The minister in charge of public libraries, Ed Vaizey, has agreed to debate Alan Gibbons on his record.  This follows Mr Vaizey’s claim , reported previously, that everything was fine and thriving in the sector and almost no libraries have been cut.  Alan – who as a close observer of what is happening but unaccountably has a different view on the matter – has called him out on it.  Whether the debate takes place depends on whether they both agree terms and, of course, if Mr Vaizey remains being the relevant minister after Thursday … and that depends on all of us getting out to vote, one way or another.

Legal action brought by library users over changes to their libraries has become a bit of a feature of the last five years – I look forward to Mr Vaizey explaining why this is so in such a claimed great time for the sector – but what is happening in Shropshire has its own special twist: it’s not a council-wide action but rather specifically about one library that not even be closed down but rather just moving location. How this has got to the stage of legal action in the week of the General Election is beyond me but probably is some sort of combination between strong local feeling, poor proposals, dire council need and a lack of perceived genuine willingness on behalf of the council to listen to concerns.  It promises to be an interesting one to watch.



“Speaking to the Guardian via email, Vaizey argued that there have been “fewer than 100 libraries closed in England since 2010.” “The vast majority have been closed by Labour councils,” he said. “Alan is including figures from Scotland and Wales, which are the responsibility of the respective devolved administrations. In England we have provided funding for free Wi-Fi for libraries, piloted e-lending, and set up a library task force to provide leadership for libraries.” Vaizey also accepted a challenge Gibbons issued for a public debate examining the “state and health of the public library service”. “I will happily debate Alan,” he said. According to Gibbons, the minister would “struggle”. “Their record of being in government is absolutely catastrophic,” he said, “and they have to face that.”

  • Libraries: the inside story – books podcast – Guardian Books Podcast. “From the depths of the British Library to the top of Manchester’s great domed Central Library, we explore the inner workings of our most precious treasure houses of knowledge … what does the future hold? The novelist Kate Mosse, the campaigner Desmond Clarke and the economist Eamonn Butler join us in the studio to read the runes, and to explore if public libraries are still relevant in the age of the smartphone.”
  • Libraries – why they’re so important and what’s happening to them now? – Reading then reviewing. “I’m not denying the fact that councils have to find ways to make the required savings, and clearly I don’t know what the answer is. I guess the whole point of this blog post was to both highlight and demonstrate the very important role that libraries, and those that work in them, play in society.”
  • Second letter to Ed Vaizey – Alan Gibbons. Accepts debate with Ed Vaizey “My condition, obviously, is that it should be a public debate where we can air the main points in front of an audience of knowledgeable library workers and library users, the people most concerned by what I believe to be a critical situation. I am sure you will agree that we should all be accountable to the library community.  Should you be in post after the General Election, I would be happy to look for a date and venue. Maybe the Guardian could host the event. I think the main areas for discussion are:  *the number of libraries closed and disinvested  *the role of volunteers and their relationship to full-time staff  *whether seven pence in a pound is an adequate amount to be spent on books  *quality of book stock *opening hours *the quality of professional support for staff *the role of the public library in the twenty-first century. I appreciate that you will busy campaigning in the election, but should you still be Minister after May 7th, I hope you will give this serious consideration.”
  • Vote libraries, vote literacy, vote access to information – CILIP. “It’s not too late to use our vote to talk to candidates and MPs, so they get the message that professionally delivered library and information services matter to us, the voters. CILIP is campaigning nationally at party level, but collectively we can share the message locally, where it matters to candidates …” Includes Compulsory, professionally staffed school libraries, Fair, modern copyright laws, Digital inclusion, Information awareness and literacy supported in schools and workplaces, A comprehensive, modern and professionally staffed network of public libraries.
  • Welsh Government plans to halve the number of councils dividing opinion – South Wales Evening Post. One of the reasons suggested to change is because it will allow “More rights for groups who want to help run or take over council services, for example libraries.”


  • Beyond Books: Outside the Box Program Helps Build Community with Public Libraries – PPS (USA). “For the past two years, PPS has been engaging small communities and their libraries through the Outside the Box (OTB) program – a partnership between library service non-profit OCLC and Redbox that awards $5,000 grants and free technical assistance to libraries across the country. In 2014, 22 libraries received grants to launch small-scale Placemaking programs aimed at strengthening their library’s presence in the community. In some cases, this meant bringing public programming to nearby parks, inactive parking lots, or simply to Main Street.” France’s libraries discovering a new lease of life beyond just books – Guardian (France). “Workshops, events, exhibitions, training courses and encouraging public participation in their management have become part of libraries’ roles. In some you may talk without whispering, use a phone, eat and even play computer games. Reading has become a source of sociability and the books on offer are supposed to encourage “social cohesion”. This trend towards greater openness, which started a few years ago, has only taken hold in a few of France’s 3,000 public libraries. But, it seems, it’s spreading.” … “Ten months after it opened, Créteil library has 11,000 registered users. It has had a few glitches such as the cafe. Though small, it was intended as a central feature, with comfortable benches and coffee machines. But it was monopolised by teenagers who proved too unruly, even for the library’s open approach. ” Other French libraries are opening up too, but turn away unaccompanied children.

“One of France’s most astonishing “social” libraries is at Signy L’Abbaye (population 1,400) in north-eastern France. When it opened in 2007 it was paired with a social centre, thanks to an unusual partnership between the Regional Arts Directorate and the Family Allowance Fund. The two bodies joined forces in a drive to combat loneliness, a recurrent ill in a village with high unemployment, 25km west of Charleville-Mézières. So the library and social centre offer a full range of activities, including workshops and outings, and services (childminding, acting as an interface with other public services – job-seeking, among others), in the middle of an arts centre with 15,000 items.”

  • “Free” Ebooks Don’t Help Poor Kids – BookRiot (USA). “Some statistics before going further: in households where the family income is $30,000 or less in the United States, only 54% have access to broadband at home. For those who make under $20,000 a year (which is the rough poverty line for families of three), 1/3 – 33% – do not go online at all. Spend a little time with this Guardian write-up of the PEW research about internet access in the US, especially for how it impacts teens and kids. It’s eye-opening reading for those who have never spent time in a library or classroom, though those of us who have will find nothing surprising here. We know it because we’ve see it and our hands our tied. Poor kids don’t have access to internet or devices. It’s a fact, and it’s backed up time and time again.”
  • The Giant Robots That Serve the World’s Largest Library Archives – Gizmodo (Global). A look at automated book/item retrieval in the Bodleian, Boston Spa and other large libraries throughout the world.
  • Oh, Those Clever Librarians and Their #Bookface – New York Times (USA). A look at the noble art of photographing someone with a book cover, sometimes with two book covers and sometimes with three books. “It’s “a fabulous way to show how fun we are,” said Liana Flumiani, a library technician at the public library in Brantford, Ontario. That perception matters, she said, because too many people do not use libraries because they still think of them as places where people are welcome only to read and be quiet.”

Local news by authority

  • Cambridgeshire – Cambridge Central Library plans to be discussed at public meeting – Cambridge News. “Cambridge residents are invited to a public meeting to learn more about the proposed changes to Central Library including the development of an enterprise centre. Senior county council officers will present details and answer questions about the proposed changes at the meeting on Wednesday, May 6. The Library Review consultation period has been extended to May 10 in order to give residents more time to comment on proposals set out in a strategy for the future of the service.”
  • Cardiff – Cardiff library campaigners fear future being damaged by ‘behind the scenes process of service reduction’Wales Online. “Campaigners fighting to save Cardiff’s libraries will present a letter outlining their concerns about the future of libraries in the city. They say reports that books are being removed from branch libraries, staff being let go and facilities being reduced is damaging their future. Several branch libraries faced closure during budget proposals for this year. At the last minute, they were saved but Cardiff council said they still intended to find community groups willing to take over the running of the libraries. But in the letter, signed by Rhydypennau and Rumney library campaigners and Cardiff People’s Assembly, concerns are raised that the council are “engaged in a behind the scenes process of library reduction by attrition”.”
  • Shropshire – Church Stretton Library campaigners to take legal action – Ludlow Advertiser. “Campaigners against the Shropshire Council decision to move the library out of Church Stretton town centre are to take legal action in a bid to get a review. At a packed public meeting the Church Stretton Library Support Group asked the community whether or not it would back legal action against the council to challenge its library decision. After a full explanation of what would be involved in this legal action and a detailed question and answer session the 140 people in the hall were asked to vote and the result was unanimous in favour of taking legal action against Shropshire Council.”

“All our suggestions and the call-in have been rejected. The 82% of those replying to the consultation who wanted the library to stay where it is have also had their wishes rejected. This leaves us with no alternative but to take legal action and that will now be pursued with vigour and massive public support.”

School news

  • ‘Room to Read’ draws children to schools – Hindu Times. “The ‘Room to Read’ programme started in India in 2003 to provide children with books in their native language and also in English is beginning to yield results in this small school.”