I was asked a few questions recently about the role of public libraries: I thought I’d share with you some of my response:

The purpose of the public library has not changed since their inception. It is to provide equality of access to information. In the past, this has been almost entirely in physical forms and so building based. We are currently in the process of providing equality of access in digital forms for use anywhere.

Libraries can aid social mobility by continuing to provide equality of access to information, which is now more a key to social mobility than ever before. The ideal is for the public library to provide anyone, regardless of location, background and ability to pay, with an equal playing field with those who can afford to pay. This not only includes books and e-books but also access to e-resources and to a quiet place to study (not always available in homes) and computer/wifi access. There is also a role for libraries to give basic training to those who need it on how to access these resources.

Libraries should embrace change by remembering what their core purpose is and by publicising that to others. There is a danger that libraries can be distracted by fashion (and you’ll know it when you see it) and spend time on those better suited to concentrating on providing and being ambassadors for the core service.

Because, we can get caught up in all long and convoluted ways of expressing what libraries are for and, in doing so, get confused about what we should be doing. But, in the end, it’s simple. It’s “Providing Equality Of Access To Information”. What’s complicated,is how best to do it. But, when it’s done right, it’s a wondrous thing to behold.



National news

  • Philanthropy: a mainstay of public libraries once more? – CILIP. “Philanthropy is set to play a significant role in providing public libraries with income, as central government funding dwindles. It is one of the three main strands of income that government expects libraries to tap into: public funding, earned income and philanthropy. The 2016 Culture White Paper sets out the general direction: ‘The government believes there is scope for cultural organisations to benefit further from philanthropy and private donations’ but how easy will it really be for libraries to raise money through this route?” … “To put the potential of an organisation like Wolfson into perspective, during the 1990s and early 2000s it gave £2-£4m a year to UK public libraries through the Public Libraries Challenge Fund. This is not an insignificant sum when compared to central Government’s recent funding programmes: £2.6m for Wi-fi in public libraries and the £4m Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone Innovation fund.”

“To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, pursuant to the Answer of 14 March 2017 to Question 67236, on public libraries: complaints, if she will publish the number of complaints that (a) have and (b) have not been treated as formal by local authority area in each year since 2010.” Kevin Brennan MP (Shadow Culture minister).

“Since 2010, the Department has investigated 15 local authorities in response to complaints raised about whether an authority is failing to carry out its duties imposed on it, by or under, the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Not every item of correspondence received about library service changes or library closures is treated as a complaint within scope of section 10(1)(a) of the 1964 Act. Correspondence that is considered trivial, vexatious or lacking in evidence would be considered as not falling within the scope of section 10(1)(a). The Department does not maintain records of the number of correspondence received about library service changes for each local authority in England.” Rob Wilson MP (Libraries Minister) – They Work For You.

International news

  • Canada – Expect Toronto’s newest library bus to be packed with technology as well as books – CBC. “Bowles says the rolling branch played an important role last year in helping Syrian refugees when they were temporarily housed in hotels.”
  • Canada – Toronto libraries extend hours — but not staffing — for pilot project – Star. “The program will work by having libraries monitored in real-time with video surveillance to connect customers to staff when needed. Staff levels will not be impacted. ” [Very different to how it is used in the UK – Ed.] compare with Staff-less public library pilot project raising concerns about safety – CityNews. Union points out “This past week, a nine year old boy at Parkdale library was approached by a man and asked several inappropriate questions. Police arrested Ryan McFarlane, 38, and charged him with failing to comply with probation. Back on February 1st, a man was stabbed inside the Toronto Reference Library. On February 28th, a woman who was eight months pregnant and another man were both assaulted inside Fairview Public Library”
  • Global – Innovation in Libraries – Awesome Foundation. “The Awesome Foundation is a global community advancing the interest of awesome in the universe, $1000 at a time. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1000 or the local equivalent, come out of pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.”
  • Iraq – How Mosul’s last librarian is preparing for when his city is free from Isis – Independent. “When Isis first took Mosul, it committed what Unesco called ‘one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history’. Now, in anticipation of the city being liberated, one historian is working to rebuild what was lost”
  • USA – Libraries Are Hosting “Stuffed Animal Sleepovers” to Encourage Kids to Read – Babble. “Here’s how it works: Kids bring their favorite stuffed pal to the library (researchers say it’s best if they choose one they’re especially attached to). Then librarians usually lead the kids in a story time circle with their favorite toy. After that, it’s time for the kids to say goodbye and goodnight — but they leave their little buddy behind for the overnight library party. Once the doors are shut, the library staff gets to work posing the stuffed animals living it up at the library all night long, and snapping photos as they go.”
  • USA – Ribbon cutting held for new Digital Library Kiosk – Onslow County. “The technology will offer travelers, and those waiting at the airport, the option to access free digital versions of books, audiobooks, magazines and more.  Users with compatible electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops and tablets will be able to download a selection from the library’s digital collection”

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – Commoners Choir sing against library cuts in Keighley – Keighley News. “The performance on April 8 will show how the invention of print and the creation of public libraries brought information and knowledge to the people. The 1pm presentation will be accompanied by an exhibition of printed posters celebrating the power of print, and a demonstration of an old letterpress printer. The Commoners Choir was formed in 2015 by Boff Whalley, political activist, playwright and former member of the Chumbawamba band.” … “The concert, funded by Arts Council England, is described as peculiar, memorable, feisty, celebratory, witty, angry and inclusive. “
  • Brighton and Hove – Plans to allow BIMM to use Hove Library gain support – Brighton and Hove News. “Plans to relocate the library to Hove Museum were scrapped last year following a successful campaign led by former councillor Christopher Hawtree and Green and Conservative councillors. However, the building remains expensive to maintain and the council is now trying to find new ways of using the space in a cost-effective manner. A marketing exercise is due to begin this spring to advertise potential new public and commercial spaces in Hove Library. The council says the extra cash this could create would be used to help safeguard the future of the building as a public library”
  • Bromley – Campaign to save Bromley’s libraries from privatisation ramps up with week-long strike by library staff – Bromley Times. “The Bromley public has been asked by union Unite ‘to rise up and make their voice heard’, in a bid to stop the borough’s 14 libraries being privately operated on behalf of the council. So far, Unite’s campaign has seen construction firm Carillion and a scheme run by volunteers withdraw from the bidding process, leaving only one private bidder – who they claim in Greenwich Leisure Limited (Bromley Council refuse to confirm this) – with its bid in place. In a further effort to end the bidding process, Unite’s library members, who number about 60, will be striking for a week from 00.01 on April 1 until 23.59 on April 8.”
  • Bury – Residents show support to save Radcliffe Library at Township Forum as consultation deadline draws closer – Bury Times. “Residents were unanimous in showing their support to save Radcliffe library as consultation over its prospective closure draws to an end. A show of hands at the Radcliffe Township Forum on Monday, March 20, made it clear that everyone in attendance are hoping for one outcome. The public can have their say on two options, which will see at least ten of the borough’s 14 libraries close – including Radcliffe Library”. Big cuts. “The aim is to provide at least one main library building in the north, central and southern parts of the borough. “
  • Bury – Save Tottington Library aiming to work with Bury Council to ensure building stays open – This is Lancashire. “Save Tottington Library’ aims to work with Bury Council to ensure the building remains open. Bury Council will stop funding Tottington Library, in Market Street, as part of its libraries review. But campaigners believe it is possible to keep the library open and for the building to continue to operate as a community centre, which also acts as a meeting place for more than 20 activity groups.”
  • Carmarthenshire – County wheels out revolutionary mobile libraries – South Wales Guardian. ” a revolutionary ‘more than books’ approach embracing new technologies that will deliver digital literacy across the county. The new service will provide digital services directly to community users with access online via the mobile library’s free Wi-Fi, keeping users connected to the greater community and the wider world at large. County executive board member for regeneration, leisure and library services Councillor Meryl Gravell said: “Following public consultations, new routes have been agreed with the fleet of three new mobiles set to visit at least 38 communities at advertised stops on a weekly basis.”
  • Darlington – Campaigners issue final plea to save library – Northern Echo. “Darlington Borough Council meets this week for what will be the ultimate decision to close down the former Edward Pease Free Library, which was gifted to the town by the Quaker family in 1885, as council cuts continue to bite. Now those campaigning against the plan to close the building and reopen it in part of the Dolphin Centre have written to every councillor urging them to “listen to us and the people of Darlington” before they vote. The Friends of Darlington Libraries even mooted proposals in their letter to councillors to open a trampoline park or climbing wall within the Dolphin Centre to bring in “income generation” which could keep the Crown Street Library open.”
  • Doncaster – How 500 volunteers are keeping Doncaster libraries afloat five years after communities took them over – Star. “Five years on, bosses at Doncaster Council say the libraries are now run by volunteers on a day to day basis and supported by professional library service staff.It means there are now 21 Doncaster libraries, with only four run by the council.” … “The libraries are not without their problems. Officials at Cantley are concerned for the future of their building, which needs a lot of work doing to itA spokesman for the council’s library service said a legion of volunteers are now providing an estimated 70,000 hours of volunteering per year for the libraries, with a total of 470 giving their time up for the service” … ““Between four and 10 volunteers a month find work having volunteered in a library. On average 50 volunteers a month are volunteering to enhance their CV or gain new skills.”

“Today Bawtry Community Library is a thriving and very successful venture which is managed by a Board of Trustees. An Operational Support Group oversees the day to day management and works in partnership with DMBC Library Services. There is a committed team of about 75 volunteers who keep the library open six days a week: 9.15am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday and 10.00am to 2.00pm every Saturday. We are an important part of the community providing support and helping to keep local people connected. We are a hub where local information, posters and leaflets are available.”

  • Hertfordshire – Two state-of-the-art libraries officially opened – Watford Observer. “Mr Wilson unveiled a commemorative plaque at both Watford Central and Hemel Hempstead libraries, where he met with staff and members of the public before cutting a celebratory cake to mark the occasion. Watford Central Library reopened to the public in November 2016 after being fully refurbished to create a bright, tech-enabled facility for users within the original 1920s building.”
  • Lancashire – Bid to stop Fulwood library sale fails – Lancashire Evening Post. “Lancashire County Council says the sale of the Garstang Road property will go ahead as planned, despite pleas from the council’s Tory opposition group.The Conservative party had called in the decision, made on March 9 by the Council’s Deputy Leader Coun David Borrow, to accept an offer for the former library, which closed last year.”
  • Lincolnshire – 320 books borrowed in first week at new Holbeach library – Spalding Today. “During its first week the library had 388 visitors with 320 books issued and 26 new members.It’s one of 51 libraries in Lincolnshire, 36 of which are community hubs led by volunteers with the support of GLL, the council’s library provider. There’s 818 volunteers signed up to work at the community hubs, 22 of which are at the new Holbeach facility. Coun Nick Worth, executive councillor for libraries, attended the official opening celebrations on Wednesday”
  • Lincolnshire – Celebrations afoot for first year anniversary of village library – Boston Standard. “Donington Library, in High Street, was among the libraries Lincolnshire County Council recently handed over to communities to run in a move designed to cut costs.Next week, volunteers will mark one year since the library re-opened under their control.”
  • Lincolnshire – A new chapter for Holbeach readers – Spalding Today. “Although it’s much smaller than the original, it’s bright, smart and uncluttered. The new library is located in a hub with the pharmacy and Post Office and I think this adds to the welcoming atmosphere. It didn’t look the sort of place where you would have to speak in hushed tones”. Library now volunteer.


  • North Yorkshire – Cross Hills Library to become community-run – Keighley News. “The Cross Hills site is among 21 across North Yorkshire being taken over by volunteers, with support from the county council.”
  • North Yorkshire – North Yorkshire Libraries Prepare for Change _ Yorkshire Coast Radio. “In April, twenty-one more libraries run directly by communities will join the nine existing community libraries, while the 12 libraries remaining under County Council management will be supported by volunteers to maintain their current levels of service. “
  • Swindon – Libraries prepared for major changes – Swindon Advertiser. “From April 5, libraries in Covingham, Liden, Moredon, Old Town, Penhill, Pinehurst, Upper Stratton and Wroughton will be open for just 15 hours per week. Even Swindon Library is already open for just 10 hours a week and that will remain unchanged. Central, North Swindon, West Swindon, Highworth and Park libraries will be accessible from 8am until 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm on Saturdays and 9am to 5pm on Sundays.” … “West Swindon and Central Swindon South shadow parish councils have said they will fund additional staffed hours for the Park and West Swindon libraries. Highworth Town Council has made the same commitment for their library. Swindon Borough Council is planning to fit electronic access systems to the aforementioned five buildings to allow the public access when staff are not on site. The technology will be installed on a phased basis from April. Library users will need to register to use self-serve access and training will be provided.”
  • Swindon – Vacancy: Community Outreach Officer – Swindon Council. “This post is a fantastic opportunity to assist in the delivery of the outreach programme for Libraries and in delivering outcomes aimed at improving literacy in Swindon.”
  • Westminster – Save London’s Charing Cross Chinese Library – Resonate. “Westminster Council would be cutting Westminster Libraries’ budget – this was revealed in October 2016 to be to the tune of £750,000 per year – the equivalent of 17½ full-time staff, as the Westminster Labour Group points out. Helena Zhang, volunteer and member of ‘Friends of Westminster Chinese Library’, points out that the 2016 budget allocated to the library was one third that of 2010. “Only until the council received some angry queries from the Chinese community, we gathered that [in 2017] the fund available to acquire new Chinese books got increased a bit. However, we do not have any official confirmation.””
  • Wigan – Residents back plans to transform library services in Atherton and Leigh – Leigh Journal. “…majority of residents who took part in a borough-wide library consultation backed plans to use buildings more effectively, which includes relocating Atherton Library to the town hall. Sixty-one per cent agreed and only 15 per cent disagreed with the building proposals that will also see Leigh Town Hall transformed and the Turnpike Centre developed, says Wigan Council.”
  • York – Help needed in hall’s huge fundraising task – York Press. “Haxby Memorial Hall’s trustees have long had ambitions to give the historic building a new lease of life. Those plans have included a hope the town’s library could be brought to the hall, but as of last summer progress has been sped up.”