform ebola that causes institutions to haemorrhage books before dying horribly from their lack.”

“Librarians have angsted for decades about what “library” might mean in the future. Their best guess is a kind of light-filled community centre offering wifi, yoga rooms, self-improvement classes and atmospheric positive thinking. The very vagueness plays into the bean-counters’ hands. Nothing’s easier to axe than a bunch of wishy-washy.”

“Today’s kids, who should be the first bookless generation since Gutenberg, tell me they like books. The touch, the texture, the smell, the fact. They’re bored with screen-everything. This may be why the children’s book market is the least e-dominated sector: a small flame of hope flickering over the e-tide.”

  • Why Your Library May Soon Have Laser Cutters and 3-D Printers – Wired (USA). “spaces where people interact. Older folks teach sewing to the younger ones, who in turn teach them laser etching …  “Getting people in a room, talking and teaching each other, is huge,” Backus says. Nor are the makerspaces necessarily expensive. The Chattanooga project cost only $25,000. You have to give the librarians credit. Stereotype says they’re fusty, but the reality is absolutely the opposite.”

UK local news by authority

  • Birmingham – 21 things you might not know about Birmingham’s libraries past and present – Birmingham Mail.  Celebrating the first anniversary of the new Birmingham Library.
  • Brent – Preston Library can be re-opened – Preston Library Campaign. Appeal for volunteers (“community champions”) to run library in old Preston Library from Spring 2015.
  • Cornwall – ‘Save Cornwall’s Libraries’ – Pirate FM. “A Falmouth schoolboy hands in a five and a half thousand signature petition over the future of Cornwall’s libraries. Officials want to hive them off as part of two hundred million pounds worth of cuts. That would mean volunteers or town councils taking over. ” see also Thousands sign 10-year-old’s Falmouth Library petition – BBC.
  • Kent – Dartford library refurbishment consultation extended – Kent Online. “The scheme, costing about £450,000, proposes a general refurbishment of the library, including restoration work on the listed shelving, new furniture, new flooring that would aim to replicate the look and feel of the old parquet flooring, new public toilets and a new entrance to the museum via the library.”
  • Kirklees – Campaigners meet in bid to save Mirfield Library – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “Clr Kath Taylor, who chaired the meeting, said the library staff had been inundated with questions about the library’s future so councillors decided to organise a meeting. “The first we, as ward councillors, knew about the threat to Mirfield Library was when we read about it in the Examiner,” … “Clr Taylor had a show of hands over who was willing to help and 10 volunteers put their names forward.” These included two retired librarians and a current library volunteer.
  • Kirklees – Public to have their say on Kirklees Council budget cuts from Monday – Huddersfield Daily Examiner. “Council leaders have already hinted at massive cuts including the loss of up to 1,000 jobs, the closure of all but a handful of libraries and scrapping services such as lollipop ladies and the free Town Bus.”
  • Leeds – Support gathers to stop cuts at Leeds libraries – Yorkshire Evening Post. “Rachel Reeves, who represents Leeds West, has organised a series of “Read Ins” at Bramley and Armley libraries. Under current proposals Bramley’s hours could be cut by 18 per cent while Armley’s could come down by 15 per cent. The Bramley site might also close on Thursdays. Ms Reeves, who is spearheading the campaign to support the libraries, has also received backing from Armley born author and screenwriter Alan Bennett.”
  • Leicestershire – Letter: Odds are stacked against saving our library in Ratby – Leicester Mercury. “In September 2014, following consultation with the public, Leicestershire County Council will decide future policy for its 36 local libraries … The library is, therefore, used most by retired and young people. If it closes, the nearest library will be Glenfield. There is no public transport between Ratby and Glenfield. More than 500 people signed a petition in only a few days. We were left in no doubt how strongly Ratby residents favoured the retention of the library.” … “To achieve a saving of £800,000, mainly from the 36 local libraries, there must be an average saving of more than £20,000 from each local library. The overall “Net Expenditure/Income” of Ratby library in 2013-14 was £24,302. The long-term implication is that, after the first five years, all of these running costs will be provided by a Ratby volunteer group; a large sum for a voluntary group.” see also Letter: Possible solution to the difficulties facing this service – Leicester Mercury. “”if Sileby, Barrow and Quorn became a group, Sileby would open week 1, Barrow week 2 and Quorn week 3, with all libraries within the group having the same opening hours to avoid confusion.”
  • Norfolk – Welcome to Norwich – England’s first city of literature – Guardian. “Historically, libraries have had an unfortunate time in the city. In 1898, the local library burned to the ground in a fire. In 1994, on the very same day, Norwich Central Library suffered a catastrophic fire, resulting in the loss of more than 100,000 books. Today, the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library stands on the same site, and was voted the most popular library in the UK seven years in a row from 2006 to 2013.”
  • Peterborough – Letter: Do we still need our libraries? – Peterborough Today. “My need for the library has diminished. The world has changed. Peterborough people will rightly lambast the council for making these cuts. But the council itself is being forced to find yet another £20 million of savings, a colossal amount. No elected local representative in their right mind would willingly impose cuts such as these. Our public services are being attacked and destroyed by a cultural terrorism caused by the policies of national government, a Tory/Liberal government hammering a Tory local authority. Sadly this is the world in which we now live.”
  • Redbridge – Payday lender sites banned on council computers – Guardian series. “A plan to block payday loan websites on all council-owned computers has been approved, but concens have been raised about limiting residents’ choice. But the authority has been accused of censorship over the measure, which applies to staff computers and those in libraries. “
  • Staffordshire – Future uncertain for Stafford libraries – Staffordshire Newsletter. “Claire Geoghegan, who uses Penkridge Library, left a meeting on Wednesday feeling uncertain and concerned about 24 libraries, including Penkridge, which will be marked as ‘library locals’ under the changes. Claire, 37, told the Newsletter: “The council wants volunteers or community groups to run ‘library locals’. They think the community will have some sort of magic bullet to take it on.”