Doubtless the big news today for public libraries isn’t about a public library service: it’s Bibliotheca (or rather its shareholders) buying out one of their major competitors, 3M Library Systems.  I know that for many of us these are the two big players when it comes to RFID and self-service so it’s going to have a possible bearing for when it comes to getting best value … or it may make things more efficient and wonderful, of course.

Other than that, we’ve got three London boroughs making waves. There’s a lot of action, notably from Unison, about Barnet’s proposal to cut library services and almost half their library staff in the process. Amazingly, the Shadow Chancellor comes out with a fulsome note of support for the protestors.  That’s a real, very real, change from pre-Corbyn days. Whether it’s a good change or a bad change depends very much on where you sit politically. Secondly, people are really not impressed about changing libraries into “gyms” in Lambeth, are also unimpressed about the consultation and are not happy as well (again this is Unison) about losing a quarter of the staff there. Finally, I quote Lord Tope on the recent announced cuts in Sutton.  He was the ex-lead of the Libraries all-party parliamentary group before the election until the rules changed which means the lead needs to be an MP.  His points can be summed up as get involved in the consultation and there’s going to be cuts and so it’s up to you help decide where they’re going to fall.  A tough message but a true one.

National news

  • Bibliotheca announces significant expansion – Bibliotheca. “Bibliotheca is excited to announce that their shareholders, One Equity Partners (OEP), today completed the purchase of 3M Library Systems North American business, and entered into agreements to purchase the assets of 3M’s remaining global Library Systems business. The new Bibliotheca Group will combine the best of both worlds to help libraries captivate their communities, providing innovative library-focused solutions that connect with people at home, at the library, and on the go. ” … “The completed sale transfers 3M’s former North America Library business, including the security (EM), productivity (RFID & AMH) and cloud (eBooks) solutions, all of which will be joined with the existing Bibliotheca product set to create the single largest ‘best of breed’ solution set globally. ” see also Bibliotheca acquire 3M Libraries – Changing Libraries. “Rumours of a sale had been circulating for some months with China’s Invengo  – specialists in RFID – widely tipped to win the race to seal the deal. The new company becomes easily the largest supplier of library self-service and security products in the western hemisphere and by combining the already established 3M’s Cloud Library with Bibliotheca’s recently announced Opus product, the enlarged company is likely to provide stiff competition in the e-lending sector for current market leader Overdrive – which announced its latest software product to the UK market only this morning.”
  • The Pro’s and Cons of Community Libraries – Ladbrook Insurance / Ian Anstice. “Much has been said about volunteer libraries (in terms of replacing paid staff, not being additional to them) but the main arguments can be boiled down to “Something is better than nothing” (pro) and “all or nothing” (con). This gulf between those two gives you an idea of the strength of feeling inherent in this issue and, when you consider that people’s jobs are often on the line, make this the most controversial subject in public libraries today.” … “In terms of numbers, the volunteer library side is winning at the moment. The financial pressure on councils is just too great and the examples of successful volunteer libraries are persuasive. The “Something is better than nothing” side has also naturally received a boost with the re-election of a fully Conservative government intent on further radically reducing council budgets. It remains to be seen whether, however, in the long term, this is simply “nothing” in disguise.” [Yes, this is me linking to something I’ve written, again – Ed.]

International news

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Barnet Unison confirm 24 hour strike 7 October – over 46 % of Library workers to be sacked Barnet Unison. “Barnet Unison members who still work for Barnet Council (excluding community schools) will begin a 24 hour strike action on Wednesday 7 October. The dispute involves social workers, coach escorts, drivers, occupational therapists, schools catering staff, education welfare officers, library workers, children centre workers, street cleaning & refuse workers, all of whom have made it clear they want to remain employees of Barnet Council and don’t want to be outsourced.”

“Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “I have been a long term supporter of John Burgess & Barnet UNISON and the community campaign that has shown remarkable fighting spirit in the face of a relentless attack from the hard right in control of Barnet Council. Under Jeremy, people can see that there is a real alternative to austerity which is why I am fully behind Barnet Unison members taking strike action on 7 October. If possible I hope to join you on the picket line.”

  • Barnet – Library proposals ‘extremely worrying’, say campaigners – This is Local London. “Campaigner Mary Beer-Cleasby, of Chandos Road, East Finchley, said: “The plans are extremely worrying. It is dangerous and designed to hoodwink the public into thinking everything is safe, when it is less comprehensive and is ultimately going to be extremely disruptive. It is a slow death, rather than an immediate death”
  • Hampshire – Fears Yateley Library could have opening hours cut after usage falls – Get Hampshire. “Yateley Library could have its opening hours cut, as figures reveal the number of visitors has dropped by 20% over the last two years. After recent rumours of the library being monitored with a view to its closure were denied by Hampshire County Council, a Freedom of Information request by the News & Mail has revealed footfall at the library is steadily decreasing. During the 2012/13 financial year, 131.322 people used the library, but this reduced to 117,529 in 2013/14 and to 106,178 in 2014/15.” … “Although Yateley is a relatively small library there are currently no plans to close it.”
  • Lambeth – A gym with a bookshelf – Lambeth’s plan for our library – Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library.”The document that Lambeth Council is considering is a revised version of Cultural Services by 2020 – revised by Lambeth officers, supposedly in the light of a two-month long public consultation earlier this year. In the case of libraries, the revisions bear little relation to the original, or to representations from the public. Yet people have now been given only 10 days to absorb and react to the new proposals before they come up for approval. So what are the main revisions? Lambeth still proposes to offload four of its five “neighbourhood” (ie small) libraries. This time, instead of trying to close them down or transfer them to unidentified trusts that a totally unenthusiastic local community has to create, it is planning to close down just one (Waterloo) and transfer three libraries to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which will transform them into”healthy living centres”. The three libraries are Carnegie, Minet and either Durning or Tate South Lambeth.”
  • Lambeth – Kate Hoey blasts ‘sham’ consultation on Waterloo Library closure – London SE1. Labour MP Kate Hoey “”There is no logic to Lambeth Council‘s decision to close the current Waterloo Library next March and move it to a site in the new Oasis building,” Kate Hoey told the SE1 website. “Their decision not to sell the building at this stage means there is no reason why it cannot stay where it is and work be done for example on creating a housing scheme developed above it which would help fund the library staying. “This so-called consultation has been – as many thought it would be – a sham, as overwhelmingly the Waterloo community said they wanted a Lambeth funded library to continue.”
  • Lambeth – Unison calls on Lambeth council to rethink gym libraries – Brixton Blog. “Lambeth Unison argue that the proposed changes will mean 25% of Lambeth library staff are made redundant with no evidence that this is what the public want or need: “There is no evidence that anyone wanted their local library turned into a gym. Services used by children and elderly people will be swapped for weightlifting and cross-trainers – free services will be exchanged for a fee charging gym! How many children will learn to read at the gym, how many older people will find a friendly face and where will those who attend the dementia groups or elders film groups go?””
  • Neath Port Talbot – Neath Port Talbot Council have ‘no choice but to make more cuts’ as they look to save £18 million – South Wales Evening Post. “Council chief executive Steven Phillips warned that with these proposals, discretionary services such as swimming pools, leisure centres and community centres were in competition with statutory services like education. He said: “What we want to do is get these proposals out to the communities as quickly as possible to get the dialogue started with those communities.” Proposals being put forward include cuts to youth services, increased parking charges along with the community transfer of more libraries, community centres and bowling pavilions. But concerns were raised over the possibility of compulsory redundancies, something the council has been working to avoid since the cuts began.”
  • Staffordshire – Results of consultation on future of mobile libraries to be discussed next week – Staffordshire Newsletter. “…results of the consultation on changes to the mobile and travelling library service will be discussed next week. The council has proposed a reorganisation of the service, focused on prioritising the service for those who needed it most. Ideas put forward included maintaining a service for deprived areas and retaining popular stops, more than two miles from an existing library building. It also said visits would be maintained at least once every three weeks, length of stay would be determined by use and routes and stops would be reviewed annually.”
  • Staffordshire – Staffordshire County Council pleased with response to mobile library service consultation – Lichfield Live. “More than a thousand people have had their say on the future of the mobile library service.” … “A consultation has now finished, and Cllr Ben Adams, Cabinet member for learning and skills, said that 94% of those who responded were regular users of the mobile library service. “I’m pleased so many people took the trouble to respond and that so many agree with our fundamental aim of providing a service for those who need it most,” he said. “With so few people using mobile and travelling libraries, and with the cost of use almost £7 every time someone steps on one, we must consider how best to provide a service for those who need it most.””

Probably the most important thing missing from the local paper report … is that the only decision taken so far is to have an extensive public consultation on the Library Service which runs from 23 September to 16 December. The full consultation document is available on the Sutton Council web site, as is the consultation survey which can be completed on line or on a paper copy available at every library. There is also an open meeting about it on Saturday 14 November. Decisions will be taken after the Consultation ends and will be informed by its results. We need as large a response as possible to this consultation, which is open to everyone (you included!), not just those who live or work in the Borough. As the options suggested in the consultation document for consideration include “making more use of volunteers and community groups, commissioning or outsourcing Library Services, and Sharing Library Services with another Council”, experience from elsewhere would be particularly useful.

I don’t know if you know Sutton at all?  It has a population of about 200,000 in a very compact area about 5 miles by 3. It still has 9 public libraries (5 of them newly built since 2000!); it is one of only four London Boroughs still to have a mobile library service; and a housebound service. During the last five years of budget cuts, the Council has done its best to protect the Library Service and, although there have had to be cuts in its budget, no libraries have closed and, so far, reductions in opening hours have had minimal effect on users. Having said that, the size of the cuts that still have to be made in the Council’s annual budget is so great that I fear it is simply not realistic that the library service can be immune from them. If it is any small consolation the figures quoted in the newspaper report actually include the heritage and arts budgets as well.

“I think the realistic question to answer is not IF the libraries budget should be cut (we’d all like to say “no” but that’s too easy and not realistic); it is HOW, so as to minimise the damage and maximise the effectiveness and efficiency  of the service to library users, on which we can always learn from others’ experience.” Sutton – Lord Tope via email to Shirley Burnham (reproduced with permission)