Extremism works in news coverage. That’s the message that the excellent PC Sweeney writes about, after his experience of forming the only US pro-library lobbying group and that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after studying all of the news about libraries (and I mean, all of it) since 2010. We saw this last week. That was one gigantic amount of media coverage on Tuesday, and it was factually based and researched (even understating the true state of affairs) but the reaction to it by those who fail to fight for libraries (Ed Vaizey) or who actively want them gone (the Institute of Economic Affairs) was extreme. Ed made two statements – that budget cuts were not influencing library closures and that volunteers were not replacing paid library staff – that were demonstrably untrue and simplistic, but they got national air play. The IEA argued that no-one used libraries and that no-one should therefore worry about them closing and got on BBC Breakfast. This is the standard of debate amongst our opponents – to exaggerate or to have no regard to the facts but to say a simple message and hope no-one checks. To counter this, we need to stay factual (look, we’re supporting libraries, I refuse to adopt the dirty methods of our opponents) but we also need to shout loud, very loud, about what is going on, or we will be drowned out by those who want libraries gone.

This goes against the “Ambition” document of the Libraries Taskforce and the policy of the Society of Chief Librarians, who are pushing for a consistent “positive narrative” for libraries. That’s great, and I’d agree in a perfect world, but it’s clearly ineffective when campaigning.  You don’t and won’t see people with “Our library is closing but Central is doing great things with 3D printers” placards. And as a national media strategy, it’s a complete non-starter. Because an evolving library service is good for nothing but a two minute interest piece every couple of years or so, and that’s not time we – or the 111 libraries the BBC conservatively estimate are under threat this year – have. So why push such a moderate rose-tinted agenda? Because being positive is how you get on in any organisation. I don’t mean that in an insulting and nasty way. There are many good committed and genuine people in the Taskforce and the SCL.  I just mean that it’s a category mistake.  Such a positive narrative is a necessary one for getting along in an organisation and a feasible one for encouraging people, long term, to use libraries but it’s one that makes no sense to a campaigner out there to save their library or for those of us who see this as an altogether more short-term and brutal affair. Look at the Lambeth protests below. That is an excellent demonstration of how to make a noise, get noticed and an all-else-has-failed throw of the dice. The Council is getting a bloody nose out of this and hopefully will think again, or not do cut libraries next time.  A positive narrative would have done nothing. But it would have been music to the ears of Ed Vaizey and the IEA.


National news

“For libraries these two factors (local community support and grant financing) are almost the only success factors that matter. This resonates with the view, described earlier, that these organisations often struggle to generate trading income…  some libraries see the long-term solution as returning to a taxpayer-funded service rather than as an independently-funded community business. While this might be a perfectly reasonable end goal, it also constitutes a risk, both in terms of the reliance on government to change its mind at an ambiguous future date, and also in terms of the future prospects of these organisations as community businesses.” ” The Power to Change.


  • Hour of code – Libraries Task Force/Gov.uk. “One of the aims of National Coding Week is to build coding skills to address the digital skills gap in the workforce. For many years, staff in Leeds Libraries have delivered sessions to improve people’s digital skills. In particular, our IT for Employment sessions and Work Club sessions help people to look for work and apply for jobs online. We had never delivered coding sessions for adults before but we knew this was a growing area of interest. The EU estimates that there will be up to 1.3 million unfilled digital jobs by 2020, some of which will require coding skills. National Coding Week gave us the perfect opportunity to deliver a new session and hopefully attract a new audience …”
  • If librarians and steelworkers wanted state bail-outs, they should have done something useful – like bankers – Independent / Mark Steel. “In any case the bankers deserved to be bailed out, as they couldn’t possibly anticipate that if they kept taking money it might eventually run out, whereas steelworkers have caused their own downfall by not being Chinese ” … “One of these libraries, the Tate, has been assessed as receiving an average of 600 visits per day. This may seem successful, but where the library has let itself down is forgetting to charge any of them money for borrowing books and bringing kids into reading classes. Maybe the library service should learn from gyms, and only let them in if they pay £40 a month on a minimum two-year contract. They could even offer them special courses in which an instructor screams, “Right, everyone, let’s all read this week’s Economist – you can do it – let’s drive ourselves to the limit – GO – ‘the Yen faces unexpected slow down’ – come on Eileen pick it up, push everyone!”
  • Letters: Only high-quality steel production has a future in Britain – Telegraph. “The Libraries Taskforce has called for a “positive narrative” around libraries. This is welcome, as long as it limits closures. It is also good to see an acknowledgement that the public values a professional, physically accessible service that is more than a room full of books; that is a social space, which saves money for the NHS and other agencies. Outsourcing public services to volunteers is not sustainable. Costs are not reduced, as volunteers have to be trained, retained and managed in buildings requiring leases, maintenance, insurance and stock. Cuts by central Government to local government budgets will only lead to more library closures – either outright or by the back door, by loading public-service provision on to inexperienced and unaccountable community organisations that cannot muster the manpower or the funds to keep a service going.”
  • Libraries aren’t ‘dead in the water’ – even if some have given up  – Conversation. “Having spent 15 years researching public libraries and trying to emphasise their contribution to education and society as a whole, you might expect that I’d be delighted at the good news that our public libraries are finally receiving the media attention and recognition they deserve? Sadly not.” … “Libraries aren’t over, they will just look different. A similar view was expressed by Elizabeth Elford of the Society of Chief Librarians, who observed “there will be fewer public libraries when we come out the other side, but they will be better and more innovative.” I sincerely hope that she is right, but I question whether the closure of so many public libraries could be characterised as a positive development” … “Public library services remain one of the most significant and democratising assets within our communities and should not be sacrificed for economic or political expediency.”
  • Libraries on Borrowed Time as Volume of Cuts Grows – Financial Times. Behind paywall.
  • Manifesto for Libraries – CILIPS. “As part of the CILIP in Scotland campaign ‘Scotland’s Libraries: Inspiration for the Nation’ we have produced a Manifesto for Libraries that sets out the key messages of the campaign. This Manifesto has been sent to all the main political parties with a request for a response to the achievable asks contained within it. We now ask that our members download the document and use it to contact their own local candidates standing for election on the 5th May.”
  • Mini round up of news from Welsh libraries – Alyson’s Library Blog. “Yesterday (31st March 2016), Ken Skates AM, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, announced £2.3m of Welsh Government funding for museums, archives and libraries for 2016-17. Of this, £1m is capital funding for the Community Learning Libraries Programme, with modernisation awards going to libraries in Bala, Brecon, Cardiff, Haverfordwest, Holywell and Merthyr Tydfil.” … lists more funding and initiatives … “One final achievement in March is the publication of the first annual report (review) of Welsh libraries. This was a recommendation of the inquiry into public libraries by the National Assembly for Wales’ CELG Committee and was accepted by the Expert Review of public libraries, and broadened to include all library sectors in Wales. The review is available on the Expert Review pages of the Welsh Government website.”
  • Original Freedom of Information request – BBC/GitHub. The questions the BBC asked all authorities for their library research last week.  Misses out mobile libraries.
  • Radicalised: Taxpayer-funded computers allow access to sick ISIS material – Daily Express. “In a sample of libraries across London and Surrey reporters were able to access ISIS terrorist propaganda magazine Dabiq, print off the Al-Qaeda training manual, watch ISIS video footage and even connect with the Daesh media centre via social media.” … “In four libraries in Waltham Forest, east London, and Woking, Surrey, Dabiq magazine was accessed, with back copies being easily opened and read.” … “Access to the ISIS media arm, the Al Hayat Media Center, was also completely unfiltered meaning radicalised Britons can talk to Daesh using Government-funded computers”
  • Steve Topple: On libraries spineless politicians are cutting more than books – Common Space. “Of course, no-one is going to deny that the rise of the eBook, increased personal access to the internet and changes in people’s lifestyles have impacted (and will continue to) on libraries and their place as a book-lending resource. But this is not simply about reading or the ability to borrow – this is a fundamental attack on free-to-use public spaces which are often a lifeline for people who would otherwise not regularly leave their homes or be able to afford to pay for the services that libraries offer, without charge.”
  • Worth writing home about: Inside the most incredible libraries in Britain, from Oxford’s historic reading rooms to a futuristic wonder in Liverpool – Mail. Looks at some beautiful libraries, including academic ones, but also Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham Central public libraries.

International news

  • Australia – National Library of Australia ‘dream’ turns to nightmare – Sydney Morning Herald. “Who would be bold enough to break to Menzies the news that the government – no, Sir Robert, a Liberal-National Party government (that’s what they call the Country Party now) – had directed the heads of the cultural institutions to find “savings” amounting to $40 million.”
  • USA – Libraries Invite Dogs to Storytime – SLJ. “Libraries are starting to leverage kids’ natural affection for dogs. Here are three libraries that have really gotten resourceful with having man’s best friend help children focus on reading. Young patrons are able to engage with animals in a way that is beneficial for all concerned.”
  • USA – Necessity of extremism in library advocacy and political outreach – PC Sweeney. “Essentially, I’m going to make the claim that advocacy and politics in America has been hijacked by a sadly necessary extremism and that for libraries to continue to exist as we know them we need to get on board with the rhetoric. If we don’t learn to start to talk about libraries in a severely emotionally meaningful way that engages and activates our most impassioned supporters, libraries will be next on chopping  block ” … “However, the ones that have the highest level of emotion, the least amount of complexity, and least amount of real information or solutions are the ones that get the highest levels of donations, the most shares, the most likes, and are the ones that are most widely read. “

“We wrote emails that explained what positive things that libraries were doing and how they help communities and got very little return. Yet when we wrote something controversial or something that was more highly emotional and less deeply informational, we were able to see more donations, sign-ups, shares, etc… I have also seen this to hold true when we are attempting to activate people to sign a petition to fight legislation. Our calls to action that were informational went largely unheard and our calls to action that were highly emotional generated thousands more signatures.”

“The need for identifying supporters is also why we created our Political Action Platform for libraries. It’s time for libraries to duplicate the efforts of national causes and political parties and cadidates and truly understand what makes Americans ravenously believe in causes to such an extreme that they will support those causes with money, time, and other resources. We need this level of extremism on the side of libraries in order to ensure that libraries continue to exist at all to continue to serve the good of the American people.”

  • USA – Words “illegal’ and ‘alien’ barred from U.S. libraries – Washington Examiner. “”In response to constituent requests, the Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress, which maintains Library of Congress Subject Headings, has thoroughly examined and discussed the status of the headings ‘Aliens’ and Illegal aliens.’ PSD has determined that the heading ‘Aliens’ should be revised to ‘Noncitizens.’ The heading ‘Illegal aliens’ will be cancelled and replaced by two headings, ‘Noncitizens’ and ‘Unauthorized immigration,’ which may be assigned together to describe resources about people who are in a country illegally,” said the library.”

Local news

  • Blackburn with Darwen – Community Living Room – “The Community Living Room project is funded by Arts Council England and is delivered  by Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Library and Information Service in partnership with Age UK, NHS Blackburn, Action Factory Community Arts Ltd and Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Health and Wellbeing Services”.  Lots of varied craft activities for public libraries [like a craft-focused makerspace or a well-funded U3A but in a library – Ed).
  • Brent – The Library at Willesden Green by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris – Architect’s Journal. A long look, with pictures and floorplans, of the new library. “The Willesden Green cultural centre currently provides an astonishing wealth of cultural amenity: library, gallery, museum, archive, performance space. So it is worth pointing out that both sides in the debate believed that libraries were at the heart of communities. They just disagreed about what the scale of ‘community’ was. Interestingly, the disagreement rarely went into the definition of what libraries did. Bennett’s own criticism of the move was based as much around access to computers as to books. “
  • Cambridgeshire – Cambridgeshire library hours cut in council budget blitz – Cambridge News. “Opening times at libraries in Cambridgeshire are being slashed as the county council pushes on with a cash-saving drive. Cambridge Central library will open half an hour later during the week, and hours will also be reduced for libraries at Ely, Huntingdon, and St Neots. Some libraries will also shut on Sundays, and opening times for archives in Cambridge and Huntingdon will also face curbs and closures.”
  • Cumbria – Cumbria libraries staff reduced by 76 over past six years – North West Evening Mail. “A spokesperson for Cumbria County Council said that a number of full-time library staff had taken up the option of voluntary redundancy, and alongside that there had been a rise in part-time staff seeking or getting increased hours. He said: “These figures have been down to a combination of things but it’s certainly nothing sinister”
  • Devon – New organisation takes control of Devon’s library services – Herald Express. “Libraries Unlimited, a staff and community-owned social enterprise, was established with the support of Devon County Council following extensive public consultation on the future of the library service. From April 1, the mutual will run the library service on behalf of Devon County Council in a move to secure the future of all 50 of the county’s libraries. The move will save £1.5million a year in addition to the £3 million already saved from the library service budget over the past three years. DCC remains responsible for the library service, but now commissions the delivery of the service from Libraries Unlimited, which is managed by chief executive Ciara Eastell and led by a board of trustees recruited from library staff, library friends groups and independent members of the Devon community.”
  • Doncaster – Doncaster libraries experience biggest drop in number of books being borrowed in England – Doncaster Free Press. “Borrowing statistics from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy released this week showed the number of books issued at the borough’s libraries fell by 571,761 between 2012 and 2014. There were 628,709 books issued in 2014, compared with 1.2 million two years earlier”.
  • Hertfordshire – Sawbridgeworth library could move to same site as town fire station – Herts and Essex Observer. “The library has been a topic of debate over the last year-and-a-half as HCC looks to revitalise its library facilities. In a 10-year plan produced by the authority, each of its libraries was assessed on accessibility, condition and size. Sawbridgeworth’s was deemed one of the worst. A report said: “Poorly configured…on two floors with no lift. Less than ideal for modern service delivery. High maintenance liability”
  • Lambeth – Carnegie library occupation deepens cracks in Lambeth’s austerity Labour Party – Socialist Worker. “The Labour Party in Lambeth, South London, is in crisis after being caught off guard by the scale and determination of opposition to its council’s library cuts. Councillors face strikes, protests and an occupation – while big chunks of their own party’s membership are also attacking them.” … “Dulwich and West Norwood Constituency Labour Party has spoken out saying it “stands with librarians and Friend’s Groups opposing Lambeth Council’s plan for the library service”.”

“Councillors would like to create the impression of hardened militants inside. The reality of the sit-in is the people who run readers’ groups, the chess club, parents and their children.”

“None of this is necessary but Lambeth will not talk to us, and we have tried to [talk] by all the democratic means but their only reaction has been to try and cause a conflict here and get us out.” Laura Swaffield

  • Lambeth – Lambeth library occupation continues, supported by community donations of food and bedding – BBC. “Children, mothers with babies and pensioners have been among protestors occupying a library since it was due to close on Thursday. A group of around 40 people are living in Carnegie Library in Loughborough Junction, south London, as part of a campaign to keep it open. Supporters have been proving food and bedding to those inside.” … “Teenagers Phoebe Griffiths and Greta Thompson have been occupying the library since Tuesday, despite having to revise for their GCSEs and A-Levels. Greta told BBC London: ” “On the day of the occupation I was working here, I was revising, and we decided to stay.”
  • Lambeth – Lambeth library plans condemned as ‘absolute shambles’ – Guardian. “Opponents counter that the changes are unpopular and chaotic. They say the two libraries closing on Thursday will remain untouched for months as officials remain unsure how to install “healthy living centres” in the Grade II-listed structures. “It’s pointless,” said Laura Swaffield, chair of the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, a pressure group that has campaigned noisily over the planned changes. “The staff are still on the payroll pending a restructure. They’re also paying for security guards now the buildings will close.”
  • Lambeth – MP says main use of Carnegie must be as a library – Brixton Blog. “Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes has said that it is clear to her that “the main and dominant use” of the Carnegie library – currently occupied by protesters – “must be the provision of a library and spaces for community meetings and that any other revenue raising uses must be subservient to these”. The Labour MP said she was “absolutely committed to seeing the Carnegie Library retained as a library”. see also Occupation of Lambeth’s Carnegie Library continues into second day – Brixton Buzz, with pictures.
  • Lincolnshire – New providers to take over remaining 15 Lincolnshire libraries – Lincolnite. “Management will transfer to not-for-profit organisation Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), to be run alongside the county’s 30 community hubs, now managed by volunteers. The new chapter for the library service will also see GLL handle the county’s online library services and support for those unable to reach their nearest library because of things like disability, age or ill-health.” … ““We are hitting the ground running with new plans for a Reading Garden and Teenage Library in Lincoln and a revamped Mobile Library in Mablethorpe – on top of scheduled library activities like the Summer Reading Challenge, Home Library and IT tasters.”
  • Manchester – Two is the magic number for Manchester’s reborn Central Library – Manchester Council. “Today, Tuesday 22 March marks the second anniversary of the reopening of Central Library – and 2.5 million people have already visited the Manchester landmark since its reopening in 2014.” … “The library has hosted two literature festivals, two jazz festivals, two science festivals and two film festivals since the four-year, £50m project to restore the building was completed. More than 2,000 events and activities have been hosted at the reopened library, plus 254 educational sessions for school pupils. “
  • Nottingham – Happy 200th Birthday Bromley House Library – Left Lion. “If you were going to list the tools of the librarian’s trade, it’s doubtful a truncheon would make the cut. But there it is, in the hands of Carol Barstow, the head librarian of Bromley House Library for the last decade or so. It’s about 12” and weighty enough to give your head some sudden and drastic blunt force surgery. It’s also old, and Carol thinks it’s from a time when Goose Fair would pop up right outside on the street, lions and all. Of course, it could be around because of all the gambling, drunkenness and gunplay in the library.”
  • Nottinghamshire – Nottinghamshire: Membership rises for council library scheme – Chad. “More than 20,000 people have become members of Nottinghamshire County Council’s new cultural organisation Inspire which began operating this week. The council is the first in the Midlands to set up an organisation to manage its libraries, archives, learning and cultural services across the county and began recruitment in November, which stands at 20,818 members to date.”
  • Peterborough – Libraries’ success story is a good read – Peterborough Telegraph. “I read in the national media this week that councils have closed nearly 350 libraries across the country and a further 111 are planned this year. How sharply this contrasts with our own city’s libraries which, despite swinging cuts to local authorities by this government, are not only being kept open but we’ve also found ways to keep them open for longer and attract more people to use them! The latest initiative by the council, working in partnership with Vivacity, is building on the success of its Open+ library technology and rolling out free Wi-Fi connectivity across 11 of the city’s libraries, from the beginning of this month, funded via an Arts Council grant of £25,000.”
  • Shropshire – ‘Postcode lottery’ warning on future of Shropshire services – Shropshire Star. “Shropshire Council’s cabinet is expected to approve plans next week which could lead to the closure of a number of the county’s public services, including arts, tourism, museums, youth activities, leisure centres, swimming pools, large libraries, public open spaces, and some bus routes.”
  • Suffolk – Beccles Library to increase opening hours and launch new Reading Hack project – Suffolk Libraries. “The additional staffing cost of the extra hours is being funded by Beccles Library Community Trust, the library’s community group set up to support and develop the library. The Trust have signed a formal agreement with Suffolk Libraries to fund the additional hours for an initial two year period which will be reviewed towards the end of this period.”
  • Swindon – Labour Leader Corbyn backs bid to save Swindon libraries – Swindon Advertiser. “Jeremy Corbyn has backed a campaign to save Swindon libraries from the threat of closure. Bestselling authors Jake Arnott, Alan Gibbons and Paul Cornell have also lent their support. Fourteen of the town’s 15 libraries could be shut as part of proposals to cut £50 million from its budget over the next three years. Mr Corbyn was in Oxford on a speaking tour of the regions when he was buttonholed by Councillor Jim Robbins (Lab, Mannington and Western) and told about the campaign.”