I always find, as a librarian, the best way to find an answer to a question is to ask an expert. So, due to the various expressed uncertainties about the public library scheme, I emailed Isobel Hunter, the new Chief Executive of the Society of Chief Librarians. She kindly quickly answered them and the details are below. Following on form this, she has also agreed to answer more general questions, which I’m working on now. But it seems to me some of you may have questions too. So if you want me to ask any, email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. and let me know if you want it confidential or not. If there’s too many questions, I’ll try to work out questions that cover themes.

In other news, the Welsh Government has just announced funding that will help several libraries. Great to see. It’s worth pointing out that, scaled up to England’s size, that would be a very impressive £23m. Come on, Libraries Minister, make it happen.

Changes by local authorities

A short interview with Isobel Hunter, the new SCL chief executive, about the new Visa programme.

There was quite a hoo-ha on Twitter about the announcement of a new scheme to assist visa applicants in libraries, with a fair number of queries and worries about what it entailed. So I emailed the new boss of the Society of Chief Librarians with a few questions, which she very promptly answered. Before going on to those, though, she said that there was some confusion with another project and said:

“The existing one is an Assisted Digital project, and was highlighted in our annual report last year:

“From the end of September (2017), SCL and library services across the UK will also be supporting applicants for in-country visas on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration. The project is led by We Are Digital, which is directing applicants to the most suitable routes for support. This support is provided in person via local libraries, in the applicant’s own home by We Are Digital’s visiting tutors, and by telephone from Migrant Help UK.”

The new project is different and is about providing a local service point for people to submit biometric data and supporting documents. This means applicants don’t have to post off vital documents like passports, and don’t have to travel a long way to specialist centres to  process their biometric data.”

Now onto the questions …

How much funding will public libraries receive under the agreement?

“Library services will receive payment for the delivery of appointments for this service. SCL will receive a small percentage as a contribution towards the cost of coordinating the libraries’ involvement. Libraries will not be charging visa applicants for their help.”

Is the contract involving more than offering assistance with the application. That is, providing online access etc?

“The role of library staff will be to support online access for applicants to submit their documents and biometric data. Library staff will not give visa or immigration advice.”

I’ve seen reports that “Staff are really worried about being required to report people who come back into the library after they’ve failed in their application therefore are “illegal immigrants”. Will staff have any obligation to report in this manner?

“Library staff will not be involved in any part of the decision making on the applications. Library staff are just involved in supporting people to use the online system to submit their documents and biometric data. They will therefore not know the results of any applications or how these affect individuals using libraries.”

Will there be any additional procedures in place to ensure confidentiality?

“Each site within the library is assessed for security, confidentiality and accessibility before any equipment is installed. This includes ensuring that applicants and their documents will not visible to the public, and that physical access into the building and to the service point is as simple as possible.

Some libraries will have kiosks installed, which will provide a private space for applicants. Kiosks will be installed where there is an anticipated high number of users. In other libraries, the most appropriate place is being selected – such as a private room or quiet corner. Appointments will be made for all users, to help manage the process and its confidentiality. All library personnel staffing the appointments will receive training and be security cleared.”

Are any libraries run by volunteers involved?

“No, the service will not be delivered at volunteer led libraries or by volunteers in libraries. All library personnel staffing the appointments will be security cleared and receive training”

Will there be funding for upgrading PN?

“Specialist biometric equipment will be installed in all the participating libraries. In libraries where a high level of demand is anticipated, the equipment will be installed in kiosks

Which libraries are participating?

“56 libraries are part of the project. They are currently having site assessments to ensure they can provide the appropriate space in terms of access and security. We will be able to publish the full list once all sites have been assessed and confirmed and before the system goes live in the autumn.”

National news

  • £1.35m for museums, archives and libraries in Wales – Welsh Government. “During a visit to Glamorgan Archives today, the Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord-Elis-Thomas, announced that museums, archives and libraries in Wales will benefit from over £1.35 million Welsh Government capital funding to develop and enhance their facilities and services.” … “the Fund will modernise three libraries, in Ringland, Pyle, and Tonypandy, creating new community facilities, and supporting the establishment of wider ‘hubs’ where people can access library services alongside a range of other amenities.  Funding is also provided to contribute to the integration of library and heritage services in Carmarthenshire and Conwy. “
  • Library offers playbook for communities taking control Times (partially behind paywall). “When Brent council closed Kensal Rise library in 2012, council workers and police turned up in the middle of the night to strip the branch of books, furniture and the gold plaque commemorating its opening in 1900 by Mark Twain. Residents who had been fighting to keep the library open phoned one another to report that there were so many security workers at the site that they wouldn’t be able to stop them…..”
  • Save our literacy for the sake of the literary – Oxford Student. “For now, we can breathe easy in the knowledge that we have brilliant people like Jojo Moyes in our midst, who are willing to fill in funding-gaps for schemes like Quick Reads. Yet, as austerity continues, this is not a problem which will be going away any time soon, and we can’t always rely on knights in shining armour to salvage our vital services. This government needs to recognise the insurmountable link between functioning literacy and a celebration of the literary, and of course, needs to make that literacy available to all”.

An online bookclub from Axiell

International news

  • Netherlands Hub Kerkrade – Designing Libraries. “How can a library, a theatre and other cultural partners exist together successfully under one roof? First, by breaking down partition walls” [This looks very similar to StoryHouse in Chester – Ed.]

Local news by authority

  • Cumbria – Whitehaven Library’s New Autism area praised by Copeland’s MP – Cumbria Crack. “Trudy Harrison MP, and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, joined councillors and members of the public for the launch of Whitehaven Library’s autism friendly pop-up sensory area on Saturday. The pop-up sensory area, which includes a large dark den featuring LED lighting, tactile accessories, lightbox and ear defenders, is designed specifically for people with autism.”