December 31, 2006
New Year's resolution
While many others are reading the life of Peter Kay (and the role of Garlic bread in society), my new year's reading has been a biography of Martin Luther of Wittenberg.
In his pursuit of putting right those things he found to be dreadfully corrupt, Professor Luther was articulate, reasoned, mean and vicious.
I find much in his style to be attractive. I don't think we will solve the problems of our libraries by being as dainty and polite as we have been. The whole process has already taken far too long and cost me too dearly.. we need to be more forthright.
Incidentally, by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the local church, I think he can claim to be an early master of the blog. He certainly wrote endlessly, every day.
December 29, 2006
Petitions in Brighton and Hove
For readers tempted into appeasement with Government quangoes, or even local councillors, here is some encouragement for the New Year from Christopher Hawtree who ought to be the mayor of Brighton and Hove and Aylesbury, too.
"Our two petitions read as follows: 1) “We, the undersigned readers, call upon Brighton and Hove City Council to increase the book stock in all its libraries as a matter of urgency in a city avid for reading in all its diversity”; 2) “We, the undersigned, call upon the Council to increase the opening hours throughout the Library service, including Sundays, as befits life in a twenty-first century metropolis”.
A rubric is best when brisk, for it has to be read aloud, and the sharp-eyed will notice the adroit incorporation of Councilspeak in the words “diversity” and “twenty-first century metropolis”.
It is always heartening to conduct a petition. People are eager to sign - at the rate of one a minute - , there is a palpable enthusiasm for books, and much talk: such diverse comments as those by an expert in Japanese and by somebody who lamented that Monica Dickens appears to have been eased from the shelves nowadays. Somebody else remarked that the library in Poole is open until ten o’clock some evenings.
The last time that we conducted a petition outside Brighton Library (for the restoration of biography and crime-fiction sections), we were ejected from the notional public square which is in fact private property under the Mill Group / Norwich Union’s PFI deal. This strong-armed approach by the Council’s Pauline Scott-Garrett caused national outrage. Since then, she has departed for Croydon and the biography section is being brought back.
This time, there were no such moves.
Whether these two petitions can magic funds in an instant remains to be seen, especially as the Council has again been given meagre funding by the Government, cuts everywhere, but the petitions can go some way towards fuelling a debate about the funding of the library service -
which, as we regularly see on this website, is becoming an urgent topic throughout the country.
It is always gratifying when one hears from all corners of the country about “the Hove case” (David Lammy winces at the phrase). Indeed, when one curator at the New York Public Library saw on BBC America the Fathers for Justice atop Big Ben, he remarked to a colleague, “that
must be another SAVE HOVE LIBRARY poster!” It didn’t quite get to that, but it is certainly an idea that people elsewhere might bear in mind.The graphic-novel section could supply some handy tips about suitable footwear.
December 28, 2006
Only the worst publisher in the world could produce his one book of the year (15 months late) on Boxing day. Nevertheless I am very proud of my new title which tells the story of the British army's horrible defeat in Afghanistan in 1841. The jacket is much better than the one on the website and we shall print it here as soon as technology permits.
Stirring up local opinion
We have seen libraries turned into community halls, pilates centres and fitness clubs. Just in case any councils have the idea that libraries should be turned into chocolate factories I recommend that they read this cautionary tale.
Keep it simple-- a New Policy for the Public Library Service
Just a new year refreshment of the aims of this blog:
1. Our public libraries need major renewal to restore them to their core service:
- Buildings which are open, clean, welcoming, safe to all
- Stocks of books and other printed material, access to information sources of all kinds, which are up to date, old, wide ranging and relevant to individuals in the local community
- Space and means for private reading and study
2. Local councils need to be cajoled/helped/reminded to undertake this renewal.
3. Central Government needs to take responsibility for making it happen quickly
4. Renewal means substantial investment in book stocks, buildings, equipment and opening hours. Efficiency requires that these funds are found from within the service and not from extra taxes.
- Each individual library should be run as efficiently as a comparable good local independent retail shop would be
- There should be almost no "back office" work - and supply contracts should be rewritten to make this change.
5. The professional management of the library service needs total overhaul and retraining
5. The service belongs to and is paid for by the public. They need to be kept informed of the progress of this renovation in a clear comprehensible and timely manner. There are to be no more secret departments, conferences, meetings or incomprehensible plans
6. All officers of Government, both national and local, who stand in the way of this work will be lampooned, ridiculed and exposed for the destruction they have caused-- unless they make genuine efforts, in which case they will be praised.
7. The situation is very grave.
December 27, 2006
The Espresso Book Machine
Wouldn't you just like to have received one of these for Christmas? But how many people's need for books is satisfied by out of copyright titles that have been scanned and can be reproduced in this way? Not most people. Nor does such a machine offer the opportunity to sit on the sofa with a pile of books and a cup of coffee. Despite its name.
December 25, 2006
Blizzard over Bloggington
There is deep snow on the Bloggington beach; a howling wind and cobwebs frozen into Christmas tree decorations in the cold.
But here;s also a fine party under the pier: Mr Grimsdyke, Mrs Sideloader, Ron Useless, the Mayor of Bloggington and Perkins the library cat are gathered singing carols around a wood burning stove,and plotting the reopening of the their libraries in the New Year along with the downfall of DLA (Delay) the department of libraries and archives. They have fire in their determination and warm crumpets and mince pies for lunch
Merry Christmas from Bloggington on Sea
December 24, 2006
Something must be done
During the course of the year this venture into Bloggington has brought back some old friends into my life and introduced many new ones.
Among the people I have known a long time, Richard Charkin returned. He approves of some of my appeals for public libraries and is doubtful sometimes about my methods. That's fair enough, I feel the same way. I admire and respect him -- he is from neither the sharp suit nor the bow tie brigades of the book industry, more from the shirt flapping, excellent ideas division; and he is an extremely agile wicket keeper.
This morning he has blogged very powerfully about an activity which he understands intimately-- printing journals- and the point he is making is about the overwhelming arrogance of Government in general and individuals in particular.
At one of those Christmas gatherings to which one bumbles, I heard a discussion along the lines that The Conservative Party these days is an amiable intelligent bunch in search of a decent idea. It occurs to me that one of the ideas we all need to pursue is that one that would restore the role of Government officials and departments into being servants of the people and not pursuers of their own fulfillment. From Richard's various comments, I would guess he is learning to feel the same way.
In fact it's a call to revolution of which English people are not normally attracted: We have to change the nature of Government in this country-- and quickly. I would vote for a party who would tackle that-- and I'd go on the streets to say so, too.
This is not an argument about levels and amounts of appropriate taxation (with which it could easily be confused), nor is it somehow about sleaze among elected politicians and officials, but rather about honesty, decency and responsibility among senior governors and administrators.
December 23, 2006
This is a Christmas message (although I'm sure Mr Grimsdyke will appear as the snow falls on Bloggington beach)
Along with John Delane, the sadly neglected but heroic editor of the Times in the 1850's, Miss Nightingale is without doubt one of my inspirations for this attempt to rescue our public library service. There are many reasons-- one of them is that she had a fierce and unbending dislike of civil service evasions- and they fired her into vehement action, as they do me.
But for Christmas there is a story and a message. The story is that at Christmas 1854 she was witness to one of the most appalling but English horrors of all time in the hospitals at Scutari and in her letters home she cried to her father about how much she missed him- when by so doing she was building within herself the incredible strength she later displayed. Those letters are the saddest reading I have ever encountered. Cold, destroyed, weary, and truly made mad to the point of insanity by what she saw- she displays a human being at its most frail but still surviving.
The message is that from all this she learned many things and they became part of her teachings. One of the most important is that to be trained, to be educated, to be responsible (as she expected both nurses and civil servants to be)- you have to read widely and deeply. That, she believed is what education means-- to hear the experience of others by virtue of what is written in books.
December 22, 2006
Many thanks to the Independent
Who have been extremely kind today and included this in their review of publishing etc
Public libraries, MLA, DCMS etc
I have been under some heavy pressure the last few days (which I cheerfully resist!) to look out for a forthcoming major review of library policy by the MLA. The implication is that we are going to see a volte-face.
This "review" is. among other things, an opportunity to tell me to be quiet for a while they work out what it will say. But they have played this game so often before that it makes me laugh
In the past 2 years only we have seen
- A protracted and vacuous response to the excellent Select Committee report, which effectively nullified the benefit that could have been obtained
- A long delay over publication of the PKF report on library efficiency and then a totally failed attempt to communicate its very important conclusions to library authorities
- Endless promises that the steering committee for the PWC study would contain relevant industry figures who could give an outside perspective on the matter
- The subsequent clear and emerging failure of the PWC report to produce a programme that councils can use- all of which renders the whole study a huge waste of money
- Promises that performance measures will be translated into Impact measures which will improve the service have come to nothing.
- The MLA has set up a host of regional partner offices- but there has been no attempt to provide them with the exprertise to implement major improvements in public library services.
- Most councils have gone over to cabinet style administration and each year there are local elections which change the portfolio responsibilities of individual elected members. Yet no attempt whatsoever is made to help these people understand the issues facing public libraries
- During the whole of this time the most difficult question councils is over their budgets. They need help and support in working out how to control costs and improve service at the same time. The MLA-- even in its current discourse- appears not even to engage in this matter
and on and on
There are two faults with the MLA which render it a useless body with respect to public libraries
- firstly its management is limited to experience only of the world of public libraries and none other. It therefore struggles to give leadership and ideas which are of the quality that are needed. This could be overcome, but that requires change at the very top.
-Secondly it has failed to establish any credibility or authority with local library authorities. This is because of the list above and many other previous endeavours. This will not be easy to change without a fundamental renewal of the role and its methods. It cannot, in my view, be done from within
Therefore it is not worth waiting for yet another vague statement of unimplementable postures. Prove me wrong-- nobody will be more pleased.
All this doessn't mean there isn't a need for an effective body to help local councils do the job properly. There is a need - but the MLA and DCMS are not playing the role at present. I'm sorry. We can (and do) work on councils on their own and collectively, but the MLA is no help and would be better off closing down.
December 21, 2006
Christmas night on Bloggington Beach
The lights in the great council office that overlooks Bloggington Bay are slowly being extinguished in anticipation of the long Christmas holiday that lies ahead. Even the great cake filling factory that stands where Bloggington central library used to be is closing down its jam squeezers and cleaning down the cream clotting plant for the break. The reflections of a great city in the rolling tide where Queen Anne's fleet once stood are dimmed. The only light to be seen is of the shivering candle under the pier where Mr Grinsdyke lies curled up with Perkins the now redundant library cat.
"Purring Perkins" says the frost covered Grimsdyke with affection for his old friend. "You are the only one left who remembers what a library used to be"
To be continued......
December 20, 2006
Save Upper Norwood Library
Please look at the campaign site
Here is the story reported in the local newspaper
When Down means Up (2)
Here's a good article from the local newspaper in York. It gets better when you read the comments at the bottom.
For so long I have said that libraries should be the responsibility of local councils but when one reads so often that neither councillors nor their officers appear to understand that a library is better (and will be used more) with more books, I do begin to change my mind.
I remember sitting in an inquisition in front of the councillor in Hampshire saying "if there are two identical buildings alongside each other and A has twice as many (well selected) books as B, then A will be a better library"
"Why" she said, "Can you prove that?" -- and I thought I was in wonderland. But it seems that lady was not alone.
December 19, 2006
Advertise on the Good Library Blog!
This blog doesn’t have a handsome stream of public funding, so if you appreciate what Tim Coates and his colleagues are doing here and also want to reach the thousands of book and library lovers who visit every month (recent monthly figures are 50,000 unique visits, and every month there are more), we’ll be happy to take your skyscraper, banner, or box advertisement.
As Tim says, “We’re looking for ads from major petrol companies, British Aerospace, arms dealers of all kinds, reputable large consultancy firms, or disreputable ones trying to make amends, political parties and even publishers. Also personal ads welcome. And donations, too: press the button in the right-hand tramline.”
Advertising prices vary (petrol companies, arms dealers, and mega-publishers pay more) so please write and tell us what you want to advertise and anything else we should know before beginning our negotiations. We’ll want more money for top placement, of course, and we are also open to barter arrangements, if you can think of something Tim (or Berkshire Publishing) might be interested in.
For more information, contact Karen [at] Berkshirepublishing [dot] com.
And here are some basic specifications, so you can get your ad agency, graphic design department, or teenage intern preparing a stunning advertisement. Files should be .jpg or .gif. Skyscraper ads should be 350 pixels high and 150 pixels wide. Banner ads should be 100 pixels high and 500 pixels wide. Box ads should be 150 pixels high and 150 pixels wide.
Give up your job and put some books in libraries
This is a good article
Government policy on public libraries
It occurred to me that the word "policy" has different meanings in Government and in business.
In business a policy means a prepared answer to some event-- as in "What is Marks and Spencer's policy on returning clothes that don't fit?"
But in Government "policy" is what goes in a manifesto as in "This is what we intend to do about bicycle lanes".. So a policy statement should be a short, clear promise and an indication of how it will be achieved, so people believe it.
If someone asked you "What do you think the Government's policy on public libraries should be- now, over the next year?" What would you say? The question is relevant and important and it is being asked right now.
December 18, 2006
Upper Norwood joint library
Among afficionados the Upper Norwood "Joint" Library is a special item. It is a library which belongs to no one London Borough and has an independent management board. It is alone and very good for being so-- rather better than many of its neighbours.
However it is funded by money from both Croydon and Lambeth, on whose boundaries it lies-- in the past few years these two boroughs have invested in much improvement work on the building.
Word reaches me this morning that it is threatened with closure by "reduction of funding by Croydon". If this is true it is the first of the new year closures that will come with the budget round. Like in a general election when there is a dramatic swing from one party to another, this library was not on any list of possible closures. One has to be surprised - no doubt there will be a vigorous campaign, but it demonstrates the danger of "independence"
December 16, 2006
Some blogs are personal diaries, but I try not to do that on here. Nevertheless from time to time I draw attention to the recital programme, which features in the left tramline. There are some good concerts in January
Today I can also mention that Sam is travelling with Mr Blair's party in his plane around the Middle East. So watch The Times for some good political stories over the next few days.
Bullying in government departments
A few days ago I mused about the dangers of a very large joined up national and local government in which employees are afraid of disagreeing with their managers.
In my work in councils and in central government I have seen this taking place and I have seen a number of people moved or bullied out of their jobs. In my case it has mainly been because they were trying to identify with the needs of the taxpayers rather than the administrators and, to some degree, holding to that view in the face of opposition both from their managers and their peers.
People outside in ordinary work find this hard to believe- they think it is unlikely to be true. So I recommend this article in a Scottish Newspaper. Believe me, if you will, this is a common problem- but it will be very hard to identify, because no one, obviously, wants to say where it takes place.
In many ways it is the behaviour of these bullies and small tyrants that has fuelled my desire to get to the bottom of the problems of the public library service. It is a culture that needs to be exposed.
I applaud the Accounts Commission of Scotland for the brave stand they took in the matter of this council. I would like to see the Audit Commission, the English equivalent, explore the same subject and a Parliamentary Commission explore the activities of quangoes and Departments of Central Government. Too much happens which is wrong and evasive. We all laugh and say "Yes, Minister" was an accurate and funny portrayal of Government life-- but actually it was describing deceit of huge proportions of which we should be deeply suspicious.
I mention British Aerospace in passing and, of course, the overriding need for intergovernmental cooperation in times of concern for national security. Overriding what?
December 15, 2006
Martin Everett writes:
Although Essex is well-organised and should be contgratulated on many of its online services, things are far from perfect. Following hot on the heels of a decision to stop providing magazines in Essex Libraries comes the news that Essex Libraries intend to make the weekly mobile library service fortnightly, and will stop providing a mobile library service to those communities less than 2 miles from a Library. The rationale for these cuts in public service is to save £100 million pounds on the County Council's budget over the next three years. If Essex County Council is really so short of cash they should realise that dishing out free champagne at Library events while cutting the service is sending out the wrong signals. (Champagne reception held at Chelmsford Library on 16 November).
Martin- thank you for all your comments, they are appreciated and our views are widely respected. If there were a way to discuss matters more, I would be delighted to participate.
December 14, 2006
Merry Christmas in Colyton
Readers will remember the campaign to save their library conducted by the residents of Colyton in Devon, the huge public meeting, the website and many other activities to focus the minds of the council and its officers
So they are delighted to have saved their library. It is very good news.
December 13, 2006
Do not disagree with your employer
I had a very agreeable and interesting evening yesterday at the Institute of Ideas
We talked about public libraries, the agenda for culture, the nature of public administration and the importance of books and the serendipity of a public library-- and lots of other really fascinating subjects. I am grateful for their invitation and can say I really enjoyed myself.
One tiny point that came up in the evening was a about "not disagreeing with your employer". If you work in any organisation, you can easily understand the merits of agreeing and the inherent dangers of disagreeing. Someone emphasised how important it is, in the civil service, to agree not only with policy, but also with the ideas being floated before they become policy; to do otherwise is truly to risk your employment. Moreover, it was said, because departments and quango's are mutually dependent - for funding and a thousand other reasons, it is also expedient and proper to agree with the ideas and policies of other departments- at all times.
If you work for a small company and your boss has a daft idea, your company will suffer-- but your competitors will thrive. So the public is not disadvantaged in the long run, and if you have been loyal to your boss even though you know he has been stupid, or wrongful, you have done no public damage. You will both suffer, but the damage is limited.
However if you are a civil servant and you are loyal to your boss there is no competition and the public will suffer. Moreover if 10m public servants all conform to a regime in which nobody speaks either against the follies of their own department or the failings of another-- then the public will suffer hugely. And they do.
My thanks again to Dolan Cummings and his friends and colleagues: it was a most stimulating evening. I hope many of you will come on the blog.
There is a board game called Diplomacy which I remember as having taken many days to play when I was a student. It was very enjoyable, but often rather cruel and deceitful. Either the other players were eliminated or you were. I suppose that is true of most board games, but it took so long and was so tortured that the stakes seemed terribly high. Like a Test Match really.
I only say all this because the MLA seem to be playing a game of closing things down. Here is the final report on Children's library usage by LISU, never to be seen again. I suppose children's library usage must either be ok or so bad that we are not to be told about it any more.
I confess I also caused a terrible fuss today, because I attempted to close down the MLA by sending a message recommending such action to the Queen and everybody else. My attempt was undiplomatic and hasn't worked ...yet.
December 12, 2006
Family history in Cumbria
I confess that Carlisle public library is one of my favourites.
Here is a new service on offer in Cumbria
Easy use of a library
My challenge is that anyone should be able to go into a library anywhere and use any of its facilities; it should be easy and you shouldn't have to ask permission or be taught procedures.
If you want to borrow something, we need some really straightforward process that makes sure you will bring it back undamaged-- simply so that other people can use it too.
My friends in Cornwall claim to have as simple a system as possible.
2. You fill in the membership form and then they send you a card
But I think it could be simpler. Any ideas?
December 11, 2006
Is it possible to completely simplify the process of applying for membership of a library so that the applicant can join without having to talk to anyone or fill in a complicated form of any kind? One joins things on the internet with simple forms, almost every day.
This is a comment from Simon from a previous entry in which he is praising "Bookstart" and I was asking if it possible to give out membership cards at the same time.
"Cards a bit tricky due to most authorities needing ID or consent forms filled in.
Some places I think do put in adult forms - although some authorities don't have membership forms - just an ID requirement and details are entered straight away.
Bookstart is the best thing that has happened to libraries since Carnegie. No question." Simon
Closed for lunch
I am in a London Borough today. Half the libraries close for lunch. I was shocked-- there were plenty of staff in the one I was in, but "No mate- it's lunch"
How many action plans have we had? Where is the LLDA - the London Libraries Development Agency? The London regional board of the MLA? The DCMS? Out to lunch, presumably.
I think the jury needs to keep watching the evidence before it is quite convinced. The figures for 2005-6 show that in Essex book lending declined by 7% in one year. It was, I believe the second worst performance of any county council. (Hampshire was worst!)
It is fine to talk about RFID and lots more reading groups-- but the heart of the matter is whether the general public (even the horrid middle class parts of it) - find the libraries to be truly useful. And as they keep telling us, that depends upon the diversity and quality of the book collections. The lending figure implies that this is not an efficient authority.
Efficiency in the public sector is much more difficult to achieve than in commerce: it requires very clear specification of the service one is trying to deliver. Resources must be stringently applied to achieving the core aims of the service and the results must show that one has. Essex haven't achieved that yet- but they appear well organised, so perhaps they could.
December 10, 2006
Scotland the dumb
The library figures for 2005-6 will be released early in the new year, so I have been looking back through some past years.
I noticed that in 1997, before the Scottish Parliament was invented, there were 33 public libraries in Scotland open more than 60 hours per week (In england and wales there were only 6). By 2004 the number in Scotland had fallen to 4.
Where is Elaine Fulton? Ho Ho; at the Christmas lunch for SCILIP I'm sure.
December 9, 2006
Closing the library in Blyth in Northumberland
Each of these hurts like the execution of a prisoner who has been waiting on death row. Nothing that anyone has said has been able to change the steely resolution of the officials involved. Here is the article in the newspaper
December 8, 2006
More daft remarks
Last week the Councillor in Hertfordshire said that children prefer gameboys to books. This week it's the turn of Yinnon Ezra the head of parks and culture in Jane Austen's Hampshire:
"The traditional role of public libraries in lending fiction books is in terminal decline" says the boss of Hampshire's library service. But the comment by Yinnon Ezra, director of heritage and recreation, has been condemmed by the library charity, Libri.
Mr Ezra claimed libraries needed re-inventing to attract new users and survive in future. Winchester's Jewry street library is currently undergoing a £7m transformation into a discovery centre.
Mr Ezra said "The core business of public libraries, mass lending of fiction, is in terminal decline. "Libraries have to re-invent themselves big time or otherwise wither on the vine". He said that the county's first discovery centre in Gosport was seen by young people as a "cool place to go" and the county council was proud of the way it had been received. He added "They also see it as a place of learning". Library chiefs say growing disposable income and cheaper books means people are buying rather than borrowing books.
But the latest official figures show lending from libraries increased in 11 out of 33 counties in England and Wales last year. While Hampshire was bottom of the league table with an 8.8 per cent decrease in lending, Warwickshire, at the top, saw loans increase by 9.2 per cent.
Traditional library supporters argue Hampshire's performance would improve if less was spent on flagship buildings and more on books. Last year the county spent the least of any local authority in England on books at 97p per person a year, compared with £2.30 per head in Devon. Book lending in Hampshire has plummeted by 41 per cent since 1997 when the county council used to spend £1.75 per person on books, nearly twice the current figure.
Desmond Clarke, Winchester based chairman of Libri, said "If libraries are half empty of books, people are not going to use them - that fundamentally is the issue. "Winchester library has 20 per cent fewer books than five years ago. All the evidence shows reading fiction is more popular than it ever was. And there are lots of people who still can't afford to buy books - the elderly, disadvantaged and children. Nor do people necessarily want to own every book they read. But if we don't invest in libraries and in particular in the book stock, there is inevitably going to be a decline.
"It is Yinnon Ezra - not the public- who is giving up on libraries."
Rachel Masker, HAMPSHIRE CHRONICLE
Mr Ezra has just been appointed to the board of the MLA !!
Madness in Hertfordshire
Here is another sad report of the closure of the libraries of Hertfordshire. Look out, near the end for the comments of the council spokeslady. If you didn't want to cry you'd laugh.
Correspondence with Michael Clarke
One of my recurring themes is the poor state of the public library service in London. London is one the learning centres of the world- people come from everywhere to do courses, gain qualifications, return to the work place and all the other learning activities one could conceive. Often this means studying in cramped bedsits or noisy small houses at any time of night or day, as paid work permits.
The public library service should be fantastic. It should be a resource for all these needs as well as for an incredibly exciting huge international city, with languages and places of origin that are truly a replay of Babel.
Yet, MORI polling shows that only 18% of Londoners find public libraries relevant to their lives and the figure is falling (fast)
So I chip away at the people responsible in any way I can. Michael Clarke, the director of the London Libraries Development Agency is one recipient of my torrent of anxiety, and so I invited him to write a piece for the blog; here it is. I followed it by entering into correspondence with him, which I have included. I hope others will join in the discussion.
LLDA: London Libraries Development Agency
Michael Clarke (Director)-
Change is never easy. The public library was a 19th century invention designed to offer people from poor backgrounds a means of education and self-improvement. It was resisted by some in the political establishment at the time as a waste of money, but developed as a mass service, with universal provision, through the 20th century. Most people (even those who haven't been into one in years) regard a local library as an asset to the community and something that should be there as of right, hence the big protests whenever even the smallest, least used library is perceived as under threat. It's a good thing that people feel passionately about libraries, particularly those avid users and readers of this blog; but we must also address the need for change in an era when in some areas as many as four fifths of those who pay for the service don't actually use it often.
Books are a fundamental part of the business of libraries. And despite all the doom and gloom there are signs of hope. The growth in reading groups supported by libraries; the turnaround in borrowing rates of children's books as a result of sustained and imaginative work by the Reading Agency and children's librarians; and, though it has caused much controversy on your site, the Whitechapel Idea Store has seen use increase by 400% over the previous two libraries it replaced.
But we recognise that libraries now exist in a much more complex and pressurised world than even twenty years ago: people have vastly greater choice of what to do with their non-work time : multi-channel television, computer games, the web and MP3 players among others compete for leisure time and spending money. Thus the notion of the public library service as a buildings based one needs stretching.
If the BBC hadn't diversified into television in the 30s, expanding what it saw as its remit to fit a changing environment, it probably wouldn't be here now, and the way it has ridden the internet wave is a salutory lesson; it's considerably better positioned than poor old ITV which is now running to catch up. The mode of delivery for the BBC also has kept up with technical developments and public expectation so that you no longer have to make an appointment dictated by the Radio Times to enjoy news, drama or documentaries from the BBC but can download them on to a personal device for use at a time that suits you. You could say that over recent times the BBC has moved from a reference to a lending service.
LLDA is a partnership between London's 33 public library services, 40 higher education institutions and over 70 health libraries. We are working to improve access to books and library stocks (eg What's In London's Libraries?), bring libraries to communities currently under-represented among users (Welcome To Your Library) and make it easier for people to join and use libraries (we will be reporting on feasibility for a single membership card for London very shortly). We would welcome ideas, comments, suggestions and are keen to have a debate, and one which engages those who don't currently use library services as well as those who do. I'd be delighted to speak to readers through this blog or direct by phone or email. See www.llda.org.uk for contact details.
TC- In your paragraph about book use you say that "use in Whitechapel is up 400% "etc
Where are the figures to support this? The CIPFA data shows that book use in Tower Hamlets is down over the five years to 2004-5, although visits are up. But visits include a lot of use which is not library use in their case. The figures also show that the cost per visit has risen to £5.20, which is twice the CPA target..
Tower Hamlets appears to have been far from succesful in the Idea Store programme-- and I understand this is why they currently don't plan any more. So I think it's fair to ask you to elaborate on your data.
MC- Tower Hamlets' own visitor figures showed the increase. I accept it's not all good news but feel we should be positive where things are going in the right direction. Get people in through the doors and you've a chance of getting them to read the books
TCIn all my many years of trying to induce and help people to read and enjoy books (which is horribly more than 30 years)-- I have never ever seen a successful attempt made which works on the lines "Get people through the doors (for some other purpose) and you've a chance of getting them to read books". Have you?
All that I have ever seen is that a building that has lots of books on lots of subjects and people will find something that interests them.
If the figures in Tower Hamlets are as good as you say, and I'm sure they mujst be, why don't you and Tower Hamlets let everybody see them in some detail?
MC Re your point about getting people through the door - yes I do know some examples. One for instance is The Gate, in Newham, which was specifically designed to bring a library and council service centre together, which has produced some interesting results. Customers for the service centre may have to wait for around 30 minutes to see a specialist and, because of the design of the building, it's possible for them to read books or magazines and use the computers, opportunities which many take up. Also, in Croydon, parents bringing infants to the Baby Rhymetimes sessions are actively encouraged to borrow books; and a performance event we were involved with in Islington specifically targeted children who weren't avid library users and encouraged them to read more and borrow more.
TCn those three boroughs book lending in public libraries is in decline. In Croydon it looks like a man falling off the white cliffs of Dover.So do you have any figures to support these initiatives? Perhaps if the libraries were in better shape these children who you describe as "not avid library users" would be. My thesis is that library authorities are good if they run good libraries-- that's what they are paid for
Camden Libraries Crisis
Camden is my home borough and I am painfully aware of the council tax. I am also aware of the famous CPLUG- Camden Public Library Users Group who saved several libraries from closure some years ago and continue to campaign.
Alan Templeton has been a key figure both in CPLUG and in LLL (Libraries for life for London) which is also a wonderful group which I have mentioned before (see search)
Alan is asking some very pertinent questions in today's local paper. I hope the new council for whom we voted last May will take his points seriously. He is absolutely right.
December 6, 2006
Update from Dorset
Many thanks to Mike Davies who sends good news from Dorset:
"I live in Charmouth, one of the local libraries under threat in Dorset. I'm pleased to say that Dorset DCC have extended the consultation period until March 2009. Contrary to what your comments imply, the reason the closure programme has not been completed already is because of a significant number of county councillors, who are members of the controlling Tory group, refusing to vote for the proposal as it stands. The Parish Council here in Charmouth are actively pursuing a policy of making better use of the purpose-built modern library building we have. At the moment it is used for just 10 hours per week by the Dorset CC Library Service. We are not done yet. Watch this space!"
December 4, 2006
A lesson from America
Here is a good story.
There is a comment from Martyn to the entry containing Mark Field's speech to the PLA conference. I have brought it up here in the hope that it provokes a discussion:
"Mark Field's analysis is correct except in the inference in his opening paragraph about the workforce being unwilling to accept new practices. Library staff have accepted wide-ranging changes to their working practices, although without the financial compensation that usually accompanies such changes in other industries. In fact the rates of renumeration have failed to keep up with the cost of living (except at senior levels). The real problem is a widespread decline in staff moral and motivation stemming from continual managerial change and "service restructuring" which in some counties is almost continual."
December 3, 2006
Campaigners in Devon are cross about the proposals made by their county council
This is the same story as in Buckinghamshire. The council want the residents to run part of the library service, but they aren't offering any of the money back that they take from residents. Residents pay twice over- and are faced with the responsibilities of running the library, which is a difficult thing to do. The law in this country says that the local council is responsible.
There's no harm in involving local people at all- it's the best way- but the responsibility for providing the service they want has to remain with the council and they be certain they provide what the local people need. That's what they are paid for and obliged to do.
Someone has very kindly sent me the page from the library professional magazine which reports the recent libraries conference.
Apart from calling me an elephant- which I shall ignore, the magazine has one paragraph which caught my eye:
"The Speech by Shadow Minister Mark Field went down badly. It showed little awareness of current practice and led Bob Mckee (the chief executive of the professional body) to call it "an own goal". ...
It doesn't surprise me that Bob Mckee feels it is ok to say things about me when I'm not present, but it does surprise me that he believes it is ok to be so dismissive of the views of the national politicians upon whom the provision of the service depends. I think the public will be surprised, too. It sends out a message that the library profession don't care what politicians think, unless they are about to hand over money. It translates as meaning that the library profession don't care what the general public think-- which is a widely held view-- and that is plain wrong.
There is another article in the same edition which bears the headline "Bob McKee says the library sector does not advocate for itself well enough". I should think members of his organisation might tell him that being respectful of the views of the shadow minister of the party with the most public libraries might be a sensible step on the road to improvement.
I also see Miranda McKearnie saying "We encounter a wave of feeling that those in charge of libraries don't think their future lies with books and reading" and then she wonders why libraries aren't treated sympathetically in the press. Miranda-- that is the reason. Journalists believe that libraries are about books and reading and all the people around you say and clearly believe they aren't: the journalists think that libraries are not in safe hands and it is their job to say so. Don't be surprised. The MLA and David Lammy won't stop the Times from lampooning them until they put some books back on the shelves-- all the press officers in the world are no replacement for a bit of common sense.
There is a quote from David Lammy's speech with which I agree, about libraries being responsive to their local communities. The trouble is that it doesn't happen-- and that is part of his responsibility. As he says, it is not his role to "micro manage" the service--- but it is his duty to make sure the service is good. It says so in the law. I'm sure that the chief executive of Tesco would say it's not his job to micromanage each store, but sure as hell he makes sure that it is done properly. It's in his contract.
Tailors, scissor-men, spinners, needlers and button-holers
It has often been said to me that the public library service at the moment remids them of the story of the "Emperor's new clothes"by Hans Christian Anderson the Danish writer (1805-1875) or Danny Kaye, which ever you prefer ("The King is in his altogether")
However these days the Minister ("We have wonderful libraries; if the people can't see that they are stupid") is so surrounded by layers of officials who only tell him what he wants to know, that the voice of the small boy in the crowd is not being heard at all. He is kept well away from ear shot as he calls out "There are not many books in the libraries"
There are now many parts of the country (and electoral constituencies) in which far more people earn their living from taxation than any enterprise. We pay the spinners, needlers and button holers, even if the suits they tailor have no cloth in them.
December 1, 2006
Newington Reference Library December 6
Dear Library Supporters
There is a Full Council Meeting on Wednesday 6th December at 7pm and the Campaign Group for Newington Reference Library has been granted a Deputation to address Council Members from all parties on the future of the Reference Library in Walworth Road.
We will also be presenting our Petition, which now numbers 1000+ signatures, to the Mayor.
The meeting is open to the public, but there are limited spaces, and there are two other deputations.
The meeting will be held at the Town Hall on Peckham Road.
We recommend you arrive by 6.30pm at the very latest for the best chance of a seat.
We are allowed to speak for 5 minutes and then Councillors will question the deputation.
Please get there early and do feel free to bring banners and placards to demonstrate outside if you like.
Helen O'Brien, Julie Speechley, Khim Ng-Jeeves
Campaign Group for Newington Reference Library
CIPFA figures for 2005-6
The library performance figures for 2005-6 have not yet been published and, if the same timetable as last year is followed, they will emerge in January.
Nevertheless I am so frightened that they are going to be doctored, i thought i should publish the headlines for those that were leaked to me before publication
In the English Counties, which represent about half of the total uk library service, in that year, visits were down by 0.5% and book issues were down by 2.1% .
12 out of 34 counties met the national standard for opening hours (6 years after the standard was set)
If one took the criteria set by last year's select committee that book lending, and visits should be increasing then that was true in 6 counties: Derbyshire, Lecestershire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire.
In addition to those book lending increased in Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Kent, Warwickshire and West Sussex.
Book lending in Warwickshire increased by 10.5%
"Children in Hertfordshire these days would rather play on a gameboy than read a book"
So says the Councillor in Hertfordshire responsible for their public libraries
This report has just come from the campaigners in Hertfordshire who have so desperately tried to save their libraries from closure:
"So the dye is cast.
In spite of a unquestionably successful summer trial in which the two threatened St Albans' libraries met all the targets set them, the move is to close both.
Set against a dismal 2% decline in overall library visits in the county, Fleetville and Cunningham recorded a 42% and 64% increase in visits respectively. The trial cost the taxpayer at least £20K yet it was summarily dismissed in yesterday's HCC Culture Panel meeting as irrelevant. The decision was based on a mistaken view that demand - in a concentrated geographical area - is 'over-provision'. It is simply unacceptable, they argued, to have three libraries so close together.
The savings to be made are small-fry. They will go no way towards transforming the library service for other users. And, once additional hours have been allocated to other libraries to absorb the impact of the closures, the net financial benefit is negligible.
Meanwhile, in spite of dismal year-on-year performance (everywhere except St Albans were visits were up 10%) and four library closures, no redundancies will take place. Indeed no internal operational changes are reported. For someone who has worked in the commercial sector this is staggering. When market conditions were tough and budgets under pressure we would have reined in payroll and targeted central costs to meet the shortfall. We would not have closed a bookshop.
One of the councillors yesterday spoke candidly of these closures as the first of many. 'We have to accept that people do not want to visit libraries', she said. 'Children these days would rather play on their gameboy than read a book'. This is someone entrusted with the future of cultural services in the county.
Plans presented to us to address the worrying decline in library use are unconvincing. New carpets, counters and the odd extra hour in the evening will not reverse the trend. And ironically St Albans is one of the few beacons of hope in the library network. People here really do love their libraries. Yet rather than viewing it as the model to be emulated across the county, it is being condemned as the exception and two of its libraries - including the county's most successful Band 4, Fleetville - are set to close. "
Who are the leaders of the book world?
I ask this question because this message about Bill Gates' work for public libraries keeps coming up. We need his (and his wife's ) equals to champion the role of books.
on the blog in November. At the end of the month we were close to 2,500 hits each week day.
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