Well, at least in one way, UK public libraries are leading the way on privacy

Editorial

The launch of the very good guide to privacy for library staff was a nice surprise – befittingly, they kept that quiet – as it is very well written and includes an excellent call to arms by Aude Charillon as well as useful tips and examples. Do have a read. Sadly, I think the only thing many public library services are currently leading on privacy-wise is not sharing their performance data. There’s an excellent article by Libraries Stats on the continuing drama of CIPFA trying to control access to library figures (or, rather, “professionally collate” them and then refuse to give them to anyone who does not have £650) and also the rather poor record of some library services in sharing their data on request. This is a very ironic shame, and shameful, for library services. I was taught in library school that we were signposts to people, not locked doors, but that does not seem to be the case for many. I hope the trend towards Open Data apparent elsewhere finally reaches the library sector soon.

Well, I don’t often mention my own library service on the website, for obvious reasons of the need to keep work and blog separate. But it would be off of me if I did not mention Cheshire West and Chester Council library service winning not just the Transformation award for which it was entered but also the Overall Award as well, and it would also be wrong if I did mentioned they’re my employer. So, well done colleagues, well done library service and well done the Guardian for their continuing support for libraries. That’s at least something that’s not secret.

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Big dip in Summer Reading Challenge take-up, volunteers report and a libraries roadmap

Editorial

Three things catch my eye this post. The first is the decline in the Summer Reading Challenge figures this year – a 8% drop is quite serious. From talking to various people, the view is that those library services still doing outreach (and most specifically school assemblies) for it are doing far better than those who no longer do such things. There may be other factors – the theme (possibly, although I liked the Beano myself) and the weather – but, dudes, when you no longer tell people about your product, or can’t afford to d so, then people may not get to know about it. I don’t need an MA in Librarianship to work that out. Speaking of not needing qualifications (wow, I’m getting good at links, nine years in to this PLN thing), I include a report from Deepings volunteer library, which is reportedly going from strength to strength. What’s happening to volunteer libraries is a source of much heated debate – from those who say they’re abjectedly awful to those who thing they’re brilliantly brilliant – but good to hear from the people themselves, until there’s some actual research carried out.

Finally, CILIP, Libraries Connected and Carnegie have got together to look at how public libraries should evolve, with reference to what’s happening internationally as well as in this country. Good to see. It’s be fascinating to see what they come up with. I can say, though, from researching this for the last decade, that there’s no magic pill out there. It’s all down to having the resources, as well as the will, to change – and the strength and wisdom to know when not to change and avoid the shiny. Having said that, I’d like a funded research trip if there’s one going …

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UN special report on the UK highlights plight of public libraries

Editor

To be honest, I was expecting the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights in the UK to have, at most, one glancing link to libraries. But how wrong I was. I guess I’m used to UK government reports who are, the best efforts of the Libraries Taskforce notwithstanding, often ignore public libraries. Philp Alston, the rapporteur, is Australian and thus comes from a country with a well-funded and advances public library system and, gosh, it shows. Word search comes up with fifteen uses of the word library in the report and some of them are very direct and damning. They highlight the importance of public libraries and the damage cuts to them are causing. Mr Alston also points out the peremptory  decision to fund Citizens Advice to do the job libraries are already doing may not have been the best. I like this chap and you will too. The Government meanwhile has, rather ironically, denied it is in denial, and gone straight back to fighting over Brexit. Hey ho.

Other news today includes the fall out over the deep cut in Essex (the deepest of a UK library service this year) but, thankfully, no further bad news. There’s a very good TED talk on why library services should not be exacting fines. If you are interested in this, I’ve done a summary of the current global situation here and also, to my mind at least, a hard-hitting and humourous article here. Finally, I’m delighted to have evaluation expert write a special article for you on how to get to know your users and non-users. It is of course well worth a read.

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It’s that time of year again – Essex announce one-third cut, Kent £1m

Editorial

It’s that time of year when councils need to announce their budget plans for next year if they are to have enough time to consult. Hence, Newcastle’s one third cut last post and this post’s news of a one-third cut, with up to 43 libraries closing or turning volunteer, in Essex and Kent’s £1 million cut. This will all deeply affect library provision in each of the services, with Essex being the stand-out due to the sheer number of libraries involved. It’s not often over 40 are threatened. The last time I clearly recall was Lancashire and, as news in this very post shows, that surprisingly ended with may reopening. Essex are at pains to show they have consulted already on the shape of their service and will consult on the proposals. It’s worth remembering the ultimate reasons for these cuts lie not with Essex or Kent or Newcastle but with the central government’s decision to continue austerity in practice, if not in name. There’s a petition about that if you’ve not already signed – it seems to have stalled again at just under 30,000 so now would be a good time.

I wrote a fairly critical editorial about Cardiff a short while ago and have given the council the right of reply below. Interestingly, and I have had a look, what I said and what Cardiff say, are not mutually exclusive. It’s all down to one’s point of view. As is so much else, especially I suspect in Essex today.

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Unbothered petition response, CIPFA as an active barrier to library data, and Newcastle woes

Editorial

A few things this week, led by the Governments unbothered response to the libraries petition. In a standard cut-and-paste response, the reply is that everything is fine, the Government is putting loads of money in and that funding is, anyway, a local matter. Everyone knows the first two are – shall we say? – not entirely accurate and the third one is, along with austerity, the problem in the first place and indeed the whole point of the petition. The takeaway from this is that library users will have to shout a lot louder to make a difference. So get more names on that petition, please. The second big thing over the last few days that angered me was reading a letter from CIPFA strongly encouraging local library services to avoid handing out usage data. As discussed below, this letter is only the latest piece of evidence strengthening the view that CIPFA is past its sell-by date and is now actively part of the problem and not part of the solution. But read the letter, and CIPFA’s reply, as well in order to make up your own mind.

The biggest bit of local news is the cutting by over a third of Newcastle’s library budget, including to the flagship Central library and the recently invested in East End Library. Forced by central cuts to council budget – and thus proving the lie to the Government’s petition response – the reductions will result in much false economy for what was once, but probably not for much longer, a top-notch library service. Also in the news, we have a whole array of previously largely standalone libraries moving into joint locations. Well, it’s cheaper and there may be some mutual benefits but the suspicion is that these are disguised cuts to the service, not improvements. I hope to be proved wrong on that.

But finally, a piece of joy. One library service is allowing any well-behaved dog – not just guide dogs – into its libraries on Fridays. Speaking as someone whose dog is currently dozing on my left, I have to strongly encourage that. There’s an article I briefly saw saying that “dogs are the new library cat” and I hope that is never proved wrong. Woof.

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Cardifficulty

Editorial

Sad news from Cardiff, as it has become apparent the council is severely cutting the library service by stealth, cutting many paid and experienced library staff under the guise of a reorganisation. Time has shown that this is the easiest way to gut a public library service without having significant public protest. A closed library causes placards but one renamed a hub with half the floorspace and staff causes annoyance but little more. News received last week – and confirmed by exchanges on social media – is that many of the staff remaining are being quietly pushed out, with housing managers taking over many of the top jobs. You may not see this in the press but you will see sadly see this if you go to one of the libraries. Councils are learning to camouflage their cuts but the damage to the community will, I fear, not be so easily disguised.

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Petition hits over 24,600: tell a friend

Editorial

It’s great to see the petition to safeguard libraries for funding reaching (at time of posting) 24,582 signatures. This is already making an impact, with it being used in evidence when CILIP and others met with the libraries minister and others yesterday. I’d forgotten but there was another one back in 2012 and that, in six months, reached 17,569 names and the new one has five months left to go. Every extra person signing is that little bit extra pressure, and that little bit more evidence that libraries matter. Tell a friend.

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Libraries petition hits 15,000, helping to influence government

Editorial

It’s been great over the weekend to see the outpouring of support for public libraries for the “Protect library services by ringfencing government funding for libraries” petition. On Thursday, it looked like the petition would not reach 8,000 but due to the support of many people commenting on how important libraries are and retweeting, it hit the magic 10,000 – where the government needs to respond – on Saturday lunchtime and is now at a respectable 15,401 and going up at a couple per minute when checked. Notable supporters include – squee! – JK Rowlling, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Joanne Harris and Frank Cottrell Boyce and a ton of other authors. Thank you to Frances Belbin for starting the petition and to everyone who has taken part. It’s not over yet: the petition stays on the books until 24 March 2019 and if it hits 100,000 then it needs to be debated in parliament. It’s a dream. None of us are foolish enough I think to believe this will change government policy but it keeps the pressure up, means every one of us can do something and keep the snowball rolling. And it gives help. Sign now if you haven’t already – it takes 30 seconds and you need to confirm your email address – and tell others. It will give you, and libraries, hope. and the government a reason to think about libraries. I understand it is already helping in conversations with them.

My thanks also to my old tutor, Dr Bob Usherwood, who has taken the time to write below. It’s worth a read. And, yes, I know I am publishing pieces opposed to eachother but, well, I should . It’s what being balanced is all about.

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The Great 2018 Universal Offers Personality Test, if you ever get around to doing it

Editorial

Ooh, so much to talk about today. The bigotry of American fundamentalist Christians when it comes to any view but theirs continues to be in evidence, with one of their number literally burning books to make his point. There’s a not very good historic precedent about that somewhere.

Thankfully we don’t tend to do that here. What we do in this country, and do very well – someone eviller than I would comment we’ve had years of practice –  is procrastinate. Which can annoy. Like for instance, the way it can annoy Michael Rosen who is completely banging his head against the wall of government inactivity when it comes to trying to get them to make every child have a library card. Now, I know it’s not as easy as all that – “you can lead a horse to water” etc, oh, and GDPR – but it’s such a basic move and I can remember listening to Mr Rosen talking about it several years ago in the presence of a schools minister (Nick Gibb I think) who then spent half an hour talking about how great synthetic phonics was, to the collective groaning of his whole audience.

Then we have the “single digital presence”, of which no-one knows quite what it is but there’s been reports written on it since at least 2005. I wish the British Library good luck, and they mean well, but I think it’s going to be a challenge to get meaningful national action, especially in the aforesaid absence of a government willing to do anything meaningful. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that groundwork will be laid for when/if we have a change in government next election. Well, we’ve waited 13 years already, what’s a few more?

Finally, there’s a review of the Universal Offers going on. I don’t have much to say about that other than hope against hope that not more Offers are added. Heaven knows, I find it hard enough to remember all eight now.  Can you? Go on, test yourself. Write down what your remember and see what your score says about you with the fun guide at the bottom of this post.

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“Sick of all the doom and gloom”: Ayub Khan seeks to redress the balance

Editorial

I was at a meeting of the Library Campaign on Saturday, after nipping into the People’s Vote march beforehand. It was full of deeply committed people from all around the country fighting for what they believe is right against a government who needs to pay more attention. And, yes, so was the march.

There is much polarisation in this nation and what’s going on in libraries and with Brexit shows it in sharp relief. But there are good things happening as well. I see some beautiful refurbishments and new buildings, as well as genuine creativity – I love especially toy sleepovers, drag queen story times and dog reading partners but there is at least a new idea a week and so many passionate people. Focusing just on cuts would be to do the library service a disservice, and would personally make me far too angry and depressed to carry on. So it’s good to see Ayub’s piece below trying to redress the balance.

Finally, I need to mark the retirement of Phil Bradley. I knew him first via his CILIP column and his time as president and I was very pleased to be able to catch a chat with him at his home a few years ago. He’s a lovely man, who knows his stuff so well, is passionate and done so much for libraries. Thank you, Phil, thank you.

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