There’s a lot of good news for various library services in England this week, with the announcement of the third round of the Libraries Improvement Fund. 43 library services received a share of £10.5m funding with £245,417 being the average amount given, ranging from £499,999 for Camden to a humble £50,000 for Bradford. Looking at what the money is being spent on – well, let’s say makers of moveable shelving units are celebrating as are the normal digital suspects. That old stand-by “Maker spaces” is a phrase used on more than one occasion as is the newly popular word “sensory”. Closer to my heart, there’s a few refurbishments and nicer children’s libraries coming from this. There’s also some very location specific stuff like a new place for sheet music or space for an exhibition. All in all, though, all of the projects that there are details about look defendable and there is reason for delight here.

Of course, me being me, there is also cynicism. The public library service has been increasingly grossly underfunded for over a decade and, in a healthily supported sector, a lot of the projects would not have needed this special one-off funding. And, while the support is to be welcomed, there at least two hints as to the real reasons for the money. The first is that the announcement seems to have caught quite a few councils unawares. As I write this a few days later, quite a few haven’t yet had time to produce press releases about it. This suggests the announcement was to tie in with a central government timetable rather than the local council one. Perhaps it was always so. More tellingly of course, the funding was used this week to defend in parliament the government’s questionable stewardship of the sector. The amount – ten million – also seems to be the lowest that can be given in double figures, with a few hundred extra thousand given so as not to make it too obvious. Kind of like a reverse of Camden’s frankly hilarious cheek at asking for £499,999, the very maximum that could have been asked for, to the pound. I salute you, Camden.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Dozens of library services and 26 museums to receive £33m government funding – Guardian. ““With upgraded buildings and technology, we can expect to see many more people experiencing and enjoying what their local library service has to offer.””
  • Forty-three libraries win slice of £33m funding boost – BookSeller. Libraries Connected say ““We do need to see much wider and longer-term investment in the library network, however. Without a more secure financial settlement for local government, libraries will remain particularly vulnerable to cuts and closures. The next government must take decisive action to avoid a crisis in our libraries over the coming years.””

We are again disappointed by UNITE’s decision to call for strike action. We have made every effort to engage with the union and listen to their views.  However, it should be noted that the UNITE strike does not reflect the opinion of the vast majority of our colleagues; with UNITE membership across our organisation sitting at less than 3% of the workforce. A well-received pay award was made in 2023, which was underpinned by the Real Living Wage and we are proud to be one of only 14,000 organisations in the UK to be accredited as a Real Living Wage employer.  The Real Living Wage for 2024 is set and we will implement this in April of this year. 

Over the past 30 years, we have developed terms and conditions of employment that work for our business and our employees.  Our people have choices about how they work and engage with us.  This commitment to our staff is underlined by the fact we have been awarded Investors in People Gold status. We do not offer zero hours contracts, as erroneously suggested by UNITE.  We do offer flexible working arrangements and give staff the opportunity to transfer from flexible contracts to permanent contracts via our You Choose scheme, which is open to all. Planned changes to GLL’s sick pay scheme will be implemented as part of our 2024 pay award. Our focus remains on ensuring that a quality library service continues to be delivered to local communities in Bromley and Greenwich and that was the case on 26 March.

GLL spokesperson on strike action in Bromley an Greenwich
  • Libraries to get near £800k boost – BBC. Makerspace money for Hull: “Michelle Alford, library services director for Hull Culture and Leisure Ltd said the funding would create “exciting centres of digital innovation” in more of its branch libraries.”.
  • Library staff celebrating victory after strike sees 20% increase in sick pay – Morning Star. “The Unite members walked out on Tuesday this week and staged a mass picket at Woolwich Centre Library in London. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “While this is a welcome step in the right direction, Unite won’t stop here. “Our members deserve better pay and conditions and GLL is in a position to improve its offers across the board. “Outstanding disputes with GLL include a pay increase and better treatment for staff on zero-hours contracts.””

Local authorities in England have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service which meets local needs. It is for each local authority to consider how best to deliver this. His Majesty’s Government has provided an additional £600 million on top of the £64 billion Local Government Finance Settlement for 2024-25 — an increase of 7.5% in cash terms. This uplift will help to reduce pressure on councils’ budgets, and protect services including public libraries.

In addition, DCMS announced on 25 March that 43 library services in England would benefit from Round 3 of the Libraries Improvement Fund which is allocating £10.5 million across this financial year and next. The Fund has allocated £20.5 million since 2021 to public library services across England to support them to upgrade their buildings and improve digital infrastructure so that they are better placed to respond to the changing ways people want to use them.

Julia Lopez MP, Parliamentary Secretary, DCMS
Camden CouncilOne Kilburn£499,999
Hackney LibrariesStoke Newington Library Improvement Project. See Stoke Newington Library awarded £499,700 grant to improve reading, study, culture and children spaces – Hackney Council. Stoke Newington Library redesign for “creative, inclusive and innovative new spaces.”. Part of £4m renovation.£499,700
Reading Borough CouncilReading Libraries – Reading Central Library and Branch Digital Improvement – making all our spaces amazing.
See Library Users to Benefit From A Further 495K of Investment (reading.gov.uk) – Reading Council. Borrowable tablets, streaming technology, microbits, self-service machines in 3 libraries, auto check-in, self-service lockers, sensory/interative tables and projection equipment.
Cheshire West and Chester Library ServiceNorthwich Library Transformation£473,623
Wakefield LibrariesConnect Wakefield Library and Museum. “for a children’s library which Wakefield Council said would deliver a “transformative experience” for children and families and cater for “those with sensory and physical disabilities”.”£446,587
Medway LibrariesForward Medway£409,552
Hull Culture and Leisure Library ServicesMaking Makerspaces. £395,000
Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council Libraries ServiceLibraries reimagined – Guisborough£391,050
Newcastle LibrariesWalker LIF 3. “a new reading facility in a disused part of the Walker Activity Dome. Newcastle City Council’s Christine Herriot said: “This extra funding will help make the library bigger by bringing unused storage space back into use, give it a new entrance and enable us to widen digital services.”£382,159
London Borough of RedbridgeFulwell Cross Library – Transformation Programme. See Fullwell Cross Library to receive grant funding of nearly £400,000 to help modernise and refurbish much-loved facility – Redbridge Council. For “vital repairs, renovations and the development of digital infrastructure “: makerspace, refurbishment and redesign esp. children’s library, Hublets, Tovertafel table, museums boxes on shelves.£379,899
Warwickshire LibrariesSensory Discovery Mobile Library. See Warwickshire Libraries secure funding for sensory mobile library – Warwickshire Council. “Discovery Den” mobile “safe and inclusive space for children, young people, and adults with additional and more complex needs.”£372,638
Rutland County CouncilLIF3£359,000
Trafford LibrariesSale Library – A Cultural Hub. See Funding boost for Sale Library – Trafford Council. ” integrating the library into the foyer, a general refit and installing a permanent Cosgrove Hall Films Archive exhibition.”£347,000
Dorset Council Library ServiceDorset Council Libraries Asset Improvement£309,971
North Somerset LibrariesRe-designing Library outreach services. See North Somerset Council secures £300k funding for electric mobile library vehicle – North Somerset Council. Replaces diesel powered mobile. £40k match funding from council. £309,748
Worcestershire County Council (libraries)Communit-E-Bus£301,450
Shropshire LibrariesWork well with your Library£280,250
Oldham Council LibrariesAdaptable Library Project (ALP) – Oldham£277,000
City of York CouncilYork Explore Libraries£250,000
East Riding LibrariesBridlington Libraries Refurbishment. Sensory areas and moveable shelves to Bridlington North and Bridlington Central libraries£246,000
Sunderland City CouncilLibraries Uplifted£230,000
Staffordshire County Council – Libraries & ArtsConnecting Communities Wombourne Library£199,400
Doncaster Heritage ServicesMexborough Library Reimagined£182,000
Walsall CouncilWalsall Dementia Friendly Libraries£181,674
Sutton Council’s Cultural ServicesOn-screen: Building Inclusive Digital Communities£179,340
Nottinghamshire County Council – Cultural ServicesInspire Hucknall Library Reconfiguration£178,500
Sandwell Library and Information ServiceDeveloping Cultural Spaces£177,000
Lancashire County CouncilBurnley Library Music Collection & Flexible Space. See Burnley Library’s £165k boost to host music collection – BBC. “Burnley Library is to turn a disused children’s library area into a home for the Stocks Massey Music Collection.”£165,000
Doncaster Heritage ServicesMexborough Library Reimagined£182,000
Isle of Wight Library ServiceAccessible libraries . See Funding boost for two popular island libraries announced – Isle of Wight Radio. Improved accessibility at Cowes and Ryde libraries.£150,000
Dudley MBC – Planning and RegenerationDudley Libraries. Lye Library will have moveable shelving, refurbishment, VR headsets and hublets (source: GLL)£144,715
North Lincolnshire CouncilScunthorpe Central. £141,766
Kirklees LibrariesKirklees Libraries Open Access Development£137,068
London Borough of IslingtonArchway Library Digital Hub£136,800
Leicester City Neighbourhood ServicesGreen Libraries£130,000
Wigan CouncilLeigh Library. See Big plans to transform Leigh Library after Wigan Council bosses secure £110k – Wigan Today. Moveable shelving, lighting, projection equipment, staging/seating/blackout blinds. £110,000
London Borough of BromleyInspiration Room – Room of Requirement£98,380
London Borough of BarnetGolders Green Reading Garden£85,150
Sefton LibrariesAccess to Bootle£79,973
Telford & WrekinRenovating the Digital Front Door£68,000
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough CouncilWombwell Children’s Library£65,470
Herefordshire Museums Libraries & ArchivesHerefordshire Libraries£57,087
Bradford LibrariesBradford Libraries Digital Readiness£50,000
  • Public Library Forum 2024 – National Acquisitions Group. London, Thursday 16 May. “A full programme is available below with a broad range of topics including Oldham’s NAG Grant project “Language Barrier Breakers” and LibrariesUnlimited’s “The Secret Book Quest” alongside “The Life of a Dewey Number” with Jo Maxwell from BDS.”
  • Regional Offer Launch – Libraries Connected. Recording of webinar. “To mark the first six months of the Regional Development Programme, we are launching a set of offers for Regional Networks. Our aim is to build an understanding of how the Regional Development Team can support you to overcome challenges and seize opportunities.”
  • What Libraries Risk When They Go Digital – Time. “Digitization has been a transformative tool for scholars and a valuable shield against the dangers that threaten paper-based historical records. But it is time to consider the vulnerabilities of digital repositories as well. Fires, theft, and physical neglect are no longer the only major threats archives face: now we must also add ransomware to the list.”
  • Yorkshire museums and libraries to get £3m funding boost – BBC. “Wakefield Libraries will receive nearly £450,000 for a children’s library which Wakefield Council said would deliver a “transformative experience” for children and families and cater for “those with sensory and physical disabilities”.”

International news

Local news by authority

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  • Essex – Rayleigh High Street library to host new Barclays service – Echo series. “Barclays has announced it will now operate a service four days a week from Rayleigh Library, in the High Street, following a series of branch closures in the area.”
  • Flintshire – Flintshire Council assurances over leisure services – Leader. “In a letter seen by the Leader Aura Leisure – which runs most leisure centres in Flintshire – has claimed the council is “contemplating” withdrawing funding support for it. The organisation, which runs the Buckley, Mold, Flint and Deeside leisure centres, has issued a letter to its employees, saying its funding agreement with Flintshire Council ends on March 31.”
  • Gateshead – Crawcrook Library reopening next week – Gateshead Council. “Since the building closed for refurbishment in January, its lighting, decoration and internal fittings have been upgraded to create improved space for community activities and book borrowing.” … “Pelaw Library is also currently closed for refurbishment and expected to reopen within the next few weeks”

“We are not looking to take away Performing Arts Library’s statutory status as it doesn’t have any, indeed no performing arts library does as they were not included in the 1964 Act”

Somerset – Correction to BBC article