APRIL 2024

Welcome to our newsletter round up of April’s UK libraries news! CAMPAIGNING WORKS!

We’re now in an age where stupid cuts are knowingly made by local councils – because austerity gives them little choice. So is it still worth campaigning for (library) common sense?

The answer is – yes, yes it is. Latest examples include South Gloucestershire. Here, a planned £473,000 “saving” has been reduced by £200,000, after “clear opposition from the public consultation process”. That means more hours open, and less damage to the bookfund. Still an overall loss of 40 hours across 12 branches, but an achievement all the same.

In Haringey, London, the council issued an over-hasty, under-publicised consultation about its whole budget – all its activities. Local umbrella group FORE (Friends of Reading & Education) worked hard to publicise it. Result – over 80% of all the replies were about libraries! So the council has rowed back on some of its cuts, and vows to negotiate properly over the rest. Much still to do then, but a start.
In Redcar, Friends of Laburnum Library has a petition and has successfully made its case to the local MP and many councillors – though not its own ward ones! Redcar & Cleveland council plans to cut £400,000. This means reducing opening hours, closing up to five libraries – and turning two (including Laburnum Road) into “community-run centres”.

Under a previous administration, the Friends arranged for volunteers to supplement the professional staff, more than doubling the hours open. This is worth thousands. Laburnum Road is exactly the kind of value-for-money, community-focused model we advocate.  What now? Already the library has won a “stay of execution”, at a meeting where the council admitted it has no business plan – and councillors must discuss and decide on any that appears. Below – Local MP Jacob Young visits Laburnum Road library


You could file this under CAMPAIGNING WORKS! Alternatively, it illustrates the bidding-for-pots funding we have found ourselves criticising at multiple meetings this month… Shropshire caused a storm when it proposed closing its school library service. Schools choose to subscribe to this lifeline, but the council was topping up the total by just £30,000 pa. Obvious solution – kill the whole service (without asking headteachers what they thought).  A furious head collected 3,000+ signatures in days. Plus a promise to consult on finding a sensible solution.

Meanwhile, the same council has scooped £236,950 from the Arts Council’s Libraries Improvement Fund. No doubt it will be spent sensibly (new shelves and tech, we gather). But this does rather highlight the irrationality of the current funding patchwork.

As does news that the total given out to libraries in all three ACE bidding rounds has been £20.5m. Divide that between 152 cash-bashed library authorities, over several years, most of them spending time and money making bids that didn’t succeed…


As promised in our last newsletter, this month Laura Swaffield and Andrew Coburn from The Library Campaign joined Alan Wylie, campaigner and staff rep to the DCMS, and Ruth Levin from UNISON, to meet Lilian Greenwood MP. She is a junior shadow minister for libraries (amongst other parts of her brief) and MP for Nottingham South. Our aim was to brief her on what we would like to see a Labour government do for libraries. We based our case on research that UNISON has recently done on the state of libraries (see the next issue of our magazine) and also on a manifesto drawn up some years ago by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition of which we are part. Lilian listened attentively and asked some interesting questions. Amongst other things, we discussed how the DCMS can intervene when libraries are felt to be under attack, national library standards (which exist in some form in all the home nations except England) and the sustainability of outsourced library services – particularly social enterprise groups like GLL.  We left her with some of our magazines to read and, we hope, food for thought. We found her informed, interested and friendly. More than we can say for some of her predecessors…ARTS COUNCIL ENGLANDWe regularly engage with the organisations that have power, money or influence over public libraries. It’s useful to update each other on what we are doing. And we always argue for more involvement for library users.  At our latest meeting with Luke Burton, Director for Libraries at Arts Council England (ACE),we mainly discussed two things they are involved in. First, a better data platform for libraries – a key recommendation of the Sanderson report. At present the annual data collected by CIPFA is expensive to  buy and is now only being completed by about 45% of library authorities anyhow.  They have to work out how to fund such a platform as well as making it easy for library authorities to feed in data automatically. It should also be easier for library people – including users – to access and use the resulting numbers.  The other topic is an Accreditation scheme for libraries. It seems that the issue is the mechanism for this. We are not convinced that the current draft scheme will be of much help to users, being largely qualitative, but we would like to see something happening. There seems to be slow progress on both. We also talked about the problems caused by so much money only being accessible by a bidding process. This can mean library services spending a lot of time preparing a bid, with no result. And even the successful bids tend to be one-off projects. Apart from being something to aspire to, these do not have a legacy outside the place where they were done.  However this is part of a wider tendency in government. It is not likely to change this side of a general election – if then. Finally, we were reminded of the existence of the England Public Library Working Group, which tries to bring together the organisations which have a national place in running  libraries. They still meet but, like many other bodies in the field, have a capacity issue and very little direct power.

Our regular meeting with Isobel Hunter, CEO of library heads’ organisation Libraries Connected, was fruitful as usual. LC has set up a group for heads of service under particular (financial) pressure. To access facts and arguments, share examples of good practice and generally support each other. Good move. We discussed what we are saying, and LC is saying, in reply to the Sanderson report (more on this in our next magazine). All this will emerge in due course. We brought up the (usual) issue of libraries bidding for funding “pots” when what they need is adequate core funding. LC has already made this point consistently.
Meanwhile, Isobel pointed out one scheme that already bucks the trend. LC secured a good share of £5m allocated to “arts and culture” bodies to develop volunteering as a cure for loneliness. Where better for this than local libraries? The recipients were picked by DCMS staff, who assessed which deprived areas most needed help. No bidding frenzy. No waste. The Know Your Neighbourhood Fund projects run into next year. And LC has already held four webinars to share what people have learned so far.


It’s a bit clearer what CILIP’s revived Libraries Change Lives slogan covers. It’s no longer a competition with a useful high-profile winners event. Now it’s a “Week”. From 24 to 28 June there will be “a public platform where libraries, library staff and library users can evidence the value of this statutory service – both locally and nationally – to the leaders of tomorrow.  “[It] culminates in an event in Parliament where representatives and allies from the sector will meet senior governmental advisors and decision makers face to face.” Well, that has to be good. 
Promotional material has now been produced. And remember – CILIP wants people’s library stories to bring the message alive. Deadline 24 May. They have made it all quite a task, with an elaborate form to fill in at https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/libraries-change-lives . (As an easier option, send just what you fancy sending to thelibrarycampaign@gmail.com for us to use instead…)PERFORMING ARTSWe were dismayed to see that Somerset may be about to close its Performing Arts service. This provides sets of music scores and plays to local groups wanting to perform them. It won’t be the first such step – Surrey’s much vaunted service was only saved when local groups set up a charity to run it (in local authority premises but not with their staff.)  Others may also be under pressure, since this is a service which library authorities can claim is not part of the statutory obligation. But local Performing Arts services are invaluable because sets are expensive, a vital underpinning to local cultural life – and you can often go in and browse the collection to see what would work for your group. If you are part of a local group we’d like to know your experience.


Our new feature rounding up some highlights from the many Library Friends groups that we follow on Facebook. Please get in touch if you would like your local Friends group to be mentioned here.  In a case of cheery news, the Community Group for Marske Library (Redcar and Cleveland) shared that, among so many cuts to public services across the UK, after their library recent consultation, visitors can expect only minor reductions to their opening hours with the library kept open on Saturdays – an option which had been under threat. Well done Marske Library Friends and we hope to see more challenges to potential cuts across other UK library services. Friends of Erdington Library (who team up on Facebook with the Erdington Lunar Society) welcomed support from their MP Paulette Hamilton, who has written to a Birmingham City Council planning committee to say that she is opposed to any proposed closure of the library, as well as offering support for the Friends Group. We’d love to see more MPs be as brave in their direct support of Library Friends Groups.  In lighter news, and to highlight the various things that libraries offer but Friends Groups specifically promote, Friends of Burnham Library (Buckinghamshire) have been appealing for people to take part in their Brains of Burnham quiz, with the funds raising money for their library, whilst Friends of North Petherton Library in Somerset have been advertising what’s on offer at their library including the free hire of iPads for all library members. Meanwhile Friends of Beechcroft Library (Swindon) have been reminding their followers that the library offers drop in sessions via their Stratton Advice Point, where they have trained and dedicated volunteer staff to give community-wide advice regarding welfare, benefits support, and advice. Friends of Hullbridge Library (Essex) have been advertising their tea and coffee mornings as well as a Lego and puzzle swap. Friends of Streetly Library (Walsall) have announced their June plans to mark the anniversary of the D Day landing. So, we see how varied the activities of Friends groups are, alongside campaigning against closures or potential threats.  Save Our Libraries Essex took time to point out that Birmingham City Council has been finding appropriate ways to commemorate the life and poetry of Benjamin Zephaniah. They suggested that halting plans to close 25 of Birmingham’s libraries could be a good start.AND FINALLY…  Without further comment!

Please get in touch with us if your local library is under threat, you have a Friends group that you wish to promote or you would like advice about how to start a Friends group for your local library – currently under threat or not. Feel free to ask any questions about what Friends groups get up to – a topic featured in this very newsletter ( see above). 

We have now created an archive of our previous newsletters, which you can view here – check it out if you haven’t already and share the link as it’s also a place for new subscribers to sign up. If you are new to getting our monthly newsletter this is a way to see what we’ve been getting across since we started this newsletter in Autumn 2022.

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