The summary of the most recent CIPFA statistics in the Guardian is so dead-pan it’s almost a comedic gem. Some of the findings are so obvious as to be hilarious – hey kids, library usage reduced when buildings were locked up; volunteer hours reduced, presumably because not enough of them broke in; librarians numbers stayed almost the same – that would be because they were all furloughed, then. The absolute gem though is that CIPFA reports there are 200 more libraries open than the year before. One more joke too, although more tragic than funny: the report, released normally only from 9 months after the time it reports on took place, has this time been released eleven months late this time. So, on current trends, libraries will have to wait until some time in 2023 to find out the national state of play as of now. Which is a big shame, because I personally can’t wait to see how many more hundred new libraries have opened in 2021/2. To be fair, this is not all CIPFA’s fault – returns from library services are patchy and late – but it does show that the current system of collating and reporting statistics needs to change. That is what no less a body as Libraries Connected says in their reaction to the report and what we can hope takes place.

In other reading, I also loved a book sent to me called “An English Library Journey” about someone who tries to join every library service in England. It’s sometimes eccentric in what it says about each service, and covers about a decade, but it does represent a kind of Secret Shopper report not just on each location but also how things appear to a member of the public nationally. The main messages I take from it is how atomised the national library service is and how difficult some services seem to think it’s necessary to make joining a library, which must be putting off quite a significant proportion of people who walk in through their doors.

In other news, Manchester has announced it is going fines-free, adding it’s prestigious weight to a movement that now has at least 27 library services in the UK.

Changes by local authority

An English Library Journey by John Bevis

John Bevis in cap and coat
John Bevis: Have You Seen This Man?

“Over the past decade, I’ve been using libraries all over the country as “offices” where I can go and write. Finding that becoming a member gave me the use of library computers, I got into the habit of joining libraries wherever I went. By the end of ten years, I had a card for every library authority in England (and some in other countries, too). Along the way, with a growing curiosity about the public library system, I took notes on what I saw in and out of libraries, eavesdropped on conversations, admired library architecture, and witnessed countless people of many demographics using libraries for an amazing diversity of needs. These observations make up much of my new book, An English Library Journey.

I joined my first library, coincidentally, in the week of the 2010 general election that gave us austerity. Over the years, I’ve despaired on arriving at libraries that are no longer there, or are closed because they only open 12 hours per week, are understaffed or over-reliant on volunteers, or are on some profit-extracting privatisation mission. But despite the desperate remedies, my abiding impression is of good service, goodwill and enthusiasm. Now, more than ever, I believe libraries are an essential part of our toolbox for a better future.”

John Bevis

National news

  • How to Start a Board Game Collection – National Acquisitions Group. Tuesday 1 March, 10.30am. Webinar. ” In this webinar we’ll hear from Andrew and Patrick about how they started their successful programme in Newcastle upon Tyne which loans a wide range of games.  They will cover how to choose stock, including revealing their most popular items, and how to resolve some of the issues you might encounter.”
  • Libraries hold the key to boosting our towns – Times, pay-walled. Liz Jolly of the British Library writes ” I have long seen the benefits of libraries in our communities. But since joining the British Library in 2018, responsible for our mission to support innovation and economic growth across the UK, I’ve been surprised by how far the roots of these benefits can spread …”
  • Library use plummeted in 2021, but e-visits showed 18% rise during lockdown – Guardian. CIPFA have released April 2020 to March 21 library statistics in February 2022. Libraries closed for long times during this period.. “a drop of 72%, as Covid-19 restrictions shut branches for much of the 12-month period. The closures also led to a major decline in the number of books borrowed by readers, with 72.9m books issued by libraries last year, down 56% from 165.9m in 2020″. Web visits up 18% ” total income of libraries decreased by nearly £20m to £56.6m … Librarian numbers remained relatively static, falling by 85 over the period”. Volunteer hours reduced sharply, for obvious reasons. “One unexpected spark of good news in the Cipfa figures was the report that the number of library branches in the UK increased to 3,842 in 2021. The growth, from 3,662 branches recorded in the year to March 2020”
  • Number of libraries rose in 2021 as visits plummeted, disputed figures show – BookSeller. “”It’s worth noting that the reduced levels of income we’ve seen have occurred despite increases in specific grant funding. Without this additional grant funding, we would have expected to see lines of income even lower. The fiscal reality that libraries are facing is bleak.” … ““We don’t know anything about the loans of e-books or any digital material. We don’t know how much the library service was used for events or by children. We don’t know how much was spent on either print books or e-books. Nor do we know how many councils completed the CIPFA form—which is an ongoing concern.”
  • Public Libraries Project of the Year Grant Award – National Acquisitions Group. “£5,000 available for a project from a NAG Member library. This grant, launched in 2019, aims to enable public libraries to explore a project without requiring a lengthy application process and with the flexibility to cover a range of circumstances. “
  • A sense of community is more vital than ever – Guardian / Letters. “Julian Coman’s article quotes a list, from the Labour’s Covenant pamphlet, of the places we need to invest in “where people from different backgrounds, meet talk, argue and laugh” (Politicians may have forgotten about ‘community’, but British people haven’t, 7 February). While the list is commendable, public libraries are a surprising omission. Many people once saw them as the heart of the communities they served. They provide all the facilities that Coman outlines, but like the BBC they also inform, educate and entertain.”
  • Single Digital Presence Head of Delivery – British Library. “To lead the beta phase of a new service proposition for public library users, introducing a new national platform and investing in local websites to transform the reach and impact of public libraries. “… “We are now looking for a team leader to direct and lead the team to develop the next phase of the project, drawing on recommendations from the R&D phase and user research. “
  • UXLIBSVI – “The 6th annual international User Experience in Libraries conference, or UXLibsVI, for library staff interested in exploring and responding to the needs and behaviours of their users,”. 6-8 June, Newcastle Under Lyme. [One hopes that having names in code is not part of the recommended user experience – Ed.]
  • Why libraries are so keen on apprenticeships and the Kickstart scheme – DCMS Libraries. “In a competitive jobs market it is hard to attract multi-talented and ambitious people – and relying on traditional recruitment channels won’t help to broaden the intake. Apprenticeships can reach out deeper into communities – attracting people keen to develop skills and advance their careers, including those who would never have imagined working in a library. Many apprentices find once they start work in the library, they get the bug and want to build a library career.”

International news

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