There will be a strong sense of deja vu in English public libraries this week, as they are allowed to reopen for browsing after the semi-lockdown of the last month. As before, each council will make its own choices about exactly how far it reopens its services so there is likely to be some variation, but basically many (normally not all) libraries in each council will offer browsing and PC access. Most services now have experience of click and collect so it will be interesting to see how many continue with that as well. What’s different than the first reopening is that libraries are already prepared and know what they’re doing. December is also traditionally a very quiet month.

It’s very much worse than before, though, for Croydon, who effectively declared bankruptcy last week and say they will cut services to a “bare legal minimum”. It’s hardly been a fantastically funded service before, having only recently gone back to the council after being run by the now defunct Carillion, and a veteran of some fairly serious cuts over the last decade. The fear is, as well, that Croydon’s announcement will be the first of many such elsewhere in the country.

Rishi Sunak’s announcement of £4 billion, including specific mention of capital budgets for libraries, has largely been met with scepticism online. Many point out that existing libraries barely have sufficient funding, with hundreds closed or passed to volunteers since the Conservatives took over a decade ago. The devil, as with most big funding announcements, will be in the detail, but one should expect at most a few nice library projects to come from this. It will more likely long-term be seen as, at best, a slight tinkering to improve the government’s public relations, than as a step-change in library provision. It is, after all, hard to be overly optimistic about it in a week when an entire council pretty much goes under, with more expected.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Libraries & The First Minister’s Reading Challenge – SLIC. “If your library is taking part in the Reading Challenge, we would love to hear from you about how you are promoting reading in the current climate and anything we could do to support you.”
  • Library Campaign – Includes info about public libraries, useful contacts, news and views, how to start and maintain a friends or campaign group, list of local groups, publicity tools and links to the back issues of the Library Campaign magazines. “We’ve worked really hard to provide something that gives all the most essential info (including of course a link to you!) in one compact, easy-to-use site without having to fight through a jungle of info,
    accessible to people who don’t know about libraries but also quite
    useful to those who do. Nothing else like it.”
  • On the level – CILIP 2020 Spending Review analysis – CILIP. “the decision to go ahead with a public-sector pay freeze (exempting NHS workers and people earning less than £24,000) will impact on millions of exactly those public sector workers that have worked incredibly hard to get the Nation through COVID” … ” it is hard to see how a complete freeze is justifiable” … “Unfortunately, today’s Conservative Government can’t just write off the impact of austerity. As a result, this isn’t a budget for levelling up so much as levelling off the deep scars inflicted by George Osborne’s 2010 austerity budget”

“While much here is welcome, and the wheels are already in motion to ensure that publicly-funded libraries (such as public libraries, schools and prison libraries) get a fair share of the investment funding that is being made available, we must now apply ourselves with determined effort to ensure that the next Spending Review marks a genuine turning-point in the recognition of the potential of our sector to help communities everywhere level up, not just for the short term, but long after 2020 is a distant memory.”

  • Out of the frying pan? Libraries post pandemic – Libraries Connected. “We asked our members what they were expecting next year. Many are facing a triple whammy of budget reductions, loss of earned income and the increased costs of running COVID secure services. Some have already publicly announced cuts …Libraries that know their budget position for next year have reported an average reduction of 14%. Income this year is down by 75%, and COVID security has used up another 4% of budgets. These figures are bleak … Library budgets have been reduced so much over the last decade, even small reductions now will have large impacts on what they can deliver.”
  • RNIB: Keep the RNIB Giant Print Library Open – Change.org. “RNIB has always had a truly excellent, free library service for children offering Giant Print, Braille and Audio books. They are now planning to close the Giant Print part of the library as they state that large print books can be bought elsewhere and that children can use electronic reading devices.”
  • Scotland becomes first country to make tampons and pads available for free – ABC 11. ” period products will be available to access in public buildings including schools and universities across Scotland. ” … “In 2019, it allocated another 4 million to make period products available for free in libraries and recreational centers.”
  • Spending Review: Partial public sector pay freeze and ‘levelling up’ fund for librariesall the key pledges – I. “Mr Sunak announced a pay freeze for all those working in the public sector next year but said this would not apply to NHS doctors and nurses, who will still receive a pay rise.” … “A new £4 billion “levelling up” fund to finance local infrastructure improvement projects – such as new motorways or libraries.”

International news

  • Canada – Halifax’s fine-free library program prompts return of long overdue books – Signal. ““Our best friend is someone who will make the effort to return a book after 30 years,” the library posted on its Instagram account. The library implemented a fine amnesty program in August when it reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown. It eliminated overdue fines, forgave existing fines and reset blocked library cards. A few months into the program, the library posted a picture of the book on Abraham Lincoln with a date due slip that showed it was borrowed last in February 1990.”
  • Germany – How German Librarians Finally Caught an Elusive Book Thief – Atlas Obscura. “A photograph of Schild, looking roguish in a suit and tie, still hangs in the Regional Library of Oldenburg. It’s on a bookshelf behind the information desk, next to the printer and some dictionaries. The photograph is out of the way and unmarked, and could even be mistaken it for a keepsake. Only library staff know that it’s a warning.”
  • Sri Lanka – Books by bike: Sri Lankan man runs mobile library for kids – Independent. “During his leisure time, Mahinda Dasanayaka packs his motorbike with books and rides his mobile library — across mostly muddy roads running through tea-growing mountain areas — to underprivileged children in rural parts of Sri Lanka”
  • USA – The Library That Dolly Built – Imagination Library. “”The Library That Dolly Built” is a feature-length documentary, covering the history, impact and future of Dolly Parton’s world-wide book gifting program. Featuring the music of Dolly Parton, the film is narrated by actress and author, Danica McKellar.”
    • 10 people share why they’re thankful for libraries – I Love Libraries. ““I believe libraries are sacred places. They hold the history, science, and imagination of the ages. From first holding a book which I could read on my own, at age four, to now seventy fours years later, I have discovered information, travel, novel perspectives, the past, innovative ideas, and so much more. My life has been enriched beyond measure.””

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