I’m doing a talk on the challenges facing UK public libraries to a Unison library seminar on Monday (6th) and the presentation is below if you want an idea of what I think are (some) of the main points. The day is looking at how we should campaign for libraries and my talk is an introductory scene setter, giving the challenges but carefully not giving any ideas on solutions. This is just as well because there’s an awful lot of confusion about what a “solution” to the current crisis in public libraries may be. The Taskforce is emphasising pragmatism and strategic development and are being strongly criticised for taking too long about it and not being ambitious enough by campaigners. Many councils are deciding on budgets that force library chiefs to looks at hollowing out, volunteers or commercial support to meet the cuts and are, again, strongly criticised for doing so by campaigners. On the other foot, many people in senior library positions, I am sure, would criticise campaigners for wanting a minimum of change and special pleading for the libraries sector or solutions that it is unlikely the current Government would ever agree to. Observers take all sorts of positions, from thinking libraries are no longer needed to being passionately in favour of libraries.

I’m not sure where I am in this – after all, I’m an observer, library manager and campaigner all in one – but I do know that the more we do not move forward, the more the real creators of all this mess are smiling or, more accurately, carrying on blissfully unaware. As long as the politicians (sadly, still, of both main parties, although notable far less so under Corbyn)  in London believe in austerity and fail to understand the central importance of libraries to communities, to education, welfare, equality and, ultimately, the success of the nation then little arguments don’t matter. We need clear big strong arguments, memorable statements and images and unified campaigns to get this done. Or perhaps that’s just me going for special pleading. But something needs doing, together, by all of us. And I’m waiting, as an observer, manager and campaigner, for this to happen.



National news

  • Challenges facing UK public libraries – Public Libraries News. Powerpoint presentation from Unison Libraries conference, London.
  • Get a grip, Libraries Taskforce – BookSeller / Desmond Clarke.  “The Libraries Taskforce needs to get its act together and produce a plan to re-invigorate the library network. While many councils struggle to provide a library service, those responsible for leading and developing the service have spent the past eight years simply deliberating.” … “Perhaps the lack of a plan stems from the uncomfortable relationship between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Local Government Association (LGA). The minister seems reluctant to take on local authorities which blame the cuts on the government while the prime minister has suggested that closures are simply the result of “technological change”. The result is that the crisis facing the service, especially outside major cities, is being ignored.”
“This whole saga feels like the long, becalmed dog days in Moby Dick. The white whale comprised of a Pontius Pilate Culture Secretary, a cut-anything-that-moves piranha fest of councils and a task force that seems to ride on hot air is lurking out there somewhere while Ahab’s ship slides somnolently towards the rocks.” Alan Gibbons
  • Every Little Helps.. – Leon’s Library Blog. “There has been disquiet for a long time in the library field over commercial sponsorship such as Tesco with the Summer Reading Challenge in Scotland or Barclays Bank sponsoring wifi in public libraries in England. However, this brave new world of commercialisation and entrepreneurial one-upmanship chimes perfectly with the government’s neo-liberal economics, plans for a smaller state, and self-funding – or at the very least income generating – public services.” … “perhaps such ethical considerations are secondary to attracting funding, not just to conform with government expectations, but in order to ensure libraries continue to operate and offer much needed services. Perhaps, even, the public don’t actually care who funds wifi or literacy in libraries.”
  • Public libraries: key to a shared civic ambition – Carnegie UK. “A year on from the launch of Scotland’s first National Strategy for Public Libraries, Martyn Evans, Chair of the National Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland Strategic Group, reflects on the place libraries have in our lives and the need for effective advocacy.” … “The challenge is not to merely campaign against closures, reduced opening times, the use of volunteers or more. Campaigning against things is neither attractive tactics nor effective strategy.  Of course campaigns against things may gather short term, highly visible support but really effective campaigns have to be FOR something. They need to appeal to both hearts and minds. They need to forge links across sectors, make unusual friends and set out a clear vision for the future.”
“Libraries need to come off the back foot, libraries advocates must find common ground with funders and librarians must find their individual and collective voice to be articulate advocates, not only of library services but also trusted defenders of all our freedom”
International news
  • Iraq – ISIS threat forces Iraq to digitize national library – RT. “The work undertaken by the microfilm department is truly a hefty task, as a vast proportion of the collection of manuscripts is in bad shape. Over the centuries, several have either been burned or ruined by dampness. Others have even fossilized over time and now look like large rocks.” … “The need to preserve the old books first became apparent in April of 2003, after the US led-invasion of the country, when the National Library and Archives were burned and looted” … “At the start of the year, IS burned down the Mosul public library which had been home to over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. The UN has called the event “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.””
when an area is liberated, we send them books to replenish whatever was stolen or destroyed”
  • Pakistan – British Council launches library in Lahore – Business Recorder. “The British Council in Pakistan aims to rebuild and revolutionise its library offer to provide a 21st century experience to Pakistanis. In addition to physical walk-in spaces in Lahore and Karachi, a vast digital library resource are also available that will bring the very best of UK and Pakistan content to the consumers across the country.” [Anyone else see the irony in the British Government funding new public libraries in another country? – Ed.]
“By bringing the best of UK content, our libraries will position themselves as cultural hubs where an exchange of creativity, connectivity and ideas can take place.” Sir Ciaran Devane, CEO, British Council
  • Singapore – Automated robot that scans library shelves using laser mapping and radio tags can ensure no book is misplaced again – Phys.org. “Their latest project is an autonomous robotic shelf scanning (AuRoSS) platform that can self-navigate through libraries at night, scanning RFID tags to produce reports on missing and out-of-sequence books” … “To help track shelves in real-time, the researchers assembled a ‘macro-mini’ manipulator, where the mobile base robot contains an additional small robotic arm. The mini manipulator can move laterally, and uses ultrasonic sensors to position an RFID antenna to the optimal distance for book scanning.”
  • USA / Global – How are libraries doing around the world? – Flavorwire. Libraries generally (not just public ones but including government/academic/health etc): US/Canada/Mexico expecting 1% funding increases, 1% more than in EU. Middle East/Africa expect 4% increase, Asia 3%, South America 2%.
  • USA – Libraries thriving in electronic age – Democrat and Chronicle. 34% increase in usage after new library built. 25,000 attending library events compared to 7,000 before.
  • USA – Why Are Libraries Filled With Toys These Days? – PopSugar. Complains about toys in children’s library “The next 20 minutes involved me removing wooden blocks from her grip, trying to keep a plastic hot dog bun that another kid just chewed on from entering her mouth, and desperately attempting to reposition her in a tucked-away aisle before she inevitably looked around at the rows of books, realized they weren’t toys, and ran off in search of a train set. “. Child contracts illness from toys and library is unsympathetic, apparently putting playing before reading.

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Barnet Libraries Festival of Learning – Barnet London Borough. “Barnet Libraries is inviting local residents to start a family tree, learn how to knit, tell stories with Lego or explore local history as part of the national 2016 Festival of Learning.” see also Libraries will host 98 separate events during festival of learning – North London Newspapers.
  • Barnet – ‘Shame on you Barnet Council – librarians change children’s lives’ – council’s plea for library volunteers sparks outrage – This is Local London. “People are outraged over Barnet council’s volunteer plea for volunteers to run the borough’s libraries. Community groups and individuals invited to be a part of the borough’s future library service say you “cannot replace professionals with volunteers.” Adele Winston of Barnet said: “Shame on you Barnet Council. Librarians are not dustbin men, who though indispensable do not need a university education. “They are highly-trained professionals who can change the lives of children who visit libraries. They certainly changed mine.”
  • Bury – Libraries face closure in bid to save money – Bury Times. “Bury Council’s ruling Labour group says in a new report that it “anticipates that there will be a need for changes, including the possibility of a reduction in the number of libraries.” This, says the council report, is “in response to the continued pressures on council budgets” though the report does not say how much money any service cuts might save.”
  • Cheshire West and Chester – Mobile Library consultation – Cheshire West and Chester Council. “Following a Library Service review in 2014, and a reduction in the number of mobile library vehicles, it has been necessary to review the current service provided by the Mobile Library. The briefing document explains the current provision by the Mobile Library and also outlines the proposal of how the service would be delivered in the future. “
  • Enfield – ‘Morally shameless’: MP accused of political point-scoring on future of Enfield libraries – This is Local London. Conservative MP on Labour council. “He said he is worried that the move will not retain all services and “only three shelves of books” will be available at the new facility. However, Enfield’s cabinet member for children’s services and libraries Cllr Ayfer Orhan said they have made plans for all the services available at Southgate Circus to be available in the college, and accused Mr Burrowes of trying to score political points.”
  • Glasgow – Glasgow library shut for urgent repair work – Evening Times. Masonry problems near entrance at Langside Library means closure for repairs.
  • Hull – A flag for Hull pilot session at Hull Central Library – Creative Briefs. Pictures from children’s consultation / crafts session.
  • Lancashire – Cash-strapped Lancashire local authorities lose more than £1m – Citizen. £500k lost by council due to collapse of training company. “County Tory group chairman and Oswaldtwistle county councillor Peter Britcliffe is angry at the wasted cash when the authority is closing libraries and young people’s centres to save £200million by 2021. “
  • Lancashire – MP calls for county council to be placed in special measures – Longridge News. Conservative MP on Labour council. “I have serious concerns about Lancashire County Council, and am of the opinion that many of the funding choices they have made in recent months have been politically motivated and have discriminated against rural areas of the county … “This has been confirmed to me after the recent announcement that eight libraries are to be closed in the Ribble Valley. This has come hot on the heels of a fiasco over the funding of bus services, with the 1,500 residents of Sabden being left totally stranded and without any service.”
  • North Yorkshire – Craven libraries celebrate Bookstart Week – Craven Herald. “This year’s theme is Under the Sea and children will be able to make their own shark hats, take part in nautical rhyme-times and be creative with colouring sheets. Each youngster will also receive a free copy of the picture book A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea, by Jessica Law, courtesy of the BookTrust.”
  • Reading – National Bookstart Week: go under the sea in Reading’s libraries – Get Reading.
  • Sheffield – Benefits of Libraries – Star. Council says “”Massive cuts from central government mean that it would be impossible for all our libraries to stay open without the wonderful work the volunteers put in … We support them by providing training and support with things like operating the library computer system for issuing books, but – because they’re independent organisations and not part of the council’s statutory service – we do not specify what data they should monitor”
  • Shetland – Praise for Unst library Bookbug event – Shetland Islands Council. “The intergenerational session brought together young children, parents, grandparents and centre residents to share songs, stories and rhymes. Julie Thomson said: “Bookbug sessions with bairns and parents is wonderful and this time we took Bookbug to Nordalea, so everyone could join in with the songs and actions. We hope to make the Nordalea event a regular activity now, as well as continuing to run weekly sessions at the nursery and also at UnstFest.””
  • Shropshire – Shropshire Council not backing down on cutbacks – Shropshire Star. “The authority said talks with town and parish councils about taking over such assets to prevent them from closing had been “encouraging” and would continue over the next few months. It comes after officials at Church Stretton Town Council and Ludlow Town Council requested more time to manage the transfer of services. The services will need to be funded or managed by town councils or third party organisations from April 2017 as Shropshire Council plans to cut its leisure and culture budget to zero as part of cost-saving measures. Venues under threat in the two towns include Ludlow Library and Museum Resource Centre, Church Stretton Library, South Shropshire Leisure Centre and Teme Church Stretton Leisure Centre.” … “Councillor Michael Walker, mayor of Church Stretton, wrote to Malcolm Pate, leader of Shropshire Council, saying time allowed was “unrealistic” and “way beyond the capacity” of either town council or Shropshire Council staff.”
  • Shropshire – Why libraries boost our quality of life – Shropshire Star / Phil Gillam. “I have long held the belief that one way of measuring how civilised a nation is would be to examine the quantity and quality of its art galleries, museums and libraries.” … “These are the quiet places in towns and cities. These are the places largely disinterested in making money. These are the places that offer sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of busy streets. And they’re also the places that (it could be argued) serve no practical purpose whatsoever. Yet, just imagine what a terribly impoverished country we would inhabit if all the art galleries, museums and libraries were to close for good”
  • Stockton – Closure plan for two Stockton borough libraries opposed by campaigners – Northern Echo.
  • Stockton – Pensioner forced to stand outside Fairfield Library to petition against its closure – Gazette. “She has been forced to stand outside the premises to ask for signatures – as the petition cannot be put on public display in the library. But dozens of book lovers joined Enid at the library to make their voices heard to the council at a meeting last week. She said: “People today are despondent. I think it has been decided but we feel that we have to do something. I’m still fighting.” … “The petition is under the counter and the librarians are not allowed to mention it.”
  • Suffolk – Volunteers needed as Suffolk Libraries get set to launch Roald Dahl themes Summer Reading Challenge – EADT. “More than 800,000 primary school children took part in the event last year, making 2015 the most successful year to date. Now, each library within Suffolk is on the hunt for volunteers to help run activities for children as part of the challenge, and to talk with them about the books they have read.”