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Dublin’ down: Eire bets the future of libraries on removing fines, staffless technology and investment

Editorial

The Republic of Ireland has come up with a strategy to double library usage. The key headline ways of doing so are by removing fines, upgrading buildings, and by increasing opening hours via staffless technology, with around 5 million euros (£50m equivalent pro rata) investment. This staffless technology is to be used in addition to staffing and, not as is often the case in the UK, part of a budget-cutting programme. Perhaps as interestingly, the scheme shows that Eire has the motivation and the infrastructure to impose such a plan.

Such is not the case in England, and to a lesser extent the other British nations, where the Brexit-obsessed government has done very little for libraries and is happy to neglect them, doing the least it can to ameliorate the effect of its own austerity programme while applauding those communities forced to replace paid staff with volunteers. In the vacuum that this creates, the remaining national bodies with responsibility for libraries, Arts Council England and the newly reminted Libraries Connected (SCL), are highly limited in what they can do with the 151 different English library services and it is up to individual councils as to what happens. Compared to Eire, this looks like not so much a strategy as trying to make do the best one can do without one. Few can doubt which of the two countries has more chance of success.

By the way, my apologies for being so slow in creating this post, almost a fortnight after the last one. I have been in some pain due to what I suspect was a mid-life-crisis inspired jogging injury but the new medication appears to help. Wish me luck for the MR scan tomorrow.

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11th June 2018

Changes by local authority

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Goodbye Society of Chief Librarians, Hello Libraries Connected: An interview with Isobel Hunter

I am delighted that the new CEO of the Society of Chief Librarians, Isobel Hunter, agreed to be interviewed. She very kindly opened up questioning to anyone and so the questions below are a mixture of mine and those received on Twitter and via email. The interview is tied in with the announcement that the SCL is now renamed “Libraries Connect“. This is to modernise and also to reflect its new role. Do have a read. The normal news bulletin is below the interview.

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Ever wondered what your chief librarian is thinking?

Editorial

To many of us not in the highest tiers of public  library management, the two day long SCL seminar, held this week in Warwick, maintains only a slight fascination, if we are aware of it at all. But the programme shows as well as anything what things chief librarians are interested in and the trends to watch. This year, also, will see the official launch of the new SCL logo and name, and it’ll be fascinating to see what reaction there is to that. Here are the things I’ve gleaned from the programme;

– The progress of the  Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Fund (LOFIE) programmes are, quite rightly being shared. There seems to be more sharing of the results of innovation than before, generally, in libraries, which is good.

– It looks like the libraries minister Michael Ellis is actually physically turning up. His presence has hardly been noticed in the sector since his appointment, apart from one phoned-in script-reading video message at a volunteer library seminar a month or two ago. I reckon it’s 50:50 if he’ll cancel, though (and not just because his train will probably be late).

– The digital side is being emphasised, although the benefits of reading (not “books”) is featured in some sessions.

– EU libraries are mentioned. The loss of EU membership is going to have an impact on public libraries but, as with everything else about the issue, exactly how is unclear.

– Volunteer (“community managed”) libraries get a session, although considering how big a part of the sector they are now (over 500 branches) this is hardly surprising. Similarly, the same can be said about staffless libraries, whose presence is increasingly being felt.

– Health and wellbeing is big. Very big. Huge.

But, really, do have a read for yourself, especially if you want to get a view for what’s big and trending with chief librarians at the moment.

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Summer is almost here

Editorial

Good to see the Summer Reading Challenge is expected to go strong this year too. It’s the biggest promotion by far that libraries are involved with and hopefully will continue to be successful. I’d also love for me to be able to say next year that there’s at least another national promotion that can challenge it in terms of scale – because we need national promotions for adults and, above all, for non-users. In the meantime, though, have a read of Philip Pullman.

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It should be you: apply for the Library of the Year

Editorial

You know how it is. Some other place, shinier and bigger than yours, wins an award. That’s how it goes. Well, I’ve seen a fair few libraries and there’s some brilliant ones out there who have never had recognition, and some are small and far from shiny. They just do brilliant work, over and above what is needed, every day , meeting the needs of their communities and going the extra mile. Some are pretty darn imaginative about it too. So it’s great to see the relaunch of the Library of the Year award into something more inclusive and open. Any size library can apply and any number can do so from any one library service. So ignore that inner voice that says your library is not as good as that big one you’ve heard about. Concentrate on the brilliance of yours and apply. it’s only 300 words and getting a great mix of libraries, large and small, old as well as new, in the final ten will done wonders to help show the variety of the great things libraries do. Apply before 15th June.

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No longer just a bossy inter-lending service: The British Library in 2018

Editorial

Congratulations to LIz Jolly who becomes the chief librarian at the British Library shortly. I don’t often mention the BL, which to some extent is a worrying sign, either for me for missing it or for the BL for not doing enough. Having said that, the BL has definitely upped its game with public libraries noticeably over the last few years. Once upon a time only known in public library circles for its harsh and bossy attitude when it came to inter-lending books, the national library is now branching out into business outlets in various libraries and has recently put its toe in the water with screenings of readings in a a limited number of libraries. It’s unclear why they’re limited – the joy of digital technology is that the same thing is freely replicable an infinite number of times – but it’s better than the nothing we had before and hopefully one day they’ll cease the artificial limit, which is on offer to only a few chosen (it’s not clear how) library services. The recent Harry Potter tour is also to be welcomed as is an increasing involvement in discussions on public libraries at national level. However, to too many of us, the British Library remains a distant establishment. It’s still more a London Library With Good Intentions than something which, hand on heart, feels national to those of us in the majority who do not live in the capital. I hope Liz, who I have respect for, and others there continue and expand on the good work begun. And, perhaps, the days of prohibitive high late charges and bossy inter-lending notes will be forgotten, as will the attitude that we (mistakenly or not) assumed came with it.

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Answers on visas, Welsh libraries funding and your chance to question the new SCL Chief Exec

Editorial

I always find, as a librarian, the best way to find an answer to a question is to ask an expert. So, due to the various expressed uncertainties about the public library scheme, I emailed Isobel Hunter, the new Chief Executive of the Society of Chief Librarians. She kindly quickly answered them and the details are below. Following on form this, she has also agreed to answer more general questions, which I’m working on now. But it seems to me some of you may have questions too. So if you want me to ask any, email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. and let me know if you want it confidential or not. If there’s too many questions, I’ll try to work out questions that cover themes.

In other news, the Welsh Government has just announced funding that will help several libraries. Great to see. It’s worth pointing out that, scaled up to England’s size, that would be a very impressive £23m. Come on, Libraries Minister, make it happen.

Changes by local authorities

A short interview with Isobel Hunter, the new SCL chief executive, about the new Visa programme.

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Visa applicants and libraries

Editorial

The Society of Chief Librarians has been subcontracted by French company Sopra Steria to provide assistance for visa applicants from October 2018. The SCL press release says its for 56 library services, although other news reports, including Sopra Steria, say 56 libraries, which is quite a difference. The process seems quite involved, with the need to submit “biometric information including photos, fingerprints, and signatures and their supporting evidence at a single appointment”. My twitter feed, naturally full of library campaigners, is raising lots of questions about neutrality, training, confidentiality, work time and if library staff would be obliged to report anyone who it turned out was in the country illegally. I’m sure all of this has been thought out and so I have emailed the new Chief Exec Isobel Hunter to ask these questions and look forward to an answer. For the SCL, the reasons for taking on the contract are fairly clear – raising profile, and income, from amongst the government.  I just hope, though,  no-one from the government has looked at the SCL website recently, which is still leading on news from 2016 and promotes five (not six) Universal Offers. I hope the website will be overhauled soon with the forthcoming name change for the organisation.

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An Ode to Libraries in Finland

Editorial

That’s it, I want to work in Finland. OK, I don’t speak Finnish and can’t stand cold or dark nights but, darn it, just look at how they treat libraries over there. as important learning and education centres, with over three times more spent on libraries per head than in the UK. And that new library, the beautifully named “Ode”, looks rather nice too.

OK, deep breath, back to the UK. Well, looking on the bright side, at least most of us don’t work in Northants. The council there is asking towns and parishes to not only take over running public libraries but to pay full whack for the privilege. This includes buying the building which, in one case, the parish council gave to Northants in the first place. Unsurprisingly, some councils are complaining about this treatment and refusing to take them over. Across the border in Wales, Cardiff are implementing cuts to their libraries by co-locating services. That doesn’t sound so bad but I’ve seen what has happened to Cardiff Central where a proud and well-equipped central library has been replaced with crammed in sections between various other council services, with the added presence of suspicious security guards. Let’s hope the city approaches the other libraries differently.

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