A premature library history of 2020

I studied History at university and was taught the importance of various forms of evidence and differing points of view. It so taught me the need for the long view that I tend to think judging the impact of anything later than the Romans as premature. So, it’s perhaps pointless to try to give a judgement on that frantic and hopefully unique period in our lives when Covid unmistakably came to our shores in February and March this year. But I do have some preliminary thoughts that I will be sharing at the (virtual, of course) CILIP Conference this November.

The first thing to say is that the library sector as a whole responded remarkably well and put health and safety first over issues. Secondly, I think library management pivoted quickly over a period of two/three weeks from trying to continue business as normal to closure and beyond. The entire careers of successful managers, after all, was up to that point focused on keeping things open. But when that turned out not to be viable (and of course when their councils told them they had to), things happened quickly. The idea of closure went from causing shocked laughter to official policy in far less than one month.

Then, during lockdown, libraries concentrated on their digital side and what their staff could do away from their buildings. The sector, actually, one when thinks about it, was well-placed to take advantage of things. E-books were made for lockdown and staff who have spent their lives talking to customers were ideal for talking to the shielded and the vulnerable over the phone.

When libraries opened again, they did so with commendable caution. Being non profit-driven certainly helped in this regard and gave them the window to pause often not possible to other places on the High Street. However, ironically, they are possibly less well-placed, strategically, now when they’re open than when they were closed. The buildings are distinctly quieter than before and none offer the range of events (or, even, study tables) that attracted so much business before. Much of the traditional user base is also understandably reluctant to risk infection. Councillors may just see the comparatively empty buildings and draw their own comparisons come the tricky Covid budget-settling to come.

How libraries cope with this, and whether their lockdown success will be noted or seen (as some have already suggested) as a sign that they can be virtual instead, is going to the big thing we discover over the next few months. And I hope history will confidently record their success. In a thousand years or so.

Looking forward to seeing you, virtually alas, in November.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Agenda: The future of libraries is both physical and virtual – Herald Scotland. “Scotland’s public library sector had to transform overnight. Closing the doors to our library buildings and taking mobile libraries off the road goes against the very essence of libraries, which are founded on free and equal access for all. However, librarians and library staff across the country used the tools and technology at their disposal to maintain their communities. We’ve seen fabulous examples of libraries creating new virtual events and digital initiatives to ensure people continued to access what they needed.”
  • Call for presentations – LILAC. “LILAC welcomes proposals which address information literacy from all sectors and contexts. For LILAC 2021 we invite you to present on any aspect of information literacy, there are no specific themes. ” 7-9 April.
  • Learning from Lockdown: 12 Steps to Eliminate Digital Exclusion – Carnegie UK Trust. “‘Learning from Lockdown: 12 Steps to Eliminate Digital Exclusion’ is a response to this challenge, setting out a series of 12 recommendations calling for ambitious action from policy makers, practitioners, academics and industry to tackle this issue. The recommendations build on our work on digital inclusion over the past decade, and particularly draw on learning and reflections from the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown period.”
  • Librarians’ Virtual Toolkit – Working with Readers in Interesting Times – West Midlands Readers Network. 5 November, 2 to 4pm. “An afternoon of talks and presentations about working with readers and reading groups”
  • Libraries Digital Bootcamp – Basecamp. 12 November, 2 to 5pm. “The Bootcamp will offer you the opportunity to learn new techniques and skills, find out how other library services have delivered online activity and have a lot of new ideas to take away.”
  • Libraries in Lockdown – Libraries Connected. “Over 75% of libraries delivered online events during lockdown and library teams made over 130,000 calls to local people who were shielding or vulnerable, reveals new research from Libraries Connected.” … “Leaders of over 130 library services responded to our online survey and we carried out video interviews with a further 20 leaders” … “Just over half of library services managed to increase their online audiences” [this seems fewer than one would expect – Ed.]
  • Libraries sector in the Birthday Honours list – DCMS. Biographies of the nine library-related Honours recipients.

The Government is providing local councils with unprecedented support during the pandemic with a £4.3 billion package, including £3.7 billion which is not ringfenced and £600 million to support social care providers. This is part of a wider package of almost £28 billion which the Government has committed to support local areas, with funding going to councils, businesses and communities.

DCMS has a statutory duty to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England. To assist delivery of this statutory duty, DCMS issued a joint letter with the Local Government Association to all local authorities in England requesting detail of restoration of their library services given the opening of physical library buildings is now permitted. This detail is assisting the department’s engagement with local authorities and its ongoing monitoring of library service provision.

DCMS continues to work closely with Libraries Connected and other key stakeholders to ensure that the Libraries Connected Service Recovery Toolkit remains relevant and continues to assist libraries with their opening and reintroduction of their services during the pandemic.

In response to the rise in demand for e-lending immediately following the closure of libraries in March, Arts Council England provided £151,000 (around £1,000 per library authority in England) to supplement existing e-book funding

Baroness Baran, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, They Work For You.
  • Library lockdown success could threaten physical services, leaders warn – BookSeller. “The report also showed library membership remained stable during lockdown with some services seeing spikes of up to 32% despite the facilities’ closure, the report said. Membership to access digital resources increased by 27% with some services more than doubling the number of those signing up. Audiobook checkouts also increased during lockdown by 113%. However, some respondents said the lockdown success “could be viewed, erroneously, as a substitute for a physical offer, or adequate as a definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service under the Libraries Act.”” … “The report also noted the scale of e-book lending is still small compared to physical withdrawals and warned with costs “unlikely to be sustainable”.”

“My concern coming out of this is that we are about to enter a brutal round of public finances — I cannot expand due to capacity and organisational reasons, the public expect us to, and I know what’s likely to come”

Respondent to library lockdown survey
  • Local Libraries join The Reading Agency to launch the ‘Reading Well for children’ booklist – News From Wales. “To coincide with World Mental Health Day, which took place on Saturday 10th October, local libraries are joining with The Reading Agency, the Society of Chief Librarians Cymru and Libraries Connected to launch a new collection of ‘Reading Well for children’ books.”
  • Making a Difference: Libraries, Lockdown and Looking Ahead – Carnegie UK Trust. “This report into UK public library services explores their role supporting individuals and communities during lockdown and the barriers they faced during this time. It also explores their role in supporting the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and what it would take to unleash the full potential of what public library services have to offer us all. The report identifies a number of key messages and action areas for local and national governments, sector support bodies and the sector itself.”
  • Queen’s Honours for libraries – Libraries Connected.
  • SLIC Library User Survey – Scottish Library and Information Council. “SLIC has commissioned Blake Stevenson Ltd, a social research company, to assess the impact of the strategy on library services across Scotland. As part of this, we are keen to hear library users’ views …”
  • Webinar: Digital strategy & innovation in libraries – Bibliotheca. “How can libraries meet growing user expectations and reimagine services that will meet future community needs? Join us for an engaging discussion into evolving digital behaviors, how this impacts library experiences and how physical library spaces play a vital role. Hear from Danish and German libraries paving the way with visionary ideas and future-proof implementations.” Tuesday, 27th October, 2020 at 2PM

International news

  • USA – Step Inside The Museum of Obsolete Library Science – The Met 150. “We are forward thinking, technology-savvy, and driven to find the most modern way possible to fulfill our patrons’ needs. However, the dirty little secret is that sometimes the old stuff, while no longer useful, is actually cool.”
  • The story behind the library takeout video – Duke Today. “With its playful animation, catchy chorus and infectious beat, his roughly three-minute synth pop music video has become a viral hit on campus and beyond with at least 17,558 views on YouTube. Nearly six weeks after its release, he’s still hearing glowing feedback from colleagues from across campus.”

Local news by authority

Wandsworth – Marsha De Cordova, the MP for Battersea and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, visited Battersea Park Library on 9th October to celebrate National Libraries Week.

Hail to the chiefs


There were several librarians named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year. The name that stood out to me was Isobel Hunter, the current and first CEO of Libraries Connected, who despite only being in post two years has not put a foot wrong in what could have been quite a difficult time, ensuring that LC has had a strong founding. A notable thing to me is that those honoured have been at chief or very senior level in libraries. While understandable, because they’re at the level that can get things done and are thus noticed, this I think is a bit of shame as there are tons of highly committed and gifted librarians who may not get to that level but still make a huge difference. See my article here for more thoughts on the subject.

Changes by authority

National news

  • CILIP announces Honorary Fellowships including Library Champion Bobby Seagull – CILIP. “Bobby Seagull and CILIP are delighted to announce that he will be continuing in the role of CILIP Library Champion for 2020-21. In recognition of his services to libraries” … “Alongside Bobby, Honorary Fellowships are also being awarded to Margaret Casely-Hayford, CBE, for services to children’s literature and illustration through her leadership of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Diversity Review; and Pamela Martindale, for her sustained and significant contribution to the library, information and knowledge profession through professional registration.”
  • How can libraries play a positive role in the Covid crisis? – Eurolis. Zoom, Wednesdays 14, 21 and 28 October 2020, from 4 to 6pm. Speakers from UK, Portugal, Poland, Catalonia (Spain), Italy, Germany and France.
  • How shipping container libraries can help save the public library crisis – Open Access Government. Shipping Container boss praises shipping containers.”BiebBus is a mobile container-based in The Netherlands, which has the ability to let kids have fun and explore the world of books before travelling on to a new place. We all love novelty and shiny new things, and can often get bored when things stay the same. With portable, alternative libraries which are only in town for a limited amount of time, people may feel more of a need to visit. It’s new, and it’s an experience people can try out with their friends.”
  • Libraries Week features nationwide Haig event and Bonnier book club launch – BookSeller. “Libraries Week kicks off today (5th October), featuring behind the scenes looks at authors’ bookshelves, a nationwide live reading of The Midnight Library by author Matt Haig (Canongate) and the launch of a Bonnier book club.”
  • Living Libraries – Soho Radio. “a celebration of public libraries in the words of people who use, work in and run them. Sarah Pyke and Shelley Trower present the Living Libraries oral history project, 2019-2020 at the University of Roehampton, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The oral history collection is copyright of The British Library Board and is used with permission.”
  • Supporting economic recovery – Local Government First. “With their offer of access to computers, job clubs, CV writing support, skills training and targeted support for start-ups through Business and Intellectual Property Centres (BIPCs), libraries have an important role to play.”
  • TWA Heritage Digitisation Grant – Amended to Reflect the Changing Face of 2020 – Town Web Archiving. 3 grants of £3000 each open to libraries.
  • Why libraries hold the key to a start-up revolution – Times. Behind paywall.
  • Young north-east football fans can support reading challenge – Grampian Online. “This year’s 4-4-2 Reading Challenge has been launched with Peterhead FC supporting the initiative in the north-east. It is the third year of the successful programme which is spearheaded by the SPFL Trust, Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), and Scotland’s libraries.”


  • Susan Hill and Mary Berry awarded damehoods in Queen’s Birthday Honours – BookSeller. “Librarians were well represented in the Birthday Honours. Receiving OBEs were Libraries Connected chief executive Isobel Hunter “for services to public libraries”, and Julie Oldham, head of Library and Museum Services at Bolton Council, and professor Steven John Broomhead, “for services to public libraries” in Chorley, Lancashire. MBEs were awarded “for services to libraries and the arts” to Andrew Bentley in Cheshire and “for services to public libraries” to Michelle Alford in Lancashire, Janet Holden in Suffolk, Sarah Smith in London and Gateshead Library Service manager Stephen James Walters.”
  • Andrew Bentley – Queen’s Birthday honours see Holocaust survivor, Storyhouse boss and Crewe hospice fundraiser recognised – Cheshire Live. “Storyhouse chief executive Andrew Bentley, who has been working hard to try to save the theatre from the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus lockdown.”
  • Steven Broomhead – Steven Broomhead awarded MBE in Queen’s birthday honours – Warrington Guardian. “Professor Steven Broomhead’s name was listed among others deserving of recognition for their contribution to society following the publication of the full honours list. The award comes following his leadership and chairmanship of the National Libraries Taskforce, in which he helped to implement the Independent Library Report and reinvigorate the national public library service.” … “Prof. Broomhead was previously chair of Warrington’s Libraries Working group, which formed to review the results of consultations over the borough’s provision.”
  • Council Chief receives MBE for services to libraries in Queen’s Birthday Honours – Warrington Worldwide.
  • Peter Gaw – Inspire CEO honoured in Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2020 – West Bridgford Wire. “The British Empire Medal (BEM) has been awarded to Peter Gaw the CEO of Inspire – Culture, Learning and Libraries in the Queen’s birthday 2020 Honours list in recognition of his service and commitment to Libraries and Culture.”
  • Janet Holden – Suffolk’s community heroes celebrated in Queen’s Birthday Honours – East Anglian Daily Times. “Janet Holden. For services to Public Libraries (Halesworth, Suffolk)”
  • Julie Oldham – Bolton librarian to be honoured by the Queen for a second time – Manchester Evening News. Julie Oldham received an MBE in 2002 and now has OBE. She retired this year. ““During my career I have been privileged to work with some fantastic people who have inspired me and worked with me to deliver our services, often through challenging times.”
  • Stephen Walters – Gateshead individuals honoured – Gateshead Council. “Stephen Walters, Gateshead Council Libraries Manager, awarded the British Empire Medal for services to public libraries”

International news

  • USA – A former Austin Library employee is accused of stealing $1.3M in printer toner – CNN. Bought it for the library and then stored it in garage until sold online. He also allegedly fraudulently used library credit cards.
  • Walmart’s new store design proves browsing is dead – Fast Company. “Walmart is rearranging many items across the store, consolidating categories such as electronics, toys, and baby products into their own dedicated sections rather than having some items scattered. Then they’re loading these stores with clearer signs to point you around the space. These signs match up with the exact categories and icons you’ll also find inside the surprisingly great Walmart app. The intended effect is what the company is billing as a “seamless” shopping experience between the digital store and the physical one.”

Local news by authority

“The library building in Barras Street has sat empty for over a year in the heart of our town centre with no refurbishment work even commencing during this whole period. “I just hope that Cornwall Council learn from this debacle and ensure we are never put in this position again where decisions are taken to vacate buildings before the next steps have been secured and agreed.”

Cornwall Councillor for Liskeard Nick Craker

“Libraries were listed as a ‘discretionary service’ to be potentially looked into despite the council having a ‘statutory duty’ to provide efficient library services to residents. The council leader acknowledged libraries are statutory but said RBWM could be looking at a number of avenues to deliver the service such as changing the opening times, the number of libraries and their locations in the borough, integrating the service into another model, etc.”

A busy start to the month


There’s quite a lot of special Days and Months at the start of October – Black History Month, National Poetry Day, Fun Palaces and Libraries Week all on at the same time. The one with the hardest time in these Covid days is Fun Palaces which normally relies on face-to-face demonstrations and crafts. The organisers have done a valiantly good job but it’s impact will be far less this year. The others are more in keeping with having Zoom events and things on social media.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Black History Month in Libraries – Libraries Connected. Lists what various library services are doing: so far Hertfordshire, Lambeth, Manchester, Newham and Oldham and mainly (obviously) online events.
  • Books for the future: why we need copyright libraries – Book Riot. “copyright libraries are such an important part of our culture and our national heritage. Preserving knowledge and stories in a way that makes them accessible for future generations is a worthy task, and something the librarians in these libraries take incredibly seriously. “
  • National Library of Wales’ finances need ‘urgent attention’ – BBC. “The Welsh Government-commissioned review concluded the library faced a threat to its financial viability. Up to 30 jobs could be lost if the review was ignored, the head of the library in Aberystwyth warned.” … “The report said the library’s income had declined in real terms by 40% between 2008 and 2019. It had also cut its staffing by 23% in that time.”
  • National called to verse on National Poetry Day – National Poetry Day. “‘The interactive National Poetry Day map features hundreds of poetry celebrations across the UK, led by local libraries, schools and bookshops: care homes are connecting with school children via Gyles Brandreth’s #PoetryTogether2020 initiative and English Heritage has seized
    on poetry to celebrate untold stories in an unprecedented link between National Poetry Day and Black History Month.”
  • Public Library Apparel – KickStarter for public library clothing to support the sector.
  • Service recovery toolkit – Libraries Connected. Updates to take into account Track and Trace, facemasks and “rule of six” for group of activities/events.
  • SoA calls for increase to ‘meagre’ PLR – BookSeller. “Sheila Bennett, head of libraries strategy and delivery at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has written to the SoA to pass on the recommendation that PLR is increased from 9.03p to 9.55p. The increase reflects a reduction in the estimated number of loans of books that are registered for PLR”
  • Solus UK acquires Boopsie Mobile App Division from Demco, Inc – Library Technology Guides. “All Boopsie customers will be migrated to the latest Solus Library App at no additional cost to their existing subscription.”
  • UK Libraries have loaned out 3.5 million ebooks during pandemic – Good E-reader. “It is estimated that all branches lent an additional 3.5 million ebooks from 13th March to 14th August.  Chrys Mellor, libraries general manager for North Yorkshire County Council, said ebook and audio were up 78% and 3,000 new members have signed up for cards during lockdown.”
  • Webinar – Children, wellbeing, and libraries: an expert-led discussion – Libraries Connected. 22 October 2pm. “Education, primary care, and mental health experts discuss the impact of the pandemic on children’s wellbeing and how public libraries could support recovery.”
  • World Book Day plans outreach with book club and library collaboration – BookSeller. “A new monthly book club and greater outreach to public and school libraries are among the World Book Day plans for 2021, the charity’s c.e.o. has revealed at this year’s Bookseller Children’s Conference. “

International news

  • Global – Ebook loans, book dispensers: how are libraries adjusting to the pandemic? – Yahoo. US/UK/Singapore.
  • USA – Publishers Worry as Ebooks Fly off Libraries’ Virtual Shelves – Wired. “orrowers like Adler are driving publishers crazy. After the pandemic closed many libraries’ physical branches this spring, checkouts of ebooks are up 52 percent from the same period last year …”
    • American classics among most ‘challenged’ books of the decade in US – Guardian. “Marking the start of Banned Books Week, the American Libraries Association (ALA) has reviewed all of the censorship reports it has received over the last 10 years to come up with the 100 books that readers and parents have most frequently tried to have removed from libraries and schools in the US.”
    • Goodnight Nobody – 99% Invisible. Podcast looking at New York children’s librarian who introduced the children’s library but also censored books, bossed everyone around after retiring and, yes, carried a puppet around with her that she pretended was human.
    • A mysterious librarian is the breakout star of Netflix’s “Hilda” – I Love Libraries. “Two years ago, the animated series Hilda premiered on Netflix, and a minor character called “The Librarian” (voiced by Kaisa Hammurlund) quickly became a fan sensation. Although she only appears in about three minutes of the show’s first season, this feisty librarian has been mentioned in 20 fanfiction stories on Archive of Our Own and has a Tumblr blog dedicated to her.”
    • Reopening, Reimagining – Brooklyn Public Library podcast. “This episode, we ask how the pandemic can help us re-imagine what we use libraries for. Plus, we talk to LA County Library about how extreme weather is impacting their reopening, and dig into the science of how we are keeping you (and your books) healthy.”

Local news by authority

Not a good time to be down by two-thirds? Kent and Stockport


The BookSeller have published an interesting article on library usage, pointing out that it is only at one-fifth to one-third of pre-covid levels. There are many reasons for this situation, some of which are listed below, but it’s still a worrying statistic to be made public at a time when councils are looking for ways to save money:

  • much usage has moved online. On the other hand, while such usage is often larger than any single physical library branch, it won’t account for a significant amount of the fall. There were 157m book loans in 2018, while the article states that ebook loans March to August were 3.5m. The “600% increase” figure often quoted as an e-lending rise is not an overall accurate figure for the whole period.
  • many libraries are still closed, on reduced hours or click and collect only.
  • unlike shops, libraries are not promoting themselves or encouraging visitors. The focus is on safety, not income. Libraries need to be models of safety for their councils, and being risk averse, unlike retail.
  • the unique returns aspect of libraries means quarantining of books unlike in shops. This may have a knock-on effect in highlighting risk to users and in keeping popular titles outside of circulation.
  • A significant user base for libraries is amongst the old: a demographic most at risk and thus less likely to go out.

An example of an authority trying to save money is Kent, which has the largest number of library buildings of any UK authority, has announced that it will 66 of its 99 branches closed until 1st April 2021. Those normally working in the closed branches have been moved to open ones. Also, reading between the lines, the closure of Stockport Central Library and its moving some time next year to a co-location in an old Argos shop is as likely to be as much about saving money as modernising the service, although it is true that sometimes both can be achieved.

Changes by local authority

National news

The American Library Association’s Games and Gaming Round Table (GameRT) is proud to announce that despite COVID-19, International Games Week (IGW) will take place from November 8 to November 14, 2020.  Libraries of all stripes around the world are encouraged to sign up between now and October 24 to be eligible for a drawing for one of three special GameRT Loot Boxes. While GameRT encourages participants to hold a gaming event at their Library during IGW, due to the pandemic, any event held during the month of November can be counted.  This year, GameRT will be spotlighting freely available print-and-play games and listing resources available for libraries to use to set up gaming events online at games.ala.org

Darren Edwards, Lis-Pub-Libs
  • Levelling Up Our Communities – UK Government. Report by Danny Kruger MP (Conservative) to the Prime Minister on improving community. “The local Library is or should be a crucial element of the social model we need to create, or re-create. Libraries are no longer dusty book depositories. Increasingly they serve as digital hubs and information centres for communities, and places for classes and sessions of all kinds. The British Library’s Business and IP Centre network is supporting local libraries to assist people in starting their own businesses. Even more is possible: siting BBC local radio stations in libraries, spreading the Library of Things network, using libraries for cultural events and exhibitions, and working with Historic England to establish new libraries in old buildings.” … “Government should make a major commitment to support the local library as the hub of the 21st century community”
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, 9781982134198
  • Library footfall down 80% on last year – BookSeller. Libraries Connected “… collects weekly figures and, up to the week ending 13th September, they show a very gradual uptick in the number of physical users since lockdown ended for libraries from early July, with footfall still at only around 20% of last year’s level.” … many libraries still closed so those open more at 35% … “the figure is still far lower than for the commercial high street, where more shops have opened fully and footfall has peaked at close to 70% of previous levels.”
  • Public Library Apparel – KickStarter. “Apparel to raise awareness and funds for public libraries in the UK.”. Check out these literary themed t-shirts to support ailing libraries – Big Issue.
  • Public Library Reopening Poll – Summer 2020 – Lorensbergs. “The results provide a snapshot of the services available at late August/early September and libraries’ plans for the months ahead. A total of 96 library authorities have taken part, with participation stretching across the UK. The findings represent how it’s been necessary for library authorities to respond according to the guidelines and different circumstances of their local areas.”
  • Transforming the digital offer for public libraries – BookSeller. “Our goal was not just to conceptualise what a website for public libraries might look like, but rather to think more deeply and strategically about how to improve the use of digital technology throughout the whole public library sector. ” … “We believe that a national digital presence should help everyone discover the power of the public library by making access to knowledge easier and more enjoyable, and supporting every public library to deliver digital services of the highest quality.” … “to build a national digital channel for public libraries” and “develop patterns and designs that local libraries can use and re-work”

International news

Local news by authority

Just before the second wave


Sorry to see that Hay on Wye, a place synonymous with books, will now have a library run by volunteers. Wales is notably less reliant on the unpaid than English libraries and so this represents a worrying development. Otherwise, the news continues to show a return to normal, although with one service amusingly reintroducing click and collect not because their libraries aren’t open – they are – but because the public liked the service. How the increasingly obvious and long-feared second wave will affect the national picture remains to be seen.

Changes by authority

National news

  • BookTrust’s Time to Read campaign supports transition to primary school for 740,000 children – Charity Today. ““We love to encourage parents to read with their children. Sadly, this year we can’t do it in person so our lovely library staff will be connecting with our parents and children virtually, helping parents and children see that’s there’s no right way to read a book. Using a variety of voices, styles and experience our library teams will read this years’ Time to Read book and share tips on reading aloud, beamed straight into homes via the schools. A familiar book, an enthusiastic parent and a friendly librarian what better combination to encourage reading this autumn.””
  • CILIP Conference 2020 – Reimagined – CILIP. October 13, 2020 – November 19, 2020. ” Reimagined will be a series of satellite events throughout Autumn, culminating in an incredible one-day event on 19 November with all of the elements that you would expect if you were to come to a live venue “
  • The history of book burning – New Statesman.” In 2018-19, there were 3,583 public libraries in the UK compared with 4,356 in 2009-10: 773 have closed.”
  • ‘Libraries and Rural Touring Arts’ – maximising the potential of our nation’s libraries – Rural Touring. “… the NRTF Libraries Project, funded by the Arts Council England will support the delivery of rural touring arts in libraries by recognising and promoting the high-quality creative activities already happening in rural libraries across the UK, strengthening and boosting ambition by sharing resources, contacts, expertise and knowledge, funding opportunities to map, review, learn, expand and develop the touring potential of libraries and bring organisations and professionals together to network, support, educate and collaborate on a national scale.” NRFT Conference – free digital conference includes one day, 13 October, on libraries.

Are you interested in standing as a candidate in the CILIP BAME Network’s Inaugural Elections? Do you want to find out more and ask questions? Then join us for a Zoom meeting on 24th September between 5.15pm-6pm. This is an opportunity for you to ask members of the CILIP BAME Network Steering Committee about what each role within the Committee will involve as well as about the work we have been involved with to date. If you are interested in joining this meeting please email info.bame@cilip.org.uk.

Mobeena Khan

International news

Local news by authority

“So many library users loved the surprise element of discovering what books had been chosen for them but just as importantly it also allows us to stay in touch with customers who are limiting their contacts and don’t want to browse the shelves just yet.”

June Souter, libraries service development manager

A normal news week, sort of


Windsor and Maidenhead, the” tax avoidance capital” and one of the wealthiest parts of the UK, is considering cutting library opening hours by a quarter in order to save money. Elsewhere, Kingston has also announced a consultation but it is avoids mentioning if this is simply cover to cut funding or not. A new library has opened in Waltham Forest and another in the Vale of Glamorgan has closed for extensive refurbishment. Meanwhile, the troubled Library of Birmingham has been earmarked £3m of the £10m it needs just for maintenance. That place sucks in money. So – good news – this almost sounds like a normal news week pre-Covid.

A librarianship MA student is researching the use and purpose of volunteers at Oldham Libraries for her dissertation and is looking for information professionals to share their thoughts on the topic. The study will involve information professionals completing a survey about their experience and knowledge of volunteers. If you find the project of interest and would like to participate in this survey, please contact the researcher, Nicola Semple. Her email address is nicola.semple@stu.mmu.ac.uk

Changes by authority


I’ve been a fan of Whichbook for years and so was delighted to see that this one-of-a-kind book recommendation site has been radically improved. Rachel Van Riel, the Director of Opening the Book, the creators of Whichbook, very kindly agreed to answer my questions about it …

What is Whichbook?

A new way to choose a book where the reader is in control. Searching books sites and catalogues usually means keying in an author name or book title. But if you know the name already, your search is likely to turn up books you already know about. No surprises there. Whichbook starts instead from the reading experience you are looking for. Are you in the mood for something funny and optimistic or beautiful and a bit sad? Mix the mood sliders to match what you want and see what comes up. You can choose the race, age, gender and sexuality of the main character or spin the globe and pick the country your book is set in.

What is it like now?

This site is in a completely different league from the old one. The old one had the central idea but it was dated in design, you needed to be keen to use it. People still were keen – we averaged 35,000 a month – but this new one is so juicy and tempting – I defy anyone not to get sucked in to look at just one more possibility – and then another ….

So what’s actually new?

It’s dynamic and not linear. When you change the mood sliders, the book covers instantly rearrange to match, it’s magic. When you choose a main character, you can pick Asian and see a big choice, then choose gay, the book covers change instantly to show that. It’s a celebration of the richness of book cover design and a visual feast. Everything is intuitive – instead of a drop-down menu of countries to choose from, you can spin a globe and land anywhere and see which books are set there. And it is designed to work on tablets and phones as much as PCs and Macs. That’s been a huge job with such a complexity of interaction. But we knew that more than half of users access by mobile phone so it’s essential.

Is it free?

Yes, it’s completely free. For the first time, we have added a donate button as the site has had no public funding since 2003. We have looked at using ads too but they do spoil the design so we’d rather not.

How are the book choices made?

We concentrate on books which may fly below the radar – first-time authors, quirky titles and knock-out covers. Any user can suggest a book. We don’t include the big bestsellers as they don’t need any help to be found. Another great new feature, though, is that you can pick a current bestseller you enjoyed and see a selection of whichbook titles you might like to try next. That could be very useful for libraries with a big waiting list for bestseller reservations.

What’s the library connection?

Click on any book cover to get the book details and you can then Borrow or Buy. Borrow brings up a choice of UK library services with a link that goes straight to author/title level so you can see which branches hold it. The other big connection with libraries is that whichbook readers mostly work in libraries. We have just started a training programme with 10 new readers in Leeds Libraries.

National news

  • Libraries need change from the top – BookSeller. Tim Coates says “Public libraries have been losing the plot for years.” … “and if those currently in charge can’t see or do that, they should be replaced—and very quickly, this autumn. “
  • Together We Read – Digital bookclub. “During this two-week program, there will be no waitlists and no holds for the selected ebook. Download Libby to borrow the free ebook from your library using your phone or tablet. “

International news

  • China –  Concrete wormhole library – Designing Libraries. “The wormholes, of varying size and intervals, provide surprise and let in natural light. As well as provision for around 10,000 [censored – Ed.] books, the library has bicycle parking facilities, bathrooms and showers.”
  • Global – Libraries In Movement – Princh. A look at mobile libraries worldwide including those using donkeys and boats.
  • India – Pandemic is the perfect time to build community libraries, here’s why – Times of India. ” news of small community libraries being opened up in different places in Balochistan caught international bestselling author Paulo Coelho’s attention. The idea is to convert unused buildings or places previously misused for drug consumption into small community libraries in towns and villages so that people and young readers get a glimpse of the outside world through stories and books”
  • USA/Ireland/ – What’s it like to be a library cat during the pandemic – I Love Libraries. “Library staff know him to be extremely self-sufficient, but during the pandemic people have still been sure to drop by his hut to check in and share snacks.”

Local news by authority

Do libraries treat their readers as racists?


Sometimes a thing comes along that crystallises your thinking and makes you realise things about your work. One of these for me was watching a recording of the “Promoting Diverse Content” webinar put on by Libraries Connected. The excellent panel made clear a few fundamental things wrong about libraries. Libraries too often treat non white literature as different and not as a fundamental part of our normal collections, sometimes not buying good material because it is felt that it does not reflect the user base.

Jolly well reflect good books, not your clientele, who will show they actually enjoy reading stuff by non-whites was the answer to that. Don’t treat your readers like they’re racist. Another was that hunting out such books should be our job, and that we shouldn’t blame side-lined authors and publishers for not having it on Askews or Peters but rather push for them ourselves. Finally, I could not help but thinking that seasonal promotions libraries do, like Black History Month, are getting a bit tokenistic now and that we should consider other options. After all what would think people think about a White History Month? And worse than that, isn’t that absolutely everything else we do?

A video all library staff should watch

So a lot of potentially far-reaching stuff to think about but this also raises another library failing. Far too much over the last decade has the crucial task of choosing the books been passed on to suppliers. These are companies, while very good, who respond to commercial pressures and, rigidly, to the buying templates services send them. These templates that are sometimes old and depend on someone in the library service to change it to reflect current needs. Some library services no longer have these skills, and most staff ratios certainly don’t reflect demographics. So this is a bit of a provocative editorial and deliberately so. Have a think yourself. But make sure you watch the webinar first, including the questions at the end.

National news

Whichbook has been updated. Have a play at https://www.whichbook.net/
  • The case for public libraries: Creating a safe place for everyone – Living Libraries. “We’re currently spotlighting our policy intervention, Living Libraries: The case for public libraries in the words of those who use, work in and run them. In this short publication, we make eight recommendations for decision-makers, on four themes: health and wellbeing; community; information; and the environment. Read on to find out more about the second strand of our research, on the vital role libraries play in communities:”
  • Coronavirus: Hundreds of libraries could close amid Covid-19 crisis, warn campaigners – Independent.”Councils are going to be cutting anything they can lay their hands on because the situation is so severe,” Laura Swaffield, chair of the group, told The Independent. “And in these situations, we know from years of experience, they come for libraries because they are seen as an easy target. The numbers lost are not going to be good.” … “Ian Anstice, a librarian who runs the super-comprehensive Public Libraries News website, said he also feared for the future.”
  • The library — like working from home, but better – Nick Poole. “You could not invent a network of trusted locations with the power to help get the nation back on its feet like our public libraries. No commercial enterprise could achieve the same scale or reach, with the same impact as cost-effectively. Thanks to initiatives like the British Library’s business and IP Centres, no other network could leverage the same authoritative startup support, nor provide the same platform for inclusive local economic growth.”

International news

  • Australia – Rosewood Library shines bright – Public Libraries Connect. “Performance-wise, the new library is less than four weeks old at time of writing but in that time has amassed several hundred new members and circulated over 4,500 loans”
  • Global – “The Futures You Didn’t See Coming” at CIL & IL Connect Conference, 23rd September – Mechanical Dolphin. “On September 23rd, at 09:30 AM Eastern Time, I’ll be joining Erik Boekesteijn at the online CIL & IL Connect 2020 conference for a quick chat about foresight and futures for information professionals, their institutions, and the communities they serve. Erik is running a daily interview strand with a range of information professionals and their allies as part of the event.”
  • Nigeria – British Council Launches Digital Library – This Day Live. “Access to the Digital Library will be free for 3 months for every registered member.
    As a member of the Digital library, there will be access to world-class resources, from online study resources and academic journals to popular eBooks and audiobooks, award-winning movies and documentaries, magazines and newspapers, comics and graphics novels from around the world and learning resources for skills development.”

Local news by authority

Because council tax only goes so far
  • Summer Reading Challenge Continues – Hertfordshire Council. “There is still time to pop into any of the libraries listed above to collect your free pack. The online challenge ends on 30 September, but you can still continue the challenge at home beyond that date.”
  • Lancashire – Padiham, Colne and Clitheroe libraries latest to reopen next week – Pendle Today. “Libraries in Clitheroe, Colne and Padiham are among another 15 branches due to be reopened by Lancashire County Council next Wednesday”
  • Liverpool – Joe Anderson puts halt to controversial city centre zip wire – Liverpool Echo. “Mayor Joe Anderson has stepped in to halt a plan for a zip wire that would have landed on the roof of Liverpool Central Library, after weeks of controversy over the scheme. The city’s planning committee approved an application for the zip wire to pass from the Radio City tower and over St John’s Gardens before landing on the roof of the library. However, the decision faced serious opposition from conservationists, architects and residents who said it would lead to the “disneyfication” of the city centre.”
  • Moray – Library scheme in Moray to be expanded after proving hit with readers – Press and Journal. “An “order and collect” scheme was launched at Elgin Library two weeks ago to give residents access to the service again. Since then, 257 collection slots have been used with 976 books borrowed. Now Moray Council has confirmed that the ordering service will be expanded elsewhere due to the demand. Libraries in Forres, Buckie, Keith, Aberlour and Lossiemouth will be running the scheme from Monday.”
  • North Yorkshire – North Yorkshire libraries press ahead with phased reopening – North Yorkshire County Council. ““Some customers thought browsing meant look but not touch, but this isn’t the case,” said County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for Libraries. “So we apologise for any confusion. You can now enjoy selecting books to borrow. Many of you have visited, but we know others have not yet done so, so why not put on your face covering, use our hand sanitiser and venture in to see for yourself how safe we have made it for you.”

And then there was one


Recovery continues, although the latest Libraries Connected figures showing a far slower return to libraries than to shops. This is, however, honestly to be expected as still only a small fraction of branches are fully open, with most only offering partial services and many still closed, although Sandwell is now the only library service not to have any form of physical service at all.

In other news – now there is other news – it’s been reassuring to see the huge fight put up in Glasgow over possible closures, resulting in the assurance this week that all branches are safe. Like most book readers, I do like a happy ending and the Scottish have apparently managed to get one there.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • Boris Johnson and the revenge of the school librarian – TES. “Lining the shelf just behind Mr Johnson’s head were titles with rather unflattering associations for any political leader, including “The Twits”, “The Subtle Knife”, “The Resistance”, and “Betrayed”. And sticking out like a sore thumb was “Fahrenheit 451”, a dystopian novel about a society where books are banned.
  • Burning the books by Richard Ovenden – BBC Radio 4. 14 minutes, first episode of five. “Richard Ovenden, director of the Bodleian Library, explains how attacks on libraries and archives have been a feature of history since ancient times, but have increased in frequency and intensity during the modern era. Libraries are far more than stores of literature, through preserving the legal documents such as Magna Carta and records of citizenship they also support the rule of law and the rights of citizens.”
  • Lesley Pearse launches Libraries Connected #LibrariesFromHomeLIVE virtual event series – Libraries Connected. “Hosted via Zoom, Facebook Live and Live Webinar the series will kick-off with Bristol Libraries on the 10th September and conclude with a special Friday Fizz! Event with Manchester Libraries on the 25th September.”
  • Libraries: helping local communities find work – Arts Council England. “As the country tries to recover economically from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, libraries are extremely well-placed to help people looking for work and support their communities.” … “Data provided by Norfolk Library Service, Somerset Library Service and Wandsworth Library Service to Libraries Connected for the weeks immediately following lockdown indicate that …”

Libraries have always supported their local communities by offering resources and facilities throughout people’s lives – from toddler rhyme times to supporting the elderly, the isolated and the vulnerable. However, as the economy begins to recover from Covid-19, libraries are extremely well-placed to help those people who are looking for work. I know that up and down the country, library staff will be doing everything they can to support those in their community who need to get back to work or change career path.

Sue Williamson, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England
  • Reading Challenge aims to support pupils returning to school – Grampian Online. “he challenge is available to all primary and secondary schools as well as community groups and libraries in Scotland, and aims to build positive reading cultures and improve literacy for young people. Now in its fifth year, the programme is run by national charity Scottish Book Trust and over a third of all schools in Scotland took part in the challenge last year. The First Minister’s Reading Challenge aims to support teachers and pupils returning to school after lockdown with additional resources and funding.”
  • Troubled Capita to Sell Another Software Business – CBR. “Capita’s Education Software Solutions business also includes “Reading Cloud”, a library and resource management system that is used by some 15,000 schools, and AGILIT-e: management software for universities that is used by 30 higher education institutions in the UK and Ireland, according to Capita.”
  • Webinar: Phased Reopening of Libraries :Warwickshire Libraries and IF_DO Architects  – Bibliotheca. Tuesday 1 September 2pm.
  • We’re back! How public libraries have been reopening their doors – Libraries Connected. “We have just a snapshot of around 1 in 3 public libraries at the moment, but we’ll be collecting this data over the coming months to build up a more detailed picture of how library services are recovering. ” … “In the first week of opening, libraries saw 8% of their usual visitor numbers, and over the 6 weeks to mid- august this rose to 15%. However, this comparison is based on footfall numbers last year when all library sites were open, so with the 15% figure is more likely to be between 20 and 40% of usual footfall for those sites that are open. “
  • What Does Quality Mean for a Modern Library Service? – Libraries Connected. Recording of video chat, virtual consultation.

International news

  • To-Go Library Services – ALSC Blog. “…  as the months wear on, we’ve come to realize that patrons (much like their hard-working librarians) are pretty burnt out on technology. So last month when we reopened to the public, the Youth Services Team rolled out a few fresh ideas for engaging with our community.”

Local news by authority

And then there were two


Generally, libraries are continuing to reopen and usage is slowly, so slowly, beginning to rise. It looks like that usage drops after the inevitable spike of opening and then slowly recovers. The question for all library services is when that recovery will reach pre-lockdown levels. And if it will reach pre-lockdown levels. After all, there’s a lot of people out there, who out of previous habit used libraries but will now have had four or five months now to explore digital alternatives. It will also take a time, how long no-one knows, for our more cautious users to decide things are safe enough to come back. And that will in turn depend on if there’s a second spike or not, and when this nightmare fully ends.

More specifically, only two library services in England are currently not offering any physical service (inc. click and collect) at all. One of these, Barking and Dagenham, have been extra careful since the beginning and announced a long while ago they’d reopen on 1 September. The other, Sandwell has just a note saying “closed until further notice” on their webpage. Elsewhere, Glasgow Life – the trust that runs libraries – is having a budgetary problem brought on by lockdown and has announced some libraries may not reopen, much to the chagrin of the public and the local paper. Even Nicola Sturgeon is stepping in there.

Changes by local authority

National news

  • 1000 Tiny Fun Palaces – Fun Palaces. 3 and 4 October. “While Fun Palaces usually have anything from 20 to 2000 participants, in response to Covid-19, we are encouraging extra-small, hyper-local Fun Palaces this October.”
  • Beyond digital literacy: STEM learning ideas from library professionals in the UK and Ireland – CILIP.
  • The complicated business of keeping books clean of COVID-19 – Jisc News. Academic library perspective.
  • Digital events in public libraries: learning from our lockdown experiences – Libraries Connected. 10 September. “Colleagues from three public library services will be sharing their experiences of developing creative digital activity for their communities during lockdown. They will be describing how they planned the programme, the impact their activities have had and will reflect on skills used/needed and other lessons learned.”
  • Libraries: A place to learn to love culture – DCMS Blog. “Library services are opening again with enthusiasm. Reopening libraries with social distancing measures in place is going smoothly, with libraries placing a strong emphasis on safety of both staff and users.  As more measures are relaxed, libraries will begin to move back to running events.  “
  • Libraries Week – CILIP. “In 2020, Libraries Week will take place between the 5th and 10th October, celebrating the nation’s much-loved libraries and their vital role in the UK’s book culture. We will be encouraging libraries in all sectors to celebrate books and reading, showcase their reading offer and the contribution they make towards building a Nation of Readers.”
  • Shop – Reading Agency. Special emailed appeal – “We’d really appreciate if you can include a call-out for adult librarians to be added to our weekly newsletter – they can email zoe.sadler@readingagency.org.uk“. Also, the Agency are “encouraging the libraries to order packs to use them wherever they can – putting posters in windows, bookmarks on desks, instead of the creative displays they usually make. We also have digital packs available with social media assets and downloadable activities”
  • Survey – DCMS. 10-20 minute survey. “This survey has been commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to better understand the needs of its stakeholders. Your answer will remain anonymous and will be used to inform DCMS’ preparedness efforts.”
  • With coronavirus lockdowns many libraries (and librarians) have been more fabulous than ever – Guardian. A “First Dog on the Moon” cartoon to make ever public librarian proud.

International news

Local news by authority

Hertfordshire – Minnie’s Library Episode. A lovely personal way of updating users of what”d going on. We hope your house gets tidied soon, Minnie.
  • Hampshire – Have your say over Aldershot, Fleet, Farnborough and Yateley library hours – In Your Area. “Hampshire County Council wants to cut opening times at 40 libraries to help save £1.76 million”
  • Islington – Phased reopening of Islington libraries announced – Islington Gazette. “Archway Library, Central Library, Finsbury Library, N4 Library, West Library and the Local History Centre will be open Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and Saturday 11am to 5pm.”
  • Kent – More libraries and archives search room to reopen – Kent County Council. “A further 12 Kent Libraries will reopen over the course of week beginning 24 August. These will be the first libraries to also offer a socially-distanced book browsing service for customers so they can select books from the shelves.”
  • Lambeth – Lambeth Heritage Festival – Lambeth Council. “With over 40 different events, there will be something happening on just about every day of the month. The big difference is that this year everything will be online. You can chose from virtual walks, archive film screenings, online talks, podcasts, virtual reality films, banner making and drawing workshops, discussion groups, virtual building tours and author interviews – hopefully there should be something for almost every taste.”
  • Lancashire – Lancashire County Council is reopening more of its libraries this week – here is the full list of all that are now open – Lancaster Guardian. “In Lancashire 26 libraries have now reopened their doors, with 14 opening in the last week, including, Heysham, Longridge and Ribbleton”
  • Liverpool – Zip Wire decision to be challenged in court – Engage Liverpool. “The Victorian Society announced in a press release this afternoon (19.08.20) that they have started legal proceedings against Liverpool City Council’s decision to grant planning approval to create a zip wire visitor attraction through the historic core of the St George’s Quarter (also known as the Culture Quarter in the UNESCO World Heritage Site documentation) involving a huge new construction on the roof of the Grade II* Listed Central Library.”
  • Manchester – Inside the new normal at Manchester Central Library – Manchester Evening News. “A maximum of 250 visitors will be allowed into the library at any time, with hand sanitiser stations available on all four floors.”. Face masks and test and trace in place. “floor cafe will be opened, with slimmed down seating for social distancing and a reduced menu.”. … “Space inside the library’s fantastic Wolfson Reading Room – with its huge dome roof and wonderful echo – has been reduced from 300 to 60, but it is open.” Reduced opening hours.
  • Norfolk – Two more Norfolk Libraries set to re-open – Watton and Swaffham Times. “Swaffham Library and St Williams Way Library in Thorpe St Andrew are set to reopen on Tuesday, August 25 with safety measures in place.”
  • Northern Ireland – All local libraries set to reopen next week – Derry Journal. “Several libraries across Derry and the wider north west will reopen for the first time in five months next week, it has been confirmed.”
  • Nottingham – Next chapter for Nottingham’s Central Library – My Nottingham News. “While the progression for the new Central Library continues at pace as part of the new Broadmarsh Car Park, Bus Station and retail development, a decision has been made to not re-open the Nottingham Central Library at its current location on Angel Row, since its closure on Friday 20 March following the COVID-19 lockdown. “
  • Nottinghamshire – Retford Library set to reopen after extensive refurbishment – Lincolnshire Live. “The county council say the refurbishment has made the library more visible and accessible to the local community with easier to navigate shelving, which will also be able to be moved to create larger spaces for performances and cultural activities.”
  • Peterborough – Three Peterborough libraries to open next week – Peterborough Telegraph.
  • Sheffield – List and reopen Tinsley Carnegie library, Sheffield – Change.org. “We the undersigned petition Sheffield City Council to list the handsome Tinsley Carnegie library building, and to apply for funding to reactivate it for its originally intended purpose, to provide a much needed free library for the area of Tinsley.”
  • Shetland – Community / Librarian with ‘huge sense of fun’ nominated for national award – Shetland News. “Catherine Jeromson is up for the 2020 library and information professional of the year award from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland.” … “Her nomination highlights her improvements to the mobile library, and services for the visually impaired. Her work with the library’s Twitter account – which has received widespread attention, partly due to some light-hearted banter with Orkney Library – is also noted.”
  • Staffordshire – Staffordshire’s mobile library service prepares to return – Express and Star. “Staffordshire County Council has announced the return of the mobile service as part of the library service’s phased reopening, with two vehicles travelling to smaller communities around the county. The mobile service will be limited initially to no more than two communities per day per vehicle, and borrowers will not enter the vehicle but deposit their books with staff and collect new loans arranged in advance.”
  • Warwickshire – Southam Library latest to reopen – Leamington Observer. ““Our other library buildings remain closed just for the time being – although we have ten other library locations offering the ‘Click and Collect’ service – but there will be further announcements about the opening of more libraries around the county very soon.””
  • West Sussex – Libraries are back open in Crawley – Crawley News 24. “All 36 libraries are now open for people to browse the shelves, but the number of visitors allowed in the buildings at any one time will be limited to allow for social distancing.”
  • Wiltshire – Westbury Library will reopen next month – White Horse News. Click and collect plus bookable PCs. ” Libraries were given the go-ahead by the government to open in July. However, instead, Wiltshire Council chose to run the public consultation about how libraries could be opened safely, in a move that was criticised by the local community”
  • Worcestershire – Worcester Festival: What’s on for today? – Worcester News. “Worcestershire Libraries are part of the Living Knowledge Network and they have opened up their Network to Library users providing exclusive access to cultural events, include literary and cultural debates; author talks and panel discussions on key cultural developments.”
  • Wrexham – Wrexham Library Service: creating green spaces inside and out – The Leader. “Sprucing up our green spaces both indoors and outdoors is right on trend, and there are plenty of titles on design, planting, DIY projects, indoor plants, as well as vegetable and herb patches to offer inspiration and guidance.”

“In a word, online”


At time of writing, it has been 144 days since the official start of lockdown and things are continuing to open up. Holidays are being taken, relatives visited and shopping done. However, many places abroad are seeing the much-feared second wave and the curve for the UK itself is looking worryingly upward-turning. In public libraries, more services are being added and librarians continue to emerge blinking (and, one cannot help but notice, often very tanned) into the new world, with as far as I can tell only 3 out of 150 English services (Barking and Dagenham, Bedford and Sandwell) still not offering some sort of physical service.

Speaking personally, the high point of my week was hosting a very successful session from John Kirk, who did a brilliant online Twits show for 40 or so enthralled (and highly participating) children. Interestingly, that’s more kids than I’d normally expect for a physical show. We got talking afterwards (see the interview below for the result) and discussed what will be happening to libraries medium term. And basically what we agreed was that it is going to be online. It looks like Covid may well come back, or at least not go away, and that the risks it induces mean that physical events will be difficult for the foreseeable future. This, combined with more people getting used to teleconferencing, shows the need for us to do more of that. And, as time goes by, the quality will need to continue to improve.

The good news is that digital should be very cheap and it is just the skills and the will that libraries need to develop. For example, it’s far less costly for a library service anywhere in the country to hire a storyteller like John for Zoom than it would be to pay his travelling expenses. And if 2 or 3 library services clubbed together, it’d be frankly ridiculously cheaper. So the opportunity is there. Libraries just need to grab it, as they have done before, and not let the digital slip but, rather, continue to improve.

An interview with John Kirk, professional storyteller

What do you enjoy most about storytimes in public libraries? 

I have been working in public libraries since 2012.  To date, I have worked with 80 library authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and a few school’s library services.  I love working in public libraries.  For me, it’s all about getting out there, meeting new people, seeing new places and sharing the fun of stories with family audiences.  I suppose these are also the things I have missed the most during the lock down.  Nobody treats me and my work with more respect than the library staff I have worked with and it’s a real privilege to be a small part (in some cases a fixture) in some family’s summers. 

Nobody treats me and my work with more respect than the library staff I have worked with

What do you least enjoy? 

My life has changed hugely over the time I have been telling stories in libraries.  As the years have passed I do more and more travelling.  It’s very satisfying to work with library audiences across the UK but the nights away from my three year old daughter can be tough at times.  I also find it quite hard to have built relationships with librarians, to hear about cuts and restructures and then to invoice people I consider friends – there are some libraries whom I would pay to work with I enjoy visiting them so much, honestly I would! 

Is there something that a library service did that really impressed you?) 

Librarians are an incredible breed of people.  I don’t think they always get the credit they deserve for what they do in their communities.  They are also risk takers and I owe what has been a fabulous period of my life to people like Sean Edwards, Geoff James, Lesley Davies, and Hilary Marshall to name just a few of the wonderful people who have been so very supportive of my work. 

For me there are a couple of authorities who offer a really varied programme of activities and then promote them really well to their audiences (not to embarrass them but Brent and Redbridge). 

For me the biggest challenge that libraries face is telling the world how great the stuff they do is; that libraries are about more than books.  For me there are a couple of authorities who offer a really varied programme of activities and then promote them really well to their audiences (not to embarrass them but Brent and Redbridge).  Most libraries now push events on social media but nothing beats proactive staff talking to their service users about what they are doing and posters, big, colourful posters. 

Looking at the changes wrought by the current crisis, where do you see storytelling in the next year or so? 

In a word; online.  In the week before lock down I was touring Yorkshire Libraries.  On the Monday we managed to persuade a group into a library in Wakefield, on the Tuesday Rotherham Libraries ran me round to the local schools but by that evening remaining dates in Sheffield, Barnsley and York were indefinitely postponed.  In the following weeks I had to cancel my plans and bookings for summer 2020 and put an entirely new plan in place.  This summer I have run sessions using Youtube, Facebook Live, Zoom and Google Meets literally all over the country (in one day I worked with Stoke on Trent, Bristol and Swindon and North Tyneside without going beyond my front door!). 

I’d love to think that on a given date at a given time I could do an event and simultaneously broadcast to every library in a given authority.  Yes, it’d probably be a technical headache but imagine the sense of community when the different audiences could see each other joining in with a story?  Then there are all kinds of opportunities to work with other library services.  One of my favourite moments of the summer was when I told “The Gingerbread Man” and staff from Croydon, St Helens, Hertfordshire, Thurrock, Swansea, Kingston and Tameside Libraries were there because they had promoted the event in their authorities.  To be a part of the discussions afterwards was very special. 

Two children at home interacting with John Kirk onTV
John Kirk, and children, in action

Yes, this isn’t how I saw my summer and I am gutted not to be telling Mr Gum in libraries as planned but actually the crisis creates an opportunity for storytellers like me to work with more libraries in far flung places at much more affordable prices (I don’t have to charge travel expenses to walk from the kitchen to the spare bedroom).  I can see libraries reopening but I can’t see face to face events taking place for a while yet.  That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do live events.  It’s a lot easier for a public audience to socially distance if the front portion of the room isn’t taken up with my kit. 

Is there anything libraries can do to adapt to the new world better? 

I think that libraries have to embrace the new normal and the technology.  If you don’t have an active social media channel where you control the content and are engaging with service users everyday this should be a priority – Greenwich Libraries Baby Rhyme Time sessions on Facebook are brilliant example of how social media can work harder for library services.  I know that there has been resistance to Zoom from some councils because of security concerns.  I will always preference video conferencing over video sharing platforms because in a shared space, albeit a virtual one, you can interact with the audience.  In my retelling of Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” I encourage the adult in charge to spray sticky glue (water) over my audience.  I have also developed a scavenger hunt storyline for families with children 3+.  These elements of my sessions have been very popular and came about because I have tried to push the limitations of the technology and make my storytelling a 4D experience. 

How did you get into storytelling? 

Twenty years ago I trained as an actor.  When I decided to stop I struggled with an office job and it was suggested that I should write my own show.  When a school described me as a storyteller the title stuck.  I am still a high energy performer with a fairly theatrical style but these days I do a lot more traditional storytelling.  I have been very lucky with the authors I have worked with; people like Jeremy Strong, Terry Deary and Tom Palmer were brilliant to work with but the key moments were when Haringey Libraries recommended me to tell Michael Morpurgo’s “Private Peaceful” as part of City Read 2014 and when I got the rights to tell Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” in 2016; in two years I went from working in a small area of north London to travelling to libraries, schools and festivals around the country and to date have worked as far afield as Germany and the UAE.  I love what I do.  I wouldn’t have changed the last twelve years for anything but it’s not been without challenges and whatever the world looks like for me after the current crisis you can be sure it’ll include storytelling. 

How do you adapt storytelling to Zoom? 

It hasn’t been easy but I try to make everything I do fit the camera.  I am very conscious of framing when I tell a story to the camera.  I also like to play with my proximity to the camera (I’ll come right up to it and I’ll talk directly to members of the audience).  I’ve already mentioned some of the ideas I have played with to make my sessions more interactive but I also encourage the children to pull faces and I do a lot of role play and movement within stories.  I am also conscious of the adult watching and encourage them to take photos, leave comments and like and share videos.  It’s all about getting them to come back to the library’s website and enagage with the next activity so that when services return, libraries hit the ground running. 

How do kids take to it? 

I do tell a lot of different stories but by far the most popular are by Roald Dahl.  I use wigs, instruments and props to find fresh and dynamic ways to tell my stories which hold the children’s attention but The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile endure as masterpieces and I reckon a child would be hooked by Dahl’s words if they were watching whilst wearing a swimsuit in an igloo.  Seriously though, the feedback has been beyond my wildest expectations and I’m just so happy to have been a part of my seventh Summer Reading Challenge. 

Have you been surprised by anything online / had an amusing moment etc? 

A couple of weeks ago I completely forgot I was supposed to be running a session and had to do all my preparation in literally ten minutes – I can laugh about it now but at the time I was frantic.  I was interrupted by a lawnmower whilst running a session for Thurrock and one of my neighbours went to check on another of my neighbours after hearing a lot of shouting – it was me, I had the windows open!  They’re all quite used to it now and some say they know all the words! 

John Kirk is originally from Chorley in Lancashire but is now based in East Sussex.  He’s trained as an actor, been involved in several theatrical productions, as well as doing other jobs. John works regularly work in early year centres, primary schools, libraries and museums and has been involved in several major events including the Cultural Olympiad (2012), Great War commemorations (2014-2018) and #Shakespeare400 (2016)His website is here.

National news

  • 1000 Tiny Fun Palaces – Libraries Connected. Watch recording of webinar from Stella Duffy “This year, Fun Palaces weekend on 3 and 4 October will be different – sometimes smaller, always safer, but as ever remarkable. We hosted this webinar on 4 August led by Fun Palaces’ amazing and inspirational Director Stella Duffy to talk through the new possibilities for extra-small, hyper-local Fun Palaces in libraries.”
  • ‘George Eliot’ among 25 female writers being republished using their real names – CNN. “The 25 novels are being offered as e-books, which are free to download via the prize’s sponsor, Baileys. Physical box sets of the republished titles will also be donated to libraries across the UK.”
  • Library Open Data: an update – DCMS Libraries. ” How can we engage services and library staff to understand how important this data could be? How do we make sure that staff have the skills and confidence to take on a data role? We hope that some of the examples on the schema site will go some way to highlighting what can be done if data is published in an open and standard format.”
  • Local advocacy – Libraries: An essential part of local recovery – Libraries Connected. “In our new local advocacy resource, we’ve identified five key areas where libraries can play a central role in meeting the needs of individuals and communities who may be struggling to overcome the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.”
  • Supporting public libraries through a national digital presence – British Library. Looking at the minimum viable product (that is, the least that can be done for it to be worthwhile) and what more could be achieved, plus progress before and future plans.
  • What does quality mean for a modern library service? – Libraries Connected. 21 August 2pm webinar. “The session will begin with some provocations from speakers outside of the sector talking about what a quality library service means to them. The virtual floor will then be open to everyone who would like to contribute, or just listen in on what should be a great discussion.”
  • When will libraries open in Scotland and have they reopened in the rest of the UK? – Metro.

International news

  • Colombia – Pandemic pen pals: How Colombian libraries lift spirits – Christian Science Monitor. ““the kids kept coming to the library,” she says, and family programming continued. “It’s the protective space of the community, a space of liberation from the problems of the neighborhood. Here, libraries have played a really important role in constructing peace, but even more than that, creating community.””

“The written word allows us to understand other humans, and whether we’re reading a novel, a story, or a letter, it helps us understand we’re not alone,”

  • EU – Will European public libraries be set back tens of years from 2021? – Biblioteket tar saka. As well as the likelihood of budget cuts “it will not be easy to run, or to re-invent, a library in a generalised two-meter society where events are forbidden, 75 % of chairs are removed, services to customers have to comply with social distancing rules and library’s outreach is restricted in many ways.”
  • Ireland – Libraries remove vital trans teen book after disgraceful far-right letter writing campaign linking LGBT+ lives to paedophilia – Pink News. “Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin consists of six interviews with trans teenagers about their lives and was published in 2014. Since then, the book has been assailed by anti-trans activists who have called for it to be banned. Cork City Libraries opted to remove Beyond Magenta from its shelves and have it re-processed for “adult/YA lending” – which requires adult consent – after they received a letter from a far-right activist.”
  • Lebanon – Help rebuild Beirut’s libraries – Libraries Deliver. “Among the tremendous human tragedy and loss of life caused by the explosion in Beirut on the 4th August came the heartbreaking news that three of the main municipal public libraries in the city had been destroyed”
  • Pakistan – Charting the Role of Pakistani libraries in a Post-COVID19 World – Global Village Space. “Crisis like these can be redefining moments and with close collaboration, technology, and digital transformation, public libraries in Pakistan can break free of their old mold and have an overhaul, which is long-due. It is a pity that very few public libraries have any online services and have remained closed, but that could change with collaboration between volunteers, NGOs and the government.”
  • USA – Envisioning the New Model Library: Navigating through the pandemic and beyond – Hanging Together. “Our broad questions include:
    • Will the current environment of physical distancing and precautions persist in the post-pandemic era? • If so, will most of our services and programs continue to be offered in an online environment? • How will we – or can we? should we? – create experiences similar to the physical spaces in our libraries in our virtual library spaces?””

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