I’ve been wanting a national libraries development agency for England for a while but, sometimes, you don’t notice something obvious until it’s slapping you in the face.  From the “Ambition” document just releases, it looks like the Libraries Taskforce is such an agency, although far more dependent on other agencies and shorter on money than I was thinking of. The “Ambition” documents is full of concrete and relevant proposals – such as universal child library membership and every authority doing the summer reading challenge – with timescales and suggestions of how to get them done.  The problem is, of course, as the report itself recognises “To successfully achieve all these purposes, we need to ensure that the public library network in England is secured on a long-term sustainable footing.”. That is going to be the challenge and that is the ambition. All else is just wishes on the wind. But at least there a wish list now.

Released at the same time is a second version of the good practice toolkit for “community libraries”.  The Taskforce would have lost a lot of street cred with campaigners just by calling volunteer libraries that, as “community libraries” pretty much summed up paid branches at one point in what seems now a golden past.  It also got some criticism by seeming to be a simple “So you want to make your staff voluntarily redundant” guide, with all of the benefits listed and not much else. However, look at those “considerations” it lists: those are cons, it’s just that they couldn’t bring themselves to say it, being trained to be positive about everything.  The case studies included – sadly with one propagandistic management-speak exception (you know who you are) – are useful and open, pointing out the difficulties.  The big thing I noticed is that these libraries need ten to twenty times the paid full-time-equivalent staffing to keep them running, and there’s no real answer to long-term funding. Well, that’s two massive nightmares right there. But it’s good to have most of the issues out in the open and at least councils, and users, can get an idea of what is happening now rather than scraping around and coming up with their own risk-laden approaches.

Finally, I’ve been fielding a lot of BBC media enquiries the last few days about public libraries. Trust me, if I’d have said yes to half of them, even I’d have been sick of me – but, thankfully for all of us, I need to work so couldn’t do them. Thankfully, there’s a full on Avengers-style bunch of library advocates out there nowadays who have also been asked: I’m looking forward to hearing what Nick Poole, Alan Gibbons, Laura Swaffield, Lauren Smith and Phil Bradley, amongst others, will say.  This is all about a big, serious, fully-researched BBC report on the real numbers of libraries closed, staff made redundant and budgets cut since 2010. I helped out a little with it and I’m really hopeful it will help put the pressure on the minister to do something.  Perhaps even a fully resourced national libraries development agency.

National news

  • Community libraries: good practice toolkit – Gov.uk/Libraries Task Force. “This is a best practice guide, produced by the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, for communities and heads of library services in establishing community libraries” … “The Taskforce does not endorse community managed libraries but recognises that some local authorities are, for various reasons, considering heading down this route – and some already have done so. If that path is taken, we want to ensure that all parties involved make informed decisions: understanding the pros and cons and learning from others who have gone before, so that a high quality service is provided to local people.”

“Yet the paper is streaked with rose-tinted wishfulness, if not hypocrisy. What is the one cultural field that attracts a greater percentage of ethnic minorities than white people? It’s local libraries. So which institutions have been closed by the hundreds on Vaizey’s watch? You guessed it.” Richard Morrison – Arts Column, Times on the Culture White Paper.

“Richard Morrison rightly highlighted the number of library closures in his arts column, A rose-tinted white paper (March 25 2016). Libraries get only a brief mention in the Government’s white paper on culture though the same day its Libraries Taskforce published a consultation document, Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 to add to the pile of earlier reports commissioned by the DCMS and its agencies. At a time when the public library service is facing enormous financial, technological and structural issues, and a very serious decline in usage and borrowing, there is an urgent need for leadership and action to re-invigorate our library network, not more reports which simply provide an excuse for inaction.” Desmond Clarke via email

  • Golden Showers – Leon’s Library Blog. “Toryshire Council have announced a new initiative aimed at promoting good news stories around libraries” … “. “What many people don’t appreciate is how positive all the library closures and job losses have been for the area. We now have a surplus of buildings on prime sites that can be sold to developers to generate huge profits”
  • Have your say on Libraries Deliver: an Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 – Gov.uk/Libraries Task Force. “Within the Taskforce, we’ve discussed and debated the contents of the Ambition document – what does it need to cover, what should the priorities be, how will the ambition be realised. Taskforce members have used their own knowledge and experience – as well as the intelligence and insights gathered through conversations with hundreds of people involved with libraries – to come up with the draft we’ve published today. But we recognise there are lots of people we haven’t managed to speak to yet. We want to give everyone with an interest in libraries – communities, library staff, partners, decision-makers – an opportunity to have their say on the priorities they believe will most make a difference to them and their libraries.”
  • Libraries are too important to leave to councils: it’s time to ringfence their funds – Guardian. “The problem is that libraries aren’t treated fairly as cultural institutions. Instead councils are forced to contrast them with acute public services, such as child protection or social care. This is an impossible comparison” … “Given the immense cultural importance of libraries, it is unfair to place their fate in the hands of councils alone. There should be a ringfenced fund for libraries direct from central government – an arrangement similar to education, where the money is passed through councils to schools or directly to schools, would work. “
  • Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 – Gov.uk/Libraries Task Force. “In 2014, the government published William Sieghart’s Independent Library Report for England. This called for clear local decision-making and a national strategy to secure the future of public libraries in England. This draft Ambition document is the answer to that call.” … “In reaching broader audiences, libraries and museums have discovered the importance of storytelling”

“For the physical library network, our preferred approach is a strong network of public libraries in England that is nationally-developed, regionally-supported and locally-led, delivered through a partnership between local authorities, communities and the library profession, and through effective collaboration with other cultural and learning organisations. “

“This mapping exercise may still mean that some libraries will continue to be closed, merged or relocated, but this process would then be as a result of a strategic assessment of need, proactively managed with the community and library professionals rather than reactive or imposed in response to wider economic factors. If there is a reduction in the overall number of physical service points, we would expect the remaining libraries to provide enhanced services, eg fewer but better.”

“current media attention is mainly focused on stories relating to consultations over changes to library service provision and the perceived diminishing role of public libraries due to the internet. We believe that it is time to shift this focus with an active campaign of positive media engagement – developing a clear offer and ensuring that this is reinforced in interviews, placed editorial and other media coverage of public libraries.”

  • Libraries Taskforce ‘Ambition’ report lacks detail on numbers – BookSeller. “Geoffrey Dron of the Save Bolton Libraries Campaign said that there was “no sense of urgency” in the report. “[It is] long on ideas of what a decent service should be [but] short on ideas of how to get there, particularly in the context of a deteriorating financial situation for many local authorities (especially, in poor and/or rural areas) which is likely to get worse from 2020.” However, Martyn Evans, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust and chair of the working group that developed the Scottish national libraries strategy, said that the report is “challenging and ambitious”.”
  • The libraries that offer sexual health services and cancer support – Guardian. “staff from the Coventry and Warwickshire partnership NHS trust’s integrated sexual health service set up a stand in Coventry’s Central Library every Thursday. “Being here, we get to the people who can’t get to us,” says Steven Clay, a senior sexual health nurse. People who don’t want to visit a sexual health clinic after work can visit the library on their lunch break, where staff can carry out tests and provide advice in a private meeting room. “Some people say I’ve seen the sign but I don’t want to come over because I’m embarrassed. So I text back and say come straight to meeting room three,” says Clay.”
  • Nearly 350 libraries closed in Britain over six years – ITV News. “Nearly 350 libraries have closed in Britain over the past six years, causing the loss of almost 8,000 jobs, according to new analysis. Sefton in Merseyside has lost over half its libraries since 2010. In a controversial move that sparked protests by authors including Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith, councils across the country have shut their reading rooms in an effort to make deep savings. Children’s author Alan Gibbons warned the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”. The figures, obtained by the BBC English Regions data journalism team, showed that 343 libraries have shut since 2010 and another 111 closures are planned this year. A further 174 libraries have been transferred to community groups and run by an army of volunteers, while 50 have been handed to external organisations.”

“Volunteers are no longer people who supplement full time staff but their replacements. This constitutes the hollowing out of the service. We are in dangerous territory” Alan Gibbons

  • Minutes of the seventh meeting of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce – Gov.uk/Libraries Taskforce. “Priorities for the Libraries Taskforce for 2015/16 are: digital enablement – including the provision of universal WiFi access, e-lending, digital shared network and quality content; libraries adding value – making stronger, strategic links between libraries and other policies such as health and wellbeing and business and economic growth; best practice – helping local authorities and library services through sharing and linking to existing/new best practice. Building sustainable long-term models for libraries/community hubs; workforce development – building the skills needed to help the library workforce deliver these priorities and to take on new roles as part of wider service provision; communications – promoting the value of libraries, highlighting innovation and good ideas”

International News

  • Canada – Circulating ideas for a library location – Catherine McKenney. “the new central library will serve three purposes – a community branch for local residents, a library for all Ottawa residents and a magnet for visitors ” … “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a major civic building that that will shape our city for the better for the benefit of existing and future residents . “
  • European Union – The libraries and museums of Europe in times of change – Council of Europe. “With the growing importance of the knowledge economy in Europe, libraries and museums act as a resource for human development and lifelong learning. They also provide safe and dynamic meeting places for the local community. In addition, they can be instrumental in creating jobs, attracting businesses and supporting the overall investment climate. In view of their cultural, social and economic importance, governments should protect libraries and museums for the benefit of future generations.” … “Libraries and museums have become vibrant and dynamic meeting places. They are transforming themselves from “temples” into “forums”. Includes mentions of Suffolk Libraries.

“I therefore want to emphasise that libraries and museums should be seen in a long-term perspective. They represent the body of knowledge accumulated by humanity and are a valuable resource for generations to come. By contrast, economic austerity and decisions to reduce public funding allocated to cultural institutions are short term. Even in difficult times, libraries and museums remain places where people can broaden their knowledge and experience, where they can meet and interact. They also attract inward investment and tourism. This is why the value of libraries and museums needs much stronger recognition in the media and political discourse.”

  • Global – International Librarians Network – “The International Librarians Network (ILN) peer mentoring program is a facilitated program aimed at helping librarians develop international networks. We believe that innovation and inspiration can cross borders, and that spreading our networks beyond our home countries can make us better at what we do.”
  • Participants in the program are matched with others outside their country, based on the information they provide to the ILN. Partnerships are made for a fixed term, and during this period the partnerships are supported by regular contact and discussion points led by the ILN. Supported partnerships have an end date, however it is our vision that participants would develop a widening network of ongoing, independent professional relationships.
  • USA – Reimagining Libraries In The Digital Era: Lessons From Data Mining The Internet Archive – Forbes. “As my collaborations over the last three years with the Internet Archive illustrate, mining its web, books and television holdings, the digital era offers an incredible opportunity for libraries to reinvent themselves as a data-rich nexus of innovation that unlocks the vast wealth of societal knowledge they hold and to bring together scholars, citizens and journalists to use all of this data to reimagine how we understand our global world.”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Anyone but a fool, or: is that really what you want? Barnet Tory cuts, as the Open Library shuts … – Broken Barnet. “As is usual these days, the public gallery was already graced with the presence of a number of senior officers from Capita, staking out the territory, but … gone was the habitual, self evident sense of complacency and indifference that exudes from these people. No jokes, no eye contact, with Mrs Angry: they sat sulking in their places, silently, and, oh dear: thin lipped, and uncommunicative. ”  … “Physical access will be difficult for anyone with such needs, and once in the library, without staff present, many learning disabled residents, perhaps with autism, or similar difficulties, will struggle to use the facilities provided – such as they will be, in the new Tory library era.”
  • Barnet – Boy, 11, joins fight to stop ‘suicidal’ library cuts – Times Series. “An 11-year-old has begged councillors to think again and save libraries over fears he will lose his independence if cuts take place. Heval Kartal was one of many speakers to address Barnet Council’s library committee last night. The Fortismere School pupil said if cuts were to go ahead, he and his little sister will not be able to visit the library without an adult.”
  • Birmingham – Brussels attacks: Library of Birmingham lit with Belgian flag colours in tribute to terror victims – Birmingham Mail. “The Library of Birmingham’s night-time tribute began at 7pm on Tuesday and will continue through the night as a mark of respect following the deadly attacks on Brussels airport and the city’s metro system.”
  • Brighton and Hove – Historic library to close – Argus. “The plan was heavily criticised and was opposed with a petition signed by more than 4,000 people from the Save Hove Library campaign appealing for the site to be spared the axe. Library services will be transferred to the nearby Hove Museum” see also Hove Library move wins backing – Brighton and Hove News.
  • Buckinghamshire – Community library: Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire – Libraries Taskforce. “Farnham Common community library was established in October 2011 and is one of 19 community partnership libraries in Buckinghamshire that are supported by 10 larger county libraries in areas of high population. The library is run as a charitable trust and forms part of the statutory provision. “
  • Buckinghamshire – Community library: Wendover, Buckinghamshire – Libraries Taskforce. “Wendover community library was established on 1 December 2012 and is one of 19 community partnership libraries in Buckinghamshire that are supported by 10 larger county libraries. “
  • Buckinghamshire – Free Wi-Fi In All Of Bucks Libraries – Mix 96. “Thanks to an Arts Council England grant of nearly £50,000 which has funded the project”
  • Dorset – Community libraries in Dorset – Libraries Taskforce. “An overview of community libraries, from the perspective of the library service ” … “This partnership approach has resulted in a better local service offer, given the previous limited resources of the county council-provided library service. ” … “The decision was taken that the only performance indicator to be included in the agreement would be a minimum number of opening hours per week. “
  • Dorset – Community library: Colehill, Dorset – Libraries Taskforce. “Colehill community library in Dorset was transferred to the community in January 2013 and receives substantial financial support from Colehill Parish Council through a Parish Precept. The library is set up as a limited company and a registered charity”

“even basic training and reinforcement is a never ending task”

  • Dorset – Community library: Stalbridge, Dorset – Libraries Taskforce. “Stalbridge community library has been managed by volunteers since February 2013. The library used to be stand alone but is now located within a community hub called The Hub@Stalbridge which also includes: the town clerk’s office, a flexible meeting space which is used for town council meetings and IT classes, a private meeting room and a community information point. This mixed space facility has been developed in the last 3 years and offers locals a one stop shop. Through the community information service people can access information on tourism, travel, find out about planning, recycling, highway and police matters. “
  • Dorset – Community library: Wool, Dorset – Libraries Taskforce. “The Friends of Wool Library took over the management of a revamped Wool community library from Dorset County Council (DCC) on Tuesday 15 January 2013 working in co-operation with Wool Parish Council. The Friends of Wool Library is a small charity with annually-elected trustees. It is in the process of seeking Charitable Incorporated Organisation status.”
  • East Sussex – Opening hours for East Sussex libraries set to be cut back – Kent and Sussex Courier. “The worst hit would be Mayfield library, which could be closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays according to the proposals put forward by East Sussex County Council (ESCC), as part of a bid to save a total of £90 million by 2018/19.”
  • Falkirk – Bo’ness Library set to take on silver screen – Linlithgow Gazette. “The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) and Creative Scotland have joined forces with the aim to offer communities access to information, activities and resources on film creativity and culture. The pilot programme was launched last week by the Cabinet Secretary for 
Culture, Europe and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop at Bo’ness Library, where she was given a guided tour of the Stars of Silent Film in Scotland photography exhibition, which finished last Sunday.”
  • Gateshead – Community libraries in Gateshead – Libraries Taskforce. “The library service review in 2012-13 identified that the 5 libraries were outside of the council’s statutory provision. The development of volunteer managed libraries in Gateshead has always been a most sensitive area of work. The service, through the implementation, avoided the need for compulsory redundancies, and for this reason the development of volunteer libraries was tolerated by unions and employees.”
  • Guernsey – Play in a Day – Schools Library Service Guernsey. “the impact that the Patron of Reading initiative has been having on children’s engagement with stories. An author usually links up with a school close to where they live and builds a relationship with those teachers and students but being on an Island has obviously made this a challenge. Ann Bryant was invited to join in our 2014 book week and we immediately hit it off.”
  • Lancashire – Save my city: the axeing of once great Lancaster – Guardian. “Last November, just as it started raining, Lancashire County Council was told it had to find £65m of cuts over the next two financial years – and £200m by 2020. Alongside cuts to rural bus services and the closure of 40 libraries, the council announced that, by the end of this month, they were going to close five museums, including the Judges’ Lodgings, the city’s oldest townhouse. The council said it would also have to withdraw funding from other museums, including Lancaster Castle, the City Museum, the Cottage Museum and the Maritime Museum. If these don’t start to pay their way they face closure, possibly by the end of 2016. “
  • Lincolnshire – ‘It was wrong to close the libraries’ – anger lingers as new library opens its doors – Lincolnshire Echo. “”Now there is over 40 people who volunteer and we have three teams that operate the library each day it opens.” Mr Cunningham added that the group would like to put solar panels on the roof to help with energy costs and are also looking to secure a lease on the building.”
  • Shropshire – ‘Friends’ call for u-turn on Ludlow Library – Evesham Journal. “services not related to the library and museum could be relocated leaving space for a range of other activities in the library and museum resource centre building. They say that the library and its services are feeling the impact of cost cutting and that it has to stop. In particular the group is upset at the way in which vital services are being provided. “Shropshire Council’s move of the public contact point into the atrium has been a fudge,” said Lottie James, chair of the Friends of Ludlow Museum in a letter to Ludlow Town Council. “It is unattractive, lacks privacy and above all intrudes on a purpose built building to provide a library for Ludlow and a Museum Resource Centre for the County.”
  • South Ayrshire – Three South Ayrshire libraries to close their doors for good next week – Daily Record. “The shutters will be pulled down at Coylton, Dailly and Dundonald next Thursday. Savings of almost £50,000 are expected to be made over the next two years as part of the cull. And more than £100,000 will be banked by reducing the opening hours of other libraries later in the year. A fortnightly mobile service will be sent in to replace the lost facilities. The council’s Jill Cronin, who said libraries offered a “great service” to communities, insists all is not lost.”
  • Staffordshire – Staffordshire libraries – public consultation – Libraries Taskforce. “In response to budget pressures, many authorities were closing libraries. Staffordshire wanted to do everything they could to sustain their library service. Taking an ambitious approach to transforming their service Staffordshire designed, developed and implemented a new model following extensive public consultation.”
  • Swindon – Campaigners urge council to listen to public on libraries – Swindon Advertiser. ““All ages are represented here, which demonstrates how vital this service is to all sectors of the community,” said Sarah Church, of the group. “
  • Warwickshire – Community libraries in Warwickshire – Libraries Taskforce. “Sixteen libraries were designated as ‘no longer sustainable in their present form’ and as a result, local communities were encouraged to work with the council to find ways of keeping them open. Fourteen community-managed libraries were established between January and June 2012, mainly in rural areas. The busier, predominantly urban, libraries were retained. ” … “The 12 community-led libraries are still operating and they continue to receive stock and professional support. Collectively, community libraries account for 3% of library loans county wide and the council is committed to funding for ongoing support.”
  • Warwickshire – Rumours of service cuts from Kenilworth Library quashed – Kenilworth Weekly. “Rumours of services being cut from Kenilworth Library have been quashed after signs displaying ‘Warwickshire Direct’ were removed from the building’s front last week. Instead, the signs’ removal was part of a rebranding exercise of all libraries in Warwickshire to make sure they are all consistent with one another. A simple sign displaying ‘Library’ in capital letters has now appeared on the left-hand pillar of the building.”
  • West Berkshire – Hundreds gather to protest Theale Library closure plans – Get Reading. “Protesters gathered in their hundreds outside of Theale Library to protest against its closure. Facebook group Friends of Theale Library had managed to organise the protest in just a matter of days after a shock announcement from West Berkshire Council revealed plans to close it. Protesters gathered outside the library from 4.30pm, Wednesday, March 23 and organisers had asked everyone to take out the maximum allowance of 15 books.”.  Includes video interviews.
  • West Berkshire – “Save our library” say Theale Children – Newbury Today. “education will suffer if West Berkshire Council closes Theale library”. Includes  video.
  • West Berkshire – Self-serve library idea challenged – Newbury Today. “West Berkshire Council has finally released estimated annual running costs, excluding staff salaries – £36,920 in the case of Hungerford and £14,480 in the case of Lambourn. But a spokeswoman for the Friends of Hungerford Library, Helen Simpson, said their own estimation, including salaries, was £65,000. She added: “West Berkshire Council said that they would like the libraries to run in a self-serve manner, but they are yet to elaborate what this decision will mean for the employed professional staff already in place.”