Welcome to our newsletter round up of December’s UK libraries news!

As this is the last newsletter of the year and should arrive between Christmas and New Year we would like to  wish everyone best wishes for the holidays and the new year. 2024 promises amongst other things a General Election and, more parochially for the library sector, the release of the Sanderson review, with some kind of government response. We were invited to a launch event in mid-December, but it has now
been pushed back to mid-January.  We hope to have devised a set of questions in time for the General Election (and local elections where they are taking place) so that you and your friends can put candidates to the test Before then it is likely that local authority budget setting will see more threats to libraries (closures etc) as funding gets ever tighter. Please keep us informed of what’s happening in your neck  of the woods Last but not least, in the spring or early summer The Library Campaign will be holding our AGM. Not sure of a date yet or whether, like last year, we can hold it as a hybrid meeting but watch this space.(Picture: Lancaster library)

Is this a first? Warwickshire has unveiled a new van for its home library service which is fully electric-powered. Two more are due next year. The van (a Peugeot e-Expert) can travel over 150 miles on one charge. It should serve about 350 people a month. And it has a new “eye-catching livery design” to publicise the service. It’s good to see a council actively promoting this lifeline service, when others are closing down their mobiles. And the new van was launched at a special event to thank the 14 volunteers who keep the service going.  The move is part of the county’s Sustainable Futures Strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Transport  currently makes up 44% of the total. 
LAMBETHThree libraries are getting major improvements. Brixton is to have new toilets including one just for children, an improved children’s area, more study space, and two private meeting pods. A new lift will for the first time open up the basement area for more activities. At Streatham, work includes redecoration, double glazing and air conditioning. Durning Library in Kennington now has a lift to bypass the steps from street level. A meeting room has been created, with beautiful original features restored, plus two pods for private meetings online.  SUFFOLKThree small part-time libraries – Brandon, Long Melford and Shotley – are extending their opening hours. At Long Melford, this started during the summer as a temporary measure to enable as many children as possible to complete the Summer Reading Challenge. But it was such a success, especially with families, that the change has been made permanent. On a grander scale, Beccles Library in Blyburgate has moved back into its building after a £500,000 refurb. The entire roof was replaced, plus windows and doors. Manager Sharon Chaplin told the BBC:  “Everybody is just over the moon that Suffolk have invested as much as they have… they’ve given us the message that they are committed to keeping the library service up and running.  “We now have a much warmer space and, most importantly, we have got so much natural light. The building was freezing because there was no insulation. Acoustically it’s much better, too. We have newer electric lights which save energy and therefore cost.” CAERPHILLYAnother major investment – £400,000 at Rhymney Library. The project has had problems along the way, including damage to the roof and – sadly – vandalism during the summer.  But fingers crossed – a “tentative”date of 7 January has been given for re-opening. SOUTHWARKThis service continues its programme of investment with a new library replacing the East Street branch. Interestingly, its name was chosen by local people. It is named after Una Marson, a Jamaican-born feminist who became the BBC’s first-ever Black radio producer. During the war, her weekly Calling the West Indies broadcast sent messages from service people in England to their families back home. Southwark had hoped this was the first-ever library named after a woman. But they were scooped way back in 1889 by Lambeth’s Durning Library. Hats off to philanthropist Miss Jemina Durning! (and yes, it’s spelt with an n).  


If you – or your library staff – have done something brilliant this year, here’s a chance to get a pat on the back. Think about it over the holiday. The deadline is 8 January. The Libraries Connected Awards showcase good practice in six areas connected to its Universal Offers framework: Culture and Creativity; Health and Wellbeing; Information and Digital; Reading; Children; Vision and Print Impaired People.  Library users are welcome to make nominations. There is loads of guidance on how to do it on the LC website. Or you could just read up on previous winners, to cheer yourself up with some good news about what libraries can do…
With the grim news on funding, no prizes for predicting a nasty year of library cuts in 2024. We’ve spotted one trend already, maybe seen as a better last resort than closing whole libraries. It’s cutting hours. This has been happening already – pre-settlement – in, for instance, Bradford, Croydon, Hampshire, East Cheshire and Denbighshire. Expect more. Much depends just how carefully councils use local knowledge to choose just where and when to cut, enabling users to still get to a library somehow when they need to. The worst way to do it is seen in Bristol. Libraries have been suddenly closed, with the closures announced only on the same morning, and only on social media. Maximum confusion and annoyance all round. It happened at 23 out of 27 libraries in December. The problem is past over-reliance on casual staff, suddenly cut in November. As The Library Campaign commented in Bristol Live, cutting access to libraries just means extra pressure on social services, schools and helping agencies borough-wide.
Well, we’ve been warned… First, the general “Autumn Statement” (ie budget) on 22 November: some rather subtle tax cuts, with the fine print revealing that they will be funded by yet more austerity in future. Except for “protected” services – which won’t include local authorities. A survey by the LGA (Local Government Association) found that, already, almost one in five English councils thought it “very or fairly” likely they will go bust soon. (It’s called “issuing a Section 114 notice”).
Then, the Local Government Finance Policy Statement 2024-25, on 5 December. This was meant to give councils a guess at “the government’s intentions”, until it produced a proper settlement at an unknown time before Christmas. Main news seemed to be that their basic revenue support grant (only a part of their income) would match inflation. It won’t close the £4bn funding gap already built up.Now, the actual Local Government Finance Settlement, on 18 December. Stripping out the details, the LGAsimply says that it “does not provide enough funding to meet the severe cost and demand pressures which have left councils of all political colours and types warning of the serious challenges they face to set balanced budgets next year”.Mind you, even this settlement is only provisional. It will be… er, settled in January – or maybe even February. Leaving almost no time for councils to work out a 2024 budget. This is the sixth one-year settlement in a row, giving councils no chance to plan long-term. Short-termism, and last-minute settlements, add extra problems to councils struggling to cope with increased demand and constant cuts. Don’t expect a happy new year.
Another story about money. This time, a revised edition of a guide for local campaigners who want to find more of it. “Section 106” is the way councils funnel developer funds into local facilities. This should include libraries, but too often does not. There’s an article about this in our magazine no 95, page 27 – and we bet it’s still up to date. So wise up on how to work the system with the updated guide from Arts Council England and The National Archives.
AND FINALLY…  We want to thank publicly Gail, the widow of Mr Philip R Smith of Wilmslow in Cheshire, for asking for donations to be made to The Library Campaign after his recent death. The money has been gratefully received and will help us in the new year.
Thanks so much – all of us at The Library Campaign – please get in touch any time with questions or feedback and don’t forget to follow us across our social media below
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