Author Archives: VftL team

Society of Chief Librarians announce universal library offers

Yesterday the Society of Chief Librarians (S.C.L) announced the launch of four universal offers for public libraries , which will be “rolled out nationally across all public libraries in England and Wales.” These universal offers focus on reading, health, digital access and information – areas the SCL have indicated library users regard as key to public library service provision. Alongside these offers the S.C.L. announced a range of initiatives that libraries will also be encouraged to participate in.

The announcement pulled together strands of work that the SCL have been working on previously with partners including Arts Council England and The Reading Agency.

The Society of Chief Librarians intention to “reaffirm the relevance of public libraries to Britain” via these offers is welcome and we hope that this is just the beginning of a continuing co-ordinated programme of support and development for libraries. Janene Cox (President of S.C.L.) commented, “’At present public libraries are facing huge challenges – there are reduced budgets within local authorities, new and developing operating models and changing customer expectations and as a result SCL have worked with our partners to devise a new and creative strategy for library services which is focused around 4 universal service offers. These offers focus upon the service areas that our customers tell us are important and they enable libraries to continue to develop these service areas.”

We would hope that these offers are extended to cover all aspects of public library services that users across the nation value and not focus solely on the four offers named above to the detriment of wider library service provision. Users benefit from libraries in such a variety of ways that other areas with less of a high profile should not be ignored.

Although the universal offers are intended to be implemented by all public library services in England and Wales, they are not compulsory. The S.C.L. have indicated that 98% of local authorities have already signed up to these offers being delivered in their local area, which is very encouraging, but it is not universal. At the same time not all of these library services have signed up to all four offers. Only 80% out of the 98% have signed up to the information offer and less than half have signed up to the full digital offer. So, how many of our public libraries will actually be delivering all four offers and initiatives, and what is the reasoning behind those authorities who do not intend to do so? How will those that aren’t intending to be involved at the outset be encouraged to do so in future? If they are not willing, what will the implications be and will there be any sanctions against those library services who do not participate with initiatives that are intended as a step towards a national library service?

With regard to delivery, will it be feasible to effectively support these initiatives in libraries with current levels of staffing cuts? Alongside this, the increasing removal of specialist information and reference staff will undermine any attempt to provide a universally high quality enquiry service in libraries.

We also wonder how the universal offer will be implemented effectively now that so many libraries have been removed from direct local authority control – those that have been outsourced, privatised, or are volunteer led? Will this reinforce the divide in library provision that is emerging between libraries in different communities, based upon who is leading on the provision of that service?

Furthermore, we hope that the focus of these universal offers and initiatives, alongside the SCL report on “The new super-users of Britain’s public libraries” will be useful in highlighting the continued importance of public libraries to those who do not currently appreciate their relevance.

Finally, we are also keen to know if standards will be set out for measuring libraries achievements against these universal aims, and also how the aims of the S.C.L. offers and initiatives sit with current statutory duties and laws laid out in the Public Libraries and Museums Act and other acts of parliament linked to public libraries?

Even though we have these questions and concerns, we still believe it is a step in the right direction by the Society of Chief Librarians and their partners and hope that it is something that will be developed and built on in the future as part of an appropriately funded and managed library service.

Concern over loss of Arts Council England Libraries post

In an article published in the Bookseller it has been announced that the Director of Libraries role at Arts Council England is being deleted. This decision has been made as part of the Arts Council England restructure, undertaken partly in response to a cut in funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The restructure has already seen an unwelcome reduction in the number of library support staff at Arts Council England. The Director of Libraries role is being replaced by a new position that is intended to combine responsibility for libraries with a regional manager post. At a time when library services are facing serious cuts it is inappropriate to remove this dedicated libraries post – this is a time to provide libraries with more support and expand the role of A.C.E. to focus on aspects of libraries beyond their arts remit, not reduce it.

As A.C.E. are also investing a considerable amount of funding in a number of library based projects it is also strange that they are reducing the number of staff able to support these projects. In July last year Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) took part in a live web chat, during which he was asked what experience and expertise A.C.E. had of overseeing libraries? In his reply he stated:

“We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors.”

This was a welcome statement, but has now been overshadowed by subsequent announcements that numbers of A.C.E. support staff responsible for libraries are being reduced and the post with a dedicated focus on library development is to be removed.

It is a time for Arts Council England to show that they are committed to developing libraries, not only in the funding they are providing for library based projects, but also by ensuring that these projects and library development (encompassing all aspects of libraries functions, not just art) are well supported by sufficient numbers of experienced staff. The latest announcement does not provide much reassurance in this regard.

The Community Right to Bid

The Community Right to Bid , along with ‘Community Asset Transfer’, ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and ‘Community Right to Build’, is part of the Localism Act and came into force in 2012. Under the Act, voluntary and community organisations and parish councils can nominate an asset to be included on a list of ‘assets of community value’ which is managed by the local authority. If the owner of a listed asset wants to sell the asset, a six month moratorium period will be triggered during which the asset cannot be sold. This period gives community groups some time to develop a proposal and raise the required capital to bid for the property when it comes onto the open market at the end of the moratorium period. The Act does not, however, give community organisations the power to force a sale. Similarly, the vendor retains the right to reject a community organisation’s offer in favour of another offer.  This is all in accordance with Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 (Assets of Community Value) (“the Act”) and The Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 .

In order to advise communities the My Community Rights online hub and advice service has been set up along with a £19 million Community Ownership of Assets programme offering grants to communities wanting to take control of a local asset such as a pub, shop, or library. In Brent, campaigners have been successful in adding Kensal Rise Library to the Brent Local Authority “List of Assets of Community Value”. The owners of the building, All Souls College, may now have to rethink their deal with property developers to build flats on the site, but All Souls can appeal against the decision. In West Somerset the owner of a pub that was recently listed has challenged the decision on the basis that he has lost money due to the property having to be taken off the market, so it will be interesting to see what All Souls do in this situation.

The TUC and the National Coalition for Independent Action have recently produced a report in which a range of contributors discussed the Localism Act.  In particular, concerns were raised in the report about the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, which was seen by many to be a ‘trojan horse’ for privatisation but another general concern was:

“…the lack of capacity within local community and voluntary organisations to make effective use of powers to buy community assets or produce neighbourhood plans. To many, this is seen as a way of empowering those in the community with the loudest voices, the most resources and the sharpest elbows to influence local decision making.”

In the article below from the ‘Local Government Lawyer’ website concerns are raised about the financial and time constraints forced on Local Authorities trying to administer the ‘Rights’.

“Worth noting is that land that used to further the social wellbeing and social interests of the local community ‘in the recent past’ will still be caught by the definition if it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when it could be used to further (whether or not in the same way as before) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.

This definition is potentially very wide and would include amenities that have closed ‘in the recent past’ (which is up to the local authority to decide) but could be re-opened as something else, as long as the new activity still serves the community.

The net effect of this is likely to cost local authorities both time and money, as they will need to set up (in a form to be prescribed by regulations), publish and maintain, a list of nominated assets and a list of unsuccessfully-nominated assets, deal with requests to add or remove assets from the list, act as an intermediary between the landowner and the community group wanting to bid for the asset, publicise notices of disposal, compensate landowners and enforce the provisions.”

All in all, the right of the property owner to challenge a listing linked with the communities lack of power in forcing sales and the right of the vendor to reject an offer appears to put the whole basis of the ‘Community Right to Bid’ on very shaky ground!

Running libraries the Anythink way

Anythink Libraries banner photo by Davidking / Flickr

Anythink Libraries (c) Davidking / Flickr

If you believe what you read then a miraculous transformation has taken place in Rangeview’s Libraries since gaining independence in 2004 from Adams County Public Library and becoming Anythink in 2009.

According to a recent Guardian article;

“Anythink Libraries in Denver, Colorado, have quadrupled circulation and visitor numbers in seven years by connecting with users and raising its own levy”

And from an ALA article comes the bold statement:

“it looks like Rangeview, led by director Pam Sandlian Smith and a forward-thinking board, has the library equivalent of the Midas touch.”

In 2010 Anythink were invited to talk at the PLA Conference, were awarded a National Medal for Museum and Library Service and Pam Sandlian Smith was named the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) Librarian of the Year.

They have also managed to build or renovate 7 new libraries and according to a recent article in the ALA Magazine this has caused an “economic ripple effect” on the surrounding communities.

So what is the Anythink model?

Well they don’t charge fines, don’t use Dewey, they don’t use traditional titles for staff preferring instead to call them a ‘wrangler’, ‘concierge’ or ‘guide’ and in 2009 re-branded their libraries as the Anythink concept and logo. As you can already tell it’s not exactly a conventional set up for a public library service, they even have their own staff manifesto which tells employees that they are “part wizard part genius part explorer”. In their brochure they also state “ideas should have no boundaries” and that the libraries are “a building with no walls”. Anythink claim too have taken their inspiration from the Idea Store concept in the UK and from the Apple Store.

“They’re discernibly libraries but with some tweaks. Most important, there’s no reference desk but a “front perch” and “back perch” (and sometimes another), stand-up stations where librarians (er, Guides) and Concierges offer quick assistance. The buildings—the product of a stutter-step process that began eight years ago—are organized for flexibility, not for books.” In the Country of Anythink – LJ – 15.10.10

So it’s all wonderful in Anythink land. Well maybe not! According to an article published in LJ in 2010 the use of self-service kiosks means that there are no desks so staff are expected to roam or as we know it ‘floor walk’ for a considerable part of the day prompting this comment on the LJ website:

“Posted by Carol Kunzler on November 17, 2010 01:41:07AM

I would be especially interested as to how, as they age (not easy to opt out of that one), staff “hold up”, physically, since they seem to be expected to be on their feet almost continuously(60 hours per week? Really?!). Are there any “disabled” or physically challenged staff, or does one have to just “fade away” as their bodies age and they can no longer accomplish the task they were hired for (is that when they can “opt” for a “lesser” title, and pay?)? Or will segways (segues?) be issued to improve mobility? Perhaps the library’s “leaders” got their heads stuck in the “cloud” too long—wake up and drift down to earth and the very real looming problems (challenges!) that lie ahead. (Does that make them “Didn’tthinklongandhardenough”-ers?) “

The whole model operates on a very tight budget with great emphasis put on self-service and ‘lean’ staffing, which according to the LJ article, mentioned above, can cause confusion and a lack of focus:

“such a proactive service has its trade-offs, since there may be no one discernibly in charge. LJ observed some kids scampering around the main part of the Wright Farms flagship library, unchecked, and one neighboring librarian, visiting as a patron, says other customers invariably ask her for help finding books.” LJ 2010

A comment from their Human Resources Director Susan Dobbs also paints a picture of tight budgets and short staffing:

“Human Resources director Dobbs likens Anythink “very much to a start-up,” with a lean staff working long hours, fueled by passion.” LJ 2010


“With a significant chunk of its budget devoted to building expenditures, Rangeview keeps personnel expenditures costs to about 60 percent. The staff is relatively thin, but front-line staff did get raises this year, thanks in part to careful fiscal management, such as discounts on benefits and from vendors.” LJ 2010

When the Anythink model was launched all existing staff had to re-apply for the newly re-branded jobs, 95% got jobs and one of the 5% who didn’t left due to her shock at seeing that the reference desk had gone.

An other contentious issue could be that Anythink don’t require a Branch Manager to hold a library qualification or to have a public library background:

“A library degree isn’t required to run a branch. In Brighton, one of the region’s fastest-growing communities, Todd Cordrey serves as Anythink Manager/Experience Expert. A former real estate broker and president of the local school board, he’s finishing his master’s in public administration.” LJ 2010

So to summarise Anythink’s model has delivered increases in issues and usage and has excited and delighted many but at the same time their use of retail concepts and ‘lean’ staffing could give some cause for concern.

Mia Breitkopf sums up the concept“One public library system in Colorado has completely rethought how it does business. The Rangeview Library System in Thornton, Colorado, has branded itself “Anythink“, as in, “I think I’m going to head over to the Anythink in Bennett, play guitar hero for a bit, grab a book of one of the bookstore-like categorized shelves, and record my oral history story with the mixed media artist so she can use it in the public history project.”

Public Lending Right and volunteer libraries

Following on from recent articles in The Bookseller and CILIP Update regarding the possible exclusion of volunteer run libraries from the Public Lending Right, we were asked by a local campaigner if this meant that authors could refuse to allow books to be loaned by such libraries? We contacted UK PLR registrar, Jim Parker, for clarification. Here is his response:

The first thing to say is that volunteer-run public libraries are not automatically excluded from PLR. Where a volunteer-run library continues to operate under the local authority public library service then PLR continues to apply. PLR would only not apply were a library branch to be closed by the local authority and reopened under new management by a voluntary or other group entirely independent of the local authority. So, for example, in North Yorkshire several branch libraries are now run by volunteers but remain part of the county library service and it continues to be possible for PLR to collect book loans data from them.   

I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your second question…. My understanding is that in situations where PLR does not apply, under UK copyright law unless a library is a ‘prescribed’ library it would need a licence from the author to lend a book out. But the situation may also depend on the wording of an author’s contract with his/her publisher over what the publisher is entitled to do by way of selling the author’s books.

As Mr Parker indicates, the situation is not clear cut. Some volunteer run libraries fall within the statutory provision of a local authority and others outside of it. This will determine whether they are part of the public lending right scheme or not.

The London Libraries Change Programme (LLCP)

The London Libraries Change Programme came into being in 2008 and finished in 2011. It was part of a wider initiative, the London Cultural Improvement Programme, and included the 32 boroughs and the City of London, the regional cultural agencies (Arts Council England, MLA Council, English Heritage and Sport England), London Councils and Capital Ambition and had a remit to improve cultural services in London.

In October 2008, the LLCP Board (1), Chaired by Andrew Holden, Director of Engagement at the MLA and made up of members of the ALCL and other MLA officers, commissioned the consultants RSE to prepare a feasibility study, funded by Capital Ambition, outlining the scope of the programme and the key areas for potential ‘improvement’;


  • Leading the sector both externally and internally.
  • Supporting the development of a strong and well utilised workforce.
  • Improving procurement and stock management processes.
  • Modernising service delivery through the use of new technology.
  • Combining skills and resources to undertake marketing and communication.

Four options were given with estimated savings over a five year period;

Option 1: Sharing best practice which is anticipated to yield savings of £1.9 million.

Option 2: Integration of library services with local authority customer services, which is anticipated to yield savings of £3.8 million.

Option 3: Joint management posts are anticipated to yield savings of £5 million.

Option 4: Sub regional library services are anticipated to yield savings of £13 million.

“Overall the potential options combined could save an estimated £2.3 across London in the first year and £19.8 million over five years. “

RSE also made some recommendations, let’s look at some of these in more detail;

2.1.1. The sector needs strong leadership

“There is a perception within the sector that the role and contribution of libraries is widely misunderstood and undervalued. The Association of Chief Librarians and Museums, Libraries and Archives Association (in London and nationally) provide leadership within the sector, but there is a clear view that this role could be strengthened and enhanced”

That the SCL and the MLA ever provided leadership in the sector is highly debateable, SCL members have been accused of pushing through policies that have resulted in cutting the sector and recently were criticised for not fully supporting National Libraries Day and the MLA were seen by many to be ineffectual and instrumental in developing the neo-liberal agenda now prevalent amongst SCL members!

2.1.3. The programme needs to tackle workforce costs and skill development

Staff accounts for 58% of all costs within Libraries……”

“It is recommended that the programme:

f. Benchmark workforce levels and productivity across London…..”

In July 2009 the LLCP Board and the London Cultural Improvement Group commissioned CFE to undertake workforce benchmarking research; the final report was published in October of that year.

“The objective of this was to provide greater understanding of how the London library workforce is utilised and to highlight areas for efficiencies that might arise from joint authority working and the development of shared services.

This report draws together findings from primary research with the library sector and wider stakeholders, and aims to:

  • Benchmark workforce structures across London libraries using a range of input, output and outcome measures to identify drivers of variation in staffing levels and effective working practices.
  • Highlight examples of best practice in staff deployment and document options for shared services, i.e. ways in which local authorities can work together to utilise library staff more effectively.
  • Identify areas where efficiencies can be realised through improvements in workforce utilisation and shared services and provide assumptions about the level of estimated savings achievable. “

The research also highlights potential cuts to the London Library workforce of anything between 1-10%.

It’s very difficult to assess the impact of the programme on subsequent cuts to library services and jobs acrossLondondue to the cuts imposed on Local Authorities by the present Government but all that can be said is that all the authorities involved in the programme have cut staff and services!

Inconclusive I know,  but until a full impact analysis of the programme is made public we will never know!

(1) “The Board comprises of Andrew Holden (Programme Sponsor and Chair) Interim Director MLA London; David Ruse Director of Libraries, London Borough Westminster; Rosemary Doyle Head of Library and Cultural Services, London Borough Islington; Sue McKenzie Head of Libraries London Borough of Brent and President of London Libraries; Cllr G. Reardon, London Borough Waltham Forest; Cllr F. Rea, London Borough Camden; plus Local Authority representatives including HR, resources and library and cultural services tbc and Ken Cole, Advisor, Capital Ambition Ex officio.”

London Library Change Programme Board; Workforce Benchmarking Project; Project Initiation Document Feb 2009

All the reports relating to the Programme can be found at;

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: or at


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.




Libraries for a Small Society – Clair Humphries

The first library I remember was small, narrow and a homage to ‘70s design: swirly orange wallpaper, fake wood panelling and strip lights so bright they made my head hurt.

I loved it.

My four year old self wasn’t fussed about wallpaper and, seeing as it was actually the ‘70s at the time, I couldn’t blame the council for embracing contemporary trends in interior décor, however naff they might be. Besides, it was a damn sight more cheery than the rest of the concrete shopping parade on my Granny’s estate (newsagent’s – shielded by a vandal-proof metal grille, pub – boarded up) plus it had books. And people. Which suited me and Granny just fine, because I liked books and she liked to chat.


Later, as a grown-up, I worked in a number of different libraries and met lots of different library users: academics, researchers, students, school children, parents, jobseekers, the homeless. Recently bereaved pensioners – like my Granny – who just wanted to chat. I served some proper famous people, too, from off the telly and everything. I could tell you their stories, but I won’t, because the library experience that most defined my life wasn’t linked to a particular customer or one particular day at work. No, it was the first time I entered that little concrete library with its swirly orange wallpaper and its shelves full of books.


Which is why, Mr Cameron, I don’t buy into a ‘Big Society’ where these unassuming, little libraries are seen as a drain on resources. What I do believe in, and what I see around me every day, are lots of small societies – on city estates, within suburban streets, amongst rural villages and towns. These communities are local, and despite often being as small and narrow as the first library I ever knew, they deserve to be served by libraries that are local too. In ten years time, if someone decides to take their grandchild to the library for a book, who (or what) will serve them? I hope they’ll still have a local library to go to, staffed by people who know and care about the service and its users. The thought of that not being the case has the same effect on me that those harsh ‘70s strip lights did as a child.

It makes my head hurt.

Clair Humphries is a writer who loves libraries. She shares her home with a husband and far too many books.

Libraries are about people: Sam’s story

It may seem obvious, but I think we can sometimes forget that libraries are not just about books, they’re about people: the people that write the books, that select the books, and those that borrow and use the books. I admit this is an overly simplistic view to make a point, but I am deeply disturbed by the lack of concern for those people shown by the local authorities of this country in their rush to disband library services as we know them. Times are hard and money is short, but even in the toughest times the current and future needs of the community should drive change rather than ideology or simple cost-cutting.

It’s easy to get nostalgic about libraries, and I personally owe a huge debt to the public library service. Books were a luxury that my family couldn’t afford, and my weekly visits with my nan to the little library round the corner fed my appetite for fiction. My love of art was nourished by the beautiful art books that I borrowed, none of which I could ever have afforded to buy. I borrowed travel guides about holiday destinations when I was a carefree twentysomething, and plundered the shelves of cookery books when my son refused to eat anything I cooked. The library has provided entertainment, knowledge, comfort and reassurance at each stage of my life so far.

And now, as a family with two children we regularly use a number of libraries close to us, and our life is enriched in many ways: the children borrow books to read for pleasure and for homework; my husband and I borrow books to read on the daily commute and in our spare time; we all looked forward to Rhymetime when they were little, and we have fun taking part in the activities for children in the holidays, as well as playing games on the computers. We are lucky as our local library is well used and is not directly threatened, but behind the scenes things have been cut back drastically, and this will undoubtedly affect frontline services. The number of professional librarians has been halved, and training budgets are a thing of the past. The library service admits that it is severely underfunded, and as I write the council are seeking alternative ways of providing it. These alternatives include being run by volunteers or outsourcing to private companies.

I’m not opposed to investigating other models, but what I do find offensive is the implication that the service does not need to develop alongside its community and is not worth investing in. Advances in technology are moving rapidly and without investment public libraries risk becoming out of date, and therefore expendable. Will library volunteers want to invest time and effort in managing complicated IT networks and understanding the needs of their local community? Will a private company want to run a holiday reading scheme and associated events if they don’t generate profit? My concern is how we ensure that our library services are not decimated to make short-term, relatively small-scale savings which in the long run could have devastating effects on the prosperity of our young people. I want the little library round the corner to be there for me in my old age, lending me ebooks and providing subscriptions to online resources, but also as a place for me to meet my friends and take my grandchildren to borrow books. Books and information may increasingly be virtual, but people will always still need the library as a place: please use your library card and your voice to show how much your library means to you and your community.



Libraries and the WI

Voices for the Library is delighted that the WI AGM yesterday (8 June 11) voted to support the resolution in favour of local libraries. The mandate:

This meeting urges H.M. Government to maintain support for local libraries, as an essential local educational and information resource.

Voices team member Lauren was at the AGM:

This was originally published on Lauren’s blog.

Yesterday I went to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes AGM in Liverpool, to support CILIP CEO Annie Mauger who gave an address in support of the WI’s resolution:

This meeting urges H.M. Government to maintain support for libraries, as an essential local education and information resource.

Like many other librarians and library campaigners around the country, I gave a talk at a local WI meeting – mine was in Pudsey near Leeds. I talked about Voices for the Library, the current situation, how libraries are managed and structured, why libraries need support from the WI and why the decisions being made about library services by the government and local councils are deeply damaging to society in the wider context. It’s so important that people all over the country did the same thing and I’m so proud that we’ve managed to get this through. I’m sure there can’t have been that many WI members who started out in opposition to the resolution, but one of the important things about giving talks was to help people to understand what’s really going on – why volunteering and pub/supermarket libraries aren’t solutions, for example.

At the AGM the support for the resolution was overwhelming; not just because of the brilliant 97.79% of members who expressed their views through voting for the resolution, but also because of the conversations I had with people throughout the day about libraries – starting with the taxi driver who told me about the threatened closure of one of Liverpool’s libraries which will have a huge impact on his neighbourhood, and how he uses the library as an important source of data for his hobby – charting the odds on football games! – going on to chats with ladies sitting around me in the arena who all told me how important libraries are to them and their families – to lunchtime conversations with members of the Real Bread Campaign and Unlock Democracy who, if they didn’t understand the social relevance of libraries and the benefits they bring to the economy, individual wellbeing and wider society, I sure hope they do now!

Everything the speakers in support of the resolution said was so relevant, and surprisingly, so varied. I thought I’d have heard every argument in support of public libraries by now (and every flawed argument about their irrelevancy/failure/inevitable demise), but yesterday’s debate brought more and more evidence for the need for high quality, professionally run, local libraries.

The full text of Annie’s speech is available here. Even though I’d had a sneaky peak at it before the event, and helped in a tiny way to put one or two pieces of it together, I have to admit, I welled up and dripped big soggy librarian-activist tears all over my mobile phone round about here:

“Librarians are not just custodians of books, they are people who help you to understand the incredible new world of information that is out there, to help young people to understand that not everything is true just because you see it on a computer screen and that actually, if you can’t read, how can you go online?

“The people who work in libraries are brokers, supporters, helpers and friends. They need your support.

“The Women’s Institute has a special kind of power. You have influence. You can make change happen. You campaign for the things you believe in. Whether it is the environment, food labelling or women’s rights, the root of your campaigning is always the same, driving out ignorance and changing people’s minds through education, information and better understanding.”

There’s more information about what CILIP will be doing to support the WI in their commitment to fight to prevent library closures and to advocate the value library services bring to communities. Voices for the Library will be supporting in whatever ways we can too – I’m especially pleased because my Campaign BFF, Original VftLer and WI Member Jo‘s going to be our liaison person.

Huge thanks to Annie and CILIP’s Mark Taylor for making it possible for me to attend.