So, this could be a major landmark. The libraries minister Rob Wilson has said in an official letter to Lancashire County Council that his boss, Culture Secretary of State Karen Bradley is minded to hold a public inquiry into how Lancashire decided to cut its library service. This is where Lancashire decided to close 29 libraries from an original number of 73. The council has until 9th June to convince her to move to the council’s side on the following points:

  • The council failed to treat its own consultation seriously and had, in fact, already made up its own mind.
  • The council failed to consider all possible alternative methods of saving money. Considerable emphasis is put in the letter for the option of Mutuals,.
  • The council was not clear enough as to which libraries were under threat.
  • The council did not carry out sufficient research into how this would affect the disadvantaged or future trends.

The significance of this now is:

  • This is the first time the current, or previous coalition, government has issued a “minded to” letter. Before, the Government, under the laissez-faire Ed Vaizey, always considered cuts to libraries, no matter how deep or forced, as acceptable.
  • The council will have to consider the possibility that it will be forced to reverse all of its actions. Being it has already passed control, or put on sale, multiple sites, and made many staff redundant, this is quite the headache. The council may well therefore put any further transfers on hold while a decision is taken. Or it may call the minister’s bluff and carry on regardless, daring the minister to be anything other than the paper tiger he is normally seen as being since Ed Vaizey made the speak-softly-and-go-unarmed role his own in 2010.
  • The Conservatives look tough just in time for the local elections on 4th May. And, of course, they can then rescind the decision in June, once they have won the votes.

The significance of this if the government does run an inquiry is:

  • The DCMS ceases being a toothless laughing stock amongst cutting councils and starts being taken seriously.
  • All councils will start genuinely consulting and looking at alternatives, rather than that being the happy exception.
  • Mutuals are likely to become (even) more popular.
  • Councils may look elsewhere to cut before libraries.
  • The principle of Localism – where (in my somewhat cynical view, admittedly) government makes the big headline cuts and give councils the freedom to cut what they like in response – takes a bit of a tumble.

The last two inquiries, by the way, were Wirral in 2009 and Derbyshire in 1991, so they’re not exactly common. Both, interestingly, ended up being local inquiries, paid for by the councils concerned, in order to avoid the ignominy of the Government Inspector.

So, interesting times. But at least hopeful ones, if a little late for Lancashire.


National news

  • CILIP Cymru Wales Conference 2017 – CILIP. “Our themes are: Health: partnerships, information, opportunities for working cross sectors; Privacy: responsibilities of the profession: Copyright: sharing of information, images, music, research: Advocacy beyond the library walls: Workforce and self development. The Welsh Books Council will announce the winner of the English language Tir na n-Og Awards at Llandudno Library and the Welsh Librarian of the Year Award 2017  (nominations now open) will be presented during the conference dinner where we also have a guest speaker for the evening”
  • How to attract more users to the public library? – An interview with Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News – Princh. [Yep, another article with me in it – Ed.]. “How inter-library collaboration can get more people to libraries” … “The trick is to combine local choice when it comes to stock and offer, with regional or larger merging of other services.” … “There would be some fear of loss of local control but I suspect most people prefer their library services open, first, and everything else, second” … “check to see if it has been successfully elsewhere. There’s a lot of insularity, even now, in public libraries. I firmly believe that we can learn from each other
  • Travelling Librarian Award – English-Speaking Union. “Run in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the Travelling Librarian Award builds relationships between library and information professionals in the UK and their counterparts in the US and across the Commonwealth through a professional development study tour. The award of £3000 covers flights and some accommodation. Normally the visits last 2-3 weeks and take place during the autumn. The successful candidate is free to put together their own programme of visits (although help and advice may be available). Where possible, the recipient is encouraged to take up hospitality with international ESUs across the Commonwealth.”
  • What does England make of its Public Libraries? – Libraries Taskforce. “this post was written by Jenny Peachey, Senior Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust, following publication of their recent research” see also Young people’s library usage trends revealed in Carnegie report – BookSeller. The “Shining A Light” report was temporarily offline on Monday so I have been asked to repost the links to it:
    • which contains the lessons from the data and recommendations for policy makers, decision makers, funders and the sector
    • which gives the data and big picture ‘headline findings’ from across all jurisdictions
    • which show how England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are faring

International news

  • China – Curving wood-lined nooks create private reading spaces in Shanghai children’s library – De Zeen. “Huge arched doorways lead to a suite of cosy wood-lined reading nooks in this children’s library in Shanghai, designed by Muxin Studio to be like a “giant toy”.” … “Muxin Studio avoided sharp corners, hard materials and straight lines to ensure the children’s safety, and added light-toned materials and touches of greenery.” [It looks very empty to me – Ed.]
  • Iraq – Rebuilding Mosul’s libraries book by book – BBC. “When Islamic State (IS) militants occupied Mosul University in June 2014, they set about destroying its precious collection of manuscripts in a show of contempt for culture and higher education. Now though, in an attempt to rebuild Mosul’s cultural heritage, a campaign is under way to restore the university library and others in the city. The project is being led by an anonymous blogger, who found fame writing about life under IS on the site Mosul Eye for the past three years. The blogger, who describes himself as an independent historian, is calling for donations of books and other printed material in all languages and from all disciplines under the slogan: “Let it be a book, rising from the ashes”
  • New Zealand – Why 74 staff have taken voluntary redundancy at Auckland libraries – Spinoff. “We now know that 74 staff members have taken voluntary redundancy, while around 100 currently vacant positions have been disbanded. “The same level of service will reduce by approximately $1.8 million a year, meaning better value for money for ratepayers,” chirped the council’s inane press release. Job loss dressed as lamb.”
  • USA – Unionized librarians herald public libraries in national week of celebration – Nysul. “If you want to pull off an inside job at the library, be prepared for more than the high stack of books you are expecting. You will find continuing education courses, free music downloads, digital magazines, movie nights, defensive driving classes, study groups, English language learning groups, book clubs, Makerspace, archives, recording studios, museum passes, computers, special collections, rare books, concerts, author visits, Alzheimer’s support groups and, oh yes, hip new bookmobiles in some communities. All of this richness is being heralded for National Library Week April 9-15, which has a 2017 theme “Libraries Transform.”

Local news by authority

  • Bath and North East Somerset – Bath library consultation: Campaigners say findings show library already ‘ticks all the boxes’ – Bath Chronicle. ” Dubbed an “omni-shambles” by campaigners, the consultation has been fraught with controversy ever since it became clear the council wanted to move the library from the Podium.” … “campaigners, said: “We’re not surprised these results show residents want a library which ticks all the boxes the Podium ticks now, with a modern, purpose designed space, lots of books, librarians, wifi, space for families and event rooms.” … “More than 600 responses were received regarding the proposals which will help to save £800,000 per year after 2019/20 and after an initial investment. Bath & North East Somerset Council needs to save £37 million over the next three years to balance its budget.” see also Over 600 responses received by B&NES Council as part of library consultation – Bath Echo.
  • Conwy – Look: Former Conwy library to become café for book lovers – Daily Post. The closed Llandudno Junction library will now become a book-themed café. 1000 books to lend for £5 deposit.
  • Cumbria – Carlisle Library’s Seven Stories Project – Libraries Taskforce. “Carlisle Library launched its Seven Stories project working in collaboration with local Arts Group Prism Arts. The title ‘Seven stories’ reflects the number of participant groups: 3 schools, adults with mental health issues, adults recovering from a stroke, adults with a learning disability and dementia, and vulnerable older adults. The year long project consisted of a series of creative workshops which would produce a vessel from which stories would emerge taking people on a series of journeys to desert islands, castles, gardens, rainforests, space and the arctic. A time capsule and a re-creation of the Titanic’s fateful voyage were created using a replica of cloth made by Stead McAlpin of Carlisle who made the original that was used on the ship.”
  • Herefordshire – Exercise for both body and brain now easily accessible under one roof in Bromyard – Hereford Times. “The Halo team – with support from professional librarians and staff from Herefordshire library service – will now be handling the issuing and return of all library stock at the Bromyard Centre. “
  • Lancashire – Decision to close Lancashire libraries was ‘predetermined’, letter claims – Public Sector Executive. “Jo Turton, chief executive of Lancashire CC, said the secretary’s decision to consider an inquiry into the changes was disappointing, and that Lancashire were confident that once Bradley had seen the additional information, it would be clear that a public inquiry was not needed. “We have carried out a great deal of detailed work to ensure our proposals for libraries fulfil the council’s statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service,” Turton said. “This work included a 12 week public consultation, which received over 7,700 responses, and subsequent changes were made to our original proposals after listening to peoples’ views.”
  • Lancashire – Government inquiry into Lancashire libraries not ruled out – Lancashire Evening Post. “before making a final decision Ms Bradley is asking the council to provide answers to 19 questions about the consultations and decision making process. She has also invited library users or anyone interested to comment.The cash-strapped council, which maintained it had to close many of its libraries because of lack of government funding, consulted on plans to close libraries last year. Fulwood, Lytham and Whalley libraries are among those which later closed” … “Jane Porter, a Save Fulwood Library campaigner who collected nearly 4,000 signatures for a protest petition, welcomed the Government move and said: “It’s a slight ray of optimism. I hope it doesn’t come too late. It could prevent the sale of Fulwood library – that would be brilliant.”
  • Lancashire – Letter from Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, stating a “minded to” decision on public library provision in Lancashire – DCMS. “The Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is minded to direct a local inquiry into library provision in Lancashire”
  • Lancashire – Under-threat Lancashire’s libraries to get a stay of execution? – Blackpool Gazette. Conservative MP says ““As a result of my campaigning, and being in constant touch with ministers over the past six months, I’m delighted but not surprised that an initial investigation has brought the Government to the conclusion that something is very wrong about the libraries situation.”

“Excluding the Manor House (not sure where that is going at present) Lewisham’s libraries are open for 609 hours per week.  Of these 295 and a half are volunteer hours.  A further 76 are not staffed by library staff hours.  Total, non professionally trained library hours are 371 and a half hours, well over half.” “2015/16 Visits:    2,078,29: Issues:     635,063; 2014/15 Visits:    2,081,986: Issues:     770,898;  2009/10 Visits:    2,028,350;              Issues:  1,146,461” Lewisham Statistics – Supplied by email from independent research.

  • Plymouth – Plymouth Labour ‘make no apologies’ for library leaflets – Plymouth Herald. “Labour councillor says he “makes no apologies” for handing out leaflets at a public meeting about library closures. Last week Cllr Neil Hendy was warned about distributing “political propaganda” during a consultation event organised by Plymouth City Council in Efford”
  • Swindon – Government investigates Swindon’s library cuts – Swindon Advertiser. “In a letter published yesterday by Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, it was confirmed that following four complaints made about the controversial decision to cut library provisions across the town, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is to look at whether the council has failed in their duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for residents. If the Secretary of State deems that there has been a failure, the decision could be at the centre of a local inquiry into the matter.”. Campaigner says ““The minister leaves it to the leader of Swindon Borough Council to decide whether to carry on with the proposed changes, some of which have already happened in the form of reduced staffed hours across all the libraries, while campaigners and library users would strongly urge the council to halt the changes until the inquiry is complete.”
  • Swindon – Letter from Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson: Swindon library service provision changes – DCMS. “The Department is treating the representations as a formal complaint under section 10 (1) (a) of the Act that Swindon Borough Council is failing to carry out its duties relating to the public library service imposed on it by or under the Act.”. Specific question is if reduced library service qualifies as “comprehensive and efficient”.