I spent my Saturday typing like a mad thing at the Speak Up For Libraries conference in London.  The annual event brings together library workers, campaigners, volunteers and senior decision makers in a day discussing what’s happening to libraries and, normally, how we can stop things getting worse.

This year was marked by Paul Blantern and Kathy Settle of the English public Libraries Task Force (officially “Leadership for Libraries Task Force” but normally just plain called the Libraries Task Force) speaking and taking questions.  It was never going to be an easy ride for them and they did face some difficult questions.  It became clear that despite first claiming that no-one knew what a good national public library service was, they actually did know exactly what it was (well-funded local and central libraries with wide opening hours, lots of stock, computers and staff) but that it could not be afforded any more.  They were keen to stress all the work they were doing spreading the good word about libraries to different departments and agencies.  The Task Force will also be busy creating best practice guides for local authorities and other decision makers about the pros and cons of different options (I haven’t yet had a call for them to use my multitude of pages on this but I remain hopeful) and also what needs doing if one’s last option is turning libraries volunteer.

The other take away from me was how connected and switched on the new CEO of CILIP, Nick Poole, is.  He certainly seems to be more of a campaigner and evangelist than we have had before and I wonder whether some of the criticism of him is a hangover from people who were angry with the organisation before he took it over. Like Paul and Kathy, he also has to be a pragmatist, although he is naturally far more on the side of a paid skilled and professional workforce. Someone very funny and talented, but probably not a pragmatist is the children’s author John Dougherty who gave a very funny speech at the end, including singing a song, reproduced below, that probably will not have him in the good graces of the DCMS in the lifetime of this government. My full notes from the conference have been given a full page here as has the introductory speech by Nick Poole on this page.

On a separate topic, Dr Malcolm Rigler has asked me to mention a project he is working on tying in public libraries with public health. Dr Rigler is trying to set up a Special Interest Group on the topic.  If you’re interested, please email him at m.rigler@nhs.net  .


National news

“I thought you might be interested in hearing about Library Stories, a project I’ve been working on over the past year with someone from the School of English here, which has been getting a good amount of local media attention … it was was an Arts Enterprise funded project involving  archival work, public events and focus groups, we now have a website and printed material for the ‘public engagement’ part of the project, which includes a booklet and poster (I’d be happy to send out copies to anyone interested in seeing them). We worked with Our Favourite Places, whose designs are really eye-catching. I think it’s due in large part to the quality and accessibility of the materials that we’re getting quite a bit of media interest, starting with a good write-up of the project in the Culture section of the Yorkshire Post last week, and the Sheffield Star is also covering it shortly.

The project had a neat Past-Present-Future approach and was deliberately focused on the library users rather than the staff, where the past was obviously the archival work (going through visitor books and letters to the local press from the opening of Sheffield public libraries, the present was the focus groups and postcards collected from today’s library users and non-users, and the future is the page on the website which asks members of the public to contribute their ideas for the future of libraries.   Nothing particularly high-brow, but it was a lovely project to be involved in, and having been part of plenty of projects in the past where very little effort was made to involve the public in both data collection and dissemination, this has been a very welcome change. I know you’re very busy, but I would recommend at least the 1902 complaint by ‘Sufferer’, and the very gender-balanced photo of the 1929 Wireless Discussion Group!” Brioni Bird on the Sheffield Library Stories Project (the webpage is recommended – Ed.[

Speak Up For Libraries Conference November 14th 2015 – Notes from the conference including full notes of Nick Poole’s introductory speech.

“Do you want to join us for this year`s EUROLIS seminar ‘Keeping connected how libraries use social media’? Show us how creative you can be in 140 characters. Tweet #EUROLIS2015 and tell us your social media strategy for libraries in one tweet. All tweets will go into a draw to win free attendance at the EUROLIS seminar 2015. Good luck!’ John Lake, Vice Chair of ILIG.

[The following piece is from a library volunteer responding to my last post on what makes a library protest – Ed.]

“A lot of what you say is exactly how it went with us.  I would want to add a few things….  Whilst there are those of us who are quite happy to take on officialdom, it is not just “our own” middle class asset we are defending.  If you look at our library, it has one of the richest wards in the country in the Parish, but it also has two of the poorest.  We have a high proportion of disadvantaged people in the community, who actually need it and its facilities.  But then again, if Libraries are for everyone, we all do!

What made me mad was that after the county had closed down our adult education facilities, looking at the impossibility of using other county facilities if you had to use public transport, there was a possibility we would lose the one asset which would help those who wanted to improve themselves to do so.  So yes, there was a lot of middle class anger expressed but not just for ourselves. There were a lot of people who would not class themselves in that category who joined the campaign and are now firm library supporters across the political and wealth spectrum.  Wider  community support by everybody regardless of their situation is a great argument and strength. It gives me pleasure every time I go into the library and see the great social mix we have of people from different parts of society, all working for the one cause – keeping our library intact which means the staff as well as the facilities”

The other argument is that it is the Library staff create the ambience – the number of people who come in and express almost surprise at what a friendly place it is and that they can feel the buzz – that is down to what they do and very well they do it.  What we have to do is to support them to make sure it is the hub and about the busiest and most used place in the village.  Then it is difficult to let the book stock fall and the computers run down.  We even had a Gazebo up in the Library Garden this summer and everyone passing by could see the children playing,  having story time or Lego/Duplo under it – it makes people bring their own youngsters along when they see the library is a place for fun as well as culture, learning and information.  And you can get a cup of tea and use the loo!” Andrew Strathdee, Chairman, Friends of Burnham Library (Buckinghamshire)

International news

  • Global – Welcome to The Library Project – Library Project. “The Library Project donates books and libraries to under financed rural primary schools and orphanages in Asia. We believe education is the key motivator to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in the developing world. As we see it, education is change.”

Local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Paris Attacks: Library of Birmingham to be turned red, white and blue from 7pm – Birmingham Mail. “Responding to a question on Twitter about the move, Mr Rogers said: “It’s being sorted as we speak by @cllrholbrook and colleagues at @LibraryofBham #ViveLaFrance #ViveLaParis.” Vigils were due to be held in Trafalgar Square as people in the city came together to mourn those killed and injured in the Paris attacks.”
  • Blackpool – Blackpool Council reveals plans to cut 250 jobs – BBC. “The Labour-led council is cutting 200 workforce jobs and ending 50 contract posts – it has axed 700 jobs over the past two years.” … “The council is working on the basis it will have to save £20m even though it will not know how much money it will receive from the government until after the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement on 25 November. The final budget decision will take place at a full council meeting on 25 February. It has pledged to keep all eight local libraries, its SureStart Centres, street cleaning and school crossing patrols.”
  • Brighton and Hove – Privatisation could lead us to a dystopian future – Brighton and Hove Independent. “In our own city, a private finance initiative deal on Jubilee Library has incurred massive costs up to 2028, effectively subsidising the private sector and stymying our ability to support our libraries today.”
  • Cornwall – Cornwall Councillors to update South East Cornwall residents on libraries and one stop shops review – Cornish Guardian. “Councillors will update on a review into library and one stop shop services in South East Cornwall at a meeting on November 26.”
  • Coventry – Revealed: £5m council cuts plan to close public toilets but save libraries – Coventry Telegraph. “the authority is set to abandon its ‘City Centre First’ strategy which would have seen it close every one of more than 100 council-run service centres in the city – including libraries and community centres – and replace them with five regional hubs” … “Revised plans include scrapping the city’s mobile library service, saving £85,000 a year, and all libraries outside the city centre would close on Wednesdays. The city centre library will also close an hour earlier on weekdays.” … “Arena library, in Holbrooks, will move to a new location, saving a whopping £300,000 a year for the council while Willenhall Library will also move to a new location, saving £46,000 a year. There would also be a £100,000 reduction in the council’s annual spend on books and DVDs – taking the figure to £558,000″
  • Croydon – Library campaigners plea for Green candidate’s support over budget concerns – Croydon Advertiser. “Supporters of Upper Norwood library flocked to meet Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry on Friday to express their concerns over the library’s future, including the importance of facilities for new parents. Last month, the library – jointly run by Croydon and Lambeth councils – was told its budget could be halved.”
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – Letter: Libraries may close in the East Riding Council area – Beverley Guardian. “received my first letter headed The Review and the Consultation Period of the East Riding Yorkshire Council Libraries on 16 September. I decided to ring my union – Unison – about the letter received by all library staff on the review of the libraries, which is looking to make savings overall in the council, a saving of £74 million. Unison weren’t too sure why the window was so big between the first consultation letter from 29 September to 21 December. I told them it was to gather the views both from the staff, library users and non-library users. I asked Unison: “I would like to know where I stand as a member of staff.”
  • Fife – Kinghorn children consulted on library closures – Fife Today. “Youngsters who use the closure threatened Kinghorn library have been asked their views on Fife Cultural Trust’s proposals. Questionnaires specifically designed for children were distributed by Kinghorn councillor Susan Leslie, who realised young library users had not really been included in the consultation process.”
  • Hampshire – Four local libraries under threat of closure as part of council plans to save £1.7m – Basingstoke Gazette. “Mobile library services could be scrapped altogether under the proposals. The council plans to reduce the number of Tier 3 static libraries, which include Overton, Whitchurch, South Ham and Odiham. In its consultation document it states that some may close, while others could transfer to be run by local community groups, which could save from £25,000 to more than £50,000 a year per library.” … “In some Tier 3 libraries that are single staffed, the council is looking to pilot an ‘open library’ approach whereby the library would be unstaffed some of the time but remain open to allow customers to issue or return books using the self-service systems”
  • Herefordshire – Work at Hereford library, including asbestos removal, to cost £1 million – Hereford Times. “cost of removing asbestos and carrying out a backlog of maintenance work at Hereford library will cost £1 million. The Broad Street building has been closed since September when traces of asbestos were discovered” … “The council says the £1 million is outlined in its capital programme with members set to consider if there is an opportunity to use that funding to work with the community on an improved library. Members will also be asked if it wants to hold discussions with representatives of the Hereford Library Users Group “to see if their ambitions for a modern library with a range of other facilities could be realised if there was a wider fundraising campaign”.”

“Hereford Library Users Group say they were given 24 hours notice of the press release .They are now considering the major implications of the Council’s proposal. Can a satisfactory library service  be provided while the asbestos and other problems with the Hereford library building are being dealt with?  Also . if and how they might be involved in raising funding  for possible future work. This will clearly require some time”  Herefordshire Library Users Group (via email)

“Having a well-stocked library within a reasonable distance, with properly trained staff, who can advise and recommend, and provide an atmosphere conducive to exploring books, is essential to a child’s learning.”

  • Lincolnshire – Lincolnshire library volunteers open new reading and development centre – Lincolnshire Echo. “The volunteers who stepped in to save Burgh le Marsh’s library are celebrating after officially opening it as a new Reading and Development Centre.” … “Volunteer and secretary Sam Allison, aged 25 and from Foundry Mews in Burgh le Marsh, said it was a huge win for the community, but there were a few final hurdles. “The county council granted it in September and then Burgh Library closed as the library, then we got the go-ahead to move forward. “The library is not called the library any more. As volunteers we can’t use ‘library’ in any statement or name.” … “The volunteers also cannot access personal details due to data protection, so visitors must ring main library services using the centre’s private phone to renew books.”

    Nottinghamshire – Video: Have your say in how Retford area libraries are run – Retford Times. “Council bosses are launching a new cultural organisation called Inspire to manage its libraries, archives and cultural services across the county – and is looking to recruit members now.  Inspire is a ‘community benefit society’ and this week the organisation begins a campaign to recruit members in preparation for starting business next spring.”
  • Somerset – Somerset County Council applies immediate budget freeze – BBC. “The temporary budget freeze affects non-statutory services such as libraries and roads maintenance.”
  • Southampton – Library staff ‘feel backed into corner’ – Daily Echo. “With the proposed closure of five Southampton libraries, volunteers have been asked to step in and run the service with very little funding. Despite the city council still being in talks with a number of voluntary groups regarding the planned community libraries, one group believes volunteers will not get the proper support needed to run the service efficiently. Members of the Friends of Cobbett Road Library group believe volunteer groups in libraries are already and would not be able to keep to the high quality of service of professionals employed by the council.” … “The friends group has called for the secretary of state for culture, media and sport John Wittingdale to intervene, saying the council is breaching its duty to residents by not running the libraries.”
  • Staffordshire – 3D printer brings power of creation to Stafford Library – Express and Star. “Among the various tablets and touchscreen tables at the new £1 million Stafford Library are two Makerbot Replicators. Using one of the £2,500 machines we brought our usually flat Express & Star masthead to life in less than one hour.” … “The library already display’s around a dozen stunning creations. Mr Warren said: “From day one the interest in this has been very high. People are just intrigued about it, they have heard about it but have not had the chance to use it until now. “I must admit I wasn’t sure about it. I thought it was a bit of a fad. But having seen what it is capable of I think this is just the start.””
  • Wandsworth – Allbrook House and Roehampton Library will not be listed as regeneration moves a step closer – This is Local London. “Regeneration work on a Roehampton estate will go ahead, after the Secretary of State refused an application to protect a block of flats. Wandsworth Council intended to work on Allbrook House and Roehampton Library, as part of the Alton area regeneration, but this was delayed because of an application to have the buildings listed for architectural or historic interest. A report by Historic England says the house and library has “poorly resolved urban context” and internally, is dark and unpleasant.”