A sort of congratulations to Essex for backing down a bit on closing libraries. The protests against the deep proposed cuts there has been impressive, with all sorts of protests going on, ranging from marches to gaining celebrity endorsements. The council has been a bit taken aback, it looks like, from all this but it’s conciliatory response still includes volunteer libraries. The reaction by campaigners has noted this and complained about it. This story does not have a happy ending yet.

As expected, my daring to issue a press statement from GLL about the Bromley strike led to attacks on social media, with the very first tweet being from a now definitively ex-friend snidely suggesting I was in the pay of the leisure trust.  I notice the CILIP response to an open letter, also about GLL as it happens, states that it won’t talk about the letter on social media and I can quite understand why.

I have been off ill again this week, which is very annoying on all sorts of levels. Apart from, well, being ill, It has stopped me doing a bunch of work for a start, left me with an abiding dislike of doing nothing and delayed me writing about the CILIP conference and doing some more work on the Bromley dispute. But I have got better enough this weekend for me, after I was challenged on the issue, to have a think about the purpose of public libraries. And I think this purpose thing is important because we are as a sector a bit rubbish at explaining what it is, which is a bit of a downer when we are trying to persuade people of our cause. So have a look at my thoughts below and see what if you agree. I’d be fascinated to hear your responses.


The purpose of public libraries

I was challenged a few days ago to explain what problem public libraries are designed to meet, which got me thinking. Once up a time, of course,  the answer was simple. It was a very Victorian paternalistic desire to provide reading, study, job-seeking and other “betterment” services to the “deserving poor“. The system set up for this was above all local, due to the knowledge that the expected clients could not afford to travel long distances.

Nowadays, we still do much of the same stuff, although we would recoil at using such patronising Victorian descriptions. However, we have also added a ton of other stuff that has on the face of it only a tangential relationship with what we did before. These include council services, theatre shows, preschool entertainment, community centre style offerings, village hall style room bookings and social groups. Basically, there’s not been a service yet that the public library service can seemingly say no to.

This is fine in a way in that the sector is still addressing the central need of  providing resources to the resource-less: social groups for the lonely, theatre shows for those without a theatre, training on how to use the internet etc. That’s all good. It’s also a strength in that it means the service is definitely changing with the times.

But some of this is highly questionable and smacks of us trying to look busy. After all, community centres do community centre stuff better, theatres do theatre better etc. Sometimes, this search for replacement activity results in libraries trying to muscle into these services while perfectly good and better alternatives exist nearby.

But the main problem with this Jack Of All Trades approach – just look at the universal offers sometime –  is that the service has greatly expanded its remit while at the same time the budget has substantially shrunk. This has led to a lower quality service overall, notably on the book side but also on the building quality and staff side as well.

Don’t get me wrong. As purposes go, “resources for the resource-less” is a pretty long-term and lofty goal. If Labour eventually gets its act together and wins an election then it is hoped by many that we will be showered with money and everything will be OK. If not then it means an increasing need to muscle in on funding previously given to the health sector, the cultural sector, the charity sector and, well, probably the kitchen sink sector too. But I think the major problem with this catch-all approach is that as long as librarians fail to put a limit on their ambition then they will forever find the funding wanting.


  • Call for proposals – Game Library Camp. “Do you have ideas on the use of games in libraries that you want to share, games you want to test, questions you want to explore? We are pleased to open the call for proposals for workshops and talks at Game Library Camp 2019. “
  • Cressida Cowell: New Children’s Laureate wants to ‘take on TV’ – BBC. “Boosting creative writing in schools and halting the decline of primary school libraries will be the focus of her attention in the first instance. ” … “Cowell said that despite many attempts by previous children’s laureates, “no-one has answered the question, ‘If your children can’t afford books and you don’t have a public library… and your primary school library has closed, how can you become a reader for the joy of it?’”
  • Labour won’t just end austerity, it will enrich people’s lives – Guardian. Shadow chancellor of the exchequer writes. “It would be wrong to think of this as just being about the bare essentials of life. In recent years, spending cuts have led to the neglect, privatisation and even closure of public libraries, parks and leisure centres. Not only does this undermine social ties, it can – to those without the means to pay – deny access to a rich cultural life.”
  • Libraries boost UK economy and diversity aside from culture, report claims – Museums and Heritage. “In the period between January 2016 to December 2018 the British library’s Business & IP Centres helped facilitate the creation of 12,288 new businesses and 7,843 additional jobs, according to the new report.” … “We look forward to partnering with even more libraries up and down the UK to create innovative hubs for aspiring entrepreneurs, as we work towards our goal of opening 20 Business & IP Centres by 2023 and expanding business support to high streets via branch libraries,” he added.”
  • Libraries told to focus on books as lending slumps – Times (partial paywall). “Lending rates have dropped at much faster rates than in the United States or Australia, with people in England borrowing on average fewer than three library books a year.”. Report notes librarians point to deep budget cuts then quotes Tim Coates saying UK librarians “partially to blame” for focusing away from books.
    • English library borrowing plummets while US remains stable – BookSeller. “Coates said: “25 to 30 years ago the public library sector in the UK, which means the leaders of the profession, the local and national politicians and government officers responsible for the service, consciously and deliberately allowed the number of books available for lending in public libraries to fall. It happened in every council.  “
  • Library of the Year: Harrogate Library triumphs on nine-strong shortlist – Bookseller. “North Yorkshire’s Harrogate Library has won The Bookseller’s Library of the Year Award 2019. A further eight libraries are also celebrated on the shortlist, unveiled today, including a school library and a specialist audiobook library.” … “t won on a shortlist which presented strong competition: two Scottish libraries (newly refurbished Montrose Library and high-achieving Shetland Library); an outstanding school library in Solihull’s Arden Academy; Eltham Library, with its literary play space for children, The Enchanted Story Garden; Libraries NI, the only full library service to be recognised this year; the unique London Library, with its impressive lending collection; and audiobook library Listening Books. For the first time, The Bookseller’s Library of the Year shortlist also includes a commendation for a volunteer-run library,”
  • Library workers ‘put heart and soul into service’ – Unison. ““In Camden, libraries we have the most reported incidents of violence and aggression across the council,” she said. She  recounted her experience of an incident where a library member was banned after a malicious download onto the library’s computer system. But as he was being escorted out of the building by a colleague from security, “he said: ‘Look what I’ve got’ and pulled out a gun. “Imagine if I’d have been a lone worker.”
  • NAG Public Libraries Project of the Year Grant Launched – National Acquisitions Group. “his new grant aims to enable public libraries to take forward an innovative project, which may have already had a pilot phase, and develop it further.  One award of up to £5000 will be available, depending upon the strength of your application.”
  • National Libraries Conference aims for ‘continued survival’ of service – BookSeller. “A National Libraries Conference, due to take place later this month, featuring authors and publishers aims to ensure the service’s “continued survival” in a digital age, organisers say. Staged in Harrogate at the Old Swan Hotel on 19th July senior librarians from across the country will be joined by industry experts and leading authors. Keynote addresses will come from chief executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley and best-selling author and libraries advocate, Ann Cleeves.”
  • Public Libraries – House of Commons Briefing Paper 5875. “This Paper gives a brief overview of the provision of library services in England, the role of the Secretary of State, and the work of the Libraries Taskforce.” … “Since 2010/11, library net expenditure excluding capital charges has declined by 36% in real terms from £1.15 billion to £741 million in 2017/18. Between 2004/05 and 2009/10 spending in real terms declined by 4%.”
  • Response to open letter to CILIP – CILIP. Response to complaint about GLL being allowed on the “Employer Partner Scheme”. “It is perfectly normal for membership associations to maintain relationship-based memberships for both institutions and individuals – to the respective benefit of both.” … “With regard to your broader points, CILIP has no formal mandate to intervene in any 3rd party labour dispute. ” … Use of the word “Partner” may be dropped … The issues you raise are important and while we are satisfied with the overall structure of the Employer Partner Scheme, it is clear that there is more to be done to clarify how the scheme operates and to allay any concerns members may have. … Given the reductive nature of social media, we do not feel that it is helpful to rehearse the discussion about this letter (which is openly available on our website) further via twitter, although we will of course always do what we can to support individual members.”
  • “Summer Reading Challenge kicks off as one in three parents say reading slips in holidays – BookSeller. “One in three parents say regular reading with their children slips in the summer holidays, according to a Reading Agency survey ahead of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. To mark the Summer Reading Challenge’s 20th anniversary, The Reading Agency and libraries are calling on families to make space for reading over the summer by setting aside time each day to read together. According to a Reading Agency poll of 1,500 parents from across the UK,  90% of parents and carers reported routines ‘slip’ over the summer, with regular reading, bedtimes and healthy eating all disrupted. “


  • Canada – What’s changed since St. Paul ended library late fees? Usage bolstered while overdue rate holds steady — so far – Twin Cities. “The library tracked circulation specific to the 42,000 patrons with formerly blocked cards. That group checked out 19,000 items — evidence that going fine-free actively drew them back to the library. From January to March, circulation system-wide increased by a fraction of a percentage point — 0.06 percent, to be exact. That may not sound like a lot, but the numbers had been trending downward until then. The uptick represents the first circulation increase since a series of library renovations drew patron interest in 2015, and the first uptick since 2009 not attributable to a branch remodel or reopening. Overall, seven of 14 branches saw at least a 1 percent increase in circulation. Two libraries in particular saw double-digit increases in circulation, and both are located in low-income, high-minority neighbourhoods. Circulation at the Dayton’s Bluff branch went up 15.5 percent. Circulation at the Arlington Hills Library, also on the city’s East Side, went up 13.1 percent.”
  • New Zealand –  How New Zealand libraries are adapting to the 21st century – Stuff. “We love our libraries, hard” … “Following the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes – and the Christchurch mosque attacks – people flocked to their local libraries. “What we saw in response to all these events was how much the local library was the place to go for community, for manaakitanga, for aroha, for a safe, caring place for people to be. People come to the library looking for sanctuary,” says Cuttriss.”
  • USA – ‘Utter Insanity’: Activist Mommy Launches Petition After Kids Crawl on Drag Queen at Library Story Hour – Christian Broadcasting News. Talks about a programme to “indoctrinate” children.

Local news

  • Aberdeenshire – North-east libraries to become testbeds for rural entrepreneurship – Mearns Leader.  “The Library Innovation Network Aberdeenshire (LINA) has been developed in partnership between Aberdeenshire Council and Robert Gordon University (RGU) to create modern public library spaces with networks of resource for local entrepreneurs and small and micro businesses.”
  • Argyll – Opinion: LiveArgyll is inspiring people in Helensburgh – Helensburgh Advertiser. “LiveArgyll is a charity set up by Argyll and Bute Council to run leisure and sport facilities, libraries, halls, community centres and sports pitches across Argyll and Bute.” … “There is much going on within our libraries under LiveArgyll, with the Space Chase Summer Reading Challenge during the summer holidays. New activities are also in the pipeline including storytelling, T-shirt design and clay modelling for kids to enjoy. Opening hours in the library are increasing to permit people to visit during lunchtimes. Residents who can’t visit the library in person can now use the new Borrowbox ebook and eAudiobook service.”
  • Ealing – Ealing Library Strategy – Ealing Council. Cut from £4.431m (2019-20) to £2.8m (2021/22). £1.64m cut. Greenford and Wood End to be co-located and closed, Hanwell to be co-located, Pitshanger to volunteers
  • East Sussex – Plans for volunteer-run Polegate library – Sussex Express. “Last year the county council agreed to Polegate Town Council (PTC) taking on the former library building in Windsor Way and running it on their behalf. Under this agreement PTC would have paid ESCC for all staffing and running costs to operate the library with the same services and facilities as other East Sussex libraries. However PTC informed ESCC in February it no longer wanted to progress with a service level agreement. Instead it proposed a community library operated by the Polegate Community Library (PCL), which has been formed from a management group that was exploring community library options for PTC.”
  • Essex – Letter: Leader must think we were born yesterday over libraries U-turn – Gazette Standard. “When asked the question why the council had made a U-turn on its decision to reduce the number of libraries in the county, he obviously became agitated, took on an air of self importance and suggested no such thing had taken place” … “Never in my life time have I seen such an outburst of oppostion to the intimated loss of libraries. Mr Finch and his councillors became very concerned as to their futures in politics.”
    • Campaigners call for guarantees over library staffing – Clacton Gazette. “Labour’s Julie Young suggested the move was a “need to save seats, not libraries”. She called for the libraries to be manned by paid County Hall staff. Thousands of people responded to the consultation, took part in protests and signed petitions. County Hall saw more than 21,000 responses, 1,000 letters and more than 50 petitions handed over. Susan Barker, councillor responsible for customers and culture, said: “Our future libraries strategy has changed drastically due to what people told us.”
    • Campaigners in new bid to save Essex library services – BookSeller. “In an 18-page report commissioned by Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) without payment, Al Baghal said the survey used a number of leading questions that increased the chances of getting a positive response to the council’s plans.”
    • Essex library U-turn after celebrity-backed campaign – BBC. “Conservative-run Essex County Council had considered shutting 25 of its 74 libraries but leader David Finch has announced there will be no closures. However, the authority said volunteers would be sought to keep several smaller libraries running. Campaigners said they were cautious about using volunteers and wanted to see detailed plans.” … “An additional £3m will be invested in libraries over the next five years, Mr Finch said.”. Non-aligned councillor says “”[It would not have happened] if it was not for the public pressure, Save Our Libraries Essex, members of opposition and the Conservative councillors who have said something in private.”
    • Expert criticises reliability of ‘questionable’ libraries consultation – East Anglian Daily Times. “A leading expert in survey design has criticised the methodology of Essex County Council’s libraries consultation – prompting campaigners to call for a new one.” … “His findings identify various problems in the design of the council survey, saying it includes ‘leading questions’ and ‘complex questions, with difficult wording’ which “could lead to possible confusion’ with participants.”
    • Libraries saved as people power wins – Southend Standard.
  • Hertfordshire – Herts County Council appoints library service operator – but won’t say who it is yet – Watford Observer. “Hertfordshire County Council has selected the organisation it wants to deliver library services across the county. But – in line with EU procurement rules – it will not yet reveal whether the winning bid came from its own ‘public service mutual’. In October the county councillors decided to contract out library services, as part of a drive to save £500,000 without impacting on library services or improvements. And, at the same time, they agreed to set up their own organisation – a ‘public service mutual’ – that would submit a bid.”
  • Lincolnshire – Cleaner, greener, smaller mobile libraries to hit Lincolnshire’s roads – Sleaford Standard. “New, environmentally-friendly mobile library vehicles are to be introduced as Lincolnshire County Council works to become carbon neutral by 2050. The authority’s three large mobile libraries are coming to the end of their life and need to be replaced. In future, the council will be using smaller, environmentally-friendly vans to serve 234 stops across Lincolnshire, meaning less space for such a wide range of books stocked on board. To make sure communities have easy access to books between visits, the county council is approaching a number of parish councils to offer a collection of books to be based within the local community.”
  • Suffolk – What is digital borrowing? And why is it more popular than ever in Suffolk – East Anglian Daily Times. “Suffolk Libraries has revealed that in the past five years eBook and eAudiobook loans have risen by 151%. The news comes after data revealed that the number of physical book loans from Suffolk libraries had been dropping over the same period. According to Suffolk Libraries the total number of loans across all the formats offered by the library has increased by 2.5% in the past year alone. One area of real growth has been eAudio books: loans of these have increased by 50% in the last year.”
  • West Sussex – Library bans a playgroup from an under-fives ‘rhyme time’ session after complaints the children were singing about God – Mail. “A library has banned volunteers from a church-run playgroup from an under-fives ‘rhyme time’ session after complaints that the children were singing about God. Helpers from the Noah’s Ark group in Burgess Hill would visit the West Sussex town’s library once a month to sing songs about Bible stories.”. Council says “‘In Burgess Hill a partnership was formed with a local faith group some years ago before rhyme time sessions were offered across all libraries. ‘We have been very grateful to this group for their support but following feedback from families, we have decided to bring these sessions in line with the other Rhyme Times in our libraries which are led by staff. ‘Families can continue to access faith-based activities in community venues and library staff are very happy to help anyone looking for details of where they can join these.’”
    • Closing the library will leave a gaping hole in the heart of the community – Mid Sussex Times / Letters.  “For a year in 2013/14, I was able to volunteer with the library service and the children and family service to help deliver boxes of books to rural preschools. I learnt then how hard the librarians and volunteers are working to keep a vital service open and accessible to all. Of course, libraries aren’t just for the young, they are for everyone. I for one can say that if Hurstpierpoint were to lose its library, it would leave a gaping hole in the heart of our village. These cuts must be stopped.”
    • Further housing support cuts suspended — but reductions to West Sussex’s library service still on table – Littlehampton Gazette. “The libraries at risk would all be from the 13 rated as tier 6. They are: Angmering, Arundel, Broadwater, East Preston, Ferring, Findon Valley, Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint, Petworth, Pulborough, Southbourne, Southwater and Witterings.”
  • Wiltshire – Pop-up community banks proposed for Salisbury – which could see them in libraries and leisure centres – Salisbury Journal. “Cabinet member for finance Councillor Philip Whitehead called it an “exciting” initiative that could see pop-up banks launched in leisure centre and libraries in the county. “
  • Worcestershire – All libraries across Worcestershire will remain open despite staff cuts likely – Redditch Standard. “libraries across Worcestershire will remain open despite County Council chiefs admitting staff cuts are still likely.” Open Plus to be used.