Sue Bell from Staffordshire very kindly sent me these pictures of the new Stafford Library.  The building is not without controversy – it’s away from the town centre and Staffordshire itself is facing some pretty touch times financially for its libraries – but I’d expect this library to be fairly cutting edge.  Janene Cox, the overall boss of libraries there, was president of the SCL and so is highly aware of national developments. Amongst all the hi-tech (got to get me a digitable) it’s reassuring to see some very beautiful bookshelving.  I’m hoping to visit some time myself over the next few months to give it a closer look and review. I’m also very pleased that Carl Clayton has sent me an interesting article on the ways councils and call centres are missing out by not fully utilising the sheer awesome power of the public librarian.

Moving away from PLN special features, the Unison report on Scottish public libraries shows things are pretty tough north of the border as well as in England, although I do get the feeling they ain’t seen nothing yet.  The Reading Agency have also produced a report showing how effective Reading Ahead (it used to be called the Six Book Challenge) is for improving confidence in reading.

The most bizarre thing about some call centre enquiries is that they don’t pass them on to the library

Carl Clayton, who some of you may know from being Relationship Manager for Libraries in the North for Arts Council England, has kindly sent me this piece for publication. It raises an interesting point or three so here it is …

“In August, the Local Government Association published a media release with the headline Councils review most bizarre call centre queries. It was a typical silly season press release intended to be amusing and diverting but with no very serious message. The press release begins by saying ‘Council call centres handle more than 50 million calls each year, usually about council tax and parking, but they also receive some more bizarre queries that can leave staff baffled’. It goes on to say ‘Call centres are vital to the successful delivery of council services and even if they do feel as though they are outside their remit, council call centre staff will always try their hardest to assist where they can. But whilst councils offer more than 800 services, some requests are simply beyond them’. So far so trivial. It seems like a typical piece inviting us to laugh at the stupidity of people who phone council call centres with spurious enquiries. But what exactly are these queries that council call centres appear to find so bizarre?

Some of them are admittedly odd but they are nevertheless legitimate queries for a local authority call centre e.g.

  • Can I exercise my kestrel on your tip?
  • How many geese are on the boating lake in Cleethorpes this year – caller wanted to visit but had an allergy to feathers
  • I met a boy whilst on holiday in Ibiza, but I’ve lost his number, he said he lived in Nottingham and his dad is a bin man, do you know him?

All of these could be referred to an appropriate Council department. I don’t suppose that a council would release information about an employee but it is not unreasonable to try to trace someone when you have a surname and an employer.

However some of the other queries that local authorities regard as bizarre are more alarming:

  • Do you know how much water I need to cook super noodles? (Stevenage Borough Council)
  • What are the rules and regulations for hosting a mouse race? (Somerset County Council)
  • A call from an elderly lady asking for help on her crossword. Seven letters, James Bond’s cat loving nemesis, begins with B? (Staffordshire County Council)
  • What is the daily room rate at the Holiday Inn express? (Stevenage Borough Council)
  • What size tin is required for the Mary Berry strawberry tart featured on the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off?’ (Somerset County council)
  • How high is Mt Kilimanjaro? (Somerset County Council)

The worrying thing about these is that they are all typical of the sort of query that a public library might deal with every day. Any decent public library – and by that I mean one that still offers a professional reference enquiry service – should be able to answer all of these or direct the enquirer to the source of information. I’m not certain about the mouse racing one but if there is such a thing as mouse racing then someone has probably published rules and regulations and I’m sure a professional librarian could find them.

The trouble is that call centres, instead of transferring these enquiries to the library for an answer, are just laughing about how ‘bizarre’ they are. The press release makes it clear that call centre staff and managers regard this type of query as ‘outside’ their remit and presumably in many cases they are failing to transfer the caller to the department that can help them. Even worse in some cases they are trying to answer the queries themselves: ‘One elderly resident contacted Stevenage Borough Council to ask where she could buy a shopping trolley and was directed to her nearest store by staff after a quick internet search’.  Why on earth are call centre staff carrying out internet searches instead of passing this on to the library? If they are not trained in information searching they are bound to be wasting time and providing the wrong answers.

“Why on earth are call centre staff carrying out internet searches instead of passing this on to the library? If they are not trained in information searching they are bound to be wasting time and providing the wrong answers.”

The whole piece strongly suggests that across the country call centre staff are failing to pass perfectly legitimate reference enquiries on to the library because they somehow find it amusing that someone wants to know the height of a mountain or needs help with a crossword. Obviously they think that the only legitimate reason for contacting the council is to make an enquiry directly about council services and fail to understand – or have not been trained to appreciate – that the library service specifically exists to find answers to a wider range of questions. In some authorities all phone calls are directed to a call centre and it can be very difficult to get a direct number for the reference library. Councils claim that this improves efficiency but as this LGA press release clearly shows people are simply not getting a good service and the library service is being ignored by its own council.

Admittedly these examples are trivial in themselves but no organisation can afford to fail to satisfy the legitimate expectations of customers. Perhaps if users get the right answer to their ‘trivial’ questions they will later come back with queries that aren’t trivial – questions about health, education, finding jobs or starting up a business – all things that are central to the role of a council. Is it any wonder that local authorities are failing to invest in libraries when there is such a large gap in their understanding of what they do?”

A few pictures of the new Stafford Library


This is the Innovation suite, dig the graphics

This is the Innovation suite, dig the graphics

“Many people have commented this morning that they love the feel of the new library and the atmosphere. It reminds them of a bookshop. The library staff love the guiding and the light boxes that help people to find what they are looking for” says Staffordshire Libraries , [But my concern would be making sure all those light bulbs work every day – Ed.]

It's a 3D printer everyone. Not many of those even now in UK public libraries.

It’s a 3D printer everyone. Not many of those even now in UK public libraries.


This chap is using an interactive noticeboard to get the most out of Google Earth

This chap is using an interactive “digitable” to get the most out of Google Earth. The new library has two such tables: one which has adult content on it (although it was noticed that the boys were very impressed with Google Earth and the Solar System) and this can be tilted and height adjusted. They also have one for children which cannot be tilted or height adjusted, an ‘x table’ design. This has lots of games on it as the library has been concentrating on the content for the adult one for opening.



  • Read it and WeepUnison Scotland. See Fine words and ideals no substitute for investment: Unison inquiry into Scotland’s libraries – Unison. “Unison, the trade union for Scotland’s library staff, has published a report ‘Read It and Weep’, which outlines the experience of those working in Scotland’s libraries. It raises the concerns and difficulties of staff who are simultaneously being expected to expand services while being in the front line of cuts.  The report is based on qualitative research from Unison members working across Scotland’s libraries. The frustration on the part of staff is clear. They are well aware that the services they provide are not as good as they could be and they highlight the impacts that cuts are making. Library services have been undergoing massive change in recent years yet staff numbers have been going down, buildings are closing and opening hours reduced . Gray Allan, Unison Falkirk council branch spokesperson (and a librarian), said “There is no shortage of people willing to say libraries are a good thing. But what our libraries need isn’t just fine words and ideals but proper financing and investment. The Scottish Government has endorsed a national strategy for public libraries that talks of libraries being part of a shared civic ambition. “There isn’t much point in giving every child in Scotland a library card if their local library is being closed or its hours have reduced so much it isn’t accessible.
    ” Staff are keen to see their service move forward but that isn’t happening.”” see also Library staff ‘increasingly forced to deal with antisocial behaviour’ – STV and Libraries being undermined, staff warn – Herald Scotland. “Promising every child a library card from birth will be pointless if there are no libraries left or they are hardly open, according to public sector union Unison.”

“Local government is committed to maintaining the high levels of provision which include over 520 fixed libraries in Scotland. “This degree of provision is unparalleled in other parts of Britain. This is not a cup half empty scenario, indeed in truth we should be celebrating the maintenance of local provision in times of extremely challenging funding.” COSLA

  • Reading Agency presents report to Downing Street – BookSeller. “The Reading Agency has presented a report to Downing Street showing that 92% of participants in its Reading Ahead challenge felt more confident about reading after taking part. The charity presented its findings into the impact of Reading Ahead, which was known as the Six Book Challenge from its launch in 2008 until June this year, at a reception at 11 Downing Street hosted by writer Frances Osborne, wife of the Chancellor George Osborne. Also present were skills minister Nick Boles MP, authors Martina Cole and Bali Rai, and publishers, funders and other charities. To compile the Six Book Challenge Impact Report 2015, report author Tom Holman surveyed 1,344 participants from libraries, prisons, learning providers, young offenders institutions and workplaces, asking them to identify the benefits of reading six books and keeping a record of their progress.”

International news

Local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Financial Cuts to the Library of Birmingham – YouTube. Interviews with Laura Swaffield of the Library Campaign, Birmingham Library Campaign, Unison and myself.
  • Blackpool – Council cuts – Gazette / Letters. “Wherever the cuts bite, people within the community will feel the effects greatly. If you close libraries, which seems the most likely, the elderly who view this service, along with mother groups, would suffer.
  • Brent – Your chance to see Rugby’s World Cup Trophy in Brent – Brent Council. “Boasting 40,000 books, over 120 study spaces, 66 PCs and 14 iPads for public use, the £10 million Library at Willesden Green has been built to play a role as a 21st century community hub. To highlight how the new Library at Willesden Green will be used by the community in the years to come, Brent Council has pulled together a packed six-hour programme of activities and entertainment for the event, which begins at 12noon on 12 September 2015. Cheerleading, steel bands, children’s theatre, face painting and carnival costume and sari trying, are just some of the highlights of the day, along with a mobile local history cinema, dance sessions, performance arts and a ceilidh session also makes the bill.”
  • Edinburgh – Libraries and hubs to get superfast web extension – Edinburgh News. “Hundreds of council hubs, offices and libraries are set to be kitted out with superfast internet in the latest part of a £186 million boost to the city’s IT infrastructure. The deal will see a 100km extension to the Capital’s brand new “fibre network”, which is ushering in internet speeds up to 100 times faster than currently available.” … “Due to be completed in a year, the project will see computer users in libraries and community centres able to enjoy instant internet connections and improved access to online databases.”
  • Fife – Cultural Trust wasn’t set up to cut library services – Fife Today. “The blame for the possible closure of up to 16 libraries across the region must be laid at the door of Fife Council. That was the message at a public meeting called in Markinch this week to consider the controversial shake-up. Fife Cultural Trust has to make savings of £813,000 to Fife Council – and with libraries taking the majority of its budget, they are in the firing line. Laurie Piper, head of customer service and external relations. said: “None of us wanted this to happen. It was not why the trust was set up, but with the fact that we have to find savings and the majority of our business being library provision, it was inevitable that libraries would bare the brunt,”
  • Newham – Old Manor Park Library set to reopen as art studios – Newham Recorder.  “More than a century ago, the Old Manor Park Library opened to provide somewhere for east Londoners to self-educate. … Now it is set to reopen as a creative space, harnessing the Romford Road site’s history to influence the future. “It was built as a Carnegie library, one of the first free public libraries, and opened in 1905,” explained curator Marijke Steedman. “We want to continue the idea of creativity in east London.” The Grade II listed building is being redesigned by architects Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Astrid Smitham ahead of its reopening.
  • Powys – Libraries face cuts just year after successful protest – Cambrian News. “… libraries in Machynlleth and Llanidloes could once again be under threat, as Powys council cuts deepen. In its latest draft proposals for cuts of £27m by 2019, Powys council has earmarked another £250,000 to be saved from libraries across the county.” … “Councillors in both Machynlleth and Llanidloes “strongly opposed” any changes to the towns’ library services, but admitted that the 20 per cent reduction in opening times was the “least-worst” option”
  • Southampton – Crunch talks over future of six Southampton libraries – Southern Daily Echo. “Labour council leaders approved the move to stop running five libraries and the mobile service, but their Conservative opponents called it in for further scrutiny. They say they are not happy about a lack of information on the groups which the council says have expressed interest in taking on the five libraries”
  • Staffordshire – New £1m Stafford library offers access to 3D printing – BBC. Complaints that Stafford Central is now outside of the town centre.  Moved from centre to make it “more modern”. Coding space, sofas.  “We need flexible, more modern library spaces that suit the way people live now”. … “A new £1m library has opened in Stafford despite nearly 3,000 people signing a petition against the plans. The facility in Stafford Place will stock more than one million books and includes access to 3D printing. Labour councillors disapproved of the new library, which has been relocated from Shire Hall, because it is not in the town centre. Staffordshire County Council said it could be “used flexibly to meet the changing needs of local communities”. An Innovation Suite at the library features technology for local businesses, community groups, schools and individuals, the county council said.” … “The council launched a consultation into the future of its 43 libraries in 2014, after a drop in the number of people using them”
  • Worcestershire – Council’s idea to stave off impact of Government cuts – crowdfunding – Evesham Journal. “Frances Howie, head of public health at the council, said: “We want people to look at the website and if they say ‘I want to help children and young people, I live in (postcode) W14’, it will automatically link you up to local football clubs in that area.” Mr Anderson told the panel crowdfunding was a possible new solution, saying: “It’s a relatively new internet-based way of raising money.” He also told them one of the biggest Act Local successes was libraries, saying the ‘at home’ service is now fully staffed by volunteers. “