There are subjects that one learns not to talk about in uncertain company. At the moment, Brexit is most certainly that in the UK while I imagine Trump and gun control (or in their incredible lack of it) serve the same role in the USA. But there are specific library subjects where one has learnt that raising them runs the risk of exploding the room. So, in the proud PLN tradition of never knowing when to shut up, here’s a few that will get you angry, nodding or groaning.

The first is library visitor numbers and how inaccurate they are. Few libraries even have a proper system for counting patrons and even they often shrug when asked what happens if you get a member hanging around by the door, walking in and out. Then you get the question of what actually is a library visitor. In the old days, it was simple – someone who came in was using the  library – but not any more. That person could be visiting to access a council service embedded in the library. Are they still using the library then if they’re reporting a death? Really? What if they’re using a post office inside it or a college? One suspects they’re also counted as visitors. Which makes me worried as, if that is the case with all the extra services being shoehorned in then, well, library visits should be going through the roof in the UK. But they’re not. One fears that this problem amongst library services (and don’t get me started on the joke that is CIPFA) about visitor numbers and why we should not to question them that is hiding an even deeper malaise within the system.

The second can is about what we should actually call those visitors to the library. But first, let’s say I am deeply embarrassed about many things the library sector has failed to get to grips on. The lack of a national website is especially pitiful as is the absence of anything resembling a UK or even England-wide promotional campaign for the service. Both those failures have at their core the atomisation of public libraries into 200 or so different  bodies in the UK who, while willing to work together, are all unable to actually do so on a grand scale, even with Libraries Connected received hundreds of thousands of pounds. So that’s explainable. What isn’t is the failure of the library professional worldwide to actually work out what to call those who use their services. The  words borrowers, patrons, clients, members, readers and – shudder – customers are all used and many more. I’ve used several deliberately in this article already.  What one calls those using your service probably says more about you and your standpoint than anything else. Being neutral as heck, I’d go with “user” (it’s not an IT term really, not any more, so get over it) but wow is there a lack of a common front on this issue. Get it together, librarians.

Oh, and while I’m at it, that term “librarians”. It’s clear what it means inside the sector, or used to be, but outside of it it means anyone who works in a library. Get over that. Many professions have such divides in staffing and don’t have that lack of understanding – the public knows the difference between an officer and a soldier, a doctor and a nurse – but they signally often do not know that about librarians. That they don’t is not their fault but ours. And it stands little chance of changing now. So accept that the public calls all of us librarians and don’t criticise them for it. I use the terms interchangeably myself on many occasions. Like all of this editorial.

Right, there’s a few cans of worms to start your week with.  Got any more. Answers on a postcard please if you are still one of those who refuse or are not allowed to use social media … ooh heck, there’s another.

I’ve just been told about the danger of thermal paper – the sort many front-line library staff use in receipts – causing a health risk if it contains something called BPA. It could be worth checking on the till rolls at your branches. There’s a lot of information online but it was news to me. See here and here. It looks like it’s a small risk but something that one needs to be careful of and yet another reason to wash your hands before eating food if you don’t do so already.


National news

  • Closing libraries means abandoning society’s most isolated and vulnerable – Guardian. “A passion for books and reading first drew me to library work, but empathy, belief in human rights and the importance of social activism kept me working in them. I’ve worked in libraries of all sizes, from large city ones to tiny mobile ones, but what they all had in common was how much they meant to the most vulnerable in their communities.”
  • The Guardian view on librarians: guides to life, not just to books – Guardian / Editorial. Librarians can be much more than book experts. Libraries are community as well as knowledge hubs, and should promote and harness civic activism. The 50,000 people now volunteering in English libraries have much to offer. But any government with a serious commitment to expanding educational opportunities for young and old would invest, not only in libraries, but in the people who work in them.”
  • How public libraries in England are engaging with their communities to decrease levels of loneliness – Aberystwyth University. “My name is Sharon Wright.  I am an undergraduate student at Aberystwyth University, studying a BSc in Information and library studies by distance learning. As part of my dissertation I am undertaking a research project under the supervision of Dr. Anoush Simon. The project is investigating how public libraries in England are engaging with communities to decrease levels of loneliness and social isolation and improve well-being and social inclusion.”
  • Tourism’s missing link – Central Library’s astonishing visitor numbers – Manchester Confidential. “Despite John Rylands Library being included in the top eleven of Manchester visitor attractions (with 242,892 guests) the most visited of all the Manchester region cultural tourist attractions is strangely absent. This is Central Library in St Peter’s Square which now attracts a staggering 1.6m visits. Since reopening in 2014 the figures have been continually improving” … “Birmingham Library shades Manchester’s Central Library with 1.8m visitors as the biggest visitor attraction outside London. Both prove that the most traditional of establishments, the library, still lies at the heart of what it means to be a civilised city, at the centre of the definition of ‘civic’. If you’ve not been recently then have another go.” compare with How libraries became tourism hotspots – Conversation.

International news

  • Global – Public Libraries and The Community – Princh.”Creating a public library that “speaks” to the community’s needs, allows the public to see the library as “theirs” which will make it the desired place for all age groups. Something library professionals and advocates fight to achieve.”
    • Customers, Members, and Users oh my – R David Lankes “For me it all comes back to how we think about the communities we serve and our relationship with them. During this most recent discussion I have heard the phrase owner and client. We will probably never have the perfect word, because we are seeking to encapsulate such a broad set of circumstances. Further, at the end of the day, so long as we are working with the community, and we are seeking to make our communities better we are doing it right.”
  • USA – A librarian’s case against overdue book fines – TEDx. “Libraries have the power to create a better world; they connect communities, promote literacy and spark lifelong learners. But there’s one thing that keeps people away: the fear of overdue book fines. In this thought-provoking talk, librarian Dawn Wacek makes the case that fines don’t actually do what we think they do. What if your library just … stopped asking for them altogether?”
    • Almost 100,000 signatures against drag queen events for kids – Christian Institute. “Nearly 100,000 signatures have been delivered to the American Library Association to protest against a programme for children involving drag queens. Drag Queen Story Hour, in place in libraries across at least 20 US states, is where men dressed as women read stories to children as young as three. Parents have highlighted the lack of age appropriateness, with one mother telling CBS: “There is a sexual side to drag queens, to what they are trying to teach”.
    • Libraries Act as Cooling Centers in Heatwaves – Book Riot. “Ana Raquel Nunes, a public health researcher at the University of Warwick in the UK, recently referred to visits to libraries and community centers as a wider support action during heatwaves. This is especially useful for people who are both particularly vulnerable to heat and less likely to have many resources to beat the heat. These include children, the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, and rough sleepers”
    • Libraries are fighting to preserve your right to borrow e-books – CNN. “Librarians to publishers: Please take our money. Publishers to librarians: Drop dead.” … “For the first two months after a Macmillan book is published, a library can only buy one copy, at a discount. After eight weeks, they can purchase “expiring” e-book copies which need to be re-purchased after two years or 52 lends. As publishers struggle with the continuing shake-up of their business models, and work to find practical approaches to managing digital content in a marketplace overwhelmingly dominated by Amazon, libraries are being portrayed as a problem, not a solution. Libraries agree there’s a problem — but we know it’s not us. “

Local news by authority

  • Bradford – Union slams Bradford Council’s decision to back UK City of Culture bid– Telegraph and Argus. “A consultative ballot of approximately 50 Unite members working in libraries and museums is asking whether they wish to proceed to a full-scale industrial action ballot. Bradford Council has previously announced major cuts to its libraries and museums service, amounting to a £1.05 million cut to library budgets and £500,000 to the museums service in 2020-21.”
  • Bromley – Bromley library workers strike against running down – Socialist Party. “The long-running strike at Bromley libraries has not lost its enthusiasm. Once again there was a large picket outside the main library. These have been interspersed with protests outside other Greenwich Leisure Limited-run facilities such as libraries, sports centre and swimming pools”
  • Edinburgh – Opinion: Lord Provost loves Edinburgh’s virtual libraries – Edinburgh Reporter.
    • Essex – Decision on future of Essex’s libraries called in for scrutiny – Clacton Gazette. “Revised plans for the future of Essex’s libraries were approved after a storm of protest. Opposition councillors have now called in the decision. The place services and economic growth policy and scrutiny committee will be left with three options – to uphold the decision, refer it back to the decision maker or ask full council to review it.”
    • ‘Essex isn’t known as a hotbed of radicalism’: how protests turned back library cuts – Guardian. “Protester Andy Abbott said: “Essex is not really known as a hotbed of radicalism, and I think they probably thought people would take it lying down, I think they thought it would all go under the radar. It has really stunned them, the level of protest.” … “Liz Miles, who is coordinating campaigns, said: “This is why people are very angry. All we know is from the strategy document is said “Neither has Essex county council acknowledged that the expressions of interest came largely from the draft survey, which threatened to close 44 libraries (25 of them in September) unless people came forward with offers of interest. We hope that most of these will be withdrawn, now we have been promised that there is no danger of closure.””
  • Essex – Essex library campaigners prepare legal challenge – Chelmsford and Mid Essex Times. “Campaigners have instructed leading law firm Watkins and Gunn to give legal advice for a potential legal challenge”
  • Halton – The anti-drug spray set to stop cocaine users in their tracks – Liverpool Echo. “Drug users in Runcorn and Widnes may be in for a nasty surprise as a new anti-cocaine spray hits the streets. The clear spray, named ‘BloKiT’, can be placed on most surfaces and works by causing powdered drugs such as cocaine to swell and stick to the surface.” To be trialled in libraries.
  • Hertfordshire – Hertfordshire libraries handed to council-founded charity – BBC. “A council has awarded the contract to run its libraries to an organisation it set up, to save the authority £500,000 a year. Hertfordshire County Council, which runs 46 libraries, decided in October to contract-out the service. At the same time it set up Libraries for Life, a “public service mutual” organisation, to bid for the five-year contract, worth about £10m a year. It won the contract despite competition from other bidders. Councillor Terry Douris, responsible for the county’s libraries, said he was “delighted” that the organisation had won the contract following a “very detailed and robust procurement exercise”. … “saving an estimated £500,000 a year in business rates.”
  • Kent – New timetables will see Temple Hill and Dartford Library’s hours cut to save cash– News Shopper. “Temple Hill Library will suffer the most out of Dartford’s nine libraries as it will see its opening times shift drastically from 40 hours a week to just 17. This was followed by Dartford Library, which will see 15.5 hours chopped from its weekly operating schedule. However, other facilities across the borough will have their opening times boosted, including Greenhithe Library which will now open for 28 hours a week, an increase of 16 hours compared to its current schedule.”
  • Manchester – Poetry Library to host poem that aims to feature every language in Manchester – About Manchester.
  • North Lanarkshire – Cuts to library services in Newmains, Cleland and Shotts proposed by council – Daily Record. “Reducing late opening times and closing libraries on Saturday’s are just some of the plans as Culture and Leisure NL aims to save £400,000.” … “Proposals include closing Shotts and New Stevenston libraries on Saturdays, 2pm Friday closures at Newmains, New Stevenston, Shotts and Viewpark, and reducing late openings until 7pm at other centres around the region. The trust has also proposed scrapping late openings at Cleland and Newarthill libraries.”
  • Plymouth – Free lunches for Plymouth children at libraries this summer – Plymouth Herald. “Deputy council leader Peter Smith said: “Holiday hunger can be a real problem for many families in Plymouth and by joining in with Catered’s Big Summer Food Tour we can help those who may struggle to provide food and entertainment for children over the long summer holiday.”
  • Staffordshire – Harry Potter book bought for £1 sells for £28,500 at auction – BBC. “The 1997 book, published with two errors, was sold by Staffordshire libraries for £1 about 20 years ago.” … “Only 500 copies were published in the tale’s first print run, with 300 sent to libraries”
  • Suffolk – Surge in attendance figures marks seven years of Suffolk Libraries – Suffolk Libraries. “In 2018-19 there were 14,290 events and activities in libraries. These events saw attendances of nearly 201,000, an increase of over 14% from the previous year and 29% over the last four years.”