Every year, for three years now (see 2014 and 2013) I’ve had a think about the trends that I’ve noticed over the last twelve months. Such observations are obviously subjective and liable to the whims of the moment but hopefully give you a snapshot of what is happening. I’d be delighted to hear your views on the ones I included – and any that I have missed – by email via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

1. The General Election.  The election of the Conservatives for the next five years means deep cuts to local council budgets up to 2020.  We have seen what that has meant since 2010.  The vote is the most important thing that has happened to public libraries this year, and for the next five.  Expect deep cuts to public libraries, with as hands-free direction as possible from central government. Councils are going to find it very hard to maintain libraries (indeed some, like Herefordshire and Lincolnshire, are barely trying now) and, with library services already cut to the bone in many places, it hard to see much light at the end of the tunnel for smaller branches nationwide.

2. The Leadership for Libraries Taskforce begins.  This got up and running this year, with the main thing resulting from it so far is a whole ton of visits to public libraries and interested agencies, including government departments.  Not overly much else has been achieved yet (with the debatable but not insignificant exception of finally getting pretty much every public library to receive WiFi) and the fear of many is that the group will have insufficient actual leadership.  However, at the very least, they’re another voice supporting libraries and they have started making a (limited) impact.

3. CILIP taking a more active role. It’s been a pleasure to see Nick Poole take over as CEO with a new bunch of trustees. The organisation has finally started commenting on the news when councils announce big cuts to libraries. I know from conversations held that they also have big plans for campaigning in the future, including on the all important statutory nature of libraries (on which they have received pro bono legal advice). I just hope that the organisation can avoid the obsession with internal matters that so dogged the previous five years (rebranding anyone?) and actually start doing things for public libraries. Fingers crossed. [declaration of interest: thanks very much for the honorary fellowship this year, CILIP – Ed.]

4. Remote control libraries. For better or for worse, the Bibliotheca Open+ system has attracted the attention of many authorities. This allows for an unstaffed library to be open to the public, with CCTV remotely supervised buildings and the public getting in via their library card and PIN.  A big problem is that it looks like under 16s are not allowed in without a parent (and that’s a massive issue) but for councils who see only the headline of “library kept open” or even “library opening hours extended” and not the deeper issue of the quality of service, it’s very tempting.

5. Decline in usage and funding. The recent CIPFA figures show a big drop in usage, most notably in children’s issues.  This is very distressing. My suspicion, strengthened by seeing what is happening in other countries where there is no such drop in popularity, is that usage depends on budgets and, at least five years into an absence of money, people are seriously starting to notice the “hollowed out” nature of many library services. My worry is that politicians, and insufficiently interested observers, will see only the decline in visits and not the reasons behind them and draw the entirely erroneous conclusion that libraries are declining entirely by themselves.

6. CIPFA in need of reform. It’s not just a case of shooting the messenger but an increasing realisation that data on public library performance is in an awful state. For the full figures to come out a full eight months after they are collected is abysmal in 2015 and for them to be available to the public for the massive cost of £475 (plus VAT, naturally) is positively hateful. Then we have the lack of easy comparison with previous years, avoidance of anything on outcomes (it’s all outputs, folks) and the realisation that this whole mess is about a sector which should specialise in giving out relevant information to the public and one realises something needs to be done.  Thankfully, the Taskforce and others appear to be on the case on this one.  We’ll see what influence they have this time next year.

6. The joy that is Manchester Central Library. This was the most highly visited library in the UK last year and the reasons are obvious. I am highly privileged to visit this library on a regular basis and it is always a pleasure. After a major refurbishment, the place is positively palatial and packed. There’s a ton of different things on offer, from the essential (but sometimes overlooked) big quiet study space to a media lounge, big events and, interestingly, quite a lot of income generation (donation boxes, café and library shop).  Their recent collaboration with Google won’t hurt their reputation with the bosses, or with business, either.

8. The embarrassment that is the Library of Birmingham. This place should have been the most highly visited library last year, considering its new build and massive cost, but instead does not even make the top five. The reason is not hard to see: cuts to the budget.  Opening hours were almost halved to a pathetic 40 hours per week due to lack of money. To make up for this, the LoB is now looking to moving a foreign language school into it – losing a lot of space in the process – to make ends meet.  The sad thing here is that the new Library should have been a symbol of how superb the city is, instead it’s a byword for its incompetence. Let’s hope that lessons are learned and the library returns to its rightful place in the forefront of the city’s civic pride.

9. Coding, lego and makerspaces.  It was great to see the very useful (if strangely named) Code Green guidance from SCL about coding being very useful and a statement of intent.  It’s also been good to see a smattering of 3D printers and other Maker facilities being made available but, well, they cost money and code clubs are low-cost thanks to the volunteers.

10. Cuts seriously start hitting Wales and Scotland. One of the things that have been highly notable over the past five years is how the experience of austerity in English libraries has not been so notable in the other nations of the UK.  All that came to an end this year, with their being big reductions to library numbers in Wales (a 11% cut no less) and the announcement in Fife of the lost of 16 branches.


National news

  • Nick Poole’s on 4 key ideas to develop CILIP’s future strategy – CILIP. Message of optimism, resilience and relevance. “In my experience of political and public advocacy, we need three things – a great story to tell, the influence to get our message heard and the evidence to back up what we’re saying we can do. I believe we have that story – the social, economic, cultural, personal, educational benefits that you bring to your customers.”

“One of the questions that perhaps should be asked is why library visits have declined by 22.8% in England in the past decade but by only 8.7% in Scotland and 7.2% in Wales. However, in the past year the decline in visits across Great Britain has been fairly similar.” Desmond Clarke

“Nothing can take their place. Public libraries are completely unique institutions, truly democratic, absolutely non-discriminatory.” Andrew Michael Hurley

International news

  • Canada – This is what Toronto’s newest library will look like – Blog TO. “it’s really the library that is the exciting part. For a while it looked as though the Perth branch, one of Toronto’s smallest, was going to close. The opportunity to provide the community with a new library space was a forward-thinking plan that involved an openminded developer in the form of TAS, plus strong community organization and political will from local councillor Ana Bailão. “
  • Global – Library as a TEDx Platform – IFLA. “The first TEDxLibrary conference was held at Westport Library in the USA in 2011, after that most of the TEDxLibrary conferences were held just in North America, and only two in Europe – in Turgenev Library (Moscow, Russia) and Koprivnica Library (Koprivnica, Croatia). The American Library Association has recognized this initiative and the former president of the Association, Barbara Stripling, has given her support to the initiative. The American Library Association also started organizing webinars for all interested in starting a TEDx in their library.”

“It is important that librarians start organizing TEDx conferences because it is a great way to actively participate in the life and development of the local community. Conference participants are exposed to topics that encourage contemplation and inclusion of newly acquired knowledge into their own lives. Creative people, people who have good ideas, people who have no place in the community where they can share these ideas, can recognize the library as a place where that is possible. TED is a brand that attracts attention. It has a good reputation all around the world and can and will attract the attention of your patrons.”

  • USA – The Library Whisperer: Can Architect Francine Houben Remake the Public Library? – Curbed. “While the New York Public Library was, in fact, established with private money and has long depended on the generosity of philanthropic donors, naming the entire building after one of them seems awkward and not a little short-sighted. What can they do when the next big-ticket donor comes along: offer to rename the lions?” … “Houben has a growing reputation as the Library Whisperer, someone whose humanistic approach to architecture has helped reinvent an institution that some thought would die along with the printed book. Predictions about the demise of the library—and the book—were premature. Houben’s most quoted line on libraries is that they are the “cathedrals of the 21st century.” I ask her what she means by that and she says, “I think that they’re the most important public building nowadays, for everybody.”” A look at NYPL’s recent history and current ambitions.
  • USA – ‘Makerspace’ at library encourages creativity, serves as model nationwide – Pasco Tribune. “The Foundry will offer cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printing, a digital media lab, state-of-the-art computer-aided design equipment, an Oculus Rift virtual reality system and an audio recording studio. In conjunction, the library will host community classes that will help library users develop workforce skills such as graphic design, basic engineering and computer coding.  In addition, it will provide conventional hand tools, power tools, crafting tools and sewing machines enabling library users to build furniture, design clothing and create crafts.”
  • USA – Marfa Public Library – Nina Katchadourian. Song about a local library. “The library is cool when summer’s sun has burned your skin
    The library is warm when winter blows an icy wind. Quiet, calm and organized. Yes, we’re open, come right in “
  • USA – Nikki Giovanni’s Wonderful Poems Celebrating Libraries and Librarians – Brain Pickings. Three lovely poems about libraries. “The welcoming smile of my librarian.  The anticipation in my heart.  All those books — another world — just waiting.  At my fingertips”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Save Barnet Libraries animation – YouTube. “Barnet residents and school children star in new film to save local libraries. A group of Barnet residents has teamed up with cartoonist and illustrator Tim Sanders to create a short film highlighting the impact of Barnet Council¹s latest proposed cuts to the borough¹s libraries. The film was shot and edited by local production company The Film Yard, and features the voices of local parents and grandparents, as well as children from Martin Primary School. The animated film, which is told in the style of the children¹s story The  Three Little Pigs, depicts the proposed cuts set out in the Council¹s latest plans, many of which have already been rejected by residents during the previous consultation. This includes reducing the size of all of Barnet¹s libraries, in some cases by as much as 89%”
  • Birmingham – Another milestone for the Library of Birmingham – Birmingham Newsroom / Council. “Councillor Penny Holbrook, cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, said:  “Last summer’s decision to move the nationally renowned Brasshouse language service to the Library of Birmingham means that the service will be able to connect with even more learners within a world class setting – and the Library of Birmingham can extend its opening hours again. “For that to happen we need to carry out some essential work so the Library of Birmingham will close for three additional days over the Christmas period, meaning minimum disruption for library users.  Once that work has been completed we can then continue will less invasive changes and from February people will be able to use the library before and after the current opening hours for key services on the ground floor.””
  • Croydon – Data Blog: The numbers behind Croydon’s under-threat libraries – Croydon Advertiser. “The data, provided by the council, shows visits to Croydon’s libraries fell 11.62% in three years, from 2,049,689 to 1,836,271. Three libraries – Ashburton, Coulsdon and Purley – managed to buck this trend. Central library, unsurprisingly, is by far the most used in the borough it has experienced a sharp fall in visitor numbers.”
  • East Sussex – Helen Burton: Don’t write off our libraries yet – Eastbourne Herald. “My worry is that libraries will be at the front line for the next round of cuts, and sadly there is a lot of evidence to support this.” … “In Pevensey Bay a new group has formed in order to get a library back in our Parish. If you want to join or show your support please email friendsofpevenseybaylibrary@gmail.com and also keep up to date with the campaign by liking our Facebook page. The next public meeting is on December 18th, 7pm at the Ocean View Bakery in Pevensey Bay.”
  • Gloucestershire – Free Wi-Fi rolled out in Gloucestershire libraries  – Gloucestershire Echo. “As well as the installation of Wi-Fi in libraries across the county, there has also been investment in upgraded PCs. The new PCs have improved software to make searching the web and carrying out tasks even easier, as well as increasing security for users.”
  • Hartlepool – The 7 budget cuts that will affect people in Hartlepool the most – Hartlepool Mail. “Owton Manor Library will close on Tuesdays, Seaton Carew on Mondays and Throston Grange on Fridays. Various fees and charges will be increased after a review earlier this year to achieve £90,000 of savings.”
  • Lincolnshire – Letter: Lincolnshire councillors must learn from the county’s libraries debacle – Lincolnshire Echo. “Well done, Alan Ward, for expressing in last week’s Echo the opinions of many Lincolnshire people regarding our libraries and to Greenwich Leisure Ltd for persevering to win the contract to take over these libraries [Echo, December 3, p37]. Hopefully, we will have a return to the vibrant libraries we enjoyed and not the soulless buildings they are today.”
  • North Yorkshire – Writings on the wall for takeover of libraries by volunteers – Darlington and Stockton Times. “North Yorkshire County Council’s timetable for the transfer gives 16 months for volunteer groups to be set up to effectively take over running the libraries. The restructure is due to save nearly £1.5m, towards the council’s budget reduction of £167m by 2020. A meeting of the authority’s executive has been told many groups have been set up, but there are seven towns – including Stokesley, Catterick, Colburn and Thirsk – which are on a red list where management groups have yet to be formed.”
  • Northern Ireland – News £1.8m library is a big hit in LisnaskeaFermanagh Herald [Story from April but missed at the time – Ed]. Includes Viking boat in children’s library.

“To put this into context, Lisnaskea is a small town in County Fermanagh (the sort of place whose public library would be under threat were it in, say, Herefordshire or Fife at present). The new library is nearly twice the size of its predecessor. It indicates a high degree of confidence in the future viability of the service on the part of Libraries NI, despite the continuing austerity.” Email received

  • Northern Ireland – ‘Your ticket to a new world’: a love letter to the public library – Irish Times. A look at the listed Coleraine Library. “Author and academic Patricia Craig wrote her recent memoir, Bookworm, as a tribute to the libraries of her youth. Introduced to the Donegall Road library as a six-year-old by her mother, Craig soon expanded beyond its collection, travelling across 1940s and ’50s Belfast by bus to seek out other branches. ” … “Now based in Derry’s Central Library, Ward has seen libraries change from a place where “every time I walked in the door I could feel the eyes of the woman at the desk looking at me” to what she describes as “a social space that’s busy and buzzy”. “
  • Portsmouth + area  – Libraries are changing but they’re still a great asset – Portsmouth News. “libraries across the area have been busy reinventing themselves. Some offer web access and community rooms, others include coffee shops – all with the aim of broadening the appeal of libraries.” … “we wish all our libraries a long and prosperous future, whatever form they take.”

  • Somerset – Somerset autism collection – Libraries Taskforce. “We launched the Somerset Autism Strategy and Somerset Autism Collection in tandem in mid-November. The collection includes 40 book titles and DVDs to support people with autism, their families, carers and friends, as well as professionals and the general public. We worked with people living with autism and organisations like the National Autistic Society, Somerset Parent Carer Forum and other health and social care services to select the titles. The books include information, advice and a celebration of all things autistic, which are relevant to people directly affected by the condition and others who would just like to know more.”
  • Southampton – Saving Southampton’s Libraries Needs More Council Support, Say Campaigners – Solent TV / YouTube. “Southampton residents fighting to save their libraries say the city council must show more support to help seal a deal. A handful of libraries will close next year unless community groups come forward. One organisation has stepped up, but campaigners say the council’s community package isn’t enticing enough. Dale McEwan reports.”
  • Southend – Reading project designed to help youngsters and less confident readers – Yellow Advertiser. “The project, reading ahead, invites less confident readers to read any six books of their choice over a six month period. The readers will then meet up to discuss their views with one another.”
  • Swindon – Proposal to close children centres moves forward – Swindon Advertiser. Libraries banners evident in crowd.