It must have come as a surprise to many librarians preparing to face hordes of children at work that “no one goes to libraries” but that’s what BBC Breakfast presenter Charlie Stayt said on a brief item on public libraries on Friday.  This item included Alan Gibbons and Tim Coates slagging off (what passes for) national libraries policy, with Tim demanding Mr Vaizey resign and Alan point out that libraries are successful in other countries but have been left to shrivel and die here.  Tim also went on to claim that amalgamating all London library services would save so much money that budgets could be cut by two-fifths with no ill effect, which seems (how to put this politely?) unlikely and probably not all that helpful to the libraries in question. Interestingly, the BBC claimed that Ed Vaizey was not available for comment.  As soon as I tweeted this, Ed (who has suddenly started responding to library campaigners on Twitter after years of silence) replied that he was available for comment but the BBC never asked him.  To be honest, though, simply having a new minister without a radical change of stance (e.g. an actual willingness to intervene – not something likely from any Conservative politician) will not change much, however much one has a quarrel with Mr Vaizey.

The debate was of course inspired by the abysmal news from Birmingham about a library service which is now so cash starved it cannot buy new books nor, apparently, do basic maintenance. This has led to libraries across the country being seen as charity basket cases by some observers, with one website suggesting that gift magazine subscriptions are given to the poor things.  Whoopee doo. Let’s make this clear, during the Summer of all times, public libraries should be being seen as the wonderful enablers that they are, allowing all to be part of the community and to contribute to that community. They should not be seen as the equivalent to the disadvantaged that we should be blooming well be funded enough to help, not to be just equated with. Future generations will look back to this short-lived insanity and wonder what happened.  Let us hope that this period is brief enough that some libraries survive so that any such observers will realise the enormity of the tragedy of the current times.

Speaking Volumes

I’ve been asked by Carnegie UK Trust to highlight a survey they are doing of activities in public libraries.  Please complete if you can.

“Public libraries have a vital role to play in delivering on social, economic, cultural and education policy goals, all of which contribute to individual and community wellbeing. Our 2014 Speaking Volumes resource consists of a leaflet-poster and four databases of evidence that together demonstrate how libraries contribute to these four policy goals. They show the continuing relevance of public libraries, and their potential to contribute to many of the policy goals which governments are seeking to achieve. This year we are updating the information in our databases and are asking for your help to do so! So if you work in a library, please tell us about the activities that your library or library service runs by filling out the form below by 7 October 2015.”

National news

  • As someone who had no choice but to steal books when I was younger, I can’t believe how much the Tories are neglecting our libraries – Independent. “It’s always baffled me how much British governments neglect our libraries. That anyone, whatever their age, would be motivated enough to learn and educate themselves by going to a library to access books should only be applauded, rather than turned away just because their desire to learn is a luxury society can’t afford.” … Birmingham: “the library’s pathetic begging letter for books represents the damaging and disturbed ideology of austerity Britain just as much.”
  • Can You Help UK Libraries? – Permaculture. “UK libraries are declining due to minimal funding. If we can support them by donating useful & community orientated books, we can help keep them open for everyone.” … “we thought we would come up with our list of seven essential titles that any library may wish to see donated to them. ” … “Finally, remember, our libraries also stock magazines too, so perhaps you would consider buying a gift subscription for your local library?
  • CILIP open letter urges Birmingham to reconsider library cuts – BookSeller. “Nick Poole, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP), has written an open letter to Birmingham City Council, urging it to keep its libraries open and professionally staffed. Following the city council’s decision to temporarily put a stop to its book fund, Poole has written to chief executive Mark Rogers, saying he has concerns about the “ongoing quality of library services available to the communities and citizens of Birmingham”. Poole said he understands that the council needs to cut costs but suggested libraries can help generate money by “supporting small businesses and employment, improving health and well being and providing everyone with opportunities for learning and developing new skills”.

“Coates said that in London there were approximately 300 libraries that cost around £200m a year to operate. He suggested bringing control for those libraries into one body, instead of separate local authorities, which he estimated would save £80m a year – £40m of which could be invested back into the service, and £40m which could go to the government. He suggested a similar plan for Birmingham and the surrounding areas.”

  • Coates calls for Vaizey to be replaced as culture minister – BookSeller. “Former Waterstones’ boss Tim Coates has called for Ed Vaizey to be replaced as culture minister, and for his replacement to “get a really tight grip on what’s happening” with libraries across the UK and help councils.” … “Speaking on “BBC Breakfast” this morning (14th August), Coates said that the reason for the library crisis in the UK was lack of management. “It is a tiny, uncomfortable corner of government policy,” he said. “The problem is there is no management or leadership of the library service. “I think what needs to happen is the minister, who over five years has proved himself to be absolutely out of his depth, has to be replaced.”

“Children’s author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons told “BBC Breakfast” that Vaizey had provided “no strategic leadership” for libraries. “This is a bomb that has been ticking for a long time,” he said. “We have had no leadership from the government or councils.” Gibbons this week reissued a call for Vaizey to debate him “head-to-head” on the subject of libraries and the future of the service, saying that the minister’s team had not offered suitable options for the debate.”

  • “Ongoing quality of library service” concerns raised with Birmingham City Council Chief Executive – CILIP. “would urge Birmingham City Council to carefully consider the impact of budget cuts on library services and how in turn communities and the local economy will be affected. We recommend maintaining as much professional expertise in the library service as possible so that Birmingham’s libraries continue to innovate and meet the changing needs of the city. I am aware that you are in the early stages of thinking around a transformation of library services across the city and I would be interested to meet your team to discuss.”
  • Review Explores the Role of Volunteers in Libraries – SLIC (Scottish Library and Information Council). “A review commissioned by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has concluded that volunteer-run libraries without professional and local authority input are not a preferred option for library services in Scotland. The literature review was conducted on behalf of SLIC, to explore and learn more about the impact of volunteer-run libraries amid moves towards devolving more power to local communities through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill and the ongoing pressure on public service spending.” … “it concludes that volunteer-run libraries without paid professional staff and local authority support are not the preferred option.” … “In Scotland, there are over 1,800 volunteers in libraries, with some interesting examples of their role, including Glasgow Libraries, which has established a partnership with cancer charity Macmillan to establish a volunteer-based service for people affected by cancer. In Scotland, the one community-run library in Moray, ceased operation earlier this year.”

International news

  • Days at Deschutes Public Library – YouTube (USA). A beautifully upbeat video showing the success of the library doing events, many familiar to British libraries. I love the lightsabre fighting with Woggles/foam lightsabres and the cookery class.
  • A Library of Good Ideas – Atlantic (USA). “Formula for success in Central Oregon: know the users, spot the opportunities, act with vigor.” … “library staff is represented in more than 60 community groups from the Chamber of Commerce to the City Club, the Homeless Leadership Coalition, and Bend 2030, a planning group, and so many more.” … “service programs on topics like car-seat safety, self-defense, everything about fire; and offerings for teens in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) programs. The downtown branch of the system also has taken the first step into the “Maker Movement” … “he thinks of the library space as real estate. The real estate solution in Bend: go through the library holdings, then identify and take away the non-movers. Ruthless, but reasonable. I asked about the non-movers in his collection, and he said it was currently nonfiction for older kids; a response, he guessed, to a shift toward online research for that cohort.”

“The Deschutes formula for library success is clear: know your users; partner with the community; identify the needs; offer solutions to problems (even before they become problems); and act with enthusiasm. Besides, of course, being attentive to your books”

  • Are Americans falling in love with censorship? – Guardian (USA). “Freedom of speech campaigners hit back as a recent poll reveals an increasing appetite among US adults for banning books and restricting children’s access to ‘inappropriate’ library books” … “a poll claiming that more than seven in 10 US adults believe a rating system similar to that used for films should be applied to books.”.  Even including religions other than Christianity has led to some calls for banning books from libraries. Concerns over UK publishers putting recommended age ranges on children’s books included.
  • Meet Surrey Libraries’ ‘Book Advisors’ – Now (USA). “Surrey Libraries has introduced its Book Advisors, a group of librarians providing customized reading recommendations via email. “One of the wonderful things about public libraries is that we offer special individualized services,” said Jennifer Wile, manager of information services. “Our Book Advisor service gives people personalized lists and title recommendations based on their interests.”
  • Social Media as Library Advocacy – Colleen Graves (USA). Looks at Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, Google Hangout, Pinterest. Canva. Tackk, Storify. Facebook.
  • World is changing but public libraries here to stay – State Library New South Wales (Australia). “The State Library of NSW’s latest futures report has confirmed “loud and clear” that public libraries are here to stay and will continue to adapt to whatever future we face, the State Library of NSW announced today. According to NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive Alex Byrne: “The State Library led an innovative and influential project in 2009 called the Bookends Scenarios, which provided a stimulus to thinking about the future of public libraries across this state and beyond. “The latest Building on the Bookends Scenarios report tracked how we have been travelling towards the scenarios developed in 2009.  Interestingly, no single scenario has become dominant, but some of the trends have developed faster than was expected five years ago.”


  • Beyond the horizon – 9 September, Newcastle upon Tyne. The CILIP North East Member Network presents its half-day conference which will endeavour to inspire attendees, share knowledge, raise debate and provide networking opportunities. It is an opportunity to hear about and discuss recent and ongoing projects on topics ranging from access to new technologies in public libraries to empowering users about their rights to use creative works and from staff development to promoting the library collections through songs. See details of the programme at:

Local news by authority

“On Monday 16 August, Bristol City Council will give away thousands of books. The local friends group has sent a letter to the Bristol Post … I think the Government gave the Cathedral school £3.5 million. (Bristol Post). I will go to central library on Monday afternoon with the pamphlet “Oxfordshire Libraries” by Philip Pullman, printed by Oxford and District Trades Council 2011. And weep” Bristol – Julie Boston (via email)

  • Birmingham – I love the new Birmingham Library – and I hate what’s happening to it – Guardian. “The mucky concrete ziggurat it replaced – which Prince Charles said he thought looked like a building where books were “incinerated, not kept” – just needed a good clean, as far as I was concerned. … Nonetheless, I quickly fell for its successor – content mattering more than style – and spent much of last year working there, riding the bank of escalators that spears through the library’s core to one of the light, open study areas … In the past six months, though, it’s felt as though the whole enterprise has been falling to bits, which is why it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Birmingham’s libraries are now asking their users to donate spare books while its book-buying fund is “paused”.” … “it’s about the mistake of putting the box before the contents: libraries, first and foremost, have to be about the free availability of quality, up-to-date reading material. Is it really the case that the council couldn’t foresee difficulties in running and replacement costs given the post-2008 climate?”

“… [The Library of Birmingham] is completely separate from all the branch libraries (they call them community libraries) and these are devolved financially to the (parliamentary) constituencies, so book budget in those is run separately by each.  I don’t know how this works with consortium purchase (which I think they must do), but it almost makes it more bizarre if branch libraries are putting up a notice like this as technically they are separately financed and able to make their own decisions.  I had heard that they find it very difficult to get funds at all with this set-up, so it may be they also have no fund to speak of for books, but technically I suppose the ‘loss of bookfund’ ought to be a separate issue for LoB. The last time I tried to use LoB, a while ago, the stock was very depleted, untidy and not in the best state of repair” Birmingham – email received

  • Fife – Consultations over future of West Fife libraries begins – Dunfermline Press. ”  proposal from Fife Cultural Trust, who operate most of Fife Council’s libraries, would see 16 llibraries – including Abbeyview, Crossgates and Townhill – close in a bid to deliver savings required by the council. Also under review are opening hours and mobile library routes, and standardising the range of services offered across the library network.”
  • Herefordshire – Save the library – Ross Gazette / Letters. “Can we please have a huge and concerted effort from the whole community to ensure that our libraries remain open and available to all local residents. If this requires an increase in Council Tax it will be a small price to pay for ensuring the continuation of this essential part of British Life.”
  • Lancashire – Two libraries closed due to staff shortage – Clitheroe Advertiser. “Chatburn and Mellor libraries usually open from 10 am to 1 pm on a Saturday, but will be closed due to staff sickness” … “Each of these small libraries is run by one member of staff and unfortunately at the moment we haven’t got enough staff available to be able to cover from other libraries.”
  • Lincolnshire – Barrowby’s library bid moves forward – Grantham Journal. “Members of a village group working to set up the library believe it will be well used by children, young people and older people in the village, which has 2,000 residents and a primary school with 250 pupils. Initially it would be open on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, but supporters hope this could be extended. When the plan was first mooted it was hoped the library could be open early next year.”
  • Lincolnshire – Campaign under attack – Spalding Today. “I am one of the people at the heart of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign. Martin Hill has now written an open letter (dated July 29) attacking me and other campaigners, claiming our actions are political and unnecessary. I must now make it clear I have several motivations for opposing Mr Hill’s plan. None of them are political, and people can judge for themselves if my concerns are well-founded. ” … “If you want to really understand the people supporting this campaign, you must read the 900 comments on our website from those who signed our online petition (www.savelincslibraries.org.uk/nine-hundred-comments/). If you can get through that page without becoming tearful you have a heart of stone.”
  • Lincolnshire – People from all parties wanted to save Lincolnshire libraries – Lincolnshire Echo. “It was clear that many of those attending were people who cared about Lincolnshire and the library services that the council should provide. I am sure that many there would subsequently voted for David Cameron on May 7.” … “now live in Northamptonshire and, although times have been tough time for the library service, towns such as where we live continue to enjoy a council-funded service. The County Council here has shown imagination which Lincolnshire CC and Councillor Hill clearly lack.”
  • Oldham – Melvyn Bragg and Attila the Stockbroker to star at Live@TheLibrary – Oldham Council (via email). “Oldham Council is bringing an exciting array of theatre, literature and comedy this autumn for its latest Live@thelibrary programme. More than 20 performances are taking place throughout September, October and November, at various venues around the borough – with the majority taking place in Oldham Library’s newly-refurbished performance space. Broadcaster, writer and Parliamentarian Melvyn Bragg will be talking about his new book at The Grange Theatre, in Oldham, on Tuesday, November 10.Oldham Council Libraries is also pleased to present an afternoon with novelist Louis de Bernières, well known for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, at the Millgate Arts Centre, in Delph, Saddleworth, on Saturday, October 24. Radical punk poet and folk musician Attila the Stockbroker will be playing his only Greater Manchester gig this year at Oldham Library. The library welcomes back theatre company Colour the Clouds with their brand new show for children “Maggie and the Song of the Sea” and families can enjoy actor Anthony Pedley’s unique one man show performance of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, among others. The library has established itself as not only a community hub, but also as a quality cultural venue. Arts Council funding, totalling £101,724, has been spent upgrading the technical specification of the Performance Space and children’s area.”
  • Southampton – Residents hit out at Southampton’s Labour council chiefs over plans to shut six city libraries – Daily Echo. “Sparks flew in a heated meeting where residents grilled the council’s leisure chief with one branding her a “disgrace”. ‎Labour cabinet member Satvir Kaur said she believed groups would take on the libraries and that the changes would create a “sustainable” future for the service.”
  • Southampton – Southampton councillors have been urged to use money from housing and education budgets to save six libraries – Daily Echo. “Civic chiefs in Southampton have been accused of failing to listen to residents’ views in putting forward plans that could see six city libraries close. Council leaders have also been urged to find different ways to fund the libraries, by finding the funding from housing and education budgets. The council’s cabinet is being recommended to stop running five city libraries and the mobile service at its meeting on Tuesday (Aug 18).”.  Consultation questions have caused criticism: “critical of the way the consultation questions were phrased, saying there were not different options presented to residents but variations of the same outcome.”
  • Southampton – Southampton residents confront council over library closures – BookSeller. “Southampton residents branded their council leisure chief a “disgrace” at a meeting to discuss the closure of six libraries in the area. According to local newspaper the Daily Echo, library users and council members met Labour cabinet member Satvir Kaur, member for communities, culture and leisure, about the proposed library closures, announced last week.” … “A Labour council member, Cathie McEwing, said she did not understand why the final decision was going just to the cabinet and not the full council for a full debate.”