It was the shock of the image that did it.  A picture of a poster from a Birmingham library asking for donations as “we are no longer purchasing any new books or newspapers”.  After all, this is Birmingham, the home of the massive new Library opened by Malala Yousafzai in 2013 at a notional expense of £188m but, in reality, an awful lot more due to it being paid for over a period of years.  The whole city’s bookfund (around £1m – already reduced from £1.3m in 2011) is not five percent of the annual running costs of the behemoth that is the LoB. Now, add on the fact that the council greatly reduced the hours of its figurehead earlier this year and it all seems a bit of a bad deal.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the poster was apparently done by someone in a branch – it wasn’t an officially centrally produced document – and that, in fact some items are still being purchased.  These would appear, though, just to be standing orders and selected recommendations from the public.  More to the point, I understand that the bookfund freeze may just be a “pause” until the Autumn in which case what you’ve got here is something that suddenly does not seem so gigantic.  Stopping buying books for a month or three is, after all, a hardly unknown practice in many authorities. Still, you’d think that the public relations department would have realised the massive embarrassment that such a decision would cause but. no, apparently it came as surprise.

Which is extra embarrassing as the thing is here that it isn’t just any authority.  This is Birmingham which deliberately linked the library to its whole image. That is actually a laudable move and has been shown to work in other places but, oh, so much not this time. Why? Well, the decision to build the whopping great big new library was made just before the coalition came in – so it was based on some basic assumptions like, ooh I don’t know, that budgets wouldn’t be cut by two fifths (or more) with no effective intervention under any circumstances by the libraries minister.  It was also based on the rather optimistic assumption that there’d be a lot of philanthropy which, in reality, just plain didn’t happen.  2015 has been a long list, so far, of things that can largely be explained by seeing a council that has realised what deep poo it is in and is flailing around frantically for any solution at all. Some of it (the British Library collaboration, even perhaps Google if it is done right) is promising but so much of it smacks of desperation and this not the least. And, by the way, Birmingham, the bookfund should be one of the last things to go. After all, books are still the main purpose of libraries even if we all pretend it’s computers and glossy stuff.  Their importance is declining, to be sure, but a public library without new books is still a sad and tragic thing to behold. And a £188m one – intended (quite rightly and laudably and in better times) as a magnet for the whole city – to have no new books in it is, well, something that should be covered in all the media and should be shocking.  If only Pour Encourager Les Autres.

And Ed? Debate Alan Gibbons on the issue yes? At a time (say a Saturday) when people can actually get to see it? Thank you.

“Due to public savings cuts we are no longer purchasing any new books or newspapers. Therefore we’re looking for any books published in the last 12 months to be donated to the library. All gratefully received” Notice appearing in some Birmingham libraries

“”Without new books, the people who rely on libraries won’t be able to get what they need. It will affect those who need to use libraries the most: people on a low wage, students, the elderly. “We need central government and councils to understand the value of libraries and what they provide. At the moment, they are seen as a soft target. The whole situation is just dire.” Elizabeth Ash

““We are continuing to look at how we secure the future of all our community libraries but whilst that work is underway we need to make tough choices to save money. “One of those choices is a pause on the book fund.” Cllr Penny Holbrook, Birmingham lead for libraries. “we are also reviewing the future operating model for the council as a whole it makes no sense to reorganise the libraries ahead of this. The reorganisation of the council – Future Council – will go out to consultation during the autumn.”



  • Authors condemn latest Library of Birmingham debacle – Birmingham Post. “The move prompted a quick reaction by Stourbridge-born author SJ Watson, who wrote Before I Go to Sleep, which was turned into a film staring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. He said he was saddened and angered by the admission.” … “Mr Watson told the Post the city would pay a heavy price. He said it was the libraries of the Midlands which fired his passion for literature and feared today’s youngsters would not get that opportunity. “The library nurtured my imagination, it was where I learned about the world, at least as important as school,” he said. “Those five books a week made me the person I am today. Libraries are a lifeline and an escape route, for everyone, and particularly important for those families who cannot afford to buy books.” … “The Library of Birmingham, which costs the council about £22 million a year, is currently open only 40 hours a week, including six hours at weekends, as a result of cutbacks which saw 100 staff made redundant.” … “A tie-in with the British Library and a deal with Google to host a digital training base at the venue were followed by news that the Brasshouse Language Centre would relocate there – meaning the doors would open from 9am to 9pm on weekdays. ”
  • Birmingham Council confirms ‘pause’ on library book fund – BookSeller. ” However, Laura Swaffield of The Library Campaign still blamed the council’s library problems on its decision to build the Library of Birmingham. Swaffield said the demands of the Library of Birmingham have “gutted the small local libraries that people need most”, adding:  “This monster building was a stupid extravagance even in the balmy pre-crash era when it was first planned.”
  • Birmingham libraries banned from buying new books by city council  – Birmingham Mail.
  • Birmingham libraries ‘stop buying books’ – BBC. “Some of the 38 local libraries are buying no books or newspapers at all. The £189m Library of Birmingham – which opened in 2013 – is continuing to buy special collection books such as large print, and some non-fiction titles.”
  • Council that spent £200 MILLION of taxpayers’ cash on library now asks for book donations – Express.
  • Cuts-hit Birmingham libraries ask public to donate books – Guardian. “In 2013, Birmingham opened the £188.8m Library of Birmingham to the public, saying it would “attract over three million visitors a year”, “transform the city’s library service”, and “become a major cultural destination”.
  • Outrage as city with new £188m library ask readers for help buying books – Telegraph.  “A council which spent £188 million on a state-of-the-art new libraryhas been criticised by readers and authors after it ran out of money and asked the public to donate books. Libraries in Birmingham have posted notices requesting members donate their new and recently-released books, saying they would be “gratefully received”. Birmingham City Council confirmed it had placed its own book fund on “pause”, after being compelled to make “huge savings” across the board as a result of budget cuts nationwide.”

National news

  • Gibbons reissues call for head-to-head debate with Vaizey – BookSeller. “Gibbons first issued a challenge to Vaizey earlier this year, with the government minister telling the Guardian via email that he would “happily debate Alan”. But after negotiating with Vaizey’s staff over the form the debate will take Gibbons has now written another letter to Vaizey.  “I think I was clear that this would be a ‘head-to-head’ public debate in front of as large an audience as possible and at an accessible time,” said Gibbons. “Sadly, in discussions with your staff, options such as a panel on a weekday morning have been offered which do not offer the possibility of rigorous scrutiny of your record as minister in front of a substantial audience of those interested.”
  • Time to debate libraries – Alan Gibbons. “I have sent this letter to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: Dear Ed, Some time ago you told the Guardian that you were happy to debate the future of the public library service with me. I think I was clear that this would be a ‘head-to-head’ public debate in front of as large an audience as possible and at an accessible time. Sadly, in discussions with your staff, options such as a panel on a weekday morning have been offered which do not offer the possibility of rigorous scrutiny of your record as Minister in front of a substantial audience of those interested … The situation is critical. I think it is time to end the prevarication and debate these issues urgently. I would renew my call for a public debate at a time when an audience from all over the country could attend in numbers to put their questions to you.”

“Please join us for #ukmedlibs chat happening on Twitter next Tuesday 18th August at 8pm. The chat is going to be on partnerships between health care libraries and public libraries, what we can do to support each other and promote each other’s work. More information and the questions we will be following are here: https://ukmedlibs.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/next-ukmedlibs-twitter-chat-tuesday-18-august-health-and-public-libraries-partnerships/ “

Local news by authority

  • Fife – Decision on library closures postponed, but there is no ‘plan B’ – Courier. “Fife Council has bowed to pressure to extend a consultation period over plans to shut 16 libraries in a bid to save more than £800,000. The move follows serious concern that people had not been given enough time to explore alternative cost-cutting options and comes less than a month after the council refused to put the plans on hold. Taken on the back of fresh legal advice, the U-turn means a final decision on the fate of the libraries will now be made on December 8 rather than at the end of September.
  • Herefordshire – New fight to save Library – Ross Gazette. “The Council has prepared a series of questions asking residents what they think could be cut, such as road maintenance or libraries. There is an alternative to cuts and that is to increase the Council Tax paid by residents.”
  • Kent – 17 Apprenticeships available for young people in Kent – Courier. “There are 17 apprenticeship roles within libraries, registration and archives departments,with 16 within customer services and one in business administration. The work will cover all aspects of work within a library; assisting customers, organising and promoting events and activities taking place at the library, booking appointments and maintaining records. Apprentices are needed in Sheerness, Sittingbourne, Whitstable, Folkestone, Hythe, Larkfield, Tonbridge, Ashford, Tenterden, Dartford, Gravesend, Maidstone and Sevenoaks.” … “The apprentices will gain a customer service qualification while working and earning and once their apprenticeship has finished they can explore the many other employment possibilities within Kent County Council.” Apprentices will earn £115 per week which will rise to £140 in October with the opportunity for a further increase based on performance.”
  • Leicestershire – Library use falls as county sites look to a new chapter – Hinckley Times. “The proportion of adults from the East Midlands who use libraries has plummeted in the last decade. Back in 2005/06 it was 44.7%. It first dipped under 40% in 2008/09 and last year it was just over 30%.”
  • Reading – £580k bookfund stays the same this year Get Reading. “Local mum Emma Reeves has launched a petition to make sure Southcote Library in Southcote Lane does not close and she is supported by fellow library user Claire Wilson.”
  • Rotherham – Dolly Parton book scheme in Rotherham to be scrapped, council confirms – South Yorkshire Times. “No further children will be enrolled onto the Imagination Library in Rotherham although youngsters already receiving books will continue to do so until February” … “Rotherham was the first town in Britain to adopt the Imagination Library programme which was started by Ms Parton in the United States. The global star visited South Yorkshire in 2007 to launch the scheme which involved sending books every month to young children in the town.”
  • Sheffield – People’s wishes over-ruled – Star. “Walkley Library was built from a financial gift to Sheffield in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie. It’s the only Carnegie Library in the city and of considerable historical significance. It’s a well-used community asset but is about to be sold to Forum Cafe Bars. How can this be?” … “Members of the public attending a Scrutiny committee meeting on this issue were dismayed by the conduct of Labour councillors and their dismissive attitude towards any public scrutiny. A suggestion by Green councillor Rob Murphy to postpone the decision and further consult the Friends of Walkley Library – they believed the money could be raised to buy the freehold for the community – was dismissed. This whole process, like the felling of street trees, has underlined to many that public involvement in important local decisions is increasingly restricted and discouraged by the ruling Labour party, using their big council majority.”

“we have permission for our JR re Church Stretton library. Expect a hearing in the autumn in Birm High Court. Slightly unusual case as all about objection to council moving the town library down the road into a school and refusing local campaigners request to take it over as a community library” Shropshire – Lawyer Michael Imperato via email.

  • Walsall – More than a thousand Walsall school children join summer library book challenge – Walsall Advertiser.
  • Wolverhampton – Balancing the books: Library budget cuts continue – Express and Star. “The city council revealed it would put £113,450 into new books for its 16 libraries this year – a fall of £100,000 on the year before. Other Black Country and Staffordshire councils are continuing to spend vastly more – with one neighbouring borough even increasing its budget. Sandwell will put £400,000 into new books alone this year, plus a further £80,000 for other materials such as DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers. It was an increase of £6,000 on the previous year to account for inflation. Staffordshire County Council will also keep its £625,000 new book budget the same. And Walsall Council said its spend on library stocks would stay at £580,000. The cuts to Wolverhampton’s library books budget comes before a proposed £500,000 reduction to the overall budget for 16 libraries – currently £1.7 million – as part of £134m worth of cuts over five years”