Public library services up and down the country are wrestling with what to do now Covid restrictions have been lifted while Covid is still very much present. From what I can tell by talking to people and from media reports, most services appearing to be returning to more like 2019 but with more hand sanitiser, staff still behind screens asking (but not telling) public to be masked, and hand sanitiser remaining obvious. There’s more variety when it comes to physical events – libraries are finding the risk assessments a bit difficult being they’re unprecedented – but a number are restarting them, including inside libraries.

The big news this week, though, is not Covid related. It’s about a very inappropriate monkey costume used for a Summer Reading Challenge event. The costume is adult enough (including the male reproductive organ, I kid you not) that I will not include it here. The incident has been covered worldwide, with so much that there is a separate section below. Read about it in detail there if you wish. One of the key lessons for councils from this, unstated in the reports, is that it doesn’t matter to the public if their library service is outsourced or not. When push comes to shove, the public will still blame the council for its mistakes, even though the council may be genuinely unaware of the problem until the same time as the public and quickly acts upon it when they do notice it. Thus outsourcing comes with an unavoidable, and by the look of this story, pretty random and unpredictable, risk to reputational damage for the local council.

Finally, it’s worth noting the fight continuing in Glasgow about some very serious potential job losses from their outsourced organisation for libraries and leisure, Glasgow Life. Up to 500 jobs are at risk there due to lack of income over the pandemic. It is noticeable there also that the local council, and even the Scottish Government, have got flak for something neither of them are directly in charge of.

It looks like, in fact, when it comes to outsourcing. sometimes the public do give a monkeys.


Changes by local authority

National news

  • Libraries Connected launch new awards scheme for library staff – Libraries Connected. “The awards are linked to the Universal Library Offers and Promises and the judging panel will include those leading these areas of work nationally. The awards are open to individuals or teams” ..  Overdrive are sponsoring to pay for all the winners will get a free ticket (with accommodation) to attend both days of the annual Libraries Connected seminar in October. We’re also putting on a special awards dinner with (hopefully!) a VIP to present the awards to them in the evening. 

“Public libraries offer free resources for study and learning. This includes media literacy skills, through channels such as online courses and information sources, and providing quiet spaces for study and reflection that people may not have at home. Libraries also provide opportunities for people to develop core online skills, such as the ability to analyse information confidently and safely.” (Nickie Aiken, Conservative, London and Westminster)

“I thank my hon. Friend. She is quite right; there could not be a better campaign for the summer. We have put £1.9 million of support into the reading scheme that she mentions. But of course there is £200 million going into the holiday activities fund, and there could not be a better, more useful, happier way of occupying your time on holiday than reading a good book.” (Boris Johnson)

Hansard 14 July
  • Online Media Literacy Strategy – DCMS. Public libraries have their own small section in the new document, including “Public libraries offer free resources for study and learning. This includes media literacy skills, through channels such as online courses and information sources, and providing quiet spaces for study and reflection that people may not have at home. Libraries also provide opportunities for people to develop core online skills, such as the ability to analyse information confidently and safely.”

Libraries play an important role in communities and already offer training and support to the public to help them access technologies and navigate the online environment. The strategy will provide a training programme for frontline library workers who interact with members of the public every day to teach them about information literacy.

Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage

The Rainbow Monkey Incident

  • Actor in monkey costume with fake penis and bare bum was invited to library to encourage children to read – Independent. The Summer Reading Challenge “is all very wholesome stuff … until now.” … “Goodmayes Library in Redbridge, East London ruined everything by inviting an actor in a rainbow monkey costume with a fake penis and bare bum to the launch event, and created an absolute s**t storm.”. Arranged by Redbridge Vision, not council. Council Leader complains and event is stopped, apologies made. Libraries says they were not aware of monkey costume at time of booking, theatre group have “retired” costume. However, previous tweet exchange between Redbridge Libraries and Exeter Library suggests at least some in library service knew about the costume. “Sorry but we are just thinking about the brainstorm meeting that led a library to think a ‘Rainbow Dildo Butt Monkey’ was the best character to get children to read. Nope, we can’t image how on Earth it happened so we welcome whistle-blowers who wish to come forward.”

“Local Labour MP Wes Streeting asked how “anyone involved – including your staff – thought that a costume described by one national journalist – with depressing accuracy – as a ‘Rainbow Dildo Butt Monkey’ was appropriate for family audiences around our libraries and public realm, let alone a festival aimed at promoting literacy amongst children.”

International news

  • Canada / USA – 7 sent back to Canada after using library lawn to enter U.S. from Quebec – CTV News. Library is on the border. “Surveillance videos released by the Border Patrol shows the car drive by the Haskell Free Library and Opera House on July 4, nearly hitting a car as it turns onto a street in the Vermont community.” … “The Haskell Free Library was deliberately built straddling the border in the early 20th century so people from both countries can use it”
  • Denmark – Copenhagen: How can a library be a social inclusion place against racism? – Biblio Project. “The Human Library – or “Menneskebiblioteket” as it is called in Danish – was created in Copenhagen in the spring of 2000 “
  • Kenya/Tanzania – Why our public library facilities and services need improving – The Citizen. ” I will compare my experience of the Kenya National Library Services with that of Tanzania, based on cost of the service, facilities and use of technology. ” … “The state of the toilets at the main library in Dar es Salaam is shocking. There is no running water, the hand-washing sinks are blocked”
  • USA – Right-Wingers Are Taking Over Library Boards to Remove Books on Racism – Truthout. “Some locales are making opposition to critical race theory — either through books or community lectures and discussions — their core focus, but other locations are adding virulent opposition to comprehensive sex education and LGBTQIA+ acceptance in a trio of concerns. ”
    • Goodbye, ALA – April Hatchcock.” I’m more convinced than ever that ALA has always been and will always be centered on promoting the “neutrality” of white supremacy and capitalism. Despite the endless working groups and task forces aimed at the contrary, there is no interest in changing the organization. “
    • How and Why to Team up with your local librarian – America Walks. “Working with public librarians, these disparate institutions convene downtown walking tours, install art installations along walking trails, take kids on birding trips along rails-to-trails corridors, enhance the walkability of communities by installing amenities like community gardens, and even build new libraries that are more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. “

Local news by authority

  • Staffordshire – New libraries & arts project in Staffordshire to help bring communities together – Signal 1. “The project will support local artists and makers to take up residence in libraries across the county to help create new connections with communities.”
  • WandsworthBattersea Library is chosen as launch venue for new Government Strategy – GLL (press release). “Battersea Library in South London was invited to host the launch of a new national Media Literacy Strategy today (Wednesday 14th July).  Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister for Digital and Culture briefed a group of industry experts on the new £340k initiative that is designed to fight online disinformation. ”
  • Wiltshire – Wiltshire children urged to pick up a book as Summer Reading Challenge returns – Greatest Hits Radio. “A few of the changes include: Libraries not being able to listen to the children talk about their books; Core materials being handed out in bags; Families encouraged to visit at the quieter times such as afternoons as there may be queues.”