I’ve been following some of the tweets from the Community Managed Libraries Conference and look forward to the blogging/posts that will result from the event. But for now I think it’s useful to say that, look. we all know the issues surrounding volunteer libraries is a painfully difficult one. Heck, when there’s even a disagreement about their very name, you know there’s a problem. But it needs to be remembered that volunteers are persuaded to work for free in public libraries because, largely, they love them. They want to see libraries surviving in their local communities and conferences like this one will assist in making such branches more professional and sustainable. On the other hand, and this is the cruel thing, the more successful volunteer libraries are then the more councils will close down paid-staff libraries.

It’s all so sad when the natural strongest supporters of libraries are inadvertently, and with the best will in the world, used against paid staff. But I don’t think this is part of an evil political master plan. And I have a lot of sympathy for councils faced with difficulty budget decisions and, most of all, with the pro-library volunteers themselves. I also of course, not least because I am one of them and (self-interest aside) I know what staffing and managing a library involve, have sympathy with paid staff. But that’s just how it is.  Bottom line is, I think all of this is the result simply of budgetary pressure and local steps resulting from it. As austerity goes on, and despite hopeful headlines, it shows no signs of stopping, the ranks of volunteer libraries will swell above their already impressive 500+ number. Some will fail. But some will also succeed, at least in terms of staying open. I doubt any will ever become fully paid staffed ever again, as has sometimes been hopefully suggested. There are no perfect answers for any side. Paid staff will be threatened. Volunteer staff largely realise paid staff will be better. National organisations realise that, at the very least, the situation inevitably leads to atomisation. But volunteer libraries are here and it’s best to get used to it.

The genie is out of the bottle but it looks like no-ones (apart from a few ideologues we may never meet) wishes have been granted.


Why Suffolk chose to build our own self-service kiosk system, by Leon Paternoster, Suffolk Libraries

Size isn't everything

Size isn’t everything

“The early stages of looking for self-service kiosks for our forty-four libraries was a frustrating process. The products available from the well-established specialist providers were all expensive, unwieldy and often a bit too complicated.  Like all library services, we were being asked to do more with less, so not only were budgets tight, but also there was a need to free our librarians from transactional tasks so that they could do the more interactive work that library users value so much. We’d recently re-designed Suffolk Libraries’ website using a very simple, lightweight, technology that made it exceptionally fast and very easy to use – especially on a smartphone or tablet – which were two key attributes that we needed for our self-service kiosks. It was not a great leap, therefore, to wonder if we could do something similar to enable people to check books in and out themselves.

With help from Dootrix, who specialise in software for mobile devices, we designed and built a ‘progressive web app’ which is a simple website that can run on any tablet or touchscreen PC, but that looks and behaves like a smartphone app. It has a very simple interface that people of all ages find easy to use intuitively without needing help from the librarians.

It syncs automatically with our LMS and works with our existing barcode scanners and readers too. Because a lot of our libraries are in rural communities, with poor internet connectivity, it also has the capability to work and store transactions even when offline, and updates the LMS when connection is restored.  We found inexpensive tablets and a supplier of robust but small and unobtrusive stands to mount them in, and tested people’s reactions in different libraries across the county. The feedback was invaluable, both in improving the interface – allowing users to see their account, what books they’ve borrowed and if they owed anything – and for giving us the confidence that people would use them instinctively when we rolled them out to every library.

As a library service, it’s been a genuinely enlightening process to design and build our own technically-advanced but exceptionally simple system, not least because of the interest it’s generated from other library professionals from across the country.  Clearly we are not alone in being frustrated by the cost and complexity of the kiosks from established suppliers, and we’ve started talking to several library groups from other cities and counties about making it available to them too as an all-in-one solution.

There’s more specific detail about the process and resulting mini kiosks in an interview I did with our technical partners Dootrix on their website (here), and if anyone wants more information or would like to talk to us about using the system in their library service, please do get in touch through them.”





National news

  • Libraries offered me escape, safety and possibility when I was at my most vulnerable – The Pool. “Joanna Cannon, author of the Sunday Times bestselling debut novel The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, told me, “Everything I have done, and everything I am, is down to that brown, cardboard library ticket.” ” … “On Twitter, I asked for stories from people from marginalised backgrounds who wouldn’t be doing what they now are without libraries. Over 200 deeply moving stories flooded in. ” … “Libraries protected me at my most vulnerable and now I’ll try to do the same for them. “

“Over 200 deeply moving stories flooded in. Each was unique, but many aspects of the stories overlapped – circles within circles, a Venn diagram of the true significance of libraries. Stories came from those who were in care, those from chaotic, poor or abusive households, those who were bullied, those with disabilities or mental-health problems, those who were LGBTQ+, those who just needed a place they wouldn’t be turned away from. Though many said that without those loaned books they’d have remained near uneducated or would never have gone to university, many more told me libraries also offered them desperately needed escape, safety and possibility – where none existed otherwise.”

  • SCL welcomes new Board of Trustees – Society of Chief Librarians. “The new trustees bring a wealth of talent and experience to the organisation at this exciting stage of its development. Membership of the new Board is drawn from the heads of public library services as well as public services and the arts.”:  … “The new Board will formally begin their roles next month, with the new Chief Executive, Isobel Hunter, taking up her post on 23 April.”

An online bookclub from Axiell
International news

  • EU – Free Wifi for the European Public Libraries: the WiFi4EU program of the European Commission – Naple Sister Libraries. “The European Commission has launched a program to promote free Wi-Fi in public spaces. Public libraries are specifically referred as eligible. The WiFi4EU program has been granted 120 million to support the installation of state-of-the-art Wi-Fi equipment and high-speed connections.”
  • Global – Public libraries worldwide reach milestone with one billion digital book checkouts Library Technology Guides. “While some thought digital was going to signal the decline of libraries, it has instead strengthened library systems and positioned them as a hub for innovation, education and a place of reading happiness beyond the bookshelves. After surpassing one million digital book checkouts in 2007 and 100 million in 2012, leading digital reading platform OverDrive today proudly announces another remarkable milestone – libraries around the world have reached one billion digital book checkouts. “
  • USA – Public Library Association brings Short Story Dispensers to U.S. public libraries – ALA. “Readers can print one-, three-, or five-minute stories from a range of genres at the touch of a button via the Short Story Dispenser. The kiosks will be branded to the libraries, enabling them to further their reach and visibility, as well as connect each story back to the full power of their collections and programs. This program also marks the launch of a new digital platform (www.short-edition.com/en) for sharing new literary creations.”

Local news by authority

  • Anglesey – “Innovative” partnership saves Rhosneigr library – North Wales Chronicle. “Rhosneigr Holiday Lettings decided to work alongside Llanfaelog Community Council to help keep the village library open for the foreseeable future. ” … “The agreed solution will see the existing space being used in a number of ways, maintaining the existing library provision with some business space reserved for Rhosneigr Holiday Lettings. “
  • Barnet – Outsourcing fails public services – Tory Barnet ‘easyCouncil’ chaos is proof  Labour List.Libraries have been privatised, slashing space and leaving them unstaffed up to 80 per cent of the time. Capita’s contracts have been woefully mismanaged. For instance, Barnet was fined for being the first council in the country that failed to submit its pensions accounts. They were found not to have an IT disaster recovery scheme, a chronic failure.”
  • Cornwall – Falmouth Town Council is extending the opening hours of its library service – This is the West Country. “Falmouth Library is extending its opening hours and from April 1 it will be open on Wednesdays from 9.30am until 1pm. ” … “The changes are part of Falmouth Town Council’s ongoing commitment to extend the library and information service, which is took over from Cornwall Council. The library, housed on the ground floor of the Municipal Buildings on The Moor, is now part of town council’s cultural services department. “
  • Cumbria – Ambleside Library reopens – Heart. “two month refurbishment has turned it into a Community Hub which’ll be used for meetings and events by councils and good causes. A statement from Cumbria County Council read: “Ambleside Library completed a major refurbishment in January 2018 to turn it into a Community Hub.  The new-look library is now home to Lakes Parish Council and hosts all of their council meetings. Together the library and parish council are supporting a number of local community groups, including Learning Plus, South Lakeland District Council’s customer advice drop-in sessions, Citizens Advice, Barnardo’s Lakes Child Health Clinic, Falls Prevention and Older People’s Project drop-ins,  Dignity in Dementia Songsters and the Knit and Natter group.”
  • Cumbria – Town council to pay for library newspapers – Times and Star. “Cockermouth town councillors have agreed to pay for national newspapers to be kept in the library – after the county council said they were to be axed as part of a major cost-cutting exercise. The town library stocks The Times and Star, The Telegraph and the I.”
  • Cumbria – Workington Library to close for refurbishment – Times and Star. “install new flooring on the ground floor of the Oxford Street building. New wheeled shelving is also due to be put in to give more space for the venue to host activities and workshops.”
  • Durham – New library is set to open in autumn – Hartlepool Mail. “Work to upgrade Peterlee Leisure Centre and re-locate the town’s library is on schedule, with building work set to be completed in autumn this year. The leisure centre is benefitting from more than £2 million of investment, which will see a new, modern library at the venue as well as a refurbished changing room and revamped reception.”
  • Hampshire – Town library closes for revamp – and will be fit for a wedding Daily Echo. “Romsey Library is benefitting from a cash boost by Hampshire County Council as part of its plans to invest £500,000 a year into libraries and technology buildings. Closing today (March 19) for its refurbishment work, it will benefit from new self-serve kiosks, new carpets and a redesigned information point will also be installed. One addition to the building will also be a new room to host civil wedding ceremonies, which will also be available for community hire.”
  • Herefordshire – County council agrees rent-free lease on building it transferred to town council ownership – Hereford Times. “Ross-on-Wye Town Council took over the running of The Old Chapel in Cantilupe Road in an asset transfer from the county council in 2015. The town council has struggled to find a tenant for the building as there were clauses in the transfer documents which said the premises should only be rented to an organisation which would help the community. The town council has offered a five year rent-free lease to the county council in exchange for the removal of these clauses, which also means that the town council will no longer have to give 50 percent to the county council if they decided to sell the building.”
  • Milton Keynes – Bletchley library re-opens after state-of-the-art modernisation – Milton Keynes. “The library had been closed for eight months but now has a number of new facilities including computers, children’s activities and even a Knit and Natter group. There is free Wi-Fi and people can also hire rooms. The modernisation project was funded by Section 106 grant money and West Bletchley Town Council.”
  • Northamptonshire – Chief executive of Northamptonshire County Council to stand down – Northants Telegraph. “Mr Lawrenson came under fire last week after it emerged he was holiday in Dubai when the council’s chief finance officer chose to put emergency section 114 spending controls in place.”
  • Northamptonshire – Council faces government probe into library cuts – LGC and Culture secretary to probe Northamptonshire library closures – Banbury Guardian and Government may intervene in Northampton library closures – Guardian.With other local authorities also warning about their financial sustainability, Furniss warned that Northamptonshire’s financial issues were unlikely to be unique. She joined Cilip’s call on the DCMS to provide a “clear and transparent” definition of what a council’s “comprehensive and efficient” library service should look like. “Given the lack of library standards in England,” she said, “the absence of a clear definition causes unnecessary confusion amongst local authorities as to the services they should provide and amongst local residents as to the services they should receive.”
  • Northamptonshire – Could you help Daventry village group save its library? – Daventry Express. “A Daventry village group are appealing for people with fundraising experience or with a knowledge of charities and trusts as it looks at ways to maintain its library service. Long Buckby library is among the small and medium-sized libraries set to close in Northamptonshire from August 28, unless community groups can be found to run them by the end of May.”
  • Plymouth – Exciting new chapter for St Budeaux revealed – Herald. “More than £2.3million will be pumped into creating new library ‘fit for the 21st century’ as well as homes” … “The council is working in partnership with a developer to transform the half-acre site of the old library on St Budeaux Square.  As well as providing a light and airy library with a flexible space, the development will include 24 new homes, including four properties that are being designed to be wheelchair accessible.” … “The project will cost more than £2.3million – with funding from the developer and £187,000 from the Government’s One Public Estate scheme enabling it to get off the ground.”
  • Portsmouth – New wellbeing zones in Portsmouth libraries – News. “All nine libraries in Portsmouth will have a Wellbeing Zone where residents can access information about long-term conditions, being healthier or losing weight. The range of books on health and wellbeing will be extended and there will be sessions where staff can signpost people to other resources.”
  • Somerset – Do you think the libraries should be closed? Have your sayMercury. “The Government is reducing funding to local authorities, bringing additional cuts 
for library budgets by 2020, leading Somerset County Council to launch this public consultation. The Friends Of Cheddar Library are asking people to complete the consultation document in the hope it will help them save their library in Union Street.”
  • Warrington – MP wants findings of LiveWire review made public – Warrington Worldwide. “MP Helen Jones has called on Warrington Borough Council to make public the findings of a governance review of libraries and leisure organisation LiveWire. The Warrington North MP says the report – instigated by the council last year – has now been completed. Its findings should be made public, she says, so that people can see how the problems associated with the public interest company have been addressed.
  • Warrington – Stockton Heath Library could be first of town’s sites to benefit from major improvements – Warrington Guardian. “Library could be the first of the town’s sites to benefit from major improvements after campaigners bounced back ‘from a situation of almost despair’. The Libraries Partnership Board met at Woolston Neighbourhood Hub on Tuesday to deliver business case presentations for Stockton Heath, Culcheth and Birchwood libraries, as well as updates on building maintenance and book fund proposals.” … ” £1 million of the authority’s funds will go towards repairs, maintenance and investment at existing buildings, while £150,000 has been designated to enhance the book fund budget. “
  • Wokingham – Earley Lib Dems drum up support for fight against library closure – In Your Area. “Earley Liberal Democrats have delivered 2,400 leaflets urging people to sign a petition against the closure of Maiden Erlegh Library. The library is housed in Maiden Erlegh School, which says it needs the space for offices and to help support vulnerable students.But the political group claims the additional offices will be used for business purposes by the academy that runs the school.”