Another week in


At time of writing, the smart money is on social distancing keeping on for quite a few weeks to come. So much so that it looks likely that the crucial summer period for libraries will be affected. I’m still personally having difficulty working out how the sector will physically reopen with such distancing in place but there’s a lot of thinking going on sector-wide about this, which is really encouraging.

What is obvious now is that this virus is causing a wide spectrum of experiences amongst the public, with the poor and the lonely suffering disproportionately more than the wealthy. This is echoed in library workers with some being told to stay at home on full pay with little work to do, others being able to work full-time at home in some form or another and still yet others taking active physical and, sometimes, front-line roles.

Another variation is in furloughing. Trusts can do this but councils services cannot:

“Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them.”

Coronavirus Retention Scheme.

So we have a case in Greenwich, run by a leisure trust, where staff are furloughed. Thankfully at not 80% pay but, due to a deal which unions hope will be copied elsewhere, on full pay. Speaking of Greenwich, I talked to Diana Edmonds (the Director of Libraries for all GLL) about wider developments and the interview is here.

Finally, my apologies. Embedded below are not just one but two video interviews with me, one from the wonderful Bury Libraries in my capacity as a librarian and the other with a sponsor of PLN, DCA, of which the full length interview will be released shortly. I feel I don’t come across well on video – slightly too many biscuits and an inability to pronounces r’s properly – but watch them if you will.

National news

  • ACE gives libraries £151k for e-books and audio – BookSeller. “Arts Council England (ACE) has announced a £151,000 investment into library services to buy e-books and digital audio products. Under the programme, each of the 151 public library services in England will receive £1,000 for immediate and unrestricted use for new digital stock. ACE said library services had seen a significant rise in membership over the past month, up by 600% compared to this time last year. The investment would help them increase the breadth and availability of digital products while also benefiting publishers through library purchasing, ACE said.”
  • Britons are reading more in lockdown, says survey for World Book Night – Guardian. “The survey is also backed up by figures from libraries around Britain. Although branches are shut, there has been a boom in registrations, according to the Local Government Association, with Hampshire county council reporting a 770% increase in new digital users, Cornwall a 630% increase and Hertfordshire an increase of 332%.”
  • Carnegie Library Lab: Final Project Snapshot from Cohort 3 – Carnegie. “Carnegie Library Lab aimed to support innovation and leadership in the public library sector across the UK and Ireland. This final snapshot outlines the key successes of our third cohort of Carnegie Library Lab Partners and their next steps. The Partners participated in Carnegie Library Lab from June 2018 to December 2019”
  • Coronavirus: Libraries see surge in e-book borrowing during lockdown – BBC. “Loans of online e-books, e-magazines and audiobooks were up an average of 63% in March compared with last year. And 120,000 people joined libraries in the three weeks after lockdown began, Libraries Connected said.”
  • Digital ThinkIn – Libraries after Covid 19 – what happens next? – Libraries Connected. “The event is hosted for us by Tortoise Media and follows a ThinkIn for Heads of Service on 29th April. We hope the two discussions will help us think beyond the current crisis in ways that informs planning in individual services, and also directs the support work of Libraries Connected and other national bodies.”
  • Joseph Coelho to helm National Shelf Service’s World Book Night event – BookSeller. “YouTube book recommendation series the National Shelf Service has announced a series of World Book Night broadcasts, to feature a bedtime reading hour with poet and author Joseph Coelho. Ten broadcasts will be scheduled throughout the day on 23rd April, beginning at 11 a.m. with e-book recommendations for children and young adults from librarians. Coelho will read a bedtime story.”
  • Public library services and Coronavirus, GLL a few weeks in – Public Libraries News. An interview with Diana Edmonds of GLL about how her services are doing.
  • Record number of complaints about LGBT+ children’s books in US – Independent. “children’s books featuring LGBTQ+ characters made up a record 80 percent of the most challenged books in US libraries.”
  • A short reflection on being a Carnegie Partner – Carnegie. By Maria Reguera, Carnegie Partner, Vision Redbridge Culture & Leisure. “All in all being a Carnegie Partner has given me the audacity to try and fail, and to learn from it and try again until I succeed, and to encourage others around me to do the same.”
  • Spring 2020 Magazine – Library Campaigner. The latest news and editorial on public libraries in the UK.
  • Stepping into Leadership – Carnegie. “Originally developed as part of the Carnegie Library Lab (CLL), created by the Carnegie UK Trust (CUKT) to encourage creativity, innovation and leadership in public libraries in the UK and Ireland, this course can be accessed by those working in the library and information sector.”

International news

  • JapanJapan: Drone will buzz shelves at Chiba library to check book inventory – Access. “he drone and artificial intelligence (AI) will be adapted to eliminate the troublesome, time-consuming task of regularly examining books at libraries imposed on human staff.”
  • Netherlands – Dutch libraries are open online and provide extra (remote) services – Naples Sister Libraries. “the ThuisBieb-app (Home Library app) was launched for iOS users and contains over a hundred free ebooks.” … “. On March 17, we saw a peak of 43,000 visits a day to the online Library, and in the days that followed, the number stabilized at an average of 32,000 to 35,000 visits per day. We also see a tripling of the page views for e-books.”
  • USALibrarians Under Pandemic Duress: Layoffs, Napkin Masks, and Fear of Retaliation – Book Riot. “Some libraries have their staff working entirely from home, while others have their doors shut to the public but are having staff report. Those operating with staff in the building run the gamut in terms of what they’ve provided their employees in terms of health and safety protection.”
    • Public Libraries After the Pandemic – Publishers Weekly. “, I suspect that Covid-19 will change some people’s perspective on what can and should be shared. I fear many people will begin to overthink materials handling and the circulation of physical library collections, including books. It’s a reasonable assumption that people will emerge from this public health crisis with a heightened sense of risk related to germ exposure.”

“Some observers have dubbed this crisis “The Great Pause.” But I believe librarians cannot pause. Librarians cannot sit back and wait to unlock the library doors again. We must take this time to begin thinking about how public libraries will function in a society that will certainly be changed for the short term, and may be changed forever.”

Local news by authority

“Since closing our physical library buildings in March, we have moved many services online to provide a continuity of service for customers. We are also maintaining book deliveries for vulnerable people who are housebound. While asking to maintain these services, Royal Borough of Greenwich has also asked us to furlough the majority of workers under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which guarantees 80% of staff wages. Funding will come from the Council to top up wages for both casual and permanent staff to full pay.

“We understand the need to offset costs at this time and are grateful to RBG who share our wish to provide valuable public services which support local communities’ health and wellbeing. The decision has been reached with agreement of RBG, GLL and the union and under the circumstances represents the best outcome for library workers, the library service and local communities during the crisis.”

Diana Edmonds, GLL / Greenwich

The new normal, 2020


The last couple of weeks have been marked by the settling down of the new normal. More library staff have been redeployed to other services and more people continue to discover and use library online resources. What’s not yet clear is when libraries will get back to normal and what that will be. Will there need to be screens between more distanced out computers? Should library books have their plastic jackets removed? Who knows. Hopefully, hopefully, we will find out soon.

Take care, keep well.


National news

  • The Bookseller’s Library of the Year Award launches despite lockdown – BookSeller. “The coronavirus crisis puts libraries—alongside all the rest of us—in an unprecedented situation. Yet we still want to recognise the crucially important work they do, through thick and thin. A shortlist of outstanding libraries will be profiled in a special issue of The Bookseller to be published in July; that issue will also reveal an overall winner, who will receive a golden Nibbie, the coveted trophy of the British Book Awards, and be named Library of the Year 2020.”
  • CILIP moves celebrations for 2020’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal winners – BookSeller. “CILIP is postponing the winners’ ceremony for the 2020 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals and extending its Shadowing Scheme until October, taking into account the government’s advice concerning the ongoing pandemic.”
  • Libraries from home – Libraries Connected. “We want to help families to choose live and recorded events not just from their own library service but anywhere in the country. We’re also promoting activities to keep adults connected through library reading groups and book discussion groups.”. Lists five services each doing rhymetimes, storytimes, lego clubs, reading/book groups. Also “efestivals” and code clubs. Also mentions World Book Night and Get Creative At Home. Lists e-resources available.

“Local libraries are important community hubs and a fantastic source of entertainment and education for people. While we all stay at home to protect the NHS and help save lives, I am delighted to see so many libraries increasing their digital offerings through initiatives like this.”

Libraries Minister, Caroline Dinenage:

International news

Local news by authority

"Discover the library in your pocket" RB Digital Advert

Libraries without walls


So a week ago I was worried. I was thinking to myself, well, this website runs news about public libraries – hence its exciting name – and all the libraries closed. Goodbye website for a couple of months.

I could not have been more wrong.

There’s more news this week than in many other weeks where all the 200+ library services in the UK were open. Because, it turns out, all of the services are still open. Just online. Some services are reporting more than a six-fold increase in e-book usage, with more money being invested in their services in a couple of weeks than some spend in a normal year. This is to be expected due to the nature of the crisis – and also due to the, let’s be frank, lack of investment in e-books beforehand. But it suggests that more people may well be into library e-books after this crisis is over and the digital side will be taken more seriously by services. The explosion of creativity in social media – from online theatre shows to story-times to quizzes to reading groups – is also something that is unlikely to be entirely forgotten.

So there will be a challenge mid year and that is that public library services will return to their physical buildings while at the same time having raised public expectations about their digital sides. Keeping both sides up, when budgets are likely to be tight due to having to pay for the crisis, is going to be really difficult. But libraries can do this. After all, if libraries are still doing so well when they’re all closed, nothing is impossible. To help in this, all we need is that Single Digital Presence we have seen delayed for so many years and desperately need now. One of those would take the pressure off the multitude of library services in the Summer. Come on DCMS, you’ve had a decade of not doing it. Do it now.

This post cannot end though without highlighting the work done by library staff that have been redeployed in other services. Some are in food distribution centres, some on Covid helplines and some are even delivering medicine via repurposed mobile libraries. To them, simply, thank you.

National news

  • Are public libraries in decline? – Publishers Weekly. Tim Coates once again boots the sector. “U.K. libraries today have a poor reputation. They have become second-rate community centres. And for that reason public authorities are withdrawing funding,” … “The library service needs to be able to listen to the needs of the public and that information is core to what will happen when Coronavirus ends. It has to find and market a service which brings people into the buildings, and that will be people who want to read. The closures give an opportunity to conduct consumer research that can be used to build a renewal program. We should start work now.””
  • CILIP launches the National Shelf Service to recommend books to children – BookSeller. “CILIP, the UK’s library and information association, has announced the launch of the National Shelf Service, a new daily Youtube broadcast featuring book recommendations from professional librarians. The National Shelf Service will feature one librarian and one book recommendation each day. The broadcast will start on Monday 6th April and continue every weekday at 11am. “
  • Great-grandmother’s secret to beating Covid-19… marmalade sandwiches – Guardian. “There has been a 600% rise in online library membership in some areas of the country, as people turn to e-books and audio books in the coronavirus lockdown. Hampshire county council has had a 770% increase in new digital users, Cornwall council a 630% increase and Hertfordshire county council an increase of 332%, the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed. Councils have been working to provide additional online resources, using the hashtag #LibrariesFromHome to promote their services …”
  • LGA: 600 percent boom in online library memberships in some areas since coronavirus lockdown – LGA. “there has been a boom in new digital users. For example, Hampshire County Council has seen a 770 per cent increase in new digital users, Cornwall Council a 630 per cent increase and Hertfordshire County Council an increase of 332 per cent.”
  • Online filtering service backed in fight against Covid-19 ‘fake news’ – Express and Star. “NewsGuard said libraries across the UK were using its services to help members navigate information sources before the outbreak. But now libraries have closed in response to lockdown measures announced by the Government, the company has removed all of its paywalls to make services free nationwide.”
  • People urged to use free online library services during coronavirus lockdown – Inverness Courier. “The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) is encouraging households to use online library services during strict social distancing rules. Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at SLIC, said: “Closing the doors to public libraries is counter-intuitive to everything they stand for. “Fortunately, modern technology means libraries remain accessible …”
  • Responding to Covid 19 – Libraries Connected. Lists publishers who have confirmed video storytelling etc is OK and guide to publishing restrictions.
  • Update on Summer Reading Challenge 2020 plans – Reading Agency. “In light of the current situation affecting the delivery of all public services The Reading Agency, Libraries Connected, Arts Council England and ASCEL have agreed that it will not be possible to deliver the Summer Reading Challenge in its usual print format throughout public libraries this summer. However, we remain committed to improving lives through the proven power of reading, and are working hard to fast track a high-quality digital offer which we plan to offer both to interested library services and direct to the reader.”
  • When things get back to normal, they won’t be – LinkedIn / Liz McGettigan. “Libraries must start now to plan for “The New Normal” because when they do get back to normal they won’t be! People will be hungering for social interaction and connectedness, for kindness, trust, community and social gatherings and we can plan for that now. We are all already hungering for human contact, and places just to be, things to do, people to see! Yes we need to up our game big time on our digital offer but when this is over digital will fail to rival libraries and their staff in these 4 purely human characteristics – Empathy, Sympathy, Passion, Curiosity – we still want access to “actual” people even when digital works perfectly”

International news

“What is the library´s value if they focus on being the middleman between digital content and an online consumer? It isn’t a long term strategy to interpose yourself between the content and the user unless you are adding value, if the physical space has been removed from the chain … There’s a danger in a time of crisis that we rush around like a supermarket shopper panic-buying, swiping things thoughtlessly from the shelves. And we all know what hasty decisions can lead to … A true connection and dialogue between content and user, one of the most important values of the library, is in higher and higher demand.”

“our community members need us more than ever. They need someone to connect with. They need someone to share positivity and hope with them. I can’t think of a better organisation to do that than the public library.”

  • Covid-19’s Impact on Libraries Goes Beyond Books – Wired. ““We cannot create a sense of normalcy for them,” Salazar says. “But we can use this new reality to offer something different. That’s what we’re working on. Many of us are challenged, but we’re coming up with good, creative ideas.””
  • Public Libraries’ Novel Response to a Novel Virus – Atlantic. “America’s public libraries have led the ranks of “second responders,” stepping up for their communities in times of natural or manmade disasters, like hurricanes, floods, shootings, fires, and big downturns in individual lives.”. List of what US libraries are doing for the homeless etc.
  • Starting Thursday, Dolly Parton will read bedtime stories to your kids – CNN. “The nine-time Gramm winner said beginning this Thursday, she will read bedtime stories to children in a new virtual series called “Goodnight with Dolly.” Each week, Parton will read a new book selected from the Imagination Library, her book gifting program which mails free books to children.”

Local news by authority

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7 days later: public library reactions to the shutdown


What a week. In seven days that will likely remain in everyone’s memory for life, it started with chief librarians – and frontline staff – arguing vociferously for councils to shut down library services. Boris freaking Johnson then went on television and officially closed the sector for the duration. Whoa.

Then everyone had to get used to the new normal, which included basic precautions not previously seen outside of zombie movies. Those with laptops and jobs they could do at home did so, others did what was necessary at the workplace and then went home. Then came the concept of “furlough” where government give 80% of the salary, the idea of the “shielded” who will have to stay indoors indefinitely and then the need to redeploy staff to other services, prominent amongst them Registrars.

It’s no surprise people were feeling a bit shell-shocked. Several librarians, all of them senior, have confided in me that they’ve never worked so hard before in their lives. Some point out that it’s something there were no plans for this, or case studies, and a bunch has been made up on the fly. It turns out that contingency/scenario planning has not been a strength of government at any level, despite repeated near-miss epidemics in the past. Oh well.

So what will the future bring? In terms of keeping the goodwill of staff, I think the key will be fairness. Walk outs happened in at least one service last week, with more on the cards if things hadn’t changed so much on Monday evening. I can see other such pitfalls for the future and the challenge of management will be to be clear and open with staff. everywhere.

Public libraries will become entirely digital for quite some time. A whole ton of money is going to be spent on e-books and other distance resources that would not have been bought before. Printed books will not be bought in normal quantities for a while. Library staff are taking a crash-course in video rhymetimes, zoom and conferencing. These developments alone will revolutionise the service. Also, nationally, Libraries Connected has discovered it can be an independent voice, which can only be good. And if the Single Digital Presence, or whatever a national libraries website will be called, for libraries doesn’t get off the ground this year then it never will.

And when will libraries reopen? Well, I’m guessing not until Coronavirus is wiped out. Keeping books quarantined for 72 hours after being touched isn’t going to fly (unless we go full closed-access of course, now there’s a thought) and it’s hard to see people, especially children, keeping two metres apart. So not for a few months at least. By that time, society itself may be changed.

So this will be a marathon, not a sprint. The good news is that the sector has shot out from the starting blocks far faster than could reasonably be expected. I look forward to reporting more in the future and have started a list (what else?) here for things that catch my eye.

But whatever the week brings, remember to look after yourself first. These are traumatic times and will not be helped if your ill, with stress or otherwise. Keep well, take care.

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National news

What are the Government doing about those without internet access? Many people in our communities rely on libraries to access the internet, but now those libraries are closing. What measures will the Government bring in to ensure that people can get online, whether for benefit services or to maintain some form of social contact? These are huge demands being placed on the civil service, and I pay tribute to all those public servants throughout our public administration who are working day and night to establish these schemes. They are not often praised, but they are in this situation.

John McDonnell, 24 March, House of Commons.

Kid Normal E-audiobook now free.

  • UK Libchat Monday 6 April: Virtual Libraries – taking our services online – “The chat sessions start with general introductions and then we move on to the discussion topics.  Please add the questions that you would like to discuss below in under 280 characters.””
  • W H Smith closes 60% of stores as Johnson shuts shops and libraries – BookSeller. “Johnson’s decision to close libraries comes after Libraries Connected, in a letter to ministers, demanded further action. Although the vast majority of local authorities had already closed all their libraries, as of Monday afternoon, around 22 still had some open according to the organisation. Those that had some buildings still running included Waltham Forest in London, Worcestershire and Sefton, which pointed out in a tweet  to concerned residents over the weekend that “libraries are not amongst the public facilities listed for compulsory closure by the government at the moment”. On Friday, Unison members working at 10 Lambeth libraries walked out, saying they refused to come back to work because of fears over coronavirus. Libraries Connected said authorities had been forced to make the decision whether or not to close based on their own interpretation of government guidance and this was not enough.”

” libraries have been responding to the crisis with innovative ideas and had seen spikes of up to 100% in e-membership in recent days. Other ideas include Facebook Storytime, online book clubs, live streaming activities via social media and rotas of phone calls to regular library users.”

International news

  • USA – Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right now – CNet. The library has 1.4 million books, all available for immediate loan.
  • COVID-19: How One Library is Coping with Being in the Epicenter and How Controlled Digital Lending Can Benefit Libraries – Sirsi Dynix. 1 April. “Director of the American Hospital Association Resource Library, as she shares the experience of her and her team as demands on their library has increased and how they have adapted. Then, hear from Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries at Archive.org, as he talks about how to add great electronic content for free.”
  • How to Combat COVID-19 Related Misinformation – EveryLibrary. “On Friday, March 20th, The EveryLibrary Institute hosted a webinar on How To Combat COVID-19 Related Misinformation. Now you can watch this webinar at your convenience with this webinar on demand.”
  • How to Sanitize Collections in a Pandemic – American Libraries. “The easiest, safest, and most inexpensive disinfectant is time.” … “That also means libraries should plan to stay closed until the risk of public infection is eliminated.”. But if not possible, “Internal hard surfaces, including tabletops, door handles, book drops, and computers, should be professionally cleaned. “
  • Macmillan Abandons Library E-book Embargo – Publishers Weekly. “Macmillan’s controversial two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries officially kicked in on November 1, 2019, over the strong objections of the library community, which has consistently rejected the embargo as violating a core value of librarianship: equity of access. The embargo policy came just over a year after Macmillan instituted a four month “test” embargo on new release e-books from its Tor imprint. “

Local news by authority

“Northamptonshire waited until end of day on 23rd March before closing all of its main libraries.  Smaller ones had mostly closed earlier than then because NCC had decided not to staff them and most library support groups felt that their volunteers should not, or could not, offer to open those libraries. The business of each library authority being allowed to make its own decision as per the reply from DCMS to Libraries Connected is yet another example of ‘localism’ not serving libraries well.
At the local level, our community-managed libraries were put in the same position.  They had to decide for themselves whether or not to stay open.  Some were more reluctant to close than others but it seemed that all appreciated that they should not be using volunteers aged over 70.”

Alison Richards, via email

Boris Johnson closes all UK public libraries

It took too long and there was a lot of avoidable drama the last few days but the Prime Minister has finally done what is necessary, effectively closing the country except for essentials. He specifically mentioned public libraries in his speech. By that time though, 95% of library services had already decided to close.

So that bit of the drama is over. Speaking personally, I’ve been impressed with all the library folk I’ve been in contact with this week, from Libraries Connected who stepped up to the plate in recent days to chief librarians who fought hard with councillors in some cases and worked hard to manage the crisis in every case to everyone else on down and, above all, the library workers in the front line who had to open up despite the risks.

The next few months are going to show – well, who knows what. But we understand that this will mark a change in the sector that we will all remember. There will necessarily be a big move towards the digital for a start. There are already calls for millions more to be spent on e-books and the need for a national public library website has never been so obvious. I look forward to recording all the innovations and successes that will be achieved in these circumstances few of us would have imagined even a month ago. Not so much any of the other news, so please everyone, try to minimise the bad stuff.

Keep well. Take care.

  • Coronavirus: PM announces strict new curbs on life in UK – BBC. “Other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship must also close immediately. “
  • Close libraries now, plead library chiefs as ‘terrified’ London staff walk out – Guardian. “The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in response to Hunter’s letter that it was right for councils to make their own decisions about library closures. “We know that some councils have decided that they need to close their physical library buildings, and that is fine,” it said. “However, we know that libraries can play a number of roles in the community. Therefore we wanted to ensure councils retained discretion to keep libraries open, albeit operating differently given government social distancing advice, where they felt that services could remain beneficial and be delivered safely.”

80%+ UK public libraries closed


There’s never been a week like this before in our lives. I count 171 library services in the UK now fully closed, with many of those remaining open running a reduced service to varying degrees of severity. There are very few left who are aiming to keep all libraries open. I estimate at least a 80% closure rate, and it’s likely to be a lot higher as some services are not updating their websites, I am being cautious in my estimate and the situation is changing very fast. The 60% estimate LC gives below is from a day before mine, to give you an idea.

However, the lack of a firm government directive to close libraries means that at time of writing (5pm on Sunday 22 March) there is no prohibition on councils choosing to keep public libraries open, subject to them following the government advice on social distancing etc. Staff at Lambeth took matters into their own hands, though, and walked out citing a law that makes it illegal to run an unsafe workplace. And, with coronavirus being able to survive for up to 72 hours on surfaces – including on plastic book-jackets – it will be challenging for libraries still open to ensure that they are not, especially as there will be a ton of schoolkids heading their way.

But, look, take care of yourself this week. You cannot be too careful but at the same time take your mind off things for however short a time per day you can. And. above all, keep well.

Click here for a regularly updated list of library services open/closed.

Text of Libraries Connected letter to Government

“Libraries Connected is the sector-led charity for all public library services in England. We are funded by Arts Council England as a Sector Support Organisation.

We note the guidance issued by the government yesterday, which asks various businesses and venues including museums and galleries to close:

On behalf of the public library sector, we are asking that all public libraries in the UK be added to the published list.

Over the past few days, individual local authorities have made decisions about their library services in response to their own interpretation of government guidance. The fast-moving situation has been hard to track, but we estimate that approximately 60% of England’s library services have now completely closed. One library service shared with us the urgent advice they received from a senior clinical lead in their county:

‘I have grave public health concerns regarding the library service remaining open. I have been informed that several aged patients were attending today reading newspapers together in close proximity. This is in clear conflict with government advice on social distancing.  …the mortality associated with Covid-19 spread cannot be overstated. We need to act together, now. Shut the libraries, send your employees home. Now.’

However, the advice to libraries appears to be inconsistent, so many are still operating in a situation that is increasingly confused and alarming for library staff and their communities and puts both groups at risk of infection. This situation will worsen if children, who are not in school, begin to use their local libraries to access computers and other learning resources

Libraries are trusted places which last year welcomed 225 million visits and loaned 175 million books. However, they can no longer operate safely within the government guidelines on social distancing and other Coronavirus control measures. Safety measures that libraries are trying to take are coming under increasing strain due to growing shortages of staff and cleaning supplies.

The very nature of a public library presents serious risks in the current situation, which are very hard (if not impossible) to control.  These critical risks include:

  • Circulation of books and materials between people, through lending and browsing. This affects staff, volunteers and library users.
  • The very wide cross section of the community who use libraries, including significant numbers of people in the high-risk groups (older people, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions).
  • The expected influx of large numbers of children next week, due to school closures. They will be impossible to segregate from users in high risk groups – including pregnant women.
  • The extreme difficulty in enforcing social distancing by users, due to the nature of the modern library, with open plan spaces and furniture designed for social interaction. Many libraries have reported users rearranging furniture back into close groupings after library staff had spaced it out.
  • The extreme difficulty in protecting staff and volunteers, as the nature of their role is to provide face to face support. Many libraries no longer have reception desks, as staff now floor walk for better contact with their users.

Libraries have responded to the crisis with energy and innovation, to ensure their communities have digital and remote services. This includes marketing their existing e-book and e-magazine service, with libraries reporting 25% – 100% spikes in e-membership. They are also developing more innovative ideas including Facebook Storytime, online book clubs, live streaming activities via social media and rotas of phone calls to regular library users.

Although buildings have closed, libraries are determined to ensure vulnerable people in their communities are not isolated. Libraries will also have a vital role to play to help support and reconnect communities once the current crisis ends.

We will appreciate a swift response to this request, as many libraries remain open this weekend.

Yours sincerely,

Isobel Hunter, Chief Executive, Libraries Connected

Mark Freeman, President, Libraries Connected”

National news

Local news by authority

“In a statement, Lambeth Unison said workers were walking out under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This provides workers with the right to withdraw from and refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe.”

Libraries Connected calls for all public libraries to close

Please note a list of UK public library responses to the emergency can be found here.


In a statement that would be have been undreamt of mere days ago, Libraries Connected is calling on the British Government to close all public libraries. The statement reads in part that “in light of the recent escalation of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest government advice, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that library buildings should close to protect communities and staff from infection” and point out that as well as the users “it is equally important that library staff are safeguarded during this period.”. The organisation is now working hard to work out ways to improve remote library services.

Eleswhere, the lack of clear guidance from Government has led to a wide range of responses, from immediate closure to waiving fines to ending events. Closures are ultimately the decision of individual councils, not chief librarians. However, up and down the country, senior library managers are having to make decisions for their service because the Government has avoided doing so. They should all be supported as it is the most difficult time in their careers, as well as ours.

More positively, there seems to be a serious effort to promote and improve the digital options that libraries provide, varying from video’d storytimes to buying more e-books. There are also moves by digital suppliers, although currently largely in the USA, to improve their offers.

Library changes noted before posting



  • Statement on COVID-19 and public libraries – Libraries Connected. “…in light of the recent escalation of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest government advice, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that library buildings should close to protect communities and staff from infection. We are calling on government to make a clear decision about closing libraries, along with other public buildings.”

National news

For more info, see https://digitalcontentassociates.com/partners/koios/

Local news by authority

  • Cheshire West and Chester – Malpas Library to benefit from improvement works – So Cheshire. “Malpas Library will be closed temporarily for two weeks over the Easter holidays to improve the layout of the library and school reception area.”
  • Essex – Colchester Library loses 19,000 books in just four years – Clacton Gazette. “Data released by Essex County Council shows between 2016/17 and February 2020 Colchester library’s book stock went from 111,494 to 92,190. It equates to a reduction of 19,304 books. Last year, Essex County Council backtracked on its plan to close 25 of the county’s libraries after a fierce backlash from campaigners. “
  • Hampshire – 20,000 voice views on Hampshire libraries closure plan – News. “‘This has been a robust process, encouraging views from the widest possible range of people – as seen from the strong public response to the consultation.’ The county council is looking to save £80m by April 2021. Its consultation closes on Wednesday, March 18. A decision will then be taken in summer.”
    • MP piles on pressure to stop councillor from closing Odiham library – Basingstoke Gazette. “Schoolchildren have presented a petition to stop their library closing to the councillor making the decision. Youngsters Nina and Robert handed over their campaign on behalf of pupils at Buryfields Infant School and Mayhill Junior School. “
  • Hillingdon – Top Trumps-style cards are key to Summer Reading Challenge – This is Local London. “The cards, the council’s answer to Top Trumps, feature animal characters and are a hugely popular reward for borrowing books. Each year, libraries give away thousands of these unique collectible items to children as part of the initiative. The Summer Reading Challenge aims to keep children reading throughout the school summer holidays and will start on Saturday, July 11. The theme for 2020 is Silly Squad, a celebration of funny books.”

Washing our hands? UK public libraries and Coronavirus


Well, it’s been a surreal week. The news has got worse and worse. As I write this, country after country is closing its borders. Spain is telling its citizens to stay inside and they’re using drones to do it. Austria has just announced it is banning gatherings of more than five people.

Meanwhile, the British Government is moving from its “Do Nothing” stage to its “Wait And See In A Couple Of Weeks” phase. Official policy is that a large part of the population needs to be infected in order to give what is called “herd immunity“. Leaving aside whatever our thoughts are about being called a herd” and the 1%ish death rate of those sacrificing themselves for the others, the vital part of this policy when normally applied (e.g. small pox, polio, measles) is a vaccine. We don’t have a vaccine yet.

In what may be the biggest understatement I have ever made, the government’s relaxed attitude is a bit of a problem for public libraries. While the official policy of “wash your hands” is in action, public services are likely to stay open. Public library workers are employed by councils who appear to be abiding by government advice. Chief librarians are mere employees too. Libraries Connected is made up of chief librarians.

So here are some publicly known facts that will help them while everyone is deciding if following the government advice is sensible or not:

  • Those without symptoms are likely not to be contagious, but this is not 100% certain. However, anyone with a new cough, temperature or difficulty in breathing may be. (Source: Government)
  • Being with 2 metres of someone can spread the disease. Touching the infected person or something they have touched can spread the disease (Source: Government). “Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 72 hours.”
  • There is a significant estimated death rate of, on average, around 1%, or lower. (Source: Guardian but fairly well known). Worst case scenarios (80% infection rate) is therefore around 500,000 in the UK (source: Evening Standard). This places it as slightly worse than all UK fatalities throughout World War 2, and more than half that of World War One. While that huge number is unlikely in practice, the normal rate for flu for comparison is just 600 (source: Oxford University).
  • Risk is increased “in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.” (Source: Government)

So what does this translate to in public library terms? Here are some more commonly known facts:

  • Books are issued and returned in public libraries. Books have surfaces.
  • Self service machines are operated by touch. Touchscreens have surfaces.
  • Computers have mice and keyboards, both of which have surfaces. They are often not 2 metres apart from each-other.
  • Chairs and tables have surfaces. As do door handles. And toys. And musical instruments. It is hard to 100% be sure you have cleaned a toy. Or a tambourine.
  • Wipes are in increasing short supply.
  • Older people are a core part of the overall library user base. Public library staff are often older themselves, and are thus more likely to have older relations they need to look after.
  • Knit and natter groups, rhymetimes and events normally involve people being under 2 meters of each-other. Knit and natter groups often have older people in them.
  • People will sometimes use a public library. or attend events, when they are slightly ill.

Amongst libraries not closing abroad, the following has been noted:

I will not go any further than that. I for one look forward to future communications from the Government, news from library services and information from Libraries Connected with great interest. I have quoted the statement of the latter to me below, in full.

Changes by local authority


“Libraries Connected is closely monitoring the situation and implications for library services. This includes hosting an ongoing discussion between Heads of Library services to share approaches and ways of managing the evolving situation as new NHS and government advice is released. Libraries are developing their emergency planning as part of the wider plans of their local authorities, with a focus on protecting staff and library users. At present, in line with current government advice, libraries are operating business as usual. However, many are now increasing cleaning, especially of surfaces like door handles, touch screens and keyboards. Libraries are also considering how best to protect those who may be more vulnerable, such as running risk assessments on events such as rhyme time or older people’s groups. If staff are unsure what to do in their library, they should ask their Head of Service for advice as the situation evolves.”

Isobel Hunter, Libraries Connected – Statement on LC and Coronavirus

“It’s time to call for closure of all public libraries as they are an obvious infection point for the virus Many elderly and vulnerable people use libraries and are at risk , not to mention the safety of staff , and the disease is carried airborne , especially in enclosed spaces. 

Email received
  • Coronavirus and libraries: Staying safe and staying relevant – Christian Lauersen. “On Wednesday March 11 2020 at 8.30 pm local time, the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, declared a closure of all non-critical public sector institutions likes schools, kindergartens, universities and libraries for 14 days. Critical functions as police and health care will still be in function. All public sector employees who do not perform critical functions was to be sent home for 14 days. ” … “We need to stick together by being as much apart as possible in times like these. That is also why staff don’t come into work in a closed library but are kept at home.”
  • Coronavirus: More universities halt teaching and exams – BBC. “Even if teaching and exams are off, libraries will remain open, say universities “

National news

  • Applications for bursary places at our 2020 annual seminar are now open – Libraries Connected. “As part of our commitment to supporting the development of future library leaders, we are offering two sponsored places at our 2020 annual seminar.” … In Warwick in June. Seminar is entitled “Creating Our Story”.
  • Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Libraries can provide crucial support for women entrepreneurs – Politics Home. “The British Library has a keen ambition to expand this network to 20 regional Centres by 2023, with an increased emphasis on expanding its business support offering beyond city centres and into towns and other locations across the UK. “
  • British Library Leeds plan gets £25m boost – BookSeller. “The British Library’s plan to set up a northern version in Leeds has been given a £25m boost by the government, alongside up to £95m to redevelop its existing Boston Spa site.”
  • CILIP Library Management Systems Suppliers Showcase – CILIP. Friday 20 March,
  • Councils to increase tax across UK as services are slashed – World Socialist Web Site. “The coming year will see nearly all councils across the UK increasing council tax, according to the annual 2020 State of Local Government Finance report, with one in 10 having to make cuts to essential services because they cannot balance the books.”
  • Edmund de Waal takes aim at library closures in British Museum installation – Big Issue. “The striking installation stands up for the importance of libraries while telling the stories of people forced to flee their home countries”
  • Gift to libraries celebrates women’s roles in politics – Oban Times. “Scottish publishers 404ink and BHP Comics have teamed up with the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) to donate copies of the graphic novel, We Shall Fight Until We Win, to every secondary school library in the country, including Argyll, the Isles and the Highlands, to mark International Women’s Day last Sunday, March 8.”
  • Introducing the DCMS Libraries team – DCMS Libraries. “The Libraries Minister is Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture. We support her by doing things like preparing briefings to support visits she may make or to inform meetings she has with representatives from across the sector.” … “We also support our ministers in dealing with Parliamentary Questions, correspondence, debates and Freedom of Information requests.” … “Underpinning everything we do, is supporting our Secretary of State (Oliver Dowden) in their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. They have a duty to superintend, and promote the improvement of council library services. But what does that mean in practice?”

“However, that is only part of our superintendence work. We’re really keen to talk to and visit library services who are at an early stage in considering changes (or are in the process of making changes) to their library service provision. This helps us understand what’s happening but also provides opportunities for councils to ask us any questions.”

DCMS Libraries Team
  • Libraries Connected Innovation Network National Gathering 2020 – Eventbrite. “The Library Innovators Network is here to support and connect public library staff across the UK and our National Gathering is a one-day event, designed to allow people to share and to learn from others.” May, Leeds.
  • Minecraft ‘loophole’ library of banned journalism – BBC. “A virtual library has been meticulously created to host articles written by journalists which were censored online.”.
  • Programme Manager, Children and Young People’s Reading – Reading Agency. “The Reading Agency is looking for an experienced project manager to lead our work with children and young people from disadvantaged communities. “
  • Public Lending Right explained – DCMS Libraries. A guide to PLR.
  • Spring budget: UK Chancellor announces more funding for IP centres – WIPR. Extra £13m for more Business and IP Centres in public libraries. ““This funding demonstrates that the Government have heard our calls for greater recognition of the vital role that libraries play in helping businesses to innovate and grow,” said Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board,”
  • Turning libraries into community hubs ‘to blame for decline’ in use, says Coates – BookSeller. “The use of libraries for community activities rather than just as a repository for books has led to a fall in their use rather than an increase, according to a new report by campaigner Tim Coates. In his newly-published Freckle Report, Coates, a former c.e.o. of Waterstones turned advocate for public libraries in the UK and US, published his recent research and made renewed calls to turn around a service that is in serious decline. But, rather than singling out the cuts in funding regularly blamed for the service’s problems, Coates said it was a lack of books that was to blame and two decades spent turning facilities into community hubs, moving them away from their main purpose.”
  • Two new member trustees appointed to Libraries Connected board – Libraries Connected. “Anthony Hopkins, BEM from Merton and Kathryn Harrison from Wakefield. “
  • World Book Day smashes Share a Million Stories target – BookSeller. “Hundreds of thousands of children, parents, carers, authors, illustrators, schools, bookshops, libraries, and publishers across the UK and Ireland shared 10-minute stories with 1.5 million stories shared at the time of writing. “

Local news by authority

Coronavirus and libraries

So, unless there’s a centenarian reading this (if so, hi there!) none of us have lived through a time similar to what we have now with Coronavirus. So far, the library response can be summed up as searching for hand gel supplies. putting up notices and waiting for government and councils to tell them what to do. Some enterprising souls – no services as yet I have seen – are promoting e-books on social media but it’s all a bit mooted. All those events planned for near/medium term are looking a bit questionable too. It promises to be an interesting week. Let’s hope it ends in anti-climax.

Impending pandemic aside, the news this week has largely been World Book Day. It’s all been rather wonderful. Less so has been the ton of librarian in-fighting on social media, with CILIP in the firing line once more. I’m not going to go into it now but just to say that social media is once more proving to be the most polarising medium there is and shouting loudly is not the best way to hear other people.

Finally, I cannot let the public relations speak of Derbyshire go un-noticed. The council that brought you the policy of not allowing their staff to renew books over the phone is boasting loud about how innovative they’re being by forcing libraries to be taken over by volunteers. Good grief, Derbyshire, get a grip and respect your staff and your public a bit more.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Bans will result in equality being replaced by inequality – Evening Telegraph. “These events are generally held in libraries and public spaces across the UK and are an entirely opt-in and voluntary option for parents to educate their children on LGBT inclusion.” Writer then points out evangelic Christian banned from speaking while drag queen story time allowed.
  • Covid-19 isn’t just flu. It is time to take this virus seriously – Telegraph. “Public libraries are putting away children’s toys. Supermarkets are running low on loo paper …” Behind partial paywall.
  • New Words – Time To Read. “New Words is an innovative public library and small press partnership from Time to Read. The North West’s independent publishing scene is thriving and in 2020, New Words presents books and special events from five North West independent publishing houses in public libraries across twenty two North West library authorities from Cheshire to Cumbria, including all of Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire. You’ll also find bold new artwork, commissioned for the project from Oldham artist and designer, Kim Hubball, all with support from Arts Council England.”
  • Public library service annual reports 2018 to 2019 – Welsh Government. Resourcing and staffing an area of concern for many services. Only one professionally qualified librarian for all of Blaenau Gwent, very few also in Cardiff.

“We are thrilled to let you know that our regional Children’s Reading Partners Roadshow will be taking place at Bath Guildhall on 12 May 2020 and Adult Reading Partners Roadshow will be on the 13 May 2020. Every year we go to a different region so we are excited to visit the South West but librarians for across the UK are welcome to join. We have found that reader development, school and stock librarians have found the day particularly useful in the past.

The annual event is designed for publishers and librarians to talk directly to build relationships, to share ideas and create opportunities for new book or author promotions. Every librarian will have the opportunity to hear from attending publishers about their new titles and authors. This will be followed by a series of face-to-face meetings to discuss particular opportunities and to tell publishers about your library and the readers you support. The day will run from approximately 9.30am to 4pm. We request that librarians commit to attending the whole day so that you can hear from all of the publishers and then speak with the publishers in small groups during the afternoon. Admission is free and lunch will be provided. Please do share this invitation within your region and delegates can confirm your attendance by using the booking form by 10 April (but this is dependent on capacity). 

Kimberley Sheehan| kimberley.sheehan@readingagency.org.uk [kimberley.sheehan@readingagency.org.uk]

The Scottish Poetry Library made brave stand, Lionel Shriver and Father Ted writer say – Times. “The novelists Lionel Shriver and Joan Smith, and the Father Ted writer Graham Linehan are among more than 150 signatories of a letter expressing “whole-hearted support” for the Scottish Poetry Library’s stand against the “Orwellian” takeover of language by gender activists.” Partial paywall.

Working Internationally for Libraries Grants – CILIP. “A total of 10 public libraries from all over England applied to be considered for the Building Bridges grants programme under the Working Internationally for Libraries project, funded by Arts Council England. The four winners have been selected by a jury consisting of members from Arts Council England, Public Libraries 2030, and CILIP’s International Libraries and Information Professionals group”. Winners are Redbridge, Oldham, Barnet and Oxfordshire.

Zaffre wins Sampson’s debut The Last Library – BookSeller. “The Last Library is the story of shy, reclusive June Jones, who is forced to emerge from behind the shelves to save her beloved library from closure, with the help of her unconventional yet dedicated patrons. Zaffre called it “an ode to libraries and the ability they possess to bring the unlikeliest of people together” but also a story “about how the right person, at the right time, can make a huge difference”.

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Free webinar this Thursday at 1.30pm. Click on the image for the link or paste https://digitalcontentassociates.com/making-google-work-for-you/

International news

  • USA – Information studies prof works to address mental illness among librarians – UWM Report. “… mental health may be an even bigger issue among librarians. One study found that more than half of academic librarians surveyed reported having a diagnosed mental illness. But these mental illnesses are scarcely discussed in the library community”
    • History in Going Fine Free – A Look at the Impact It could Have On Your Community – SirsiDynix. “Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries (FVRL) went fine free in 1970 after doing an internal study that showed the cost of collecting fines exceeded the amount collected. They then took the necessary steps to implement and become a fine free library. This policy has saved their library money, and more importantly, increased the amount of positive interactions with their patrons. They have seen a significant decrease in their overdue materials, with last year being less than 4%.”

Local news by authority

Petition damp squib, Devon theft and an inspired funny name


The CILIP/Big Issue petition to boost public libraries prior to Budget Day barely managed seven thousand signatures, far fewer than the membership just of CILIP itself. There are several reasons for this including there being no huge coverage of it and, connected to this, no actual energising major crises at the moment outside of Essex, Hampshire and arguably Bradford. The petition also came at a hopefully short-term low point for the organisation with anger at the Cummings article leading to sour grapes and apathy at least on Twitter. But, still, getting that few a number has to hurt and is likely to send completely the wrong message – so get signing it to make it look less embarrassing, you only have until 11 March.

The story of Libraries Unlimited having £38,000 stolen from them by their own finance manager made the news this week. It looks like she was relatively quickly caught but the theft may raise some eyebrows about the dangers inherent in a small charity – for such LU is – running a library service. However, such thefts are of course common in councils, human nature being what it is and it’s common to see larger amounts stolen over longer periods there. So LU gets a pass on this. But there are only three library trusts and with one already hit – well – losing one may well be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two …. we’ll see.

Finally, two good news stories. World Book Day is a lovely annual event for libraries and there will be tons of pro-book things going on nationally, including in many libraries. But the story that pleases me most is the naming of mobile libraries in Lancashire. Not because it’s (excuse me) novel – Orkney got there years ago – but because the names are so amusing. Whoever came up with “The Hardbacks of Notre Van”, for instance, deserves some sort of honour. Perhaps we should start a petition.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Book lovers across Wales set to celebrate World Book Day 2020 – Wales 247. “The Books Council of Wales is inviting schools, bookshops, colleges, libraries, businesses and households to join the largest annual celebration of books and reading in the United Kingdom and Ireland, by taking part in activities and events across Wales and by simply sharing in the pleasure of reading.”
  • Libraries play crucial role in communities – Guardian / Letters. “… surely councils should not have to raid other parts of their budget to stop library closures, however “lateral thinking” this might be. In The Case for Support, we called for funding for libraries to be restored to pre-austerity levels, and we are delighted that Libraries Deliver is orchestrating an End Libraries Austerity petition to be delivered to No 10 later this month – we urge people to visit the Libraries Deliver website and add their names.”
  • Library crusader Bobby Seagull deliver funding demands to Downing Street – Big Issue. “Bobby Seagull led the way to 10 Downing Street with the library-saving petition signed by more than 7,000 people – and it’s still open”
  • Meet Northern writers at libraries in Read Regional campaign – North Yorkshire Council. “Founded by New Writing North in 2008, the campaign is funded by Arts Council England and is produced in partnership by New Writing North, North Yorkshire County Council and 21 other library authorities.”
  • Mhairi Black’s drag queen stunt has backfired spectacularly – Spectator. “In the hands of ideologically-inspired teachers and librarians, nothing is off limits in the drive to shock children out of their heteronormative assumptions. “
  • Scottish Government pledges £100,000 to new memory group project – Press and Journal. “The Scottish Government has announced a £100,000 award from the public library improvement fund for the creation of “memory groups”. Its is the largest grant the improvement fund has ever paid out and the first time library services have collaborated on a single venture. With an emphasis on social history, the idea behind the innovative wellbeing project is that group members will stir up conversation and build a stronger sense of community.”
  • Scottish library cuts: six councils to make savings – Herald. “Edinburgh’s savings plan of more than £300,000 is up in the air as councillors this week dropped plans to cut library opening hours and are to reconsider their long-term plans for staffless libraries. ” … “West Lothian Council plans to reduce hours at libraries from April in a savings package of £130,000. The changes to opening hours will save the council £50,000 by reducing staffing. ” … “A shake-up of Angus Alive, which runs the region’s libraries, is expected to make a £458,000 saving. It is said to have led to the departure of senior figures already.” … “Inverclyde’s £246,000 package of planned savings for next year includes cutting library headquarters support, and removing evening opening of all branch libraries. ” … “Western Isles is the other local authority looking to save on libraries. “

International news

Local news by authority