Great to see Public Library Apparel, featured in this blog a few weeks ago, reach their crowdfunding target. This will mean that an online shop, selling library-themed clothes, with some of the profits going to libraries, will open soon. Crowdfunding for more normal library things, though, is more challenging, as I suspect Libraries Unlimited will discover, asking for the public to fund refurbishing a van for mobile library use. This is the sort of thing that councils would normally fund and it’s a bit sad to see it now being a matter for charity.

Moving further afield, and perhaps more philosophically, I have been thinking about the implications of the British Library partnership with China recently. It’s a difficult issue and I’m not sure about it either way but I think the pros and cons could do with listing.

For partnering with China:

  • It’s a partnership with Chinese libraries, not their government. It keeps lines of dialogue open between professionals in both countries. Let’s keep politics out of this, librarians should work with each=other regardless of what their countries are doing.
  • An extension of the “soft power” diplomacy that the UK is famous for, influencing others at relatively low cost.
  • Helping to develop another country’s libraries, and our own. The partnership advances knowledge and mutual understanding.
  • The British Library partnered with 80 (yes, eighty) countries last year alone so this is normal. Under CENL, we brought 70 national library staff from almost 40 (out of 44) European countries together this month. So this is quite normal.
  • There won’t be any tangible impact to the Chinese by withdrawing from the partnership and there may be some harm, professional development-wise, in withdrawing.
  • Partnerships with organisations which are in countries which have problematic governments is common. My own wife’s school (she’s a teacher) has a partnership programme with a Sudanese school.
  • Where do we draw the line? If the French Prime Minister says something off, do we cease having anything to do with them?

Against partnering with China:

  • China is an authoritarian dictatorship engaged in outright ideologic if not ethnic cleansing. This can be seen in the last year in Hong Kong and with the Uyghurs. They, again just this year, imposed censorship in libraries and imprisoned a bookseller. I won’t mention their record in hacking because, frankly, as an owner of a website, I don’t want to give them ideas. Being authoritarian, there is no real separation between libraries and the State, with librarians expected to fully co-operate and assist actions which at least some in the UK would find abhorrent.
  • Soft power works both ways and China has a lot more power, and wealth, than the UK. While being connected to them, those involved may be (there’s no evidence of this, it’s just theoretical) may be influenced by them.
  • The ethics of the UK profession, specifically state the need to  uphold, promote and defend human rights, equalities and diversity, intellectual freedom, including freedom from censorship, impartiality and the avoidance of inappropriate bias … and a few other things that would be anathema to the Chinese regime.
  • The partnership, quite apart from any benefit, unintentionally implies that the British Library – the national library – does not see what the Chinese are doing, including their librarians, as wrong enough to cease their partnership. This gives the view, mistaken or otherwise, that the institution supports the Chinese, encouraging further partnership and support to the Chinese from others.

So, as I say, arguments on both sides. I’m not sure myself. But I think that the ethics and implications of the arrangement should be thought about publicly by our profession. We don’t live in a world where what we do is exempt from consequence, either way, and rightly too. Let me know what you think. I’m genuinely interested. Whisper it if you like.

Email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

Changes by authority

National news

My department has not undertaken a recent assessment of the financial sustainability of public libraries in England.

The most recent assessment was the National Audit Office report published in 2018 on the Financial sustainability of local authorities for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

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. The 2020 Spending Review will look at pressures facing the sector and provide them with the certainty they need to aid financial planning.

Caroline Dinenage, Secretary of State, DCMS, 19 October
  • Library ebook lending surges as UK turns to fiction during lockdown – Guardian. Increase in digital lending and events described. Nick Poole says ““Yes, absolutely we have found this new digital audience [but] we also need to continue supporting [the] face-to-face audience.”. Top ten borrowed lists.
  • Libraries see surge in e-book borrowing amid concerns over book hygiene during lockdown – Telegraph. Paywall.
  • McKee shares the secrets of Elmer success after lifetime achievement win – BookSeller. ““Going from being banned to winning a lifetime achievement award is very strange,” said McKee (pictured above), who thinks the librarians in question “didn’t get” the message behind Tusk Tusk: a 1978 story about two groups of elephants (one black, one white) that fight each other because of the colour of their skins. “My first wife was Anglo-Indian. We were invited to South Africa but we would have been staying at different hotels, so we didn’t go,” he told The Bookseller. “
  • Neil Gaiman thanks librarians Instagram. “A big thank you from me to librarians everywhere. You are heroes, and I am so glad you exist and do what you do”
  • New report shows Community Managed Libraries evolving into Community Hubs – Community Libraries Network. “CMLs have more and more been operating as Community Hubs and during the COVID-19 crisis have been important in helping maintain the health and well-being of their area. “
  • On your marks. Reset. Restart – DCMS Libraries. Business support service to be run from the BL Business and IP Centres based in libraries. “Although it has been a tumultuous year, it has also been a landmark moment for our services to business: in the March Budget, the Chancellor announced a £13 million investment to fund the expansion of the BIPC Network to 20 Regional Centres in England (outside London) by 2023 and a further 90 local centres in towns and rural and coastal areas”
  • Public Library Apparel – Kickstarter. Crowdfunding goal reached.
  • The row over free school meals is a loud and distinct testimony: those in power do not represent the people – Independent / Letters. “Rotherham council is consulting on turning libraries over to volunteers, following the example of neighbouring Sheffield and Doncaster councils, which did the same with their libraries years ago. Calling libraries “community libraries” and running them with volunteers was, and is, a deliberate ploy to mask cuts and hide the fragmentation and destruction of a crucial statutory service. It is disingenuous to say the least, and an insult to library workers and library users.”
  • Study will look at the reading habits of Scots 200 years ago – Press and Journal. “Experts at the University of Stirling have been awarded £1 million for a unique project that will aim to show what people really borrowed from 15 historic libraries, including some in the north and north-east, from 1750 to 1830.” … “It will give people a sense of the role libraries have played across history and recognise that without libraries knowledge could not have been spread and disseminated in the way that it has”–
  • ‘We are going to be needed more than ever’: A librarian on how her job has changed amid the Covid pandemic – I News. Anonymous Scottish public librarian interviewed. “More and more people are coming to her library in a small Scottish town for help with applying for benefits on the computers … It’s mostly quite frustrating because you realise how little help there is for people and you really are the safety net …  If I come down with a cold, and I’ve not got Covid symptoms, I’m just going to have to go in.”

How’s 2020 been for you? A few questions answered by Lunde Ljungberg,  Lejre Library & Archive, Denmark

Librarian Lunde Ljungberg
Librarian Lunde Ljungberg

What digital strategy have they found most successful this last year? For us at Lejre Library & Archive, the most successful digital strategy this last year has been to focus on presenting content and ”educating” our users in the accessibility to our digital services.  

Have their libraries experienced a big rise in digital usage in 2020 and a drop in physical loans? The last couple of years we have experienced a steady growth in usage of digital services, but due to the Covid-19 and people staying more at home we have already spend the entire digital budget for 2020 coming out of August. A change of usage that we need to take in consideration going into 2021. In 2019 the physical loans were on a rise at Lejre Library & Archive and in the first couple of months of 2020 we saw a continuing tendency, but because of the Covid-lockdown in the spring we are expecting a bit lower numbers this year.

Is this something you see as temporary or something which is likely to be permanent to some extent? We expect (and encourage) a continuous rise in digital usage in the years to come but not necessarily in contrast to physical loans and visits, more as a qualified supplement to the whole library experience.

What steps have they/are they thinking of taking to meet this change? We have at Lejre Library & Archive an approach to the (digital) library services, which you could call ”shared hosting”. Both in our physical libraries as well on our digital platforms we try to invite the local community and cultural partners to share a focus on a common user. We are not there yet but building on strong community-energy and always trying to facilitate a natural presence of the library in these processes we are confident that we will get there in the near future.

Are there new services you have introduced this year and why? From January 2020, all five libraries in Lejre Municipality are open for self-service from 6am to 22pm. All week. But there are no new digital services as such this year, more a growing production of already digital presence, facebook, instagram, video, streaming talks etc …

Has there been any training or investment in boosting social media provision?  No direct training of staff in matters of e.g. digital hosting, but Covid-19 created a necessary learning platform to reach users in alternative ways. The staff did not think twice and with courage – and an open mind – they raised the levels of digital presence within a very short period of time and in that way ensured the relationship with the users during unknown times. A relationship we can benefit from in the future we think. An interesting observation here is that some of the staff’s personal (literary focused) social media profiles also has increased in user interest and now produce cross-references to both libraries and literature.

Are they in a happy place nationally? How is the overall funding of libraries in their country this year? Lejre Library & Archive is one of the smallest library economies in Denmark, but the local energy and staff spirit is amazing, and in that perspective we only see good things coming for the citizens of Lejre Municipality

Lunde will be speaking at the Webinar: Digital strategy & innovation in libraries webinar on Tuesday 27 October 2pm.

International News

  • Ecuador – What it’s like to be a librarian in the Galapagos – I Love Libraries. “I work yards away from the sea, and the marine iguanas usually walk in front of the library’s door.”
    • People’s Libraries – Princh. “what every library should consider as its main mission: to be of the people, for the people and by the people. That is, “popular”.”
  • Nepal A library in rural Nepal – Designing Libraries. Earthquake hit part of Nepal raised international funds. Wifi and computerisation to happen shortly. Donations, especially of old e-readers, required.
  • New ZealandWeeding is essential for healthy library collections – Libraries Aotearoa. Library comes under fire for weeding books, explains why.
    • Libraries Looking Forward – Libraries Aotearoa. “We asked four attendees from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific who joined the recent LIANZA Libraries Looking Forward panel to report back and reflect on their personal highlights of the popular event.”
  • Singapore – Children’s book with racist content moved to adult’s collection in public libraries – Yahoo. “The Library Consultative Panel, described as an “ an independent citizen-based committee comprising members from a cross-section of society”, provides recommendations to the board on its review of books that members of the public have raised concerns about”
  • SwedenSweden ‘to start lockdowns’ as it has world’s 12th highest Covid-19 death rate – Mirror. “health authorities are reportedly set to ask people to stay away from shopping centres, gyms, libraries and museums.”
  • USA – It’s Time to Talk About Covid-19 and Surfaces Again – Wired. Researcher “was aware of the practical issues raised by putting books in purgatory for so long, but she had a broader concern: that all this research was encouraging an undue fixation, or even a fear, of the objects librarians are meant to joyfully share with the public” … “In my opinion, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small” … “That was months ago, and since then the scientific evidence has tipped in Goldman’s favor. And yet, here we are all the same, wiping down pews and hiding away books, among countless other disinfection rituals molded by those early perceptions”
    • A Reset for Library E-books – Publishers Weekly. “usage of e-books, digital audio, and other digital resources has indeed risen dramatically at the nation’s public libraries—no surprise. But the question remains: will this spike in usage be a game changer for digital content in libraries?” … ” the easing of prices and restrictions by publishers during the pandemic has helped—a lot. ” … “this is not a time for publishers and libraries to “put aside” their differences, librarians say, but to resolve them.”
    • What happened to YOUmedia?  – Chicago Reader. “The Chicago Public Library’s flagship teen program was a refuge for Black and Brown youth. Recent layoffs put that in jeopardy.”

Local news by authority

There may be a career in television waiting …