These news updates tend to, by the nature of things, concentrate on the short term: a cut there, a new library here and a spotted possible trend perhaps thrown in. So perhaps it’s useful to take a step back and do a brief (if it’s long no-one will read it summary) of what’s happened to the public library sector since Public Libraries News started way back in 2010.

The big obvious thing is that libraries are still very much here. The pessimistic observer back at the start of the last decade, seeing austerity and e-books coming in could have drawn the conclusion that they would not be. While the death of libraries was exaggerated, it was not sadly entirely without merit. The amount of spending has gone down by around 20% (plus inflation) since 2010 and usage and number of council-run libraries has taken a similar dip. The number of volunteer libraries went from a handful to nearly 600 and a similar number of libraries closed entirely. But most of the closed libraries were small, although very sadly missed. Interestingly, it is the expected death of volunteer libraries that has been the most over played. It turns out that they survive well, with only a handful having closed, and most surviving in some form, with many thriving. Statistics are challenging but I’d say roughly the sector has shrunk by a fifth in most ways which, while tragic, is perhaps not bad considering the circumstances (deep cuts and non-interfering government). For that we can squarely thank the public who have shown councils everywhere that threats to libraries leads to placards and protests.

Right, other trends. Well, let’s go digital first. E-books have turned out not to be The Killer of Libraries quite yet, although it is too early to tell about the impact of Covid on consumer habits long-term. DVDs and other audio-visual are dying a death on the shelves as people flock to streaming but, if the success of bookshops is anything to go by, printed books have life in them yet. Self-service came in big time and staff-less libraries made an appearance. Most library services – but, incredibly, still not all – now have social media accounts, although they tend to be a few years behind trend in what they’re allowed to do by their ever risk-averse councils. Sadly, the Single Digital Presence, not present in 2010 is still not present now, but there is at least hope for next year.

Now for organisations. The MLA was killed off early on, replaced in some ways (but not all) by Arts Council England. ACE have moved in the period from concentrating on what they knew to including development and infrastructure. The Society of Chief Librarians transformed into Libraries Connected during the period and has got noticeably more relevant, with library services benefitting from its (soft power) leadership, training, funding opportunities and dramatically increased current awareness, from it. This was made possible of course by welcome funding from ACE. The Libraries Taskforce was born and died during the decade, with questionable results, although for me the raised profile of libraries within central government can I think be partly attributed to it.

Governance has changed but not dramatically. The large majority of services are still council-run, with the total number of English library services changing from 151 to … well,150. For-profit companies failed to make any dent at all, with the only living example – Laing and then Carillion – coming to an ignominious end. Single library trusts, although low in number, have proved, at least in that of many eyes, successful in the period. Leisure trusts have had a far more chequered experience, with some folding and some having their libraries quietly semi-taken over again by councils when their lack of library awareness started showing. Northamptonshire, once lauded as hugely successful, turned out to be built on sand and collapsed so badly even this government had to intervene. At the other end of the scale, GLL/Better now runs no less than five different library services and appears to have survived Covid, at time of press, reasonably unscathed.

So, that’s enough for now. For me, one last thought. Library services and staff seem far more connected and more aware of what they are doing now than they did in 2010. The sector, although still basically a herd of cats when it comes to lack of centralised control, is very much at least, a bunch of cats working together and co-operating. This is wonderful to see and the national organisations, and of course the prevalence of digital, can take almost all of the credit for this. But I like to think in some small way that Public Libraries News has drawn the sector together ever so slightly as well … and that makes me happier than even taking last weekend off due to it being my birthday. Here’s to the next decade.

Changes by authority


National news

  • Bombs and Pandemics: How Libraries Survive and Thrive – Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. “I see now that librarians are frontline workers used to dealing with the mentally ill, the disenfranchised, homeless, the lonely, and vulnerable. A librarian is often the only person someone might see all day. What’s more, they have the emotional intelligence to deal with whoever walks in through the door, which to my mind, makes them more than someone who loans out books. They are part counsellor, social worker, listening ear, facilitator, events planner and friend.”
  • CILIPS Autumn Regathering 2021 – CILIPS. “The aim of this event is to bring people back together, share innovative work and highlight the ways in which library and information professionals from all sectors are essential to a changing world and today’s rapidly evolving circumstances. Our exciting array of topics and speakers includes …”
  • Covid 19 and Youth Services in Public Libraries – Robert Gordon University. Survey to help student with dissertation.
  • Death Positive Libraries: An academic view – Libraries Connected. “As we take this project forward in partnership with the library community, we will be thinking about what the Death Positive Library can mean, and how to help people think about these difficult conversations.”
  • Fund for Welsh museums and libraries reopens – Arts Professional. Transformation Capital Grant.
  • International ISNI Information Day 2021 – ISNI. Webinar, 1 September 2pm. “The ISNI International Agency will be holding its first-ever international event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI). This event will be open to all organisations and industries currently using the ISNI standard including the libraries, publishing, music and rights management sectors.”
The Fortean Society prove themselves witty
  • Professional Confidence Part II; Positive Steps to Refreshing your Team Cohesion – British Library Living Knowledge Network. 9 September 11am. “This webinar will explore ways of enhancing a positive team culture and aims to tackle feelings of disconnection that may have emerged throughout this tumultuous period.”
  • Return to Rhymetimes Webinar – Libraries Connected. 2 September 2pm. “how Rhymetimes can support maternal mental health and early speech and language development in children and how we can help build parental confidence to return to libraries safely.” … “We will also have presentations from library services who have reintroduced Rhymetimes in the last few months, describing how they have achieved this, what the challenges have been and how they have been overcome.”
  • Strategies for Increased Community Engagement – III. With Ken Chad. Webinar, 15 September 2pm. “This webinar will cover how community engagement solutions can help libraries work strategically to define their role in the community. This includes how solutions can help provide services of interest to current and new patrons, as well as user experiences that meet contemporary expectations. As public libraries all over the world continue to innovate and adapt, this session will deliver insights on techniques and solutions for scaling up your library.”

International news

  • Afghanistan – As Taliban violence forces schools in Afghanistan to close, mobile libraries give hope to girls – South China Morning Post. “Husna’s only ray of hope is the mobile library run by the Pen Path Civil Society, a non-governmental organisation whose motorcycle-riding volunteers travel across areas ravaged by fighting to distribute books and stationery to children.”
  • Global Study Into Alternative Methods of Service Delivery – Melbourne Libraries (Australia) global survey. “We are conducting an investigation into alternative methods of service delivery which go beyond the traditional understanding of libraries to engage with our communities. We are looking for information about library programs or services that meet community needs in innovative and interesting ways, or which overcome barriers of infrastructure and resources to meet these needs.”
  • Lebanon – Rebuilding Beirut’s libraries – CILIP. 15 September 6pm. ” talking about libraries in Lebanon following the blast in 2020.  After the August 4 2020 blast, libraries in Lebanon decided to brush off the dust, remove the rubble and glass, and tend to their injured staff and users. Librarians started looking into best plans for a return to service and the Lebanese Library Association joined them on the journey”
  • USA – Dr. Carla Hayden, The Librarian of Congress, On Why Libraries Matter – WYPR. Podcast. “Dr. Hayden has had to navigate changes brought on not only by the COVID 19 pandemic, but by the dramatic evolution of libraries in general: how they serve their communities, and how they are responding in an increasingly digital world.”

Local news by authority

“Whilst Libraries are a statutory service there is no definition as to the scale and range of
services that should be provided. The provision of an online service would suffice.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Glasgow Life – Glasgow Life