Ian Anstice

Public librarian since 1994, user of public libraries since my first memories ... and a keen advocate of public libraries and chronicler of the UK public libraries scene. Library manager since 1998, winner of Information Professional of the Year 2011 and Winsford Customer Service "Oscar" 2012 and 2014, honorary CILIP fellow 2015, CILIP Wales Library Champion of the Year 2016.

Homepage: https://www.publiclibrariesnews.com


Posts by Ian Anstice

Christmas for GLL, London library property boom and Japanese success

Editorial

Some interesting news stories today. GLL have officially taken over another library service, meaning they’re now running, by my count, five. In a further sign, if any were needed, that London is an increasingly foreign city compared to the rest of the country, another library there gets a new building as part of a property deal that would not have been so possible anywhere without its insanely high property prices. And then we have Christmas creeping up on us, with a story in the Guardian of how dedicated librarians are even at Christmas. This article also mentions the large number of volunteers being used, which ties in with an advert also today for a paid PhD on volunteers, describing them as “crucial” for the library service. No mention of volunteers, though, from Japan, where a new combined bookshop/library/restaurant model is apparently going great guns.

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Trustees and updates

Editorial

Congratulations to those voted in as Trustees for CILIP, especially public libraries blogger Leon Bolton whose blogging career I have watched with great interest. There’s a few ongoing fights in various library services, including an interesting suggestion from Warrington’s auditors about the need to consider other bidders for library services. The deep cuts to Northamptonshire libraries are again in the news too (and I’d like to point out they only had 36 branches to begin with, not the bigger number I have accidentally given them in previous posts), as are the final dates for some of Bury libraries to close. The long-running legal fight in Darlington will continue, with the judge saying there’s just enough evidence to move the review on to the next level.

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When a £50k cut comes as relief: Suffolk 2018/21. £950k cut in Bradford.

Editorial

It comes to something when a cut of £50k is something to be treated with relief but that’s the case in Suffolk Libraries, which appears to have negotiated a four-year agreement that will make pretty much every other library service in the country weak with envy. Well done to them. Bradford are not so lucky with a deep cut of £950k just announced, on top of the deep cuts which that city has had to endure a year or two ago. That cuts are the order of the day, and a £50k on can be seen as little short of miraculous, pretty much underlines the view of a roundtable discussion at the Palace of Westminster this week. But I wish it was not so. And it’s Christmas-time so, if you can, try to think positive thoughts and perhaps tune into #uklibchat soon to discuss all that is great and good in libraries. And, despite, austerity, that’s still quite a lot.

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Bristol delays cuts due to government funds, and a CILIP-led school library protest letter

Editorial

Two key news stories for me this post. The first is from Bristol, which has temporarily a deep cut to its libraries while it looks in to the possibilities of mutual and co-locations. This is coming about from government money designed to encourage mutual and it’s unusual for such a delay in libraries due to Government funding, although the strong push towards such trusts has been notable for years. I suspect the depth of the cuts and the level of protest had something to do with it.

The other is a CILIP-led protest letter, signed by authors and others, against cuts to school libraries. It started with a tweet and snowballed into a major (well, for libraries, anyway) news story. I got some serious deja vu from it as you may recall a similar mass protest letter against public library closures a few years ago. The difference now is that CILIP was key to the action, while back in the old days of 2011, it hadn’t quite got the hang of protest or realised how deep and prolonged the cuts will be. That has all changed now and the organisation is earning its subscription fee to both public and school libraries.

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Libraries are here to share info, not hide it: the joy of Open Data

Editorial

I was at the rather marvellous “Voyage of the Data Treader” unconference yesterday. There were quite a few big learning points for me during the day. The first was that “open data” if done properly can help reputation (not damage it, as many fear), save money (fewer Freedom of Information requests) and can lead to unexpected things. This last shouldn’t have surprised me because – you see that map on the righthand side of the website? – that was done by Libraries Hacked using PLN blog entries. I had no idea it was possible before he did it as I just don’t code. What made it “open data” is that I had taken the decision years ago to publish with a creative commons license meaning anyone could use it. I hadn’t realised that it was “open data” at the time (and it was 2010 so very few probably did) but I’m glad I made that decision. Newcastle is too, by the way – apparently, it’s adherence to publishing its data saves it £250k on FOI requests.

Another thought. Public libraries suffer a lot from not having their enough about them public. The Libraries Taskforce lacks the power to force authorities to make them public and there’s no chance the current government would give them that power. So “open data” in libraries has to be voluntary. To do this, there will need to be awareness of both the carrot (save money, look good to your public) and the stick (“what is your council hiding?”, how come it’s not one of the “open” ones?). We’ll see if that works. But the mood yesterday was clearly that things were moving towards more “open” sharing of information. And that can only be a good thing. After all, I’m sure none of us joined the library sector to hide information.

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Library chuggers coming soon? Suffolk Libraries decides the best person to run it is not a librarian

Editorial

Library trusts in England haven’t been around for long, with the oldest being just two or three years old. As such, their chiefs are the library managers who took them out of council control. So the first changing of the guard, caused by the retirement of the Suffolk boss Alison Wheeler, was an interesting one to watch, and not least because of the 17-page vacancy pack. No, it was one to watch to see who would get it and where they would come from. And now we know. It’s someone from a charity and with apparently no library experience. That gives a clear indicator as to the direction of travel Suffolk has already gone on: the skills needed are now those of an independent fundraiser and not of a public librarian. It’s a truism that the higher up an organisation one goes then the less specialist skills you need and that’s the case in libraries as well as elsewhere, and Suffolk is not the first library service to have a non-librarian running it by any means. But it gives a view into the future, and the present, that would perhaps have surprised those in the library sector ten years ago and shows the financial and political pressures that such services are expected to have to face.

Interestingly Hertfordshire have just announced that they’re thinking of going down to the libraries trust route because it is “supported by national government” and it’s certainly true the Taskforce is heavily pushing the model. As funding is reduced in authority after authority, on a cycle of every two to four years, the siren call of the Trust is going to get louder. But it means that library services will become more akin to charities than statutory council run services, with all that implies. The first library chugger may not be far away.

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A quiet few days: Cumbria, Anglesey and a fracking fund

Editorial

A reasonably quiet couple of days with a few libraries threatened in Cumbria and more detail on what is likely to happen in Anglesey. There’s a somewhat hard to believe report that fracking will result in £1 billion of community grants for groups, but it specifically mentions libraries so here’s hoping. There’s also a couple of things about health and wellbeing from the LGA and Task Force.

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The future is here, so just look around

Editorial

“The future is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet” is a quote by William Gibson that I have had a chance to reflect on recently. I was asked to do a 15 minute lightning talk on the future of libraries by Oxford University Press, which got me thinking. How on earth do you know what the future holds? Well, taking Gibson at face value, you can just look around. One of the key things I noticed was that three of the library services around the table had been quite happily giving library membership for years without any ID requirements and with no ill effects. This came as a shock to the other library services who are still, presumably, turning away prospective members on an hourly basis due to the tradition of not trusting people. The future was there, around the table, and one only needed to look. I notice this repeatedly. What is done in one authority, sometimes neighbouring ones, is simply not known or not trusted in others. It’s a case of “not invented here” on a national scale and one which does not bode well for the sector.

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Canada and Cheshire East

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My pick of the articles today is that by Stephen Abrams on the experience of Canadian public libraries. He explains the challenges they have faced and how they’re reacting to them, including some very good ideas such as open data (hmmm), marketing (ahhhh) and social media training. He addresses, quite correctly, that the main crisis facing Canadian libraries is the technological change, not budget cuts, and stresses the need to persuade decision makers. I suspect they’ve not had things as bad over there as here but he makes some interesting points and it’s worth a read. In other news, Cheshire East may be closing a few of its libraries and continues the trend of looking towards alternative forms of governance, in this case the local leisure trust, as an option.

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What’s possible: the best thing to learn from others

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Talking to colleagues in other services, finding out what works and what they do that you thought could not work or never thought of at all. That’s the thing. I’m not big on ideas but I know a good one when I see one and have never felt guilty about taking advantage of the skills and experience of others. After all, we’re in public libraries and are not in competition with each other, only with private companies (who would ruthlessly crush libraries if they could) and perhaps most of all with ourselves. So I was delighted to hear about the experience of Surrey yesterday (I was at the National Acquisitions Group conference in Leeds) who said they increased their children’s non-fiction issues by 30% over two years by the simple expedient of putting in zig-zag shelving (paid for by the book-fund in Year One) so the titles could be face on, and weeding the dross. They have found since that they can spend less on the stock but issue more simply by doing this. In other areas they’ve boosted issues by buying backlist, and not just new titles. Simple things and easy to copy.

This got me thinking about others things which I know are successful in different library authorities either in the UK or internationally but other library services are ignorant or dismissive of. They include:

  • Not asking for any ID at all when joining.
  • Not needing a library card (or, even, card and PIN) to return a book on self-service.
  • Floating stock, where books stay in the library where they’re returned.

Chances are your service will do one or two of these but have either never considered the others or think it’s not possible. But it works elsewhere. Probably in another library service neighbouring yours in fact. Have a visit. Learn from your colleagues. And if you still say no then make sure you have a reason rather than gut feeling of “ah, but that won’t work here”. Because that’s not a good excuse by itself. Is it? It seems to me we have a whole world of people showing us what is possible out there and that’s a gift, a free valuable gift, that we ignore or dismiss at our peril.

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