Category Archives: guest posts

What Libraries Meant To Me When I Was Eight Years Old

Alex sent us this heartwarming post about the impact libraries had on her life.

When I was 8 years old I was given my own library tickets. It changed my life.

Like most children at that age I was curious. I loved asking why and I always had another six questions when you answered the first. My parents, reasonably indulgent, comfortable financially, were happy to buy me a handful of books every month when I wanted to add to my burgeoning book collection. They both read themselves but their tastes were fixed and their books couldn’t be shared with me. Mills & Boons romances, aga sagas, Dick Francis titles and David Attenborough books just aren’t designed for kids.

When I was 8 years old though I became more difficult to cater for as a junior reader.

I had the books my parents bought me and books that I got from the school library but these really only dealt with my ongoing interests in obvious subjects like Ancient Egypt. If I suddenly became curious in something that had just caught my eye, say bridge building for example or the history of lighthouses, my parents weren’t inclined to buy me a book for the passing fancy and nine times out of ten my school library was just too small to have anything on these ever more niche curiosities.

After a while it was obvious to my mother that I had outgrown what home and the school could provide. I was getting frustrated with the books available to me and I was reading less.

Juggling awkward library hours and school runs we started going to the public library regularly. It was this sudden freedom to take out any (suitable) book on any subject that saved me as a reader.

I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d still be interested in geology in a month or check the cost of a book and only very, very rarely was there a subject I couldn’t find out about. I also discovered proper, grown up encyclopedias which enchanted me, became fascinated in Teach Yourself books (I learnt shorthand at 10, Finnish at 11 and promptly forgot it all at 12 but I had tremendous fun doing both) and started borrowing classical music tapes after hearing Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and being completely captivated by it.

Statue of children reading

MAR212009 (c) colemama/Flickr

My parents were, quite frankly, baffled by almost everything I borrowed. They had no interest in classical music, thought the Finnish obsession was bizarre and shook their heads over the endless books on lighthousekeepers and engineers. But the point is that I was trying everything and they were happy to let me because it was safe, cheap and supervised.

Being part of that library, choosing for myself and trying everything, having the barriers of cost and access removed, getting to know what I liked and didn’t; these freedoms made me a better reader and a much better thinker.

One thing that often gets overlooked by those discussing the impact of library use on children is just how many conversations it can open up for them. The librarians, quickly spotting a kindred spirit, asked me about the books I borrowed. They recommended other books to me, teaching me to assess whether a book was a ‘good fit’ for me and whose recommendations to trust. Reading more widely taught me to compare books and authors and gave me confidence in saying what I liked and why. Explaining why I’d borrowed a specific book to my parents and answering their questions got us talking about books even though our tastes were worlds apart.

Those six little bits of cardboard gave me access to all sorts of conversations I just wouldn’t have had without them. They led to me studying academic subjects I wouldn’t have pursued otherwise (Latin and Classical Civilisation), kept me curious and enthusiastic and taught me that having eclectic tastes does not have to mean bad or trivial. They taught me to take an active role in my own, ongoing, education.

Today I read widely and have overflowing bookcases at home… but I still treasure and regularly use my library card. I use it just as I always have – to read more widely than I could afford to on my own and to feed my endless curiosity.

Alex grew up to be a book blogger too and writes at Alex in Leeds.

The campaign for Brent Libraries continues…

The following guest post is contributed by Phil Segall and reflects on developments in Brent.

Go down to Tokyngton Library in Brent today and you will see a notice from the Council on the door. The sign advises that the library will be “closed in the morning for a staff meeting and will reopen at 2.00pm”. It is not worth hanging around. The library has now been closed for over a year, along with five other libraries in the London Borough of Brent.

Brent Council’s notice on the front of Tokyngton Library.


The S.O.S. Brent Libraries campaign was formed in May last year following the Council’s decision to implement library closures as part of Brent’s Libraries Transformation Project (LTP). This project, produced with input from the consultancy firm Red Quadrant, outlined the Council’s aim to provide an improved and more efficient library service through a reduction in library premises, along with plans for a ‘super library’ to be located within a new £100 million Civic Centre building near Wembley Stadium (replacing the current Town Hall Library). Library campaigners gained support and raised funds to try to overturn the Council’s decision, resulting in a high profile but ultimately unsuccessful case heard in the High Court in July 2011. The seven libraries which make up the ‘Save Our Seven’ (S.O.S.) Libraries campaign are Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston, Tokyngton (all closed) and Willesden Green Library which remains open but is set to undergo redevelopment in a “mini Civic Centre” project seen as unfavourable by many local residents (visit their blog for more details).

Volunteer run libraries

In July of last year, a blog post was published here on the Voices for the Library website, entitled Concerns Over Brent Campaigners Volunteer Run Libraries. This provoked a lot of discussion on the merits of community-led libraries and raised some important issues. Among these were the claims that the existence of libraries being run by volunteers undermines “the importance of the roles trained library staff and librarians have in providing these services” and “discharges [Brent] of their obligations”. Three volunteer setups have now been established in Brent, each with a view to reclaiming a permanent presence either in their previous premises or in the vicinity of libraries closed in their respective areas. On the first anniversary of the closure of six of Brent’s libraries, I spoke to those leading these community projects about why they have chosen to take a stand over this issue and about their hopes for the future:

Friends of Barham Library (FOBL) is a charity run by a small but hard working group of volunteers led by Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Lorber. He took on the campaign having witnessed the injustice of buildings which Titus Barham had donated for the “enjoyment of local people of Wembley” in the early 1950s being taken away by his associates in the Council. The library worked in conjunction with the Welcome Children’s Centre at the site and had received £200,000-worth of refurbishment works in 2009. Paul feels that, since the closure, the Council has left the Barham Complex which includes the library to deteriorate into a poor state, estimating £160,000 of repair works will need to be undertaken by whoever takes over these buildings.

When Barham Library closed, Paul appealed to the local community for support through fundraising events and stalls outside the premises. He also actively sought other sites where the displaced library community could establish a presence and in Paul’s words, to “fly the flag” for their campaign, setting up the FOBL charity in the process. Initially a volunteer library was set up in Barham Primary School before moving to a more prominent location on Wembley High Road. Here the library has been able to provide a range of activities aimed particularly at children in a bid to keep the library going and to prevent the loss of existing library users, with the ultimate aim being to have a permanent presence back in the Barham Park buildings.


The volunteer library set up in Wembley (picture courtesy of Brent S.O.S. Libraries).

Paul would really like the Volunteer Library to be able to provide computers and internet access in the meantime. This would enable the creation of an after school club for a local college, for example. Yet Paul concedes the library is restricted in what it can offer as there is only limited space in the current premises. He is also the first to admit that the location is not ideal, not least as it is over half a mile away from Barham Park.

The charity continues to raise funds for a bid to reoccupy the Barham Complex with a minimum goal of £25,000 per year being set for this to be achieved. Paul recognises this will not be enough on its own and is supportive of the idea of a new shared service operating in conjunction with the library. “It has been left empty for over a year now,” says Paul. “Local groups are craving space which FOBL would have been happy to share, if it were allowed to gain access”.  FOBL is keen to work with these other groups and has secured the support of a local sports mentorship scheme for young people, as one example.

Save Kensal Rise Library along with Friends of Cricklewood Library (FOCL) represent two similar campaigns. The buildings are owned by All Souls College, Oxford which gifted Brent Council these facilities specifically for use as libraries or reading rooms under the Literary and Scientific Institutions Act 1854. 

The Council controversially opted to strip the Kensal Rise Library building of all of its contents, including a plaque commemorating the building’s opening by Mark Twain circa 1900, in what was described as a “dawn raid” in May of this year. With the building reverting back to All Souls College, the decision on who will take over ownership of the building now lies in their hands. Save Kensal Rise Library has since put out an appeal for sponsorship in their efforts to reoccupy the building. Support has been overwhelming. The campaign has received well over 500 donations from countries as far flung asAustralia,New Zealand,Israel, theUnited States &Greece. The campaign also received funding from local sponsors – including a local estate agents’ firm which put in £10,000 and produced these  (rather nifty) “Not for Sale” signs:


An excellent photo of these signs in situ outside Kensal Rise Library can be found here via Public Library News.

The aim had been to raise £70,000 which was seen as the minimum to make the library habitable again, including the costs of repair work to make good damage which has accrued from over 20 years of neglect. They have now raised over £80,000.

The set up at Kensal Rise is an impressive one, with cheerful volunteers staffing the service daily. I spoke to Margaret Bailey, a Save Kensal Rise Library representative and asked if she had any tips for those who are trying to save their libraries elsewhere. She stressed how “you have got to get the community on board”. This requires finding a bunch of dedicated people who are prepared to dig in and work together. She concedes “there is also luck involved”, with the London location of Kensal Rise and some of the area’s famous residents helping to highlight the cause in a way not seen elsewhere. Margaret cites key activists like Maggie Gee and Tim Lott who live in the area as having boosted the campaign, while Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett (who recently opened a community library in Primrose Hill) have also voiced their support.

For Margaret, it is vitally important that a librarian is hired when they reinstate the library. She sees use of managers, rather than librarians as contributing to the demise of libraries in recent years. As at Barham Library, campaigners recognise that the library will need to work in partnership with other organisations following the withdrawal of Council funding. Save Kensal Rise Library has offered to work with a local mentorship scheme called Into University. This supports underprivileged youths in getting into Higher Education.  The area also has another existing connection with Oxford University through Magdalen College. As the area is one of the worst in London in terms of illiteracy rates, this is an important partnership when trying to inspire young people to consider Higher Education as an option.

The pop-up outside Kensal Rise Library.

Friends of Cricklewood Library (Kensal Rise’s “softly spoken sister” as campaigner Sally Long describes them) also maintains a presence in the form of a smaller scale pop-up outside their library, led by Brent S.O.S. Libraries campaigner Sonja Nerdrum. As Catriona Troth (‘The Library Cat’) explains in an article for Words with JAM, a number of partnerships are being considered here too, including companies offering courses in computer literacy and English as a second language, as well as Architecture 00:/ which developed the Library Lab project at Willesden Green.

The question still remains, if a movie were to be made of Kensal Rise Library, as Ian Anstice proposes, would it have a happy ending? On the first anniversary of the library’s closure, Margaret spoke of how campaigners awaited a decision which they were “hoping will be very favourable”. A particular source of encouragement was the fact that, in April of this year, All Souls College themselves also penned a letter in support of the building reverting back to a library, a month before they took control of the building over from the Council.

The outcome so far has come as a big disappointment for both Kensal Rise and Cricklewood, however. On the plus side, the importance of having a library presence at both sites has been recognised by All Souls. A spokesperson stated “We congratulated both community groups on their efforts first and foremost.” He added, “The buildings will only be sold if developers agree a library could be run on the site”. The crushing downside is that the current plan is to turn both of these historic buildings into flats, in each case leaving only a small space for the libraries to rent. The current Kensal Rise proposal would also see the Children’s Library building (built with funds donated by Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie) demolished.

These are proposals which have stunned campaigners, as Anthony Gardner from The Economist’s ‘Intelligent Life’ magazine documents. Margaret expresses her frustration at the choice to sell the buildings to a little-known company (Platinum Revolver Ltd.) on the Save Kensal Rise Library Blog:

“When we met with the College in August we had the impression the College wanted to keep the building in community use and was not prepared to see it developed into flats…we tailored our proposal accordingly.”

(The proposal documentation from the Friends of Kensal Rise Library’s bid to run the library can be found here.)

Campaigners for Cricklewood Library have similarly said they would not be prepared to work with the same developer under the terms offered to them.

Since All Souls announced their plans, The Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FOKRL) charity has joined up with another developer (J&K Builders) offering much more generous contract terms and space. This new proposal has been submitted to the College along with an open letter and staged a rally outside the All Souls College building in Oxford to express the outrage felt by FOKRL. Campaigners met with All Souls to hear their response on 20 November and to commence talks about this new plan. Once negotiations are complete, a public meeting is due to take place where it will be up to the Kensal Rise Community to decide whether the College’s offer is acceptable to them. A nomination has also been submitted to Brent Council to list the building under the Localism Act.

Friends of Preston Library (FOPL) campaigners have been vociferous in their protests at not having a library presence within this ward, creating a ‘Wall of Shame’ which at one stage was completely covered with the views of local residents who wished to vent their opinions on the Library’s closure.

The “Wall of Shame” outside Preston Library until earlier this year
(Photo courtesy of South Kenton & Preston Park Residents Association
a zoomable version can be found here, courtesy of David Merrigan).

When the Council decided they’d had enough of this wall and took it down, FOPL also created a pop-up library outside the entrance of the library, only to see this vandalised and soon taken down when a new hoarding (wire fencing, this time around!) was installed in front of the building.

In response to these developments, local people formed a charitable company called Preston Community Library which created a new pop-up library a few doors down the road. The facility opened its doors last month to coincide with the one year anniversary, with premises provided by local notary Jacky Bunce-Linsell. The move follows the repurposing of the Preston Library as classrooms for a local school in a move which typifies the Council’s response to a shortage of classroom provision in the borough as a whole. YourNewsUKtv has produced a short video about this.

Philip Bromberg of the FOPL campaign contends volunteer arrangements are acceptable “in the short or even the medium term” but states that the campaign is, and always has been, “for the return of a publicly owned, publicly funded and publicly accountable library”.


The volunteer library on Preston Road.

The Light of Learning Torch Relay

The relay outside The Willesden Bookshop (also closed as part of Brent’s Transformation Project)

On 13 October 2012, an event took place to commemorate one year since the library closures. Margaret Bailey stressed this ‘Light of Learning’ torch relay, which included guest readings from authors Rahila Gupta and Adam Baron, should also be viewed as a celebration of all the hard work campaigners have put into keeping the libraries open. The campaign amassed 8,766 letters and signatures to former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, whilst petitions to save each of the individual libraries continue to gain support (for instance the on-going Restore Kensal Rise Library petition). So far these appeals have somewhat fallen on deaf ears, with those in authority proving unsympathetic towards these pleas.

The opening of volunteer libraries is no-one’s notion of an ideal situation but has been born out of necessity in Brent. Quite simply, it is a case of ‘do or die’ for these libraries and where a groundswell of support for libraries in the borough has failed to materialise, the future for those libraries is now bleak – a fate which has befallen the libraries of Tokyngton and Neasden. In Tokyngton’s case, for a while it was rumoured members of the Occupy movement had moved into the library (as has happened in Friern Barnet). Sadly, it later emerged these were “guardians” who Brent Council had employed to protect the building as this become the first Brent library to be sold off. Neasden, meanwhile, was always going to be the most difficult to library to try to save. The Council only leases this high street outlet and already this has been sub-let to a church group called Christ Embassy.

I would not go so far as to suggest that implementing volunteer libraries is the way to go in all public authorities where libraries are under threat. What is happening in Brent, though, shows people still care about physical libraries, they still need them and many are prepared to make tremendous sacrifices to keep them going, even in the face of strident opposition. How could anyone working within the library sector be anything but encouraged by this?! I work within the academic sector and as such I do not feel I am in any position to suggest what is right for public libraries as a whole. As a qualified librarian, though, I do not feel threatened by the presence of volunteer libraries in Brent – quite the opposite, in fact. I respect the work of those professionals in the remaining Brent libraries to transform their services and am certain the new Brent Civic Centre Library will be a big improvement upon the current Town Hall Library. Yet I am far more encouraged to see some of the work that is being done where the libraries have been closed. I am heartened that so many people have put a great deal of work into retaining a library presence in areas which desperately need them. In this respect, Camden Public Library Users’ Group’s sentiments in their provocative blog post, The Demonising of Library Volunteers ring true, viewing those who are prepared to give their time and energy as “the heroic pawns in a local government story of indifference and mismanagement”.

Something I have witnessed first hand has been the incredible generosity which people have shown in providing support for these burgeoning volunteer setups. When I have spoken to friends and colleagues about what is happening in Brent, they have frequently offered to provide a lending hand towards the project, whether this be through attendance at a fundraising event, by signing a petition or (more often than not) donating their own books. Companies are helping out too, for instance Friends of Barham Park Library recently took possession of large donations from prestigious organisations such as Usborne Books (Children’s Publisher of the Year) and the Healthy Planet charity.

The role of Brent Council

Brent Council’s lack of regard for the views of Brent residents on their plans for the borough’s libraries was clear from February 2011. This was when they decided to set a budget which assumed the library closures would go ahead, despite the consultation on the Libraries Transformation Project having weeks left to run. The testimonies I have received from those leading the volunteer libraries would suggest that Brent Council did nothing to support the setting up of community-led libraries under the Council’s previous leadership which governed until May of this year. In many cases, the Council has been deliberately obstructive to such libraries being set up in the area.

Brent Labour councillor James Powney makes his views clear about volunteer libraries in his diatribe of a blog roll. In one post he completely fails to acknowledge the efforts of those generous enough to give up their time to staff a fledgling community library in Blackheath. In the same post he also bizarrely includes a link to an article from the Blackheath Bugle, the tone of which is heavily critical towards his own colleagues in Lewisham! His interpretation of the latest figures for Brent Libraries visits and issues is a rather skewed one too, as several commentators on his blog have noted, blindly failing to take into account the closed libraries when comparing 2011-2012 figures for the borough to previous year’s figures (these were obtained via a Freedom of Information request). In actual fact, it has been disappointing to see the closures have resulted in a fall in visits of around 20% (from 836,962 to 683,333) contrary to the 1.5% reduction Mr. Powney has calculated by ignoring the six shut services.

Figures for the whole year (Oct – Sept 2011/12 compared to the same period in 2010/11) show a drop of just over 300,000 visitors with 200,000 fewer issues. James Powney even goes so far as to accuse the devoted campaigners from the projects outlined here of being partly responsible for driving away library users in Brent, suggesting “the huge negative publicity that the litigants generated in itself damaged library usage”. To his credit, Mr. Powney chooses to publish many of the comments made about the library closures on this blog. In his latest post on the subject, he has stated that he will carefully consider “a reasonable set of queries” put to him in the comments section of a previous post (“Kensal Green Puzzle” posted on 17 October). These were comments which accurately predicted the selling off of Kensal Rise and Cricklewood Libraries by All Souls for use as flats. Only time will tell whether Mr. Powney will be true to his word and address residents’ enraged complaints about the sale of these historic libraries.

Brent Council envisages use of libraries in the borough will have risen from current levels by 2014-15 but unlike other Councils, it has neglected to provide interim measures to cope with the shortfall in service provision. Margaret highlights those users who come to the pop-up library at Kensal Rise regularly and suffer from mobility problems, as well as those too young to travel on their own as particular victims of Brent’s library closures.  She also notes how “there is very little in the community other than the library” and feels this building represents the “last remaining public space”. In his interview for the Public Library News website, Mr. Powney claims it is “important that Brent Libraries retain their brand value” as a case against community-run projects, seeing it as a case of quality over quantity, yet this would seem to belittle the concerns of individual communities on having the cultural heart of their areas and a place to go for the disenfranchised among them ripped away.

Partnerships & Communities

The answer to Brent’s woes may come in the partnerships formed out of these hardships. Kensal Rise has already joined up with Bilbary to provide ebooks through its website, with the help of library advocate Tim Coates. Campaigners are now also looking to work in partnership with trained staff wherever possible, as well as with other services in dual purpose or multi-purpose setups.

Partnerships are an area which the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee report on library closures covered in some detail (including the possibility of co-operation between local authorities). The Committee says:

“Libraries are often hubs of local communities. While the provision of books and electronic access to information remain core tasks, libraries are often used for a far wider range of activities that benefit communities. Co-ordination with other service providers—especially in the areas of education and health—provides opportunities to enhance this. There are many examples of imaginative sharing of buildings and resources.”

It is still hard to tell whether the new leadership of Brent Council will result in the local authority taking a more flexible approach on this issue. Certainly since Muhammed Butt became Brent Council’s leader in May, the lines of communication have been more open. “There is a discussion now” says Margaret Bailey, who points to other London Councils, such as Lambeth as being more open to the idea of supporting community projects which incorporate libraries. The Labour Council has not previously been prepared to open talks about the possibility of libraries which are, at least in part, community run.

Volunteer libraries are, of course, a hugely contentious issue within the library sector as a whole. The CMS Committee is not keen on the idea of libraries which are wholly run by communities, stating that councils must continue to give volunteer libraries “the necessary support to maintain the service”.

Margaret Bailey herself argues that the Council has left the Kensal Rise community with no choice but to run the library themselves and moreover, like many other Brent campaigners, is staunchly opposed to the idea of volunteer run libraries, believing public services should be run by public servants.

The S.O.S. campaign continues…

Brent Council has not been receptive to the idea of reaching a compromise over these libraries in the past, resulting in clashes with campaigners at times and the imposition of substantial legal costs. It is the Council’s sheer lack of care and sympathy for the plight of Brent libraries under the previous regime that has been the real tragedy of the Brent Transformation Project. The eventual fate of the buildings at Kensal Rise and Cricklewood remains in the hands of All Souls but at least the College has insisted there will be a library presence in each case. Last month’s ‘Light of Learning’ event, healthy representation from library campaigners at the October 20th anti-cuts protest march and a potential shift in attitude on behalf of the Council have demonstrated  there is still some hope, nonetheless, that Brent’s S.O.S. call may yet be answered.

Glow stick banner outside Preston Library (photo courtesy of Margaret Smith of FOPL)

Some of the S.O.S. campaigners at the October 20th Protest March (photo courtesy of Linda Green of the FOPL campaign).

(I am currently taking part in the CPD23 Things programme and was approached via my blog to write something for Voices for the Library. I grew up in Brent and now work in an academic library. The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. I can be contacted via Twitter @LibraryBod)

Libraries in danger – a different angle

Chair of the Historic Libraries Forum, Katie Flanagan, provided us with the following guest post regarding the management of historic book collections in libraries.


Repeatedly we’ve seen reports in the media about public libraries selling off their rare book collections (often referred to as “antiquarian books” or “historic books”). Although the Historic Libraries Forum, alongside other bodies, tries to offer advice to all kinds of libraries with historic collections, we are sometimes too late hearing about the sale to be able to prevent the loss of the books overseas and/or into private hands. We approached Voices for the Library as a way of reaching out to public libraries with these collections, hopefully to offer advice and support before collections have to be sold, and prevent the negative publicity that often results for these libraries.

What are these collections? Many public libraries have some older books (published before 1850, although some may be more recent). Often they may be part of a “hidden collection”, languishing in a cupboard or basement, uncatalogued and therefore not used. Sometimes they were given to the library as a donation by someone with local connections; sometimes they were purchased by former librarians as a resource, intended for the use of local people.

Books like these aren’t like 20th and 21st century textbooks, to be weeded when a new edition comes along, so the principles of collection management that apply to the main parts of the library’s collection don’t apply here. Even if the “same” book appears in the collection in a later edition, the earlier one represents a different version, an important element of its printing history, and not simply an out-of-date edition. These books are not only interesting because of their content. Early printed books weren’t bound uniformly before being sold, as books are now, so each binding is unique to the book, and represents a resource for historians. Another growth area of study is the history of reading, ownership of the books themselves and how books were used. This can be traced through ownership marks (called “provenance”), such as book-plates, inscriptions and annotations on the text.

To a public library facing the current economic challenges, the decision of how to deal with books like these may seem obvious. Selling them off removes books that are taking up space, perhaps not being used and raises money for the library. But it isn’t as simple as this. Selling off rare or historical books can be a short-sighted measure, particularly (as we have seen lately) if the proceeds are put towards acquiring new technology that will itself be out-of-date in a few years. Moreover, books that were given to the library as a bequest often came with conditions attached: for example, that the collection be maintained complete and in perpetuity for the use of the people of the town. Conditions such as these still hold, even centuries later.

As a resource, a collection of books given as a bequest is far more valuable together than split into separate lots because of what they can tell us about how people collected. Some public libraries have been able to realise this value in a variety of ways. Manchester Public Library, for instance, has placed images from their rare books and special collections on Flickr, as well as welcoming anyone who wants to see them in person. Rare books from Cardiff public library now have a safe home at Cardiff University, where they can still be accessed by local people, as well as used for research. Obviously, collections that aren’t catalogued aren’t accessible, as how can people know that they are there? They may not be included in the library catalogue, but they may have been catalogued in the past and included in union catalogues such as the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) or the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

What can you do if your library owns some rare books? Advice about promotion, cataloguing and conservation are available from a number of bodies, including the Historic Libraries Forum, the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the Bibliographical Society. If your library is struggling to provide suitable storage for books like these often a satisfactory conclusion can be reached through making contacts at a local university library, thus ensuring the books still remain accessible to the local population. The CILIP RBSCG has a Disposals policy freely available on its website, which includes advice about ensuring access to the books continues into the future.

Katie Flanagan

Chair, Historic Libraries Forum

Many people rely on the library just to survive…

The following post was contributed by Bradley Corrigan-Toole.  Bradley is currently completing a Duke of Edingburgh award at bronze level and volunteers at Batley Library and Information Centre.

Batley library’s collection includes the complete works of Joseph Priestley. Image c/o Ulleskelf on Flickr.

Libraries are an extremely important part of daily life for thousands of people. They rely on us for many reasons. Not only do we provide books: we also provide IT and IT training facilities, audio books, CDs & DVDs, readers’ groups, writers’ groups and children’s activities, large print books and genre specific books. We have sections that are designated solely to teen & children’s books.

Most libraries have an extensive reference section. For example, at Batley library, we have a reference section which includes the complete works of local born scientist Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen. We have approximately twenty local history boxes, each covering a different topic. We also have old maps of the area, family history records and much, much more. Some libraries have an art gallery too. We do. Our current exhibition shows artwork from children ranging from primary school age to degree from the last 100 years.

Some LIC’s (Library & Information Centres) offer bill paying methods which makes it extremely convenient for customers to pay their bills whilst going to get books. There are many people that rely on the library just to survive. For example, there is a 90 year old woman that comes into the library every Saturday without fail to get some books. She’s told us that because she’s so old that she can’t do anything else and that she reads all day. That is one example of where a library is someone’s lifeline.

But we don’t have to be someone’s lifeline to prove our worth: many able bodied, younger people use the library, just to use our extensive services.

If you would like to write a post about how libraries/librarians have had an impact on you or why you think they are important, please contact us at

Libraries and Community Resilience

This post is to highlight some of the valuable and relevant public libraries research emerging from the Departments of Library and Information Science around the UK. Daniel Grace conducted his Masters dissertation at the University of Sheffield in 2011, and his work is entitled ‘The Role of the Public Library in Promoting Community Resilience’. You can access and download it from the University of Sheffield website by clicking here. Here’s a few words from Dan about his work:

We’re all doomed! Got your attention? Good. Now perhaps I’m exaggerating, maybe we’re not all doomed quite yet, but communities are facing increasing threats from disasters precipitated by a host of factors, including climate change, economic collapse, and energy insecurity. In the face of such problems, communities must adopt strategies that build resilience, giving them the capacity to adapt positively to these changes. My Masters dissertation explores the role that public libraries might play in this process. It is a relatively new area of research, but one that is attracting an increasing amount of interest (the ALA has just released a book on the topic), and one that seems vital to pursue if we are to ensure that public libraries remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

If you have any thoughts, comments, or criticisms drop me a line at danpgrace[at] or @DanPGrace on Twitter. I also blog about this kind of stuff here.

Celebrate Your Library project

This guest blog post from Hilary Chittenden explains why she and Victoria started their “Celebrate your library” project.

My mum has worked in public libraries for nearly a decade now, and I have always loved hearing about the huge variety of people that she interacts with on a daily basis. In one single day she can act as a teacher, friend, children’s entertainer, information point – all depending on what the public want to use the library for. It dawned on me that libraries are so much more than books but are molded by the people that use them. They mean something different to every person that walks through their doors and the library users are what make libraries so great. Yes, we all know that books are brill, that libraries play an important role in children’s educational development and allow people of all ages and backgrounds access to books and information, but what about the social importance of libraries? I asked people the simple question “Why do you love your library?”:

“The library feels like the hub of the community. We recently moved to the area and going to the library has not only provided fantastic reading material for the whole family but also it has made us feel part of the community.”

“The library has been a lifeline since I had a baby… It enables parents to socialise when they may be isolated”

 Celebrate My Library Comments Cards

“I enjoy coming in to read the papers and borrow the books. It gives me something to do during the day.”

“Since moving here two years ago I have met many mums who have similar aged children. I especially like my library because the staff are soooo welcoming and hands on with the children!”

“The ladies in the library, I’ve known them for a long long time. They know me and I know them and they are so helpful. If I ever need any information they go on the computer and they print it off for me.”

“We’ve been coming to the library since we came to the country. It was great when we had just moved and didn’t have the internet.”

“I’m out of work at the moment, and the library provides me with a work place environment and office style facilities so I can concentrate better on finding work.”

“When I’m home from uni in the holidays I come here to do my revision. It’s a focused space, nice and quiet and I can’t work well at home. I use it for the desk space – I come in and get my head down.”

“I’m learning English. My sister teaches me and I come in and read to get better. I bring my children to read the picture books and stories. I love the library.”

“We get a lot of people coming in to the library that I worry about – where can they go, who they can talk to, when we’re closed for Christmas.”

“It became more important when my husband died… It allows me to escape.”

This small selection is just a handful of the overwhelming feedback I received from speaking to library users up and down the country. There were so many touching and varied reasons that people loved and relied on their libraries. This inspired me to start ‘Celebrate my Library’ to do just that – to share all the reasons beyond the books that libraries are so important to peoples lives. Our ultimate aim is to help people who don’t yet use libraries to see how much they can better your life (but it’s early days yet.)

For now we are concentrating on speaking to as many people as we can about why they love their libraries. We have been working with 8 different councils around the country, and are planning some events that will collect and circulate people’s love for libraries. Our next endeavor is going to be a children’s poetry/story writing competition along the “I love my library” theme with successful applications being teamed up with illustrators to create a beautiful book and exhibition. We then plan to use the funds raised to publish a newspaper of all the different reasons that people love their libraries and circulate it… (phew!) but like I said, it’s early days yet!

Our main aim right now is to spread the word – Celebrate your library! And not just for the books.

If you want to know more about our project, get involved or tell us why YOU celebrate your library, please get in touch at or visit our blog at www.

We’d love to hear from you.

Hilary and Victoria



Will Medway libraries really offer ‘Better for Less’?

The following post was written by Andrew Day and originally appeared on The Medway Broadside website.  Andrew has very kindly given permission for us to reproduce it here.


Rochester Castle in Medway, Kent. Medway Council is a unitary authority separate to Kent County Council. (Image c/o Alex Ridgway on Flickr.)

Public libraries have been a mainstay of my life. They represent an individual’s right to acquire knowledge; they are the sinews that bind civilized societies the world over. Without libraries, I would be a pauper, intellectually and spiritually.’

James A. Michener

This may be news to some, and old news to others, but it’s worth repeating:  Medway Council plans to move council services, including the payment of bills, into five of its town centre libraries. The proposals will see library staff partnered with customer contact staff, to answer enquiries and deliver council services to members of the public as part of the council’s ‘Better For Less’ cost-cutting program. These proposals are bundled in with the loss of seventy jobs from across the council’s teams, some of which, it has been alleged, will come from among library staff.

It seems then, that Medway’s librarians, as well being thinner on the ground, will also be expected to deliver services carried out by specialist, and now presumably redundant, customer service staff. Although librarianship may seem to be all about books, it is a complex, information science-based subject, that requires study to Bachelors of Masters level to qualify. It can encompass anything from children’s librarianship to archives management, the very skills that underpin Medway Libraries’ vibrant, and award winning children’s services, local studies centres and library-based events.

Rather than putting their specialist skills to use, the skills that allow librarians to recommend a book, run a childrens’ story session, or pull up a census record from the archives, the Council wants them to spend time processing council tax bills, or answering questions about bin collections.

Applying the same optimistic stretch of logic implied in ‘Better For Less’, you might consider asking your hairdresser to sort out your tax return next time you go for a haircut, or ask the check-out boy at Tesco Metro what the second volume in Sartre’s Roads to Freedom Trilogy is. There’s every chance he might know, of course, but it would still be a distraction from his normal job role, and a stretch of his professional skills to start answering questions on existentialist fiction whilst he’s making sure you’ve got your Clubcard points.

Asking a librarian to do a council customer services operative’s job is no different: it’s a distraction from an already complex and demanding job, and an unnecessary misapplication of their skills. Satire apart, what the council are proposing may seem relatively insignificant and inoffensive, but it could be the difference between your library functioning as a library (staff who know their books, Baby Bounce and Rhyme Time, talks by local historians, creative writing classes) and operating as some kind of bastardised Post Office counter, where confused,  lonely  books jockey for attention with council tax Direct Debt slips.

‘…the book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it’s the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity. Beware of anyone who tries to make books harder to get at.’

(Philip Pullman)

The core purpose of a library is to lend books, or in a more 21st century setting, to enable access to literature and information in all their forms, from print to e-books.  Medway‘s libraries have acted enthusiastically when called upon to branch out into community services, and run a wide range of activities, events and services, all targeted at the library’s core aim of enlightening and empowering its community through free access to information. It is acknowledged that as a community space, and community service, libraries have a role in branching beyond more traditional functions, but the key here is that those functions should use librarians’ professional skills toinform and empower people.

Acting as an ersatz service point for council queries and bill payments does nothing to inform and empower people. It will prevent library staff from doing those very things as they are torn away from their core roles. The government report on public libraries, published in 2005, was very clear on the dangers of over-stretching and over-burdening library services:

‘We recognise that libraries are viewed as safe public environments and as such have the potential to act as a suitable home for services meeting a wide range of community needs and wishes. However, it is equally clear to us that libraries must not be over-loaded with objectives or expectations that strain their resources or inhibit the fulfilment of their core functions [my emphasis]… Libraries and their staff cannot be expected to constitute a one-stop shop for all a community’s demands for information and advice without the appropriate allocation, and clear demarcation, of resources.’

(Culture, Media and Sport Committee, 2005)

The council’s proposals fly in the face of expert, carefully researched advice. With potential redundancies yet to be confirmed, the situation at Medway’s libraries may yet get even worse. It might be easier to accept this, in the current economic climate, if the council didn’t have such a rich track record of going millions of pounds over-budget  on mis-managed captial projects, or devoting their energies to headline-grabbing, but unsuccessful, city status bids. The Save Medway Libraries page alleges that council money was spent on consultants to review library services, without them even visiting a library. Given the paucity of public information available on the proposed changes, it is impossible to substantiate this, although local councillor Vince Maple has been openly critical of the council’s record of  spending public funds on external consultants.

Medway Council should value its libraries – it is in charge of a vibrant, active, professional library service that does mountains of good work to benefit the community. Nowhere is immune to cuts and changes in these straitened times, but a good council should recognise the value of what it has, and should not water down or over-burden existing services to make short-term savings. If we lose our library services, or if they are turned into something less than what they are, we might never get them back. If you are concerned about the proposed changes, write to your  local MP or councillor, join the Save Medway Libraries Facebook page (N.B. this hasn’t been updated recently) and, if you haven’t for a while, visit your local library. There’s a lot of good stuff going on there.

The Terrifying World of Children’s Fiction

Should we really be concerned about “scary” children’s fiction? (Image c/o ‘smil on Flickr.)

Jess Haigh wrote the following post in response to author GP Taylor’s recent suggestion that children’s books need age certification. It was originally posted on the Leeds Book Club blog and is reproduced here with permission.

GP Taylor, Cloughton’s Famous Son, has been blathering on the radio creating mounds of self publicity drumming up awareness of the horror that is children’s fiction. It Has Gone Too Far, he says, There Is No Innocence Any More. The Children, it would seem, Are Not Being Thought Of.

This from a man whose books, set around my home town, include evil sorcerers, vampires, and close encounters with death. A man who also, in his former life as an Anglican vicar, represented a religion that teaches children the story of a man who was born in a stable, as a five week old infant chased out of the place of his birth because of mass infanticide, regularly encountered deprivation and disease and was tortured to death, as a lifestyle choice.

Children’s books are often derided for being ‘too’ scary, depressing, or dis-heartening. They encounter too much loss and heartache too young and there is far too much violence. To a point, I would agree. I’ve been reading Michael Grant’s Gone series along with a 12 year old mate of mine, and there are some parts when I think ‘should she really be reading about this teenager having his arms burnt off and replaced with whip-like tentacles? Should she really be reading about teenagers seeing their siblings die in horrible, horrible ways?’. Then I, you know, talk to her about what she is reading and she absolutly loves it. She refuses to read books that aren’t massively violent-these books reflect for her an exciting world. And she knows violence is wrong, she doesn’t get into fights, we TALK about how the books make us feel and we learn from the emotions that come up.

Children need the darkness, just like adults do. There is reason we used to sneak-watch scary movies when we were kids, because we enjoy them. Controlled fear is good for us*, in moderation, it allows us to express emotions we otherwise would have no outlet to. And there is a massive difference anyway between gore and fear-a teenager bashing the heads of Zombies in with ski poles like the heroine of the excellent Undead by Kirsty McKay is a lot different to the chills up the spine of The Yellow Wallpaper.

It is the ‘there is too many troubled children with absent parents’ line that worries me, because this is segregating differently parented children and families into Universal vs Adults only. Josie Smith, one of my favourite series as a very young child, doesn’t have a dad, a fact that is made clear from the start. Is GP Taylor going to have an excellent series of books that shows a functioning single parent family many of the younger readers could either emphasise with, or learn to have empathy for, struck off because it doesn’t fit in with his ascribed lifestyle? There are books about kids being abandoned, stuck in poverty, and troubled because kids are abandoned, stuck in poverty and troubled. Something which the various religious institutions, for all their good works, have completely failed to deal with. There is a reason misereographies are so popular- 1 in 3 children will have suffered from neglect or abuse in their life time. 1.6 million children in the UK live in poverty- almost half of the children in Hyde Park in Leeds do. Why should these children’s lives, albeit fictional accounts, be repressed as not suitable for a wider audience? Why should a child, living on their own or in care, or as a carer, or with parents who don’t care, why should that child not be able to find relatable characters in fiction books because some one whose life is OK thinks it not suitable for them?

What needs to happen, what really needs to happen, is for the ludicrousy of this scheme to get more publicity, but also for library campaigners to jump on it. THIS is why you need qualified, motivated people in the schools who read and love and know the books, who can recommend accordingly, who know how to sensitively and not patronisingly steer away from the triggers, who will not compromise on freedom of speech but will recommend and lend wisely. Also know as, you guessed it, LIBRARIANS. Not ONE single political party supports A Librarian For Every School. This is the sort of thing that shows that they are needed and, if allowed to be so, could be incredibly valued.

Children are always going to like fictionalised violence, because adults like fictionalised violence. The Orange Prize received a lot of slack for being too depressing a couple of years ago. Until the world is made of sunshine and rainbows, though, we need our fiction to be relatable, not boring, and we need, more than anything, to be able to trust our children to make choices for themselves, be able to talk to them about what they read and deal with what it brings up accordingly.

That’s what I think, anyway.

*Read Bettelheim’s the Uses of Enchantment, it is excellent, and says all this stuff far more eloquently

My little rant about libraries – Bex’s story

The following post was contributed by Bex Hughes and originally appeared on her book review blog, An Armchair by the Sea. We are grateful to Bex for allowing us to reproduce an edited version of her post here.

The Old Library, Windmill rd, Hampton Hill. (Image c/o Jonathan Cardy).

A lot has been going on with the libraries lately, especially in my former home town of London. I think, though I’m not sure, that this is also the case in the U.S as well as here in the U.K, but certainly there has been a lot of hype over our wonderful (heavy, heavy sarcasm) government and their ideas about what is culturally important and what isn’t. Apparently, it isn’t important that children be encouraged to read independently, or that they are provided with a safe haven outside of the home where they can go to do homework or just sit on the internet without their sister hanging over their shoulder going ‘it’s my turn now, you’ve had an hour, get off the computer!’.

This is the library I grew up in. It’s a converted fire station and over the door, although you can’t see it in this photo, the words ‘Free Library’ are carved into the stone. The whole of the right hand side was the children’s section, and we used to go there for story time once a week pretty much since I was born, and with all of my siblings. We also used to have a weekly excursion to the library – of course precluded by me running around the house shouting at people to help me find whatever book I’d lost that week, which quite often turned up in the end of my bed…- and I still remember how excited I was when I turned 11 and could take out ten books on my card instead of five (don’t even get me started on how excited I was when we moved to Kent, aged 23, and found out I could take out THIRTY books). As a child, buying books was a total luxury – we used to go to the local children’s bookshop (The Lion and the Unicorn, which has to be my favourite children’s bookshop ever, and I know I share all these links with you and you will probably never go to the places, but I wouldn’t like to not share them, and then you’re somehow in the area and miss out because you don’t know about them!) once a year, at the beginning of the summer holidays and we got to buy two new books each for the summer and it was about the most exciting thing ever. So without the library, my discovery of new worlds (especially those of The Babysitter’s Club, The Saddle Club, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven) would have been hugely limited.

Two major mainstays of my childhood existence were the craft days that the library used to run during school holidays, where we would do an entire day of craft activities based around a particular book (I don’t remember any of the books in particular, but when my brother was little they did a really good one on The Gruffalo). We used to make murals and stuff and it was awesome and you got to meet loads of people who lived in the area who you would often then see during your weekly trips to the library. Also, they cost about £2 to attend, which was really good for our family of 7! The other one was library book sales! One year my sister gave me about 20 Babysitters Club books for Christmas, which she had been buying from library sales for 10p each for most of the year. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ever presents.

I know I’m one of those geeky people who is slightly too obsessed with books and reading, but I did actually have a very balanced childhood – lots of swimming, athletics, long walks in the park with my family where my mum would teach us how to make signs out of sticks and trail each other, after school drama club, piano lessons… etc etc etc. Despite all of that, I literally cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like without my library, and although both of the areas I call home have been really lucky during this whole library closures situation, I know there are many others who haven’t been so fortunate, and I am so sad for them.

Zadie Smith has written a beautiful article about the closures in North West London, which I would really recommend reading if you’ve any interest in the issue. Somehow the local council think it’s OK to storm an historic building in the middle of the night, removing articles of importance (including the plaque from its’ opening by Mark Twain!!). I don’t understand quite how we can get through to the government that it’s really not OK to treat literature this way; that just because it isn’t ‘valuable’ to them (or because other services are deemed more important), doesn’t mean it isn’t to anybody, and I know that a lot of people have little interest in what happens in London, but having lived there I would say that by closing down libraries they’re just asking to make a whole load of problems very much worse.

I know that it isn’t just me who feels strongly that the closure of libraries is wrong; I’m writing in a community of people who adore books and libraries, and whose childhoods were probably as shaped by them if not more than mine was. I don’t know what to do about it, so I’m writing about it.

This article from the Guardian website has a lot of stats about the popularity of libraries – apparently they are the most popular facility provided by councils, despite various councillors continually telling us they are not used.

Also, little quote from the awesome that is Roald Dahl:

“Over the next few afternoons Mrs Phelps could hardly take her eyes from the small girl sitting for hour after hour in the big armchair at the far end of the room with the book on her lap. It was necessary to rest it on the lap because it was too heavy for her to hold up, which meant she had to sit leaning forward in order to read. And a strange sight it was, this tiny dark-haired person sitting there with her feet nowhere near touching the floor, totally absorbed in the wonderful adventures of Pip and old Miss Havisham and her cobwebbed house and by the spell of magic that Dickens the great story-teller had woven with his words.”

Parental neglect and the fact that we aren’t all prodigy’s like Matilda aside, surely this is the kind of experience that libraries have the potential to provide? Why does anybody feel they have the right to take that experience away?

If you would like to write a post about how libraries/librarians have had an impact on you or why you think they are important, please contact us at

Library closures – challenging the DCMS

We have been asked by Geoffrey Dron of Save Bolton Libraries Campaign to publish the following, regarding intervention requests made to the DCMS by library campaigners and the lack of response to these requests.  Geoffrey asks campaigners to contact him if they feel joint complaints ought to be made on behalf of the affected groups to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Please read his full request below for further details.


Many groups protesting against the closure of libraries in their respective areas will have lodged requests with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for intervention under its statutory duties and powers by, in particular, directing the holding of an inquiry into the library authorities’ proposals, in many cases executed in the time which has elapsed since the requests were lodged.

By way of example, Save Bolton Libraries Campaign and Bolton and District Civic Trust lodged their requests, which relate to the closure of five of Bolton Council’s libraries, by 1st February 2012.   In spite of reminders and a letter from the MP for Bolton NE, the DCMS has taken no action in relation to the requests other than seeking further information from the Council, which the latter supplied in February.  The Council’s proposals have been implemented.

It is thought that other groups have been faced with similar inaction on the part of the DCMS.  Indeed, its website reveals that in only one case (Brent) has the DCMS even gone so far as to issue a letter indicating a provisional view (in that case that it is minded not to intervene) but inviting further representations.  It is becoming difficult to escape the conclusion that the DCMS has adopted a policy of inaction in the hope that library user groups will get fed up and go away.

Whether attributable to deliberate policy or incompetence, the delay by the DCMS in dealing with the requests, even allowing for the engagement of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State, in matters such as the Olympics and the Leveson Inquiry, has reached the point where action to compel it to express its views in ‘minded to’  form is required.  There is a strong case for suggesting that joint complaints ought to be made on behalf of the affected groups to the Parliamentary Ombudsman alleging maladministration in relation to the failure to deal with the requests in a timely manner.  Such complaints, which require endorsement by local MPs and ought to be preceded by advance notification giving a relatively short period to deal with the requests, ought to be lodged with attendant publicity and before the Olympics.

Representatives of groups whose requests for intervention are currently imprisoned in the limbo of the DCMS are asked to contact Geoffrey Dron of Save Bolton Libraries Campaign ( if they consider the approach suggested might have merit.  It is hoped to start a discussion on how to move matters forward.   Consideration might be given to a meeting of representatives at a mutually convenient venue, but the first step is probably to find out what the overall appetite is for complaints of maladministration.


In reference to the above request we have received the attached letter as follow up to Jeremy Hunt from Save Bolton Libraries Campaign, which we have been asked to publish here.

Save Bolton Libraries Letter June 2012