Editorial

There have been some more reports of councils looking to cut services due to Covid, either directly due to budgetary pressure or because of reductions in usage. This is what has been feared in library circles. What’s strange though is that the reports I am seeing is that some library services are reporting getting back to almost normal levels of business while others are at barely half of what they were in 2019. That’s a major difference and I’m not seeing much explanation of it. Perhaps we’ll see it soon.

In other news, COP26 has not gone un-noticed in libraries this week, with a report on how GLL are being more sustainable in their libraries, and a lovely quote from Surrey Libraries saying “what we recycle are stories”. Finally, I’m pleased to include an extract from a new book on the history of libraries, called “fragile” – something which some users of Bolton, Dorset, Nottinghamshire, Slough and the Wirral may have particular recent reason to agree with, as would those users of the Staffordshire Schools Library Service which follows a long list of others in announcing its closure.

Changes by local authority

Staffordshire School Library Service closed.

Extract from “Libraries: A Fragile History” by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur Der Weduwen

Not just another library book

“Carnegie brought little romance to the business of libraries, but much of the clear-minded rationality with which he had made his business fortune: when he sold out to John Pierpont Morgan in 1901 to devote himself entirely to philanthropy, he was the richest man in America. His sense of purpose was precisely what the public library movement needed at the time Carnegie was most active, between 1880 and 1919. Libraries proliferated during the nineteenth century, responding to the rapidly growing demand for books, a product of radical social and technological change. Books became cheaper and more abundant, and more men and women were looking to read, for recreation, information and social advancement. Yet abundance brought its own challenges: if books became cheaper, the imperative to borrow, rather than own, which had sustained the subscription and circulating libraries in the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth, fell away. The public library had to find a motive, a clientele, and a niche in the library world. Until the arrival of Carnegie, it was by no means certain that it had succeeded.”

About the book

“Throughout their long and tumultuous history libraries have taken almost every form imaginable, from humble wooden chests to vast palaces of marble and gilt. But one thing has always remained the same: the immense, sometimes obsessive lengths to which humans will go in order to acquire and possess knowledge. In this, the first major work of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen explore the rich and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. Along the way, they introduce us to the antiquarians, philanthropists and eccentrics who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of technologies, ideologies and tastes – and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanours committed in the pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts. From the age of the scroll to the disappearance of the bookmobile, the story of a library is also the story of the society or individual that created it: this erudite and fascinating account reveals what libraries can tell us about ourselves, and why we continue to collect, to destroy – and to make the library anew.”

The Library: A Fragile History is out now in hardback, published by Profile Books.

National news

  • Baby Babble (A NAGwebinar week event) November 9 @ 11:00 – National Acquisitions Group. “Baby Babble is a five-week programme for babies aged around 4 to 9 months and their parents/carers. The sessions, developed with speech and language therapists and led by Derbyshire Sure Start librarians, are fun and interactive with activities and ideas to encourage babies’ early communication skills, speech and language.”
  • Characters of Colour in UK kids books have quadrupled, and more good book news – Book Riot. “numbers has risen to 8% of books featuring a minority ethnic main character and 15% including minority ethnic characters. There’s still a way to go to represent the 34% of elementary school children who are from an ethnic minority background, but it’s demonstrating steady growth every year.”
  • CILIP Library and Information Supplier Showcase – Autumn 2021 – CILIP. “We are looking to the future” by having a physical event in London, 30 November.
  • Letters: Libraries need to move with the times and look to a digital future – Herald. “The library service has been in a steady decline over recent years, I think because it has mainly been built and designed as a singular unit, rather than being part of a hub, hosting other popular and essential local services, which would surely in turn bring in more local members of the public. “
  • Libraries and climate change: reducing, reusing and recycling in GLL – DCMS Libraries. “Libraries are often viewed as the perfect example of recycling – one book is used by many people – but does that mean that we can sit back and relax, feeling the job is done and the world is saved for future generations? GLL is a charitable social enterprise and manages five public library services – and over the last few years, we have been exploring ways in which all aspects of our services can become more sustainable. We are librarians – and so our first task was a literature search, which lead us to adopt “reduce, reuse and recycle” as our mantra.”
  • Libraries are linked to the values that define the character of a nation – Marc Lambert – Scotsman. “Libraries, in short, are essential to the individual, to families, and to the communities they live in. They are central to the social fabric of a properly democratic nation. The invention of the alphabet and writing is commonly viewed as one of humankind’s greatest inventions. But in a sense the creation of the public library system goes one better. Whereas the early scribes and the Kings they served jealously guarded the technology of writing and the information it encoded, libraries flipped that on its head.”
  • Libraries, bitstreams and the threat to our repositories of knowledge – Financial Times. “The enduring vitality and importance of libraries is underscored by the arrival of two timely new books. They address both the history and future challenges facing these important institutions. Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen take a broad view in The Library, ranging across the millenia. Meanwhile in Bitstreams, Matthew Kirschenbaum, professor of digital humanities at the University of Maryland, focuses on the growing issue of how, in our digital world, we can ensure the future preservation and understanding of literary texts.”
  • Libraries Connected Awards 2021: Vision and Print Impaired People’s shortlist – Libraries Connected.

International news

Local news by authority

“I popped into my local library to pick up a consultation form – only to find that the staff suggested I did it online. I said I would really prefer to write it out – and eventually a paper copy was provided. The staff explained that the Council wanted to save paper. It struck me that many customers using library buildings to borrow books would not fill out an online form and that by not providing forms to complete in a paper format, the consultation was building in a bias to a digital future. “

Dorset – Email received
  • Tameside – Library to close for ‘fire protection works’ – just two years after huge multi-million pound development first opened – Manchester Evening News. “Ashton-under-Lyne library was built in March 2019 as part of the multi-million pound Vision Tameside project. But it will be shut for 12 weeks from tomorrow (November 6), as building works to ‘boost’ its fire protection take place. Insurers suggested the works would ‘reduce risk and insurance premiums’ for the building at Tameside One. It comes following changes in the fire insurance market in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.”
  • Wirral – Wirral Council criticised for avoiding ‘difficult’ financial decisions – BBC News. £9m budget hole. “The authority was criticised for its reluctance to make cuts to any of its 16 libraries, make staff redundant or increase car park charges.” … “Ms Williamson said the council had tried to keep facilities open wherever it could and Wirral residents’ interests were “at the heart of every decision we make”.”
    • Threats to Wirral’s libraries and leisure centres ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disgusting’ – Liverpool Echo. “One person said: “Yes of course take our libraries, something that serves the public, is educational and has a useful purpose. “Well they will have a fight on their hands if they try to close Hoylake Library.” While another said: “Why? What all of a sudden has caused this to be a necessity? For decades the libraries have been an integral part of our communities and the very few people in high up positions are trying to take them away from the many that need them, disgraceful!””