Category Archives: statements

Statement on the ebook lending review

Ebooks in public libraries will not hurt the publishing industry. (Image c/o goXunuReviews on Flickr.

Voices for the Library cautiously welcomes the news that Ed Vaizey has announced a review of ebooks in public libraries.  Both users and professionals believe that ebooks should play a central role in the delivery of library services.  Providing access to information, no matter what format, has always been central to the ethos of the public library.

Whilst we are pleased to learn that a review has been launched, we continue to be disappointed by the attitude of the Publishers Association.  Richard Mollet, chair of the Association, recently told Channel 4:

“When it is as easy to buy a book as to click a button and borrow one, a lot more people are going to take the borrowing option, and that has serious implications for authors and their royalties, for booksellers and as well for publishers.”

At Voices for the Library, we do not believe that loaning ebooks will damage the publishing industry any more than the lending of print books has done. It may be as easy to click a button and borrow a book as it is to buy one, but it is equally as easy to click a button and buy a book.  Furthermore, whilst it may be easy to click and borrow an ebook, the user is only borrowing it for a limited time.  After three weeks, that ebook disappears from the user’s device.  As such, for the vast majority of readers, we can only see the limited borrowing of an ebook as encouraging user to buy more ebooks, not fewer.

The Publishers Association also fails to take into account that the reverse is true – that for many it has always been as easy to buy a book (in printed form) as to borrow one, and yet this has not harmed book sales.  For those living in rural communities a trip to the library is far more convenient than a trip to the town centre to buy a book.  And yet, despite the supposed advantage the Publishers Association suggests, public libraries have not forced the closure of bookshops up and down the country.

We assume that the Publishers Association’s response to ebooks in libraries is drawn from their fear that digital books will do for their industry as it has done for the music industry. There is no evidence that the free provision of ebooks in public libraries will have the impact they fear.

The review is an opportunity to put the case for public libraries offering ebooks to their users free of charge.  We must ensure that the Publishers Association’s scare-mongering doesn’t drown out reason and common sense.  Now is the time for a grown-up, reasoned discussion about where ebooks fit in the public library service.  We hope that the Publishers Association will engage constructively and sensibly in the debate.  Both their industry and public libraries will be relying on it.

Congratulations to ‘Library Songwriters: Skipton Rewind Club’ – CILIP’s Libraries Change Lives winners 2012

We at Voices for the Library would like to offer our congratulations to the team behind North Yorkshire’s “Library Songwriters: Skipton Rewind Club” on being awarded the 21st CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award.  The scheme uses libraries as a cultural centre to help teenagers develop their songwriting skills and support their confidence by helping them to develop and deliver their own events (see the clip below).

Linda Constable, chair of the Libraries Change Lives panel, highlighted the significant impact this scheme has had on local teenagers:

“In the wake of last year’s riots today’s teenagers have received so much negative press.  Today, we would like to celebrate teenagers. Here we have an inspired project with dedicated library staff working with some engaged and enthusiastic youngsters to learn vital life skills whilst doing something that they love. This project shows what teenagers can do when encouraged, not criticised. It also highlights the continued importance of committed and highly-skilled librarians who are often unsung heroes in our communities.”

These awards demonstrate the many varied ways in which libraries provide a vital and important service for many in the local community.  As Annie Mauger (CILIP Chief Executive) noted, these awards demonstrate “the power of libraries and librarians to shape and transform lives.”  Both libraries and librarians do have a positive impact on our communities, and it is through initiatives such as these that they demonstrate their value to both young and old.

Congratulations to all involved in the Skipton Rewind Club and to all the projects nominated for this award.  Libraries and librarians really can make a difference in local communities and all of the nominated projects demonstrate that they really can change lives for the better.

Time to vote for libraries

Vote for libraries on May 3rd (image c/o Alan Cleaver on Flickr).

Thursday May 3rd sees local elections once more taking place across the UK.  Once more, this is a chance to hold to account those politicians who have been behind moves to close libraries or forcing communities into running them themselves.  This is a chance to send a strong message to politicians who have not listened to library users and hold them to account for their refusal to engage or listen to the concerns of library users.

Take, for example, Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris.  As a result of his leadership, five libraries were closed across the town, including Oxford Grove library in his own ward of Halliwell.  Secretary of the local Save Bolton Libraries campaign, Ian McHugh, will be standing against Cllr Morris representing the Green Party.  We wish Ian the best of luck in his efforts.

In Doncaster, a referendum will be held to decide whether Doncaster will be run by a mayor or by a leader of the council.  This is an opportunity for the people of Doncaster to reject their mayor, who has wreaked havoc across the borough and seriously undermined the principles of democratic accountability.  In the past couple of months, Mayor Davies has defended his decision to veto £380,000 worth of investment in libraries and has overruled a majority council decision to reopen libraries at Denaby and Carcroft.  We very much hope that the people of Doncaster reject their existing system and choose one that is more democratic, backing the clear will of the people of Doncaster to provide a properly funded library service.

Campaigners in London also have an opportunity to remove those that have been hostile to public library provision.  Voters in Barnet and Camden, for example, have an opportunity to reject Brian Coleman as their representative in the London Assembly.  Coleman has been a key inspiration behind attempts to close libraries within the borough, despite being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.  In Croydon and Sutton, library users will be alarmed to know that candidate Steve O’Connell recently claimed that he “does not care who runs public libraries…All that matters is that they are kept open.”  So replacing paid staff with volunteers seems to be very much on the table as far as O’Connell is concerned.  Furthermore, campaigners in Brent will be looking very carefully at the record of their current representative Navin Shah, who has done little to support campaigners in the fight against their local authority, supporting Brent’s claims that the authority was in an “impossible” position and had no choice.

Come May 3rd those concerned about library closures have a clear choice.  Now is the time to vote for libraries and make sure your local authorities get the message loud and clear: Save Our Libraries.

Surrey judgement should serve as a stark warning about community libraries

Children campaigning for libraries in Gloucestershire last year (image c/o FOGLibraries on Flickr)

Voices for the Library are delighted to hear that Surrey campaigners successfully challenged the decision of Surrey County Council to remove all paid staff from 10 community libraries at the High Court.  Mr Justice Wilkie judged that the council had fallen “substantially short” in giving due regard to the “obvious equality issue” that was apparent in handing over libraries to untrained volunteers.  As a result, the council’s decision of 27th September 2011 was ruled unlawful.

This judgement, following that of the Gloucestershire case in November last year, demonstrates the inequality created by so-called community libraries.  They are simply unable to meet the needs of local communities to the same extent as a service managed and delivered by paid, suitably trained staff supported by professionals.  Replacing professional services and replacing them with a service delivered by unwitting volunteers does a great disservice to the communities in which they operate, effectively creating a two tier system of service delivery.  Whilst one community has access to a fully funded service delivered by fully trained staff, others receive a lesser service, with less support available, at the same cost.

Whilst the Society of Chief Librarians appeared to be happy to endorse community libraries on the Today programme this morning, at Voices for the Library we argue that this is an unacceptable alternative to paid staff supported by professionals.   No community should be forced to accept a second class service on the premise that it is better than no service at all.  Community libraries are not a sustainable alternative and those that do see them as a solution need to be aware that it is not a long-term answer and will simply result in a slower, more painful death of the service in the community.

Councils across the country should see this, and the ruling in Gloucestershire, as a stark warning.  Volunteer run libraries do not meet equalities obligations.  They are not a suitable replacement for a library service delivered by trained (and remunerated) library staff supported by professionals.  And library campaigners everywhere should fight their local authorities to protect their services against such erosion.

National Libraries Day – why did some authorities refuse to celebrate?

Residents in Kent resorted to doing their own thing to support National Libraries Day,

Earlier this month library authorities and library users celebrated the very first National Libraries Day.  Events took place across the country and it was great to hear so many people went out and celebrated their local library service (some photos are available here).  The extent of the celebrations showed that there is still a lot of support out there for the public library service, despite claims of its demise and irrelevance.  Amidst a background of library closures, it was great to see so many people and organisations come together in celebration.

However,whilst many authorities across the country threw their support behind National Libraries Day, some were reluctant to join in the celebrations.  One of several councils who refused to support the event was Kent.  What made this particularly concerning was that not only is Kent one of the largest authorities in the country, it is also headed by the Secretary for the Society of Chief Librarians – one of the supporters of the event.

In advance of the event, Voices for the Library lodged a Freedom of Information request to find out why the authority refused to put on any events under the National Libraries Day banner, or to even mention it on their website or Facebook Page.  The following was disclosed as a result of the request:


As well as the above information, we also received a copy of the now infamous staff briefing distributed across the county in advance of National Libraries Day:


KCC National Libraries Day staff briefing

As an organisation that seeks to highlight the value of libraries and librarians, we are deeply concerned about the actions taken in Kent.  National Libraries Day is an annual national initiative created to celebrate the vital contribution libraries make in our communities, enriching our society and providing the tools to help individuals prosper.  As a result we were very disappointed to learn that Kent and a number of other authorities including Gloucestershire, Croydon and Kensington and Chelsea (amongst others) refused to encourage the celebrations.  We hope next year that those authorities that did fail to participate this year will have a change of heart in 2013.  After all, if we can’t celebrate and promote library services on National Libraries Day, when can we celebrate them?

Support from broadcaster Jenni Trent Hughes

We are very pleased to have received this statement of support from writer, broadcaster and relationship counsellor, Jenni Trent Hughes.

Jenni Trent Hughes“There is nothing in the world more important than a love of reading. Even in this world of internet obsession the feel of a book cannot be compared. Anything we can do to introduce our children and young people to the joys of reading must be done. And anything that would stand in the way of this greatest of pleasures must be stopped. Reading really IS cool…”


MLA assessments on local authorities in the north of England

Via a Freedom of Information request originally made by the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, the MLA supplied the following information assessing the provision and plans for library services in the north of England. In this report (dated December 2010) library authorities are rated red, amber or green, based upon the plans they have for their library services and the concerns the MLA have for them.

Red = “High uncertainty and / or change. And / or poor capacity to address change”.

Amber = “Medium uncertainty and / or change. And / or limited capacity to address change”.

Green = “Low uncertainty and / or change. And / or good capacity to address change”.

Library authorities with a rating of Red are those the MLA were most concerned about at the end of last year. We have listed them below, with the comments provided by MLA in the report.

Obviously some of the service reviews have now taken place and decisions have been made/carried out, but these comments give an interesting insight into how the MLA felt local authorities were progressing at the end of 2010.

Darlington Borough Council : Small service operating 2 libraries and a mobile. As part of the internal restructure the service has moved to the Place directorate. The transformation team continue to explore options for service delivery with 30% cuts (over 2 years).  This will be presented to cabinet in February together with a user needs analysis. Head of libraries post is at risk.  The severe nature of the cuts across the council has attracted much debate and press coverage locally. Proposed sale of arts venues.  Museum plans tbc – potential to be part of proposed Tees Valley museums service, which has support of CEOs.

South Tyneside Council : Significant concerns. Cuts of £200k in 2010/11.  £500k in 2011/2 – 25%.  MLA supported the council to undertake a library review in 2009/10.  However, since then, little has been actioned, and lack of support at senior officer level remains a concern.  Scoping feasibility for greater shared service delivery with other Tyne & Wear authorities.

Blackpool : Internal proposals only – potential closure of 5 of 8 libraries and loss of Assistant Director of Cultural Services and Head of Libraries posts. Little if any assessment of need / impact at this stage. Also participating in NW shared library services project (phase 2 of FLP). Town Centre being prioritised which will protect Grundy Art Gallery and new BLF refurbished Central Library.

Cheshire East : Not replacing head of library service since taking redundancy. Participating in NW shared library services project (phase 2 of FLP). Small commissioner of museum services. Lack of strategic approach to cultural services.

Doncaster : Previously a poor performing service.  Now taking action to turn things round and meet C&E, but is aware of the distance to travel to keep this transformation on track, particularly at the same time as wider cuts.  MLA has supported the council to produce a strategy; service point assessment matrix; community consultation and member briefings.  Strategy now to go to Cabinet in January. Subject to approval it commits to recruiting HoS; investment in training of staff; rationalisation of service points – relocation rather than loss where appropriate and investing in remaining poor building stock.  The service is likely to come under different directorate and officer when senior staff review is completed. Uncertainty as to which of remaining library trained staff will take voluntary redundancy.  Council has attracted interest of national library campaigners, with some local campaigning.  Participating in Yorkshire-wide review of mobile services.  Museums undertaking MA-funded collections rationalisation.  Admission charges introduced – model needs refinement.  Poor staff capacity.

Even though the MLA highlighted these specific library authorities as a particular cause for concern, there are other authorities who were rated Amber or Green, who also have some worrying comments against them.

Durham County Council (Amber) : Likely to include substantial closures / replacement of static service points, ending of mobile service. Monitoring capacity to respond to change since loss of senior officer and approach to community consultation.

Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council (Green) : Currently anticipating 10% cuts, however this may increase. Activities proposed for cessation are: schools library service; Explore Music at Sage Gateshead; AIRS (accessible services).  Consultation on the possible cessation of the AIRS service is generating interest.

Hartlepool Borough Council (Amber) : Currently scoping c.22% cuts in year 1, with a further 9% next year, followed by two further cuts of 3%. The service has taken a harder hit than some other directorates. As building assets are managed at council level, the only options for savings are reducing staff and book stock.  Proposals have been submitted, but no decisions have been taken. To date 2 branch libraries have closed and a further 2 co-located with community centres. At present staff have opted to reduce all staff hours to avoid redundancy: this will be reviewed.  Political support at a member level is good; senior officers are more open to library closures. Renaissance Plans submitted.  Require clearer articulaton of direction of travel.  Potential to be part of proposed Tees Valley museums service, which has support of CEOs. 8.9% cuts announced. Amber due to scale of cuts and query over strategic approach to alternative models of delivery.

Middlesborough Council (Green) : Currently modelling 15% cuts for implementation in 2011/12 (£325K), but this may change.  Service point closures will be considered in the next iteration of cuts.

Newcastle City Council (Green) : Next round of cuts likely to affect libraries.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council (Green) : The medium term financial plan will go to Cabinet on the 16th December, together with a council-wide Asset review, which will inform future delivery points.  This includes fewer service points and some co-location. May elections.  Reduction in housebound vehicles from 3 to 2.

TWAM (Green) : Require clearer direction of travel.  Serious funding challenges: Loss of DCMS and Creative Partnerships contracts.

Bolton (Amber) : …early consideration of closure of ‘several’ libraries.

Bury (Amber) : …engagement at senior level of local authority is more passive ‘watching brief’. Library service leadership gap giving sense of ongoing complacency, despite FLP.

Cumbria (Amber) : Reluctance to engage in shared services discussions with Lancashire or outside of North West. Districts and county not taking forward discussions on shared services or joint work following improvement strategy work with cultural agencies.

Lancashire (Amber) : Large number of libraries that will need to be reviewed and concern that no major review yet established.

Liverpool (Green) : Lack of strategic engagement in absence of head of library service (on sick leave to January 2011).

Rochdale (Amber) : Libraries under consideration to join Link4Life cultural trust. New central library still planned as part of municipal offices.  Part of GM FLP.  Link4Life cost pressures reported as disproportionately affecting heritage and arts services.

Sefton (Amber) : Huge pressures on cultural services – 30%.  Potential of shared services not fully understood at senior level.

Trafford (Amber) : Library services absorbed into wider information and advice services with library service contributions not present at senior level in authority.

Wigan (Amber) : Consultation started on future of library service. 25% cut over 3 years.  Potentially  6 libraries to close in December 2011.

Barnsley (Green) : Officers pressured to close libraries.  Plans are being developed – local press have speculated the loss of 8 service points.

Calderdale (Amber) : Culture is likely to be cut disproportionately to protect other services.  Council sought views of the public on what services they would prioritise – small sample of responses with libraries in top half of priorities.  New BLF King Cross library demonstrating value of investment in right places. Have made savings so far – staff review in consultation – will lose 12% posts, including managers.  Proposals for second phase of savings in February.  Previous library changes have met with vocal protest.

Kirklees (Amber) : Closures proposed, but decisions not taken yet.  Currently scoping 25% cuts over 3 years (15% in year 1). Proposals to all party ‘star chamber’ in December.  Solutions rely heavily on community-run service points.

Leeds (Green) : Will consult on reducing service points from 53 to 33 service points (20 of these are only open 8-15 hours per week, which does not maximise use of resource.  Staff restructure is central to this has been undertaken. It was intended to undertake public consultation starting in October.  However, the council called in the plans.  They will now go to exec on 16th December, and then if passed out to consultation.

North Yorkshire (Amber) : The council aim is to maintain a core infrastructure of 18 libraries, 2-3 in each district, which have 80% of the users and 70% of the issues.  Alongside this the council has been piloting a range of community library models.  It is now consulting with local people on how 24 of these smaller and largely rural service points will be delivered in future.

Sheffield (Amber) : Decision making process is not clear cut: Libraries moved directorate mid budget planning process, but still reporting to old portfolio; hung council multiplying decision scenarios; May elections.  At present c30% cuts: 2011-12 £1.5m; 2012-13 £0.5m; 2013-4 £0.5m. Options range from loss of 14 libraries and most mobiles, but increased hours at other service points to no mobiles and service-wide reduced opening hours across. Community-run service points likely to be taken forward.

Wakefield (Amber) : As part of the strategic review closures are proposed and the council recently issued an open invitation to community groups and partners across the area asking for expressions of interest in running service points.  Response has not yet been overwhelming and has included expressions form commercial companies.

However, the comments aren’t all worrying and here are some of the more positive ones.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council : Clear plan of action in place to deliver revised service model. Slowly pursuing SLA with Middlesbrough to address gap of professional strategic input and service development. Seeking relocation of libraries rather than closure moving to a Community Hub model.  Relocation of central library to ground floor of refurbished council officers planned for 2011/12.

Cheshire West and Chester : Cultural services a priority for Council. Good engagement with cultural agencies (recent briefing with Director).

Halton : Cultural services a priority for council and taking strategic approach.

Knowsley : Cultural services reasonably highly regarded within authority.

Manchester : Library services a major part of the authority’s approach to supporting its communities. Central and City Library and Archive redevelopment on schedule for 2013. Cultural services seen as significant part of helping Manchester realise its economic ambitions through tourism.

Oldham : Library service seen as significant part of community provision.

St Helens : Library services seen as contributor to skills gap in borough and completely focussed on this agenda.

Stockport : Library and Museum services seen as an important part of the authority’s offer to its residents.

Obviously, these comments were made by MLA at the end of last year and situations change over time. For example, Manchester recently announced closures of five libraries and reduction in hours, despite the positive stance given in the report. It would therefore be interesting to see how these library authorities have progressed in relation to this report, what their plans are now and how MLA/DCMS have reacted to those authorities classed as “Red”.

The “Save Doncaster Libraries” campaign have further details of the Doncaster reports (covering October 2009 to February 2011) on their blog.

It would also be interesting to take a look at the reports for other areas of the country. How were other library authorities regarded around this time by MLA and which direction did their plans go in the end.

Laura Hamilton – The opportunity to gain knowledge

Laura Hamilton, “Dancing on Ice” star and presenter of “Wake Up World” on Nick Junior, has kindly sent us this message of support for libraries.

“Save our libraries!

Going to the library to loan a book is something I regularly did as a child. In recent times I’ve been there to read stories to local children. I believe it’s of great importance to save our libraries as they offer everyone regardless of their background, young or old the opportunity to gain knowledge and socialise within the community free of charge.”

Laura Hamilton

Statement on the proposed closure of Leeds libraries

Last month, Leeds council released a report proposing the closure of 20 of their 53 libraries.  The report stated:

“Over the past few years the people of Leeds have changed how they use the service and in 2009/10 out of the 4 million annual visits, 1.5 million were made to just four libraries and 2.8 million were made to just 13 out of a total of 53 libraries.

“The uses people make of libraries and the times they want access are no longer met by the large number of small libraries with opening hours of less than 18 hours. Maintaining these libraries means that valuable resources go into stocking them with materials and computers and repairing and managing the buildings.

“As a result over £1m worth of books are locked away for most of the week. That resource needs setting free.”

The report is clear, libraries other than the top 13 were prime candidates for closure. They are hardly used and, therefore, not worthy of saving.  The libraries that they selected for potential closure are:

Allerton Bywater; Armley Heights; Belle Isle; Broad Lane; Cow Close; Drighlington; Holbeck; Ireland Wood; Kirkstall; Lofthouse; Methley; Osmondthorpe; Rawdon; Richmond Hill; Scholes; Shadwell; Swarcliffe; Swillington; Swinnow and Whinmoor.

Each one of these libraries are indeed low in usage, some of the lowest in the authority. However this is not the whole story and, in fact, many of the libraries suggested are actually outperforming some of the larger libraries.

Following a FoI request, we managed to obtain statistics for all of the library’s in the authority. These statistics relate to loans, visits and PC bookings for each of the past five years. Each of these measures produced an interesting picture of library usage in the area, suggesting that those earmarked for closure should not even be under consideration.  First, lets take a look at visits to Leeds libraries.

Overall, the majority of Leeds’ libraries did see a marked decrease in library visits (this refers to visits to the physical library rather than the library website).  However, 22 of Leeds’ 53 libraries bucked this trend and recorded an increase in library visits.  Of these 22 libraries, 10 of these are libraries that the authority is planning to close.  The libraries marked for closure that bucked this trend are:

Richmond Hill – 42.4% increase in usage (year on year)

Swinnow – 47% increase

Drighlington – 24%

Cow Close – 14%

Holbeck – 14%

Methley – 12%

Osmondthorpe – 11%

Scholes – 8%

Shadwell – 5%

Allerton Bywater – 4%

With such increases in usage it seems surprising that any of these libraries would be considered for closure.  Particularly Richmond Hill which came 11th out of 53 libraries in terms of year-on-year growth.

Book issues are also an important measure when assessing the performance of a library service and should also be seriously considered before proposals for closures are made.  And, as with library visits, the majority of libraries in Leeds did see a decline in loans (albeit by a very slim majority).  In this case, six of the libraries earmarked for closure recorded increases:

Shadwell – 14% increase

Allerton Bywater – 12%

Belle Isle – 8%

Richmond Hill – 8%

Scholes – 4%

Cow Close – 3%

Again, all are showing signs of growth and 5 of these libraries also recorded growth in visits (as seen above).  The question again needs to be asked why these 5 (Shadwell, Allerton Bywater, Richmond Hill, Scholes and Cow Close) are even being considered for closure?

A further factor to consider is usage of computers in Leeds libraries.  The Yorkshire region has some of the lowest rates of household internet access in the country.  According to the latest ONS statistics, Yorkshire and the Humber have an estimated 69% of households with internet access.  This compares less favorably with London (83%), the South East (79%) and the North West (71%).  Unlike visits and loans (and perhaps unsurprisingly given the Internet access issues in the region), computer bookings were up in the majority of libraries in Leeds.  Of those, nine were proposed for closure:

Armley Heights – 32%

Kirkstall –  23%

Richmond Hill – 22%

Whinmoor – 14%

Allerton Bywater – 26%

Osmondthorpe – 10%

Cow Close – 4%

Broad Lane – 2%

Methley – 2%

Once again, all showing significant growth and once more there are a number of libraries that have improved dramatically in other aspects (Allerton Bywater, Richmond Hill and Cow Close).

However, not only is the performance of the individual libraries a reason to question the proposals put forward by Leeds council, the impact on some of the surrounding communities should also be taken into account.  Take, for example, Richmond Hill.  Strong growth across all main performance measures, outperforming many other libraries in the area.  The unemployment rate is 13.6% – one of the highest rates of unemployment in the authority.  Cow Close, again a strong performer in many of the performance measures outlined above, has an unemployment rate of 12.3%.  Holbeck, a 14% increase in visits, also 13.6% unemployed.  Belle Isle, book issue increase of 8%, 13.6% unemployment.  Armley Heights, 32% increase in computer bookings in a region that has some of the lowest Internet connectivity rates in the country, an unemployment rate of 12.3%.  It does not seem to us that Leeds City Council is putting the needs of the local communities at the forefront of its proposals.  It seems, in fact, that those who most rely on libraries will be the ones that suffer, no matter the increasing numbers of people that are using them.

Given the improvement across the authority and the needs of the local communities, it is difficult to see how the closure of 20 libraries across Leeds can be justified.  Certainly the libraries chosen have not been chosen on the grounds of performance, they have out-performed many other libraries in the area.  In fact, it would appear that each of these libraries were picked because they fell in the bottom 25 libraries in terms of overall visits.  Whilst this initially seems like a logical approach to the issue, it does not take into account the growth in usage that many of these libraries have seen.  Whilst these libraries are in the ‘bottom half’ when it comes to library visits, many of them have shown strong growth in visits, loans and PC usage.  Furthermore, some of these libraries have seen far bigger increases in these areas than the majority of the other libraries in the district.  And some of the libraries that have seen the biggest rise in usage are those in areas that suffer from high levels of unemployment.  With unemployment predicted to grow dramatically over the coming year, these resources are needed now more than ever.

This is not the first time that libraries have been proposed for closure on spurious grounds, and it certainly won’t be the last. The battle against closures in Wirral was fought and won on the following grounds:

* Stated intention for large numbers of closures
* Driven by asset-review, not social outcomes
* Ineffective consultation with public (and staff)
* Potential of library services not well recognised
* No workable strategy for service improvement
* ‘Good Practice’ elsewhere not being considered

The evidence above suggests that these grounds are also relevant to Leeds’ proposals.  We urge library campaigners and library users in the Leeds area to press the DCMS to conduct a review of these proposals on the grounds indicated above.  Many of the libraries in Leeds have seen increased usage in the past year and as the spending cuts start to bite this trend is likely to continue.  The communities most affected by these closures are those that need them the most.  We should do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen.

Ebooks in public libraries – response to the Publishers Association statement

This is a statement from Voices for the Library in response to the speech given by Stephen Page at the Public Libraries Authorities conference yesterday.

We are very concerned about the recent announcement by the Publishers Association regarding the availability of ebooks in public libraries.  The decision to limit access to those physically able to visit the library, with a mobile device suitable for reading ebooks, is potentially catastrophic for ebook provision in public libraries.

Not only does this threaten a service that has proven to be immensely popular with library users, it undermines the effort by libraries to reach out to housebound borrowers, the disabled and those living in remote areas far from their nearest public library.  It also further undermines efforts to reposition libraries and encourage literacy in the digital age, an age where people increasingly question the need for libraries and librarians.  A policy such as this seriously inhibits the library service from adapting to current realities and potentially threatens the entire service.

Furthermore, it restricts efforts to provide a 24/7 library service fit for the 21st century.  The delivery of remote ebook access has been a highly successful initiative, with many services seeing increased demand,  including the return of those who had ceased using the library service.  The increased demand for ebooks should be seen as an opportunity for publishers, not a threat.

Whilst we understand the concerns of publishers, we believe that the benefits of equitable access far outweigh the concerns over isolated incidents of unauthorised usage, or indeed concerns about the impact on publisher’s profits.  We believe very strongly in free and equal access to information for all. The proposed restrictions seriously jeopardise these principles and reinforce unequal access to information resources, creating a growing digital divide between those with access and those without.  Such a division goes against the very spirit of a universal public library service.

In a time of threatened cuts to public services, we need champions for equal access to information more than ever. Consequently, we urge the Publishers Association to rethink their decision and work with libraries and other agencies to ensure that public libraries can continue to offer a service that meets the needs of their users.

The Publishers Association and relevant public library bodies need to reach a proper compromise, in the interest of the public, library services and publishers. It is beneficial to all stakeholders for public libraries to offer ebooks in the same way as other digital resources such as databases – through remote access. It is counterintuitive and counterproductive for access to digital resources to be restricted and accessible only through physical library services.