So I got into a brief exchange with a librarian on Twitter who said “Would there be a riot if your library closed? If not you need to look at your role in the community”.  This got me into thinking about what actually affects the level of protest when a library is closed, using my reading of the all the stories of library cuts and campaigns over the last five years.  The following are my thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing yours (comment or email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk):

  • The more prosperous area, the louder the protest. It seems a sad truth that the areas where one would think libraries are most needed – in areas of high disadvantage – are precisely those areas where people are least likely to protest. This may be for all sorts of reasons but are most likely down to lack of awareness of the possibilities and, also, a feeling of powerlessness. On the other extreme, close a library in a leafy suburb and all hell will break loose. This is because the people living there are likely to know how to protest in a way that will make the headlines. Simply speaking, retired professionals or those skilled in public speaking, organising and communications can raise one heck of a stink.
  • The level of co-option. If a council says that the library is going to close, tough, then there’s going to be a lot of protest.  People are going to rage against the dying of the light and be angry with council.  If, on the other hand, the council says that volunteers are the only way of saving the library then those people who would naturally campaign against the closure could well be co-opted into running it.  They may not be happy but they’ll be too busy working out a way to keep the place open than protest. Seen on one side, this is the “divide and rule” or “blackmail” approach. Councils themselves will likely use phrases like “exciting opportunity” and “empowering local communities” but it all amounts to the same thing.  People won’t protest if they think it will be counter-productive.
  • The more obvious the cut, the more placards.  I noticed this when I started: councils which said a few of their libraries would close hit a brick wall of campaigners but those councils who said that, hey, we’re going to reduce opening hours by one-third received very little notable problems. Like with co-option, this greys the issue and does not make it black and white.  People will get angry if they think a decision is evil or wrong but are likely to do nothing if they’re not sure.  Simply put, people don’t care about compromises but they’ll get positively angry about diktats.
  • The personal touch. This can manifest in all sorts of ways.  Negatively, a particularly obnoxious council leader or spokesman is not going to help. Positively, making a much-loved team of library workers unemployed is going to really miff off their friends. In addition, there seems to be the need for a co-ordinator or a figurehead in a library campaign.  Unless one person stands up and shouts, many people won’t make a stand themselves.
  • Fairness, open-ness and genuine consultation.  Close a library which has more usage than one which stays open and you’re going to get a world of pain if people notice. Make clear that you’ve bent over backwards to think of all options, that you’ve talked to everyone and are putting forward the best possible solution then you’re going to be, more than likely, OK.  Arrogance or a corporate way of doing things, which only pays lip service to listening to the community, and that’s a good way of seeing the inside of a court room.
  • How great or used the library is in the first place.  If a library has faced cut after cut for years, is open for only a few hours, has computers pretty much out of order all the time and no new books then people are more likely to go meh than j’accuse. If however, the library is shiny and well used then people are not going to be happy.

There’s probably more reasons than that but those are the ones which jumped out at me.  The key to me to all this is that, sadly, the actualy need of the community for a library plays only a minor role. Indeed, there’s a case to be said that areas who need libraries because they can’t afford books or computers are precisely those areas which will be more likely to be easy to cut. That’s a whole lump of unfair but, thankfully, equality impact assessments and judicial reviews can come into play at such times, as long as someone somewhere is there to set the wheels in motion. And, actually, the level of protest can have little (or a lot – but it depends, it’s not a golden rule) to do with what the librarians actually do.


National news

  • CILIP calls on Prime Minister David Cameron to develop publicly-funded libraries – CILIP. “In an open letter published today, 11 November, CILIP has called on the Prime Minister David Cameron to “to work with the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Local Government Association to recognise the importance of libraries, to protect them as far as possible in the forthcoming budget and to provide policy and financial support through this period of transition.””
  • CILIP’s weak statement to the Prime Minister – Phil Bradley’s Weblog. “having read the statement, I have to say that I think it’s not going to have the desired effect, not by a long way. You can read the entire thing yourself by following the previous link, but I’ll pull out some of the statements in order to examine them in a little more detail … CILIP – you need to do more. You need to be passionate. You need to be vocal. You need to be seen to be standing up – if not for the Prime Minister, but for your members, their library services, and most of all, for their communities.”
  • Culture associated with ‘happiness’, DCMS analysis reveals – Arts Professional. “Whilst arts attendance was found to be linked to happiness, no link is found with visiting a museum or gallery, or participating in arts activities. Visiting a library within the past 12 months was found to have a statistically significant association with lower happiness scores, even after other factors, including income, had been taken into account. Researchers commented: “The reasons underlying this finding are not clear. Further work will be needed to understand whether the nature of library use and/or the happiness levels of those groups using libraries are key factors.””
  • Customer, Consumer, Users, and Other Mistakes – R David Lankes. “Librarians and the libraries they build are turning towards the communities they serve. Librarians have found renewed relevance and purpose in unleashing the knowledge and aspirations of the world’s towns, schools, universities, and businesses. However, this realignment can go too far – to a place where the values and unique contributions of librarianship get lost in a rush to meet every demand and fad. This talk will focus on the new compact libraries and their communities must forge for the benefit of both.”
  • David Cameron hasn’t the faintest idea how deep his cuts go. This letter proves it  – Guardian. “Cameron complains that he is “disappointed” by the council’s proposals “to make significant cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums. This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county.” Why, he asks, has Oxfordshire not focused instead on “making back-office savings”? Why hasn’t it sold off its surplus property? After all, there has been only “a slight fall in government grants in cash terms”. Couldn’t the county “generate savings in a more creative manner”?” … “Explaining the issue gently, as if to a slow learner, the council leader, Ian Hudspeth, points out that the council has already culled its back-office functions, slashing 40% of its most senior staff and 2,800 jobs in total, with the result that it now spends less on these roles than most other counties. He explains that he has already flogged all the property he can lay hands on, but would like to remind the prime minister that using the income from these sales to pay for the council’s running costs “is neither legal, nor sustainable in the long-term since they are one-off receipts”.” see also David Cameron complains to his local council about cuts to services – Telegraph [where the poll suggests a large majority think the PM is being hypocritical]
  • Fallout 4: What to Do With Overdue Books -Twinfinite. “On your travels across Fallout 4’s wasteland, you’re more than likely going to find overdue books lying around the wasteland. With very little to suggest what exactly you’re supposed to do with these overdue books, you may be unsure of their purpose in Fallout 4. Fear not, let us talk you through it.”
  • How to shout so your users will listen – Ned Potter. Keynote presentation at Shout conference.  [One of the simplest and best guides to marketing and promotion I’ve ever seen, let alone in the library sector – Ed.]
  • It’s Complicated – Leon’s Library Blog. “…if it genuinely comes down to a choice between the option to keep the network mostly intact and run mostly by paid staff and qualified librarians or face the fragmentation of services and handing over to volunteers I know which option I’d choose. In fact where a council is intent on off-loading a large proportion of its library network then campaigners should challenge the council to adopt a trust model. However, as I say, it’s complicated, and for the foreseeable future likely to get more complicated still.”
  • PLR rate to increase by 1p next year – BookSeller. “The British Library Board has proposed an increase in Public Lending Right (PLR) payment made to authors next year, following a decrease in the estimated number of book loans. The board has recommended the PLR rate should increase from 6.66 pence to 7.67 pence per loan in 2016, a rise of 1.01p, which the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) intends to accept. Following the proposal, the Society of Authors c.e.o Nicola Solomon has written to Dominic Lake, deputy director of arts, libraries and cultural property at the DCMS, urging the government to ring-fence the PLR fund and “protect and maintain the library service which is under serious threat.”

International news

  • USA – The Library in the Life of the User: Engaging with People Where They Live and Learn – OCLC. “This compilation provides a sequential overview of some of our user behavior research findings that articulate the need for the design of future library services to be all about the user. Highlights: People associate the library with books and do not consider the library in relation to online resources or reference services; People may not think of using libraries to get their information because they do not know that the services exist and some of the existing services are not familiar or do not fit into their workflows; The context and situation of the information need often dictates how people behave and engage with technology; Engagement and relationship building in both the online and physical environments is important for the development of successful and effective services.”
  • USA – The surprising innovations of your local librarians – The Week. “There are a lot of cutting-edge changes at libraries: Red Box-style kiosks for borrowing books, digital badge award systems for summer reading, and makerspaces among them. And it all fits the long-time function of libraries. Investing in new technology is a continuation of something libraries have always strived for: providing training for and access to resources and information a lot of people couldn’t otherwise afford.”

Local news by authority

  • Brighton and Hove – Hove Library’s purpose built replacement will be two and half times smaller – Argus. “Council officers have revealed that a one storey extension at the rear of Hove Museum for the proposed move in 2017/18 will be two and half times smaller than the existing library. Councillors said residents were unlikely to accept the move if they felt they were receiving a reduced service. The council’s head of libraries assured councillors that the same level of service could be achieved within a smaller space.”
  • Cardiff – Roath Library campaigners say promises to keep library service in their area ‘have been broken’ – Wales Online. “It is a year since Roath library’s doors were closed, and campaigners say promises to keep library services in the area have been broken. The library, which suffered a catalogue of problems, was closed when its boiler failed.” … “The council say the repair bill is too high and is currently asking for expressions of interest for a Community Asset Transfer for the future operation of the service. The council say there is a maintenance backlog of £250,000 but that figure could be even higher based on examples in other buildings.”
  • Ceredigion – Town library services to be hit in big shake up – Tivyside Advertiser. “Llandysul library’s future hangs in the balance with an agreement yesterday by the council’s cabinet to go out to public consultation on plans to close it. The library in Cardigan looks set to relocate to smaller premises, though all services within it would be retained. Its current lease at Canolfan Teifi is up.”
  • Devon – Future of 50 Devon libraries secured in take-over deal – Western Morning News. “Libraries Unlimited chairman, Julie Dent, said they had a robust five year plan and she was confident that they can continue to deliver an affordable, sustainable and innovative library service for Devon “
  • Devon – North Devon libraries told to diversify under new body – North Devon Journal. “”Maximising the use of libraries by hiring space to others and working with partners and the wider business community to provide additional services are just some of the ideas we have discussed, but it won’t end there.  “As well as maintaining reading, learning and information services for communities across Devon, there are plans to expand support for enterprise, digital services and residents’ health and wellbeing.”
  • Lambeth – London library workers ballot to strike over plans to turn libraries into ‘healthy living centres’ – London Evening Standard. “Library workers in Lambeth are balloting to strike over proposals to turn three libraries into “healthy living centres”. The libraries in Oval, Loughborough Junction and Herne Hill are set to be taken over by Greenwich Leisure Limited which, protesters claim, will build gyms with lounges for bookshelves.  Ruth Cashman, 30, a Unison representative and Brixton Library worker, said: “We’ve had the consultative ballot which unanimously supported action and official ballot papers will go out in the next few weeks.” “
  • Lincolnshire – Council cuts – Council’s view is disturbing – Horncastle News. “Well, it looks like all we will get is about a month in January to examine the entirety of the county council’s budget intentions, which some people may feel are more or less decided already. If the council feels generous, we might get to spend Christmas and the new year studying the documents. Based on previous years, the consultation paperwork can be unfriendly – over complex yet vague and filled with jargon or specialised terms.”
  • Lincolnshire – “Threaten, bully and criticise” – Save Lincolnshire Libraries. “Despite the fact that at the decision making Executive meetings two Councillors admitted that they have not used libraries for decades, whilst another insisted that children no longer read and/or want books, the County Council does seem to have thought again about the needs of some local residents. In particular, I would single out those libraries in Ermine, Boultham and Birchwood, which are now being managed by paid staff, as well as eventually by volunteers. They are called “community hubs and libraries”. They are being managed by “Learning Communities “ which is a not-for- profit organisation, part funded by the County Council”
  • Lincolnshire – What is a Community Hub & Library? – Learning Communities. “A community hub is a building that is accessible by all of the groups and individuals within the community it serves. It is a multi-purpose community centre & library providing a range of services to meet the local needs. We have three Community Hubs and Libraries in Lincoln, these are in Birchwood, Ermine and Boultham. Birchwood and Ermine opened in August and Boultham will be opening soon. We also have Generate (Birchwood) our new hub for 16-24 year olds.”
  • North Yorkshire – Ripon councillors slam ‘pig’s ear’ of plans for city’s library – Ripon Gazette. “councillors raised objections once again that the library was being downgraded to a ‘hybrid’ model despite it being so well used in the city. Coun Mick Stanley (Cons), said: “You are asking us to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. “Only 26 of the 72 [councillors are] library card holders so the decision has been made by people who don’t have any idea why libraries are there.”
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf – Council set to cut library staff and replace them with panic buttons – Wales Online. “Panic alarms for librarians could be installed in five Rhondda Cynon Taf council libraries if cost-saving proposals for single-staffed buildings are passed. ” … “Council chief executive Chris Bradshaw assured staff safety would be the local authority’s “paramount” priority, and it would work to put “robust safeguarding procedures in place.””
  • Shetland – Book Fever – Shetland News. “Library is co-ordinating a series of Book Week Scotland events for children later this month.”
  • Somerset – All Somerset County Council libraries now have Wi-Fi – Somerset Council. “One of the first new developments which has been made possible thanks to Wi-Fi enablement is the “Open the Box” project; a “pop-up” digital skills centre which will move between five libraries over the next few months, starting in Cheddar and Crewkerne libraries this month (November). Using the library Wi-Fi, staff will help people use tablet computers to find out ways of saving money through using the Internet. The Open the Box project has received funding from the Tinder Foundation and is part of a nationwide digital inclusion project. Somerset was one of16 library services awarded funding from all over the UK who demonstrated innovative ideas for engaging with the local community.”
  • Southampton – Campaigners stage sit-in protest in Southampton – Southern Daily Echo. “Members of the Southampton People’s Assembly Against Austerity sat on the floor of the Burgess Road library reading their favourite books while others were stood outside holding banners and chanting “save our library”. Group chair Glyn Oliver said he wants to see a vital community service stay exactly how it is.”

“Despite assurances from Southampton council that “several” community groups were interested in taking over five of the city’s 11 branch libraries, including at least one willing to take on Cobbett Road Library, no such group turned up to the meeting to discuss bids. Cobbett Road library’s Friends group requested an information pack on bidding and turned up to the discussion, but says it only did so to know what was being planned, since “operating Cobbett Road is beyond our skills and resources”.

Indeed it would be well beyond the resources of most voluntary groups.  The pack revealed significant costs looming for whoever takes on the building, including the need to spend around £30,000 on the roof.  The Friends group says that even with the council supplying books and IT equipment, it cannot see how any group could afford to keep the library open and concluded it would be wrong to submit a bid it could not fulfil.

Without anyone willing to take it on, the library will close next year.  A new action group was therefore formed to submit a formal expression of interest, in order to keep discussions going;  but even the new group’s call for membership clarifies that putting in the bid “would not be a commitment to running the library”.” Southampton – Library News – Private Eye,

  • Vale of Glamorgan – Judge rules against Rhoose library campaigners – Barry and District News. “In a judgement issued last week, the High Court ruled against the campaigners but also gave them immediate leave to appeal to one of the highest courts in the UK, the Court of Appeal. “We’re naturally disappointed that the Judge didn’t rule in our favour,” said campaigner Adam Riley. “We’ve maintained throughout that the Vale of Glamorgan Council didn’t follow correct procedures and, as a result, elderly and young people in our community will lose a much valued service.”
  • Vale of Glamorgan – Welsh council defeats High Court challenge over library decision – Local Government Lawyer. “Mrs Justice Laing also dismissed all four reasons put forward by the claimant’s counsel as to why the decision was irrational. A spokesman for the local authority has said: “The Vale of Glamorgan Council has received the written decision by The Honourable Mrs Justice Laing DBE to dismiss the application for judicial review brought on behalf of a group campaigning against the establishment of a community library in Rhoose. “The council welcomes the decision, however, in light of the decision to grant the group leave to appeal cannot comment further.””
  • West Lothian – West Lothian libraries and community centres will ‘remain open’  – West Lothian Courier. “The proposed differences include developing a new staffing structure within community facilities that will see new management and cluster based staffing arrangements based within local areas. And the result will be that some staff will no longer be based at one facility and will move around facilities within their cluster area in a move that will better meet customer demand.”