Editorial

A couple of things to talk about this week. The first is that this is the busiest week for a long while in terms of changes to budget, and all of it is bad. Croydon, Leeds and Lewisham are looking at some serious cuts. It’s nothing we’ve not seen before but this is the first time such cuts have been announcing while at the same time library workers are being described as “Key/critical workers” by the minister of state for Digital and Culture.

Secondly, and I know I have been here before but nothing has changed, I would like to flag the general frustration at the continuing lack of a “single digital presence”, or national public library website. This is made especially obvious today by the announcement that an academy is being paid to offer a free e-book to every child in the country. Well, that should have been through public libraries. And we could have done it a whole lot better (just the one e-book at a time? Good grief) but inertia, atomisation and a general lack of urgency from the DCMS on down has led to the current and continuing no-show.

This was embarrassing and obvious at the start of lockdown in March and is doubly so now, almost a year on. The British Library are currently finishing off a (hopefully) final research project on the subject and I hope then that it all hits the ground running. Because this lack of a site is a humiliation for the whole public library sector. And it needs to be addressed. Now.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Downloading a new normal: Privacy, exclusion, and information behaviour in public library digital services use during COVID – New Normal. “This project explores the ‘digital turn’ brought about by COVID, the experience of the compelled move from analogue to digital in public libraries, from multiple perspectives :– (1) Organisational and sectoral issues (2) Ethical issues (3) User information behaviour issues”
  • Libraries are part of the Covid frontline – and they need our help – Penguin. “I was pulled (not literally, as we must keep two metres apart from our colleagues at all times) aside and warned that I had been caught breaching our Covid safety rules, putting myself and others at risk and potentially earning me a formal disciplinary or worse. I had allowed a member of the public to place their mobile phone in my gloved hand. I tried to explain that the library user in question had asked me to print off a series of photographs for them; the user was severely dyslexic, and our print system can be difficult for even the most IT-savvy of users.”
  • Lockdown made our library better – BookSeller. “I have seen so many library services just disappear due to lockdown, both in France and England, and I am so proud of what we achieved. Even if not everything worked out the way we wanted to, whether it was in terms of attendance or technical problems, we always managed to find a solution and to take something from everything we did, either a new skill, a new way to work together or a new tool to develop in future projects. I think the best side of all that is that we are already thinking about the future and creating hybrid events, both digital and physical, and new ways to interact with our customers in the future. “

“So we have learnt and enjoyed a great deal from delivering services and engaging with the community in 2020 and very much looking forward to innovation in 2021. It was a difficult year for everybody but in terms of my job, I absolutely had a brilliant year, developed events and projects I never thought I would have time to work on, and it was really good to have this space to innovate and try new things.”

Marion Tessier, Kingston Libraries. 
  • Poor families’ living costs have surged during pandemic, UK study finds – Guardian. “Normal coping strategies employed by poorer families – visiting friends and families for occasional meals, or using the library for free internet access, and charity shops for cheap clothes – became harder as a result of household mixing restrictions and the closure of libraries and non-essential retail.”
  • Virtual library gives children in England free book access – BBC. “Children in England will be able to access books online free during school closures via a virtual library. Internet classroom Oak National Academy created the library after schools moved to remote learning for the majority of pupils until February half-term.”

International news

  • Austria – The living room behind the bookshelves – Designing Libraries. “The building’s curved shape can only be experienced on the inside at the reading spots arranged along the outer walls of the open-access library on the ground and upper floor. A two-storey atrium is cut out of the volume, forming a rectangular space provided natural light by skylights.”
  • Global Over 100 Public Libraries Exceed 1 Million Digital Book Checkouts in 2020 – PR Newswire. ” A record 102 public library systems from around the world empowered readers to borrow over 1 million ebooks and audiobooks from their digital collections in 2020. This represents the most systems ever to reach this milestone through OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform. Contributing factors include increased digital book usage due to the pandemic, elevated interest in social justice titles and BIPOC authors and strong circulation growth for children’s and young adult titles because of remote learning.”
  • Netherlands / Norway – Designed to inspire – Designing Libraries. Netherlands: “The library is part of a completely renovated multifunctional centre in the heart of the municipality of Cranendonck, The Netherlands. It has a theatre hall, meeting rooms, spaces for workshops, a sports hall, as well as the library, and is a home to various clubs and associations.”. Norway: “You easily get a cathedral feeling from the light in the large windows in the high, open space. The number of visitors in the library has tripled and lending rates have also increased significantly. The increased number of visitors is partly due to the central location in the local culture house, where the library is located in the middle of Vindafjord’s social and cultural hub.”
  • Taiwan – Taiwan’s Tainan celebrates grand opening of main library – Taiwan News. “The library comprises six above-ground floors and two below. It houses about 600,000 books, including 500 for the visually impaired and 16,000 authored during the Japanese colonial era. In addition, the building features a cafe, an independent bookstore, a culinary arts classroom, a co-working space, three public art spaces, and a memorial exhibition that pays tribute to more than 200 deceased notable figures in Tainan. A playground and an outdoor reading area are also under construction.”
  • USA – The Surprisingly Complicated History of Conan the Librarian – CBR. Who made the joke first? Nope, it wasn’t Monty Python.

Local news by authority

Tower Hamlets – There’s an open meeting about the proposed cuts to @ideastores
this Tuesday at 7pm. Attend via Zoom at http://bit.ly/THLib19Jan