The decision by the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) not to formally support the #MyLibraryByRight campaign caused a furore amongst supporters of libraries on social media, lis-pub-libs and probably other places as well.  There was even a comment or two on my previous post.  Similarly, there was much debate about welcoming Halifax bank employees into libraries to help with It issues. So much so, in fact, that I have done a special page listing all the arguments for and against commercial involvement in public libraries. The President of the SCL (and chief of Devon Library Service and, coincidentally a classmate of mine from library school, all of which kind of puts my career into perspective), Ciara Eastell has taken the trouble to write a piece for PLN, which I very happily publish it here.  One of the things I’ve noticed doing this blog over the years is that everyone, on all sides, care deeply for public libraries and make valid points and Ciara is no exception. Over to her (with the choices for quotations being mine).


A message from Ciara Eastell

Ciara Eastell, President of the Society of Chief Librarians

Ciara Eastell, President of the Society of Chief Librarians

“It’s been a lively few days of debate in the public library world, especially for those of us in the Society of Chief Librarians, so this seemed a good moment to offer some personal perspectives, in my role as SCL President, on some of the issues being discussed.

Public libraries do amazing things within local communities. They help people find work; inspire children to develop a love of reading and connect people physically and virtually. The difference that public libraries make – and their potential to do even more – is what inspires me and my colleagues on SCL to put so much of our own time and energy into the work that SCL does. Clearly, none of us would ever claim that SCL has cracked all the challenges that public library services face. The combination of significant reductions in local authority funding, along with the changing ways in which many people want to read and learn and the lightning speed of technological change, all call for radical and long term solutions for libraries.

“radical and long term solutions for libraries.”

Campaigners have quite rightly called on the Taskforce to be bold and act swiftly and confidently to secure a positive future for public libraries and, as a member of the Taskforce, I know that message has been heard loud and clear.  I doubt whether anyone is going to find a magic pot of money to ease the pressure on libraries (however welcome that would be) so I genuinely believe that the Taskforce’s work in the coming weeks and months on developing the ‘ambition for public libraries’ gives all of us – whether library campaigners, library staff, users or indeed SCL members – the best shot we’ve had in recent years to articulate a strong, confident and compelling message about libraries and what they offer. I’d personally like to see some really big ideas explored – what big sources of investment for libraries might there be, for example, such as social investment bonds? Could we really get the NHS and the Government to understand that libraries could help reduce pressure on health services for only a fraction of the cost of other organisations? Could similar cases be made around lifelong learning, employment and digital inclusion?

SCL will play its part in this work with the Taskforce and, in parallel, we’ll maintain our own momentum on the Universal Offers. We will be shortly be making available a whole suite of free e-learning resources for 10,000 library staff which will help library staff provide better services to those needing help with Universal Credit. Working with ASCEL, we will be releasing 4 modules focused on ensuring children, young people and families have a good experience in the library. In addition, with The Reading Agency, we will be launching the next Books on Prescription scheme focused on supporting positive mental health of children and young people. And we will be doing another round of Universal Offers roadshows to share best practice at a regional level.

“we cannot afford not to try out opportunities like this”

Our partnership with the Halifax Bank is an example of the way in which SCL seeks to partner with those who can help libraries meet the huge demand for digital inclusion support within libraries. Their staff are getting involved as part of the company’s commitment to supporting local communities. I understand why this has received scrutiny but, as Ian himself has implied on several occasions, we cannot afford not to try out opportunities like this. In the case of the Halifax, we value their support just as we do our colleagues at the Tinder Foundation and Citizens Advice Bureau.  I’m sure we’ll learn more from our partnership with Halifax and we would be happy to share lessons learnt with the wider sector as the partnership develops in the coming months.

I completely understand that some people would have liked SCL to have signed up to CILIP’s My Library By Right campaign but, as our members know, SCL is not, and never has been, a campaigning body as the great majority of us – the Heads of Library Services across the country – are officers in local authorities, many in politically restricted posts.

“SCL is not, and never has been, a campaigning body”

In spite of those restrictions, though, you would be hard pushed to find another library body that has delivered so much tangible benefit for library services in recent years.  Working with a terrific network of engaged staff and partners, SCL has used the Universal Offers as a framework for delivering initiatives in response to what Heads of Library Services (and their teams) say they need, including a wide range of workforce development opportunities; the hugely successful Books on Prescription scheme with The Reading Agency and access to high quality partnerships from major national players like the British Library, the BBC and Wellcome as well as our growing partnerships in the digital sphere with the likes of Code Club, Nesta and FutureLearn.

“you would be hard pushed to find another library body that has delivered so much tangible benefit for library services in recent years.

As SCL’s President since June 2014, I take my responsibilities very seriously and work hard to represent libraries well but, like everyone, I can always learn so I welcome the questions and challenges that have been raised in recent days.  I’m sure that we could do more to let stakeholders know what SCL is working on and how our thinking is shaping up. There can be no doubt that this is an incredibly challenging time to be leading library services and views will inevitably differ on the best tactic to adopt when faced with such significant challenges but I remain immensely proud of all that SCL has achieved at this time. Many library practitioners and Heads of Library Services regularly tell me the value of SCL in providing practical support, imaginative ideas, partnerships that have brought real benefit as well as training and development opportunities that have met local needs in recent years.  I look forward to continuing SCL’s work to ensure we do our very best for local communities who so value libraries and to working alongside a whole range of stakeholders who are equally committed to sustaining our libraries.” [Post ends]

Some reactions to the SCL being apolitical over the last few days

“… as a body the SCL quite often speaks for its members without expecting them to respond as individuals. In fact the undemocratic nature of the SCL allows them to pontificate on many issues without consulting members at all. So why should this be any different? SCL have often claimed that as an apolitical organisation they have to remain neutral. Perhaps there are some who take such spurious words at face value. However, despite such protestations it hasn’t stopped them working in such a way as to mirror almost perfectly the vision for libraries espoused by the government and by extension the LGA, ACE and Libraries Taskforce. The government promotes volunteer libraries, so too the SCL.  Community hubs, not a problem. Trusts, mutuals, and commercial partnerships (despite the quite dubious ethics of this), again not a problem.” – How High  – Leon’s Library Blog.

Is it not time that the SCL showed leadership and had the courage to put its head above the parapet? The media reports a continuous stream of depressing stories about councils threatening to close yet more libraries and cuts in opening hours, staffing and book stocks.  This is in addition to the considerable cuts already made over the past five years. At what point will the SCL executive decide that the damage being imposed on a statutory service, which they are paid to manage, has gone too far. At what point will they have the courage to tell the Secretary of State that he must intervene? … The SCL may be just an association of chief librarians but that does not stop it being allowed to express forcefully and publicly its concerns, as has been demonstrated by numerous other bodies from the Law Society and the Council of Chief Police Officers to the BMA. It just needs someone with the courage to make a stand. ” Frances Hendrix on Lis Pub Libs

“I am afraid that both Frances and Leon are right – as a former member of SCL (and a regional representative to the Executive Committee) I am saddened by the apparent lack of ambition, fight and focus shown  by the organisation. I know it is easy for retired library leaders to criticise but I do hope the SCL shows some real commitment to the community, especially where the community is suffering from closures of their local libraries. I agree SCL should be working with CILIP and others to put forward a coherent and strong case to the Libraries Taskforce” Barry George MBE on Lis Pub Libs.

National news

  • Library Louts – Carol Hedges. “Here in Hertfordshire, our libraries have recently been ‘re-structured to meet the needs of the modern user’. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don’t need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.  I find it hard to put into words how upset I was at the disclosure that Kensal Rise library had all its books carted off in the middle of the night by Brent Council workers”
  • Old, new, and award winning libraries – Libraries Task Force. “Basildon library was a great example of partnership working to benefit the local area. Signpost are a charity and Essex-based employment advisors who have been working in the library for two years and help local residents with applying for jobs. They also work closely with the local children’s centre who provided some of the funding for their newly installed children’s sensory wall which has been really popular.”
  • The pros and cons of commercial involvement in libraries – Public Libraries News. A look at the arguments for and against private companies, such as Halifax and Google, partnering with public libraries.
  • Storytelling for businesses and business for storytellers – British Library. “We are excited to be welcoming Melissa Addey as our first official Writer in Residence at the Business & IP Centre. What does a Writer in Residence do we hear you ask? Good question! Apart from the obvious connection between literature and the British Library, this residency focuses on the twin themes of storytelling for businesses and business for storytellers. Melissa will be helping small businesses using creative writing and narrative techniques as a business strategy and will work with us to raise awareness about the links between business, creativity and storytelling to make your business stand out from the crowd. Meanwhile writers will be encouraged to think about their work in a business-like way, from developing business plans to creating their own merchandise “
  • Visits to libraries in Newcastle, York and Stafford and – Libraries Task Force. “We went to Gosforth where the library had entered into a partnership with the adult learning centre when previous joint tenants moved out of the building. To make this work, walls and partitions were added to build nine classrooms and a community meeting room, still leaving plenty of space for library services. The library also uses these classrooms for their own programmes during half term.” … “Rowntree Park Reading Cafe was the model for their other reading cafe in Sycamore House, a mental health centre. We didn’t visit, but heard how the cafe’s presence has started to help break down any stigma that existed between the local community and patients.”
  • Young writers lead fight to save libraries – Times (behind paywall). “School libraries have been linked to a better approach to learning, increased self- esteem and stronger exam results. The battle to keep them open in the face of spending cuts will intensify this week. As MSPs meet to consider the case for a national school library strategy, some of the country’s finest young writers have condemned plans to axe school library services as disheartening and discriminatory. While campaigners fear a “postcode lottery” of provision, the first-ever development programme to encourage teenagers to write and illustrate is thriving …”

International news

  • Iraq – In New Artwork, Wafaa Bilal Enlists the Public to Rebuild a Destroyed Baghdad Library – Artslant. “In its preliminary form, 168:01 will comprise a 40-foot-long bookcase containing 1,000 blank, white books. In an interactive performance, over the course of exhibition these blank books will be replaced with ones from a wish list compiled by the arts faculty at the University of Baghdad. While some of these books will be sourced by donors directly from a forthcoming online registry, the first opportunity for supporters to contribute is in a Kickstarter campaign, which launched this month.”
  • Kenya – Solar-Powered Container Library to slum/Rural kids – GoGetFunding. “True Happiness is Giving Society is a small community of women Volunteers who have purposed to give back to our society so as to ensure that the youth and upcoming generation have access to modern libraries, books, reading materials, computers etc ”
  • New Zealand – Libraries Change Lives – Libraries NZ. See also Public Libraries of New Zealand – a website dedicated to advocating for public libraries including a paid team.
  • Singapore – Hawker centres, neighbourhood centres, libraries to be transformed – Channel NewsAsia. “To support lifelong learning – exemplified by the Government’s SkillsFuture vision – public libraries will be transformed, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. The libraries will cater to different reading and learning preferences, offer differentiated collections and interactive technology, with conducive library spaces to make learning more engaging and interesting, said the Minister for Communications and Information. The push will move beyond the physical infrastructure, he added. The Ministry will promote information, media and cyber literacy “in a concerted way”, through collaborative programmes with communities, libraries, private organisations, and other institutions of learning. A National Reading Movement will be started to encourage more Singaporeans to pick up reading and promote a culture of reading, he added.” … “”We will be designing a whole new digital library service so that we can promote the use of the content together with our physical books”
  • USA – Case for Video Booths at Public Libraries – Tech Soup for Libraries. “Public libraries could strongly benefit from having one or more “video booths,” which are small, sound-insulated rooms for community members to perform various video- and multimedia-related tasks. “

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – Bradford Council libraries boss promises a year of negotiation before closures – Telegraph and Argus. “A consultation meeting held in Keighley Library last night was attended by local interest groups ranging from military research group Men of Worth to members of Baildon Youth Council. Bradford Council’s principal libraries officer, Jackie Kitwood,gave the stark reality of government funding cuts being translated by City Hall into either passing 17 outlying libraries into voluntary control – or closing them.” … “If Full Council votes on February 25 to just keep seven major libraries under its control and lose the rest, intense negotiations will begin with people keen to start Community Managed Libraries (CMLs). “
  • Cheshire West and Chester – Celebration of libraries in Cheshire West and Chester  – Chester Chronicle. “To celebrate libraries in Cheshire West and Chester, library visitors will be photographed with their messages of what the library means for them. The responses and photographs will then be displayed in libraries and on the service’s Facebook, Twitter and Flickr pages”
  • City of London – National Libraries Day – City of London  Libraries. “Saturday 6 February will see the fifth National Libraries Day – a day of events and activities promoting the difference that modern libraries make to people, families and communities across the UK. Libraries in the UK are loved, valued and were visited an astonishing 265 million times last year! They are a vitally important public service. Celebrate them on National Libraries Day, Saturday 6 February at Barbican Library, and with many exciting events to choose from – we’ve got something for everyone!”
  • Coventry – Deals to move libraries revealed as council cuts begin to take shape  – Coventry Telegraph. “Arena Park Library, in Holbrooks, and Willenhall Library, in Remembrance Road, are earmarked to move to new locations as part of the council’s Connecting Communities scheme which aims to shave £1.2million from this year’s budget, rising to £5m the following year. Council officials hope to be able to confirm the move of Arena Park Library to Holbrooks Community Care Association, on Holbrooks Lane, in the next few months.”
  • Devon – Totnes librarian appointed as trustee to group that will help run Devon’s libraries – Herald Express. “One of the staff trustees is Ann Draisey, Library Supervisor at Totnes Library, who said: “I am very proud to have been elected by my colleagues to serve as a trustee on the board for Libraries Unlimited. This is a really exciting time to be in Devon Libraries and I am looking forward to getting started on the transition to the new organisation.”
  • East Sussex – What does it mean for staff? – Bexhill Observer / Letters. “Under the guise of ‘savings’ the budget for libraries is to be cut by £2m, part of an overall budget cut of £93m. Is it worth putting in here how much ESCC has spent on the link road? The consultation is specifically about reducing library opening hours, although one question asks for other ways ‘savings’ might be made. Don’t fall for it. It is the classic ploy of getting us to cut our own throat.”
  • Enfield – “Superhero” volunteers needed to support libraries – Enfield Independent. “Last year nearly 50 volunteers gave over 700 hours to libraries that supported the Summer Reading challenge and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), as well as guiding people to certain sections of the library and training people on computers. The council also cover travel expenses for those who volunteer.”
  • Essex – Learn new skills at Essex libraries for free – Yellow Advertiser. “Budding computer programmers and coders can hone their skills thanks to one-off makerspace or Raspberry Pi events, whilst those who are less computer savvy may enjoy the array of knitting and reading groups popping up at libraries across the county. Ciara Eastell, president of the society of chief librarians, said: “Learning has always been at the heart of what libraries deliver and libraries are increasingly being used by a wide range of people to develop life-essential skills.”
  • Kirklees – Love your local library in February – Batley and Birstall News. ““The sheer breadth of activities and services one can access at a local library is simply staggering. Customers can find new authors and favourite novels; join in at story time or rhyme time; search for jobs; complete a digital skills course; attend Knit and Natter or local history groups, and find out what’s happening locally.”
  • Lambeth – Council warned of occupations and strikes if library plans go ahead – Brixton Blog. “Lambeth community groups have begun preparations for occupying libraries threatened with closure or conversion to gyms, Unison, the union representing library staff, said today (22 January). Warning Labour councillors that opposition to their plans for libraries was growing, union branch secretary Jon Rogers appealed to them to listen to members of their own party who were increasingly backing an alternative approach to making savings needed because of huge cuts in central government funding.”
  • Lambeth – Humiliating defeat for senior Cllr’s as Book-ish Gyms rejected by Constituency Labour Party – Brixton Buzz. “The leadership of the Lambeth Labour group suffered its heaviest blow to the book-ish gyms plans last night when the Dulwich and West Norwood Constituency Labour Party (CLP) passed a motion condemning the plans. This represents widespread internal political opposition for the Labour Cabinet plans to gift three libraries in the borough to Greenwich Leisure Ltd so that it can convert them into gyms. The General Committee of the CLP met on Thursday evening with a motion supporting the alternative plans put forward by Susanna Barnes, the Head of Library Services in Lambeth. Only delegates are allowed to vote under Labour party rules. This still led to 16 delegates supporting the motion opposing book-ish gyms, with 8 voting against and one abstention.”
  • Lambeth – Lambeth libraries – the alternative plan – Brixton Blog. “The alternative plan [PDF download] for Lambeth’s libraries put forward by Susanna Barnes, its current head of library services, points out that the borough’s library service is one of only two in Great Britain in the last year to improve its performance in visits, membership and issues of books and other material. The council’s Culture 2020 report, agreed in October last year, said Barnes’ initial proposals, made last spring, could not meet the savings required in the necessary timescale because they did not specify how £500,000 extra income required would be found.”

  • Lewisham – Libraries under threat – Tim Parkin speaks out on Talk Radio Europe  – Lewisham People Before Profit.
  • Oxfordshire – Oxfordshire County Council falls out with David Cameron again in row over £69m cuts – Oxford Times. “Senior councillors have announced more savings they admit will be “brutal”, including scrapping mobile libraries and bus subsidies, and reducing funding for the arts, homeless, road gritting, elderly day services and support for carers. But yesterday the Prime Minister said: “I understand it will be challenging for councils to make the further necessary savings but, as an Oxfordshire MP, I would urge Oxfordshire County Council to look again at its budget proposals”
  • Redbridge – Campaigner ‘not confident’ council will keep libraries open – Guardian Series. “Chairman of Wanstead Society Scott Wilding said he does not know how Redbridge Council can keep libraries like Wanstead open following a £190,000 cut to the budget last year. ” … “At a full council meeting last night, cabinet member for civic pride Councillor Dev Sharma said: “I assure you that Wanstead Library will stay open and there are no plans to close any other libraries or make changes to opening hours.” “
  • Southwark – Southwark council-run Canada Water Library ranked second busiest library in the capital – South London Today. “”As we continue to celebrate the success of our newest library in Camberwell, which this week hosted the successful launch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, statistics like these are a fantastic boost. “They provide clear evidence that libraries are still very much relevant and thriving community hubs for many of our residents.””
  • Stockton – Plan for building society branch within Yarm library – Northern Echo. “Part of Yarm Library will soon house a building society branch, if plans are approved by councillors. Some of the ground floor of the library will be leased by Newcastle Building Society under the proposals, aimed at making the service more viable. An extension is also planned to the side of the building to include a new toilet, entrance and ramp to fit in with disability laws.”
  • Swindon – Submission from Royal National Institute of Blind People to Swindon Council  – Library Campaign. “We have been asked to post this on our site and are happy to do so in order to highlight the issues raised by the submission of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to the Swindon Council budget consultation, with specific reference to libraries. Many of the points relate to libraries in general, not just those in Swindon. Cuts to library services and closures have a disproportionate impact on blind and partially sighted people. There is also concern that volunteers or community groups may not understand the needs of minority groups such as blind and partially sighted people, therfore having an unfair impact on their access and use of the service”
  • Telford and Wrekin – MP Mark Pritchard calls for Commons debate over ‘heartless’ Telford library cuts – Shropshire Star. “Is the Leader of the House aware of the heartless cuts to local library services by Labour-led Telford & Wrekin Council, and may we have a debate on the vital role that library services play in communities such as Donnington, Hadley and Newport in my constituency?” At the start of the year it was revealed that libraries, markets and community centres face the chop as Telford & Wrekin Council plans to make £30 million of cuts.”
  • Warwickshire – Alcester Library moving to new home – Stratford Observer. “The library will join Alcester Town Council and Roman Museum at their base at Globe House on Priory Road – the former Stratford District Council offices.”
  • Worcestershire – New Bromsgrove Library enjoys record visitor numbers in its first month – Bromsgrove Standard. “Bromsgrove’s new library which opened in the new hub on the site of the former Parkside School building has already enjoyed record attendances. More than 16,000 visits have been recorded in the first month and the library has also gained 197 new members. As well as the usual loaning of books, Bromsgrove Library, which opened on November 30 offers free internet access, regular and holiday children’s activities, adult learning courses and a meeting room available for hire. Nicki Hitchcock, Bromsgrove Library Manager said: “We love our new library – it’s so light and airy and is such a great place to work”