Award ceremonies galore, Lancashire, Yorkshire and the rest.

Editorial

Updating Public Libraries News can be a challenge when I work multiple evenings and that is the case at the moment.  However, I’m really pleased about the late shifts because this is because I am presenting medals and certificates to hundreds of children who have completed the Summer Reading Challenge. One thing I have learnt this year is don’t do eight award ceremonies in 48 hours, it kills the voice. Ah, but it’s so much fun though … and it’s great to see so many kids and parents celebrating reading. Anyway, here’s (most of) the news below.  I’ll fill in the rest when I have another spare evening, which may not be until the weekend now.

The cuts to Lancashire continue to make big news and the ongoing cuts throughout Yorkshire has led to some big reports, and investigative journalism, by the Yorkshire Post. The deep cuts to Warrington (along with the now standard overly glossy statements by LiveWire) are still being reported as are new changes to Wigan (where the newspaper reports the budget could be more than halved).

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14 new or upgraded libraries so far this year, with the latest opening in Slough

Editorial

Good to see a new library opening in Slough, although it’s somewhat offset by cuts in Gwynedd but, look, I get tired of concentrating on the bad news so, please forgive me, while I give you a list of new or refurbished libraries this year (see this page for previous years):

  1. Blaenau Gwent Ebbw Vale Library refurbished. (June 2016)
  2. Caerphilly £48k refurbishment for Ystrad Mynach Library. (September 2016)
  3. Camden New (replacement) library, combined with Cockpit Arts, as part of housing development.
  4. Cheshire East Crewe Library moves into co-location with leisure centre.
  5. Enfield £4.2m “transformation” of Edmonton Green Library planned: with added IT Centre, study spaces, local history and museum. (Library closed for one year from September 2016).
  6. Flintshire New co-located library opens at Deeside Leisure Centre: replacing Hawarden, Mancot and Queensferry which will close this month.(Feb 2016)
  7. HaringeyMarcus Garvey Library reopens after £3 upgrade (July 2016)
  8. Manchester – Arcadia Library and Leisure Centre opens : replaces Levenshulme Cromwell Grove Library. (Feburary 2016). Chorlton Library to be refurbished (February 2016).
  9. Oxfordshire Bicester to move into new £6.6m co-location on 11 April. Library to be “larger and have better facilities”.
  10. Pembrokeshire £3.4m new library/gallery/café in Haverfordwest.
  11. Slough £22m “The Curve” library and cultural centre opened.
  12. Southampton Woolston Library reopens in new building as part of property deal. (8)
  13. Southend Kent Elms Library to be refurbished: new entrance and meeting room. (9)
  14. Warwickshire – Southam Library opens (part of £12.4m development project) (January 2016) Reopening via refurbishment.  Alcester moved into co-located Globe House.

Yes, a few of these are replacing stand-alone libraries, sometimes more than one, but it’s still good to get to see some genuine investment going on. There’s life in the library yet. Let’s make sure it stays that way as much as possible.

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The library news since 8th September

Editorial

It’s looking to be a good year for the Summer Reading Challenge from reports I hear: I’m aware of more than one authority which has had a record number of starters. I look forward to hearing the final numbers from the Reading Agency.  In other, less upbeat news, the deep cuts to Lancashire libraries dominates the local news, with one (Conservative) MP even  asking for the ending the (Labour) council.

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A rallying cry against library volunteers

Editorial

Dawn Finch has upped the pressure again, after an excellent fact-finding interview with a volunteer a couple of days ago, with a “rallying cry” for those who know library volunteers are “exploitative and unsustainable”. Have a read of her original article, if you have not already done so, then perhaps her words in the BookSeller.

In other news, Lancashire has chosen World Literacy Day to rubber stamp the closure of large parts of its library service. They probably couldn’t read the calendar properly in order to appreciate the irony of this. Perhaps they need to visit libraries more to help them out. Oh, too late.

Finally, Warrington LiveWire – who, you will remember tried to push through several closures under the pretence it was modernising and expanding its service – woke up to a big front page with pictures of the libraries in question and the headline saying they are under threat. Should have been honest and upfront to begin with, guys. You’re opening yourself up to legal challenge if not just a ton of reputational damage. Mind you,  I understand some people who have been filling in the consultation get a reply saying thank you for enquiring about swimming lessons so perhaps it’s just being seen as them as a cunning cross-promotional drive for their pools.

“I know that for many this makes grim reading, but it is an important truth that many are trying to ignore. I have a thick skin and can take the flak and it’s worth it to get the truth heard. The post has been very well received and in the last 48 hours it has been read almost 2,000 times. Since I posted it on Monday afternoon I have had many messages from volunteers in both libraries and museums who all say that their situation is almost exactly this, but that they too are afraid to speak out for fear of alienating their every-diminishing pool of volunteers. They also say that they “don’t want to upset” the local authority as it will “only make things worse”. I want this to be a rallying cry, and a kick up the pants for anyone who thinks that handing everything over to volunteers is anything other than exploitative and unsustainable.” Dawn Finch, President, CILIP via email

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There’s consultations and then there’s …

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Consultations are oftentimes done well. They have the information, it is presented clearly, no decision has been made by the council beforehand and real options are given. Sufficient copies of the consultation are produced in paper form, and online, and it is well-publicised with a long enough period to allow everyone with an interest to, well, actually be consulted. Then, on the other hand, we have councils – and, of course, others – who appear to think that the best way to consult is to put their proposals in the hardest to understand terms possible, with the rosiest picture of the end result given, and, presumably, a firm hope that everyone will be fooled. Sometimes it is also abundantly clear that minds have been made up beforehand. These organisations, it can appear to the disinterested observer, make a travesty of the consultation protest and are doing it only to pay lip service to their legal obligations.

For an example of a consultation done badly, you need look no further than LiveWire in Warrington who have made their consultation so flowery that one needs a deep critical analysis to actually understand what is being proposed. The sad fact is that, of course, in the end, no-one is fooled by these exercises in public relations. If they’re fooled at the time then they’re jolly well not fooled when the library they’ve gone to for years suddenly has a padlock on it. For instance, compare the LiveWire papers with the newspaper report which makes it clear at least five branches are under threat (I actually think it’s seven, by the way: five possibly to volunteers and two are being turned just into book drops). Indeed, it only causes more anger amongst those who care for the service and make it harder for them to have a reasonable dialogue which, considering LiveWire want to pass five libraries to volunteers, is not a sensible thing for them to have done. These pseudo-consultations are almost anti-public relations.  They make everyone dislike and distrust whoever writes them.

So, if you’re looking to cut your library service soon, please tell the public that. Make sure people understand why you’re doing it and what the real options are, not just the ones you fancy. Use clear language. Give the public the respect they deserve (they pay your wages after all) and, who knows, something good may come of it.  They may actually come up with ideas that can help or make such a fuss that you realise how important that library is to the local people. Because, you do want to know that, don’t you?  You don’t want to be thought to be deceiving them or discounting them, do you? Do you?

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Staffordshire, Sunderland, Bedford and … Ping Pong

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Staffordshire have started passing several libraries to volunteers while Sunderland have just started a consultation on cutting the library budget. At the other end of the consulting process, Bedford has announced that all libraries will stay open but, perhaps worryingly, have not said what shape that form will take. Councils can mean all sorts of things by “no libraries will close” including the traditional pre-2010 meaning of no change and more recent meanings like retired people staffing them in their spare time or the installation of  remote-control technology. Meanwhile, in Wales, Ystrad Mynach (l’ve always loved that name) Library is having a refurb, Malta is experiencing a lending surge and some USA libraries have installed table tennis tables.

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Lancashire cuts fallout, South Glos goes Open+ plus catalogue concerns

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Lancashire, Labour and Libraries

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The big news has to be Lancashire, where the council confirmed 29 libraries are to have their funding withdrawn late on the Friday before the bank holiday weekend. Suspicious timing aside, by my calculations, all the pain that this will put communities through accounts for barely one half of one percent of the cuts that the council has to make, while kicking up a maximum stink for the politicians at the same time. It just does not seem worth it, but the council seems intent on pushing through with the unpopular move.

The other big news is that both Labour Party leadership contenders have come up with big proposals for public libraries. Jeremy Corbyn proposes  a new library development agency and the creation of an “open knowledge library” where UK universities and public  won’t have to pay to access the research the government has already funded. Owen Smith, on the other hand, suggests closer collaboration between library services and longer term government funding settlements. This news comes after my last editorial ran saying Labour had been quiet about public libraries, following Chi Onwurah’s revelation she had planned a library campaign but then had to stop it because she wasn’t sure whether it was in her job description.

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A Labour library mess-up and the police in libraries

Editorial

You know where the parliamentary Labour Party has been when it comes to standing up for public libraries over the last year or so? Absolutely nowhere. And now we know why: the minister for libraries, Chi Onwurah, wanted to do something about it – indeed, did do a fair bit of research on it – but confusion as to who was doing what messed up the whole deal. I’ve emailed and tweeted Chi asking for the release of what research she has done as it would be such a shame to see such work going to waste.

Moving police, and traditional police jobs like lost-and-found forms, into libraries has also made the news.  Councils, and police forces, see the co-operation as sensible one to deliver services at reduced costs. Meanwhile, others worry that a police presence in libraries spoils their neutrality and would deter some (no, not criminals, although presumably they won’t be impressed either, I mean some ethnic and religious groups) from using them.  In practice, we’re all seeing such co-locations more and more often as cold financial reality makes bedfellows of more and more services that would once have been separate. There’s also advantages to a library for having, say, PCSO surgeries in the buildings. What’s needed, is a proper consideration of the impact before decisions are made.

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Fewer are Taking Part so let’s have a National Demonstration

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I’ve just had a very sunny week in Norway hence this is a combined news summary for the period since August 10th. So it’s a big one. The main news is the reduction in library usage – from, roughly, one half to one third of the population – in the last decade. That’s quite a steep decline. Public library popularity have also reduced in other countries of course but from the figures I have seen the reductions in budgets and usage are less, offset by increased visitors for “non-traditional” services and a slower decline in traditional numbers because, well, the stock is still good and the maintenance and furniture budget means they’re still attractive places to go. It’s also not helped, of course, by a rampant misunderstanding of the purposes of public libraries by some free-market extremists in this country – step forward the Adam Smith Institute below – who are positively gleeful at the destruction of something whose value they cannot, or will not, understand.

I’m glad to see that there will be a national libraries (and museums and galleries) demonstration on 5th November, an easy date to remember, to heighten the awareness of what is being lost.

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