Baroness Elizabeth Sanderson is the chair of a new advisory panel that will inform the Government’s new public library strategy this year. Elizabeth, a life peer, although described as “independent”, sits on the Conservative benches, has advised Theresa May and has, well, before been a Mail on Sunday journalist for seventeen years. Given that is the case, and being it’s not an alternative universe, any advice to her has to be made being aware that there won’t be any significant extra funding (that is, more than is taken away via budget cuts) for library services. In addition, localism and lack or regulation are very much still the flavour of the month, so any proposals which require large amounts of money or new rules are not likely to be accepted. With all that in mind, here are my thoughts, on the understanding that if this was for someone in a government of a different colour, they would be very different:

  • A strategy that deals with attempts at censorship both in terms of stock and events. We’re seeing increasing attempts, especially by those on the fringe (anti-vaxxers, religious extremists) and others to stop anything too LGBT in the sector. It would be useful to have some thought on how to respond to such attacks. After all, even the Times, is questioning whether we’d prefer children to have advice from Pornhub instead.
  • The fines-free movement has, from being almost unknown in 2018, taken off at speed in the UK with 71 services now no longer charging money for late books. However, this is heavily skewed towards Scotland (two-thirds), Northern Ireland (all) and Wales (half) compared to just to a quarter in England. Encouragement to push for all library services to be fines-free would be good as this would be instantly popular, promote equality and, crucially, not result in huge extra costs. However, being budgets are very strict, some thought needs to be given to account for the small percentage of funding that they do bring in.
  • Back up the current law about all areas having a “comprehensive and efficient” library service. In addition, the lack of any actual standards for English public libraries is a bit embarrassing. I know this is the most unlikely of the suggestions to be carried out in practice but, remember, closing libraries is not a popular vote-winner.
  • Libraries Connected has proven to be a big success in sharing best practice and encouraging responses to challenges (e.g. Covid) on a national level. It needs to be continued.
  • Libraries are a brilliant springboard for lending and providing information for others e.g. NHS information and heart monitors, covid tests. A push for this to be known to all government and agency services, to make it a case of think library first and only if that’s not possible create your own (expensive, reinvention of wheel) service instead would be good. This may both save money and provide extra funding for libraries.
  • Usage is changing since Covid but not declining. The big change is a sustained increase of e-lending. Some thought as to how services should pay for these as well as for printed stock would be useful as well as a way of encouraging publishers to reduce their (often inflated) library e-book prices and encourage all publishers to allow library lending.
  • A lot of libraries need refurbishment. This is especially true in the children’s areas, which are often too small compared to the adult areas and not exciting enough. The Libraries Improvement Fund has been a success in providing capital investment (rather than soon-forgotten events) to libraries and should be maintained and hopefully expanded.
  • A national public library website, LibraryOn, is being tested and will one day become public. This needs to be as public (rather than librarian) focused as possible, with some way of allowing minimum-clicks-needed access to finding book titles both in print and e-book form. It should also be maintained long-term.

That’s enough, for now, Baroness. Let me know if you want to know or are curious as to what I’d suggest if legislation, enforcement or funding are options.

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National news

International news

  • Colombia Of libraries, ruralities, and mycelia – Medium. ” the greatest value of libraries lies in how tremendously adaptable they can be. But their success depends on us. It depends on us removing stereotypes from our heads and limits from our eyes and hands, and being able to see mycelia where others see closed rooms and ordered shelves.”
  • Denmark – Children, reading culture and libraries: Building blocks for a better future – Christian Lauersen. “Being a Children’s Librarian is a crusade for a better future for us all.” We had four criteria for the new Children’s Library: it should not be made for children but with children; it should not be a playground – it should be a universe for stories, imagination, curiosity and community and a place where children and their families could meet books and library staff in an inspiring and inclusive environment; on a functional level it should be flexible and be able to hold different kind of activities; The collection should be made accessible from a children’s logic – not a librarian’s logic”
  • European Union – Recommendation on Library Legislation and Policy in Europe – EBLIDA. “This Recommendation reinforces active citizenship in a democratic environment and, beyond culture and education, focusses on the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. It also reinforces the social dimension of libraries and their commitment towards a sustainable, democratic and equitable society.”
  • Global – Where does the Cardigan-wearing Librarian Stereotype come from? – Book Riot. Pre 1800s librarians mainly men (seen as “fussy”) then female-dominated from 19th Century. “because mostly unmarried women were the ones joining the workforce due to demographic shifts and societal changes, the spinster old maid stereotype was born”. Librarians seen as fearsome and libraries are, well, cold.
  • Ireland – ‘Not the country I left’: Cork man working in UK’s oldest LGBT bookshop proud of changed Ireland – Echo. “Amid the difficult period, however, staff are believed to be receiving overwhelming support in the form of everything from bouquets to letters and chocolates from members of the public who oppose the protests. And now, Ballinlough native Jim MacSweeney who is the manager of Gay’s The Word, in London, the UK’s longest-running LGBT bookshop, has also sent words of support from overseas.”
  • New Zealand – Libraries branching out for community wellbeing – NZ Herald. “Public libraries help local government enhance community wellbeing by fostering networks, providing spaces for people to gather and share knowledge and adapting services to respond to community needs.”. Incorporating Maori language “extremely important” … “The research noted that in an ideal future, libraries would be neutral safe spaces that anyone in the community could access. Libraries should be involved in local and national decision-making, and receive national funds.

Local news by authority

“We would struggle to take the tea and coffee away in some of those venues now. I think it is a service that has been introduced that is very popular.”

Andrew Olney, Glasgow Life director of libraries, sport and communities
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