Another mixed bag of news, with the continuing theme of councils – and proxy trusts – cutting down library services. It’s good to see Haringey bucking the trend with an upgraded library, though.  And it’s clear that a few councils have either backed down in a couple of cases because of unforeseen (and, really, in 2016, there’s no excuse not to foresee it) public pressure or because they never intended to put in such deep cuts in the first place and want to be seen as listening to the electorate.  The most interesting article I’ve read is that by Leon who points out that the new libraries minister is going to continue a hands-off approach, with an emphasis on facing further cuts to budgets by either alternative governance models (e.g trusts) or by replacing paid staff with volunteers. It will be up to campaigners to limit the damage inflicted to the service – which Frank Cottrell Boyce rightly lauds – anyway they can, with compromises sometimes being necessary.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before but I do find it ironic, almost amusing, that  right-wing Government is pushing for people to no longer being paid for labour but rather to work free for the good of all. It’s also quite interesting to note that it’s often those in the most prosperous areas that are willing to do it.  I’m not sure that many Conservative voters in Buckinghamshire realise that they’re inching closer to the Communist Manifesto by volunteering to keep their library open but it gives me a wry smile.  Perhaps Lenin mentioned Austerity a lot in the 1920s too. Anyway, up the revolution, my Tory (and many Labour: although – double irony – fewer Corbynista) friends. I guess.

National news

  • Biteback – Sunday Times / Richard Brooks  [Behind paywall]. “And Vaizey’s legacy? He became the longest-serving arts minister in British politics – a source of great pride to him. He enthused, regularly attended openings and events, and was always affable. But in some areas, notably libraries, he fell short.”
  • Challenges and Opportunities – Leon’s Library Blog. “The direction of travel has always been clear: localism, devolution, community libraries, new governance, commercialisation etc. So the trajectory will remain the same but what we will see, I suspect, is a more explicit statement on how this will be achieved. Equally, I don’t see Rob Wilson being any more interventionist than his predecessor except perhaps to encourage local authorities to go down the trust route.” … ” For campaigners the next few years will be ones of damage limitation and compromise rather than outright victory. An unintended effect of such changes will impact on the SCL, which until now has offered a safe space at regional meetings for heads of service to support each other. Whether such trust can continue around a table where some heads will be eyeing up their neighbours as potential expansion opportunities remains to be seen?”
  • Frank Cottrell Boyce: what’s the point of culture in Brexit Britain? – Guardian. “Because I fear that the places where this kind of generosity thrives are being destroyed. What are those places? Public spaces. Parks, playing fields, scout huts, libraries and especially school libraries. I regularly go to schools now where there is no library. Or the library has become a “Learning Resource Centre” – which means it’s been kitted out with computers and made to look like a call centre. A book is not a learning resource. It’s the knife that picks the lock of your isolation. It’s a box of delights. We are not fighting hard enough to protect that habitat – those playing fields, carnivals and libraries – because we’ve bought into the idea of culture as career, as something that can thrive just as well in a lesson or a soccer camp.”
  • Letters: Rural grants paralysed by second-guessing of Brexit by British officials – Telegraph. “Some years ago I caused a small ripple in the media by complaining that my local library was playing pop music to attract new visitors. There was an article in the local paper, along with radio interviews, after which Gloucestershire’s director of libraries announced that they were going to install sound systems “in all Gloucestershire’s new and refurbished libraries”. Economics intervened: there are no new libraries and many of the existing ones have been closed. Imagining that libraries are there to conserve our cultural history and educate the new generations, I went to my local library the other day to get a book by Trollope. Of Joanna, it had a few; of Anthony, none. Those wonderful novelists of the past, so popular when adapted for television, do not figure in our libraries”
  • Owen Smith makes 20 pledges if he’s Labour leader – but how many has Jeremy Corbyn suggested before? – Mirror. “11. Spend more on schools and libraries. What has Owen Smith promised? He will spend more on schools and libraries to “re-open libraries and reduce class sizes”. What has Jeremy Corbyn said? On April 20 he condemned the Tories for slashing schools spending 7% in real terms. On May 18 he added: “When they slash local authorities’ budgets, leisure centres, libraries and children’s centres close. When they close fire stations and cut firefighters’ jobs, response times increase and more people are in danger of dying in fires. This austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. It is a wrong choice for our country, made by a Government with the wrong priorities.” While we can’t find a repeat of this specific policy, it seems implied.”

International news

  • Canada – Letter from NLLA on the Suspension of the Library Closures – Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association. “While the announcement of the suspension of the library closures, which would have seen 54 of 95 branches close over the next 2 years, is encouraging, there are still a number of questions and concerns” … “it has come to light that the firm EY will be conducting the external review. This firm is most commonly associated with financial reviews. While we understand that the financial situation of the province is dire, it is important to recognize not only the financial side of the library system but also the underlying values libraries bring and support, including all forms of literacy and social values, to their communities. Therefore, it is even more important that the members of the external committee can understand, explain and communicate these values.”
  • Syria – Syria’s Secret Library – BBC Radio 4. “Away from the sound of bombs and bullets, in the basement of a crumbling house in the besieged Syrian town of Daraya, is a secret library. It’s home to thousands of books rescued from bombed-out buildings by local volunteers, who daily brave snipers and shells to fill its shelves. In a town gripped by hunger and death after three years without food aid, Mike Thomson reveals how this literary sanctuary is proving a lifeline to a community shattered by war. “

Local news by authority

“It has been described as little more than a few shelves with books on.”

  • Northumberland – Update on review of Northumberland libraries and tourist information services – Berwick Advertiser. “Proposals for library and tourist information centre services have been designed to retain and improve services, bringing them together with other facilities where possible and developing them to meet the needs of residents and visitors in the future. In the future, the tourist information service will be run as a more efficient model, utilising the latest technology and working in partnership with other areas of council services such as libraries, leisure and customer services, as well as other organisations, to reduce costs and provide a more flexible, modern approach to service delivery.”
  • Shropshire – Delight as council decides not to cut Ellesmere Library’s opening hours – Shropshire Star. “Friends of Ellesmere Library has welcomed Shropshire Council’s decision not to cut the opening hours at the town’s library. It comes as more than 200 people lodged objections to the proposal to reduce library opening times by three hours a week.” … “The library is expected to be relocated from Fullwood House to the nearby Meres Day Centre by the end of the year.”
  • Shropshire – Concerns over hours-cut at Ludlow library – Evesham Journal. “It follows news that as part of a cost-cutting exercise opening hours at Ludlow Library are to be slashed. An allegation has been made that this will cut demand for library services and so in future be used as an excuse for further cuts. Phil Poulton, head teacher of Ludlow School, has also spoken about the importance of libraries in education and community life. The town centre library will be open for seven hours fewer each week – a cut of more than 20 per cent.”
  • West Berkshire – New library closure petition launched – Newbury Today. “Petition has been launched to stop the future of the district’s libraries being decided by just 10 of West Berkshire Council’s 52 councillors. The council is proposing to close Theale and Wash Common libraries and pass the responsibility of others on to volunteers as part of its plan to save £17.5m this year. However, the council was advised by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that it should first carry out an independent needs assessment to determine the impact. After three-months, this has almost concluded and the findings will be reported back to the council by the end of August.”
  • Westminster – Labour demand answers as Marylebone library is shelved over £6m shortfall – West End Extra. “Marylebone Library was supposed to be ready in spring last year, but plans to reopen it in Luxborough Street were repeatedly pushed back. Westminster City Council says it now believes the development would cost £6million more than had originally been budgeted for when the scheme was rubber-stamped by planning chiefs. Now the council say it may be as late as 2020 before a new library can open at a permanent site. Cynthia Poole, from the St Marylebone Society, said: “The society views public libraries as important community assets, and although we appreciate that the council is coping with severe cuts, we are dismayed that the library still does not have a permanent home in a suitable building.”