Some new research has come out form the DDCMS / Task Force on volunteer libraries. This is much needed as it has been apparent for a while this is a part of the sector with an ever increasing impact but very little research. The report itself is notable for several inconvenient truths for both sides in the debate. For those who believe volunteers are a fine alternative to paid staff – and there are such people – then there are many problems listed, not least of which in the long term. For those who refuse to accept that volunteer libraries can be anywhere near as good as paid staff, there’s some evidence to the contrary here. The truth of course, as in so many things, lies between the extremes. There are some brilliant volunteer libraries and there are some dire ones. Some will be continue doing well in the long term, some will not. Such a patchwork should not be acceptable for an important public service in a wealthy country but that is what we have. Austerity and localism see to that. More research (and this was a pretty self-selecting sample) and evidence is needed, and quickly, to inform the debate.

National news

  • Books & DVDs for public libraries – Speaking Volumes. “Half of the UK population still say they are Christian. We can help you stock books your community want to read: Grants available for biographies of influential Christians, novels, books about the Christian faith, children’s books and large-print books.  Private libraries (eg those attached to a conference or retreat centre) can also apply”
  • Community managed libraries research – what we’ll do next – Libraries Taskforce. “We believe that the involvement of volunteers in supporting paid staff in running public libraries can be valuable – in augmenting services available and ensuring close collaboration and engagement between public libraries and the community. We don’t, however, endorse the model of community managed libraries operating with no support from the local council”. Addresses various points. “we’ll clarify and promote the support available to help volunteers and staff within community managed libraries who want to keep good quality library services available for their local communities.”.

“This will take a lot of digesting. The researcher himself says: ‘The  information collected cannot be considered a representative sample of the community library sector as a whole’ and calls for more research –  a lot of it. The truth is that DDCMS let the whole thing run out of control years

So there’s infinite variety in what libraries do or do not  provide, and why this or that works – or not. Impossible to analyse,  or learn from.  What’s clear from this report is that ‘community libraries’ aren’t  confident about future staffing or funding – 70% of current volunteers  are aged over 60. Rather fundamental problems to have. ‘Income  generation’ can’t raise much, it’s clear. Local authority support is  needed in perpetuity. Will that happen?

It’s surprising the research does not take the route of comparing  performance in individual libraries before and after becoming volunteer-run. There’s now plenty of ‘anecdotal’ evidence of steep  declines, which should be investigated  properly.  On staffing, it looks pretty scary: ‘Librarians in traditional  libraries were found to perceive various areas of training as  essential, such as Equality and Diversity, Data Protection, Freedom of  Information, and Customer Care, whereas volunteers were less likely to  perceive training as important. Further to this, both volunteers and  librarians reported undertaking less training than that perceived as  being needed.’

The Library Campaign looks forward to getting comments from the many  volunteers forced to run libraries after fighting to the end to keep  them open as council-run, properly staffed libraries. And staff who have lost their jobs.” The Library Campaign (via email).

    • Council asks for ideas to turn former libraries into ‘assets of community value’ – I. “Bury Council has advertised opportunities for enterprising people to take its former library buildings and turn them into “assets of community value”. After closing the doors on 10 libraries, the local authority is looking for community groups to step up and provide services from the empty buildings left behind.” … “a community group was to decide to open a library, they would be on their own: “Although books and other resources may be left as part of the transfer, the library service you provide will not be part of the Council’s service.”. … “On a smaller scale, it’s happening all over the country, and not just with libraries – there are sporting fields, community bakeries and even woodlands that are now being run by community groups”. [NB. mentions some library closures which are in fact just moves to new premises e.g. “Chester” below – Ed] …. “Between 2011/12 and 2015/16, the number of people visiting libraries reduced by 16.4 per cent. That may reflect changing reading habits, but it also reflects the number of communities now left without a service”
    • Does your job pay less than it did five years ago? – BBC. “Librarian” is down 7%.
    • Exploring the service effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries in England – Libraries Taskforce. “guest post written by Lee Richards, Senior Research Manager, SERIO, who was commissioned to conduct a national research project to understand more about how community managed libraries operate. In particular, to gather more evidence to identify lessons and examples which could be shared about their effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability” … “something that consistently stood out to our research team when undertaking this research was the dedication and optimism of volunteers and staff within community libraries that strive to keep valuable community assets open for the benefit of their local community”
    • From idea to initiative: empowering library innovation on demand – Libraries Taskforce / Erik Boekesteijn. ” my work in the Netherlands I have been involved in the building of DOK, the library concept center in Delft. I’ve also had the pleasure of working on the design of services and interiors of libraries with great architects such as Mecanoo, Zaha Hadid and Stewart & Hollenstein.” … A look at Storyhouse in Chester. “I tried to visualise the whole institute and building as a sort of interface for people with the librarians and the other staff as ‘curators of curiosity’.” … “I expect many librarians from all over the world will come to visit Storyhouse and will be inspired.”
    • Provision of innovative Library Services, including the development of a Library Services Platform and improved online and off-line marketing of library services – Tenders Electronic Daily. “The LB Sutton, on behalf of the London Libraries Consortium, is seeking a sea-change in the technological provision of online library services that will change public perception of libraries in the 21st century. Our aim is to establish a single supplier framework. In addition to replacing the current library management system, the driver behind this investment is to have a flexible platform that continuously enables new services and technology to be plugged in, thereby ensuring customers can always access the latest technology. A key driver is to increase and broaden public access to online services and for this to stimulate more physical visits to public libraries. Please note that the ‘London Library Consortium’ is a convenient short form to describe those local authorities ( and other organisations, if any) that presently utilise a common library management system that this procurement has been undertaken to replace. It is not an incorporated association.” … “Each consortium member is committing up to 50 000 GBP per annum for the delivery, development and maintenance of the service plus one off transfer costs. Please note that call off by all the consortium members cannot be guaranteed. A maximum anticipated spend is 10 000 000 GBP (UK sterling) however this maximum spend cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on take up. The estimated value of the contract will be between 3 000 000 GBP – 10 000 000 GBP”
    • Research and analysis to explore the service effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries in England  – DDCMS. “The likelihood of success for sustainably financed and resourced community libraries is dependent on a broad set of internal factors, such as drive, determination, volunteer availability and expertise, and external factors, such as the impact of local authority policy and resource availability.” … “main revenue streams will still be derived from the delivery of core services, indicating limitations to their ambitions to grow in the short-term whilst they remain reliant on some form of centralised local authority funding or support. Therefore, the current rates of sustainable growth in the research should be considered fragile.” … “interviewed as part of the research, which consisted of local authority representatives responsible for library services, were also generally positive about how they viewed CLs and their ability to deliver library services. “

An online bookclub from Axiell

International news

  • Australia – Mess and Macrohistory: Design Thinking and Beyond feat. @tegalex / Part 3 – Mechanical Dolphin. Some libraries have graphic signs showing how to use the toilets … “culture professionals today have to ask where they draw the line in surveilling, monitoring, or intervening in people’s lives on behalf of the authorities.” … “It’s also true to say that design and innovation mean little if they’re not responsive, non-procedural, and creative when they meet the real problems we face in our lives.”

“How do we celebrate the mess and stink and unruly nature of life when – as truly public institutions must – you meet it head on?”

  • India – Face to Face: Alan Gemmel, director, British Council on 2017 UK-India ‘Year of Culture’ – Hindustan Times. “English and storytelling continues to connect Britain and India and these libraries represent that as the heart of our work in India for the past 70 years. We have been inspiring and exciting young people and students in our centre in Pune since 1960 and I hope that this centre continues to do so. We provide a space for people to find wizards, monsters and islands, and yet also find themselves and understand who they really are and where they are going. But not everyone has the time to physically come here, so alongside, we have the digital facility through our online library and much more.”
  • Nigeria – Inside Nigeria’s decrepit public libraries – Daily Trust. “Nigerian public libraries, most of which were established in the 1970s and 80s, were intended to help promote literacy and the culture of reading, as people, including students and even parents, go there to seek information. But as investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday have revealed, public libraries in Nigeria are now shadows as they have been left to rot away due to corruption, poor funding and understaffing, among several factors.” … “Even the e-library established by the past administration packed up after its commissioning. The computers never worked given the lack of power and effective internet facility. Inadequate members of staff is also a serious problem of the library, given the fact that most of them have retired and not replaced for decades”
  • Slovenia – Summer activities at Ljubljana City Library (Slovenia) – Naple Sister Libraries. “In the summer months the possibility of reading is provided for the visitors of Kolezija and Kodeljevo waterparks. At each swimming pool they can choose from 200 books and journals, especially selected for adults, adolescents and children. Both collections are rearranged and supplemented on a weekly basis, and the bathers are autonomously borrowing and returning the books to the marked shelves in the middle of the swimming pool sites. Two volunteers once per week run creative workshops for children.”
  • USA – Ex Libris: New York Public Library review – the restless mind of the city – Guardian. “Ex Libris: New York Public Library has the drive of a vociferous reader checking out and renewing the maximum number of books their card will allow. Its running time of three hours and 17 minutes is generous enough to succeed on multiple levels. The most prominent theme is the divide between rich and poor, and what the NYPL means in different neighbourhoods. The gorgeous main branch on Fifth Avenue with its marble lions serves a different function than the outposts in the economically disadvantaged outer boroughs”

“Frederick Law Olmsted is believed to have coined the term “lungs of the city” in reference to Central Park. It becomes quickly evident that the New York Public Library is its mind.”

  • USA – Library Visits Have Gone Way Up Over the Last Two Decades. Here’s Why… – Medium. “Fact: Between 1990 and 2014, visits to public libraries grew by a whopping 181%. For context, the population of the United States increased by 28% during that period. Why have so many more people been using their libraries in the last two decades? Here’s what I think…”: (1) more community involvement (partnerships, outreach) (2) Responsive, Unique, and High-Quality Program Offerings (business help, STEM, literary festivals) (3) More Open Professional and Institutional Attitudes (; we love people and books (in that order), we have unique and individual personalities which we use to serve our communities better, and we prefer to provide access rather than restrict it”, some stopping fines) (4) Marketing and communications (5) User-centred approach to technology.

“Over time, people have come to understand that the role of libraries is not on the bleeding-edge of technology, but focused rather on the needs of their communities. It would not, after all, be appropriate for libraries to blow their budgets on every new gadget and operating system that surfaces (and often sinks), would it?”

Local news by authority

  • Bury – Bury council tweeted about making closed libraries into ‘valued assets’ and everyone said the same thing – Manchester Evening News. “The trouble with asking people what they think on the internet is that they’ll tell you. Bury council has become the latest victim of a torrent of Twitter sarcasm after they tweeted about the fate of their local libraries. Innocently enough they asked: ‘could you turn a former library into a valued community asset?’, and the responses came thick and fast. Asam Yasin was first to reply and it started a bit of a theme: “A book shop. One that lets you take books for free for a period of time as long as you return them. With a fee if you don’t.” Ad‏ @adlynch replied saying: ‘is that a library, Asam?’, to which came the response – “No no. It’s a shop. If you call it a library they’ll only close it down again…”

“Council leader Rishi Shori said at the time: “Of the 10 libraries set to close the majority are smaller outreach libraries. There will be a main library in four of Bury’s townships. Our statutory minimum is three libraries, but we have managed to save four.” [There is no such thing as a “statutory minimum” – Ed.]

“The money that we received from the council goes towards a lot but the actual things that make a library a library we have to raise money for,” Dale said. “We thought we would try things different and that is why we have arranged this summer fair which has gone really well. “

  • Vale of Glamorgan – Sully and Lavernock Library celebrates a year of being community run with event – Penarth Times. “On Saturday, September 2, volunteers and library members were entertained with a range of special activities at the library on South Road. Sully and Lavernock Community Library Trust took over the running of the library from the Vale council in the summer of 2016” … “he move also saw an extension of opening hours in Sully from11am-6pm on Tuesdays, 3-6pm on Thursdays and 9am-1pm on Saturdays. “
  • Wiltshire – Mobile library service faces cuts under latest council review – Salisbury Journal. “Every two years the timetable for the north and the south mobile library are reviewed to ensure the service is reaching the communities in which it is most needed. This year the council is proposing to stop visiting Alderbury School, Knighton Road in Broad Chalke, Collingbourne Ducis School, The Old School in Steeple Langford, and Camp in Winterbourne Gunner, plus eight more stops in the north of the county.”
  • Windsor and Maidenhead – Dogs Trust gives lessons to youngsters at Dedworth Library – Windsor Express. “Helen Peake, an education officer for the Dogs Trust, visited Dedworth Library with a life-sized replica pooch to teach youngsters how to handle and approach dogs”