Two bits of news catch my eye today. The first is the, wow, £500 million going to the British Library in London. That’s more than half what goes into the entire national public library service each year. On the one hand, it’s great to see such a massive investment in libraries and, it’s of course not government money that would otherwise have gone to public libraries. That is, the sector has lost nothing from it and may well gain in some ways. On the other hand, that’s because almost government funding almost never goes to public libraries instead. If I was being hyper-cynical I’d point out that the 100,000 new square foot represents ten square feet for each of the 10,000 public library staff lost over the last decade. But I am of course a massive optimist. Yay. And even though it’s a very handy short walk away from Euston, the three hour journey and £150 return cost (if I’m lucky) will tend to put me off visiting to admire it. So I don’t think it’s going to help Levelling Up North. But, on the whole, well done and best wishes to the British Library. They have been more aware of public libraries recently, what with business centres and webinars and the work on (launch any time now, honest) LibraryOn, the Single Digital Presence. And, after all, library sector beggars can’t be choosers.

The other bit of news is the censoring of a nursery rhyme, Five Little Monkeys, in Scottish Book Bug sessions. It appears to have some “historical racist intent”. I’ve not heard it for years and now I know why I guess. But it brings me on to a thought I’ve been having for a while. And that is, weirdly, the explosion of information on the internet has led to an increase in demands for restricting freedom from all sides and all reasons. We see this most notably in the Land Of The Free, where there are ongoing bans and challenges to pretty much any book your average Christian Extremist or Far Righter does not disagree with. And, on the other side, there are “Woke” challenges to a whole bunch of other stuff. This is going on while in what used to be the Soviet Bloc, Russia is busy getting rid of any Ukrainian books and Ukraine is busy dumping Russian books. Don’t get me wrong, I know which side I’m on in both cases (and it ain’t with the Proud Boys and Vladimir Putin) but in a world where one can be called a groomer for not thinking a drag queen is an automatic paedophile (I think that sums up the argument) it’s great to see Ireland resisting attempts to remove books. Freedom comes with a cost and it’s unfortunately the public library sector that is starting to pay.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • 3 Essential Components Of The Library – Princh. Staff, events/programmes, IT.
  • Alan Hopkinson IFLA Conference Award 2023 – IFLA. “This Award enables a CILIP member in their early career (full criteria below) to experience the IFLA Congress.  The Award covers the whole cost of the IFLA conference fee and £100 towards travel and accommodation.”
  • The British Library doesn’t need £500m – but local libraries do – Guardian / Letters. “Since 2010 almost 800 local libraries have been closed across the UK, with the loss of 10,000 staff, and many surviving libraries are at best part-time. Against this backdrop, it is staggering to read that an investment of £500m has been proposed for the British Library (Green light given for huge British Library extension, 3 February). Communities all over the country are being deprived of free access to not only books and information, but also the internet …” see also British Library extension given green light by Camden Council – Built Environment Networking. 100,000 extra square foot.
  • Community Managed Libraries Map – Community Managed Libraries National Peer Network. Google Map of volunteer libraries. [Not entirely accurate – Ed.]
  • Funding fears: Libraries should be staffed like any other council service – Yahoo News. ” Professor Peter Reid says free access to books remains fundamentally important in a civilised society. The professor of librarianship at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University added that while it might be a time of crisis for local government finances, libraries can and do evolve.”
  • GLL-operated libraries battle digital exclusion with free SIM card scheme – GLL (press release). “More than 60 libraries operated by charitable social enterprise GLL, have this week launched a scheme to provide nearly 16,000 free SIM cards to residents on low incomes and those who are struggling with the cost of living. Libraries located in London’s Bromley, Greenwich and Wandsworth, along with those in Dudley and Lincolnshire will be distributing the cards, building on GLL’s existing Warm Spaces initiative – set up to support those struggling to afford sharp rises in utility bills. The ability to offer free SIM cards is the result of a successful application to the Good Things Foundation and courtesy of mobile phone network operators 3, 02 and Vodafone.”
  • Libraries vital for new and growing businesses, briefing reveals – Libraries Connected. “Our new briefing, ‘Supporting Business and Enterprise’, shows that public libraries are central to realising this ambition. Through Business & IP Centres and other localised services, the library network has become one of the country’s most effective and accessible sources of support for new and growing businesses. As the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently put it, libraries act as “engines for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation””
  • Make Music Day 2023 – Libraries Meet Up – EventBrite. Tuesday 14 March, 4pm, online. “Make Music Day is an annual set of free music events taking place in venues and public spaces – from town squares to libraries, bandstands to school halls and arts centres. It takes place on the longest day of the year – on 21 June.”
  • Nursery rhymes banned in Scottish library events over ‘historical racism’ fears – Telegraph. “Popular “Bookbug” sessions are held for young children across Scotland with the support of the Scottish Book Trust, the Holyrood-backed charity which has told libraries and nurseries hosting these events that certain songs should no longer be sung. Despite having lyrics unrelated to race, Five Little Monkeys has been banned because it has “historical racist intent”.”
  • Public Libraries 2022: Netloan Customer Survey Results – Lorensbergs. “Average footfall has reached nearly 70% of pre-Covid levels, up from around 50% at end of 2021″
  • Public Libraries Project of the Year Grant – National Acquisitions Group. “£5,000 available for a project from a NAG Member library.”
  • Tricky decisions as Scotland’s councils face budget shortfalls – BBC. “Individual local authorities have shortfalls ranging from around £7m in the Scottish Borders to £120m at Glasgow City Council, according to research by the BBC.”

International news

Local news by authority

“The Minister talks about the terrible circumstances in Ukraine and the events of the last year, but he must recognise that the scale of the cuts since 2010 have been devastating for our local authorities, which have had to consider closing libraries, swimming pools, leisure centres and so forth. Can he confirm that it is in fact more of a long-term problem and that we need greater investment in our public services?”

Margaret Greenwood MP Labour, Wirral West
  • Worcestershire – Threat to city’s libraries as ‘lifeline’ funding set to be pulled – Yahoo News. “The future of some of the city’s libraries could be thrown into doubt as part of a plan to cut ‘lifeline’ funding. Worcester City Council pledged to supply £157,000 to Worcestershire County Council every year as part of a deal to keep services running at Warndon and St John’s libraries in 2019. But now city council bosses are discussing pulling the plug on the agreement and leaving the county to fund the service.”
  • York – Dringhouses library faces temporary closure for heating repairs – Press. “Due to issues with the heating system at Dringhouses Library, York Explore Libraries & Archives has notified councillors of plans to temporarily close the library from Monday February 13 until the end of the month. Ward councillors have raised concerns about the impact of the temporary closure on the local community and have asked for an urgent meeting with Explore to discuss possible temporary solutions which would ensure that staff, volunteers and residents can safely access vital services.”