Thoughts on “Community libraries – Learning from experience” Report

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Thoughts on “Community libraries – Learning from experience” Report

I’ve been thinking about this Arts Council England / Local Government Association / Locality report (Community libraries – Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities) published earlier this week.

It isn’t really a comment on whether community/volunteer run libraries are a good or bad thing. It’s a guide for creating community/volunteer run libraries within the remit of the Public Libraries Act, statutory duties, and other legal requirements. It gives 10 case studies out of 170 community/volunteer run libraries currently in operation in England. I’m not sure if they’ve been cherry-picked or not, but I suppose if it’s a how-to guide it’s not going to pick those libraries regarded as unsuccessful.

I’ve just pulled out a few statements from the report for comment…

“Our research indicates that community libraries are established out of the determination and passion of local communities and those working in library services to retain what they regard as essential services.”

Could we suggest this passion and determination is caused by the threat of losing the service if volunteers aren’t found? 

“Whilst these are difficult times and some libraries have been closing, it is a mistake to characterise community libraries simply as knee jerk reactions to closure…”

Having followed the news about library budget cuts and closures closely for the past few years I still think many libraries handed over to communities were done as a knee jerk reaction. Some library services would have happily closed them and this is the get-out clause. 

“Every library service in England has trained and skilled professional library staff working at its heart. This is essential. There continues to be a need for paid professional library staff working in every library authority area, and of course professional staff and their representatives need to be fully consulted on any proposed changes to services.”

It’s good to read an acknowledgement about the importance of librarians and skilled library staff within the context of this report, but how about a bit more support for those staff.

“Not every library in a library service needs to look the same, provide exactly the same service as all the others nor have the same kinds of staff on site every day.”

I wonder how this fits in with the calls for a national library service and initiatives led by Arts Council England and Society of Chief Librarians that are aiming to unify library service provision across England?

In conclusion, the report does highlight that it takes effort and money and a wide-range of skills to set up and sustain community/volunteer run libraries, with low-income communities more likely to need more support.

I can’t help reading this report as a green light “Yeah! Go for it” instruction book for local authorities who might not have considered the community/volunteer run library option otherwise.

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Reblogged: Society of Chief Librarian’s Stakeholder Meeting

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Society of Chief Librarian’s Stakeholder Meeting

Ian Anstice (Public Libraries News & Voices For The Library) published minutes of a meeting he and other campaigners attended with S.C.L. yesterday. It’s good news that S.C.L. have decided to hold these meetings with campaigners and that they are intending to run more, and it sounds like there are some positive plans ahead. However, a few thoughts that popped into my head after reading these minutes…

“the SCL is not an incorporated organisation and so cannot make its own statements. It is, literally, a collective of individuals who provide their time voluntarily.”

But the SCL have provided comment in the past on aspects of public libraries. Is the issue more about not being able to say certain things in its statements?

“It is not the role of the SCL to advise the Secretary of State but are available if they are asked.”

Alternatively, a pro-active approach could help direct the Secretary of State’s thoughts to developing public library services, rather than assisting in their demise.

Campaigners asked why the SCL did not agitate for a return to national library standards. The response was that the SCL “pick the fights we can win”.

Would they give in even if it was the most important fight for public libraries?

My National Libraries Day Out #NLD12 #Librarithon #LoveLibraries

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Yesterday was National Libraries Day in the UK – a celebration of libraries – not just public, but also academic, specialist, business, health, schools, etc… all libraries!

I was hoping to celebrate in the week building up to today by taking part in my own librarithon – ie visit as many different interesting libraries as possible. This was inspired by Zoe Toft who, along with her children, took part in her own charity librarithon last year. In the end, due to the fact that I had to complete a major project in work and had a major meeting to prepare for and attend, the librarithon didn’t happen. 😦 Oh well!

Instead I took part in a mini-librarithon today in London with a couple of other librarians – @usernametaken10 and @misshelved – who fancied exploring a few new places. The aim wasn’t to take in as many libraries as possible just for the sake of visiting them. We decided to visit the Dickens & the Supernatural exhibition at The British Library, two new libraries in Dalston and Canada Water and an ‘Idea store’ in Whitechapel, which was running an author event.

As we were in London, and as it’s a national library, The British Library seemed like a really good place to start. I’ve visited this library a few times. Every time I’ve been there it’s to visit an exhibition.  Exhibitions in a library are a great way to provide focus on information/resources held by the library that might have otherwise been hidden away – hidden away in terms of location, and in Dickens case, hidden away in his body of work. He’s probably more widely known for fiction that touches on social history, rather than the supernatural. Exhibitions such as this get  potential readers thinking about the author in a different way. It was quite a small exhibition – took us about 20 minutes to look at it – but it was interesting to find out about how his early childhood and the people in it influenced him. He was sceptical about ghosts and the paranormal, but that didn’t stop him from writing classic ghost stories, such as The Signalman.

Book sculpture at Dalston C.L.R. James Library

Book sculpture at Dalston C.L.R. James Library

Next, we took the bus over to Dalston and wandered around the newly built C.L.R. James Library. This public area was spread over one and a half floors, broken up into glass partitioned walls. The local archives and history service was situated above it. I thought the use of the foyer area was interesting – a place for those who just want to dash in and out, to make a quick choice from a limited set of popular books. Even though I couldn’t borrow them (as I not a member of that library service), I did spot a couple of graphic novels that interested me. It made me think, “I wish we had a national library card and I could borrow this book this book right now.” Hopefully my local library will stock them. *Goes off to check the catalogue* Yes, I’ve found one of them! (Mike Carey / God Save The Queen)

Then we took the train to Canada Water Library. Again, this is another brand new library and has great views overlooking Canada Water itself. The building itself is pretty funky – as @misshelved said, on the outside it looks like a Jawa Sand crawler.

Canada Water Library

Canada Water Library or Jawa Sand Crawler?

Inside Canada Water Library

Inside Canada Water Library (c) usernametaken10/Flickr

Inside the library there’s a coffee shop and quick choice section (like Dalston Library’s foyer). A set of stairs in the centre of the ground floor leads up to the main part of the library, housing the children’s library, computers and fiction. Up another set of stairs is the non-fiction section on a balcony area that over looks the rest of the library. It goes all the way around the library and up here they also have study spaces and meeting rooms. I’m not sure whether “a day in the life” of the library as shown here is actually how it is, but I could imagine spending a couple of hours a week in there just relaxing and browsing/thinking if I lived closer to it – it’s got a pretty relaxed positive feel to it.

Finally, @usernametaken10 and I headed to Whitechapel and visited the Idea Store there. It’s a few years old and is based over a number of floors (4, I think). Our aim was to go to a free author event (Austerity Writes Back) which was on for an hour and a half. We only managed to catch the end of the event (last 20 minutes or so), but what I saw/heard was really interesting, especially as some of its focus was the austerity cuts and protest. That’s sort of why National Libraries Day exists (on the back of Save Our Libraries protest day last year) and is also relevant to Voices For The Library activities. One of the authors (and publisher) Bobby Nayyar made a comment that made sense to me about the current state of affairs with the economy. It was along the lines that there’s nothing wrong with businesses making a profit, but some businesses seem focused on making an obscene amount of profit and do not understand the social impact this may have on the world around them. I also want to mention that while I was mooching around the Idea Store I spotted on the end of a shelf a biography of Andrew Carnegie. It made me smile to think that, as a philanthropist who funded so many libraries, he has a lot to be thanked for on National Libraries Day.

Andrew Carnegie book

I wonder how Andrew Carnegie would have felt today about library cuts?

I really enjoyed today’s little adventure as part of National Libraries Day. On top of visiting a handful of libraries (old and new), I had a laugh and mulled over a few library related ideas with @usernametaken10 and @misshelved. I also got to explore parts of London I’ve never been to before, and I listened to a few authors talk about their books and how they were inspired.

As I sit here writing this, I also wonder if anyone using any of those four libraries I visited today was struck by some great revolutionary or genius idea that will change the world forever? It would be great to say I was in THAT LIBRARY at THAT PRECISE MOMENT when it happened… and you may well laugh, but it could happen, because that’s the sort of thing that goes on inside the minds of people who use libraries. 🙂

Thanks From A Public Librarian To Anyone Who Said No To Library Cuts #savelibraries

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This year has been a bit of a bummer in some ways in the world of public libraries, mostly caused by the threatened closure or handing over of libraries to volunteers, by local authorities. Lots of people have been working on fighting against the cuts.

Scores of friends of libraries and campaign groups have formed all over the country, taking on Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt’s roles as superintendents of their own local library services – standing up and saying “No!”, whilst Mr Hunt and Mr Vaizey (who both have some kind of Government responsibility for libraries) do very little.

Ed Vaizey's Unused Sheriff Badge

Ed Vaizey's Unused Sheriff Badge (c) ggstopflat/Flickr

People are fighting the cuts in so many ways…

  • As part of an organised campaign or friends group.
  • By signing the Women’s Institute libraries petition. (15,798 online signatures so far. Come on, we need more signatures than this!)
  • By signing local petitions.
  • Writing newspaper articles or blog posts to highlight what’s going on.
  • Commenting upon newspaper articles or blog posts about the cuts.
  • Responding to library consultations.
  • Local Councillors voting against decisions to cut in their areas.
  • Anyone who has spoken to friends, families or strangers to highlight what’s going on.
  • Anyone whose taken note of someone who’s spoken to them about UK public library cuts.
  • Sharing a web link or a news article about the cuts.
  • Running library events as a way to highlight the message.
  • New and existing library users who have found out that libraries are of more use to them than they realised and are making use of them in new ways.

Any of these actions make me realise that I (and other library service colleagues around the country) are valued. It’s a thought that gives me a smile, despite having to watch the battle between those who want hack away at library services and those who want to save them.

This post was triggered by a thought I had after reading the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries open letter addressed to Ed Vaizey. This letter  highlighted concerns about his inaction over the past year regarding public library cuts and asked for people to support and sign the letter too.

I looked at that letter yesterday to see who had signed it and, as a public librarian, I was genuinely touched by the number and wide range of people who had signed it and left comments in support of public libraries and their staff.

After reading that letter I realised that as a public librarian I hadn’t said thank you for a long time for the support people are giving public libraries during this tough time. I know some people are putting so much effort in that it’s basically like having a second job!

So… thank you to everyone and anyone, wherever you are, who has said “No” to public library cuts over the past year or so. It’s the nicest Christmas present you could have given me. 🙂 You really don’t know how much I appreciate it.

22 11 11 whodunnit indeed

22 11 11 whodunnit indeed (c) Kikishua/Flickr

Comment on “Campaigners launch £1m Chalk Farm library plea”

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Campaigners launch £1m Chalk Farm library plea | News.

Campaigners are trying to raise £1,000,000 to secure the long-term future of their community library.

When I read this article in The London Evening Standard my mouth just dropped open in disbelief.

It’s wrong that Camden Council have forced campaigners into this situation, just so they can use a service they should automatically be receiving from the local council in their area. I know Camden haven’t said to them, “Go out and raise £1m and we’ll give you the library,” but if campaigners feel they have to raise this sort of money to keep it running, then they have basically been forced into it.

Is it even possible to raise that amount of money in a local appeal, even if you live in a wealthy area?

…and just imagine if every volunteer run library throughout the country had to raise that amount of money to provide a long-term local library service in their area? How many millions of pounds would that be?

It’s seems particularly ironic that local Council’s are saying they have to save money on library services because they aren’t allowed to increase Council Tax by a significant amount, and yet, some local communities may end up paying more by contributing to this sort of fundraising appeal.

Monoculture (The Archdruid Report)

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I found this really interesting blog post, “The Twilight of Meaning“, about the impact of reading choices/options upon culture, society and economics. It was written by John Michael Greer, an American Archdruid… so having such a unique perspective on things really caught my attention. It’s a very detailed post, covering the impact upon American politics and America in general, but I wanted to highlight some specific points that hit me, that might also be of interest to other librarians.

The author talks about recently finding a copy of “The White Stag” (published in 1937) in the book sale section of his local library, which leads onto this train of thought…

  • When the author was younger “you could find books that old and much older, plenty of them, in small town public libraries all over the country.”
  • Nowadays, you are more likely to get “movie, toy, and video game tie-ins“. These are “all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clichés of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else.
  • As a result of this “the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart.
  • Without a sense of the past and its meaning, without narratives that weave the events of our daily lives into patterns that touch the principles that matter, we lack the essential raw materials of thought, and so our collective reasoning processes, such as they are, spit out the same rehashed nonsolutions over and over again.
  • … the awareness that the lessons of the past have something to teach the present—requires a kind of awareness that’s become very uncommon” and current ineffective solutions are based on “the feedback loop” and this leads to “a mental monoculture“.
  • The result is like taking a loaf of Wonder Bread and spreading something different on every slice, starting with Marmite and ending with motor oil; there are plenty of surface variations, but underneath it’s always the same bland paste.
  • To resolve the situation the author suggests people should “go looking among things that are older than you“. Even if it’s “the pablum of a different time, and will clash with mental habits tuned to the pablum of this time, with useful results.
So, if we don’t want society to make the same mistakes over and over again we need to ensure that these different perspectives remain available and accessible to all – whether it’s the narrative of a fictional work, the ideology of a non-fiction work, or any other work that causes us to think in a different way. They are all valuable in determining what could happen in the future.
I think the following quote from the post sums it up nicely.

The public library in Seattle, to my horror, once put up splashy ads asking, “What if everyone in Seattle read the same book?” Why, then we’d have even more of a mental monoculture than we’ve got already.

The full blog post is definitely worth taking the time to read.

Decentralised Power Via The Localism Bill

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The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament via the House of Commons in December 2010. Its aim is to decentralise power “back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”

Here are a few things to consider about the Bill in relation to the provision of local services, including public libraries.

1.) The plain English version states that central government currently imposes too much bureaucracy in the form of centralised decisions, targets and inspections, which “leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon.”

It’s true that the removal of Central government bureaucracy would allow development of services at a local level, but at the same time Central government bureaucracy also serves to ensure that local councils/authorities continue to provide essential services they are expected to.

2.) It also states that Central Government should be there to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own 
ambitions.”

This would be beneficial, as long as the local people and representatives who get their voices heard are (1) representative of all local people and (2) that their wishes ensure this does not affect the lives of those whose voices aren’t heard – commonly people in society who are in most need of public services.

3.) The Bill indicates that “Local authorities can do their job best when they have genuine freedom to respond to what local people want, not what they are told to do by central government.

In an ideal world this would be a great opportunity for councils to work with local communities and I’m sure some will, but as we have seen in some library campaigns, local councils do not always listen to what people want. Campaigners throughout the country have raised petitions containing over 15,000 names asking councils to stop closure of libraries, but councils still appear to do what they want, rather than what the communities ask them to do.

4.) The General power of competence in the Bill states local authorities should be free to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.” and that this power “does not remove any duties from localauthorities.” Alongside this, the Secretary of State will have the authority toremove unnecessary restrictions and limitations where there is a good case to do so, subject to safeguards designed to protect vital services.”

It is important that local authorities are free to be innovative, as long as they don’t break the law and their duties are not removed. However, if the Secretary of State can over-rule restrictions, how will this affect councils actions and duties? Could this over-ruling have a negative effect on services that are provided to communities, as well as a positive effect?

5.) “the Government will abolish the Standards Board regime. Instead, it will become a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints, while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions.”

Even though some complaints may be seen as trivial by Central Government, often it is the only way for an individual citizen to address concerns they may have about a councillor.

6.) Even though a councillor is there to represent his/her local community some are warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge. The Localism Bill will make it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions.”

It’s important that in the future councillors will be given the opportunity to get involved, rather than shying away from involvement and discussion and saying “I can’t do anything. I’m not allowed to.”

7.) “The Localism Bill will give more cities the opportunity to decide whether they want a mayor.”

Having an elected mayor could work either way. A mayor who has not been elected by his/her political peers would have more freedom to go against party lines, but at the same time the elected mayor does not necessarily need any experience of local politics to become mayor, which in itself could lead to problems via a lack of understanding.

8.) “We want to pass significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

Hopefully this will give campaigners fighting council decisions a stronger voice than many of them have at present.

9.) The Bill will allow groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service.” Local councils must respond to this interest and where it accepts it, run a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can bid”

This will obviously give local communities an opportunity to be involved in the provision of services they receive, but wouldn’t this increase bureaucracy and expenditure by local authorities who have to run a procurement exercise and assess any bids? Will it also mean that co-ordinated groups of small numbers in the community may have a louder voice than a larger local population who are happy with the services as they are?

10.) “When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, community groups will have time to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset when it comes on the open market.”

It is important that assets are kept in the community they belong, but at the same time this may also give some local authorities the notion that selling off its assets is a good idea.

11.) “The Localism Bill will give local people the power to initiate local referendums on local issues that are important to them. Local 
authorities and other public bodies will be required to take the outcome of referendums into account and consider what steps, if any, they will take to give effect to the result.”

Where we have seen local library campaigners wishes ignored, even with overwhelming support from the community, the ability to raise a local referendum may be more effective in highlighting support for an initiative.

12.) “Right to approve or veto excessive council tax rises”

The current situation in this country has seen council taxes capped by Central Government, even though a minimal rise may allow vital services to be developed in a local area. The ability to vote on council tax rises may ensure vital services are kept in the future.

13.) “Reform to make the planning system clearer, more democratic and more effective.” Currently “planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are taking.”

This will allow communities to have a greater say over planning in their area. This could mean that communities put together a local development plan that includes the services/facilities they want, such as a local library.

14.) Finally, the Localism Bill enables the removal of duties for local authorities to inform citizens about how local democracy works. If this happens it would mean local communities are at a disadvantage in ensuring that their voice will be heard.

So, in summary, the Bill will enable local communities (people, councillors and local authorities/councils) to have a greater impact on the development of services in their own area, but at the same time the Bill proposes the removal of restrictions that are currently in place to ensure local councils continue to provide essential local services.

The next stage for the Localism Bill is the report stage in the House of Lords (September 2011), which gives members of the House of Lords the opportunity to consider changes to the Bill.

(Thanks to Lauren Smith for input on this post)