The Speak Up For Libraries event on Saturday was notable for having actual politicians attending.  Helen Goodman MP, the shadow minister for public libraries was there as well as Justin Tomlinson MP, who was the Conservative chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on public libraries.  Helen gave me the impression of being a lady who has worked hard to get on top of her brief.  She is somewhat hamstrung by her party’s unfortunate agreement with the Conservatives about austerity and was therefore reduced to identifying pots of money that are underused and shifting resources around rather than promising more investment per se. Helen is, however, persuaded of the need for a national development agency (hurrah!) and even more significantly of the need for at least some standards.

Justin came across as a very nice amiable bloke who cares for libraries but is very much tied to the mantra not just of austerity but of localism as well.  Basically this means that libraries will have to make do with less and less money and with no national co-ordination (except in the realm of new technology).  When asked about standards, Justin could basically only agree to standards within each authority so he’d be happy (and you see him thinking about this) a “Swindon Standard” but nothing more.  That’s not a standard, Justin.  He also made clear, in the normal politician way that includes never actually saying it, that intervention by the secretary of state is never going to happen under any circumstances ever. He was keen on staff wearing uniforms (not an enthusiasm or a priority shared by much of the audience) and said several times that local library managers should be “empowered”.  The local library managers in the room would have been speculating at that point on how empowered they’d need to be to cope with halving of budgets.  One envisages drug dens. He also said that it was a “crying shame” that on average libraries spend only 7.5% on bookstock and that this should be increased.  The local library managers in the audience then mentally crossed off any freedoms they allowed themselves to imagine a minute earlier.

The Liberal Democrats failed to send a representative, possibly, as one wag suggested, because so few people support them now that they couldn’t find anyone free.  It’s also possible that their singularly lacklustre, almost invisible, record on public libraries has left them with nothing to actually say.  There was a lovely bloke from the Greens, Martin Francis from Brent, who said all of the right things and knew his stuff.  Such a shame that the Greens will only get at most 1% of the MPs. Well, unless they suddenly start talking about immigrants and get their picture taken holding pints of beer in pubs … which leads us on to the ghost at the feast.  It appears that UKIP were not invited to the conference which, while understandable in terms of a general abhorrence amongst conference-goers of their policies, is unfortunate as it shows bias.  Like it or not, they’re now a parliamentary party and will have a voice on libraries which, unfortunately, we still have no idea about because they were not there.

For me, the big theme from a very well attended, well-organised and surprisingly well-mannered conference was the need for Government intervention in the form of standards, a national body and a willingness to take councils to task. No-one there apart from the Conservative MP believed (and to a lesser extent, one suspects, the Labour MP) believed that a hands off “let a hundred flowers bloom” approach to local library services was the answer.  The task will be to persuade the politicians that it is, that they occasionally need to get their hands dirty to weed their garden, will the challenge of the next few months.

My full notes on the conference can be found at Speak Up For Libraries Conference, 22 November 2014 Public Libraries News.




  • Bishop confesses library love – Sunday Times. “Richard Holloway and Joanne Harris are among a number of high-profile names who have paid tribute to the influence on their lives of their local library for Book Week Scotland, which starts tomorrow. Book lovers are being encouraged to declare their true feelings for libraries through the Love Letters to Libraries campaign.” see also Readers urged to send love letter to local library – Scotsman.

“this Wednesday, constituents in Bromsgrove can take part in a mass conference call with their MP, Sajid Javid. This “teleforum” is a first for a British MP but was used to great effect by Boris Johnson during his mayoral campaigns. Constituents can sign up to “Tell Sajid” at vekeo.buzz/sajidjavid and leave a contact number, and they will be called at 7pm on Wednesday to ask questions.” Independent : Sajid Javid is Culture Secretary and therefore has responsibility for public libraries.

  • Lost libraries make UK international loser – Library Campaign (press release). “England’s destruction of its public libraries is making it the loser in the global race to build digital, knowledge-based economies.” … “A constant theme throughout the day was the crucial role of libraries in supporting a wide range of government priorities, including literacy, education, health, business support, combating social isolation and building cohesive communities.”

“Alan Gibbons summed up: ‘A library without a librarian is a room. Libraries are cheap. In total, they cost less than a billion pounds, when trillions is wasted on Trident, the banks and a failed austerity project that has given us almost permanent economic crisis since the 2008 crash. ‘Shutting them costs a fortune, not just in redundancies but in the damage to society.'”

  • Resources Speak Up For Libraries. Includes six page “lobby pack” and links to resources on various UK public libraries issues.
  • Sieghart Review to recommend task force for libraries – BookSeller. “”The argument for saving [library] buildings has been won, but not for a [library] service able to deliver its promise,” she told the conference. “The case has not yet been made for libraries to be the delivery point for a number of key services. The time is now – if most local authorities are somehow managing to hang on to the building infrastructure, how are we going to make this work?”” … “The report will argue for a dedicated task force with all the key players to work together to deliver changes at a fast pace…and promote a consistent message that talks the service up”
  • Some thoughts written on the train to the Speak up for Libraries conference – Alan Gibbons. The notes for Alan’s closing speech. “The only real friends libraries have got are Friends groups, users, staff, communities, unions, authors and illustrators. We have to build the strongest coalition here in the real Big Society to fight the greatest ignorance and neglect….up there in the Small and Small Minded Society also known as the political ‘elite’ (another word that proves language can be misappropriated).”
  • Speak up about the hidden consequences of library cuts – Informed / Alan Wylie. Looks at the consequence of losses in library staff, not of buildings. “In my opinion outreach is crucial to the relevance, integrity and survival of public libraries without it we are in danger of losing touch with those in our communities that need our services most. It helps to ground us and to break down the ‘professional in an official building’ barrier, it also helps to loosen the ‘footfall & issues’ noose put around our necks by those only interested in quantitative data.”
  • Speak Up For Libraries – UStream.  Video of each of the sessions of the conference.


  • A new chapter: British architects unveil state-of-the-art Arctic library – Guardian (Norway). £110m new library built within Arctic Circle for town of 50,000 people. ““It was quite a leap in scale, for us and the town,” says David Howarth, director of DRDH architects, which won the project in a competition in 2009. “It was a stark contrast to be working on this in the UK, just as libraries were being closed by the dozen and procurement processes make it impossible for small practices to win work of this size.” … “20% of the town’s entire population turned up to the opening of the complex, aptly christened Stormen (Norwegian for storm). “
  • Are libraries sustainable in a world of free, networked, digital information? – El Profesional de la informacion (Spain/Global). Argues that libraries are doomed unless they make drastic changes.
  • Victorian Labor unveils $50m state library plan – 9 News (Australia). “Victoria’s state library will win funding to broadcast seminars to other libraries across the state under a $50 million Labor plan. The project, which will also expand floor space by 40 percent, will allow workshops to be broadcast via video conferencing links. The library’s onsite programs, focusing on literacy and numeracy, will also be expanded and offer more professional development programs for teachers.”

UK local news

  • Barnet – Miliband insists that his reaction to Thornberry tweet will not alienate Golders Green voters – Barnet and Whetstone Press. Ed Milliband says  “I think Barnet’s approach has been wrong I think its approach to privatisation, its approach to cuts and cutting services such as libraries is wrong.”
  • Barnet – Unison request for extension to public consultation on Libraries refused – Barnet Unison. “UNISON has learnt that printed documents will not now be in the Libraries until the 1st December and there have been ICT issues”
  • Cardiff – ‘It will be catastrophic’: Libraries, youth services, community halls face losing support in Cardiff cuts – Wales Online. “Cathays, Roath, Rhydypennau, Rumney, Radyr, Rhiwbina and Whitchurch libraries could have their funding cut in changes that would end council support for such standalone facilities.”
  • Cornwall – Michael Morpurgo backs 10 year old’s library campaign – ITV. “We asked Michael Morpurgo why he’s worried about libraries in Cornwall – and in Devon where he lives. This was what he said:” lovely videos.
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – £1.2 million bid for new facility – Driffield Today. “£1.2 million scheme to refurbish, remodel and extend its customer facing facilities in Driffield. The scheme, which forms part of the council’s capital investment programme, will move the current Mill Street customer service centre and registration services into the existing library building to be integrated with other public facing services.”
  • Hertfordshire – Hitchin woman starts campaign to save Hertfordshire mobile library service – Comet. “Stories highlighting the importance of Hertfordshire’s mobile libraries are being sought for a campaign started by a Hitchin woman trying to save the service.” … “The council is looking at cutting the service – which costs £14 per person – and wants to find a cheaper and more effective way to manage the system. Grace said: “I think it is worth the money because it improves lives and you cannot put a price on that. If you want to nurture curiosity, inspire experiences, you need libraries.””
  • Leicestershire – Library staffing axe plans given go-ahead – Loughborough Echo. 22 full time places to go. “The council agreed that a package of support should be given to local communities wishing to take over responsibility for the running of the libraries.”
  • Leicestershire – Union collects petition opposing County Hall’s cost-cutting plans to offload village libraries to volunteers – Leicester Mercury. “Unison has collected more than 400 names on a petition opposing County Hall’s cost-cutting plans to offload village libraries to volunteers or parish councils.” …”Tory cabinet member for libraries councillor Richard Blunt said he believes villagers will rise to the challenge of running their libraries and that most of them will thrive under community management. Unison’s Leicestershire branch secretary Jackie Dean said: “I don’t share his optimism.”
  • Lincolnshire – Hoping library farce has a happy ending – Lincolnshire Echo. “Greenwich Leisure Ltd, which runs libraries in a couple of London boroughs, could end up running them here. Council officials are now recommending that county libraries boss Nick Worth should validate GLL’s bid to run the service. It’s just a shame that the council failed to take the social enterprise’s bid seriously in the first place.” see also Libraries could be put out to tender – Rutland and Stamford Mercury.
  • Monmouthshire – Concerns over library merger proposals – South Wales Argus. “The chairmen of Abergavenny and District Civic Society, Tony Konieczny and Chris Edmondson, of the Bryn y Cwm Community Forum, have written to Councillor Peter Fox to voice their concerns about the proposed merger of One Stop Shops and Libraries into community hubs. “
  • North Yorkshire – Plans opposed for volunteer-run library – Darlington and Stockton Times. ““Generally there’s a feeling it ought to stay within the provision of the county. We would like it left as it is but we appreciate the problem the council is facing with finances. “There certainly is the feeling on the ground to have it as a hybrid-type library like Ripon; where we support it with more volunteers but it’s not totally dependent on them, because that leaves it vulnerable.”
  • Oxfordshire – Libraries count down to independence day – Banbury Guardian. “Friends groups have been hard at work raising cash for Deddington Library, Hook Norton Library and Adderbury Library so they can pay library staff and train volunteers to replace staff whose hours have been cut.” … “It is hoping to recruit 200 subscribers who will each pay £2-£3 each month to secure the funding. Its next fundriaisng events is the family friendly Festive Frolics with Circus Berzercus at the Windmill Centre in Deddington on Saturday. Doors open at 3pm, show at 3.30pm.”
  • Peterborough – Peterborough community hubs undergo review of use – Peterborough Telegraph. “Also at the meeting it was disclosed no decision had yet been made on closures of libraries and reduction of library staff. Cllr Serluca said: “I’m looking at an option that will retain all libraries. All options are being looked at and will be presented to the cabinet.””
  • Sefton – Community group who want to start a library in Botanic Gardens speak at council meeting – Southport Visiter. “North Meols Library Association want to create a volunteer run library in the unused bowls pavillion with £100k from the community support fund ” … “Elaine said at the moment they have around 40 volunteers on their books ready to offer more than 70 hours of service, and more than 250 people on their mailing list. Their proposals contain a three-year plan, after which they say the library will be completely self-sufficient.”

“The loss of library has been massive to Churchtown because it is such a diverse community – it is not just them borrowing books, it is talking to people, getting out of the house, a sense of community. The area has lost three libraries over the years. Crossens went then Wennington Road and Churchtown has gone and it has left an enormous gap – it is the whole area of Southport that has lost the libraries”

  • Sheffield – Challenges and opportunities as library reopens for the community – Sheffield Telegraph. “The partnership between the former Save Walkley Library group and businessman Kane Yeardley of Forum Cafe Bars makes a lot of sense, said Chris Reece. “We’d like to use the building to bring a bit more life to South Road, and to create something slightly different. This will be a library service, but there will also be a cafe-bar here. The greatest advantage is that because the cafe-bar will probably be open seven days a week, it gives far more scope for increasing the library hours too.”” … “Much is still to be decided, Chris cautioned, but it’s clear that the Forum group is keen to make the library side of the operation work, and has said it would invest up to £400,000 on refurbishment and £40,000 a year on maintenance and employing a librarian.”
  • Staffordshire – Library decision to wait until FebUttoxeter News. “Staffordshire County Council, which manages libraries across the county, has said it will review all the information that is has collated before it moves on to the ‘next phase’.
  • Walsall – Walsall librariesWalsall Advertiser. “Councillor Khizar Hussain, portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture at Walsall Council said: “Difficult decisions and, ultimately, unpopular ones have to be made in the coming years if we are to achieve the level of savings needed. “With regards to libraries there is a proposal on the table for 2015/16 and 2016/17 but I would stress this is only a suggestion and could change in the light of consultation feedback.”