The recent controversy over the rewriting of Roald Dahl’s books to make them more politically correct, which may or may not have been just a publicity stunt, has got me thinking even more about where we should stand on censorship. And it is censorship, pure and simple. Look at the definition of the word if you’re not sure.

My views on this have changed and hardened recently. The thing is I like being politically correct and, as any reader will gather from my editorials, my views are left of centre. But I think we need to be firm on some things. If one starts changing words then it means that written words can be changed. The moral high ground is lost and it’s harder to work out what was actually said or meant. Freedom of speech is taken away from the dead. And, maybe, if we refuse to recognise this as a line in the sand, then there are others lines we may not notice until it is too late.

My first degree was in History, fascinating subject (let me know if you want a chat on Later Roman military formations) but part of the challenge is working out what actually happened. Far from being the preservers of ancient knowledge like many of us were taught in school, the Early Christians destroyed by some estimates over 95% of pagan writing and a surprising amount of what is left is just extracts in Christian texts of the time, often included solely in order to rebut them. That was a historic catastrophe, in at least two different ways. What I am saying is that the writings of authors need to be kept the same in order to accurately judge them. If they fall out of favour of the times then let them. Of course, as librarians our influence is highly limited (profit wins every time) but at the very least we should not welcome such changes. Or we will be judged in the future for it. That is, unless librarians are written out of history when it is politically correct to do so.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • I hate library phone boxes. By Katrina Robinson – The Oldie. “I’m a librarian – so people think I should love it when people put any old books in any old crate and label it ‘Library’. They think I’m blaspheming against mighty Thoth, the Egyptian god of reading, when I tell them how I feel. I feel the way any worth-her-salt GP would feel if she spotted a rusty first-aid box by the side of the road, with ‘Hospital’ emblazoned all over it – while real hospitals were closing or becoming semi-open ‘community hospitals’ staffed by unqualified volunteers.”

Although there have been library closures, an extensive network of libraries remains across England delivering services including digital to local residents. There has been no assessment made of the impact of library closures on trends in the level of digital exclusion. There are over 2,900 libraries across England, and while there have been closures, they continue to be a well used service, providing a trusted network of accessible locations with trained staff and volunteers, free wifi and public PCs, and assisted digital access to a wide range of digital services.

Based on a dataset of information on public libraries in England, published by Arts Council England, we estimated that around 230 static libraries have been permanently closed in the period 1 April 2010 to 31 December 2021 and have not been relocated or replaced.”

Paul Scully, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Science Innovation and Technology
  • Improving the online presence of public libraries with a new grants programme – British Library / Living Knowledge. “The first stage of the LibraryOn digital grants programme will kick off on 1 March 2023. From this date we’ll be inviting library services in England to submit an Expression of Interest form outlining their initial ideas for a funded project.”
  • Julia Donaldson ends James Patterson’s reign as UK libraries’ most borrowed author – Guardian. “Patterson had been the most borrowed author for 14 years in the Public Lending Right (PLR) data” … “All of the Top 10 most borrowed titles for the period were fiction, with crime and thriller titles dominating. Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club and its sequel The Man Who Died Twice were in at numbers one and two on the chart, and held the same positions on the most borrowed audiobooks chart.”
  • Libraries Improvement Fund (LIF) Round 3 – Arts Council England. £10.5m. “This fund will enable library services across England to invest in a range of projects to upgrade buildings and technology so they are better placed to respond to the changing ways people are using them.”
  • The old book shop going to auction with hundreds of books inside – Wales Online. Nothing to do with public libraries but oh my gosh the books …
  • Radio 2 Book Club Library Staff Opportunity – BBC Radio 2. “We’re looking for librarians to join the Radio 2 Book Club panel, to help choose the books that will feature on the show.”
  • Shortlist announced for Libraries Connected Awards 2023 – Libraries Connected. “The Awards have six categories which reflect the Universal Library Offers (ULOs) and Promises – the core services and programmes that modern library services provide.”
  • A sociological exploration of the library – Glasgow Guardian. “Cicero once said: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” While students may have to replace a garden with a daily walk through Kelvingrove Park, our own private libraries are flourishing. Perhaps at the expense of the public good that public libraries provide.”

International news

  • Czech Republic – Sustainability in Czech Libraries – CILIP. Webinar, March 22 Wednesday 5pm. ” established SDGs in Czech librarianship and empowered dozens of libraries to become pioneers of sustainable development topics in their communities.”
  • South Korea – Exploring the Innovative Community Libraries of Korea – Publishers Weekly. “there is no future for libraries—instead, there are many diverse futures, futures diverse as the communities libraries are designed to serve. And in these futures, librarians shape their libraries around these unique communities, diverse in demographics, needs, capabilities, and locations.” … “Fair warning, these libraries really cannot be replicated. What makes them work is that they are all hand made for their unique communities. “
  • USA – Confronting white nationalism in libraries: a toolkit – Western States Center. “This toolkit is designed to help readers counter multiple forms of organized bigotry. This includes organizing that draws on anti-Blackness, anti-Indigenous bigotry, anti-immigrant bigotry, anti-Muslim bigotry, antisemitism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry.”

Local news by authority