Three quarters of a million children undertook the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) in the UK this year.  That’s a brilliant achievement for public libraries and cannot be understated. From direct personal experience, I know how well this promotion improves the reading of children over the holidays and, also, how much excitement my children gained from it. The theme was excellent and the promotional materials professionally produced (unlike so much so many libraries have to put up with) and benefitted from economies of scale.  In the two authorities I directly know about (neither of which experienced significant cuts last year), usage went up by over 10% and it was the most successful year ever in both library services.  So why the drop nationally? Well, the most obvious answer has to be the cuts to library services, as the quote from Lambeth below shows. If there are fewer libraries in an authority, fewer staff and fewer books then there’s going to be fewer users.  It’s not rocket science.  In addition, some library authorities have withdrawn from doing the SRC, which to my mind is a real shame. Oh, and by the way, overall library usage (especially in terms of book issues) is down year on year.

That’s not to say the SRC is perfect.  The biggest example is the need to buy year-specific medals each time that can cause real problems on limited budgets. Why? Because medals can only be bought months before the Challenge and they cannot be used the next year. So, one has to estimate numbers needed and hope you get the figures right. Buy too many and you’re wasting resources. Buy too few and suddenly the need to promote the SRC is replaced by panic that too many will complete, promotion is dialled back and, even, mad-dash searches for medals from other services or, even, shops, are made.  But, such annoyances aside, the SRC is still by far the biggest promotion any library service does (or, if it isn’t, it should be), still the best by a long shot and something we all should be participating in.  It’s part of what makes the Summer so busy and so job-affirming. And three quarters of a million children know the reason why.

Finally, I need to correct something I said in the last editorial.  Devon’s Libraries Unlimited are consulting on the removal of Saturday enhancements and I need to make clear that a decision has not yet been made on whether staff’s pay will be cut in this way.  My apologies that I intimated otherwise. Indeed, I’ll go further and point out that looking to reduce expenditures like this is something that every authority, Trust or not, will inevitably consider as budgets are reduced and so it’s hardly the unique fault of this non-profit. Rather, if you’re into blame, look to the council that cuts the budget, the government that cuts the council’s budget and, ultimately, the electorate that voted for such a government. The role of libraries, and their supporters, has to be to highlight the benefits of the service, what the loss is if it is taken away and – a key point – work out how best to deal with such cuts as are inflicted and turn out to be unavoidable. Campaigning is one aspect of this but the search for reductions that least affect the service is another.


National news

  • John Bird slams absence of library funding in autumn statement – Guardian. “The Big Issue founder John Bird has attacked the short-term thinking of Theresa May’s government, after the autumn statement ignored the House of Lords’ appeal to provide libraries with emergency funding. “We called for emergency funding to stop closures [in October] and there was nothing about libraries in the autumn statement,” Lord Bird told the Guardian. “More than 300 libraries have closed and 8,000 librarian jobs are gone. We have this problem with just-in-time-ism, where the government is only doing just what it has to and not doing any deep, probing work that will bear fruit over 10, 20, 30 years.””

Lambeth: the impact of cuts on the Summer Reading Challenge
“2015: 409 children complete the Summer Reading Challenge at Carnegie Library (the busiest children’s library in the borough) and another 196 at Minet Library.
2016: 0.  Both libraries closed, nothing done to them, still paying all costs plus extra £100,000+ for security guards.  Pleas to re-open, at least temporarily, thus saving money: numerous.  Support from DCMS: 0.
2017: These libraries are to become ‘neighbourhood libraries’ with much reduced provision, little space and no staff most of the time. Capital cost + ‘support’ – c.£4m.
This model is already on show – in Waterloo.  In 2015, Waterloo Library had 248 children on the Summer Reading Challenge.  This year, the new ‘neighbourhood library’ opened as the holiday started. Staff (around 2 hours a day) did their best in the new mini-space, with fewer books, no room for activities and almost no staffing.
Result: just 6 children completed the Challenge this year.” Laura Swaffield

  • Participation in Summer Reading Challenge falls 4% – BookSeller. “The number of children taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge fell 4% this year, although percentage of under-4s participating rose 12%. The challenge, run every year by The Reading Agency, is aimed at getting children to read at least six books from their local library, and this year 755,208 children in England, Wales and Scotland took part, compared to 786,547 last year. The number of children aged four-11 also fell, from 763,821 to 729,793, but participation of under-4s increased 22,726 to 25,415. Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency, said: “This year’s figures are slightly lower than last year’s, but at a challenging time for library services this is an impressive result. We are looking forward to working with our library partners in 2017 to ensure that the Summer Reading Challenge continues to be an exciting way to keep children reading, via their local library, over the summer holidays.””
  • Summer Reading Challenge 2017 theme revealed – Reading Agency. “We are delighted to announce today that Animal Agents, illustrated by Tony Ross, will be the theme for the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge.”

International news

  • Africa – Give a Child in Africa the Gift of Reading – Global giving. “With your support children in three countries – Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda – will receive new books through their local libraries. Librarians will be able to buy books by popular African authors who write stories that embrace the children’s real-life experience and culture. They will be able to help the children to read and understand the books, building their reading confidence and giving them a life-long love of reading.” [Sadly, 0 out of $6000 had been donated at time of checking – Ed.]
  • Canada – Why we still need public libraries in the digital age – CBC. “… as municipal politicians repeatedly find out the hard way, you mess with libraries, librarians and their supporters at your peril. The late Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug stirred up a hornet’s nest — and came out on the wrong end of verbal sparring with Margaret Atwood — with their intent to impose major budget cuts on public libraries. It didn’t help their cause, either, that they were so publicly disdainful of libraries. More recently, Newfoundland’s Liberal government backed off its plans to close 54 rural libraries in the name of budget austerity, after the public outcry that ensued.”
  • Netherlands – New in the Netherlands: the library for newcomers – IFLA Blogs. “The library as a place for development of newcomers, that is the idea behind the project New in the Netherlands from Bibliotheek Theek 5 . New in the Netherlands is a series of theme meetings for newcomers that focus on both the get-together and the collection of the library. The meetings are intended for the personal development of the newcomers by connecting with the collection and with each other”
  • USA –  Bronx Librarian Keen on Teaching Homeless Children a Lasting Love of Books – New York Times. “He had strolled 10 minutes to the Crotona Inn homeless shelter from the Morrisania Branch Library, where he has been the manager for 25 years. As he dug through the dozens of books stuffed inside the suitcase, an announcement crackled over the intercom inside the shelter, where 87 families live: “Mr. Nembhard is here to read stories and sing songs to your children.”” … “Mr. Nembhard wants children to have a lifelong relationship with libraries, which, he said, offer much more than books, including free wireless modems they can use at home during the school year.”
  • USA – How Libraries are Boldly Innovating to Meet the Needs of Changing Communities – Shareable. Long article on innovation in severaaal US libraries. “King attributes the project’s success to the Glenn Seaborg Learning Consortium — a mix of public and private sector partners that frequently draws marquee names to the suburban center: master gardeners, Pixar animators, famous authors, and well-known jazz artists. The collaborative approach makes for a strong, diverse lineup of programs throughout the year.”
  • USA – Library Lockdown: An escape room by kids for the community – In the library with the lead pipe. “Hoping to bring the unexpected to Nebraska City, the Morton-James Public Library applied for an ALA Association for Library Service to Children Curiosity Creates grant to undertake an ambitious project: build an escape room. In a library storage room. With children. The hope was  by trying something completely different, we could increase interest in the library throughout the community and build a sense of ownership in the participants, while encouraging creativity and having a lot of fun. Library Lockdown was a four-month program that brought several dozen kids together—age 8 to 13—to build a fully-functioning escape room. Their creation, the Lab of Dr. Morton McBrains, is now open for business. “
  • Various – 2016 Library RFID Survey Results – Rest of the World – Changing Libraries. “There were 7 responses from 4 different countries.” … “Despite the low numbers one obvious difference between these European libraries and their counterparts in the UK, ANZ and North America is the extent to which RFID is being deployed. Everyone uses RFID to prevent theft with only one not also using it for circulation but beyond these two functions the number of libraries using RFID for User Identification, monitoring in-house use of stock and automated materials handling were all proportionately higher than outside of the European market”

Local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Calling all local artists 0-18: The Library Lobby needs your help – Sutton Coldfield Local News. “Could you design an eye-catching poster to raise awareness of the proposed closure of the library by Birmingham City Council? The group are looking for poster designs (any size, any medium) to use on their website, twitter and facebook accounts to highlight why we need to keep a library in Sutton town centre, and what our library means to us.”
  • Birmingham – Michael Morpurgo voices his support for library campaign – Sutton Coldfield News. “He met with members of the children’s book group run out of Sutton Coldfield library last year, and on hearing of the plans announced by the city council to close it, he said … “
  • Bristol – Scrutiny: update on libraries Bristol Council. “The number of unplanned closures has reduced dramatically. However we are struggling with some lunchtime closures as we are still carrying vacancies and recruiting to roles vacant from the staff review.” … “Following a discussion at the previous Scrutiny in March 2016, free reservations were introduced in June 2016 and we have seen a 100% increase across Libraries West (as Bath and North East Somerset and Dorset also have free reservations). Customer reaction has been very positive.”… “The revised opening hours began on April 4th 2016 with a 25% reduction. There will be a natural change as customers change borrowing and visiting habits to the libraries. For quarter one there was a decrease of 3.1%, in the number of items issued.”
  • Central Bedfordshire – Library as Laboratory – Bedford Creative Arts (press release). “Bedford Creative Arts has been exploring new ways that libraries can evolve for the future by bringing together artists and libraries. The result is five pioneering projects created by eight artists, ranging from festivals and performances to slot car championships.  The project is funded by Arts Council England Libraries fund and sits in the context of the government spending review which has brought about cuts to spending on libraries by local councils. Libraries are now looking at what services and community offers they can provide in order to stay open and working with other local organisations like BCA is a way to deliver this.  Library as Laboratory is a brand new, open and collaborative way of working for the Library Services which usually follow a more planned, traditional approach. This project promotes non-traditional activities and ways of working with artists to devise projects and workshops that collaborate with communities and library staff. High quality new work has been created as a response to people and place through collaborating with the local community and brings innovative projects into the library setting.” Includes Dump It On Parliament Revisited, Selfie Slot Car Championship, Future Library Festivals, Handbag.
  • Edinburgh – Council Leader confirms that libraries will be protected – Edinburgh Reporter. “The Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council,  Councillor Andrew Burns this morning denied recent press reports that the city’s libraries are going to close in light of cuts of over £6 million. He explained that the recent budget consultation had only just concluded, and that the council would take heed of what the public had said. But he repeated that it was not the council’s intention to close the doors on any libraries in the city, or make any changes to the council’s Community Learning services. He said : “We plan to protect front line services all the time even in the face of restricted budgets. We have not closed any significant front line services.”
  • Edinburgh – Libraries in Capital could face closures as £6.4m cuts announced – Edinburgh News. “Unison said all of the city’s libraries – including the historic Central Library on George IV Bridge – will have their opening hours slashed under “hidden and drastic” council cost-savings plans. Meanwhile, mobile library stops would “vanish” and jobs would be cut from community learning and development – hitting youth work, adult education and family learning. Amanda Kerr, Unison Edinburgh organiser, said: “[We are] concerned that the council is trying to slip these hidden and drastic cuts through without any real public consultation.” … “Unison warned all city libraries will be closed on Monday and Wednesday mornings, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and only on Saturday mornings.” … “Some libraries will continue to stand alone, while others will be combined with community centres and some will be run by local communities.”
  • Lancashire – Reprieve for Eccleston library – 2BR. “Another library has been given a reprieve as Chorley council agrees to fund it until April 2018. They had been told the library would be turning into a satellite service – but instead the building can stay open. That means the children’s centre and youth centre can also continue in the village, as they can use the building as well.” .. “”I thought it was too late, so for Chorley borough council to step forward and fund it until at least 2018.. They’re amazing, they’ve really saved the day”.”
  • Leicestershire – Hinckley library could be unstaffed in cost-cutting measure – Hinckley Times. “Libraries in Leicestershire, including Hinckley’s, could soon be unstaffed and automated in a bid to cut costs. Bosses at Leicestershire County Council are considering proposals to allow people to use swipe cards to access library facilities. The existing self-service scanners can then be used to borrow, return or renew items without the need for staff. The move would save up to £300,000 a year if implemented, councillors say. A three-month trial is being planned at Syston library next year. If it proves successful, the scheme could be rolled out to all of the county’s libraries, except Harborough where the shared facilities would make it impractical.”
  • North Lanarkshire – Wisdom of Solomons to support library campaign – Motherwell Times. “The Save Newarthill Library campaign committee organised a visit from screenwriter and children’s author David Solomons. The library is due to close on January 31, and campaigners await a decision from The Faculty of Advocates about launching a legal challenge against Culture NL.A Hallowe’en Family Night in the Newarthill Club raised £500 for potential legal fees” … “Campaign chairwoman Angie Walker said: “David had specifically asked to come and visit the library to show his support for the campaign to save the library from closure.”
  • North Yorkshire – Council under fire for charging business rates to community-run libraries – Northern Echo. “Volunteers and councillors have been left aghast by Hambleton District Council making libraries in Stokesley, Thirsk, Bedale and Easingwold hand over thousands of pounds while they attempt to save the services after North Yorkshire County Council moved to stop managing them. The county’s six other district authorities have agreed to allow community-run libraries not to pay the 20 per cent business rates levy charged to charitable organisations, with one council leader saying it was “very keen to do all we can for the key community assets”.”
  • North Yorkshire – New chapter about to open for Boroughbridge Library – Harrogate News. “After nearly 18 months of hard work by Boroughbridge Area Community Library Association (BACLA) and North Yorkshire County Council, the library is about to enter a transitional period. BACLA will take on responsibility for its operation with assistance from local staff until 31 March next year to ensure that the full handover from 1 April 2017 is as seamless as possible. It will now be known as Boroughbridge Community Library and Resource Centre to signify its enhanced role in providing a programme of activities and events for local people while maintaining and building on the provision of information, IT and home delivery services.” … “The library will continue to have support from the County Council for the stock, IT, staffing to support volunteers and professional guidance while the community will benefit from the involvement of BACLA in delivering a local volunteer-led service which includes a new base for Boroughbridge Community Care”
  • Sheffield – Plan to keep funding volunteer-run Sheffield libraries until 2020 – Sheffield Star. £262k funding p.a. for volunteer libraries until 2020 to be considered.
  • Sheffield – Save Sheffield Central Library – 38 Degrees. “Libraries have been under threat across the country. Sheffield has already seen Walkley library sold to commercial interests. Now our council has opened up a review into commercial uses for the Central Library, with the possibility it will become a five-star hotel. The Central Library is a meeting space for groups and individuals, hosts talks by local and national authors and helps people use the internet. It is also a beautiful building, purpose built as a public space, which the general public can currently enjoy…”
  • Somerset – Glass Box – Enterprise and innovation in Somerset Libraries – Libraries Taskforce [or Libraries Blogforce as I am increasingly mentally calling it – Ed.]. “In our experience being in an area where digital making doesn’t yet have a big profile puts your library in a unique and exciting position. In 2015 a new set of commissioning outcomes were agreed for Somerset Libraries to deliver on…”
  • Swindon – All hope not lost as D-Day for libraries looms – Swindon Advertiser. “Everybody left their political hats outside the room and it was very clear we were looking at what was currently being proposed and whether we could do anything to stretch that budget to include more libraries in the core strategy. I believe we were quite successful in that.” The last version of the libraries strategy to be released envisaged a future core provision of just four sites compared to the 15 currently in operation” Meetings give hope of reduced cuts. “The final version of the libraries strategy will be released on Tuesday and will go before cabinet the week after. “
  • Walsall – End this obscene merry-go-round: New Walsall Council director to earn £200,000 in a year – Express and Star. “It has also emerged that in a previous council consultancy role, Ms Alderson attracted criticism for claiming expenses including batteries and even light bulbs.” … “It comes at a time when Walsall Council needs to save £86 million in four years and faces having to shut 14 of the borough’s 15 libraries and relocate the Leather Museum into the one remaining library. Hundreds of jobs are at risk.”
  • Westminster – Leak reveals which library services face the axe with 22 jobs likely to go – West End Extra. ” figures have revealed which libraries will lose staff in the council’s massive £750,000 cuts programme. Posts may be axed at Charing Cross, Queen’s Park, Victoria, Westminster Music Library, City of Westminster Archives and Westminster Reference Library. ” … “As previously revealed, Marylebone Library will bear the biggest brunt of the cuts with more than 17 full-time staff set for the chop. The cuts at Marylebone coincide with the library’s move from a temporary building in Beaumont Street, to a smaller space in New Caven­dish Street. “