I am delighted that the new CEO of the Society of Chief Librarians, Isobel Hunter, agreed to be interviewed. She very kindly opened up questioning to anyone and so the questions below are a mixture of mine and those received on Twitter and via email. The interview is tied in with the announcement that the SCL is now renamed “Libraries Connect“. This is to modernise and also to reflect its new role. Do have a read. The normal news bulletin is below the interview.

Isobel Hunter, CEO of Libraries Connect

Isobel Hunter, CEO of Libraries Connect

Congratulations on being appointed. What was your view of the sector before you were appointed? Has it changed since then?

Although I’ve been working with archives over the last few years, they are so closely allied to public libraries that I felt I had a reasonable understanding of the sector before starting this job. I was keen to work with this sector as libraries are so central to people’s lives and to communities across the country. I’ve long been impressed by the innovation and energy and commitment to delivering a high quality service. What I’ve seen since starting the job has only confirmed that impression. For example – one of my first appointments was attending the launch of the maker space in Nuneaton where Ada Lovelace made an appearance alongside a dancing robot.

What are the main priorities for the SCL in the next couple of years? How is success in these priorities going to be measured?

We have two areas of priority: (1) 1 making the transition to a sustainable organisation with a diverse funding base, a lean and effective core structure, and meaningful engagement with staff at all levels working in libraries. (2) supporting innovation in libraries and being a confident advocate for their impact.

Specific objectives in this first year include a review of the Universal Offers, research into how we can strengthen the regional structures, and development of evaluation tools.

What do you mean by a “diverse funding base”? Are you thinking of private sector funding or philanthropy?  

We have started to identify trusts and foundations that could support our first year’s business plan.

Being the “new” SCL has been funded by ACE, does this mean that there will be a concentration on the Arts?

We are really pleased to have secured ACE funding as a Sector Support Organisation (SSO). Libraries are an important part for the arts and culture sector, but our work as a membership body and SSO will work across all areas of the sector’s impacts. One of our key strengths is that we are not just about arts or culture – but also about trusted access to information.

What do you most like about public libraries?

The fact that they are so vital to so many different types of people – and it’s easy to see how they change lives for the better. I think the NHS  is the only other institution that has the same presence and place in our hearts.

“I think the NHS  is the only other institution that has the same presence and place in our hearts.”

What do you least like about public libraries (IA)

The negative and misleading perception that some people have of an ailing sector – when our user figures remain so high. User figures do remain high compared to other cultural services – and often astound people when they hear what they are.

Now that the SCL is a charity, who or what is the organisation accountable to?

We’re obviously accountable to our Trustees, the Charity Commission, and our funders (including Arts Council England). But primarily we remain accountable to library services – as our members – and ultimately to the public who use libraries. In order to thrive, we need to be a membership body whose work is driven by consultation and co-creation. We have set up a structure to ensure the voices of a wide range of library workers can help inform our work – including the ongoing development of the Universal Offers. I’m also keen to look at how we can strengthen the regional structures to involve a wider range of people – including future leaders.

” In order to thrive, we need to be a membership body whose work is driven by consultation and co-creation”

Does the new SCL have any political role?

As a charity, we need to be aware of the regulations guiding charities and political campaigning. We also remain rooted within local government and aim to work with councils and not against them. Therefore, we will be apolitical and not espouse any party line. However, we do want to grow our presence as a confident advocate to make the case for investment in libraries and to uphold good levels of service delivery.

Why have SCL not been supporting CILIP and others in their efforts to pressure Northamptonshire County Council to rethink their plans to axe around 60% of their library service?

As a local government body we cannot actively campaign against any local authority, or publicly criticise library staff who are our members. However, now we have a team of staff we can develop our role as providing impartial and professional advice, and advocating for the value of an effective library service.

Will SCL work with CILIP?

Yes – absolutely. Nick [Poole – CILIP CEO] and I have already discussed how SCL and CILIP can work effectively together, in our separate and complimentary remits. There are many areas we already work together on, of course, and we are both keen to develop this further.

Are you a CILIP member?

I’m not a CILIP member. As a qualified archivist, my professional body for many years has been the Archives and Records Association. However, in my previous role and this one, I have taken a personal decision not to become a member of the professional body as I want to be in a position to be able to commission work from them or provide funding, without any conflicts of interest. Although I’m not a member of a professional body – I do abide by professional standards and ethics and have always found these useful to guide decision making.

Will you be trying to get a stronger version of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act?

I don’t think there is necessarily a problem with the Act itself. However, I think we have an opportunity now for DCMS and ACE – and SCL as the funded Sector Support Organisation – to work closely to develop more coherent oversight of the Act which needs to be allied with a solid support and development programme. CILIP, British Library, The Reading Agency and others all have a part to play, and we’re in a good position now to develop it thanks to the way the Task Force has helped build our working relationships. I’m interested also if some form of accreditation – designed especially for libraries – could help underpin the sector.

There was some concern when it was decided that SCL would be based in London. How will the organisation ensure that library services out of that one city are given an equal voice and service?

I’ve established a team that will be mobile, and one of my mantras is that if we are in the office all the time we are just not doing our job. A sign of that is that although we will have a team of six – we only have four desks! I see regional and local work at the heart of what we do, and I hope that anyone who knows me from my previous role can see my commitment to that way of working.

“if we are in the office all the time we are just not doing our job. A sign of that is that although we will have a team of six – we only have four desks”

How was the new name and logo for the SCL decided?

There was a process of consultation with the SCL Executive Team and members, working with a design agency to develop a coherent brand around our values. The sensible decision was made to go for the type of name that “says what’s in the tin” rather than something abstract and meaningless. The logo, colour palette and visual identity were developed bearing in mind how they will need to work in many different library settings across the country.

Visa questions:

Imagine a user, English as second language, distressed and asking you what a bit of a form means and whether they should hit yes or no), and also what ‘security clearance’ means. What happens if we feel unable to assist?

This new project does not deal with the application forms. Applicants will already have completed these. This project is just about submitting the required documentation and biometric data to complete the application.

What background/scrutiny checks did SCL do on Sopra Steria before signing the deal?

Sopra Steria was contracted by the Home Office after a full procurement process.

Do SCL have an ‘ethics committee’ and/or a ‘fit for purpose’ test?

We are developing a set of commercial principles to help guide decisions about future commercial partnerships as the potential opportunities are increasing. The principles include ensuring projects comply with CILIP’s ethical framework.

How much money is SCL receiving for this Home Office work?

The majority of the fee payment goes to participating library services. SCL receives a small percentage of a fee per applicant. We do not yet know how much this will be in total as it depends on how many applicants choose to use the service points in libraries.

Is there a clash between the visa deal and the new work by CILIP on ethics?

We have discussed this issue with CILIP and there is a good fit between the current ethical framework and libraries’ work to provide supported and local access to information and government services – especially where the libraries’ focus is on those who might otherwise be digitally excluded.

What consultation was involved before the visa deal was agreed?

Library services were consulted when it was suggested we could bid to be part of the procurement framework for government digital services, and library services then signed an MoU with SCL. At that stage, it was of course quite a general commitment as no specific projects had been secured. For this specific project, a number of library services then expressed interest in participating as they felt it would provide a useful service for their local residents.

The new name and logo for the Society of Chief Librarians. My personal suspicion (and I'm not saying why) is that they they may need a slight redesign of the logo.

The new name and logo for the Society of Chief Librarians. My personal suspicion is that they they may need a slight redesign of the logo. Have a look and see if you can work out why.



National news

  • 2018 Reading Well aims to combat mental health stigma with books by Matt Haig, Sathnam Sanghera and Ruby Wax – Reading Agency. “The “life-saving” 2018 ‘Reading Well for mental health’ titles from The Reading Agency and Society of Chief Librarians will be celebrated today at a flagship event at the Wellcome Trust (5 June). Each title will offer invaluable support to people with mental health needs and their carers, who are at increased risk of loneliness according to recent research…” see also Haig, Rentzenbrink and Wax recommended for ‘Reading Well’ titles – BookSeller.
  • Engaging Libraries and Empathy Day 12 June 2018 – Libraries Taskforce. “Scientists have demonstrated that reading builds our real-life empathy. As we identify with book characters and their feelings, we expand our ability to understand other people. Since empathy is so central to community wellbeing and cohesiveness, this gives libraries an exciting opportunity to position their core reading business in a new way”
  • ‘Ethical guidelines’ created following Home Office deal with libraries – BookSeller. “The Society of Chief Librarians has agreed to partner with CILIP, the library and information association, to develop an ethical framework regarding commercial partnerships following the fallout from its controversial deal with the Home Office.” … “CILIP said it had been contacted by “a number of parties” raising concerns about the new contract” … “To address the concerns, CILIP and the SCL have agreed to partner on the development of a guidance note on commercial partnerships, which will include guidelines on ethics-based decision-making and negotiation, and to establish an ongoing dialogue between the two organisations concerning forthcoming contracts to ensure that “actual and perceived ethical risks have been taken into account and that the implications are discussed openly and transparently with affected staff”

“In CILIP’s view, there is a risk that by associating UK public libraries with visa and immigration services, particularly at a time of heightened public concern, this may cause reputational issues for the sector as a whole”, said the body.”

  • Libraries Connected: The new charity for libraries – Libraries Connected. “Libraries Connected launches today at a national seminar with the new Libraries Minister, Michael Ellis and Chair of Arts Council England, Sir Nicholas Serota. Formerly known as the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), Libraries Connected will support and advocate for the power of libraries at the heart of local communities. With new investment from Arts Council England, the charity will work with their members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to promote the value of libraries; broker national partnerships; share best practice and drive innovation in the sector.” see also SCL rebrands as Libraries Connected – BookSeller.

“We are delighted to be supporting Libraries Connected in their new chapter as a Sector Support Organisation leading and developing public libraries. At the heart of their communities, libraries offer access to so many opportunities in the realm of culture and imagination, support so many government agendas, including health and digital inclusion, and help so many to find the information they need. We look forward to helping them develop and thrive and to working closely with them in our developmental role.’” Sir Nicholas Serota, Arts Council England.

  • MakerNoise 2018 – Eventbrite. Edge Hill, 7th July. “The National Maker Education Conference UK. A Free CPD day for teachers and librarians in association with #CAS and Edge Hill University on Maker Education. We will be announcing our schedule for talks on the event page but we will have on the day for your STEAM learning”
  • Parish councils and the devolution of services – LocalGov. “Not only is Mountsorrel running a community centre and a youth cafe but, from September, will take charge of a library threatened with closure. The librarian’s salary will be paid by the parish council. “We didn’t want to rely on volunteers,” says parish chair Steve Haywood. Opposition to the rise has mostly died down, he says, noting that services provided by the parish only cost about 55p per day. Yet the parish rise was accompanied by a 5.99% council tax increase levied by Leicestershire and one of 3.6% from Charnwood. During the past five years, Mountsorrel has taken nearly £320,000 from reserves to avoid increasing council tax, leaving it with just £48,000.”
  • Preventing Digital Exclusion from Online Justice  – Justice. “Libraries are a good example of a place that many already turn to for digital assistance. We note the statutory duty on local authorities “to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service” in the area (in England, there were slightly over 3000 libraries in 2016). GTF informed us that there are more than 2500 libraries in the GTF Online Centres network. ” and several other reference to public libraries, with footnotes stressing Libraries Taskforce and Carnegie as sources.

An online bookclub from Axiell
International news

  • Australia – LINCs in Tasmania are being renamed The Advocate. “Libraries were changed to LINCs in 2009 but the Liberals promised to revert  to libraries in the March election. “We’ve been listening to many Tasmanians who tell us that the name LINC doesn’t represent libraries for them, that they’re unsure what it means, and they think it should be changed,” the policy said. A Government spokesman confirmed “the rebranding will come into effect in the middle of this year, with funding to be allocated in the upcoming budget.” see also LINCs seemed like a good idea at the time  – Advocate.

“The acronym LINC somehow conveyed nothing at all. It had all the attractiveness of a government department dedicated to something few wanted to be linked with.”

  • Australia – Read All About It: Canberra Is Naming Streets After Librarians – Ten Daily. “While libraries have evolved to host exhibitions, forums and even concerts, perhaps the beauty of librarians lies in the qualities that have always existed, but are more valuable than ever in a changing world. In an environment that is endlessly noisy, with its alternative facts and information overload, librarians help cut through the noise – not through shushing those who talk too loudly, but through their roles as keepers of knowledge; if they don’t know something, you can be sure they will know where to find it. They offer a space and food for thought – the real delicacy of our time.”
  • Global – Why you should become a ‘library tourist’ – Treehugger. “While plane-hopping around the globe on a mission to view libraries might strike you as excessively privileged (Kells acknowledges that it was very much a ‘first world’ library tour), the core idea can be adapted to wherever you are. Make a point of visiting the library in whatever new city you’re in, and get a feel for that library’s role in the city’s life. There is a practical side to it, too. Libraries are free, quiet, relaxing, air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. They offer a pleasant respite from the streets and sometimes a great view. Many North American libraries have good play centers for young children, when they need a break from touristing, and they’re full of locals who can dispense valuable recommendations.”
  • Iceland – Sharing Is Caring: Reykjavik’s First Tool Library To Open This August – Grapevine. “So how does a tool library work? There are two main options: you can buy either a “tool newbie” membership that gives you access to tools for a shorter period of time, or you can buy a “tool pro” membership which allows you to borrow more expensive tools for a longer period of time. Since the goal of a tool library is to make tools available for as many people as possible, there will be a third option: the so-called “Robin Hood” membership. This will enable you to get a tool pro membership for yourself, but also to donate a membership to someone in the community who cannot afford it themselves.”
  • USA – The critical role librarians play in the opioid crisis – TEDMED17. “Public libraries have always been about more than just books — and their mission of community support has taken on new urgency during the current opioid epidemic. After witnessing overdoses at her library in Philadelphia, Chera Kowalski learned how to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of narcotics, and she’s put it to use to save patrons’ lives. In this personal talk, she shares the day-to-day reality of life on the frontline of the opioid crisis and advocates for each of us to find new ways to keep our communities safe and healthy.”
  • USA – How Maryland Libraries Are Using Virtual and Augmented Reality (and How Your Library Can Too) – Webjunction. “We had to improvise and pass out tickets because 450 people showed up,” she says. “It was the most diverse crowd we’ve seen for an event. All ages and cultural backgrounds. And even the people who had to wait two hours had positive feedback about the experience.” A simple guide to using AR and VR.
  • USA – Trump’s budget eliminates NEA, public TV and other cultural agencies. Again – Washington Post. President Trump again tries to remove funding from the agency that supports public libraries.

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Barnet presses on with library business plans – Times series. “Campaigners have vowed to keep fighting the “privatisation” of Barnet’s libraries after the council refused to back down on its stance of offering spaces to commercial tenants. An announcement from business bub provider Wimbletech that it had pulled out of plans to lease out library spaces to start-ups dealt a blow to the council’s strategy of seeking private-sector partners to generate extra revenue from libraries.”
  • Barnsley – Barnsley libraries face cuts as council grapples with austerity – The Star. “Barnsley’s new flagship ‘Lightbox’ library building could have its opening hours cut even before the builders have moved offsite as part of a cost saving package which could end up with compulsory staff redundancies. The libraries service needs to save more than £160,000 because of austerity and proposals have been drawn up which could see most of the district’s network of public libraries getting their opening hours cut – with job numbetrs reduced as a consequence.”
  • Bath and North East Somerset – New Library space for Midsomer Norton now open – Journal. “Midsomer Norton Library’s new space in the Hollies’ One Stop Shop has been officially opened this week. Hailed as ‘an exciting new chapter’ by B&NES Council, it is unconfirmed what will happen to the old building and little consolation to areas such as Paulton, who are consulting with residents on whether or not their precept should be raised to keep the village library open.”
  • Borders – Scottish Borders Council slammed for using pupils as library staff says it will teach them leadership – Herald. “Scottish Borders Council has come under fire from unions, librarians and literature groups over the “folly” and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland has said the pilot initiative has resulted in the organisation being “inundated with many expressions of concern”. The Scottish Book Trust, Literature Alliance Scotland and the EIS and Unison unions have all raised their worries about the pilot scheme in which pupils and other volunteers will staff libraries.” see also Experts condemn ‘folly’ of pilot scheme using pupils to staff school libraries – Guardian.
  • Bradford – Concerns for Keighley Library raised at public meeting in the townKeighley News. “resident said he feared for the town’s library after failing to receive an assurance on its future from the leader of Bradford Council. Speaking at the Keighley Annual Town Meeting, Mike Kosschuk said he had written to Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe after the then district councillor Brian Morris had voiced concern over the library back in February.”
  • Brighton and Hove – Hove Library layout changes on the cards as Conservatives claim victory with key concessions – Brighton and Hove News. “Controversial changes to Hove Library look likely to go ahead despite opposition from Conservative and Green councillors and local conservation groups. The Labour administration has been criticised for its handling of the changes, with the Conservatives claiming a partial victory for winning a number of key concessions. Planning permission is expected to be granted today (Wednesday 6 June) for the latest proposed changes. These are to the back garden where new steps, a handrail and landing are planned.
  • Cornwall – Devolution of library service ‘must be in best interest of the town”Bude Today. “The town council could consider taking on the running of Launceston’s library service from Cornwall Council, but only if it is ‘in the every best interest of the town’. Deputy mayor Cllr Dave Gordon, told those gathered at the mayor choosing ceremony and annual meeting in the town hall on Thursday, May 17, that ‘negotiations have started’ about the possible devolution of the library service.”
  • Darlington – Concerns remain over planned relocation of Darlington library – Northern Echo / Letters. Friends of Darlington Libraries look around proposed site. “The main area of the lending library and the children’s library will have low ceilings and no natural light. If library members wish to access Local Studies, they will have to leave the building and re-enter through a door on Houndgate. The Local Studies area does have small windows, but these are in a wall overhung by part of the rear of the building and the level of natural light is poor … “
  • Darlington – Gloves about to come off in fight to keep Darlington library – Northern Echo / Letters. “June 13th is the 138th anniversary of the death of Edward Pease, the benefactor behind Darlington library, so how appropriate it is that the gloves are about to come off for the Friends of the Library. As advertised in the 10,000 leaflets being distributed about the town, on June 18 and 19 we return with Darlington Borough Council to the High Court, Leeds, to determine the fate of the Crown Street library. What can you do? Now is the time to get behind us and show us your support. Those townspeople who are passionate about keeping the library in its rightful home in Crown Street, library members and staff, past and present, authors, artists, poets, we would appreciate some solidarity.”
  • Manchester – A busy library was forced to close – over fears a pair of magpies could attack people – Manchester Evening News. “Pest control experts were contacted by staff immediately and the situation was treated as an ‘emergency’, the council added. The library service said: “When we opened to the public we realised that, at some point overnight, two magpies had managed to get into the library. “We have asked the public to leave as a health and safety measure. The birds are flying around and they seem quite distressed.”
  • Manchester – A project to help budding entrepreneurs from under-represented groups has been hailed as a huge success, after 3,000 places were taken up across Greater Manchester – Greater Manchester Combined Authority. “The Big Ideas Generators project was a libraries-based initiative to help people across the city region to launch their own start-up business. The project aimed to support those who are unrepresented in the business arena, including women and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.  In the year since its launch, more than 3,000 places were taken up at over 400 events and activities.  57 per cent of participants were women and 28 per cent were from minority backgrounds.”
  • Northamptonshire – Possible buy-outs of Desborough and Rothwell libraries to be discussed – Northamptonshire Telegraph. “A proposal for Kettering Council to buy the buildings and secure the futures of Desborough and Rothwell libraries will be discussed by councillors next week. After a joint call by the leader of Kettering’s Labour group Cllr Mick Scrimshaw and Conservative Kettering councillor Jim Hakewill, the matter of whether to buy the two under-threat libraries will be considered at the authority’s research and development committee on June 12.” … “The freehold for Rothwell Library in Market Hill is being priced at £460,000 and Desborough Library in High Street is being priced at £360,000.”
  • Powys – Could this save our libraries? – My Welshpool. “As libraries like Welshpool face an uncertain future, towns across Powys will be looking towards a new community partnership that has saved one service in our area. A new partnership deal signed this week between a charitable Community Interest Group and Powys County Council will ensure Llanfyllin library stays open for the foreseeable future. ”  
  • South Gloucestershire – Library scheme “in danger of hitting the rocks” – South Glos Labour. “The leader of South Gloucestershire’s Labour councillors has questioned the level of public support for ‘Open Access’ at the district’s libraries, after the Conservative council’s Annual Performance Report revealed that just 13% of eligible users have signed up for the scheme. ‘Open Access’ swipe-cards were introduced into nine South Gloucestershire libraries last year as a cost-saving measure, with users needing to register to gain access during unstaffed hours.  In parallel, staffed hours were cut by 30% across the district. Labour councillors believe that ‘Open Access’ technology has a role in enhancing staffed services but should not be used as a cover to cut the much-valued library staff.”
  • Worcestershire – Council could axe schools’ library service as interest dwindles – Malvern Gazette. “The county council is considering whether to axe the long-running schools’ library service, with interest dwindling in recent years. Worcestershire County Council has opened a consultation regarding the future of the service which will close on September 1. The total number of schools buying into the service, running since 1933, has fallen by around 76 per cent since 2000 – with only 52 schools currently signed up to it. The service helps schools to manage and organise their libraries and resources, as well as providing books on loan, including through mobile libraries”