I was delighted to see library staff being recognised for their excellent work over the past year.  The more that those who work in libraries the better, in my opinion.  Here’s the first of the interviews this year …

 A brief interview with Thomas Colloff, Mobile Library Champion of the Year.

Thomas Colloff, in the mobile library that made it all possible.

Thomas Colloff, in the mobile library that made it all possible.

What do you like about working in public libraries? 

I think that my favourite aspect of my role is working with some brilliant customers and colleagues.  In Essex we have a hugely diverse demographic and that is reflected in our customer base in Libraries.  As we visit many different locations on mobile libraries, we have customers from many different backgrounds.  This makes life far more enjoyable when you are interacting with the customers and it never ceases to amaze me what interesting lives some of them have lead.  Because there is far more face to face contact on the mobile library, it is a great opportunity for building relationships with people and to know from the feedback I receive that I am performing a service that is appreciated by many people.

Why are public libraries so important to you and the people they serve? 

I believe that public libraries are a great leveller; they provide a service that is open and accessible to everyone, regardless of their circumstances, in a way that is almost unique.  Aside from obvious role of providing books, DVDs, CDs etc. for people to borrow but there is also the vital role of being an information centre for the community.  The internet access is also another vital role nowadays for people who may not have access at home, especially as so many services have to be accessed or applied for ‘on line’ now.  Libraries also provide an important meeting point for various groups, pre-school children etc.

What’s it like to be interviewed on TV?  Were you nervous?  

I found it all rather nerve wracking, I hadn’t slept for about three nights previously, definitely out of my comfort zone.  However the presenter was very pleasant and did her best to put me at ease, although she was a bit apprehensive during the driving sequence as to how narrow some of the roads were for such a large vehicle.  It was lovely that two of my customers were included in the interview: they were extremely gracious in their comments and I think they quite enjoyed the experience.

What do you think, other than the fact that it moves, is the major difference between working in a mobile to a branch library? 

I think a major difference is that you are lone working and therefore not only responsible for every aspect of running a large vehicle but also for delivering every aspect of the Library Service in a compacted form.  The weather also is a major factor in this as the mobile library is out on the road in whatever the heavens are throwing at it, rain, floods, snow and heatwaves. We get it all.  This can be a huge challenge, particularly when planning how to get to the next stop when the road ahead is liable to be flooded or it has a hill that maybe covered in snow.

It also means that you are able build a close relationship customers.  As you visit the same stops regularly you get to know your customers, and they to know you, very well.  People often use the visit of the library to meet up with their friends and neighbours and catch up on the local news, a phrase I have often heard is “if I didn’t come to the mobile library I wouldn’t see anyone from one week to the next” .

What are the most important challenges that you think the public library service faces today?  

The reality is that we are a public service competing for a slice of an ever decreasing Public Budget.  The challenge therefore is to deliver a better and more innovative service for less money whilst continuing to appeal to our current and future customers.  In addition I believe our public profile is rather poor for an organisation of our size.  There are still way too many non-Library users out there with a pre conceived idea of how libraries are, and in many cases those ideas are no longer applicable.  We in libraries need to challenge those ideas and improve our public and media image in order that we can move forward.

If you had the power what would you do to meet those challenges? 

Raise public awareness of the fantastic services we provide so that everyone is aware of who we are, where we are what we do and how we do it

Special mention was made of your ability to build links with local communities. What sort of links have you built up? How did you do it?  

On the mobile library, I visit not only regular public stops but also traveller sites, a women’s refuge, elderly people’s homes, young disabled adult accommodation, schools, preschools and mother and toddler Groups.  Each one is different and requires a slightly different approach depending on their needs.  I’ve found awareness of their particular requirements and adapting to changing situations and, above all, listening to the customers be they 2 or 102, is a key part of delivering a beneficial service.

Is there one simple piece of advice you would give a new librarian to help them in their role? 

My best advice is; keep an open mind, be innovative, and keep smiling no matter what 🙂

National news

  • CILIP Candidate Booklet – CILIP. Candidate statements include Alison Wheeler (Suffolk Libraries Trust boss) for Board and Ayub Khan (Warwickshire Libraries boss) for Vice President. “We recently invited all eligible members of CILIP to provide nominations for three Board vacancies and also for the position of Vice President. We were delighted to receive more nominations than available positions for both categories and now elections will take place. On the 8th November you will receive an e-mail from this address inviting you to vote in this year’s election.”
  • Fun Palaces weekend 2016 – Libraries Taskforce. “… over 60 people attended the Fun Palace in South Elmsall library, that brought together people of all ages and abilities. The community were asked what skills they could share and the skills they would like to learn, and then these were delivered by local people to local people. Knitting, card making, cross stitch, surfing the internet, IT, gardening, poetry, planting and even making homemade paper were all featured. ” … “[Norfolk] … we worked with 13 different people from seven different organisations to deliver activities. About 50% of people who took part in the activities hadn’t been to an event at the library before and nearly all of the people coming along hadn’t heard of Fun Palaces before” … “At Hampshire Library Service, we held our first Fun Palaces at Yateley Library and Stubbington Library this year. More than 1,200 people came to celebrate with us, learning new skills such as crocheting, enjoying choir performances, and taking part in some furious steampunk tea duelling”.  Also Blackheath and Somerset.

“my guess is about 40% of Fun Palaces are happening in libraries. And I’m not surprised about that. I think they’re ideal places because, in most libraries, the public already has a bit of a sense of ownership I think.” Stella Duffy

  • Libraries that fail to serve communities ‘need to close’, digital charity says – Public Sector Executive.
  • A Modern Mission for Libraries – James Powney’s Blog. ” It is striking how the public libraries debate has never moved beyond demands that Building X should never close, or it sometimes feels, even change.” … “Libraries can play a huge role in meeting these needs, but too often seem to get bogged down in autobiographical arguments about some celebrities’ childhood.” … “One is a kind of “just say No” approach.  In Brent, we saw campaign groups shouting (often literally) that there must be no change of any kind.  That is actually an oddly authoritarian position.  It assumes that whoever made decisions in the past chose not just the best distribution of resources for that moment but also for all time.” … “Clinging to the safe and reliable as the tide wash over you may be more likely to lead to drowning than a difficult scramble up a cliff. “

International news

  • USA – “122 Things” you will be able to do in the library of the future that you can’t do today – Futurist Speaker. “As a kid growing up, libraries were always that magical place full of ideas and possibilities. Future libraries will have all that and more. Yes, they will be continually evolving over the coming decades and the key to our understanding them lies in our ability to expand our perspective and reframe our thinking abut their role and purpose. The list above is merely scratching the surface. Libraries can start with a formula, mission statement, policy plan, or lengthy surveys, but in the end libraries will evolve, morph, and transform on their own even without human intervention. It’ll be an exciting thing to watch, and even more exciting to be part of.”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Barnet Unison Library workers strike on 5th November – Barnet Unison. “This is in pursuance of our dispute with the Council over the outsourcing of the Library Service. The Council plans to hand 4 of our Libraries to “Community groups, not-for-profit and voluntary organisations” in April 2017. The Council plans to outsource the remaining Libraries at a future date.” … “50.3 Full Time Equivalent Posts to go. Colleagues to be informed that they will lose their jobs in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Building work to reduce library space by 15% to 90% resulting in less stock, study and activities space. Introduction of technology that is being used to replace staffed opening hours. Library staff will be on site only 30% of planned opening hours.”
  • Bedford – ‘Digital model’ could be end of a chapter for experienced Bedford librarians – Bedfordshire News. “safety concerns over proposals to create ‘digital’ libraries dominated the discussion as councillors and members of the public raised questions about how safe a system that would see users access unstaffed libraries with key cards would be.” … User says “”The digital or library plus model will actually discourage users. For users who want information, to ask questions, who want help accessing reference material, those users will be restricted to hours that staff are available. Children will not be access the library during unmanned hours. This reduction in usage may be wrongly interpreted as the public not wanting to use their library.”
  • Bracknell Forest – Changes to Bracknell library service would be an “insult” to the profession – Bracknell News. A group campaigning to protect Bracknell’s community services from budget cuts has responded angrily to news the council are considering replacing paid librarians with volunteers rather than close the borough’s nine libraries completely.”
  • Brighton and Hove – Conservative councillor set for discipline hearing for labelling council leader a liar – Argus. “The Wish ward councillor Robert Nemeth is preparing to go before Brighton and Hove City Council’s standards committee for comments made on Twitter during a heated dispute over the future of the Carnegie Library. Cllr Nemeth accused the Labour leader Warren Morgan of misleading the public in his threat that seven libraries would have to close if Hove Library was moved from its Victorian home in Church Road.”
  • Cheshire West and Chester – New routes for Mobile Library Services will include new and extended stops – Your West Cheshire. “The new routes are the result of a review of the Library Service in 2014, and also a public consultation about the Mobile Library service, which took place during the summer.  The Council’s Cabinet Member for Community and Wellbeing, Councillor Louise Gittins said: “As a result of feedback from residents some Mobile Library stops have been added back into the routes and others have been extended.  We will now visit all stops every three weeks, instead of every four weeks, to bring the service in line with loan periods in static libraries. “Our Mobile Library Service offers a current and wide range of stock including adult and junior books and also audiobooks.”
  • Cornwall – Libraries and public toilets could be at risk from plans to cap town and parish council tax rates – West Briton. “Town and parish councils in Cornwall have been approving massive increases in their share of council tax in recent years to help take over services which are being devolved by Cornwall Council. But now the Government is looking to introduce restrictions on such hikes with a proposal to limit them to the 2% which is currently in place for larger authorities.”
  • Derbyshire – Think of Libraries in Devolution debate – Derbyshire Times / Letters. “A big thank to the librarians at Bakewell Library when I visited recently. Having librarians present was a pleasant, if bittersweet reminder of the wonderful library staff we lost at Stannington Library in Sheffield in 2014. I was interested whilst in the library to see a consultation on Chesterfield and parts of Derbyshire joining the Sheffield City Region as part of the devolution deal being negotiated by Sheffield with the government.” … “I would encourage Derbyshire library users to make their feelings known to MPs, councillors and this letters’ page”
  • Devon – Seaton Library friends group appeals for more help – Midweek Herald. “Dubbed FoSeL for short, the organisation is a band of volunteers which supports the library by fundraising for extras and helping out at events like the recent Summer Reading Challenge. Thanks to the efforts of FoSeL members and the generosity of the local community, Seaton library now runs a Lego 
club for children of primary school age …”
  • Lancashire – First Lancashire building closure dates announced – 2BR News. “Lancashire County Council is to close buildings in Whalley, Cleveleys and Trawden from next week, as part of its plans to reduce the number of buildings it operates.” … “Whalley library – closing 5 November at 12noon” … “Cleveleys library – closing 19 November at 1pm.” … “Trawden library – closing 18 November at 5pm. “
  • Northern Ireland – BBC NI hosts Book Week with Libraries NI – BBC. “From Saturday morning, BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle’s airwaves will be buzzing with interviews and features about reading for Book Week NI. It is all part of a joint initiative between BBC Northern Ireland and Libraries NI. The week aims to celebrate the pleasures and benefits of reading.”
  • Powys – Hay-on-Wye: ‘Town of books’ library battling closure – BBC. “Residents have now formed a community group to save the facility. They will need to raise £18,000 a year to meet half the running costs, with the council meeting the other half.”

“I want to raise a fairly parochial matter: the closure of the New Art Gallery and libraries in Walsall. I invite the Leader of the House to visit the gallery—and you, Mr Speaker: perhaps on one of your outreach visits you can see what an incredible space it is, with art and culture free for everybody, of all nationalities. I plead with the Leader of the House to make representations to the Chancellor, who has recently signalled a change in his austerity policies, on providing a proper settlement for local authorities so that Walsall and others can fulfil their statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. Sixteen thousand children in Walsall live in poverty, and many of them cannot afford books or the internet. We want to give them opportunities and aspiration.” Walsall – Valerie Vaz MP – House of Commons / They Work For You.

  • Warrington – In pictures: Campaigners join forces to hand in library petitions – Warrington Guardian. “More  than 10,000 people signed a petition to save Warrington’s libraries after LiveWire unveiled plans to shut nine library services across the town. A public consultation outlining plans to replace libraries with lending lockers and outreach services ended on Friday and protestors gave their petition in at the town hall. Five-year-old Kitty Kingsnorth handed 10,711 signatures and letters from primary school pupils to Cllr Tony Higgins, executive board member for leisure, community and culture.”
  • Warrington – Union hits back at plan for volunteers to run libraries – Warrington Guardian. “A union representing more than 2,300 staff in the town has slammed LiveWire’s suggestion that neighbourhood libraries could be run by volunteers. Unison Warrington’s joint branch secretary, Jason Horan, said the union is opposed to the closure of public facilities but would wait until the results of the public consultation are published before meeting with the council. In addition the proposed closures, the equivalent of 18 jobs would be cut. In meetings with residents, LiveWire put forward the option for community groups to take over the management of some libraries with volunteers running the service.”