It’s been great over the weekend to see the outpouring of support for public libraries for the “Protect library services by ringfencing government funding for libraries” petition. On Thursday, it looked like the petition would not reach 8,000 but due to the support of many people commenting on how important libraries are and retweeting, it hit the magic 10,000 – where the government needs to respond – on Saturday lunchtime and is now at a respectable 15,401 and going up at a couple per minute when checked. Notable supporters include – squee! – JK Rowlling, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Joanne Harris and Frank Cottrell Boyce and a ton of other authors. Thank you to Frances Belbin for starting the petition and to everyone who has taken part. It’s not over yet: the petition stays on the books until 24 March 2019 and if it hits 100,000 then it needs to be debated in parliament. It’s a dream. None of us are foolish enough I think to believe this will change government policy but it keeps the pressure up, means every one of us can do something and keep the snowball rolling. And it gives help. Sign now if you haven’t already – it takes 30 seconds and you need to confirm your email address – and tell others. It will give you, and libraries, hope. and the government a reason to think about libraries. I understand it is already helping in conversations with them.

My thanks also to my old tutor, Dr Bob Usherwood, who has taken the time to write below. It’s worth a read. And, yes, I know I am publishing pieces opposed to eachother but, well, I should . It’s what being balanced is all about.

Changes by local authority

Bob Usherwood ” I cannot remember a time when public libraries were in a worse state “

“Dear Editor, As someone well into retirement I am reluctant to criticise current practitioners, whose professional contributions I have admired over the years. However, I am deeply worried by Ayub Kahn’s recommendation in a recent issue of Public Library News (21. 10 18) that we stop drawing attention to the ongoing destruction of our public library service. Like the editor I am also made angry and depressed by the “doom and gloom” but can recall when things were a good deal better. Indeed I can not remember a time when public libraries were in a worse state and that message needs to be repeated if things are to improve. Unfortunately, CILIP’s President is not alone in suggesting that we should not only celebrate the rare items of good news from public library land but also eliminate the negative from our discourse.

A few months ago I was asked to chair an event concerned about the resiliency and value of public libraries. I left that meeting with a heavy heart because, with a few honourable exceptions, most of those present appeared to be of the opinion that the “service” we have now is about as good as we can hope for. No doubt some were impressed by various contributions from members of The Library Task Force, the government body which instructs its members to promote a positive message about the library world in England and Wales. There were speakers too who, like our President, were able to, communicate some positive news but many would question how representative they were of library services in general.

“There was much enthusiastic talk about being business like and adopting business like attitudes. At the same time there was little support for the view that public libraries should be places you use without feeling obliged to pay or have to pay for something. “

What was missing was any concern about what is happening in the country as a whole. Few were worried about what was occurring outside their own authority. The post-code lottery that is now the public library service in England and Wales was accepted and taken as a given. There was much enthusiastic talk about being business like and adopting business like attitudes. At the same time there was little support for the view that public libraries should be places you use without feeling obliged to pay or have to pay for something. This is a fundamental principle and one that makes the service special. There was a recurring mantra that our current situation should be treated as an opportunity and little regard for communities where demographic, economic and other circumstances make this impossible.

Many participants seemed unimpressed that the late Frances Bennion, who drafted the 1964 Act, was of the opinion the statutory duties were not being fulfilled and that he had argued that ‘The Act does not contain any provision for reduction of the duties because of a need for “cuts”. Surely it is more defeatist for LIS professionals to exhibit these kind of attitudes rather than publicising and campaigning against the “ challenges – or cuts” that are devastating public libraries and the communities they serve. Most of those present were unable or unwilling to question why local government and library services in particular were bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity policies let alone the action itself. They seemed unaware that economist such as Paul Krugman had criticised the various myths of austerity observing that “scare talk about debt and deficits is often used as a cover for a very different agenda, namely an attempt to reduce the overall size of government…”

Those with long memories of UK local government will recall the ideology of what was known as the ‘Ridley Council’. The Thatcherite idea of a local authority which met once a year to hand out contracts to private companies. I could go on but suffice it to say that the political reasons for outsourcing libraries to volunteers, private companies, trusts and various other agencies need to be examined, explained and communicated.

 “Those good folk who attended the conference I chaired know in their hearts that the UK public library service is in a mess but are unwilling to speak truth to power.”

In his editorial, Ian compared public libraries with Brexit and indeed the two issues have much in common. Those good folk who attended the conference I chaired know in their hearts that the UK public library service is in a mess but are unwilling to speak truth to power. In the same way, most MPs, if we exclude the extreme Brexiteers, realise that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK but will go along with it because they do not want to rock their particular boat. These voices from the library and political worlds insist, in Ayub’s Bing Crosby reference, that we ‘accentuate the positive”. John Crace examined this idea in a splendid piece in Tuesday’s Guardian noting that the Prime Minister had invited MPs to,” Accentuate the positive; a deal 95% complete –like a car with no engine but shiny leather seats.” (In. Sketch The Guardian 23 October 2018 p9) Ayub and others can report on the few shiny seats of the library world but we must continue to promote debate and defend the ethics, values and value that are the engine of our profession.

Bob Usherwood PhD, Emeritus Professor, University of Sheffield

National news

  • CILIP pleased to announce GLL as first Employer Partner – CILIP. “Diana Edmonds, GLL’s National Director for Libraries, said “GLL is a charitable social enterprise with a strong commitment to investing in staff training and development opportunities, including supporting those who want to gain professional qualifications. CILIP is a natural partner in this approach to workforce development – and we are delighted to become their first Premium Employer Partner. “GLL is also committed to the development of the apprenticeship programme in libraries; we are the largest provider of Apprenticeships in the leisure charitable sector and again look forward to working with CILIP in the development and expansion of apprenticeship opportunities in libraries.”
  • Network of support for people with cancer – Libraries Taskforce. “Craig Tobin, Macmillan Project Manager for Macmillan in Lanarkshire, Scotland writes about their programme of activities. Many will be familiar to those who work with Macmillan in libraries across England, but this multi-member partnership and programme might also spark some new thinking”

Axiell Selflib
International news

    • Norway – The Norwegian Library Innovation Exchange @innovasjonnorge – Matt Finch / Mechanical Dolphin. “What would the Norwegian Library Innovation Exchange look like? Norway’s innovation agency would identify two real challenges in Norway’s future. The challenges would be translated from an industry specific form to a general challenge. The general challenges would be promoted to alternative sectors via the public library network, with Norway’s librarians convening events, encouraging dialogue, reaching out to users, and developing partnerships within their local communities to address the challenges. Innovasjon Norge would evaluate the solutions and share the best responses with the problem owners, connecting the nation’s brightest ideas with its most pressing problems.”
    • USA – How libraries and other ‘public palaces’ can bridge divides, safeguard democracy – John Hopkins University. “If libraries didn’t yet exist, the concept wouldn’t stand a chance of getting off the ground in today’s America, suggests sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Imagine a group presenting that idea to a modern Congress: Vast offerings of books, knowledge, and programming, free to all without restriction simply “because you’re a human being,” Klinenberg said. “They would get the world’s biggest straitjacket and wrap us all up in it,” Klinenberg said” … “Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University and director of its Institute for Public Knowledge, explored this vision in his latest book, Palaces for the People, which takes its title from a phrase made famous by Carnegie.”
    • USA – Librarian Calls Cops on Student for Brazen Attempt at #StudyingWhileBlack [Updated] – Root. One of the ironies of the story – including the fact the intern thought it was the student that was being rude – is that the student in question was studying librarianship, I hope it does not put him off.
    • USA – Library Book’ is a delightful love letter to public libraries – Christian Science Monitor. “Peak, we soon learn, was the suspect in the biggest library fire in the history of the United States, a 1986 blaze at Los Angeles Central Library that destroyed almost half a million books. Information about the man and the crime keep looping throughout Orlean’s story, but the heart of the book ultimately isn’t crime or history or mystery. It’s a loving biography of the library itself – and, by extension, libraries everywhere.”

Local news by authority

    • Argyll and Bute – Argyll and Bute reveals that number of overdue library books has doubled – Helensburgh Advertiser. “Figures obtained by the Advertiser under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that 1,199 books were overdue in Argyll and Bute during 2016/17, the most recent year currently on record with the council”
    • Buckinghamshire – Winners of Bucks libraries crossword competition revealed – Bucks Herald. “Teenagers were tested on their fact-finding skills and with the help of online library resources solved the clues to complete a giant crossword. A winner was drawn from the successful entries on each of the two days that the show was running, and Ellen Smith and Alex Burridge collected their prizes – a £25 Amazon voucher each …”
    • Cardiff – Anger at library closures is overshadowing all other council cuts because it is a ‘middle class issue’, claims politician – Wales Online. “Anger at library closures is overshadowing the wider debate about local authority cuts because it is a “middle class issue”, a veteran Labour politician has said. Cardiff Labour politician Richard Cook’s comments met an angry response Wales’ capital where seven libraries face an uncertain future if the city council goes ahead with its plan to stop their public funding”
    • Kensington and Chelsea – North Kensington Library campaigners triumph as Kensington and Chelsea council seeks to rebuild trust after Grenfell – Get West London. “North Kensington activists fighting to save their 127-year-old library have won their grass-roots campaign to protect it for future generations. The North Kensington Library in Ladbroke Grove is one of London’s oldest purpose-built libraries and was the borough’s first built using public money. For years, Friends of North Kensington Library (FNKL) campaigners have been fighting Kensington and Chelsea council’s proposal to move the library to the site of a youth club and lease the building to the fee-paying Notting Hill Prep School. They have labelled the plans ‘public asset-stripping’.”
    • Lambeth – Carnegie Trust given Lottery grant to help take control of Carnegie Library in Herne Hill – Brixton Buzz. “The Carnegie Community Trust has landed a Heritage Lottery Resilience Fund grant to help take control of the Carnegie library at Herne Hill. Lambeth Council wants the Trust to manage the building – despite opposition from the Friends of Carnegie Library.”
    • Lancashire – Library closed down due to ‘structural problems’ – Blackpool Gazette. “Lancashire County Council announced on Tuesday that the library, on Blackpool Old Road, has been closed ‘with immediate effect’. It is not yet known when it will re-open. Councillor Peter Buckley, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services, said: “We’ve been monitoring the ceiling in the reception area of the library closely for a few weeks now. “
    • Northamptonshire – County Council’s chief executive gives libraries hope – Northants Telegraph. “The woman in charge of making sure Northamptonshire County Council is in good shape before it is abolished in 2020 says it can be done and she is also preparing some good news for library supporters. Undoubtedly NCC’s new chief executive Theresa” … ““In my previous role I was building new libraries and opening new libraries not closing them.“It could be a possibility here. We could see an investment in libraries as opposed to what we have seen previously but you are going to have to wait a few weeks for that’.”