The announcement of deep cuts to the Library of Birmingham so soon after opening are shocking.  Nothing shows the short-sighted nature of the supposedly long-term-focused austerity spending cuts than nearly having the opening hours of a £188m building opened the year before.  This is a building that serves so many purposes – a haven for those to learn, an icon for the whole city and a tourist attraction – and yet now it will forever be associated with short-term idiocy.  Naturally, everyone is blaming everyone else, with the current (Labour, not that it matters) administration blaming the previous one … and it is true that taking out such a large commitment just before the credit crunch is something that could only be done by an organisation that was, at the very least, engaged in boom-time groupthink. But, just think, at least they decided to build something as obviously useful as a library with the money.  I’m hardly going to blame them for building something that will have such obvious benefits. If you’re going to choose a symbol for your city, there’s few better than a place of learning open to all.

There are others, not in Birmingham, to blame as well for this mess.  The BookSeller report says that the “oleaginous” (it means oily, apparently) libraries minister had the cheek, when it had nothing to do with him, to be at the opening ceremony last year. Despite his presence then, you can bet he is feeling very hand-off and localist about it now.  But, really, he’s just one of a group, and no-one can accuse him of being a ring-leader. The blame also lies on all of those who think that cuts can be made to local government because they’re wasteful and lazy and that their cost outweighs their value.  In actuality, what is wasteful, lazy, costly and valueless is thinking like that.  Five years of cuts means there’s nothing left of that culture, if there was ever anything like it in the first place.  Take all the credit you want for that, Mr Vaizey, but don’t think it hasn’t come without a tremendous amount of pain and hurt and, if you are hell-bent (and that is a very appropriate phrase) to go for more, don’t think it’ll be as easy (as it doubtless seemed from your nice chair in Whitehall) as the last five years.  And don’t think the short-term savings you’re making now will make up for the long-term losses that cutting back on such value-giving services is going to involve.

Cipfa figures

  • Library usage falls significantly as services shrink – Guardian. “The annual survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, released officially tomorrow, shows a continued fall in library branches in the year to March 2014, with the total number of libraries in the UK now standing at 4,145. This is a loss of 49 branches in 12 months and is a fall of 8% since 2009/2010, when the coalition government took over and when there were 4,482 libraries in the UK. Ten years ago, the Cipfa figures show that in 2003/2004, there were 4,622 library branches open in the UK.”

“This year, there were 282m visits to libraries, compared to 322m in 2010, a fall of 12%, according to the report. Ten years ago, there were 336m visits to libraries. Active library borrowers now stand at 9.8 million people, said Cipfa, compared to 14.8m ten years ago, and the number of books lent has also “dropped dramatically in the past few years”, said the organisation, with 247m books borrowed over the last year, down from 309m in 2009/2010, a fall of 20%. Ten years ago, there were 341m books lent … Staff numbers, too, continue to “decrease significantly”, revealed the survey, with full-time numbers down to 19,308 last year, a fall of 22% since 2009/2010. Volunteers, however, continue to increase, with 35,813 people volunteering in libraries over the last year, up from 17,550 in 2009/2010 “

  • Survey shows extent of pressure on library services – LocalGov. “CIPFA’s chief executive, Rob Whiteman, said: ‘The landscape for local libraries in the UK is changing rapidly. While local authorities are continuing to seek new ways to make sure libraries can continue to act as a vital part of our communities, the statistics show that there is significant pressure on library services across pretty much every area of the UK.’”
  • PM – Radio Four. 25 minutes in. Featuring CIPFA’s Chief Exec and the Rhydyfelin library campaigners.  The campaigners had chained themselves to the library shelves as one tactic.  Council (Rhondda Cynon Taff) then reprieved library after threat of judicial review.

Library of Birmingham cuts

  • Library numbers continue to decline, CIPFA survey finds – Public Finance. “Publishing the details, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said the landscape for local libraries in the UK was changing rapidly. ‘While local authorities are continuing to seek new ways to make sure libraries can continue to act as a vital part of our communities, the statistics show that there is significant pressure on library services across pretty much every area of the UK,’ he said. ‘Despite the decline of libraries, borrowers and books, the growth in volunteers show that many local councils are committed to ensuring that their libraries explore new ways of keeping the doors open and engaging with their communities.’
  • Library of Birmingham director Brian Gambles to leave after cuts – Birmingham Post. “Brian Gambles, aged 59, praised for steering the project through its development over the last decade, will retire early next year.” … “Businessman Keith Bradshaw, who chairs the Library of Birmingham Development Trust, said a new model of running the state-of-the-art facility – including perhaps offering naming rights to a major backers – is needed.”
  • The library of the future? – BookSeller / Blogs. “Perhaps I should have been wary of the Banquo at the feast that opening day: preceding Malala’s speech was one by smug, oleaginous culture minister Ed Vaizey, gladly taking the plaudits for something his coalition government had little to do with (most of the LoB building budget was a locked in capital expenditure, with moneys agreed in those heady, pre-credit crunch days of 2007).” … “the proposed cuts to the LoB are horrifically shortsighted. The LoB is the most visited public library in Britain: 2.7 million visitors in its first year (Norwich’s main library is second with about 1.3 million), up 108% on the last full year of the old Birmingham Central Library.”

“the LoB has become a tourist destination, which makes proposals to reduce opening hours all the more barmy for Birmingham, let us be brutally honest, is not a place many people come from far and wide to visit. Taking away one of the main reasons newcomers are flocking to your city is penny wise and pound foolish. Yet the LoB has also been doing the usual business of libraries very well: library card membership shot up 140% in the year to 250,000 in its first year, while 316,000 books, CDs and DVDs were loaned.”

  • Shake-up at £188 million Library of Birmingham may be the least worst option – Birmingham Mail. “When the project was launched in 2007, about a week before the collapse of the global banking system, the business case was based on millions of pounds of private sponsorship and funding raised through the sale of council land in the city centre. Neither have materialised to any extent. It may be that the withdrawal of council support will inspire a philanthropist to dig deep and help out, but that is a long shot.” … “It may ultimately be better to make these cuts than inflict further damage on already-flagging community centres, libraries and neighbourhood services elsewhere in the city.”
  • Statement on libraries budget position – Birmingham Newsroom. ““We are proud of the building and the warm welcome it has received locally, nationally and internationally since opening in September 2013. However, the financial position of the library leaves us with no other feasible option but to put forward these proposals.” says Cllr Holbrook. ““It is important the public understand the pressures we face from the costs of building the library. We face a debt charge of £1million every month as we pay off the bill to develop the building – this is £12million per year, which is £2million more than the annual operating costs to run the library.”

“It must also be remembered the library was commissioned by the council’s previous administration, and it has been well documented that the decision to proceed with the project was taken a matter of weeks before the global financial crisis which has triggered the period of austerity the council now faces.” Cllr Penny Holbrook, Cabinet Member for Skills, Learning and Culture


  • Cressida Cowell launches 2014 Christmas Mini-Challenge for young readers– Reading Agency. “Children who head to their local library and read any three books they like over the school winter holidays (from 12 December 2014 to 6 January 2015), logging them on their own profile on the Summer Reading Challenge website (summerreadingchallenge.org.uk) will receive a special ’virtual badge’ to add to their profile, plus a secret reward video message from Cressida Cowell.” … “Last year, the inaugural Christmas Mini-Challenge notched up 6,794 unique website visits and 72,780 page views, with the average duration of a visit to the site lasting an impressive 5 minutes 28 seconds, with 682 children completing the Mini-Challenge. Levent Broja, 8, from Gateshead who completed last year’s Mini-Challenge said: Over the Christmas holidays the weather was rainy and sometimes icy, so it was good to have the Christmas Mini-Challenge to keep me busy”.”
  • Education secretary Nicky Morgan dodges school maths teaser – BBC. 10 year old Leon Remphry “also grilled Ms Morgan on the subject of literacy and ensuring children grew up with a love of books. He asked how this could happen if libraries continued to close. Dissatisfied with the education secretary’s response, Leon said: “I don’t think you’ve actually answered the question. Are the government going to take steps or are they not?” Ms Morgan tried again: “We are reminding local councils that it is their duty to provide libraries which are, obviously, where people can borrow books for free which is the critical thing and, as education secretary, I want there to be libraries in schools. “There’s an independent report coming out shortly on how important libraries are.” [Can Leon please become our now Education secretary? – Ed.] See also Watch awkward education secretary dodging Maths question from 10-year-old boy – Mirror and Young people quiz Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in the Hotseat – Sky.
  • House of Lords rejects government plans to restrict judicial review access – Guardian. “A rebellion in the House of Lords has inflicted a second defeat on the government’s plans to restrict access to judicial review challenges. The vote by 274 to 205 means that for a second time peers have rejected keys proposals in the criminal justice and courts bill. It will restore to judges their discretion in handling such cases. The Lords’ refusal to enact legislation supported by the Commons comes in the process known as “ping-pong”, when bills shuttle back and forward between the two houses of parliament until agreement is finally reached” [This information included here as judicial reviews, or the threat of them, are influential to public library cutting decisions – Ed.]
  • Innovative art commission to bring online adventure into library spaces – “2015 will see the start of an innovative new art project commissioned by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), working with the next generation of artists and game developers in libraries across the North of England.  The creative project will see young people, working with Hull Libraries, Lancashire County Council and Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust to create a piece of digital art.  Young participants at the forefront of the project will build an alternative online world, plotted and mapped from landmarks and surroundings from their local areas, creating the game, which will be released online for the world to explore, play and enjoy.”

“With recent fears over library funding cuts a concern for many communities, the project aims to explore the possibilities for art in library spaces and making the most of digital technology and creativity. Working with 13-25 year olds from across the North of England, the project will develop the skills of those taking part, in a variety of workshops in the libraries looking at balloon mapping, which captures aerial footage of each local area to plot maps for the alternative world, creative writing and a creative coding workshop.”

“Each library group will create their own narrative through creative writing workshops along with crafting ‘Artifakes’ to supplement the stories, bringing the participants’ alternative world to life. Artifakes are items from the imagined online game that will be made by artists and the young people taking part. They can be anything from songs to recipes, creating a rich and extensive online world. As part of the project, the Artifakes created will tour the North of England as exhibition objects, visiting libraries and other public spaces in a travelling exhibition later in the year.”

  • Libraries must embrace change to remain at heart of the community – News Wales. “Responding to the Expert Review of Public Libraries in Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government to look at the role of public libraries in communities across Wales, the Deputy Minister said a transformation of how we see libraries is needed for them to remain at the heart of the community.” … ““Last week I was fortunate to visit a new library facility which is part of the Ely and Caerau Community Hub. It had all the services a traditional library would provide, in a welcoming setting, but with the addition of housing information, Communities First office, meeting rooms, and ICT Training Suites.”


  • 17m visits to Irish public libraries last year – RTE (Eire). “the list of the ten most borrowed books for that year has just been published.”
  • A Glimpse into Amsterdam’s Public Libraries – Charlotte Law Blog (Netherlands). “I was surprised to see AmsterdamFM broadcasting live on the first floor. There is another radio station, OBA Live, located on the fourth floor. It really is a beautiful design. I can see why in 2012 it was voted as the best library in the Netherlands”. Some very impressive pictures.
  • Halifax Public Libraries forgiving all outstanding fines – Coast. “As if everyone wasn’t already sickeningly in love with the new Halifax Central Library, they’ve gone and announced that for the rest of December any outstanding fines from overdue items will be cleared. Starting this Saturday, December 13, anyone with a library card can visit any public library and erase their debt. It’s part of what Halifax Public Libraries is calling “Welcome Back to the Library Days.”
  • Libraries change lives – (EU) – excellent short video showing why 100 million Europeans use libraries each year.
  • Modern Public Libraries Might Help Renters Afford NYC – Next City (USA). “A lot of us have been walking around the city for decades and looking at libraries and post offices and all sorts of civic institutions and just thinking … there’s a great chance to do a win-win,” David Kramer said at last week’s Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries. Kramer’s a principal at NYC-based real estate developer Hudson Companies. The firm recently won the bid for the Brooklyn Heights Library Redevelopment Project, which plans a “state-of-the-art” branch in a mixed-use space, and 110-plus units of affordable housing off-site. At a time when many libraries are reinventing themselves, the Re-Envisioning event was a chance for five design teams to present ideas for the future of New York’s branch libraries.”

UK news by authority

“Rhiwbina councillor Jayne Cowan said: “My colleagues and I are so pleased with the response from the community to the campaign to Save Rhiwbina Library. Rhiwbina is a special community and always rallies together in good times and bad. “We are having community singing from 6pm on Friday outside Rhiwbina Library where residents can write gifts tags which will be hung on a tree in Canolfan Beulah in the Village. Then the song launch will be taking place at 3pm on Saturday at the Pantmawr Inn.”

  • Leicestershire – Can you help save local libraries? – Hinckley Times. “Community groups and organisations are being asked to register their interest in keeping rural libraries running.” … ““After listening to the public during our major public consultation over the summer, we’ve developed a package of support measures that will enable us to work in partnership with local communities in running rural libraries.”
  • Leicestershire – In detail: Leicestershire County Council’s four years of horrendous budget cuts – Leicestershire Mercury. “Cuts to the budget for running libraries are set to reach £340,000 and some smaller village branches may shut if volunteers cannot be found to run them … A further £930,000 will be saved in the budget for looking after library and museum buildings.”
  • North Yorkshire – Only teamwork will save Norton library – Gazette and Herald. “Key points of the new proposals included in the consultation are three categories of library – core, hybrid, and community-managed – which would be part of the North Yorkshire “family” of libraries and involve volunteers. However, Mrs Blaisdale said that in 2011, the county council’s executive had agreed that there would be only one library for Malton and Norton, although the council was prepared to consider a community-run option for Norton.”
  • North Yorkshire – Oscar winning screenwriter joins library campaign – Craven Herald and Pioneer. “The writer of The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire joins fellow former Ermysted’s Grammar School pupil, writer and poet Blake Morrison in opposing plans to replace professional staff with volunteers. “

“Libraries bring people and their imaginations together. We are heading for a world where children sit in front of a screen being fed stories that bypass their imagination entirely. All the pictures, voices, worlds are done for them. In contrast, books- and the professionals who work with them- are vital in nurturing the imagination. This is where everything starts.”