The Independent Review of English Public Libraries is a surprisingly good piece of work. I was kind of expecting suggestions of more volunteers and opening up more cafes in order to fund libraries and the depressingly common other uninformed rubbish. But, you know, I find it hard to criticise any of the recommendations. Even the one on volunteers makes sense considering where we are now. A decade ago of course I’d be spitting acid but there are so many unpaid workers now, it would seem churlish not to wish for them to be better supported. The massive unspoken recommendation, which I am sure everyone had in their minds but, well, with this government is impossible, is to actually properly fund the sector. Or, at least not to cut it further. But, for that, we will have to wait for another government, and another review.

There’s the now depressingly frequent round of council library cuts announced in the last week, with Kent’s potentially huge 33-library cut leading the pack. Fascinatingly, for those of us who have followed the establishment of library trusts, there is the rarely seen case in York of a library service refusing to accept a cut. That would be impossible in a normal council-run service but York Explore is pointing out it has a contract and such a cut would require agreement from themselves. Makes you fancy having a trust in your area too doesn’t it?

Mind you, it’s great to see yet more refurbishments finally coming to fruition. Bolton looks rather snazzy and one hopes Saltdean will do so as well. So much for the physical. Over on the digital side of things, I hope I am not along in finding it amusing amusing that the LibraryOn team have decided to run a day on digital ideas in libraries physically in London, the most expensive city for most of the country to get to, for £20 each, and for only four people per organisation, rather than, ooh I don’t know, digitally when there would be no such limits. Perhaps they are afraid of being hacked.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Dagger in the Library nominations – Crime Writers’ Association. “The Dagger in the Library is awarded to a UK crime writer every year. This year the names of nominated authors have been supplied by libraries and borrowers nationwide. All you need to do from 5 January 2024 is vote for which writer you think should win the Dagger in the Library. Each library in Britain or the Republic of Ireland has three votes and any person working there can vote – staff or volunteer.”
  • The Guardian view on the future of libraries: an old question of human dignity in a new form – Guardian. “A cyber-attack on the British Library has shown how vulnerable digital archives are. It has reinforced the value of physical books and librarians” … “online access is vulnerable to everything from wars and hostile regimes to power outages. So, too, are buildings filled with books, and people to track them down. To keep their millennia-old place as bastions of civilisation, both grand scholarly institutions and humble community libraries must be financially supported to continue offering both.”
  • The impact of Scotland’s libraries – Scottish Book Trust. “Scottish Book Trust is undertaking independent research into the value and impact of public and school libraries in Scotland in partnership with the National Library of Scotland (NLS), the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS)”
  • Independent Review to guide libraries strategy in 2024 – DCMS. Review will “inform new government strategy on libraries” and annual cross-government round-table meetings to address library challenges. Recommendations:
  1. The establishment of a national data hub to better evidence the role libraries play in our society
  2. A national branding campaign to raise awareness of our libraries
  3. The closer involvement of the British Library
  4. An expanded library membership
  5. A stronger volunteer network 
  6. The creation of a Libraries Minister and a more joined-up approach within government 
  7. The establishment of a Libraries Laureate
  8. A change to the timing of Libraries Week to better involve politicians nationally

“The Library Campaign is seldom super-excited by government reviews of libraries. More money would solve a lot of their problems. However, it’s better that they appear somewhere on the national agenda
than not. (England only, though). In this political climate, Liz Sanderson knew better than to ask for proper funding. But her report certainly pinpoints plenty of underlying issues worth getting on with. She notes that some have come up in previous reviews. She’s right to point this out. Her summary, to nobody’s surprise, is that the core problem is not enough awareness of what libraries do – among central government, local councils, the public and even the library sector itself. Plenty to do, then.  But it won’t be cost-free.”

Library Campaign
  • ‘The Libraries Gave Us Power’: the birth of the public library in Wales – Nation Cymru. “In 1861, Cardiff’s first free library available to the general public, opened in a room above the entrance to the Royal Arcade (pictured) on St Mary’s Street.  It would be paid for by voluntary subscriptions, It was an immediate hit, wildly popular and oversubscribed, so much so, that it soon had to move across the road to bigger premises”
  • Library under attack – Khrono. Long translatable article from Norwegian site for higher education covers the British Library hack and public library funding cuts in the UK.
  • Majority of bids to save libraries, pubs and village halls rejected by Tory scheme – Mirror. “Seven out of 10 requests to save libraries, pubs and village halls have been rejected by a flagship Tory scheme. Under the Community Ownership Fund, locals can bid for Government cash to protect much-loved assets from being lost or taken over”
  • Michael Morpurgo backs call to ensure poorer children have access to books – Guardian. “Library closures by local authorities were particularly likely to affect disadvantaged families, according to Morpurgo, by closing off a vital source of access to books. “We should never, ever, in this country close down a library again,” he said. “I live in the middle of Devon, where the nearest library is a long way away, we’re talking about a 35-minute drive if you have a car and a lot of people haven’t. There’s no local bookshop, even if you had the money. The library is the last lifeline to reading.””
  • Press play: a playground of digital ideas – LibraryOn. Friday 1 March, 10am – 4pm, British Library, London. £20 plus booking fee. For “People who work in libraries such as digital leads, managers, and Heads of Service who oversee or deliver digital programmes. ”
  • Public Libraries Boost – GLL Awarded Gold Standard By Investors in People GLL. “Achieving Gold puts GLL in the top 15% of IiP accredited organisations. ” … “As part of the assessment for Gold standard, all GLL staff were surveyed this autumn and 200 staff completed face to face interviews. “
  • Seeing libraries differently with the RNIB – CILIPS.
  • UK Libraries Achieve Record-Breaking Circulation of Digital Media in 2023 – Overdrive (press release). “Readers throughout the UK borrowed 16.5 million ebooks, audiobooks and digital magazines from public libraries using OverDrive and Libby, a 21 percent increase year over year, outpacing the OverDrive global network’s growth of 19 percent.” … “Since 2021, UK public libraries have seen a 34 percent increase in ebook and audiobook checkouts.”

International news

  • Canada – ‘More is more’: Librarians propose provincewide digital library – Orillia Matters. “Librarians are done keeping quiet. Speaking to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs for pre-budget consultations in Hamilton this week, stakeholders across Ontario called for a digital public library — envisioned as a provincewide online resource for job training, language upskilling, tutoring and homework help, and health information. To make it a reality, librarians asked for $15 million [£8.7m] in the upcoming Tory budget, expected to be released before the end of March. They made a similar request last year.”
  • New Zealand – Page-turning fun at libraries this summer – Sun Live. “The programme has three challenges – one for mini readers aged 0-4, one for readers aged 5-10 and one for tween/teen readers aged 11-18.” … “Ages 0-10 will get a certificate, a special prize book to keep, and an invitation to a family party event. Ages 11-18 will get a $20 Whitcoulls [Kind of like WH Smith – Ed.] voucher. And everyone who comes in to tell TCC library staff about their book for the first time gets a swimming pool pass.”
    • How public libraries are aiding community engagement – RNZ. “Hindi was the seventh most borrowed non-English language title at Wellington City Library in 2023 and the third most borrowed Asian language after Mandarin and Japanese. The library also offers books in Tamil, Punjabi, Gujarati, Sinhalese, Arabic and Korean. Miller says Wellington’s new central library, Te Matapihi, will have a dedicated section for World Languages.”
USA – Library flooded by burst water pipe. Hundreds come on first day reopened.

Local news by authority

  • Bolton – Bolton Library prepares to open to public next week – Bolton News. “The library has been closed since September 2022 for a £3.7 million refurbishment. Images previously released by Bolton Council show the spectacular effect the works have had on the floors, before shelves, books and library equipment have been reinstalled. The £3.7m works have been taking place over this year and much of last and are intended to form a key part of the town centre’s cultural offering.”
  • Bolton Library reopens after multi-million-pound refurbishment – Bolton News. “£4 million refurbishment made possible by a bid to the Towns Fund.” … “There is a cafe, a ‘Build a Business’ section, a children’s section in three areas for children of different ages, a mezzanine for use by different groups and much, much more.”
  • Bournemouth Christchurch Poole – Library still has no reopening date nearly two months after closing – Yahoo. “As reported, BCP Council said it is in discussions with the landlord of the building to get it back open, but an exact opening date is still unknown.”
  • Bradford – Bingley Library needs security due to anti-social behaviour – Telegraph and Argus. “And this security at Bingley Library is costing taxpayers around £700 a week, a new report has revealed.”
    • Question over self service kiosks at Bradford’s libraries – Telegraph and Argus. Conservative councillor worries that ” “People go to libraries not just to get books, but to speak to people. They want to interact with people.”. Libraries manager says ““Some people just want to pick up a book and be in and out. For other people who want more interaction there will still be staff there to talk to.””

“Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the relevant Minister on Welsh Government support for public library services? I’ve been very concerned at the moment that Denbighshire County Council are proposing to cut library opening hours. They initially proposed a cut of 50 per cent. They’re now proposing a cut of 40 per cent, after there was a huge public outcry in response to the initial consultation. Now, we know that libraries are about much more than books these days. They’re places of lifelong learning and education, lots of people go there to enjoy the IT facilities as well, which they might not have at home, and, of course, they also promote local language and culture. So, this is a really important issue for my constituents. I appreciate that local authorities have difficult choices to make given the pressures on their budgets, but other local authorities are not proposing to cut their library services in half by asking them to close their doors for 50 per cent of the time. So, I think it is about time that the Welsh Government had some minimum standards required of our libraries in terms of opening hours, and I would appreciate it if a Minister could bring forward a statement on that.”

Denbighshire – Darren Millar MS (Conservative) in Senedd.
  • Devon – Easy booking system for conference space at Exeter Central Library – Exeter Council. “An easy online booking system for over 100 quality meeting and conference spaces in libraries around Devon has been launched by Libraries Unlimited. The charity, which runs libraries across the area, has developed a new platform which gives video tours and shows photos and floorplans of its popular bookable spaces.” … “The new booking system is grant funded through the Library On programme, managed by the British Library and supported by Arts Council England using public funds.”