R David Lankes has written an excellent piece for National Libraries Day where he looks at how US libraries faced cuts and declining usage but survived and have grown stronger than ever.  This was achieved, he says, by “controlling the narrative”, making public libraries being creative and inspiring places to be rather than their old image of books and social welfare.  Strangely, this was a sentiment also echoed by a Canadian in the useful #uklibchat debate on public libraries who said “Libraries & Librarians must be prepared to change from traditions, must take risks try new things. Get out in the community”. My glib response to him at the time was “Agreed. Now try that with 50% less budget over 4 years, half the staff and no political will. Report back” but it strikes me that, actually, libraries across the country are radically changing from their traditions and going out to the community. Albeit in radical ways that, ironically, the Canadian would probably be shocked with, but no one can see UK libraries have not been changing, just only not in ways entirely controlled by the libraries themselves.

The question is for UK public libraries not should we but can we change the narrative.  The narrative of the last few years has been of saving libraries and of reduced usage.  The campaigning message may be useful for a short while nationally but, like Save the Whales, reduces its impact over time.  The reduced usage narrative is that of defeat and is poisonous: we need to get away from it.  But it seems to me that budget cuts have been so deep, the political lack of understanding of public libraries so disconnected from the reality and, yes, the lack of leadership (structurally at least) so dysfunctional that to blame librarians for the failure to change into 3D community workshop engineering hi-tech wunderkinds is a bit much.  But that’s the challenge, my friends.  We need to convince the politicians that libraries are relevant to their goals and the public that libraries are places to be cherished (and not just with placards).  This may be very hard with some public-service hating anti-professional and deeply ideological politicians but there are other people out there and even the most dyed in the wool reactionary is not demonic.  The SCL and CILIP are trying to do what they can (albeit within tightly controlled parameters) in this.  There are, in some of the things I see in reports innovation (such as the BL Business Centres, the one Maker Space, the joy of the Summer Reading Challenge) that say there’s hope but there needs to be more.  And that’s going to be hard.  But it needs to be done. Frankly, if it would improve things, I would even say nice things about Ed Vaizey.  Now that really would be changing the narrative.



  • Churches that help libraries help themselves – Speaking Volumes. “Speaking Volumes Director Paula Renouf says that donating good Christian books to public libraries is a great way to ensure that people hear about the Christian faith. ‘In an increasingly secular society, we as Christians need to think outside the box about how we reach people and help them understand the Christian faith,’ says Paula. ‘People might not go to church but they might consider borrowing a book from their local library. In a society where many adults and children do not know what Easter is all about, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to access good literature that will help them explore our Christianity.’” … links to National Libraries Day … “If your church would like to give a library a gift of books, visit www.speakingvolumes.org.uk to find out more.”
  • Interview: Gary Green – Voices for the Library – NLPN. “Many of the challenges remain the same as when Voices for the Library first formed in 2010 – reminding people of the importance of libraries and debunking the myth that they are irrelevant.” … looks at the response to the Sieghart report, advocacy and responses to change.
  • Jelly Babies, Katrina, and Libraries – CILIP / R David Lankes. Excellent article on how US libraries reversed funding cuts and decline in usage by “controlling the narrative”. ” today while hardly a golden age of library spending and expansion, things are improving. Library budgets are increasing. Library employment is recovering (though it still relies too much on part time professionals). There are “lighthouse” library programs – libraries that have shown the effectiveness of public investment. From Hartford Connecticut to Chattanooga Tennessee to the rural libraries of Vermont and their broadband initiatives, public libraries are seeing a resurgence in the minds of the public. Libraries are “cool” again. Articles questioning the need for libraries or marveling at tattooed librarianshave been replaced with stories about public libraries using gigabit fiber internet access to stimulate local entrepreneurship and education. What was the change? While a slow economic recovery has played its part, that is far from the whole story. What happened was that librarians and the libraries they ran began to control the narrative and they returned to their roots to demonstrate their value to the populace and politicians alike.”

“As I read reactions to the Seighart report, and the discussion of loos and WiFi I almost always run across some reminder that books are important. Why? Learning is much more than books. We no more want to turn people into passive consumers of books than consumers of anything else.”

“Librarians and the libraries they run are turning to the dreams and aspirations of citizens – all citizens. The libraries of the UK, like the US were vital in inspiring great advances in science and the arts and government. They did this not by simply stocking shelves, but by actively locking together communities of scholars, disseminating the great ideas of great minds, and actively building networks of understanding and knowledge.”

  • Save and restore Uk libraries – Epetitions. “We the undersigned strongly request the Government to make the UK library service a standard service across the UK so that ALL authorities are obliged to provide ‘a comprehensive and efficient’ service regardless of cost. The Government needs to call an immediate halt to any reductions in service currently ongoing and reverse decisions where necessary to achieve this. The Government also need to define exactly what is meant by ‘comprehensive and efficient’ and ensure ALL authorities adhere to it.”
  • Trends and Friends: Access, use and benefits of digital technology for homeless and ex-homeless people – Lemos and Crane. “Restrictions at Libraries. Although libraries are often important places in the lives of homeless and ex-homeless people, they also brought challenges for internet access, despite being relied upon by a significant proportion of participants (19% of the Lemos&Crane group and 18% of the Groundswell group). Common difficulties in libraries included time limits on computer use and too few computers available. People also faced particular difficulties arising from being homeless. Many libraries required members to have a permanent fixed address to join the library, excluding some from accessing library resources. Perhaps more troublingly, participants reported being excluded from libraries for having too much luggage” [via lispublibs post – Ed.]


“These libraries are no longer spaces where people just read books. They are in transition, becoming cultural centers where people are provided with lectures on the humanities and can receive practical training. Visitors also have access to digital information and have a chance to watch films. Although these four libraries do not represent all 865 public libraries across Korea (as of December 2013), they certainly show the trend. “



  • Swindon Libraries: Library Community Development Officer – (Part-time: 25 hpw – Fixed-term: 12 months). The Library Community Officer will build on the work of their predecessor in identifying new and innovative ways of service delivery in Swindon libraries. You will work with community groups and partners such as parish councils to ensure library services meet the expectations and needs of the neighbourhoods they serve. You will have knowledge of the public library sector and be experienced in networking and building partnerships. You will be responsible for recruiting and managing volunteers and overseeing their active involvement in aspects of library delivery. You will be a motivated self-starter, able to manage a complex and demanding workload, have experience in facilitating networking sessions, delivering presentations, and possess excellent communication skills. The hours are flexible but you will be expected to attend meetings outside of standard office hours. Due to the nature of this role a full driving license is essential. Closing date: 16th February 2015 Interviews: 10th March 2015 For full details and application see: http://www.swindon.gov.uk/jo/Pages/jo-vacancies.aspx For more information or an informal discussion please contact Leon Bolton – Strategic Manager: 07884 27044807884 270448 (source – via email)

UK local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Public rally to take place over Library of Birmingham cuts – Birmingham Mail. “Hundreds of protesters are expected to attend a demonstration to save award-winning Library of Birmingham from severe cuts this weekend. Demonstrators will link arms around the £188 million library in a symbolic ‘hug’ as they try to persuade Birmingham City Council to think again about slashing running costs at the landmark building by £1.5 million. It would mean no new books on the shelves at Europe’s largest public library, 100 staff redundancies and opening hours cut by 40 per cent to just 40 hours a week.”
  • Brent – Closing Library Buildings – Jame Powney’s Blog. “Public Libraries News has a post suggesting that sometimes closing a library building is the best choice available.  This is an argument I have been making for some years. ” … “I think the piece is wrong, however, to suggest that a lack of protest necessarily means that the library is not needed, or that the presence of vociferous protests necessarily means a particular building is vital.  Unfortunately some kinds of community, that may have the greatest need, are least prone to protesting.  Other areas with less need can be full of articulate people who are good at mobilizing protests.  Simply being driven by the number of protests could lead to some very skewed decisions.” … “This opinion being based on gut instinct rather than the kind of assessment that the High Court judge described as “rigorous” and “thorough”.  Ignoring such an assessment in order to placate protest groups would have meant that the Council would not have achieved the success that Brent Libraries now have.  “
  • Brixton – ousing, cuts and flogging off public libraries – the Brixton Buzz round up for January – Brixton Buzz. “We got a sniff of a story during the final week of January that something major was about to happen to Lambeth libraries. We reported how the Lambeth Archives would move to Brixton Library. Our story stood up, but it was sadly a lot worse than our first suggestion.”
  • Buckinghamshire – Is this the final chapter for our libraries? – Get Bucks. “People just aren’t visiting libraries like they used too. You can cite all kinds of reasons – my favourite being it’s thanks to the increasing coffee culture, ie we prefer to sip our Starbucks with free wifi than pop in to borrow a book. Or what about paperback is out, ebooks are in? Whatever the reason that is flavour of the month, I would be among those saddened if we lost our libraries.” [I’d say cutting the budget by 50% probably did not help – Ed.]
  • Cardiff – ‘Save our libraries’: Campaign against library closures in Cardiff steps up for National Libraries Day – Wales Online. “Local communities are stepping up their campaign to save under threat libraries this weekend as part of National Libraries Day. As well as a read in protest at Cardiff Central Library, different events are being planned for libraries around the city. At Whitchurch, local people are being invited to make their own video setting out why the library should be saved.” … “Everyone is also invited to bring a book to Cardiff Central Library on Saturday, from 12pm, for a protest organised by Cardiff Unison and the Cardiff People’s Assembly”

Kent: – Sandwich Library Guild is holding an Open Meeting on 18 February to coordinate responses to Kent County Council proposals to establish a charitable trust to take over day to day running of libraries. Details from sandwichlibraryguild@ yahoo.co.uk” [via email]

“You can become a guardian for just £2 a month, or a family guardian (up to two adults and three children) for £4 a month. If you’d prefer to make a one-off donation: • £16 will fund a children’s Rhymetime session in a library • £20 will buy a new large print book • £45 will pay for a two-hour homework club for children”

  • Trafford – What have Tories got against the children of Trafford, MP asks? – Messenger. “Stretford and Urmston MP Kate Green saying: “What have Trafford Tories got against our young people?” By closing three libraries including Davyhulme, Bowfell and Lostock, Trafford Council estimates it will save more than £160,000 a year, and by slashing the current £294,000 book budget by more than one third, it will save a further £105,000. The reopened public consultation into the library closure plan will close on February 13. The Messenger spoke this week with parents and carers, who use the facilities at Davyhulme, who now fear the closure would not be backed up with reciprocal services elsewhere.” … “When asked whether slashing the book fund by one third would have a detrimental effect he said: “This is proportionate to the number of libraries that will remain in Trafford. “
  • Trafford – The Budget 2015-16: Proposed changes to Library services and some services in Children, Families and Wellbeing – Trafford Council.  [The council here has the sheer unmitigated gall to call it a “reshaping journey” – Ed.]