Author Archives: Bethan

Read and Shout: part 1

Today’s guest blog comes from Matthew Stead

Organising Read and Shout 2011 was one of the best and worst experiences of my life! Bringing together 10 bands and 300 people in one space to celebrate libraries and protest against the government’s singeing cuts seemed like a relatively simple thing to do when I first had the idea.

So how did it all start? Well, I’ve been a librarian in various forms all my adult life. At 31, that’s not that long an adult life, but it seems it. I love what libraries stand for. That’s the reason I do what I do (no librarian in their right mind would do it for the pay – it’s just not there.) Libraries are magical places. I remember the first time my Mum took me into Tewkesbury Library in Gloucestershire, when I was 6. The smell of the books and wooden shelving was intoxicating, but what really got me was that there were all these amazing books filled with stories and dinosaurs and fairy tales and knights and castles that we could borrow for free. Now I’m older I can see that the magic doesn’t end there – there are the free computers so people can communicate with their distant relatives, there is lifelong learning, courses on citizenship, storytimes and bounce and rhymes, there are evening classes, book groups, places to sit in the warm, friendly faces when the world is all too much, there is community.

And now it seems that this government are intent on destroying this amazing free public library service that has built up over 150 years. I don’t understand it and it makes me angry. Sure, we’ve got to make cuts in this age, but there are some things too precious to destroy. Not only that, but the library service costs relatively little to run compared to other government expenditure. In fact, as a Nation we spend more on chocolate than the cost of running the entire UK library service. There are currently over 500 planned closures across the country and this may rise to thousands over the next three years. Not just that, but the government are hoping to abolish the Act of Parliament that ensures that they provide a comprehensive library service. Library professionals, who offer expert advice, reader development, stock buying and who run sessions such as storytimes and job hunting classes, are being made redundant up and down the country. In Lambeth, the Council’s planned restructure involved the deletion of nearly every Librarian post in the Borough. For a complete picture have a look at Voices for the Library’s closure map:

So there you have it – pretty bleak reading I know. But people are starting to fight back. Save Our Services campaigns have already forced some Councils to rethink library closures. Public anger is building all the time, but we need to spread the message further and wider. That’s how the whole Read and Shout idea came about. I was sat in work at my library wondering how I could use my own skills to start to spread the word about fighting these cuts. I’m in an indiepop band called A Fine Day for Sailing. Most of my friends are musicians in various indiepop bands. People into indiepop music quite often like reading, quite often care about libraries. Indiepop + library campaign = fun way to get publicity. Well, I’m sure it was more complicated than that, but that was the basic thought process I had. We have this lovely hall above our library with a stage and lighting and the idea of an indiepop festival hit me. I knew that if we got enough great bands who really supported the cause, we could drum up a load of publicity for a Save Libraries Campaign. Furthermore, if the 300 people attending learned about what’s happening to the library service up and down the country, they might start campaigning themselves. I know it sounds a bit contrived – indie kids and specs and cardigans, but it worked in my head.

So that was the premise. Next I had to find the bands. I had the dilemma of going for a wide mix of different types of music, or go for a cohesive indiepop line-up. I went for the latter, as I thought it would work better as a concert that way, and because I knew people from that background and needed to get this thing going as soon as possible (most of these library closures are scheduled within this year.) I approached loads of bands (the one’s I loved and the one’s I knew were good and would support us for selfless reasons.) Most were really excited by the opportunity to play and I was inundated by requests. I had the problem of well known bands completely ignoring my every approach and a couple of well known bands (I mention no names – you know who you are!) that were only interested in making money out of the whole thing and doing it on their own terms. This was quite frustrating! Then, one of the artists I approached got back to me to say, yes, he’d like to get involved. This was Jens Lekman. My jaw dropped a bit as I confirmed details with himself and his tour manager. I’m in love with Jens’ music and I know that he has turned down some really great offers to put him on, by some major promoters. What’s more Jens has completely waved his fee for playing Read and Shout. He is a true gentleman and I am so grateful.

Once I’d confirmed the line-up, I got the website up and running and interest amongst fans, musicians and the press started to build immediately. It was all quite overwhelming, but exciting at the same time. I decided to advertise in advance a specific time when tickets would go on sale online, so everyone would have a chance to get them. I had no idea that they would sell out quite so quickly – 40 seconds!! I even had people turning up at the library. Thankfully, I’d kept a small amount of physical tickets aside for them and the local community, so the intrepid fans didn’t go away disappointed. My only regret is that we couldn’t fit more people in. Our returns list was longer than the M25.

After that it was all go; non-stop press, promotion and organising. Thankfully I managed to recruit a team of volunteers to help out on the day. The couple of weeks leading up to the event were stressful to say the least. I had reams of red tape to work through, equipment hire pulling out at the last minute, logistical plans that would give rocket scientists a headache.

Read the rest of this post in part 2

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and their views and opinions are their own.

Living Streets

National charity Living Streets is calling for Government to give communities the power to safeguard essential shops and services, including libraries, within walking distance in order to bring their streets back to life and to ensure that people don’t feel isolated in their own communities.

Research has shown that many people, including some of the most vulnerable struggle to access shops and services on foot, leading to isolation, lack of exercise and neighbourhood decline.  The online research by YouGov, on behalf of Living Streets, has highlighted in stark detail the impact that this can have on individuals. More than a quarter (28%) of all British residents feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who does, because of difficulty accessing basic amenities such as libraries, schools, shops selling fresh food, post offices, banks, GPs and community pubs on foot.

Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Living Streets, said:

“Our local shops and services should be the centre of our communities: bustling, vibrant places that local people can walk to and where they want to spend time.
Unfortunately, we are being hit with a decrease in amenities such as libraries, banks and community pubs and an increase in fast food outlets and betting shops which can cause problems for local people. A massive 81 per cent of British adults think that communities should have a say when the use of a local building is changed. We’re campaigning to give this power back to the people, so communities can ensure that their streets don’t shut out the more vulnerable and are designed with basic amenities within walking distance.”

“By breathing life back into our local and neighbourhoods, we believe that the health of our communities will be better, people will take pride in where they live and fewer people will feel isolated.”

The Government will soon start putting together a National Planning Framework, setting out its planning priorities for England. Living Streets wants the National Planning Framework to recognise the value of walking-friendly neighbourhoods and state that new residential developments should have access to local shops and services within walking distance.

Living Streets is campaigning to make sure neighbourhood shops and services are kept within walking distance and are at the heart of any changes to planning regulations. While the government is undertaking the biggest shake-up of the UK planning system for a generation, Living Streets is campaigning to make sure they understand the need to keep the shops and services we value within walking distance. The campaign invites people to celebrate their neighbourhood hero and to send a sign to government that we want to keep them close, not watch them close. To find out more, visit

News: New sponsor

VftL are very pleased to have a statement of support from our newest sponsor

At Ex Libris we believe in the importance of libraries and librarianship. So when we find an organization that shares this deep belief we certainly want to offer our support.

Ex Libris supplies automation solutions to thousands of libraries all around the globe and we realize that for our company to be successful, libraries must be successful. We take great pride that world-leading academic and research libraries use our products. We see the research and awards (even Nobel prizes in some cases) that come to people affiliated with institutions in our customer base. We like to think these people benefitted by using our products in their libraries as part of their research processes. We also count some public libraries in our customer base, and we realize the very important role these institutions, and the librarians that work in them, serve in building a life-long affiliation and association of libraries with knowledge and learning.

We’re impressed with this initiative and we wish you success.

Carl Grant

Chief Librarian Ex Libris


Twitter: carl_grant


Ex Libris is a leading provider of automation solutions for academic, national, and research libraries. Offering the only comprehensive product suite for electronic, digital, and print materials, Ex Libris provides efficient, user-friendly products that serve the needs of libraries today and will facilitate their transition into the future. Ex Libris maintains an impressive customer base consisting of thousands of sites in more than 75 countries on six continents.

Press release from Save Kent Libraries

Information about the Save Kent Libraries campaign

About Save Kent’s Libraries:

Save Kent Libraries is an online based group that operate from Twitter, Facebook and its very own website at It was founded in February 2011 by James Dixon, a former KCC Libraries employee, who feels very strongly about how closing libraries would affect a wide range of people.
Our Mission is pure and simple; to secure a library service for the people of Kent that is fit for the 21st Century; one that will support the generations to come and not widen the educational gap between rich and poor.

The Big Read – Saturday 5th March 2011
The Big Read is being organised by Save Kent Libraries and will be happening in all of the KCC operated Libraries on Saturday 5th March. We are asking people to go along to their local library for as little as 5 minutes on 5th March and take out 30 books (the maximum) as this will prove to KCC that the libraries are used as they are looking at issue figures to support their closure proposals. This is more significant for the smaller libraries. We need to use our libraries or we will lose them!
I appreciate this is very brief, but we will be putting more info on our website at in the coming days.
Or please feel free to email me at for more information regarding ‘The Big Read’ and ‘Save Kent Libraries’.

For newspapers and news station:
On Thursday we will make a decision where we will be sending the SKL team on Saturday, so if you would like to know what library we will be using as our ‘main’ vocal location please could you send this in a request to as we will be giving this information out in the strictest confidence.
We are looking for companies/news stations and individual presenters to support us by allowing us to mention their support on the homepage of our website and on our flyers, if you would allow to us doing this please again send your details to and we will arrange this for you!
James Dixon – Founder, Save Kent Libraries.

News – Facebook group: A Design For Life – Save our libraries

Jim Sells from the Literacy Trust tells us about his new campaign

Hello chums

Lots of you are authors, librarians or generally in the ‘we love reading game’, so I hope you’ll like this and be pleased that I’ve emailed you, even if you haven’t heard from me in a while! I’ve set up a facebook group to help save libraries. It’s called A Design For Life – Save our libraries.

So what’s the group going to do? I’ve half inched the idea of getting Rage Against The Machine to Number One to stick it to the XFactor man, and, following Nicky Wire’s excellent article in The Guardian in support of libraries, decided that we should all try to get their A Design for Life song (opening line, “Libraries gave us power”, I know you knew that) to Number One.

I’ve contacted the band’s management and they are putting it to the band, so let’s hope we get their direct support. And maybe some cheeky money for charity too, something which will help to keep libraries around for generations.

So what should you do?
1. For starters, like the facebook page and tell everyone you know to like it too.
2. You can also join the facebook group
3. At a given point, buy the single. We need to coordinate this and choose a date; I’m thinking Easter, please post your thoughts.

I’ve even made a personal sacrifice: I’ve got a Twitter account! So look out for me on that, where I’ll keep pointing to pertinent articles and things we can do. If you can bear to follow me, please do.

So look out for updates on the page, persuade all your friends to like and join, and keep adding comments yourselves too. If you like me, you can even ask to be my facebook friend. But above all buy the song, when prompted, spread the word and let’s make this happen.

Keep it turned up to 11 mates,

Rock on. And, erm, read on too.


‘You can’t cuddle up with a Kindle’ – Neal Zetter

Poet Neil Zetter has kindly given permission for VftL to publish this poem about his relationship with books – and why he won’t be replacing his book collection with a Kindle

You can’t cuddle up with a Kindle
Like you can cuddle up with a good book
Though it’s high tech and smart
A book is pure art
For all it’s microchip technology
And wireless connectivity
A Kindle is just IT
That can’t replace your paper friend with a heart
You can’t cuddle up with a Kindle

I’m not a Luddite
I willingly embrace the megabyte
But do we really want our bookshops and libraries to disappear from sight
And vanish like the vinyl LP
Left for dead by the MP3
With album covers we gazed at like lovers now history?
Don’t give me plugs, wires and re-chargeable batteries
You can’t cuddle up with a Kindle

A book has
Its own face
A spine
Genuine personality
When you first meet you whiff its wonderful ink
Then hold it tenderly and flick through each page
You display it on the shelf once you’ve read it
And watch it gracefully grow old as its leaves go gold with age
While an e-book just lies lazily on a hard drive
Flat, two-dimensional and never alive
Will our magazines, newspapers, comics and dictionaries survive
While this Kindle continues to thrive?
You can’t cuddle up with a Kindle

Books can carry dedications, inscriptions, indelible memories, e.g.
`To Laura, happy birthday, love Mum and Dad, 2003′
To stay with you forever and ever
And when you’re reading your novel on the train or tube
It’s so cool to be seen together
Then everyone knows that you’ve got taste
And are not just another member of the Kindle clone race
Cuddle a Kindle in public you might get mugged
But you won’t get attacked for the book that you hug
Say it proud
Say it loud
Cause you can’t cuddle up with a Kindle

News – call for papers for ‘libraries under threat’ conference

Readers may be interested in the following call for papers:

CALL FOR PAPERS- Libraries under threat. Library and Information History Group One day conference 24th May 2011 at University College London

Submissions are invited for 20 minute and 40 minute presentations on the theme ‘Libraries under threat’. The theme may be taken either as historic libraries, buildings, or collections currently facing challenges, or indeed libraries in history which have faced threats – anything from the destruction of the ancient library at Alexandria to the fate of libraries during the Iraq war.

If you wish to put forward a paper for the conference, please send title and abstract of no more than 150 words, indicating whether you are proposing a 20 minute or 40 minute presentation, to Kathryn McKee, Chair of the LIHG by 28 February. Suitable papers may also be considered for publication in the Group’s journal ‘Library and information history’ or in shortened form in the Group’s newsletter.

‘Boris, you’re plain wrong, public libraries are a statutory service’ – an open letter from CILIP CEO Annie Mauger

We are pleased to share this open letter from CILIP CEO Annie Mauger to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

An open letter to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Dear Boris

As a well-educated man who enjoys delivering a well-crafted phrase I know you understand how a love of reading and learning can transform someone’s life. It is clear, however, that you do not understand that public libraries are a statutory service and, greatly to their credit, it was a Conservative government that made them so.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph you said:

“…there is no statutory obligation to provide a library service, but there is plenty of ill-thought-out legislation about equalities and heaven knows what, emanating from Westminster, imposed from Whitehall and slavishly obeyed by local authorities. Councils are not obliged to have libraries…”

Sorry Boris, but this is just plain wrong. Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964) local authorities are required by statute to provide a public library service which is comprehensive and efficient, and available to all who wish to use it.

Public libraries make a huge contribution to society; children that use public libraries are twice as likely to be above average readers; they help the 5.2 million adults who struggle with reading and writing; they are a lifeline to so many older people; and are at the heart of many communities.

At a time when many local authorities are making cuts to library services, going around saying authorities do not have a statutory obligation to provide public libraries when they do is breathtakingly irresponsible.

I am happy to meet you and talk about how we can best support our libraries through tough economic times. You can find out what makes a good library service at

Yours sincerely

Annie Mauger
Chief Executive
The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals

‘Communities deserve and have the right to the best information services possible’ – guest blog

Today’s guest blog comes from Sally Hughes

When applying for any Librarianship or Information/Knowledge Management postgraduate course, it is generally required that the applicant possesses at least one years experience in the profession. When applying for my MA Librarianship at The University of Sheffield I had very little, all I managed to achieve was around 4 months in total by volunteering at three different libraries, two public and one hospital staff library. However, I was accepted onto the course and still think it was the best thing I have ever done.

Throughout my postgraduate course I applied for a few librarian posts but with no success yet remained optimistic that upon completing the course I would find a job relatively soon after. After two months of what seemed like endless job searching when the course came to an end I felt extremely disheartened, not to mention worried that I would not be able to find a librarian job in the coming months, I was seriously considering my options. I received an email at the end of October from the Social Sciences Dept. at Sheffield University asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering in the library at The National Coal Mining Museum for England, I immediately took up the offer and starting working there at the beginning of November last year. The Coal Mining Museum’s library is small and very specialist (given the nature of the museum) but there is still a lot to be done, and I have been given some excellent and invaluable advice from the experienced librarians employed there. I have been taught how to properly catalogue specialist stock and have been given my own mini project weeding and cataloging the small staff library stock. However, I would not be learning any of these valuable practical skills without the qualified librarians to guide and mentor me.

I am a volunteer because I need the experience, pure and simple. It is most likely that I am struggling to get a job because of my lack of on the job experience and large volumes of people applying for posts along with the recession and other depressing factors. Therefore to save me from pulling my hair out with boredom and to combat frustration over numerous applications I’m attempting to expand on my knowledge and skills practically for me, for my professional future. But, I need those professional, paid librarians to help me out with this. I am lucky that in my volunteer job I am allowed to do a lot of interesting tasks that most library volunteers wouldn’t get to try out such as detailed cataloguing, I have been told that my employers trust me to do this over other volunteers (of whom there are several, I am the only one with a library qualification) however they still check and correct any mistakes I make, everything I do is looked over and I’m given feedback on my work. There is such a large volume of back room work to be done in a specialist library and I really feel valued, it’s clear that my help is appreciated, I think some volunteers feel they are being exploited or their work goes unappreciated. I recently asked the librarians at the museum along with the head of volunteer recruitment how they felt about volunteers in libraries, along with their opinions on the prospect of volunteers running public libraries. It was stated that volunteers at the museum were recruited to encourage community participation (from both the mining and local community) and to help the librarians out with the huge amount of work they have in their ever growing collection. The librarian’s opinions on volunteers running public libraries however was not positive, one calling the closing of public libraries ‘wicked.’ The employees I spoke to at the museum library all agreed that whilst volunteers are sometimes a necessity, it is an unrealistic idea that libraries can be run by volunteers because of the knowledge, skills and specialist training required for such a job which is being blatantly overlooked by the government and local councils.

It is proposed in the government’s ‘big society’ plans that public libraries, small, branch and rural in particular, be run by their communities voluntarily. Personally I know very few (if any) people who have the free time and would be willing to do this, certainly not forever, not even for the foreseeable future. How exactly can volunteers with no library experience or continual training and guidance be expected to manage and make financial decisions for a library, let alone offer the huge range of support that qualified and trained librarians can? This is not an attack against people willing to volunteer for their public library, absolutely not, it is an expression of hurt and concern for the users of public libraries and the excellent librarians that run them. I am a volunteer, albeit an appropriately qualified one, but if the librarians left, I wouldn’t know where to start they are paid for a reason they know what they are doing. Librarians are so important to our libraries not only because they can catalogue, select appropriate stock and give advice on books, they can offer help using the internet, finding reliable health, employment and local government information, they organise reading groups, even bibliotherapy and reminiscence sessions and support life long learning and literacy skills all in a non-judgmental and neutral environment. Imagine going to the library to quietly look up the symptoms of depression only to find that the lady from a few doors down is there to check out your books, for most this would be off putting.

Whenever anyone I know has asked why exactly libraries can’t be run by volunteers because ‘it’s an easy job’, ‘it’s just stamping books’ I simply say, can you imagine if you lost your job and were replaced by a volunteer, a volunteer floor manager, a volunteer chef, a volunteer banker (imagine that!), of course there are wonderful success stories of volunteer run companies, charities and libraries but one can see the point I’m driving at; we all train hard, get well educated and put a lot of time and money into our careers and librarianship is certainly no exception. Communities deserve and have the right to the best information services possible and this should without a doubt be provided by local councils employing experienced, skilled and qualified library staff. This is not all about money, it’s also about principle and loyalty to the profession which hopefully is coming through with the masses of library campaigns, read-ins and the media coverage libraries have been receiving of late. Librarians, authors and community members would not be creating such an impact if losing library staff was deemed okay, it’s not okay; it’s insulting to librarians and will be ultimately detrimental to communities.

Volunteering is good for me; it’s helping me to progress into something better, hopefully into a job that will be rewarding and I can utilize the skills and knowledge I’ve gained. However, if my local library were to close I don’t think I would be the first person at the doors to be a new unpaid employee because without the guidance of the professionals it wouldn’t be half of what it was.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

‘Libraries are surely the ultimate community enabler’ – Miranda McKearney

VftL are pleased to share this speech, given today (Thursday 10 Feb) by Miranda McKearney OBE, director of The Reading Agency, the independent charity working to inspire more people to read more.   The speech is to be given at an RSA/ Arts Council England “State of the Arts” conference.

Reading Agency speech at Arts Council England/RSA conference

Miranda McKearney OBE

Director – The Reading Agency: 10 February 2011

My area is libraries, reading and people power, so it’s good to be here at the important point when libraries are about to move to the Arts Council when MLA shuts. Libraries and reading are often missed out of the picture when talking about the arts. Weird, because reading is our biggest participative art form and just think about what happens when you read – you’re instantly plunged into a deep and intimate connection with the writer; your imagination fuses with theirs to create new worlds and understanding.

So…if reading’s part of the arts that must apply to libraries too. Libraries are the way society ensures we can all access the personal power that comes when you’re a reader. Reading isn’t just a nice thing, it’s essential to being part of society. It’s an art form that needs to reach everyone.  But it doesn’t – one in six adults struggle with low literacy skills and libraries are key to tackling this. Libraries are surely the ultimate community enabler, a potent symbol of collective power and civic pride.  It would be hard to think of a more important part of our cultural fabric to an agenda that’s about community power and action, an agenda which of course predates the Big Society.

Libraries are changing. The way they support reading has become far more social and dynamic –everything from reading groups to whole city read ins. This creates an exciting  new creative platform for volunteering. Libraries lead one of the UK’s most important cultural opportunities for children – the Summer Reading Challenge which involves 760,000 4-12 year olds,  and makes a big impact on their enjoyment of reading and literacy attainment. This is starting to be supported by a brilliant volunteering programme with young people helping children get through the Challenge. Their input offers an important mixed economy model – it’s community involvement that adds capacity to, but doesn’t – and shouldn’t – replace, a professionally run library service.

As a charity specialising in helping libraries spread reading, we’re involved in lots of work to transform services by sharing power with users. In April we start work with Big Lottery funding in 20 disadvantaged communities from Sunderland to Hounslow. Our My Voice programme immerses young people in creative reading, drawing them in through artists like Akala of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company. At the same time it involves them in making decisions about library services, taking on accredited volunteering roles and spending budgets.  They become activists and service shapers. Our experience is that they want and need support from library staff. As do most volunteers, so even though we’re huge champions of community power I am dubious about the likely long term success of libraries in disadvantaged areas being run wholly by volunteers.

Last year volunteering through libraries rose by 8%.  If we play it right, we’re at a stage of development where we could see a whole new wave of public involvement through joined up arts/library/reading work. But there’s also the terrifying possibility that we’re about to blow it, that we leave a library network unable to act. It’s more than the buildings, the library development staff are hugely at risk. Without their expertise, there can be no outreach, no informed support as people explore the world’s ideas, no reading activities to act as an inspiring springboard for volunteering.

There’s an urgent need for some joined up thinking. If we’re serious about creating more community activism, we surely have to be serious about having a dynamic library role at the heart of our communities. So I’ll finish with a call to the arts world  – please embrace libraries at this crucial time, and include reading and libraries every time you’re arguing for the value of the arts. Please use your fantastic lobbying skills on behalf of libraries, and at The Reading Agency we’ll do all we can to support you.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.