There is a term called a “Black Swan Event”. Wikipedia (get over it, traditionalists), defines it as “an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.”. Covid was definitely one of those things. But I like to think that this week is another week of library services doing their own swan impression, looking serene on the surface while paddling furiously out of sight. Councils throughout England are deciding, or have already decided, if and how many libraries will reopen come 12 April. It will, as ever, be a mixture, with some going full-out open from day one and others taking their time. Then there will be the timing of doing other things, things which are now too-distant memories, like story-times and other events.

And, soon enough, there will be the Summer Reading Challenge, with the likely take-up for that still being, in an unprecedented fashion, a complete mystery. Who knows how many people will return to libraries? To stretch the metaphor completely, post-vaccination 2021 usage is like an invisible swan at this point – we have no idea of its size or its shape. And it has the potential to be dangerous like any swan. But it could also be beautiful. Some could say that this could even be a golden year for libraries if things come back to normal and people come in desperate to be with people and the physical once more. But I would not want to stretch my neck out that far. It is, after all, not as long as that of a swan, real or imaginary.

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Changes by local authority

National news

  • The Government is defunding libraries and it is affecting racialised communities – Bad Form Review. “In 2010, funding for libraries topped £1bn, but last year it fell to a total of £725m; this year, on average, libraries face a further 14% reduction in their budgets. For some reason, these statistics do not seem to capture the public imagination, perhaps because libraries are a normalised, mundane part of life that people assume will always be there.”
  • Gov Starts GBP5bn UK Gigabit Broadband and Voucher Schemes Update – ISPreview. “The UK Government has today revealed new details of how their £5bn gigabit broadband roll-out scheme will work and rebranded it as “Project Gigabit“. As part of that they’ve also confirmed £210m for an extension of their rural Gigabit Voucher scheme and £110m to connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools.”
  • Libraries Connected annual report 2019-20 – Libraries Connected. “Find out about all we achieved in our second year including our exciting new projects.”
  • Library Recovery: Lessons and Opportunities from the COVID Crisis – Innovative. 23 March, 11am, webinar. Speakers include Isobel Hunter CEO Libraries Connected and Sue Wills (Surrey). “The health crisis has brought challenges and opportunities for public libraries. Even while buildings have been closed, libraries worked with determination and innovation to bring their services to users in new ways, reaching 3 out of 10 people.”
  • Partners Toolkit for Read, Talk, Share – Reading Agency. “This toolkit includes information and resources, including visual assets, to help promote the Read, Talk, Share campaign. You can find press releases, a visual assets pack, and how to take part in our social media campaign with suggested copy for all channels. … “Books from the Reading Well mental health booklists are available now for free digital borrowing to support library users and staff. You can promote e-lending with downloadable social media images for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with options to choose your lending partner logo.”
  • Timetable for further lockdown easing – Scottish Government. Libraries can open from 26 April.

International news

  • India – In this Kashmiri library, the power of books goes beyond words – Christian Science Monitor. “whenever I get time I come here, touch, feel, and smell [the books], with this constant hope that things will become normal again, and my library will once again thrive with people.”
    • The lure of libraries – Deccan Herald. “I probably married my husband because his family owned a circulating library called Serene” … “As soon as we got into the GT express or the Tamil Nadu or KK express (as it was then called), for the long 48 hour journey, the first thing was to check out the tiny library in one of the compartments”
  • SyriaHunting for books in the ruins: how Syria’s rebel librarians found hope – Guardian. ““Books don’t set limits; they set us free. They don’t mutilate; they restore. Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now.””
  • USA – Post-Pandemic Libraries – Medium. “it’s almost as if we’re after the type of hero worship that comes with bringing water to people after a natural disaster.”
    • Libraries are getting $200 million in stimulus funds. Here’s why – CNN. “t librarians say they’ve come to the rescue for those hit the hardest by the pandemic, becoming the only way many without internet access are able to get their kids online for school — or access medical services, make vaccine appointments or register for federal aid like stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.” … “The total earmarked for libraries is less than 1% of the total $1.9 trillion American Rescue but is a huge influx of cash for the Institute for Museum and Library Services fund. The $200 million is the largest single increase in the agency’s 25-year history and worth about 80% of its annual budget.”

Local news by authority