I studied History at university and was taught the importance of various forms of evidence and differing points of view. It so taught me the need for the long view that I tend to think judging the impact of anything later than the Romans as premature. So, it’s perhaps pointless to try to give a judgement on that frantic and hopefully unique period in our lives when Covid unmistakably came to our shores in February and March this year. But I do have some preliminary thoughts that I will be sharing at the (virtual, of course) CILIP Conference this November.

The first thing to say is that the library sector as a whole responded remarkably well and put health and safety first over issues. Secondly, I think library management pivoted quickly over a period of two/three weeks from trying to continue business as normal to closure and beyond. The entire careers of successful managers, after all, was up to that point focused on keeping things open. But when that turned out not to be viable (and of course when their councils told them they had to), things happened quickly. The idea of closure went from causing shocked laughter to official policy in far less than one month.

Then, during lockdown, libraries concentrated on their digital side and what their staff could do away from their buildings. The sector, actually, one when thinks about it, was well-placed to take advantage of things. E-books were made for lockdown and staff who have spent their lives talking to customers were ideal for talking to the shielded and the vulnerable over the phone.

When libraries opened again, they did so with commendable caution. Being non profit-driven certainly helped in this regard and gave them the window to pause often not possible to other places on the High Street. However, ironically, they are possibly less well-placed, strategically, now when they’re open than when they were closed. The buildings are distinctly quieter than before and none offer the range of events (or, even, study tables) that attracted so much business before. Much of the traditional user base is also understandably reluctant to risk infection. Councillors may just see the comparatively empty buildings and draw their own comparisons come the tricky Covid budget-settling to come.

How libraries cope with this, and whether their lockdown success will be noted or seen (as some have already suggested) as a sign that they can be virtual instead, is going to the big thing we discover over the next few months. And I hope history will confidently record their success. In a thousand years or so.

Looking forward to seeing you, virtually alas, in November.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Agenda: The future of libraries is both physical and virtual – Herald Scotland. “Scotland’s public library sector had to transform overnight. Closing the doors to our library buildings and taking mobile libraries off the road goes against the very essence of libraries, which are founded on free and equal access for all. However, librarians and library staff across the country used the tools and technology at their disposal to maintain their communities. We’ve seen fabulous examples of libraries creating new virtual events and digital initiatives to ensure people continued to access what they needed.”
  • Call for presentations – LILAC. “LILAC welcomes proposals which address information literacy from all sectors and contexts. For LILAC 2021 we invite you to present on any aspect of information literacy, there are no specific themes. ” 7-9 April.
  • Learning from Lockdown: 12 Steps to Eliminate Digital Exclusion – Carnegie UK Trust. “‘Learning from Lockdown: 12 Steps to Eliminate Digital Exclusion’ is a response to this challenge, setting out a series of 12 recommendations calling for ambitious action from policy makers, practitioners, academics and industry to tackle this issue. The recommendations build on our work on digital inclusion over the past decade, and particularly draw on learning and reflections from the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown period.”
  • Librarians’ Virtual Toolkit – Working with Readers in Interesting Times – West Midlands Readers Network. 5 November, 2 to 4pm. “An afternoon of talks and presentations about working with readers and reading groups”
  • Libraries Digital Bootcamp – Basecamp. 12 November, 2 to 5pm. “The Bootcamp will offer you the opportunity to learn new techniques and skills, find out how other library services have delivered online activity and have a lot of new ideas to take away.”
  • Libraries in Lockdown – Libraries Connected. “Over 75% of libraries delivered online events during lockdown and library teams made over 130,000 calls to local people who were shielding or vulnerable, reveals new research from Libraries Connected.” … “Leaders of over 130 library services responded to our online survey and we carried out video interviews with a further 20 leaders” … “Just over half of library services managed to increase their online audiences” [this seems fewer than one would expect – Ed.]
  • Libraries sector in the Birthday Honours list – DCMS. Biographies of the nine library-related Honours recipients.

The Government is providing local councils with unprecedented support during the pandemic with a £4.3 billion package, including £3.7 billion which is not ringfenced and £600 million to support social care providers. This is part of a wider package of almost £28 billion which the Government has committed to support local areas, with funding going to councils, businesses and communities.

DCMS has a statutory duty to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England. To assist delivery of this statutory duty, DCMS issued a joint letter with the Local Government Association to all local authorities in England requesting detail of restoration of their library services given the opening of physical library buildings is now permitted. This detail is assisting the department’s engagement with local authorities and its ongoing monitoring of library service provision.

DCMS continues to work closely with Libraries Connected and other key stakeholders to ensure that the Libraries Connected Service Recovery Toolkit remains relevant and continues to assist libraries with their opening and reintroduction of their services during the pandemic.

In response to the rise in demand for e-lending immediately following the closure of libraries in March, Arts Council England provided £151,000 (around £1,000 per library authority in England) to supplement existing e-book funding

Baroness Baran, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, They Work For You.
  • Library lockdown success could threaten physical services, leaders warn – BookSeller. “The report also showed library membership remained stable during lockdown with some services seeing spikes of up to 32% despite the facilities’ closure, the report said. Membership to access digital resources increased by 27% with some services more than doubling the number of those signing up. Audiobook checkouts also increased during lockdown by 113%. However, some respondents said the lockdown success “could be viewed, erroneously, as a substitute for a physical offer, or adequate as a definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service under the Libraries Act.”” … “The report also noted the scale of e-book lending is still small compared to physical withdrawals and warned with costs “unlikely to be sustainable”.”

“My concern coming out of this is that we are about to enter a brutal round of public finances — I cannot expand due to capacity and organisational reasons, the public expect us to, and I know what’s likely to come”

Respondent to library lockdown survey
  • Local Libraries join The Reading Agency to launch the ‘Reading Well for children’ booklist – News From Wales. “To coincide with World Mental Health Day, which took place on Saturday 10th October, local libraries are joining with The Reading Agency, the Society of Chief Librarians Cymru and Libraries Connected to launch a new collection of ‘Reading Well for children’ books.”
  • Making a Difference: Libraries, Lockdown and Looking Ahead – Carnegie UK Trust. “This report into UK public library services explores their role supporting individuals and communities during lockdown and the barriers they faced during this time. It also explores their role in supporting the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and what it would take to unleash the full potential of what public library services have to offer us all. The report identifies a number of key messages and action areas for local and national governments, sector support bodies and the sector itself.”
  • Queen’s Honours for libraries – Libraries Connected.
  • SLIC Library User Survey – Scottish Library and Information Council. “SLIC has commissioned Blake Stevenson Ltd, a social research company, to assess the impact of the strategy on library services across Scotland. As part of this, we are keen to hear library users’ views …”
  • Webinar: Digital strategy & innovation in libraries – Bibliotheca. “How can libraries meet growing user expectations and reimagine services that will meet future community needs? Join us for an engaging discussion into evolving digital behaviors, how this impacts library experiences and how physical library spaces play a vital role. Hear from Danish and German libraries paving the way with visionary ideas and future-proof implementations.” Tuesday, 27th October, 2020 at 2PM

International news

  • USA – Step Inside The Museum of Obsolete Library Science – The Met 150. “We are forward thinking, technology-savvy, and driven to find the most modern way possible to fulfill our patrons’ needs. However, the dirty little secret is that sometimes the old stuff, while no longer useful, is actually cool.”
  • The story behind the library takeout video – Duke Today. “With its playful animation, catchy chorus and infectious beat, his roughly three-minute synth pop music video has become a viral hit on campus and beyond with at least 17,558 views on YouTube. Nearly six weeks after its release, he’s still hearing glowing feedback from colleagues from across campus.”

Local news by authority

Wandsworth – Marsha De Cordova, the MP for Battersea and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, visited Battersea Park Library on 9th October to celebrate National Libraries Week.