I had the opportunity to see a couple of GLL libraries (run under the public name of “Better”) at close quarters after agreeing to do a (paid – full disclosure here) talk for managers there on the current UK public libraries situation. GLL started off in Greenwich as a leisure company and has since expanded throughout the county, holding interests in all part of the UK. It has also started expanding in the library sector, with it becoming soon enough (in terms of branches and number of authorities anyway) the largest public library provider in the country. By the end of the year, it is expected to be running the library services of Greenwich, Wandsworth, Lincolnshire, Dudley and Bromley, as well as 12 prison libraries and a couple of other concerns, easily eclipsing other single-authority library trusts or indeed the beleaguered Carillion. GLL is also behind an somewhat controversial move towards installing “gymbraries” in Lambeth.

I’ve seen a fair bit for and against GLL so it was good to physically visit in Woolwich and Greenwich. I was there for a few hours and can confirm the libraries were busy, well-maintained, with good book-stock (in multiple languages, face-on displays plus magazines) and numerous PCs/good wifi. The library staff I talked to, frontline as well as managers, including professionally qualified librarians, seemed happy, some very much so. Interestingly, also, they’re not tied to the local government pay settlement and so have suffered less than council staff by pay freezes/below-inflation increases. The two libraries were co-located (one with council services, the other in a leisure centre) but with well-used at-the-front libraries. They recognise the need for regular (daily, not just weekly) children events and other things such as reading groups and have (a big tick in my book) quiet sections/rooms for the multitude with nowhere else to study.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see “no food or drink” posters in one and also a requirement for ID before joining (we’ve done away with this with no ill effect in my authority years ago), although this is hardly unusual nationally. Both libraries had book-sorting machines – the first I’ve seen – in little glass secure rooms (apparently, fingers can get mashed otherwise) which looked great fun to me but I did not see either working other than the one I put through just to see what happened, and indeed one was out of order due to some vandalism on the roof above. There was some tatty furniture in one branch, noted with much annoyance by the librarian I was with (who I suspect is going to get it replaced pronto), but again, this is hardly unusual in libraries and generally what I saw was certainly no worse than average, and a considerable improvement on many I have seen.

So why is this important to those who don’t work for GLL? Well, they’re growing fast, being expansionist and with regional support structures for leisure (buildings etc) that mean they’re placed to bid anywhere in the UK. I suspect they’re the main competition to other trusts (library or leisure) competing for contracts. I also suspect this is not good news if you work in some parts of the library service as they’re going to go with economies of scale where they think it would work (I certainly would in their position) but, when we’re all seeing deep cuts repeatedly up and down the country, well, there’s worse out there. Better the devil you don’t know, perhaps. From what I saw, they were positive (notably so – no defeatism here) and boasted of good increases to usage and visits. While not alone in the latter, it’s good to see and it’s been long-term in at least the two original boroughs (50% and 100% increases were noted). Obviously, the trust is less directly democratic than council libraries but on the other hand, when told by a council to cut, this is an organisation that will be able to question it rather than have to simply do it.

OK, that’s a general view and I am sure some things are bad (e.g. how gymbraries are being handled) and I missed much. They’re not angels (because who can afford to be, really, in 2017 UK) but I did not see any Satan-worship either, just busy libraries. It was just a day there, but, you know you can walk into a library and instantly sense if it is doing well or OK? Well, the two I visited were fine. And that’s something impossible to hide. And better than some.


National news

  • Libraries kick-starting the next generation of entrepreneurs – Libraries Taskforce. “On 21st September thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs across the country will head to their local library to attend free training and inspirational talks as part of the British Library’s national Start-up Day.”

An online bookclub from Axiell
International news

  • Canada – B.C. municipalities call on province to reverse cuts on funding for public libraries – Straight. “On average, a British Columbian visits a library in person six times per year, according to a current strategic plan by the libraries branch of the Ministry of Education. While the province recognizes the value of libraries, two motions submitted for the 2017 convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) note that its funding for the system has been on a decline. According to resolutions prepared by the towns of Powell River and Ladysmith, provincial funding for public libraries used to constitute 21 percent of total revenue. As of 2016, funding by the province for libraries is down to five percent of total revenue”
  • USA – 9/11 Truth and Public Libraries – 911 Truth. Article argues that those who believe that the Two Towers were part of a government conspiracy to band together to suggest / pressure local libraries to hold books with their point of view [! – Ed.]
  • USA – Libraries and the Business Community: A Success Story – Medium. “The following is an amazing example of how libraries can help you develop your business ideas, taken from an interview …”

Local news by authority

  • Anglesey – Libraries and schools under threat as cash-strapped Anglesey Council faces ‘bleak financial outlook’ – Daily Post. “Five out of the island’s 10 public libraries are already under threat, with the authority holding a public consulting on the future of the service.”
  • Bristol – ‘Charitable trust model could save Bristol’s libraries from closure’ – Bristol 247. “Lib Dem councillors are calling on the mayor to consider a proposal that they argue could save most of Bristol’s threatened libraries. Council plans to withdraw funding from more than half of the city’s branches as part of a bid to save £1.4m from the ever-stretched budget met with a storm of outrage when they were announced in June, as people turned out in force to fight for their vital public services. With the 12-week consultation now closed, the Lib Dem group has re-issued an alternative solution – the formation of a not-for-profit trust to run a largely-volunteer led service – arguing this could prevent libraries from having to close and still generate substantial savings.”
  • Derby – Volunteers want to run Derby libraries but say council ‘hasn’t given enough info’ – Derby Telegraph. Volunteers have told how they want to run under-threat Derby libraries but say the city council isn’t giving them enough information. The accusations were made after the first of six sessions designed to give people information about running their local library “raised more questions than it answered”, according to many of  the people who attended. The meeting in Derby’s Guildhall Theatre began with around 30 people but within 20 minutes a number started to leave declaring “it’s not what we thought it would be”.
  • East Sussex – County Hall Approves Library Consultation – Eastbourne Buzz. “The Cabinet of the County Council has agreed to go to consultation over the future of seven libraries across the county, including Polegate, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon and Langney. Should the closures go ahead, it would save County Hall £653,000.”
  • Kensington and Chelsea – Plan to lease North Kensington library to £5,800-a-term prep school scrapped in wake of Grenfell Tower fire – Evening Standard. “The council has confirmed North Kensington library will be saved rather than leased to neighbouring Notting Hill Prep School to aid its expansion plans. The £5,800-a-term school in Lancaster Road wanted to take on the 126-year-old building on a 25-year lease after the council had committed to building a replacement library and leisure centre nearby.” … “Community activist Edward Daffarn, a former social worker who warned of the fire risks at Grenfell before the fatal blaze on 14 June, had called for the council to halt the library plan as well as preserve the threatened local adult education college and to reopen horse riding stables under the Westway. Deputy council leader Kim Taylor-Smith said leasing the library had now been shelved and the future of Kensington and Chelsea College was still “under discussion”
  • North Somerset – Positive’ feedback for staff after massive overhaul of village library – North Somerset Times. “North Somerset Council spent thousands to refurbish the High Street facility and moving the children’s centre into the building, from its old school site. One of the biggest changes users will notice is the library section has had a new, lower, ceiling installed to create a room upstairs and the areas for adults’ and children’s books have been reconfigured. A door separates it with the new children’s centre, which features a play room and area outside for the children to enjoy some fresh air”
  • Pembrokeshire – Council want you to ‘have your say’ – Western Telegraph. Meetings: “They will also give people the chance to find out more about a review of the County Council’s face-to-face facilities in Pembrokeshire’s main towns. These include places like customer service centres, youth centres, community learning centres, libraries and leisure centres. “
  • Plymouth – Sad pictures show the closed libraries that have slipped into the pages of history – Herald. Yep, those are depressing pictures.
  • Salford – Salford plans to expand libraries – Salford Council. “A report will go to Salford City Council’s cabinet next week (Tuesday 26 September) for approval to invest £590,000 over the next four years across the service, including spending £100,000 on replacing all IT equipment and providing digital learning as requested by members of the public. The funds will help to provide library services from seven new sites, including a watersports centre and local leisure and community centres. The money from the council’s capital programme will help the council save £1.26 million over four years through better use of technology and by locating services alongside partner organisations. ” [Strangely, the article exaggerates library closure numbers nationally – Ed.[
  • Somerset – Children’s centres in Burnham and Highbridge face major shake-up – Burnham on Sea. Children’s centre services may move to libraries.
  • Wandsworth – Battersea residents could visit a ‘bigger and better’ Northcote Library in their area soon – Wandsworth Guardian. “The doors of a new library and community centre near Battersea’s Northcote Road could be set to open soon as councillors are poised to give plans the green light. Plans to replace the existing 1960s library in the area with a three-storey modern library, community centre and business suite are set to be backed by members of Wandsworth Councils’ Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday night (September 19). It would be built on land currently occupied by council-owned garages that adjoin Staplehurst Court and the Chatham Hall community space.”
  • Warrington – Libraries ranked third in the country after residents complete book challenge – Warrington Guardian. “The Reading Agency charity handed LiveWire, the company which runs the libraries, a gold star award for helping 159 people rediscover a love of books. Their efforts mean the organisation was named third best out of the 75 authorities involved in the Reading Ahead programme.”