Tag Archives: services

Lobby for libraries over literacy timebomb (13th March)

UNISON, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign, Campaign for the Book and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have today announced they will hold a joint lobby of Parliament calling on politicians to protect vital library services.

During the lobby, on 13 March, the campaigning group will highlight the importance of libraries in providing access to learning and as a vital lifeline for many communities.

The lobby will take place at:

Tuesday 13 March
Central Hall

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:

“Cutting libraries is not an easy solution for councils to save cash – it is a literacy time bomb for deprived communities.

“Community groups are being held to ransom by Government plans to force them to take over the running of services, or lose them. These groups don’t have the time, skills and resources to take over the jobs of experienced library staff.

“A shocking 30,000 children are leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or below and libraries are a vital lifeline for community groups. We need a national vision of a modern library service, as an investment in the future generation.”

Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI said:

“The NFWI is delighted to support the lobby of parliament. A threat to local library services is a threat to a community’s education and as champions of libraries for the past 96 years, WI members are gravely concerned that so many local authorities are riding roughshod over educational resources while the Government watches in silence. It is simply not good enough to assume that volunteers will step in to continue providing services previously supplied by professionals; the Government cannot rely on community-minded individuals to step into the breach to bridge the gaps, and the loss of professional expertise is irreplaceable.

“Local libraries are a fundamental information and education resource. Whilst in their essence, libraries facilitate access to books and resources, they play a much wider role in promoting shared knowledge and equality of opportunity, facilitating community cohesion, and enabling life-long learning and literacy from cradle to grave.”

Abby Barker, from Voices for the Library, said:

“Voices for the Library are urging anyone concerned for the future of the library service in the UK to get involved on March 13th. This is your chance to tell your MP how vital your local library service is, and to ask them to call the Secretary of State to task over his noticeable lack of involvement. The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act very clearly puts public libraries under the superintendence of the Secretary of State, however, Jeremy Hunt has yet to intervene on any level, even in the most extreme cases.”

Andrew Coburn, Secretary of The Library Campaign, said:

“Public libraries still have a wide-ranging role in encouraging literacy and education as well as providing literature for leisure and information. MPs need to know what a real 21st century library service can provide – so that they can join the thousands who are trying to prevent their branches being closed and services mutilated.”

Alan Gibbons, Author and Organiser of Campaign for the Book said:

“A reading child is a successful child. The National Literary Trust has found that a child who goes to a library is twice as likely to read well as one who doesn’t.  The UK currently stands at 25th in the PISA International Reading ranking.  Libraries are vital to improving this position.  We have to fight for the defence and extension of public library services.”

Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP said:

“The professional skills and expertise of library staff are core to providing the public with a quality library service. Volunteers should supplement and enrich a professionally led service, not replace the knowledge and skills of staff. We are concerned that public library services in England are being damaged; the impact will be felt now and in the long term. We urge the Secretary of State to use his powers of intervention where there is clear evidence that the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) has been potentially breached. It is wrong to view public libraries solely as a cost; by providing opportunities for learning and literacy development libraries are an investment in communities, families and individuals.”

You can follow the lobby on Twitter  using the #librarieslobby hashtag.

Comment on Arts Council England “Culture, knowledge and understanding” report

The Arts Council England (A.C.E.) recently published “Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone“, which is its first major publication covering libraries since it was announced that A.C.E. would take over the responsibility for them from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council.
It explains what the Arts Council considers as important and what they are planning to do. It starts with a summary of the situation, including this paragraph which rebuts the arguments of people who say libraries are naturally declining, stagnating or middle class:

“Although public libraries have seen a decrease in the numbers of people borrowing books, evidence shows that where there has been strategic investment – such as in promoting children’s reading – visits rise. And patterns of use are changing, with a significant increase in users accessing services digitally. Libraries have innovated in response, offering enhanced digital provision and actively promoting libraries as local social spaces which can draw in and support new users. Unlike museums or the arts, differences in people’s socio-economic status do not affect their likelihood of using a library; neither does illness or having a disability.” (p.9/10)

The Council makes very clear that they do not have large amounts of money.  In fact, they have far less than the old MLA and so are keen on things which save money while still continuing the service:

 “The Arts Council is keen to see museums and libraries continuing to innovate in their approaches to engaging with communities and making more effective use of volunteers; we are keen to see them working together to achieve this” (p.11)

This above quote shows, and it is a recurring theme in the document, the importance of Museums, Arts and Libraries in working together and learning from each other in order to spread good ideas and make the most of less money.  Similarly, the Arts Council is not against outsourcing, be it private or through trusts.  They especially like the idea of philanthropy:

“Museums and libraries similarly need to strengthen their business models, diversify their income streams and look at new ways of encouraging private giving and supporting enterprise. Likewise, they need to continue to explore new ways of collaborating and improving efficiency in order to thrive
not just survive.” (p.12)

The document lists five aims.  These are listed in colourful management-speak and would be relatively meaningless to show here in their original form.  However, a rough translation of the aims is:
  1. Funding new initiatives that show original thinking, especially if they will save money
  2. To get more people to use libraries
  3. To find ways of surviving with less council money
  4. A lessening in the dominance of white middle class staff
  5. Encourage more children in

The Council is keen on advocacy work for libraries and working with the Local Government Group, Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals “to develop clear messages about the public value libraries can provide and a shared vision for the library service in 10 years’ time.”.  It is perhaps at least good to see that the Council thinks libraries will still be here in 2021.

Other key points raised in the report were:
  • Libraries are at the heart of the community and are not just “nice to have”.
  • They are innovative.
  • The quality of services they provide is important.
  • They need to be invested in.
  • Communities want to be involved in the development of library services they receive.
  • Libraries help create empowered citizens and this ability to empower should be expanded right across the broader arts sector.
  • Digital access to information is important, but A.C.E. also recognises that not everything is accessible digitally/online and not everyone wants to, or can access services in this way.
  • Rural services may be able to benefit from collaboration across the arts sector.
  • Libraries have a broader impact on our wider life experiences.
  • A.C.E. recognises the educational, knowledge and informative roles libraries have, as much as their arts/cultural role.
  • Advocacy is essential at all levels of the profession.
  • Relationships and partnerships between libraries and all sectors need to be developed.

It’s encouraging to see that the report is so positive about the role/services libraries can and do provide and how they are developing to meet users needs. The acknowledgement that libraries provide opportunities for citizens that other arts sector areas don’t, but can take advantage of in the future, is important, as it demonstrates that libraries do have a uniqueness and this is partly why they have a key role to play in the future. However, how does the steady increase of removing professional staff from libraries and replacing them with volunteers tie in with A.C.E.’s acknowledgement of the importance of providing quality services?

It’s important that the report also goes some way to allaying fears that the Arts Council may have placed its focus on the cultural/arts aspects of libraries at the expense of education and knowledge, etc.

As indicated earlier in this post, the Arts Council does have a 10 year plan, but for this year, the main activity, appears to be simply to continue with the Future Libraries Programme with guidance from the Local Government Group, which may cause some worries amongst those who do not highly regard it. There are certain aspects of this programme that aren’t necessarily seen as successful by local communities or the library profession, especially when they involve reductions in service.

It is worth noting that you can email your views as to what you think is important for the Arts Council to consider to museums.libraries@artscouncil.org.uk.  Get emailing.

Kate Mosse Opens New Portsmouth Library

International bestselling author Kate Mosse officially opened Portsmouth’s new library today (29 July 2011).

Mosse said: “It’s a great pleasure to open this wonderful new library. Libraries are treasure troves of knowledge, of books, where a love of reading can take root and flourish.

“They belong at the heart of the high street and in a time when the principle of free and fair access to books is under threat in so many parts of the country, this is a wonderful and important statement of how important books are to Southsea and the wider community.”

At a time when many libraries are under the threat of closure, Portsmouth is one of the few councils in the UK to open a new library.

What was once the old Woolworths store on Palmerston Road in Southsea has been transformed into a library, café and customer service centre providing advice and information on a wide range of council services.

With its striking interior, designed by local firm RBA, the building is everything residents can expect from a modern library. This includes thousands of books for adults and young people, free computer and internet access, an IT learning zone, community space for local groups and lots more.

The customer service centre will give residents access to information and advice on a wide range of council services, all under one roof. These include council tax, planning and even waste management.

The cafe will serve a range of coffees served by professionally trained baristas, handmade cakes and even a Woolworths themed pick and mix box for children.

Cllr Lee Hunt, member for culture, leisure and sport said: “At a time when many other councils are having to close libraries, here in Portsmouth we are investing in our library service.”

“The new library is more than just a collection of books. It’s an exciting environment to explore and discover, engage with the council or even just enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of tasty cake.

“I am sure it will become a vibrant, dynamic focal point for the local community.”

Southsea Library

The following messages of support were received from authors, illustrators and celebrities.

John Banville
I send heartfelt congratulations to Portsmouth City Council on its decision to open a new library at Southsea. The library is one of the greatest human inventions, and our libraries must be protected and nourished even in times of financial stress, when they are most needed.

Guy Bass
Ah, Portsmouth ‘n’ Southsea! My home from home, my happy place. Well fought, well earned, well deserved. You felt the wind on your back and cried, in bold defiance, “Eat my new library, so-called financial uncertainty! You’re not the boss of me!” May others follow in your footsteps – and may we all bite our thumbs at those blinkered, lazy duffers-in-power who don’t like libraries ’cause they’ve never bothered to stick their heads through the door and realise there are LOADS OF FREE BOOKS in there. Farewell, Woolworths. Long live Southsea Library!

Alan Bennett
I’m afraid I can’t come to the opening of the new library at Southsea but I send you all my good wishes – and I rejoice that it is an opening and not a closing down! Hurray for the readers – whatever they’re reading! Hurray for the librarians who watch over them! ‘He always has his nose in a book’ people used to say. Thank goodness!

Bill Bryson
I am delighted that Southsea is getting a new library.  The world cannot have too many libraries.

Bernard Cornwell
It’s wonderful that Portsmouth City Council is opening the new library!  Libraries are the most exciting places on the planet – they can lead you to the past, explore the present, suggest the future and take you all across the universe!  Enjoy the new library!

Neil Gaiman
When I was three we lived in Waterlooville, and my grandparents lived in Southsea. I remember the excitement of weekly library visits, the thrill of each new book I’d be allowed to bring home. It gave me a love of books and of learning and of libraries that has continued to this day. I worry that all across the UK libraries are being short-sightedly closed to help balance the books by people who haven’t realised that a library is an investment in the future. I’m delighted that Portsmouth and Southsea are bucking the trend, for us, for our children and for their children.

Tess Gerritsen
Congratulations on your new library!  When I was a child, it was in the local library where I discovered the books that would make me the writer I am today. The library was the whole world under one roof. How lucky I was to have one in my neighbourhood — and what a shame that so many children today aren’t as fortunate. So here’s joyful applause from my side of the pond for your opening. May many generations of readers – and writers – find inspiration within your walls!

Ann Granger
What wonderful news that a new library is opening its doors in Portsmouth shortly. All concerned are to be congratulated on bucking the trend and having faith in books.

North End library (in its previous location) played a big role in my childhood in the city. I haunted its nooks and crannies. The number of books that could be taken out on one ticket was strictly limited in those days. When I had worked my way through the junior shelves, I begged my mother’s ticket of her, and took out extra books on that from the adult section. I always felt, among the volumes, that I was among friends, some I already knew, some sitting there waiting to meet me, and, as with the best friendships, many of those books have remained my friends for life.

Good luck with the new library in every way.

Lilian Harry
What good news to hear that Southsea is opening a brand-new public library. This is incontrovertible proof that libraries are needed and appreciated, no matter where they are, and must surely give heart to all those who are trying so hard to keep their own libraries open. An event that is important, not only to Southsea but to the whole country, and I hope it will not go unrecognised. Hurrah for Southsea!

P.D. James
In these difficult times it is particularly heartening to hear that a local authority proposes to open a new library and I heartily congratulate Portsmouth City Council on the library to be opened in Southsea. When I was a child in Cambridge it was the public library that provided me with most of my reading experience, and I wish this new library every success with local readers of all ages.

Annabel Karmel
I am thrilled to hear about the opening of the Southsea library. The library is such an important place for parents, a place for them to come and get information and support, but also a brilliant place to bring children and introduce them into the magical world of books.

Peter Kay
Well done!

Andy McNab
Fantastic to hear that a new library is opening in Portsmouth. I can’t think of a better way to escape the gloom of the recession than getting lost in a good book. Preferably one of mine!

Michelle Magorian
I was recently standing on a stage in a very large tent in front of 1500 people at the Hay Festival and mentioned a book in the question and answer session that had made an impression on me as a child.

The reason I came to read it was because a young librarian at the Elm Grove Branch library in Southsea encouraged me to broaden my reading. (I was fixated on Enid Blyton and couldn’t find anything I hadn’t read by her.) He had obviously spotted me searching fruitlessly and came over to see if he could help me. He recommended Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. He had obviously spotted that I was a tomboy. It took me a while to get into the slower pace of Arthur Ransome but it not only led me to his other books but it also led me to camping. If I hadn’t read that book I would not, later in life, slept on Mount Snowden in the snow, walked with two other students in the Scottish mountains and lived under canvas in a grapefruit orchard in Israel while helping out on a chicken farm and acting in a television studio in Tel Aviv.

I loved that little library. It was a warm quiet friendly place. I can’t begin to tell you what I owe to the Southsea Library. I hope that the new library will have some of the warmth of the Elm Grove one and that there will be friendly librarians with a wealth of knowledge as well as computers.

I often wonder who that librarian was and if he is still alive. If it hadn’t been for him, I probably wouldn’t have been giving a talk in the big tent in Hay!”

Yann Martel
A new library in 2011 in the UK! That is indeed cause for celebration. In times of turmoil and uncertainty, what better refuge than a place where one can read, meet, talk, think, rethink, explore, imagine, renew? These are essential activities in any dynamic society and they are best fostered by open civic institutions such as public libraries. I congratulate Portsmouth City Council on this wise investment in its own people.

Tom Palmer
I think it’s great that you are opening a library in Southsea. I’ve worked in schools around that part of town and I know there is a huge appetite for books. It’s great to see the Portsmouth City Council giving the people what they want. I also think it’s great that the library is being run by the librarians of Portsmouth, who are among the very best librarians in the country.

Jodi Picoult
It is always a joy to see reading being celebrated, instead of being threatened. Best wishes to the new Southsea Library; may you provide years of reading pleasure.

DBC Pierre
Portsmouth is moving forward against the stream, it’s fantastic to hear; and you’ve divined that libraries are much more than mere collections of books. In times when all focus is on economic supply and demand it’s heartening to know that at least one council remembers what makes a community – a heart, mind and soul, somewhere to truly sit among giants and gain perspective. All congratulations to you, and many thanks.

Ruth Rendell
I was delighted to hear that Portsmouth is opening a new library. That is such heartening news in these discouraging times when some county councils are reducing their library numbers by half or more. I am sure Portsmouth will find it has done absolutely the right thing and it will be enormously appreciated by those who rely on their public library for their reading matter. A new library with enthusiastic readers won’t need an accolade from me but still it’s a pleasure to give it. I wish the library every success.

Salman Rushdie
“The opening of this library is terrific news. Many congratulations.”

Nick Sharratt
In this period of shortsighted and hugely damaging forced library closures huge congratulations are due to Portsmouth City Council on the opening of the Southsea library, with all the fantastic benefits it will bring to the local community.

Francesca Simon
It’s always wonderful to hear about a library opening. Libraries are at the heart of any civilized and humane society, and the centre of community life. Everyone, and especially children, deserves free and informed access to books – well done to Portsmouth and congratulations.

Delia Smith
I want to wish you all the best for the new library. Hope you all have a splendid day and issue large numbers of new library cards.

Andy Stanton
Many congratulations on the opening of Southsea library. See you in there sometime, in paper form at least!

Ian Whybrow
Played. Portsmouth!

Here’s a boost for Pompey Pride:
One moment, Woolworths crashes
Next thing – up pops a library –
A phoenix from the ashes!

Three Raaaahs for positive thinking!
And Little Wolf says Arrroooo!
Harry and the Dees love libraries
And that goes for me, too!

Jacqueline Wilson
I’m so thrilled that Southsea is having a splendid new library – especially when so many existing libraries are being closed down. I think libraries are the most important buildings in any community, a source of immense pleasure and learning. Books are always a joyful diversion, a magical way of enriching your life and increasing your knowledge, and a failsafe way of beating boredom. I know that this library will be a warm and welcoming haven and will be excellently and efficiently organised. I hope you all enjoy using it – and the next time I’m near Southsea I shall come and see it for myself.

For more information call 023 9268 8999 or visit www.portsmouth.gov.uk/learning/libraries.html

What is a library?

VftL are delighted to present a guest post by C. Horne.

What is a library?  Do you see a municipal red brick building, slightly tatty, maybe a bit unloved, possibly could do with a bit of attention?  When you walk in is the inside rimmed round with shelves all of which are crammed full of battered plastic covered books?  A few computers on some slightly dingy desks in the reference area, looking slightly out of place.  Behind the counter, a member of staff is dealing with a query about an overdue book.

All this is superficial – you aren’t seeing the real library.  Look deeper.

Over in the children’s library are some pushchairs crammed against the wall, their occupants balancing on their parents’ laps – slightly precariously in some cases – ready for the library’s ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ session.  The library assistant is perched in front of them, leading a group sing along to ‘Wind the Bobbin up’.  She has probably done this every week for months, but loves watching the look on the babies faces.  Recently they have been incorporating baby sign language with the bounce and rhyme which has proved to be very successful.

In the reference section a middle aged gentleman is seated at a computer.  He has headphones on and the fingers on his left hand trace over an embossed piece of paper.  The keyboard that his right hand is typing on has brightly coloured plastic keys and he hunts and pecks for the right letters.  It takes a little while, and he often pauses in between periods of typing.  Getting closer a faint voice is audible from the headphones.  It isn’t an audiobook that he is listening to with such concentration, but a screenreader which is enabling him to use the computer.  Under the desk his guide dog shifts position slightly.

A poster on the wall of the library advertises the Young Adult Reading Group which meets on the first Monday of the month.  This month’s book is a title about the different influences on a group of fourteen year old’s lives and how they deal with them – school, family, gangs, friends, drugs, bullies, church..  The author of the book has been invited to come to the library and discuss her book and the poster now bears a large red banner headline – FULL!  The library is planning to start a second YA group.  When the group meets, there will be an assortment of teenagers of all shapes and sizes eager to discuss their interpretation of the hero – or maybe the antihero – of the book, and his influence on the other characters, with the author, to see what she had in mind when she created him.

Another poster with a large image of a book, advertises a reading group with a different theme.  This reading group reads texts with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender theme and meets every fourth Friday of the month.  It is a very popular group and they have a list of titles on their reading list that they plan to read over the next year.  The library is introducing two more books groups from next month due to popular demand – a biography group (which has already had special requests not to read any that are ghost written or by people under thirty – which may limit the market) and a science fiction group.

Of course the library also has the standard book group – which is – as they oddly tend to be – female dominated, reading books that vary from Barbara Kingsolver to Lionel Shriver, Herman Melville to Haruki Murakami.  They sit in a circle, discussing their latest read, what they thought of it, who their favourite characters were, whether the ending was good, bad or indifferent, too abrupt or too drawn out.  Everyone has their own opinion and they aren’t afraid to voice them.  Every year the members of this library’s book group will read a title from the Orange Prize List.  They will discuss their title with other library book groups who have done the same and vote on who should win the Orange Prize.  Sadly their votes have no power over the Orange Prize judges but occasionally – very occasionally – they are right.

The faint murmur coming from the other end of the library shows that it is storytime.  The bounce and rhyme session has ended but the children have settled in to hear the story.  More children join them as it is the school holidays and there is nothing better to do.  It is dry in the library and raining outside, despite the fact that it is meant to be summer.

On the walls of the children’s library are clowns, trapeze artists, elephants, lions –  all types of characters advertising the Circus Stars summer reading challenge.  Children only need to read six or more books and get rewards and incentives if they do so.  Drawings by children and comments about the challenge cover the walls.

In the corner of the children’s library is an area designated ‘Homework’.  This is where the Homework Group meets one evening a week.  As it is the summer holidays, the area is deserted, the PC is unused and the books are neatly displayed on the shelves.  It won’t look like this nearer the end of the holiday when the children start panicking and want assistance to get that essay done for tomorrow…

A lone PC has a banner headline stating that it is only for the use of people looking for community information or the library catalogue.  An elderly woman wanders over to it and sits down, looking rather unsure.  The library assistant nearby walks over and asks if she needs help.  Five minutes later the woman leaves with a page of evening classes for internet use for beginners – helping silver surfers to get online.  A student sits down almost immediately and starts looking for a reference book for their coursework.

Back by the door of the library are more posters advertising community events, dances, homework groups, author visits, book groups…

This is your library

All human life is here.

Day or Night, UK Public Libraries Have Answers – guest blog from the Enquire service

Vftl are pleased to share some great information about the Enquire service.

Day or Night, UK Public Libraries Have Answers

… and you can get them now!

Want to know about something exceptional?


Day or night, public libraries have the answers.  Enquire is a cooperative public library service providing information and reference to all via the web or smartphone 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and it is free to any user. This is what collaboration across public service departments can offer citizens – libraries have been doing it for decades.   Trying to find out which game in medieval Scotland consisted of tobogganing on an ox skull? Or looking for a special childhood read but can’t remember the author? You’ll get the answers to these and countless other questions through Enquire. Enquire puts people in touch with real librarians who give tailored answers with the personal attention that a standard internet search engine just can’t always match. Effectively, participating libraries are open, even when they are closed, and people really appreciate interaction with a human being on the other end of the line far more than a voice recording.


Enquire is the global public library


Enquire is an evolution of the UK-wide Ask A Librarian email service started in the mid-90’s when libraries were pioneering digital engagement in local authorities. The Enquire virtual reference chat service started in 2005 and over 70 public library authorities participate. There is no central government funding for a national service of this kind.  Enquire is the longest running full time, open-to-all web service of its kind, coming long before the current commercial services – and all from your Public Library!  This demonstrates the pivotal role public libraries continue to play in information delivery, bibliographic search and learning across all ages.  The service is run by librarians for libraries.  OCLC has played a central role in this evolution, as an organisation adept in cooperative service and information delivery across the world, and in the continued development of the QuestionPoint software that enables Enquire to happen .


Everyone is Welcome – no-one is turned away

The Enquire service is socially inclusive; it is available to anyone with a web browser (or web-enabled mobile device) and Internet access.   On this basis Enquire users include any individual with an information query from regular library users to those that have never used the library service before.  Although the service is valuable to all, it has specific resonance with:

  • Disengaged and socially excluded communities who find visiting the library difficult; e.g.  housebound users
  • Disabled individuals, notably people with hearing impairment.
  • People for whom English is a second language
  • People in education; i.e. school children, students, adult learners, teachers, academics.


It isn’t just a service for people who know nothing about searching on the web; many customers are adept surfers, but librarians know how to locate credible and trustworthy information.


Enquire also participates in the Yahoo!Answers community – Enquire is a Knowledge Partner in Yahoo!Answers and so responsible for researching some of the answers. Thus Enquire helps people who may never use a public library. In their December blog Yahoo! said this about Enquire:


“Enquire are an umbrella organisation for librarians and are one of UK & Ireland Answers’ most committed and diligent Knowledge Partners.”


With over 100,000 answers sent since 2005; the Enquire service helps people change their lives – daily and 24/7.


No question goes unanswered


Through an exceptional collaboration, good customer service and a quality ethos, Enquire is able to answer a diverse range of questions from local and national government information, to science, the arts and general knowledge all day every day.  The information and signposts to relevant information and organisations that the service provides helps people make informed, often life-changing decisions.  Recent examples of enquiries include:


  • a young person wishing “to go Vegan” – October 2010: “I want to go vegan but my mum is worried it wouldn’t be good for me health-wise. Can you help me find information about how healthy it is to go vegan please? Thanks.”
  • Person wishing to understand cigarette addiction – December 2010: “Can you give me 4 mechanisms that are believed to underlie cigarette addiction?”
  • Person preparing for an interview – December 2010: “I’m going for an interview tomorrow with Microsoft, can you give me any information i.e. company information/recent developments to help me?”  The questioner was clearly pleased with the response “Oh wow thanks, this is really useful!”
  • Person investigating affordable housing – November 2010: “I want to know what help is available for people that are looking for affordable housing. I believe you can help, I want registered social landlords”


Enquire can be adapted as a tool for democracy


Along with these expansive question examples is the ability to offer a national service but also add local value. Local authorities, and their partners can work with librarians using the Enquire back-up to create their own local services allowing direct interactive access to elected members, local figures and key community leaders information from many different points.  Some of the diverse services being provided locally by Enquire libraries include:


–          Live Homework help and study support

–          live Q & A sessions with councillors regarding budget cuts

–          genealogy fact finds for family history

–          reading advice

–          assisting older people to find information

–          educating children and parents on staying safe online.

Enquire takes questions and finds answers for academics, researchers, students, children and lifelong learner alike. The diversity is one of the delights for the participating librarians – you never know what you’ll be asked or who will ask you.


… and those mystery answers?


Those curious about the Ox Skull question will be glad to know that the name of the game was ‘lashing the fannocks.’ This involved finding a suitably snowy hillside, inserting one’s buttocks tightly into an ox’s skull, and then tobogganing down the slope yelling ‘pesh’, or some other suitable insult.  According to Enquire much pleasure was derived from this in the Middle Ages!


Enquire, is available online all day every day at: www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk or at www.askalibrarian.org.uk


Enquire was commissioned nationally by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and managed by OCLC, but originated from the Ask-A-Librarian email service formed by E@RL in the mid-1990’s then managed by Co-East.  OCLC is a non-profit organisation.


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




‘Everyone is welcome, and there is something in them for absolutely everyone’ – Michelle’s story

I lived in libraries when I was younger. You could almost always find me in the school library after school had long since finished, or in the local library scouring the shelves for something that I hadn’t read or something that I wanted to read again. I cannot begin to describe how big of a part of my young life libraries were. Even now I visit libraries on a regular basis, and not just for books! It isn’t just the wonderful books that are hidden within the walls of every library that are under threat from their closures. It’s the additional services that they offer, too. Free Internet usage for anyone, reference libraries that are an invaluable source of knowledge for everyone from school children needing help in any subject or homework, right through to adults wanting to know more about the world and budding novelists needing information on times long dead and buried.

I cannot remember the name of every single book that I have read in my life. It is a list that is longer than almost anyone could remember, but I bet that if I could remember it, I could walk down to my local library, and they’d have it. Or if I wanted to know the history of the English Language and how it came to be what it was, all I could have to do is visit my local library. They have enough information within their walls to keep you busy for years. Sure, you can look it up on the internet, in between playing games and dealing with distractions. Or you can nip down to the library, grab a book, learn about what you need to know, and get not only accurate information, but without the distractions.

There are so many uses for libraries! A place to sit and read in peace a quiet. Somewhere to learn about the world around us. A wealth of new books and old favourites to take home and curl up with.

Libraries are not only an integral part of our society, but they are the only place in any community where you can find all ages, and all walks of life coming together to utilise their services. Everyone is welcome, and there is something in them for absolutely everyone. I doubt there is a single person alive that couldn’t walk into a library and find something that they like, even if it is their Internet services.

So how is it that, in times such as these, when literacy is such an important factor in our lives and dropping at an alarming rate, that the government can even consider closing such important institutes? Surely we need libraries now more than ever before? We need to be encouraging their use, not closing them down. We need to be looking at saving them, keeping them open for future and current generations to use, not feeding them to the dogs. Because if we let them close our libraries, then we will never get them back.

‘Libraries are an essential part of the local community…’ – Joseph and Yvonne’s story

This email is in support of all the public library services that may be under threat due to the new government’s cuts.

We consider that libraries are an essential part of the local community and we will list the necessary things that they do to help the community:-

1.  Helping schoolchildren to read more and to make them more competitive to achieve good reading skills.
2.  In most cases librarians are a help to computer users at all age levels to supplement the “Computer Buddy” scheme.
3.  They also help the public with local information regarding locations of Citizens Advice Bureaus and other help with the Councils etc.
4.  They have local information regarding local walks, points of interest and local history.
5.  They take part in village fetes and shows to further promote use of the libraries.
6.  They provide local newspapers, coffee machines and rest areas for people to relax whilst in the library.
7.  Everything is at the library for people to complete CV’s and job applications i.e. scanners, photocopiers, and computers.
8.  Also the schemes to take books to housebound people are very important, as are the mobile libraries who provide books to isolated locations.

Our local library might be under threat – it is Aylesham in Kent, and we have found the staff there to be more than helpful.   They have been so enthusiastic and obviously love their jobs and we would be very sad if all this closed down and we feel sure that the whole community of Aylesham would be devastated if they were cut off from their library.

Rosemary’s story

Cannot imagine life without the library. I have been using our local library since it was housed in a van which arrived once a week. Now in a small but well organised building our library is well stocked with books, video books, very well presented. Cheerful and warm, a tiny seating area with coffee, special area for babies/toddlers once a week and so much more…  Run by several hard working staff and helped by older volunteers when possible.
Even a special book trolley for people like me who cannot carry books easily, especially when I was using crutches.

This is a special ‘Thank you’ to them.

Lisa’s story

I was sad to hear that Richmond upon Thames Library Service is considering making cuts. Some years ago I was a library assistant employed in two branches in this borough. So I thought I would write and share my experiences of working there.

Your first thoughts about the residents of this affluent area of south-west London are possibly that they are very privileged and wealthy and that they don’t use public services much – but that ain’t necessarily so. In among the districts where houses changed hands for seven figures, there were plenty of less affluent areas, areas of public housing, areas where residents relied heavily on public services like libraries.

This meant that the library service was used by a huge variety of people from all walks of life. Children at the local state primaries and secondaries came in to borrow books and use reference materials for homework. Often they were studying alongside pupils from nearby public schools that enjoyed national acclaim and whose parents were paying thousands of pounds a year for their education – but who were still relying on the local free-to-use public library to get the homework support they needed.

Our branch provided resources for parents home-schooling their children and for tutors working individually with children identified by the education authority as needing additional support. This is an excellent example of how a public library service has roots in a community and in that community’s wellbeing that are much, much deeper than many might initially suppose. How do we put a financial value on these roots? What happens if we pull them up?

Parents seeking opportunities for themselves and for their pre-school children to meet and socialise numbered high among the users, as did older people who might not have seen a friendly face all day had they not been able to pop in. We also ran reading events, holiday activities and a service for elderly and disabled people who were unable to come into the branch, choosing books for them each fortnight with great care and attention.

Every time a new best-selling book was released we had huge waiting lists of people wanting to read them. Our community noticeboards were covered with cards, posters and flyers for local events. There was a strong demand for local history and archive services and we were constantly making referrals to the specialists working in those areas.

Job-hunters came in to look at the papers, consult directories, use computers or the photocopier, borrow books and to get a little bit of moral support at a lonely and difficult time. And I met countless people pursuing an interest, embarking on further education, getting the information they needed to make some major life change involving moving, or study, or a change of direction. Suggesting that all this can now simply be done online from home presupposes an awful lot – that people have the access, the confidence, the motivation and the information-processing skills to find trusted sources. And, if they
don’t, who’s going to offer to help them, sitting alone at their computer?

Who on earth gets to decide that the needs and wishes and experiences of all these people, and all the others like them around Britain, count for nothing?

To me the most important function of Richmond’s libraries was their role in providing public space – a role that is almost more important in the small branches than in the bigger ones. And this is the reason why the borough should think extremely hard before closing them.

Libraries are places where people of all ages, outlooks, backgrounds, incomes, circumstances and opinions meet and mix. By doing this they get to know each other, dispel the demons of difference and realise that, actually, the things we have in common are much stronger than the things that separate us. These are the places where society is built. And they are not replaced by upscale book shops, town-centre coffee shops, health clubs with expensive subscription fees or anywhere where you need to spend money in order to belong.

We live in an time where public services are portrayed as services of last resort. This is a crying shame – and it is one reason why, rather than becoming less necessary, our libraries are more valuable than ever. They are places where we meet people who are different to ourselves and benefit from so doing. The damage we will do by cutting them is immense and lasting and goes far beyond the perhaps deliberately short-sighted debate over whether the Internet has replaced print and whether books are dead.

Libraries are about reading, and about so much more. And we can’t afford to lose them in order to have that brought home to us.

Jon’s story

In January 2010 Herefordshire Library Service opened a new library for 10 hours per week in the bellringing chamber at the Anglican church in the Golden Valley community of Peterchurch. The development was part of a wider refurbishment and development of the church both as a place of worship and focus for the community as it now encompasses a Surestart Children’s centre for 21 hours a week and a community café on a Wednesday.

A further innovation came through the fact that the Library service in Peterchurch is delivered at the front line by volunteers, albeit with considerable library service support. Earlier this year the library service carried out a review of the project to see what it could learn about how the development had gone and how it would inform future policy. One of the main outcomes of the review was to recommend the setting up of a staff group to develop a volunteer offer for the library service to make clear where and in what roles the service feels that volunteers can give added value.

It has become clear to the service that while volunteers do have an important role to play in public services, the idea that services can simply be handed over to them to run is simplistic and, particularly where libraries are concerned, there is a large amount of practical support that would need to be provided by professional staff to facilitate any volunteer run service.