A new advisory panel has been established by the government to “help formulate innovative new policy ideas” for public libraries. One suspects that “increased funding and investment” will not be one of these policies but one never knows. The unpaid chair of the group, Baroness Sanderson (Conservative) is certainly saying the correct things like she aims to “help develop ideas as to how we may promote and protect our libraries into the future” and the very fact that an advisory panel has been established is good news: there’s been none since the Bonfire of the Quangoes back in 2010/11. On the other hand, the Baroness is an ex Mail on Sunday journalist so one suspects huge state investment is not on the cards.

One potential policy that has gained a lot of traction in the last couple of weeks – using libraries as “warm banks” – shows how public libraries can quickly take advantage of initiatives and changing conditions. The foreboding predictions for this winter – high inflation, huge energy price increases, continuing war in the Ukraine plus the fact Covid is still with us – suggest that the country is potentially entering as dark a period as few of us have ever experienced. Public libraries have always been there during such dark times before and it looks like we will continue to help brighten them again, especially if such things help the sector argue for sustained or increased funding.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Baroness Sanderson to help develop new public libraries strategy – Gov.uk. “Experienced former journalist and government adviser will help generate new ideas to improve library service and provision” … “a new advisory panel and will be expected to provide a fresh, challenging and impartial perspective on libraries to help formulate innovative new policy ideas.” … ” attended by representatives from Arts Council England, Libraries Connected, and the cross-party Local Government Association.” and “British Library, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, local authority library services and community-managed libraries, as well as other government departments” [Elizabeth Sanderson is a Conservative peer, who worked for the Mail on Sunday for 17 years before being given her peerage in 2019 – Ed.]
Recounts very familiar tale showing how important libraries can be in helping those not comfortable with the online world
  • Libraries and galleries to act as ‘warm banks’ for Brits struggling to heat homes – Mirror.
  • Libraries step up to provide aid to hard-up visitors but fear for their financial future – BookSeller, paywall. Libraries help with higher costs by providing warmth, free access to info & leisure and providing info on how to gain assistance. Sandwell providing food, Brighton providing toiletries and sanitary products and nappies.
  • Libraries under attack (again): the backlash against Drag Queen Story Hour in the UK – Book Riot. “I live in the UK, and am very much not delighted to share the unsurprising news that Rainy Bigot Island is keeping up with its cousins across the pond when it comes to terrorising drag queens and library users for running fun and educational story events.” … ” Piers Corbyn, brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (who doesn’t share his conspiracy theorist views), has shown up to at least one protest; prominent media transphobes have stayed home, but criticised the concept of Drag Queen Story Time on social media, and notably refused to condemn the far-right presence protesting the events.” … ” the religious right and the nationalist right are joining forces to attack people who challenge their reactionary view of the world”

How can libraries continue to run Drag Queen Story Hour events and ensure the safety of attendees and performers? In the short term, some libraries have had to run interference, giving out false details of one location so that the anti-LGBTQ+ protesters gather there before running the event at a completely different place. While this has allowed events to run safely and without interruption, libraries shouldn’t have to resort to subterfuge to hold an event which, when all’s said and done, is simply an adult professional reading picture books to children. Libraries need to work closely both with groups like Drag Queen Story Hour, and with anti-fascist groups organising against far-right protesters, to ensure that these storytimes can be performed and enjoyed by all.

Book Riot
  • Library Focus 2022 – BookSeller, paywall. “Our special report on the state of UK libraries covers the country from Stornaway to Southampton.”. Includes Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Bournemouth Christchurch Poole (using Minecraft), Norfolk, Brent, Staffordshire, Swansea (prisons), Barnsley, Northern Ireland (fines-free), Southampton (sanctuary),
  • Money Box Energy Bill Special – BBC Sounds. Isobel Hunter from Libraries Connected appears. “we’ll hear more on the “warm banks” being set up by councils, community groups and libraries, for people to spend time in if they can’t heat their homes.”
  • Serious concerns as almost a third of librarians asked to censor material – BookSeller, paywall. 21 of 82 librarians who responded to survey said they at least occasionally been asked to censor materials. “It follows a surge in protests outside libraries this year, most notably in response to the Drag Queen Story Hour tour over the summer” … “One librarian, who did not wish to be named, told The Bookseller that protestors, some of whom included members of far-right organisations, block-booked tickets on Eventbrite under “vile names”, making it difficult for the library to reserve places for customers who genuinely wanted to attend.”. Need policies to protect librarians.
  • ‘Warm banks’ to be set up in museums and libraries for people who can’t heat homes – Telegraph. Paywall.

International news

  • Canada – These Ontario libraries say more people borrow items and return them on time after overdue fines dropped – CBC. “Bernstein said research showed some people felt “shame or fear of huge bills that drives them away” and some felt they couldn’t enter a library to access computers, services or programs. Getting rid of fines means staff can focus on recommending books or helping people access services “rather than have awkward conversations about owing $5,” Bernstein said in an email.”
  • USA – Romance Novelist Donates $50,000 to Embattled Michigan Library – I Love Libraries. “Romance novelist Nora Roberts donated $50,000 to Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Michigan, after the library was defunded by the community in early August over LGBTQ-themed books. The donation pushed the cumulative total raised by two GoFundMe campaigns to more than $245,000—the amount the library was expected to lose next year due to the loss of taxpayer funding.”

Local news by authority

  • Birmingham – Birmingham: Council maps out places for public to keep warm – BBC. “We are going to work with partners to map out spaces across the city where people can go to keep warm,” he added. “Whether that’s local community centres, places of worship or libraries, we want to help people to find places where they will be welcomed, free of charge.”
  • Brent – Podcast Transcription Cricklewood Library – Community Managed Libraries National Peer Network. “explores the journey that Cricklewood Library has taken over the past 10 years, in order to reopen to the public in October 2021.” … “be there prepared for the long haul, it’s not going to be a short thing. You’re taking on something quite enormous. So, stay in power and reach out to the community.”
  • Cheshire East – Community spirit – BookSeller, paywall. Working with Ukrainian refugees. “Library staff have been very active in their approach to the challenge and are accustomed to responding to multiple needs in creative ways”. Libraries deliver council services: “This is becoming increasingly valued and, by working in partnership with multiple services in a strategic way, our influence and reach is growing.”
  • Dorset – Cost of living: Dorset ‘warm banks’ may help those who cannot heat homes – BBC. “The council is looking at whether to extend opening of places such as libraries.”