There’s a whole world out there: different levels of awareness

Editorial

There’s several different levels of awareness out there for library staff. There are some, perhaps many, who are only really aware of what goes on in their own branch and what happens elsewhere is sometimes vague and distant rumour.  These staff often care deeply for their communities and provide excellent service but, when change does happen (either good in ways of best practice or not so good in terms of budget cuts) it sometimes comes as a shock. Then there are those who are very good at knowing what is going on in their authority but not so much elsewhere: there’s a danger of “not invented here” in this case or, equally as bad, a “the grass is always greener” mentality about this.

Then there are those who know what’s going on nationally: if you read Public Libraries News then, congratulations, you’re probably at least at this stage. You’re aware, for good or ill, of roughly what’s going on (and most of this is from media reports so there’s always the danger of it being distorted) and can evaluate your own library service a bit by seeing what is going on elsewhere. Then there’s those aware of the international level. There’s not many of those and it’s actually quite hard to find out about it unless you are very big on social media (I can recommend a few tweeter and FB groups if you like: let me know). I’m aware of how difficult it is to get a good view just by going online: most of the stuff I see is US dominated simply because it’s so big and, well, they speak English there.  So I’m pleased to see so much from other countries in this post (it just happened that way) because there’s a lot going on out there and I feel we sometimes suffer because we don’t know enough about it and it can be very useful for us to see how well our national  library service is doing compared to others.

Send you news, views, corrections and comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Here’s some positive Public Libraries News

Editorial

As if on order, following the demand for a more “positive narrative” for libraries described in the last post, there’s been a couple of really positive library stories in the news this weekend.  The first is that BBC Radio 6 spent a fair bit of time celebrating libraries on Saturday, including Guy Garvey at Manchester Central Library. It was all good stuff and showed the importance of libraries in nurturing authors and musicians, and thus (because in these philistine times there is always a bottom line) helping to make loads of money for UK Culture plc.  I hope politicians were listening.  In fact, Manchester are playing a blinder with positive publicity stories at the moment, with a flagship beautiful library often being used for music and arts events: there’s even chefs doing demonstrations there soon.  The other positive news story is a librarian from Northamptonshire, described only as “Tim”, who went above and beyond the call of duty and, by doing so, got a load of positive press, including on the BBC national news website.  Well done to him.  It’s stories like these that show the importance of libraries and how great they are.  We don’t need reminding but politicians and those of the public that don’t use libraries surely do.

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Amateurisation and the hiding of unwelcome realities

Editorial

Yet more relevant stuff from CILIP this post … this is becoming a little bit repetitive but it’s good to see.  CILIP has sometimes been ambivalent about volunteers replacing library staff in the past but its board has come out in favour of a resolution urging the organisation to fight the amateurisation of libraries.  I know that some senior library staff argue that they have to use volunteers in the face of job cuts, and that is quite right as they have to do what their employers, the councillors, tell them to do but it is also true that CILIP has a strong potential role to play in waving the flag for paid staff. Such a stance should come naturally to a professional association and will garner it some support, not least among public librarians who sometimes feel CILIP is at insufficiently involved in the fight to save their jobs.

It’s also interesting to see the description of the view of Nick Poole of CILIP and Kathy Settle of the English Public Libraries Taskforce on the best strategy for public libraries.  Some good points are made, although complaining about campaigners giving a “negative narrative” due to highlighting cuts and closures is a bit rich. That’s effectively like blaming the media for reporting disasters: a common policy in the more repressive dictatorships but not one that is normally received with much credit elsewhere.  Tell you what, you start giving us good news and we’ll report it.  Frankly, it gets a bit depressing reporting the disasters befalling the sector and I’d much rather report brighter stuff.  So give me some.

Email your news, view and comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Libraries change lives, but soon probably not in Herefordshire

Editorial

Herefordshire features a couple of times tonight. It could well feature many times in the future as well as what is being proposed there might make the already parched library landscape even more bleak. The council there is proposing just one funded library for the whole widespread county (population: 183,000, 842 square miles) with volunteers taking up the slack.  Moreover, it transpires today that even the one surviving council library, in Hereford, may well be partially taken over as a “hub” for “services for independent living”. As far as seeing how far the statutory aspect of providing library services goes, that’s really taking the biscuit, not that Ed Vaizey would ever intervene. Interestingly, the chief of Arts Council England is making a trip there on Friday to underline the importance of the Arts (ooh, and libraries – ACE always makes sure to add that last word at the end of descriptions of what it does).  One hopes that he’ll find the time to mention that stripping the county of libraries may be seen as a tad bit, well, horrendous.

Horrendous because, as the Libraries Change Lives award nominations show, libraries are not just nice things to have around.  They are refuges, free colleges, life improvers and life-turn-arounders. And cutting them out of ignorance will just increase that ignorance.  And blaming councils for it, as Michael Rosen has pointed out today, is a Government deception that many more are beginning to see through.

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“Amateurisation”: mergings, post offices and unstaffed opening

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National Libraries Day, Scots kid’s cards … and Batman

Editorial

What passes for a quiet time in libraries for the last few days. I’ve put National LIbraries Day first because it’s important and the next couple of months will be a good time to start preparing for it.  The high point of this point, though, is undoubtedly Batman using a self-service machine. Why? Because it’s Batman, dudes.

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Just £100k, volunteers and some curious stock policies

Editorial

More information on the announcement from Nicky Morgan about support for public libraries in schools. The announcement dates from a manifesto commitment in March and involves £100k of funding to the Reading Agency.  More details on how it is being used is here. So, this is far from the automatic child library membership apparently raised in the headline.

For those of you in CILIP, please take note if you have not already seen it that there is a motion requiring the association to automatically oppose new volunteer libraries due to be voted on at the AGM.  However you intend to vote, make sure that you do, if you can.  If you can’t get to the meeting (it’s in London), you can get someone else to cast your vote by proxy. This may be an opportune time to have a look at the arguments for and against volunteers running libraries so I have updated the relevant pages on PLN.

Finally, there’s an article from Moscow that looks like a blast from the past to me.  Apparently, the Russian librarians are getting worried about the dodgy nature (50 Shades and all that) of books that their library users (how dare they) insist on reading and are putting in new policies to ensure that “quality” stuff like Dostoyevsky is bought instead.  This may sound like pure snobbery and reactionism but is part of a constant battle in libraries, between those who think the purpose of libraries is, in broad strokes, to give the people what they want and those who think that libraries should be edifying places of education. Similarly (although those who made the decision may well be shocked by the comparison), there are reports that a German library has removed “politically incorrect” materials from the shelves, pointing out the worry some librarians have with stuff that may be offensive to some.  The story has been taken up by several rightwing activist pages so I am not sure how reliable the news actually is but, assuming at least a kernel of truth, it’s an interesting comparison with Moscow nonetheless.

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Special: Automatic English child library membership? No, not really.

Editorial

It all started off so positively.  An announcement by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education no less, that she would, in the words of the Telegraph headline writer, “enrol every child in the local library”. Great, I thought, this sounds like the Welsh scheme “Every Child a Library Member” that has been going on for more than a year and exactly the sort of thing that I remember Michael Rosen banging on about to politicans every time I’ve been privileged enough to hear him or read about him on library matters in the last five years.  The fact David Walliams was putting his name to it (well, sort of) in a national newspaper was also pretty good. I also thought that, at last, there would be some good news to leaven all the bad.  Indeed, I was a bit shocked by the completely negative reaction shown by many in news articles and social media about the news.

But let’s look at the detail. First off, it’s not clear exactly how much money is being put in – the exact figure is, suspiciously, never quoted – into the starting of 200 reading groups. By my calculations of how much Chatterbooks stuff costs, it could be as low as the low tens of thousands of pounds (but, to be fair, is probably a fair bit higher).  That’s pretty cheap for a government initiative and for positive headlines in a national newspaper. Secondly, there is also only “an ambition” for every child to be a member, not an actual commitment and no figure is quoted anywhere for this either.  It looks like Nicky Morgan has only, at a minimum (and again I hope there is more than this) committed to encourage schools, in some way undescribed (perhaps by a letter? – but even this is not confirmed) to get their kids to join up. At the best therefore, this announcement will go some limited way towards increasing child membership and it looks like it will in no way be the automatic thing such a headline suggests.

Another point to consider is how negative the reaction was to the news from so many people and so quickly. This shows the strong polarisation, even hatred, caused by years of cuts and campaigning for libraries. A whole government term (and change)  of effectively complete inaction over public libraries during a time of the most historically deep cuts in them is hardly going to win the Tories much praise.  But whether this is the best strategy to win friends amongst people ultimately deciding our fates for the next five years, I am not entirely sure.  I know if I was Nicky Morgan reading some of the reactions I’ve seen then I’d be thinking “well, there’s no point doing anything for them any more”. Or, has this Government got so bad and so morally and ethically blackened that there should be complete opposition to them no matter what? Is everything they do libraries-wise too little too late and written for propaganda purposes? I am honestly uncertain on the matter of automatically dismissing all Government library announcements, even after five years of being disappointed. Let’s hope, therefore,  today’s headlines live up to their promise and I get to keep what remains of my innocence.

P.S. I’d just like to see that I’ve noticed twice (Birmingham last week and now today) CILIP immediately offering immediate help and assistance in public library matters. This is a bit different to the measured and somewhat time-delayed responses some have noted in the past and that, even if all else is a chimera today, is something to hang on to. Fingers crossed.

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Is it fine to fine?

Editorial

The proposal by Angus Libraries to remove overdue book fees appears to run counter to the straitened times in which we live but it has certainly caused some conversations.  The theory is that removing fines will remove the fear borrowers have if they have late books and thus they will return long-lost books.  It will also remove a fear of those wavering about joining because of fear about being looked at sternly over the counter.  There is also of course the important point that the removal of fines will allow greater access by disadvantaged social groups.  Truly free book lending has been a part of the landscape in some authorities for years for children (with a move towards withdrawing fines in, for example, West Dunbartonshire a decade ago apparently doing well) but rarely for adults so this is an interesting move.  If it garners new members, a (however counter-intuitive) increase in stock and good press then all to the good.  More cash-strapped authorities, facing big cuts in funding. may look at Angus with incredulity at the move (especially if they live in Canada).  We’ll see if it’s a success and whether, in a few years time, we all get on the bandwagon.

Related to this is the thorny issue of lost books and fines recovery – it you’re interested in these (as well as a brief treatment on removing fines) then see the PLN page here.  For those interested in the ethics and reasoning behind fines (or no fines), David McEnemy has very kindly made his essay on the subject available here.  And you may also want to see the (a bit dated now) Guardian article on the subject here.

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Ideas

  • Drones – Public library drone for training users / recording events etc (forthcoming)
  • Honorary library card given to an animal – Good publicity tool.

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Public libraries as charity basket case

Editorial

It must have come as a surprise to many librarians preparing to face hordes of children at work that “no one goes to libraries” but that’s what BBC Breakfast presenter Charlie Stayt said on a brief item on public libraries on Friday.  This item included Alan Gibbons and Tim Coates slagging off (what passes for) national libraries policy, with Tim demanding Mr Vaizey resign and Alan point out that libraries are successful in other countries but have been left to shrivel and die here.  Tim also went on to claim that amalgamating all London library services would save so much money that budgets could be cut by two-fifths with no ill effect, which seems (how to put this politely?) unlikely and probably not all that helpful to the libraries in question. Interestingly, the BBC claimed that Ed Vaizey was not available for comment.  As soon as I tweeted this, Ed (who has suddenly started responding to library campaigners on Twitter after years of silence) replied that he was available for comment but the BBC never asked him.  To be honest, though, simply having a new minister without a radical change of stance (e.g. an actual willingness to intervene – not something likely from any Conservative politician) will not change much, however much one has a quarrel with Mr Vaizey.

The debate was of course inspired by the abysmal news from Birmingham about a library service which is now so cash starved it cannot buy new books nor, apparently, do basic maintenance. This has led to libraries across the country being seen as charity basket cases by some observers, with one website suggesting that gift magazine subscriptions are given to the poor things.  Whoopee doo. Let’s make this clear, during the Summer of all times, public libraries should be being seen as the wonderful enablers that they are, allowing all to be part of the community and to contribute to that community. They should not be seen as the equivalent to the disadvantaged that we should be blooming well be funded enough to help, not to be just equated with. Future generations will look back to this short-lived insanity and wonder what happened.  Let us hope that this period is brief enough that some libraries survive so that any such observers will realise the enormity of the tragedy of the current times.

Speaking Volumes

I’ve been asked by Carnegie UK Trust to highlight a survey they are doing of activities in public libraries.  Please complete if you can.

“Public libraries have a vital role to play in delivering on social, economic, cultural and education policy goals, all of which contribute to individual and community wellbeing. Our 2014 Speaking Volumes resource consists of a leaflet-poster and four databases of evidence that together demonstrate how libraries contribute to these four policy goals. They show the continuing relevance of public libraries, and their potential to contribute to many of the policy goals which governments are seeking to achieve. This year we are updating the information in our databases and are asking for your help to do so! So if you work in a library, please tell us about the activities that your library or library service runs by filling out the form below by 7 October 2015.”

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