The Library Campaigner – Issue 96

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AUTUMN 2018 PRICE £2.00

No. 96 ISSN 0266-6065





Major report spells
unique role

The Library Campaign – Aims and Objectives:

To advance the lifelong education of the public by the promotion, support, assistance
and improvement of public libraries through the activities of friends and user groups.

The Library Campaign
maintains a


of local



with their contact details, on our website.

If you know of a new (or old!) group
that is not on our list, please notify:

As usual, we’ve sent you an extra copy of this magazine. Please take the time to pass it on, or place it somewhere people will see it...

The Library Campaign

27 Old Gloucester Street, LONDON WC1N 3AX

For general enquiries: call 0845 450 5946
Please note, calls will cost 2p per minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge.

Alternatively, contact Elizabeth by emailing

Twitter: @LibraryCampaign

Facebook: The Library Campaign

Registered charity (England & Wales) No. 1102634

Elected Officers

Laura Swaffield London

Andrew Coburn Essex

Members of the Executive Committee

Geoffrey Dron Bolton

Bob Goodrick London

The following organisations send representatives to attend steering group meetings:


Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP).

Quick guide to some of the many things relevant to libraries ...

1964 Act (Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964) says all local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a public library service, which must be ‘comprehensive and efficient’ and available to all who wish to use it. Libraries are NOT optional. It gives the Secretary of State power to enquire – and intervene – if standards fall short. These powers have barely been used.

ACE (Arts Council England) now has ‘responsibility for supporting and developing libraries’.
As yet unclear what that means in practice.

CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals): the professional body for librarians in all types of library.

CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy) collects figures on library performance and on user satisfaction.

MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government): the central government department responsible for local government. It provides most of local councils’ funding. It does not determine how much of it is spent on libraries.

DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport): sets central government’s policy on libraries (among other things), but does not fund them. It is headed by the Secretary of State, with one minister more directly responsible for libraries (among other things).

LGA (Local Government Association) lobbies on behalf of local government. Does some useful work on public libraries, but ultimately sides with councils, not library users.

MLA (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council): ACE’s predecessor.

NLT (National Literacy Trust): charity ‘dedicated to building a literate nation’ – which includes promoting reading for pleasure. Huge source of information, campaigns and projects.

SCL (Society of Chief Librarians): advises LGA on library matters. Does useful work on public libraries, but sticks to ‘quiet diplomacy’.

UNISON: the trade union for most public library staff. Good research and promotional materials.

TRA (The Reading Agency): charity to develop reading, especially via libraries. Dozens of projects to promote books, especially to key groups like children, reluctant readers, ethnic minorities etc.

Taskforce (the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce): set up and funded by the DCMS to lead development following the Sieghart report 2014.


ON OCTOBER 20 ... We have a panel of people who have direct experience of the real world for public libraries today, and the real problems facing library users and campaigners on the ground. Their role is to raise questions, give some answers, but above all lead a discussion to bring together YOUR ideas.


Librarian, award-winning compiler of the invaluable information resource


Member of the brilliant Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign against mass closures and hand-over to volunteers


National Secretary, Local Government, UNISON


If you are a Library Campaign member, TLC will pay your fares if you have a long journey. Contact or call 0845 450 95446.

WHY? The national picture is grim. For many of us, the local picture is also grim. There’s no doubting that, all over the country, people DO understand how vital public libraries are. And they ARE willing to go all-out to make the case for libraries – proper libraries with professional staff – and fight for them if they have to. But – too often – it no longer works. Central government contributes little more than lip service. Local government too often ignores democratic involvement – or common sense. So ... IT’S TIME TO GET TOGETHER, POOL OUR EXPERIENCE & IDEAS – AND LOOK TO THE FUTURE.



what are the implications for local campaigns?

what are the underlying issues we need to address?

can campaigners work together at national level?

what can The Library Campaign do to help?

what’s YOUR question?

WHERE? Room 3B at Student Central, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HY.


Northern Line: Euston, Warren Street, Goodge Street stations.

Piccadilly Line: Russell Square station.

Victoria Line: Euston and Warren Street stations.

Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City Lines: Euston Square station.


Gower Street (10, 24, 29, 73, 134, 390); Euston Road (18, 30, 91, 205,

253, 476); Woburn Place / Southampton Row (59, 68, 91, 168, 188).

NB: October 20 is the date of the next People’s Vote march in London to demand a second referendum on Brexit. Some people might like to make a day of it! Others will want to check if this will have any effect on normal transport routes. There is no information on this as we go to press.


We need YOU for a brief AGM at the end of the afternoon. Well, as brief as you want it to be. We hope the day’s discussion will have produced some outline ideas for future TLC activities. We’d like to firm them up.



AUTUMN 2018, No.96

EDITOR: Laura Swaffield


Nick Poole, John Vincent

ORGANISATIONS: ACE (Arts Council England), Australian Library & Information Association, CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, Libraries Taskforce

Library Campaign chair Laura Swaffield reports.


Laura Swaffield examines a grim story of 21st century ‘transformation’

A gorgeous new book celebrates the extraordinary Andrew Carnegie, who funded over 2,500 public libraries

Latest award winners prove – yet again – that libraries are an amazing resource for communities. This time, the focus was on health.

Dawn Finch busts some of the common misconceptions – and myths – that hide the value of libraries.

Nick Poole, CILIP chief executive, spells out why libraries matter – and why they are worth fighting for.

35 TLC’s accounts

The more TLC grows, the stronger we all get!







There are two slots we’d like you to consider:

1. GENERAL HELP: We could do so much more with a few more helpers. What you might do depends ENTIRELY on what you want to offer. There are important routine-or-occasional tasks such as updating information. We’d like more people to write for the magazine – regularly, or maybe just once, on a campaign or topic that concerns you. It would be good to have people on hand who might occasionally give some direct advice to others ... Or you might have your own idea of something that needs doing, or doing better.

2. EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: This body does not necessarily carry out the day-to-day work of TLC, but exists to guide those who do, and approve financial decisions. The main requirement is not your time, but your experience and ideas. Most of the work these days is done by email rather than people having to attend regular meetings. We are particularly keen to have more members from outside London. You can propose yourself for co-option at the meeting.

or call 0845 450 95446

A year with TLC

I laugh sometimes when people phone, clearly imagining TLC to be a grand enterprise ‘with an office in London’. It’s not like that.

The work is done by a small handful of people. That’s why there’s a big red box (left), urging you to think how you might help out. We could do so much more.

Elizabeth Ash, our Secretary, has moved on. She put in a massive amount of work for TLC - sorting out all our basic systems and then running them; organising meetings and minutes; improving the website; keeping up our presence on social media; dealing with the press; taking on the huge task of running the Speak Up For Libraries conferences; and just generally being there for whatever came up.

She is still very much an active library campaigner. And she still – with daughters Poppy and Amber – provides the invaluable daily news updates you can get on our website and via email (see box). We owe her a big debt of gratitude.

Martin Wright, our Treasurer for many years, has also moved on (he has wanted to give it up for ages, and we’re grateful he patiently hung on until he could finally be replaced). Again, we owe him a lot.

Both Secretary and Treasurer roles have now gone (back) to Andrew Coburn.

Special mention must also go to executive committee member Geof Dron. A qualified lawyer, he keeps up to date on relevant legal developments and gives support to certain campaigns. He currently has another rather special project - details under wraps for now.

Executive committee member Bob Goodrick is an experienced library campaigner with useful financial and organisational experience.

Alistair Brown, our sole volunteer, tackles the Sisyphean task of updating our website list of campaigns.

And me? I wish I could do more. I would, if I were not fighting an endless battle with Lambeth council (don’t ask). At least it ensures that I am fully aware of the day-to-day realities of campaigning.

That’s TLC. So what do we actually do?

We keep you informed through the website and magazine.

We represent campaigners to the various national bodies responsible for libraries.

We give evidence to government consultations - most recently on loneliness (something the government is panicking about, seemingly unaware that the uncontrolled destruction of libraries is a major contributor to this and many other problems).

We give advice by email and phone to anyone who asks.

We find and publicise useful campaign resources (eg, pages 17–20).

We give small grants for occasional projects such as judicial reviews. (The £1,000 for Northants campaigners proved very worthwhile – see pages 8–9.)

NB: We have to be careful with money. But you’ll see on page 35 that we have now built up a solid reserve. This is very much a one-off that won’t come again in a hurry. We have one major project in mind – again, under wraps for now. But we’d like your ideas on things to fund. And indeed, on how to raise more in future.

We deal with the press. That’s a real time-consumer – and often drop-everything urgent. I pop up regularly on regional radio and TV. I give local contacts to journalists who ring for help.

Sometimes I hit the nationals. For instance, a hasty call-out produced a librarian to write a ‘libraries at Christmas’ feature for the Guardian last year.

And I’m rather pleased with my piece last year – the Guardian, October 19 – highlighting the damage that volunteer libraries have done to what we used to have by right ... a unified, national library network able to give a consistent, quality service to everyone, everywhere. It got quite a lot of attention.

If only we could do more!

Any day – TLC keeps you in touch

The ingenious Elizabeth Ash is compiling a daily update of library news
that comes direct to your inbox. Go to
and click the blue box on the right that says: ‘Follow UK Library News’.

TLC Chair Laura Swaffield reports

n Laura Swaffield

n Andrew Coburn

n Elizabeth Ash

Volunteer? Oh dear ...

The DCMS is happy to see libraries dumped on to volunteers. The assumption is there’s an inexhaustible supply.

Interesting, then, to note its own survey* – showing the supply is running down. And getting old ...

The annual Community Life Survey tracks various aspects of ‘social cohesion and community engagement’. That stuff that libraries serve so well.

The chapter on volunteering shows the percentage of people who volunteered formally (with a club or organisation) at least once a month was stuck at 22% in 2017–18 – the same as the previous year. But it was 27% back in in 2013–14.

The proportion who volunteered at least once in 2017–18 was 38%. Again – lower than in 2013–14 (45%). The age group most likely to formally volunteer is people aged 65–74 (29%). Least likely are those aged 25–34 (15%).

It seems far more people’s goodwill (53%) is taken up with volunteering ‘informally’ – giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not relatives.


Roger Crudge

A sad farewell to Roger Crudge, who has died aged 93. As county music librarian, he built up a superb and much-used music collection at Bristol Central Library.

After he retired he chaired the Avon group of TLC. He was an informed campaigner and letter writer to the press, fighting cuts and advocating imaginative ideas for development. To little avail.

Given the enduring battles in Bristol, his sharp observation serves as a memorial: ‘There is no evidence that the city council understands the importance of library services to education and business, the city’s many societies and the needs of its individual citizens.’


Libraries Week this year is 8–13 October. The theme is health and wellbeing – a good choice of message to hammer home to decision-makers who don’t realise what libraries do ...

Libraries have a head start, with the marvellous ‘Reading Well’ health-related booklists and collections that The Reading Agency puts together for display. The latest one focuses on basic mental health.

If you want to join in, there’s a lot of material for free on the website – This includes posters (in English and Welsh), templates for your own posters, banners for social media and lots of advice on topics such as marketing, influencing decision-makers, dealing with the press For a sample, see page 20.

It’s being organised by CILIP with partners The Reading Agency, the School Library Association, Libraries Connected (formerly Society of Chief Librarians), Arts Council England and the Taskforce.

CILIP says: ‘This October, we want libraries to showcase how they bring communities together, combat loneliness, provide a space for reading and creativity and support people with their mental health and wellbeing.

‘We want people to come together with their community to feel good in the library and go away with an experience that they will want to share with others.’

On Saturday 13 October the idea is to get a local community choir ‘to bring the joy of singing into the library’.

You can register to take part and be kept up to date as more details, posters and resources become available.

Much of the material will be handy for other occasions, such as draft letters to politicians, draft press releases and a template form to get permission to use photos and videos that have people in them (especially children).


At long last, the Public Lending Right scheme now covers e-books and e-audiobooks loaned from public libraries across Great Britain. The change means that authors are eligible for payment in the same way if their works are borrowed electronically or as physical books.

E-lending in public libraries has risen dramatically in the past six years. Last year more than 6,750,000 works were borrowed electronically, compared to just 750,000 in 2011–12.

Up to now, authors have had no compensation for e-loans of their books, except for those lent on site - while nearly all books these days are remotely loaned.

The UK is one of the first countries to extend its library lending compensation scheme to remote e-lending. So libraries minister Michael Ellis at least has one thing to boast about ...

Another benefit of libraries

What are they thinking? Two-fifths of councils (41%) in England say that housing benefit and council tax reduction - two key benefits for older people - can only be claimed online.

Yet 3.6m older people in England have never used the internet. So says Age UK. They carried out a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise* after getting repeated complaints from older people and their families.

They phoned 100 local councils, picked at random, to ask about options for people who want to claim help with rent or council tax but are not online.

Results, says Age UK, ‘were mixed, but councils overwhelmingly pushed people towards claiming via the internet, even when it was clear they were not computer users... only mentioning other options when prompted.

‘While councils often told the mystery shoppers they could provide help, in some cases this was very limited. One said the caller could come to the office ‘where they will put her on a computer by herself’ – useless to someone who has never used a computer.

‘Worst of all, around one in seven (14) said they would only accept online claims and did not offer a face-to-face service.

‘This, we are sure, is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg, since online methods are becoming the norm.

‘In an increasingly digital world, many older people are at increasing risk of being excluded from routine transactions they have done offline throughout their lives.

‘An estimated £3.8 billion in pensioner benefits, including housing benefit, goes unclaimed each year. 1.9m pensioners are living below the poverty line, with around 1m more just above this threshold.’

Age UK suggests councils should provide online access and support, training, paper and telephone claim methods...

How about they just keep libraries open? With staff to help people?



The good news: best-selling author Jojo Moyes is to stump up the money to save Quick Reads. This annual collection, run by TRA (The Reading Agency), gets top authors to write special, short, easy-to-read books to encourage adults who don’t read easily.

They are sold for £1 and distributed to libraries, prisons, colleges, hospitals and adult learning organisations.

Past writers include Andy McNab, Jeffrey Archer, Malala, Roddy Doyle, Mark Billingham, John Bird, Richard Branson – and Jojo herself.

She says: ‘They’re really good books. They’re just a little bit more accessible. It’s a really effective, low-cost method of improving reading skills and enjoyment.’

The bad news: this vital scheme should never have been in danger. It costs just £120,000 a year. It has run since 2006. Adult literacy is a vital life skill, and making reading enjoyable and unscary is the key.

Previous sponsor Galaxy chocolate pulled out in 2016 after six years. It then gave some limited support, and publishers and private donors helped keep it going this year.

But 18 months of searching had not produced a new sponsor. TRA announced ‘with a heavy heart’ that Quick Reads would have to stop.

TRA chief executive Sue Wilkinson says: ‘We couldn’t be more thankful to Jojo for recognising the importance of the scheme and so generously providing the funding to enable it to continue for three more years.

Thanks to Jojo, it will have another three years (2020–23). Then what?

n Jojo Moyes



Interesting survey from The Reading Agency shows why good librarians emphasise reading for pleasure.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found that over half (54%) can spend up to three months struggling with a book they don’t like before deciding to give up. This ‘book block’ prevents them from reading more.

Preconceived stoical ideas about books don’t help – nearly a quarter (22%) think you should never give up on a book!

Amusingly, the list of books people couldn’t finish is topped by best-selling titles that ‘everyone’ loves. First comes Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, followed by J.R.R Tolkein’s, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K Rowling.

Yet the findings also reveal people feel the right book is a boon.

More than half (65%) of readers say books provide an escape from the uncertainty of world events. Almost half (49%) agree that reading fiction increases our capacity to empathise and understand the world.

And 91% say they think reading can have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing. One in four (28%) say they would be most likely to turn to books if they felt lonely. Other top incentives are feeling low, stressed or anxious, or struggling to cope with difficult life events.

TRA says: ‘One in five of us will experience anxiety or depression, and world events can leave people feeling confused or scared. Reading has never been more important.

‘When so many brilliant books are being written and published, you should never force yourself to read something you’re not enjoying.’


Bright idea from Somerset libraries – you can take a virtual tour of all their libraries on their website!

In just the first few weeks, there were hundreds of click-throughs to different libraries.

The tours were put together to test a new 360° camera, which will soon be available to use at Taunton Library.

Apart from general publicity, virtual tours are seen as a valuable way for people with autism or anxiety to visualise and explore the spaces before visiting.

Go to, choose a library, scroll down to the tour and click the arrows to move through the space.

The tours can also be found via Google maps and street view.


Safe – for now, at least – is Reading Ahead, the complementary TRA scheme (supported by ACE) for less confident adult readers.

This is an adult version of the wildly successful children’s Summer Reading Challenge. You pick six books and record, rate and review your reading in a special diary to get a certificate. This gives an extra incentive – and it works. TRA also provides loads of ideas and tips to run engaging projects.

Now in its 12th year, Reading Ahead reached 40,000 people in 2017 through public libraries, further education and sixth form colleges, prisons and workplaces, with 93% saying it increased participants’ reading confidence and enjoyment of reading.


Age UK is researching ‘what makes later life worth living’. A new survey* finds that ‘participating in creative and cultural activities had the biggest impact on wellbeing’.

Not very surprisingly, reading for pleasure was by far the top ranked activity (74%). Actually going to a library came in at 40%.

But the report adds: ‘It is striking that using a public library service ranked highly among older people in the lowest 20% of wellbeing.

‘While a higher proportion of people in the top 20% use a public library compared to those in the lowest 20% (51.9% compared to 26.6%), using a library is much more important for older people in the lowest 20% of the spectrum – for this group, library use was second only to reading for pleasure in popularity...

‘Although local authority funding is now very squeezed, authorities need to protect the buildings and services that older people value, such as libraries and community centres.’

Transport and health problems were, again unsurprisingly, rated among the barriers to wellbeing – and so was lack of information on things to do.

The report comments glumly: ‘Where to go, what to look for and how to find it is a problem - particularly for smaller and local activities, which might be the easiest to get to.

‘Resources such as public libraries and post offices, where people might have started looking in the past, have reduced in number.’

Quite so.


n Public libraries get major billing in the report summary.

– the future didn’t work

The local government story of the year has to be Northamptonshire.
It’s said to be the first of many councils that will collapse – soon –

because of appalling government cuts.

But, says Laura Swaffield, it’s also a significant story just about libraries ...

Northamptonshire is a disaster. But – thanks to local library campaigners – some good has come from it.

They have achieved a judicial review
judgement with wide implications that could benefit us all.

It may not help the Northants libraries much in the end. That financial shambles will inflict permanent damage. We’ll have to see.

The extraordinary story began in September 2017, when chief executive Paul Blantern issued a plea for more government funding.

Fair enough, given the nationwide cuts. Significant, in that Northants is a Conservative council.

Initial frantic efforts to cut the budget focused unduly on the 36 libraries. The options presented were devastating: keep 15, hand 21 to volunteers, lose 47 staff; or keep 15, close 21, lose 47 staff; or keep just eight, close 28, lose 81 staff. And scrap the mobiles under any option.

Cue a huge outcry, and a country-wide campaign for a more sensible ‘option 4’.

All this was quite an embarrassment for the Libraries Taskforce. Blantern was its chair, and Northants had been held up as an example of good practice in libraries. What was he doing?

But worse was to come. In October Blantern suddenly jumped ship (with a nice handout of £95,000, the BBC found out). Having ‘transformed the operating model of the council’, he said, ‘now would be an appropriate time for me to leave.’

How right he was.

Over the winter it emerged that Northants is a financial basket case.

In brief...

The Local Government Association published a scathing report. Various leaks revealed serious concerns about financial practices, some dating back years. It didn’t help that the council was shown to be run by a small clique, with backbench councillors excluded – a problem familiar to campaigners everywhere.

It became clear that much of the mess was due to Blantern’s ‘transformed operating model’. This was very much on the government-recommended model of outsourcing, commercialisation and ‘innovation’.

Under his ‘Next Generation’ blue-print, many services (including libraries) had been outsourced to various outside bodies, run like private companies. These had never been properly risk-assessed, were very poorly supervised, and ate money – with some contracts guaranteeing payments far into the future.

Patrick Butler in The Guardian commented: ‘The grand plan failed at a cost, say critics, of more than £50m on consultants and rebranding.

‘Expected efficiency savings did not materialise, some privatised services have since been hauled back in-house and the scheme’s political architects, including... the chief executive Paul Blantern, have departed.’

Northants in fact had a good service, efficiently run. But other ‘innovative’ practices, praised by Taskforce and government, had included subsuming libraries into a health-dominated social enterprise, and shared premises. This now means that damage to the libraries could also destroy up to 19 co-located children’s centres.

The bad news continued...

The council effectively declared itself broke. Any new spending would be reduced to the statutory minimum. Government inspectors came and produced a devastating review – specifically excluding frontline staff from criticism.

There were rows, rebellions and resignations at council level. Near-panic set in when the auditors, KPMG, stated that the entire budget was so unrealistic it risked being unlawful.

Meanwhile, the library disaster was dragging on. Consultation meetings had the expected furious response. Protests, petitions, demonstrations galore. Library staff were told it is a disciplinary offence to discuss the library options. And were asked to take a day’s unpaid leave to save money.

Then, opening hours were drastically cut on 24 hours’ notice, several reduced to one day a week. Then public pressure got this partially reversed.

The whole thing was crazy.

Some library users, in desperation, were exploring taking over libraries. The council plumped for option 1 (dumping 21 on volunteers) – but with added lunacy. Negotiations were chaotic, with the council demanding instant business plans for take-over by August this year. It seemed dead set on leasing out or selling any library it could.

Proposed rents were up to £35,000 pa. Most scandalously, Irchester – a library built by Andrew Carnegie on donated land, and later given freely to the council, was offered for sale at £195,000! Another was offered at £460,000.

Most amazingly, one council idea was for communities to ‘buy in’ council library ‘packages’ if they could raise the funds. Then it suddenly made a final decision – just close all 21 libraries.

The DCMS agreed to investigate. This, as we all know, never gets anywhere.

Library supporters had for some time been looking at the potential for calling a judicial review.

There was obviously a case...

n Northants campaigners Alison Richards & Graham St John Willey


The case went to the Birmingham courts in July. It was to defend all 21 libraries threatened with closure. Irwin Mitchell represented a young girl from Desborough. Watkins & Gunn acted for the 20 other libraries. Both actions were heard together by Mrs Justice Yip.

In view of the council’s budget emergency, she issued her decision unusually fast, in August.

Northants County Council had promised not to make any irreversible changes – such as building sales or redundancies – before the JR concluded. But it continued to work on the plans, in hopes the judgement would go in its favour.

Well, it didn’t. And the judge ruled out any appeal.

Her judgement didn’t please everyone in every respect. It accepted that the council’s public consultation and equality impact assessments were both lawful – although campaigners had found fault with both. But she did find the council ended by failing to consider them as it should.

The key moment came in February, when KPMG, the auditors, said the whole budget risked being unlawful.

Something like panic set in. In the rush to agree a realistic (lawful) budget, the director of finance asked the next Cabinet meeting to decide finally on option 2 – closing 21 out of 36 libraries. For the first time they ‘were being asked to make a decision that would lead to closures’.

At this point, ‘there was a clear need... to address the statutory test. They did not do that.’

They ‘abandoned conscientious consideration of the [consultation] response’. And the response had contained important points about the needs of vulnerable people protected by the Equality Act. (It is accepted in case law that the public library statutory duty must include a proper assessment of needs.)

‘The result,’ said the judge, ‘was that the executive decision to close libraries appears to have been taken without balancing the statutory duty against the financial pressures.’

This is how Northants came to break the law.

Mrs Justice Yip was clear that financial pressures – even dire ones – are not an excuse in themselves: ‘I appreciate the real pressure the Cabinet and the defendant’s officers were operating under at the time,’ she said. ‘However, this did not relieve the defendant of the need to act lawfully ...

‘The flaws in the defendant’s decision making which I have identified are such that I consider that the whole question of library provision needs to be revisited by the defendant, paying attention to its legal obligations and all material considerations.’

The full judgement is here:


The victory for Northamptonshire library campaigners shines a light on a wider area than Northants itself. It has national significance.

Judicial review (JR) risks being very expensive – not to be recommended except as a last resort. Unfortunately the last resort is where many of our public libraries are.

Why? Partly we can blame central government. Its cynical pass-the-buck cuts to local authorities are disastrous.

And the DCMS seems to have pretty much abandoned its legal duty to intervene where libraries aren’t ‘comprehensive and efficient’ as required by law. (Yes, by law. Too many councillors still don’t know that.)

It also dropped (in 2008) national standards, which helped define officially what ‘comprehensive and efficient’ means in practice. Cue legal minefield.

But local authorities should also blush. It’s shamefully true that a JR regularly proves to be the only way a community can force its council to listen.

Local democracy is especially weak in councils with a huge one-party majority, like Lambeth (Labour) or Northants (Conservative).

JRs, frustratingly, can’t pronounce on stupid decisions or wasteful spending. They can only check for proper and legal process.

All the stronger, then, are the points made in the Northants JR.

But it also highlights the confusion and waste caused by lack of clear guidance on the meaning of ‘comprehensive and efficient’. CILIP is calling for the government to provide this ‘as matter of urgency’. So is TLC.

n Desborough library


Just in time for the anniversary of Andrew Carnegie’s death in 2019, here’s a really attractive illustrated mini-biography. It’s aimed at children, but contains a load of information useful to all. A must for any library!

From Pikku Publishing: – Price £8.99 (paperback with flaps).

Short video by the author about Carnegie, the book and the importance of libraries – mainly aimed at primary schoolchildren:

A 12-year-old immigrant to the USA, Carnegie started with nothing but became the USA’s second richest man (after Rockefeller).
The book doesn’t gloss over his not-so-admirable dealings with his employees (though it seems he later reformed).
Meanwhile – among other things – he funded over 2,500 public libraries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and the UK.

Libraries change lives!

Too many decision-makers still need convincing that libraries do a huge amount of good – at incredibly low cost. For proof, just look at the last (2017) winners of the Libraries Change Lives Award run by CILIP, the librarians’ professional association...

CILIP says: ‘The links between libraries and wellbeing are becoming increasingly clear. From reading for pleasure to offering practical support in times of need, to partnerships with health charities that reach families dealing with major illnesses, promoting good health is the strong suit of libraries across the UK.

‘Libraries also play an important role reaching less visible groups of the population, doing vital work around diversity and plugging the gaps not covered by mainstream wellbeing, health or social services.’

Over 25 years, the award has recognised many health and wellbeing initiatives, for people with problems such as dementia, autism, visual impairment, domestic abuse or mental ill-health. On all-too-rare occasions, government support has enabled nationwide expansion.

For instance Bookstart, which gets free packs of books to pre-schoolers, was first piloted by Birmingham Libraries. It now reaches three million babies across the UK, with ideas and advice for parents. The resulting benefits to literacy – and other school subjects – last for years.

If only more clever library ideas got government support ...

Unusually this time, the winner was a prison service. It’s a useful reminder that public library services also run libraries under contract where there are local prisons.

John Vincent, chair of the judges, said: ‘Congratulations to the library team at HMP Norwich. The award recognises their work to combat isolation and improve wellbeing for some of the most vulnerable members of their population, at a time when we have an increasingly ageing population with complex health needs in prisons all over the UK.

‘All four shortlisted library teams have stepped in to address the gaps in their communities – to help those with less straightforward lives, and also to ensure their populations can benefit from improved wellbeing, diversity and inclusion.’

Interestingly, all four shortlisted services use volunteers. This illustrates perfectly what The Library Campaign has always said: ‘As a complement to professional staff, volunteers make a really valuable contribution. But they shouldn’t be expected to run the whole service.’


Prison work is a job for professionals. Inmates may not come top of the cuddly-causes list. Yet they have more problems than average with literacy, speech, mental illness, drugs, difficult backgrounds ... Lord (John) Bird famously did not learn to read until he ended up in prison. Just being in prison, cut off from family and normal life, adds extra difficulties.

These days, severe staff cuts make it harder than ever for prison staff to provide a decent environment.

The library at HMP Norwich was able to expand its support to an especially vulnerable group, with the help of a local body. It now delivers weekly cognitive stimulation therapy to a previously ‘lost’ group of elderly lifers suffering from memory loss, dementia or depression. (Prisons are designed for younger, fitter prisoners.)

Librarian Gemma Williams explains: ‘The library team were looking for ways to get more involved with the older persons’ wing, where take-up of our traditional service had been quite limited.

‘The Forget-Me-Nots, a group that provides cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) to people with memory loss and dementia, had become aware of a group of “forgotten” older people with high levels of need at HMP Norwich, and were looking for a way to provide a service to them.

‘Fortunately the two found each other and a wonderful partnership was born.’

CST is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health & Care Excellence). A ‘talking treatment’, it is as effective as medication.

HMP Norwich is unique in delivering it inside prison walls. The service is also open to younger prisoners struggling with depression or mental health.

And it doesn’t feel like ‘treatment’. Gemma says: ‘The CST group is a fun, sociable and creative therapeutic group which provides a lifeline for a group of socially excluded and isolated elderly prisoners, and has a demonstrable positive effect on the wellbeing of all involved.

‘We were all especially glad to see the Forget-Me-Nots recognised for their dedicated, skilled and compassionate work, which has had such a positive impact on so many older people.’

It could be established in the prison, explains Jill Terrell, Norfolk’s assistant head of service, because it is run by established and trusted professionals. In prisons, it is not always easy set up innovative partnerships.

Prison staff report a positive culture change since the service began, with more social mixing and a calmer atmosphere, both inside and outside the group. Now NHS England is looking to expand the idea to other prisons.

Norfolk’s head of Libraries, Jan Holden, says: ‘This project is a great example of partnership working in a demanding and challenging environment that delivers great outcomes.’

Winning Libraries Change Lives has paid dividends. It has, says Gemma, ‘given us lots of opportunities and has been a wonderful chance to raise the profile of libraries – prison libraries in particular – and of CST.

‘The project has featured on the Prison & Probation Service homepage and in publications as far afield as the USA and Australia, with lots of people getting in touch to find out more.

‘We have interest from research bodies, and the raised profile has brought us several new volunteers.

‘The £4,000 CILIP award has completely funded the project to run for another year.

It will enable us to update our resources and help in setting up another prison CST group, due to start soon at HMP Bure. The recognition from CILIP went a long way to making the case to get it underway.’

It’s the second year running that Norfolk’s libraries have won the Libraries Change Lives award. It won in 2016 for its countywide ‘Healthy Libraries’ initiative.

Gemma Williams wrote a blog about her experience of the awards:

Need cheering up?
Just watch these 3-minute videos:

HMP Norwich:

The other three:

Past winners and shortlists:



Ipswich Library’s Chat and Chill is for women from diverse and international backgrounds living in Suffolk. It helps them to integrate and provides a regular space where they can practise their English, make friends and feel welcomed to Suffolk life. Children are welcome.

The group’s main purpose is to teach basic life skills and build confidence, with topics like banking, reading a utility bill or visiting the doctor. It was aimed at Asian women when it was launched eight years ago, but has now taken in many others.

Staff can help with any problems that crop up. They have also added extra opportunities to study and learn new skills. Members gain the confidence to join in other library activities, and eventually move on to wider community participation. Involving older women, who may be lonely, is a particular satisfaction.

The initiative has been recognised by a local business award for social inclusion. For Suffolk libraries, it is a way to empower individuals and promote self-directed learning and resilience in the local community.

Help from six volunteers is much appreciated.

n HMP Norwich librarians Janet Holden, Gemma Williams and Sarah Bluckert with Chris Riddell at the winners’ ceremony. Photo by Rolf Marriott


Story Café at the Women’s Library in Glasgow is a women-only shared reading group which brings women from different backgrounds together to connect over literature.

The sessions welcome women from all walks of life, especially those who are socially excluded, marginalised, vulnerable or ‘hard to reach’ – including refugees and asylum seekers, women living with addictions or mental health problems, women leaving the criminal justice system, and those who have experienced abuse, homelessness or poverty.

The equalities agenda is central to the aims of Story Café. It explores themes of diversity and culture in a safe and supportive space, and makes a special feature of writers from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

It’s also fun. The women share food and tea, read aloud stories and poems, and re-connect with the idea that reading is to be enjoyed – not analysed to death. Yet it’s also a safe space to discuss difficult issues. It’s easier to talk about a fictional character than to raise personal matters.

Because the group is run by professionals, it’s able to safely bring in volunteers to help out. They can use their own skills and experience to, for instance, help choose stories to read.

Ideas for further groups include new mums, and getting different generations together.


Kirklees Libraries’ Storywalks bring local families together outdoors in the school holidays for learning and nature-based activities.

Based around literacy, exercise and socialisation, the walks engage a diverse range of people and target harder-to-reach families. Many need encouragement to get active, or to meet others for shared activities.

Quite a few just don’t know about local outdoor spaces ‘right on their doorstep’ that they could go to.

Quite a few, also, have never thought of using a library. One walk takes families from the children’s centre to the library! Families can find out that it’s not ‘a scary, quiet place where you have to shh all the time’ – and it’s free ...

All kinds of activities are brought into the walks, from picture trails to nature-spotting and collecting, to sampling books. The service is introducing new ideas it has developed such as dementia-friendly activities, or multi-sensory storytelling for those with learning difficulties.

Themed walks creatively promote fiction and non-fiction. This encourages parents to see the value of sharing books with their children, and introduces library resources such as the Summer Reading Challenge.

The focus on outdoor pursuits also enables the library service to attract ‘seldom-seen males aged 25 to 45’, and gives children male role models for literacy.

It’s all cheap to run – and efficient. Ideas and props for new storywalks are shared across the service. Ideas can also be used with schools, or targeted work by community teachers, or health walk leaders.

Inevitably, cuts in staff and opening hours are a threat. So a package has been devised to train volunteers to use the storywalk material to run extra walks.

What is a library?

We all know the answer to this question, right? Sadly it seems not,
Dawn Finch. Here are her tips for journalists – and others ...

Even a brief scan through recent articles in mainstream media shows there is a skewed understanding of what a PUBLIC library actually is.

Wikipedia does quite a neat job of explaining the basics. It says: ‘A public library is a library that is accessible by the general public and is generally funded from public sources, such as taxes. It is operated by librarians and library paraprofessionals, who are also civil servants.’

I would add: ‘... forming part of the statutory provision as per the regulations relating to the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964’.

Many people still don’t grasp that their local authority has a statutory obligation to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service. To fail to do so is to fail in compliance with the law.

Frankly, it is also robbing you! You have paid for these libraries in your council tax – it is your right to have that library. It’s not a nice extra, it is a statutory requirement.

Many articles fail to mention or understand the key elements that make public libraries great. So here are a few suggestions of what NOT to say.

Libraries are expensive...

Wrong. Evidence supported by the government shows that libraries return roughly five times whatever is invested in them. ACE (Arts Council England) carried out some research that showed the public library service even saves the NHS money. A lot of money. Roughly £27.5m a year.

A public library does things that nothing else in a community does the same way, from parent groups to adult mental health support.

It does this in an informal and casual setting that most people find more welcoming than formalised support groups. No need for appointments or awkward and uncomfortable meetings with ‘officials’. Just drop in.

This means that countless vulnerable people are able to cope, because they know they have somewhere they can trust and turn to.

That word ‘trust’ is very important. Library workers are trusted. That trust cannot be manufactured and should never be undervalued. It takes a decade to build loyalty and trust in an organisation, and five uncomfortable minutes to lose it forever.

It’s either libraries or
children’s services

Wrong. There is no doubt that decades of mismanagement and poor spending decisions have left local authorities with debt and significant funding gaps. Swingeing austerity cuts have also left deep wounds.

But this has meant that local authorities are using emotional blackmail to excuse closing libraries.

People need to understand that cutting libraries IS cutting children’s services. It is also cutting mental health services, services to the elderly, services to the vulnerable, the unemployed, the lonely, the disenfranchised, and refugees.

The only place in our communities that serves all of these people – without bias or judgement – is the local library. When you cut libraries, you cut services to the most vulnerable people in society.

Don’t forget what makes a library great

This one is easy. It is not the building, or the books. It is always the library workers. The people who daily make a commitment to support the needs of their users and their whole community.

It is essential that these people are paid a fair wage, that they are well trained and that their role is appreciated and understood. Library workers should all follow a set of clearly defined ethical principles, and they should be paid, insured, and protected by their local authorities.

Without library workers, it’s not a library, it’s just a room with books in.

Stop focusing on the ‘rosy glow’

Many articles wallow in nostalgia. This allows others to perceive libraries as some kind of bubble, trapped in the past.

This could not be further from the truth.

Please don’t write about libraries solely from your memories of childhood. Sure, share those (because they are so charming and we all need a bit of library love from time to time). But please take the time to find out what libraries are doing today, and how much they have moved on.

Stop peddling Myth no 1:
‘No-one uses libraries’,
‘No-one needs libraries’

We’ve all read these things, and they are simply not true. The UK had over 282 MILLION library visits in 2016, and it averages around 250 million a year.

That’s enough to fill the London O2 Arena over 14,000 times. That’s the same as filling the O2 every night for roughly the next 38 years. Public libraries are doing that every year. All these ‘no-ones’ are using public libraries, and it’s a myth that ‘no-one’ needs them.

Stop peddling Myth no 2:

‘It’s all on the internet’

It isn’t – and that’s just a silly and privileged thing to say. The digital divide in the UK means that around 10% of people have no internet access and are not regular computer users. At current population figures that means around 6.5 MILLION people have no computer access or skills. That’s roughly twice the population of Wales. So even if it was ‘all on the internet’, many people would not be able to access it.

Let’s take a look at one thing that is on the internet, but perhaps shouldn’t be – government paperwork. It is a sad fact that only 54% of applicants are able to fill out the Universal Credit forms without extra help.

When people struggle with this paperwork, they are usually sent to the library to do it. In fact official advice is to ‘Go to your public library’ to seek help. Of course, this is only possible if the library has staff and it is actually open.

Stop peddling Myth no 3:

‘Libraries are old-fashioned’

This is usually said by people who have not visited a library since they were five.

Libraries and library workers have been running ahead of rapid technological advances far better than most organisations. We were offering computer training when others were still trying to work out what a mouse was.

We’re not playing at this stuff – information is our business and that means in all formats. On the surface things might appear to have remained unchanged, but underneath that swan is not only paddling fast, but on feet that you’d barely recognise.

The main problem with library workers is that they make this stuff look elegantly easy – and it really isn’t.

Stop peddling Myth no 4:

‘Libraries are too quiet for the modern world’

Ask any library worker what drives them mad and they’ll tell you that every time they tell someone what they do for a living, people say: ‘I bet you say “Ssshh” a lot’. Frankly I only say ‘ssshh’ to people who say that to me.

Libraries are quiet when they need to be. That’s very important. They are the last place in our towns where you might be able to find some peace and respite from the chaos of the 21st century.

A library is an important study space, and is often the only place you can quietly gather your thoughts.

That said, most of our libraries are also buzzy and noisy and full of activity. I can see one from my window, and there has been a steady stream of people all day. When I worked there we were rushed off our feet almost all the time, and the quiet of the evenings was essential for those who needed to study.

Noisy is good. Quiet is good too. Take a look at how hard library workers strive to offer both things.

The wrong kind of silence

A suffocating silence is, however, falling in public libraries. But this is for quite another reason – gagging.

Many library workers at all levels are now gagged by their local authorities and unable to talk about what is really going on.

Go and talk to library workers, and ask them. Ask them if they are gagged, and give them the opportunity to talk with anonymity.

It is well worth doing this with volunteer workers, too. They are expected to post a rosy picture, but all is often not what it seems.

Stop peddling Myth no 5:

A volunteer library is better than nothing

This one really grates on me. No-one says it about any other statutory service or government provision.

No-one ever says that a group of volunteers with a med-kit is better than a real doctor, or that a bunch of well-meaning locals with a hose will do instead of the fire brigade.

If your library does not do all of the things I’ve mentioned above (and more), and does not have paid library workers, then to my mind it’s not fulfilling the statutory requirements.

Handing a library to a small charity or group is not saving it but just staving off closure. It is a band-aid on an open wound, and it will not stop the haemorrhage.

I have been looking at volunteer library business plans for almost a decade. I have yet to find even one that would not be laughed at by a real bank manager.

Good people are being lied to, and being expected to carry the burden of delivering a statutory service without any clear framework, or long-term sustainable plan. They are being fobbed off. When their library does close, it is the groups who will carry the blame.

This sort of library is entirely dependent on the community. Where the community is unable to support it, they will not have a library. This will also be peddled as their fault.

That is morally and ethically wrong. In fact, expecting people to work all the time for free is also morally and ethically wrong.

Many local authorities say their volunteer-led libraries are a ‘success’. Falling issues and visitor numbers, unstaffed access, reduced services and diminished opening hours have all recently been passed off as ‘successful’. I would ask all journalists to ask for proof.

Few authorities have actually bothered to perform a solid analysis of their volunteer libraries, possibly because those who have see a rather bleak picture.

If you are visiting a volunteer-led library, ask a few questions. Does it still form part of the statutory requirement? Ask to see their comparative issue figures. Ask if anyone in the building adheres to a set of clear ethical principles.

Ask if they have all been trained in things like privacy and the new GDPRs, and if they know what they are doing in terms of data capture and handling. Ask if they have a sustainable plan for future funding.

Dawn Finch is a CILIP Trustee and chair of CILIP’s Ethics Committee. She is a librarian and children’s author.


n Dawn Finch

Words are important

Words are our business. Definitions matter. When you use the word ‘library’ be sure you are actually talking about a real public library.

A bookshelf in a phone box is not a library – it’s a book swap.

A box on legs at the end of someone’s garden is not a library – it’s a book swap.

A shelf at the station full of discarded books is not a library ... you get the idea.

You’ve paid for libraries. Time to assert your right to them, and to talk about them in clear and unapologetic terms.

Facts are important

Loads of handy graphics in: be:

The Health and Wellbeing facts can be found in this report –

Here are a whole bunch of stats and a link to CILIP’s website –

A superb source of information about public libraries in the UK is Public Library News – the ‘myth busting’ page is just one useful feature.


At last, the Taskforce is producing some easy-to-read leaflets to explain what libraries do. As well as this health-related one (just in time for
National Libraries Week), there’s one on prosperity and one on ‘stronger,more resilient communities’, with more to come.
Download free, or the Taskforce will send a reasonable number of paper copies if you email:


10 ways that libraries power Smart Cities


Public libraries are often the physical manifestation of a city’s ambition to be a smart city. They provide both an architectural focal point and engaging experiences that help create a strong sense of community.


Libraries offer high speed broadband internet connection in a safe, friendly community space. Training courses in the library and informal help from staff enable people to develop the skills they need to engage with government’s digital transformation. Public libraries support cybersafe online experiences for all ages.


Public libraries attract job seekers — drawn by free newspapers and internet access — and people interested in starting up their own businesses. Libraries also provide facilities for teleworkers needing work space outside the home; small businesses seeking affordable web conferencing facilities and meeting rooms, and independent consultants conducting research for clients through library databases.


Libraries provide valuable support for creators and publishers. We introduce authors to book buyers (people who borrow books are also book buyers) and help people discover and rediscover the joy of reading, creating new audiences. Author talks in libraries are a useful source of income for writers and a good way to promote their work, and writers and illustrators use library collections as the source for their stories and drawings.


Public libraries support reading from birth, with storytime and rhymetime sessions, and loans of books, ebooks and other items. As well as reading and writing, libraries support digital, financial and information literacies.


Adapted from a publicity handout produced by the Australian Library & Information Association.


From storytime for babies and toddlers, through to IT courses for seniors, public libraries take a cradle to grave approach to lifelong learning. People of all ages can find free training in the library to update their skills and explore new interests. Coding and robotics are the latest additions to a growing range of topics.


Public libraries support formal education from primary school through to tertiary, from homework clubs for teens, through to partnerships with distance education providers, where students use public libraries as local meeting and study spaces.


Libraries create valuable and engaging digital content using items from their historical collections. They also enable library users to create new works using the materials and technology in their collections. Students, entrepreneurs, humanities researchers, family historians, writers and others benefit from access to millions of books, manuscripts, images, maps and other materials.


Public libraries reach out to all members of their communities and provide special services for people who are housebound. Ebook technology has improved the range of reading material available to people with print disabilities. Pre-loaded tablets provide access to content and the ability to increase text size and activate audio as needed.


The public library is one of the first points of contact for new arrivals. There are newspapers, magazines and books in first language, and English classes for those who need them. Library staff help migrants find out about government services and the support that is available to help them find work or study opportunities.


How to shine online


There are many good reasons to promote your activities online

It gives you a visible and continuous presence in your community, and show up in other people’s news feeds.

You can readily keep in touch with your members and be found by new ones.

You can be contacted by – and engage directly with – the people you want to interest, such as local politicians, journalists etc.

Above all, many people rely on their devices to make plans and keep up with what’s happening.

If you regularly post content and share links to your activities, you will more readily be found online – simple as that.

Creating your own designs and marketing events online can be quick and free.


Good visuals and an informal, conversational tone are key to standing out and getting people to engage on social media.

Show your personality – and use images and simple online tools to produce attractive posts.

We generally respond to people more than places in images and video.

Photos taken on mobile phones are usually fine.

You can also find great photos and visuals that you can use free and copyright-free.

Try these:

Wide choice of witty posters based on wartime classics, adapted by librarian Phil Bradley:

Colour poster saying: ‘A trained librarian is a search engine with a heart’ by artist Sarah McIntyre: (plus black-and-white version for children to colour)

Library photos (Flickr group):




Make an impact with free online publishing and design tools. Simple platforms to try include:

Canva: Bring your campaign to life by creating banners, posters and flyers through this user-friendly tool. The service provides a range of template sizes (eg banners for Twitter posts, A4 posters) and the option to create assets to your own custom sizes, bringing together text, photos and graphics. You can catch a tutorial aimed at beginners here:

Wordpress, Blogger, Wix: A blog provides a place where you can tell your community what’s coming up, how they can get involved and develop a longer term relationship with them. Any of these blogging services will get you quickly online.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: People are spending more and more time on these three platforms. Twitter is great for making short announcements about what’s going on, Instagram is great for more visually led content and Facebook for pushing out longer stories and images.

Twitter Moments: This is probably the best tool to create and promote a ‘story’ by curating tweets and pictures.

Eventbrite: This provides a user-friendly booking service if you want to run an event where you want to sell tickets or restrict numbers. It is free to use for free events, and there’s a relatively small charge for paid events.

Animoto: Video is becoming increasingly important on the web. Animoto makes it easy to create videos using photos and video clips you already have, for Facebook, Instagram, and more. The beginner’s guide will help get you started.

YouTube and Facebook Video: provide great solutions for sharing video content. YouTube provides embeddable links so that you can share your videos across a range of media. Video content typically gets you higher engagement on Facebook than text and pictures.

Adapted from CILIP’s online toolkit for use in Libraries Week – and beyond. More on

The common room – getting back to the roots of public libraries

Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP (the UK’s library and information association) talks common sense about common values – and common needs.

Imagine a room. It’s a simple room, but it is wondrous nonetheless. It is wondrous because it belongs automatically to anyone and everyone that wants to make use of it.

This room of ours belongs to the young mum who can’t take five more minutes cooped up indoors with the kids It belongs to the 55-year-old man whom life has brought low, who spends his nights in a homeless shelter. It belongs to the young entrepreneur with limited funds but unlimited ambition.

Third space

This room of ours belongs to the doctor, the firefighter, the nursery nurse. To the lawyer, the clerk, the farmer and the shop owner.

It belongs to the hairdresser and the cadet, the office worker and the civil engineer.

It belongs to the elderly lady in a high rise who hasn’t spoken to anyone so far this week. It belongs to the newly-arrived migrant looking for a sense of connection – to home, to life over here, to people who care and can help.

It belongs to the group of ladies who meet once a week for a knit and a natter. To the visually impaired group who have moved on from being strangers and become a supportive network of friends.

To the factory worker who secretly loves 18th-century French romance fiction and tells his wife he’s popping in for a Haynes Car Manual.

It belongs to the young lad who’s been excluded from school. To the girl who needs to get away from her parents. To the boy who has questions he simply can’t ask his mates.

It belongs to the four-year-old who might one day be Prime Minister, or an astronaut, or a lion tamer. To the girl who will one day be awarded a Nobel prize. The boy who will grow up to be known by his family and friends for his kindness and compassion.

It belongs, too, to the dispossessed who have been taught to hate the culture that surrounds them. It belongs to those who feel alienated and marginalised by mainstream British culture.

It belongs to the young people who walk out of their house in the morning with time and talent but not money, determined to make something of themselves, who need a place that isn’t home and isn’t work but is that 3rd space that is uniquely theirs.

Endless array

This room of ours belongs to women and men, young and old, people of every faith and none. It belongs to them not because they hand over their credit card, or share their personal data or buy a coffee. It belongs to them by right, from the moment of their birth

And this room of ours is full. Full to bursting with ideas, and stories, and inventions, and answers to questions and questions in need of answers.

Every surface is laden with a feast of literature, art, poetry, nursery rhymes, facts and figures, newspapers and magazines, maps and local photographs.

In this room are the myths and folklore which define us as a culture. The lessons of the past and past ideas about the future. Guides and recipe books, volumes of history, quick reads and holiday books.

And this cornucopia of content isn’t limited to what you can see and touch. It spirals outward into the online world, a near endless array of things to read and do, ready to download to your device and use whenever you wish.


And it’s not just the stuff you might find in any online book retailer. Walking into this room, you are the equal of scholars and academics, able to access and use the research resources normally reserved for those at university.

You are the equal of business leaders, able to access the latest market intelligence, industry analysis and data.

And it isn’t just a random assemblage of content. Its curated, personalised. It has been put together by someone who knows and understands what their community wants and needs.

And more than this, if this dazzling collection of personalised content doesn’t contain precisely the thing you need, you can reach out to the network of similar rooms across the country and they will supply it for you.

And the price you pay for this endless feast of learning and literature? The promise to bring it back when you’ve finished with it.

The dimensions of our room are miraculous too. You can walk in, sit down, find a place to work, or think or read. The room breathes in people throughout the day and breathes them out again in the evening.

It accommodates chatty groups and silent study, friends catching up, groups learning, workers looking for a hot desk in the middle of the day.

It accommodates shelving, events, talks and workshops, makerspaces and performances, arguments and meetings, clinics, consultations and appointments. Learning and play, work and reflection.

You can access this room via a browser at your kitchen table. You can pack it up and put it on your phone. You can carry it with you, wherever you travel.

And not only that, but this room of ours is connected to the world. You can walk in, use your own device or one of the PCs you’ll find there and be instantly connected to services that will help you find a job, learn a skill, stay in touch with your family.


How would you judge the success of such a room? How would you measure its impact on the lives that encounter it?

Would you measure its value merely by counting how many people walked in? Would that be sufficient to tell you the full story of what it means?

What would such a wondrous room be worth to you? Would it be worth £12.90p a year? A pound and change a month for each woman, man and child?

What return on investment would you be looking for from such a room? What metric would be sufficient to legitimise the money it costs to secure the right to such a room for every single one of us?

And what if I told you that this room, this wondrous, common room, could help us attend to some of the most pressing challenges confronting our society in every corner of our island home, in every town and city, in every community?

What if I told you that part of the answer to sowing unity in our fractured society lay within the walls of this room? That our common room is the perfect place for people in our cosmopolitan and multicultural society to come together, learn about each other and to begin to build bridges rather than walls.

That spending time in our common room can help alleviate the anxiety and alienation many people feel about modern life?

What if living near such a room made people feel just a little more proud of the place where they live? And that feeling a little more proud of it, they take more responsibility for it and better care of it?

What if inside this room people could develop the skills they need to spot and be resilient to fake news and misinformation?

What if this room could help people feel more connected to the civic life of their community,
help and encourage them to vote, to stand, to get involved?

What if this room could provide a platform for people to challenge their prejudices?

What if this room had the ability to alleviate the pressure on providing meaningful, dignified social care for some of the hardest to reach people in our community?

What if it could provide a buffer for the health service, helping to ensure that people make better use of their local GP, and that we can extend that support for people experiencing mental health issues?

What if it could extend teaching and learning beyond the local secondary school or college – providing a safe and trusted space for young people to work and learn and socialise?


What if the very presence and use of such a room helped to ensure that local businesses have access to the skilled and literate workers they are going to need in order to remain relevant and competitive?

And what if the presence of such a room in your town, in your community, helped improve property values, created a halo effect for local businesses, made that town or community a better place to invest in?

And not only all of this, but what else might such a room provide a platform for? What new forms of community engagement, cultural activity or civic participation might find a natural home in our common room? What uses might we put our respectful, quiet community space to in the future?

What would you calculate as the worth of such a room, that can do all of these things?

Let’s reflect for a moment on the kind of person it would take to be the caretaker of this miraculous room. Because a room like this wouldn’t spring spontaneously into existence – it would need to be built.

The placing of every brick and window, every door and stick of furniture, would need to be considered so that it didn’t inadvertently undermine the universal right to make use of it, so that it sends a universal message not only of welcome but of belonging.

It would need to be designed to accommodate all human needs and a dizzying range of activities. It would need to be run and managed, cared for, developed and adapted over time to ensure that it could continue to make its extraordinary contribution to the life of its community.


So what kind of person would it take to be the human face of such a room? It would have to be someone who believes, fundamentally, in people. In their dignity. In their rights. In empowering people to better themselves and their situation.

It would have to be someone who has a real personal and professional connection to the idea of the ‘public realm’ and the ‘common good’ – that litany of rights which ensure the equal right to freedom of expression and the freedom to learn, to question and to know.

It would have to be someone who believed in true equality – that all people have equal value, deserve equal access to ideas and opportunity. That all information users are equal.

And more than this, it would have to be someone who believed they had a duty to challenge inequality wherever they found it. Whether in the pages of a book or in the actions of their users.

It would have to be someone willing to sublimate their ego to the real needs of others – to ensure that their practice and their service were in keeping with the universal nature of the room. Someone for whom your success is their success.

It would have to be someone with outstanding skills in customer service, the ability to communicate sympathetically with everyone, a sense of humour and genuine determination.

It would have to be someone willing to be accountable for their service, able to answer for it if it fails and to be celebrated for it when it succeeds.

It would have to be someone who understands enough of the law to know the parameters and constraints they are working in, and what to do
when their work looks like it might take them beyond these.

It would have to be someone with the skill to organise that huge volume of knowledge so that it can easily and quickly be found and used by a near infinite variety of readers.

It would have to be someone with the communications skills and insight to see through what people are saying and understand the real question they’re bringing into the room with them.

It would have to be someone who believes in and is dedicated to upholding your right to privacy. Not as a faint ideal, but as a fundamental part of enabling you to live well in an increasingly connected world.

It would have to be someone who has made a decision, a choice, a commitment to do this for a living. To do this for their profession.

How would you calculate the worth of such a person? How would you calculate how much such a person should be paid? A professional who helps their entire community to succeed. What would you say that was worth?

What share of the future prosperity of our society would you give them?


Our prison, school and public libraries, and the librarians and library workers that run them, are that room. That common room of our nations and regions and communities.

They are the common room at the heart of the school. They are the ‘other place’ – the common room at the heart of the prison that makes you feel like a whole person again They are that trusted place of comfort and community and learning and discovery.

Every day, the length and breadth of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, they go in, open the doors, turn on the lights and get ready to welcome their community.

To create that common room. To give people that sense of ownership and belonging. Answer their questions, chat to them, help them to help themselves.

There’s a saying that I’m fond of: ‘If people could fly, they would call it exercise and they wouldn’t do it’.

It is amazing how quickly we normalise the miraculous.

In England for the past eight years we have seen what happens when society forgets just how miraculous a thing a library is.

In the cold reckoning of the National Audit Office in their recent report on the Financial Sustainability of Local Government, we experienced in England a 10.3% reduction in the number of public library service points in the six years to 2017.

Decision makers

This figure doesn’t tell the full story – the story of the wider impact of hollowing-out, reductions in hours and the transfer of around a further 8% of English libraries to being wholly ‘community-led’. The loss of the role of librarianship at the heart of the library.

Other figures from the same report tell a story of a society with real and complex needs. Funding to local government has fallen by 49%, a real-terms drop of 28% in the spending power of local councils in less than six years.

Bus service mileage – the number of miles covered by rural bus services in England outside London – fell by nearly 50%. The number of looked-after children increased by 10%. The number of over-65s in need of social care increased by 15%.

And yet, it is clear from many of the conversations I have with politicians and leaders and decision makers in Westminster that they look at our common room and see not a cost-effective answer to these complex social and economic challenges, not a partner ready and willing to use our trusted role, our unmatched infrastructure of trusted, networked places, but a room filled with books.

A nice-to-have.

Essential role

There is an increasingly jarring disjoint between the sector we know and love – with its 250m plus physical visits a year, 96m online visits a year, its growing audience of 15–24 year olds, its 26 million hours of supported internet access – and how it is perceived by the people whose support and engagement we need.

The story that is old and familiar to us is new to them. Which is why we must learn to tell it with a renewed freshness and enthusiasm.

We want – in the words of one long-standing librarian and colleague – to ‘go back to the roots of our sector – to the essential role we play as the common room at the heart of our communities – and re-cast them on the shores of a modern age’.

We have to give our politicians and policymakers a fresh understanding of the power of libraries.

We have to fight to ensure that we are embedded across government policies on skills and housing, social integration and the digital economy, fake news and local economic growth.

We have to prove that our common room is there, right at the forefront of tackling society’s greatest challenges.

And to do this, we must build new partnerships, make new friends. We must build up our relationships with the business community, with the technology sector and with retail. With health and formal and informal learning, with the third sector and with local and national government.

Turning point

We must find new champions who champion not only the vital power of reading and literacy, but of digital skills, enterprise and innovation.

The decline in use we have seen in some library services is not, in my view, anything to do with a decline in need. It is a decline in the understanding of what the word ‘library’ means today.

We are, I think, at a turning point. The politics of austerity which have for so long constrained our ambition, prolonged by the process of Brexit, must now come to an end. People are crying out for a new sense of aspiration, of hope, of opportunity.

We have a local government spending review
in 2019. I have met the libraries minister to talk
about how we can secure both investment in
local government to maintain local services and additional investment to rebuild our publicly-funded sector.

We know that over the next 18 months, we must speak the language not of emotion or ideology, but the spreadsheet.

To bring a true end to public sector austerity we, along with our partners in other parts of the public sector, must demonstrate the case for investment to the Treasury in language they understand.

When you give people a sense of aspiration and hope and opportunity, they go to work. They graft to make it a reality.

And so we must be ready to tell a new story about our common room, our libraries, and the role they play in our future success.


And we must be clear-eyed about the economics of our sector. Over the past 20 years it has cost around £800–900m a year to run an effective
public library service – around £12.90 per person per year.

Estimates suggest we are currently running on around £700m. So there is a shortfall in public investment of some £100m. That’s £3 a year for every taxpayer in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. When you factor in the cuts to school budgets as well, this gap grows larger still.

We have closed some of that gap through being more efficient, working together. Some of it has been closed by new investment from our governments. Some of it through the creativity of librarians seeking new sources of funds.

Powerful tools

But the lion’s share of that gap remains.

It can be closed, but in order to close it and to secure the future viability of our sector we can’t tell the same old story, nor can we afford to wait for the winds of political fortune to turn in our favour.

We have to tell a new story which speaks both to the finest values and ideals of today’s political generation and to the need for meaningful economic and industrial growth – for jobs, productivity and social and economic mobility.

And in telling that new story I think we have some powerful tools.

First, we have the work that is done every day in every library. The track-record of delivery, customer service and impact that has continued throughout these difficult times, delivered by professional librarians.

Second, I think we now have better leadership at the helm of our libraries and organisations than we have had for many years. We have good dedicated people in a position to take the library message to the people who need to hear it.

Third, we have the biggest and best network of trusted, physical and digitally connected spaces of any public service. There may be more GPs and more schools but there is no other service whose doors are open to so many people of such diversity every day, physically and virtually.

Fourth we have you – advocates and influencers – each with your own network, each with your own voice. Every single conversation you have, every misconception you correct, every interaction, helps to turn the tide in favour of our sector.

And finally we have the most important things of all – confidence and conviction. The knowledge that in today’s fast-paced, complex connected age, our communities need libraries more than ever, not less.


Because at the end of all this, there is a prize to be had. I want libraries and librarians to win.

I want our common room at the heart of every community, every business, every school, every college, every hospital, every government department. Every life.

I want our services to be fully funded, not as an obligation but an opportunity. Not because of a nostalgia for what we were, but because of a full recognition of what we are today and have the potential to be tomorrow.

I want professional librarians managing and leading this common room – not because of a residual memory of status, but because of who we are today and what we can do today. Because of our contemporary skills and ethics and values and professionalism. Because of our ability to lead and drive the ongoing evolution of this common room of ours.

I want the doctor, the firefighter, the nursery nurse, the lawyer, the clerk, the farmer and the shop owner, the hairdresser and the cadet, the office worker and the civil engineer to see libraries as their common room, a vital part of their daily lives.

We know we have to fight to make all of this happen. We know that no one of us on our own is going to secure the future prosperity of our common room. If we are going to win, we need to stand together.

This is an edited version of speech given at the joint CILIP Ireland and Library Association of Ireland conference on 19 April 2018

The photos show a few of the activities based at Tate South Lambeth library, London.

n Nick Poole

n Some salient facts picked out by CILIP for National Libraries Week.


Libraries welcome

This is the title of a new report* from ACE (Arts Council England), by librarian John Vincent of The Network**. It’s a great read – full of information and heart-warming stories of clever projects. Perhaps it will help get across to decision-makers the immense value of public libraries – and how mad it is to starve them.

We went to town on this report. Partly because it’s a useful fund of info about the many and varied things libraries do. If you want more bright ideas, the report has many more.

Partly because this is what libraries do all the time, with no fuss, no trendy guff about ‘innovation’ and (often) no fancy funding. This is little recognised. High time it was.

Partly because it demonstrates the value of the basic public libraries model. It welcomes everyone. You don’t stick a label on yourself by walking in. You’re not telling the whole world you are lonely, scared, worried, poor or whatever.

You just go in. The library is yours. It’s that increasingly rare thing – a public space.

And – IF there are trained staff – you can get what you need. Almost anything, from a bit of company

to high-level academic research papers.

Within this model, the report shows that amazing things can be done.

Staff can work with

users, volunteers, other public service agencies, to help all kinds of people.

Sometimes they can use common tools, like the Summer Reading Challenge. Sometimes they have to fool about getting extra grants. Sometimes they just do it anyway.

The skills, ideas and infrastructure are already there. All that’s needed is decent funding.

* Libraries welcome everyone: six stories of diversity and inclusion from libraries in England:

** The Network – a very useful resource on tackling social exclusion in libraries, museums, archives and galleries:

ACE gets library message

ACE (Arts Council England) is waking up to the full value of libraries. Libraries were added to ACE’s arts-based portfolio in 2010. They have, TLC and others feel, only been a partial fit.

However, ACE now increasingly sees public libraries as a key contributor to its growing focus on ‘diversity’- ie, reaching lots of people.

Nicholas Serota (ACE chair) has highlighted the benefits of having libraries on board: ‘The arts and cultural sector can perhaps learn from the way that libraries interact with their local communities.

‘Again and again, the public tells us that they see libraries as trusted spaces, that they are welcoming to everyone and offer a safe, creative environment where knowledge is respected – people don’t feel intimidated to enter them.

‘As a result, libraries can reach many different audiences, particularly children, young people and their families and older people.’

Since 2011, ACE has been developing ‘an arts-centred approach to embracing diversity’ – with funding increasingly tied to achievement in this area.

ACE says: ‘Diversity is vital to achieving artistic excellence, driving innovation and creating new collaborations.

‘Through embracing diverse influences and practices, artists and organisations can create exciting, new, high quality work to inspire and connect with a wide range of people.

‘The arts are also an essential platform to amplify the voices of communities whose stories have historically been under-represented.’

ACE has even revived a long-lost project led 10 years ago by the old MLA (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council). This devised tools for assessing impact, organised into the ‘Inspiring Learning For All’ evaluation framework.

It’s the kind of thing you have to do to prove a case for investment. And it disappeared along with MLA itself. In fact, much of what MLA did seems to have been lost and wasted.

However, ACE has now sponsored a ‘refresh’ of the framework, updating the good bits, broadening it to take in the wider art and cultural community and aligning it to current priorities. Now it needs to be used ...




n Our ‘diversity’ logo is, of course, from this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. Now well established, it’s a perfect example of how libraries reach out into communities. It’s developed nationally (by The Reading Agency) to make it very low cost. It’s delivered locally (anywhere there’s a proper library with staff to run activities around it). It makes reading fun. It keeps kids reading through the summer holiday, when schools would normally expect to see a dip in reading skills. Last year, it reached 761,758 kids. And research shows it really works!

Libraries reach out

The regular DCMS Taking Part surveys show:

Adults living in the most deprived areas visit the library more: 36.8%, compared to 31.5% in the least deprived areas.

An increasing proportion of adults from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups use the library more than adults from white ethnic groups: 49.3%, compared with 31.8%. And the gap is increasing. In 2005–06 there was a difference of 10.3 percentage points between the groups. This year it is 17.5.

More women visited a library in the past 12 months than men: 38.1% compared to 29.4% men.

More non-working adults visit libraries compared with working adults: 37.8%, compared with 31.3%. (The term ‘non-working’ used in statistical data is not synonymous with ‘unemployed’, but it is a fair assumption that a proportion will be unemployed).








Everyday stories

The report says…

The examples in the report show just a glimpse of the wealth of equality and diversity work going on in public libraries.

Every public library carries out work which focuses, to a greater or lesser degree, on equality and diversity.

However, so much of this work is seen to be ‘everyday’ (ie, not something special) that it often passes unrecognised.

Unfortunately, it is not only the ‘everyday’ that often goes unrecorded. While libraries do collect data, they do not all collect statements or information that show the impact their work is having.

Undoubtedly even more could be done. Nevertheless the depth and breadth of current equality and diversity work shows just how much libraries have adapted to meet the needs of their communities.

Where people are aware of what the modern public library offers, there is an uptake in demand for services – often outstripping what can actually be provided.

In reality, libraries do not have a choice. They are required (under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Equality Act 2010) to make this provision.

The choice they do have is how far the service is orientated towards equality and diversity. While this currently varies between library authorities, there is surely ample evidence here to show it is a ‘must’, not an add-on.

The impact of ‘austerity’ is affecting most libraries’ ability to continue and develop this work. While there is still considerable innovation, it cannot be as widespread as it needs to be. This issue needs to be addressed.

An elderly man came into the library looking for his wife. The story is quite a sad one – he was the carer for his wife, but had been taken ill. He was removed to hospital.

When he returned home his wife was not there (it transpired she had been taken into a care home, but no-one had informed him).

He was obviously quite upset and worried, and went to the library looking for help. My staff escorted the gentleman to his doctor and helped him enquire as to his wife’s location. He was then given the information he needed to find her.

Central Bedfordshire

Rebecca, whose husband and two children have been diagnosed with autism, says: ‘There isn’t much positive provision for autism, so when we saw the Reading Well collection in our local library we were really interested. The library is one of my daughter’s favourite places.

‘It’s really hard to assess the quality of information online, so things like Reading Well are great because you can be confident of the quality of the information.’


We noticed that an elderly lady who normally borrowed craft books was visiting us less and less. During one of her now infrequent visits we started a conversation... she said she had sadly lost her husband and sister and this had left her feeling ‘lost’. Part of the joy of making something was having someone to share it with. She now felt this was a waste of time.

She realised that she was now coming out less and less and was feeling more timid and vulnerable.

We mentioned the craft group that meet in the library, reassuring her that they are all like-minded ladies with a passion for crafts. It took a little persuading, but it was a delight to see the lady attend one Saturday morning.

We introduced her to the group and she received the welcome we were expecting. One of the ladies later let me know that when offered a hot drink the lady started to cry She explained to the group that ‘nobody made her a hot drink anymore’ - such a small thing, but it gave her the contact she was craving.

She now regularly attends the group and has welcomed new members. She helped to organise a small Christmas gathering and often shows us items she has made. She regularly meets one of the other ladies for coffee and is even arranging a small break away. We often see her in the library now, choosing fiction as well as deciding on future craft projects.


X, who attended a library-based work club, came back to say thanks and let us know that he is now working at [xxx] Warehouse. (He also wanted help printing out his pay slip!) He’s been there about three weeks via Best Connection and they’ve already asked him to send a CV and covering note to become employed by them directly!


We were all amazed when we saw what the artist produced

using our ideas and

work. When it was unveiled I felt like crying

because it looked so professional and I thought ‘Did we really do that?’ I can’t remember the last time I felt as proud of something I’d done.


We went up to the library for a creative writing session. I was able to get my library ticket sorted out and explain that I had lost a book in the past. I was scared to use the library and embarrassed, so hadn’t used it for years. We had a tour and I loved the reference library because there were big tables and it was quiet. I go there a lot now because there is no quiet space at home!

I borrow books a little bit now, but I like to just look at the big art books. The pictures inspire me to do more art work, or help me if I want to do some creative writing. I use the computers as well. I do my job searches and use Facebook.


Thank you so much for your Baking Day memory box. I work in all three care homes and the residents loved all the items and sharing their stories...

A customer was thrilled that she could borrow the reminiscence packs to engage with her grandmother who didn’t really leave the house, or do anything any more, to keep her mentally stimulated. She said she would enjoy sharing these resources with her grandmother.

West Sussex

A customer spotted our Autism Friendly Library poster on the window. She came in specially to tell us that she hasn’t had the confidence to bring her autistic son into the library yet, but now that she’s seen the poster she is more likely to try.

Richmond upon Thames

Rewind (song writing group) had a massive effect on my life growing up as a teenager, in an area where there wasn’t very much to keep young people occupied. It gave us something to concentrate on other than school, and helped keep us organised and driven.

I may not be involved in music so much now, but I always remember how Rewind helped us develop as young people, and the confidence it gave us to go and achieve our dreams. It taught us that we can make anything happen if we work hard enough.

For me, Rewind has enabled me to express my creativity in a way I know is responsible and safe. The skills I learnt were invaluable to my adult life and gave me confidence to continue with an art and design course throughout my further and higher education.

I will forever be grateful to the people who made this opportunity a reality. It is still something I am extremely proud to have been a part of.

North Yorks

A customer visited the library to read the newspapers. I acknowledged him and he started to talk to me. He said he had suffered two strokes recently and has been told that he cannot work any more.

He feels depressed sometimes. He can buy the papers for himself, but he likes to come in and read, and he can sometimes talk to others that read the papers too.

I mentioned all the events and activities at the library including Scrabble, chess and Colour Me Calm. He has since turned up for the chess sessions. He has made friends and says it has given him something to look forward to – and it is good for his brain after having the strokes. He says: ‘I don’t know what I would do without the library’




All these authorities are named in the report – though, of course, many others do similar things ... that’s the point!

Birmingham, Barnsley, Bradford, Brighton & Hove, Bromley, Cambs, City of London, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Doncaster, Dudley, East Riding, East Sussex, Essex, Gateshead, Hackney, Halton, Hants, Herts, Kensington & Chelsea, Kent, Kirklees, Lambeth, Leics, Lewisham, Merton, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Norfolk, Northants, Northumberland, Nottingham, Oldham, Oxfordshire, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Richmond upon Thames, Rochdale, Sandwell, Sefton, South Gloucs, Suffolk, Surrey, St Helens, Somerset, Staffs, Stoke-on-Trent, Tameside, Telford & Wrekin, Tower Hamlets, Wakefield, Warrington, Westminster, West Sussex, Wirral, Wokingham, York.

Everyday examples

Two part-time workers deliver a service called Caring About Reading, which promotes reading for pleasure to children in care and foster carers. We do a small amount of one-to-one work with children in schools or libraries, deliver training to foster carers, gift books, deliver or support activities for children in care in school holidays, including a week-long summer play scheme in partnership with corporate parenting.


One project involved poet Ian McMillan visiting six residential care facilities with library staff, to work with older people and people suffering from dementia, bringing carers and the cared-for closer together through poetry, humour and conversation.

Another enabled 114 people (older people, carers and family members) to share the fun of writing humorous nonsense poems in collaboration, drawing on individual and collective memories.

We then expanded the project by working alongside our mobile library service to take Ian on a Pop-Up Poetry Tour, where he visited two retirement homes, both drop-off points for the mobile library service.

His visits deliberately coincided with the arrival of the mobile library, so the drivers and library assistants were also encouraged to get involved.

East Riding

Libraries run Slipper Swap events in partnership with Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Carers in Herts and Fire Safety. The events provide information and advice to help vulnerable people avoid serious falls, often caused by poorly-fitting slippers, and to stay well. New anti-slip slippers are provided through Hertfordshire County Council’s Healthy Homes Campaign.

Occupational therapists use the events to teach simple falls prevention exercises and tips. The events also publicise social care information in libraries and promote Hertfordshire’s Reminiscence Collection and Home Library Service.


Scam Awareness Roadshows in libraries were part of the county’s campaign to help older and vulnerable people to find out more about doorstep, phone and postal criminal cons and cheats. On hand were advisers from Trading Standards, Neighbourhood Watch, Citizens Advice Bureau and Age UK, and the local police community safety officer. The events included ‘Junk the Junk Mail’ sessions, offering secure disposal of scam and junk mail by Trading Standards, who then contacted the senders to stop further mailings.


Libraries provide a range of activities for disabled people and their families/carers, including:

• speech & language therapy drop-ins for adults with learning disabilities

• Asperger’s reading group

• ‘Story Magic’ sessions where library staff lead a multi-sensory story time for families. We use multi-sensory stories created by the charity Bag Books. These events are popular with families as all siblings can attend together, rather than limiting it to a ‘special’ audience.

West Sussex

An equipment library for visually impaired people is funded by the Big Lottery. The local Macular Society wrote the bid and runs the whole project. All the equipment is stored and loaned at the library. It includes a Brailler, magnifiers, screen readers, talking pens, and boomboxes (donated by Derbyshire libraries). It is displayed in a cabinet so people can see what is available and can borrow it using their library card. A volunteer from the Macular Society also does home visits to teach people how to use the equipment. The home library assistant also refers people to the volunteer, who takes the equipment out to them to try.


The VIP reading group for people who are blind or partially-sighted meets monthly. A mini-bus collects people from their homes and takes them to the library, where they have refreshments and talk about the latest talking books they have been enjoying.


‘Touch a New World’ offers those who cannot visit the library the opportunity to borrow an iPad. A library volunteer visits the person at home to help them get online, show them what they can do and how to do it safely.


Regular Family Library Times are held at HMP & YOI Chelmsford during school holidays. They give families a chance to meet in the prison library and enjoy stories, reading, games, songs and crafts. The library is familiar and less threatening than the imposing Visits Hall. For larger families it’s a rare chance to all visit together – grandparents are welcome.

It’s lovely to see dads interacting with their children in such a positive way. A partnership with a local bookshop, Red Lion Books, enables dads to give a book to each of their children. This not only promotes reading, but helps to make the end of the session a little easier.


Bumps to Bookworms is based on feedback from midwives on the difficulties with bonding between mothers and babies and the isolation of new mums for various reasons, including the financial need to work as long as possible and the lack of (especially free) social settings for mums and babies.

Mums are invited to the library for two get-togethers before birth, to meet other local mums, and make a Black and White Book and a rhyme scrap book. During these meetings mums find out about the importance of reading and rhymes as a way to bond and interact with their child, and the range of services and activities offered by the library. They are encouraged to join if they are not already members. The final visit is after birth, when mums meet again to introduce their babies and join them to the library if they have not already done so.


In partnership with One Adoption the service has developed reading kits to support people becoming adoptive parents. These include the recommended reading lists which parents are expected to read during their development from stage 1 to stage 2 of the process. We’ve also added therapeutic story books and library favourite children’s titles about dealing with fear, being in care, being adopted or dealing with emotions/situations.

These books are loaned in a taster size, with just a few titles – but always including a children’s book, and then in the full size, with all the titles (aimed at parents who are on stage 2). We also offer our home service library to visit and support new adoptive parents when their child arrives.


Baby shower events for prospective and new parents bring together appropriate services, organisations and businesses to showcase their offers, including Family Information Services, voluntary organisations, health services, leisure services. The central focus is on the importance of reading for new families, but will also allow us to highlight our collections of books that offer support through pregnancy. As part of their health offer, libraries also offer baby-weighing sessions.


To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the partition of India, we joined forces with professional journalists from DesiBlitz to train a diverse range of volunteers and media students to capture the first-hand experiences of south-east Asian migrants to Birmingham after 1947. The project explored the impact this had on communities in Birmingham and the continuing role migration plays in shaping Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The project will create a permanent film archive in the library and share this through an exhibition and film screening.


We worked with local Black and minority ethnic communities to translate the basic ‘Welcome to Derbyshire library’ leaflet into eight community languages. They have also worked specifically to support newly-arrived Syrian refugee families. Staff were given background awareness training, and engaged with community representatives to welcome them into the library. We provide books in appropriate languages, dual-language books for children and teens and keyboards in Arabic script.


Every Wednesday in August, we gave away a free, healthy lunch (provided by the school meals provider), and delivered a programme of cultural and learning activities.

We worked with a wide range of organisations and individuals such as the Theatre Royal, Music Makers, the National Marine Aquarium, author Tom Palmer and author/illustrator Emma Carlisle. Alongside this, we promoted the Summer Reading Challenge, offered coding and digital making sessions and craft activities.

‘Lunch at the Library’ was delivered at three venues in areas of deprivation – two library buildings and a ‘pop-up’ library at a community venue. Staff received visitor engagement training and put their skills to use promoting the initiative in schools where the uptake for the Summer Reading Challenge was typically poor.


A year-long project was funded by ACE – ‘Seven Stories’. The title reflects the number of participant groups: three schools, adults with mental health issues, adults recovering from a stroke, adults with a learning disability and dementia, and vulnerable older adults. The objectives – which were all met – were to:

• use the library to showcase high quality art from a diverse group of vulnerable adults and young people

• reduce stigma and challenge preconceived ideas about our project’s diverse participants

• inspire young people to engage in reading and creativity

• bring a diverse mix of people into the library and support the library to offer its services to hard to reach groups

• accredit 90 young people with an Arts Award certificate


Active Life
Active Mind runs
throughout October
and aims to bring
people together
and promote healthy
lifestyles and positive
wellbeing. Activities in

libraries range from yoga

and knitting groups to walking for health, Lego
and colouring clubs and FabLab maker space workshops.

We work with a range of different organisations such as Active Devon, One Small Step and Age UK to ensure we are providing professional advice and support to our library users


Free drop-in health and wellbeing events are delivered with local partners.They have included drop-in clinics on memory, HIV testing, sexual health awareness and smoking cessation.

An annual health awareness day at the central library provides free health checks including blood pressure, eye checks, diabetes risk assessment, GP consultations, dental advice, pharmacy advice and complementary therapy tasters.

At the 2016 event, 462 health checks were carried out. Of those tested, 26% were found to have high blood pressure, 61% were identified as overweight or obese and 15 people had a high risk of diabetes. Advice and signposting to other services were provided.


The borough is one of the most deprived in the UK. The library service has struck several partnerships leading to performances and arts projects in the library spaces. Creative use of the arts is actively driving a major transformation, improving mental and physical health and tackling social care problems. Users of the service are typically those accessing adult social care and health services, or at risk of needing these services.

One user says: ‘I had a long-standing alcohol problem. I didn’t see a point to living. My real, active recovery started the day I came to the library.’

St Helens

The libraries support those experiencing domestic abuse and survivors of domestic abuse, providing vital information and resources in a safe environment

They also work with frontline domestic abuse professionals to support their work and jointly increase awareness of the scale of domestic abuse in the county.

Highlights include: information through specialised book stock, dispersed across the county for discretion as well as ease of reservation, and dedicated web pages and signposting to other local and national services.

Events include self-esteem workshops, poetry sessions run with a local survivors support group, and a poetry and art session run with the local youth support group service, a domestic abuse survivors reading group, e-book readers and e-book downloading training for refuge residents. We are forging links with the police, borough and district councils, Crimestoppers and the probation service.


We host community drop-in sessions with the Sexual Health Service, which offer free information, advice and support. There are no appointments – it is an informal, non-judgemental and confidential service that allows people to chat at ease.

Areas covered include: family planning and contraception; sexually transmitted infections and how to stay healthy; accessing STI and HIV testing services and clinics; information leaflets, postal chlamydia screening kits and condoms.


Funding was obtained from Public Health to work with Mind, Mind Out and the local wellbeing service on a ‘Beat the Winters Blues’ campaign. We asked local people via postcards in libraries, Mind shops, waiting rooms and social media what their favourite feel-good fiction books were, and why.

The project was promoted by local radio station, Juice, and by council and library social media.

We received 451 nominations in two weeks, and a list of Top 20 mood-boosting reads was compiled. The titles were then promoted to encourage people to pop into a library and borrow one. Following this success, the library’s children’s team received funding from the Public Health Schools Programme to go into three primary schools and work with pupils identified as needing support, on a children’s Happy Book list. A similar project followed, working with three secondary schools.

The Happy booklists were launched in the library and shared with other schools. Libraries also worked with secondary schools, CAMHS and Young Minds to promote the national ‘Shelf Help’ collection of books to support young people to manage their resilience, wellbeing and mental health.

Mind brought members of a young people’s advocacy project to the library to have a look at them and give us feedback. Libraries subsequently worked with the Public Health Schools Programme to promote their SMILE initiative for children, by showing their animated film in libraries and creating Happy Book displays around World Mental Health day.

Brighton & Hove

Two libraries will work with CAMHS and local schools to allow young people in isolated communities to take over libraries and curate their own festival which aims to boost mental wellbeing


We plan a series of takeover days where people with learning disabilities will help run libraries and engage with staff and the public.


With funding from Public Health we worked with the Carers Centre to set up a monthly book groups for carers and former carers. Carers often feel socially isolated, and a local survey found that 14% also had mental health issues.

Bookchat enabled carers to meet others in a similar situation and support each other through the medium of books chosen to encourage empathy and stimulate discussion.

Bookchat took place in libraries in different areas of the city, chosen by carers as convenient to them. The funding paid for a facilitator for one year and for funding to enable carers to obtain replacement care to enable them to attend.

The intention was to enable the groups to run themselves once the funding ended, by providing training for any members who were interested.

Library staff and the facilitator attended Carers Coffee mornings to promote Bookchat, which was also advertised in the regular Carers Newsletter. It proved challenging to set up the three groups originally planned. In the end we ran two, which we eventually amalgamated.

We were able to retain the facilitator for two years, as no-one asked for replacement care to be provided. The group is now being run by two of its members, with a regular attendance of up to 12 people.

Brighton & Hove

Libraries have developed a Shared Reading group project in partnership with Public Health and The Reader Organisation.

There are now nine Make Friends With A Book groups meeting every week, with up to 16 people at each. They are led by a trained volunteer, who chooses a story and poem. There is no requirement other than to listen, so reading ability is not important. Some members are blind or visually impaired.

The groups have become a lifeline for isolated older people, many of whom live alone and come to a group following bereavement. Because the literature is immediate and requires no preparation it is suitable for people with memory problems such as dementia, and their carers. The format offers intellectual, social and emotional stimulation.


The library service goes into homes and care homes to record the life stories of people in the first stages of memory loss, to provide a reminiscence tool for the patient’s care and a valuable primary history. The work is delivered in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, Age Concern, Age UK and care homes.

Residential care workers use the material to establish a rapport with their residents and find topics of conversation. Reminiscing to rekindle forgotten memories (cognitive stimulation therapy) has been shown to slow the progression of the condition.


The Library & Information Service and the Museum & Archaeology Service together developed Reminiscence Kits – a collection of objects, photographs, music and scents to stimulate the senses and remind those living with dementia of things that have happened throughout their lives.


Borrowing Without Taking enables homeless people to enjoy the experience of borrowing and reading a book from start to finish without taking it out of the building. Many avoid borrowing library books because they are worried they will get damaged while they are living on the street.

If they try to read the book in the library over a number of visits, somebody else invariably ends up borrowing it before they get the chance to finish it, so they stop reading altogether.

Under the scheme a book is issued using a special ticket. In between the homeless person’s visits, staff store the book away. When the person next visits the library, they just ask staff for the book and continue reading.

Homeless people have welcomed the initiative and have enjoyed reading books ranging from classics to graphic novels.


Libraries work closely with Open Door, which serves drinks and a hot breakfast and hands out food parcels to homeless and vulnerable people. Library ICT mentors deliver work clubs at Open Door, as well as at foodbanks across the city. They have engaged with numerous customers and supported them with online forms, job searching and informal learning opportunities. They are encouraged to join the library. We have recently become a direct referrer for foodbank emergency vouchers.


Libraries partnered with a local college, whose health and social care students helped deliver sessions to adults with physical disabilities and learning disabilities.


All staff and volunteers are encouraged to approach young people in libraries even if they are just using the space as somewhere to wait for a lift home after school. We try not to be pushy but do ask for their opinions on the library, thoughts on events or activities that might be coming up and what they think would be good or interesting for other young people. Actively listening to young people often leads to opportunities to encourage them to act as volunteers.


We are proud to provide support for some of the most vulnerable refugees created by the crisis in the Middle East. This is done in a co-delivered partnership with key city council partners.

Libraries play a central role. The central library is the venue for the welcome meeting families attend in their first week. This includes a short library tour, handing out pre-registered library cards and children’s activities.

Libraries are then an integral part of our new residents’ first months in the UK, with clients given weekly overviews of the free services in libraries, and IT sessions. The libraries are venues for other family learning opportunities, and community activities. For example, the families were specially invited to our Diwali celebration.

Further sessions give more specific details of how libraries can support clients, with signposting to ESOL resources, online resources, support with learning about the ‘British way of life’ and our many free activities for children. A leaflet in both English and Arabic lists relevant services. A Language Line translation service is available for enquiries beyond their current level of spoken English.


To raise the profile – both to the public and staff – of what we offer to those without English as a first language, we have developed a standard display. It is displayed with the ESOL resources at every library (these will also be reviewed to ensure they are wide-ranging and numerous enough).

The display promotes the children’s dual language books and the newspapers, online newspapers, magazines and books for adults in other languages, including a list of which main languages are available. It also asks for suggestions to improve our resources.

This should increase staff awareness, so it will improve customer service; better promote ‘invisible’ resources only available upon request; ensure that all libraries can offer the same service across the city.




Six case studies describe a few projects in detail:

Barking & Dagenham ‘aims to create opportunities for local people to develop their potential for creative writing, to open up new career opportunities or introduce people to a new creative hobby to enrich their lives’.

Creative writing projects, workshops and competitions, events and festivals support people to develop their writing skills. The ‘Pen to Print’ project also aims to create an interest in discovering new literature, discover new genres and create new self-sustaining writing collaboratives which are open to everyone and in turn promote new opportunities for community cohesion through a shared interest in reading and writing’.

This London borough’s population has ‘the reputation for being disenfranchised from the established arts scene ... low levels of literacy, employment and high levels of deprivation’.

Coventry is reviewing and overhauling all its existing equality and diversity provision to meet changing needs.

Libraries, alongside other public services, are dealing with austerity by having to be creative and do more for less. In Coventry, the driver is to focus capacity to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

There were pockets of good practice, but skills and information were not shared across the city. Provision was serendipitous and needed co-ordinating. Some services were delivered because they always had been, and needed looking at with a new approach ...

Leeds focused on a high-priority group of young people (building on previous successful work with teenagers). See page 33.

North Yorkshire had a model that worked in one library, exploring true co-production with young people. Events, activities and displays planned and delivered by young people are now a regular feature. Staff work on the theory ‘say yes, work out how later’.

The challenge is
to share best practice, and develop/replicate the

model elsewhere – in a different economic climate.

The service now has a very new delivery model, with paid staff working alongside volunteers.

The team are getting to know the young people who use [another] library, spending time talking to and listening to them, and developing opportunities for them to become more involved.

Building relationships with young people, where the relationship with the library wasn’t strong, is taking time. From a slow start, young volunteers are now meeting regularly to plan and deliver activities, including making the teenage area more attractive.

In Nottinghamshire, the recorded diagnosis of dementia is the highest in England. It is a key priority in Nottinghamshire’s Health & Wellbeing Strategy and crosses health, social care, voluntary and other boundaries.

The library service set up a range of innovative cultural activities for people with dementia and older people. It includes:

• Dementia friendly film screenings (open to the general public)

• Afternoons of ‘live music, conversation and cake’

• Activity packs containing carefully chosen books, activities (eg, chair crazy golf, large jigsaws, conversation cards), a DVD (eg, Life in the 1940s) and a CD (eg, Songs that Won the War, No.1 Hits of the 1960s).

West Sussex built on its existing partnerships to consult and then provide low-tech communication devices that people could borrow for free, try out with their child and then – with professional support from teachers and speech therapists – decide whether it is worth investing in for long-term use. See page 34.




Time is of
the essence. The
time it takes to build
relationships is vital to make projects work.

It is important to make sure that partnerships have sustainability and have scope to develop (and are not dipped into piecemeal when it suits your objectives). They should be collaborative and beneficial for all parties.

We have discovered the vital importance of marketing the project. Whilst there is a compelling case that social media has a part to play, we should not underestimate the importance of word-of-mouth and more traditional printed promotional materials, to ensure that all age groups have access to information on what we are offering.

We also need to work closely with groups representing young people and work on getting them actively involved in devising elements of the programme for their peers.

This is going to be a harder task than we first envisaged ...

Barking & Dagenham

Partnerships don’t always work straight away, and it is sometimes difficult to get an ‘in’ with the right groups or key person. It takes time and relationships have to be nurtured.

Introductory emails and offers to meet up don’t always work. Attendance and informal conversations at local community development and connection meetings often do. It is important to keep records of who you have met and, crucially, if you’ve promised to send further information, make sure you send it in good time.

It pays to find out what potential partners are doing, offer to attend their meetings and take an interest in what they are doing and if possible find ways to support them. It is important not to be seen as a ‘competitor’ but as a partner.

North Yorks



Building on this
good practice

The examples in
the report show the
vast range of different
types of equality and diversity work being delivered and developed by public libraries in England.

Yet we also know that much of this good practice does not get disseminated. There needs to be a way for all libraries to learn from this work, and to have the opportunity to experiment and to put ideas into practice.

Consultation with the community

As all the case studies have identified, many community groups and individuals are becoming wary of consultations and feel that their views may not be taken into account.

For example, Leeds Libraries’ way of working – developing trust as the starting point for their consultation, followed by ensuring that they deliver what they promise – is a strong model for consulting with the community.

West Sussex managed to develop their service provision because they had firm foundations of partnership working in place, and could consult with the families they hoped to target.

Recording libraries’ impact

Research looking at ‘audience reach’ was critical of the limited data that many libraries collect, and the lack of interrogation of this data to help determine how successful services are and how they need to be developed. What is particularly missing, in many cases, is a record of the impact that libraries’ work is having ...

We recommend that reporting on impact measures becomes part of the monitoring of public libraries’ performance.


We recommend that ACE, the Libraries Taskforce, Libraries Connected, CILIP, and other partner organisations all support public libraries in seeking funding and other resources to enable them to build on the important work outlined in this report.

Staff training

The case studies show the key role that staff training and awareness play in developing sensitive and careful equality and diversity provision (especially working with severely disadvantaged people). We recommend that staff training and development is properly resourced and supported for all public libraries.



There is a keen appetite for reading and writing, and it does have an impact

Despite rumours to the contrary, there is a huge appetite for reading, writing and associated activities. This includes all ages, including young people (who, mistakenly, many assume do not read or use libraries).

These activities can have a huge impact on communities that, traditionally, are seen as disconnected from the arts.

However, they may well need to be provided free-of-charge – and must be of high quality.

There is growing evidence of the wider benefits of visiting libraries, reading and associated activities.

All six case studies – and the many other examples in the report - demonstrate increasing evidence of the value of using libraries, reading, writing, and associated activities. Public libraries play a really important role.

Linking the work to national and local policy priorities

Successful library initiatives are those where the piece of work is linked to/drawn from national, regional and/or local policy priorities.

Barking & Dagenham started their reader development work as a response to the stark statistics about deprivation and opportunities in the borough. Many of the examples relate their work to the Universal Offers. Coventry sees its library provision as being part of a community cohesion strategy. Leeds has related its work to national and local statistics about care-leavers. North Yorkshire started much of its work as a development of the national Summer Reading Challenge.

Nottinghamshire began by rooting its work in the county’s Dementia Framework for Action 2016–20. West Sussex developed its work after building a close relationship with the county council’s Special Educational Needs & Disabilities team, with joint objectives.

As well as buildings-based provision, libraries’ outreach and partnership work are vital ...

To make all this work, there need to be strong partnerships with local communities and community organisations. These have been created following sensitive consultation about community needs, and real efforts by public libraries to engage with local people, especially those who may not regularly use library services.

Rather than just being ‘open to all’, successful library services are also targeting specific groups within the community.

All this should also mean that libraries are flexible, willing to alter direction to meet changing community needs and demands.

They should not be afraid to let the users lead.

... and so is ensuring that there is a digital presence and impact.

Part of the success of Barking & Dagenham’s work is that they have developed the Pen to Print YouTube Channel and the Storybite App. Leeds’s work has tablet lending as part of its core.

Pacing the work is key

None of this work can be rushed – as Barking & Dagenham say:
‘Time is of the essence and [...] the time it takes to build relationships is vital to make projects work’

A huge amount of planning is involved, while, at the same time, a more relaxed attitude to detail clearly pays off with North Yorkshire’s ‘say yes, work out how later’ approach.


Some developments can take place without large inputs of resources, but sustainability is critical. There are real dangers in raising a community’s expectations, only for nothing to happen.

That said, there is a need for sustained funding – in terms of mainstream, revenue budgets, rather than short-term project funding – to ensure that this work continues to thrive. If at all possible, funding for this work needs to be ‘weather-proofed’.

Library services have initiated some exciting developments. But at a time when libraries are being reorganised and re-structured, care must be taken to ensure that these do not mean that libraries cannot deliver.

It is vital that all staff are ‘on board’, and staff training is a key part of the process.

Where possible, there is enormous value in being able to carry out longitudinal studies of the benefits, even if these are fairly informal. For example, North Yorkshire has ‘tracked’ some of the original participants in its Rewind Skipton song-writing project.

Working within a bigger organisation

Being part of a larger organisation has its benefits for public libraries. However, there are also disbenefits.

For example, local authority procurement processes may make it extremely difficult for a library service to purchase equipment required for a piece of work (particularly within a limited timeframe). And unless marketing/communications departments are completely ‘on board’, they may not provide effective support.


Looked after in Leeds

This case study shows how public libraries can support care leavers. Of equal importance are – helping them use the mainstream service just like other young people (it helps that it’s free!) and producing special material for them (with multi-media tools available). Of prime importance was consulting care leavers themselves – properly.

A 2015 report by the National Audit Office for the Department of Education noted:

25% of homeless people had been in care;

49% of men under 21 who had contact with the criminal justice system had been in care;

22% of female care leavers became teenage parents.

A 2017 report by Barnardo’s showed that 45% of looked-after children (and 72% in residential care) have a mental health disorder – compared to one in 10 in the general population.

Care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. At any one time, Leeds City Council is working with about 500 care leavers. They are supported by personal advisers – each has an average caseload of 20.

Leeds Library & Information Service works with personal advisers, other council staff, partner organisations and care leavers themselves.

Leeds libraries are represented on some of the key groups that influence services for looked-after children and care leavers. For example, being on the Multi Agency Looked After Partnership (MALAP) group ensured that libraries are included in the MALAP leaflet that outlines the arts and sports offer for children and young people.

The Care Leavers Council is a group of young people (aged 16–25) who have been in care. Leeds library staff attended a meeting to ask what they already knew about library services and how we could make libraries more appealing and accessible.

The group were very clear that they did not want to take part in any exercise designed to tick a box marked ‘consultation’. They had all experienced consultation being done ‘to them’, where their opinions had not been listened to or acted upon.

We assured them this would not be the case. We were there to listen and learn. We did not go with a list of promises, but we did assure them that this work is important to us and will influence the development of library services for care leavers.

Our consultation started with a ‘mythbusting’ session, where we talked about their perception of the things they could or could not do in a library.

One of the most appealing things was the number of free services, especially free wifi in every library. We were also told that any information/activity about living independently would be really useful, for example money management, health and wellbeing, cooking and household management.

Also important was the opportunity to network with other young people.

The feedback we received after the session included the comment that ‘those who were present seem genuinely quite excited about the breadth of stuff they can get involved with in libraries’.

Our consultation helped us to define two clear strands to increase our engagement:

deliver some projects specifically for care leavers

make our existing services and activities more appealing and accessible to care leavers.


We have identified two projects:

1. Create a resource pack to highlight the free services at Leeds libraries that will be most useful/ attractive to care leavers. We will ask the Care Leavers Council to be our ‘critical advisers’ and work with us to develop this pack.

They will decide what information to include, how to present the information and how the pack should be disseminated. One communication channel that has already been identified by the care leavers is the Clu’d Up Facebook page they have created.

The pack could also include information about other services available in many library buildings. Leeds has a number of community hubs where libraries are co-located with council services such as housing, employment & skills and customer service, and partners such as the NHS and Leeds Credit Union.

Many of these can help care leavers to improve their finances, increase their opportunities for training and employment or get advice on welfare and benefits.

Library staff could be trusted intermediaries who signpost care leavers to these services, and introduce them to colleagues who deliver specialist services.

2. Create a film with care leavers that paints a picture of leaving care in Leeds and offers advice.

The film will be

produced by

Studio12 at Leeds

Central Library and

will build on two existing projects.

Writing Britain, where young people create films that reflect their sense of place, belonging, hopes and dreams for the future

Dear Me ..., a pilot project developed by Leeds Libraries and Leeds Beckett MSc occupational therapy students, where participants are invited to write a letter to their younger selves.

As well as delivering projects specifically for care leavers we are reviewing our existing services to make them more inclusive and appealing to them.

In some cases, this involves working with care leavers when we pilot services for specific audiences.

In other cases, we will look for opportunities to tailor our universal services to attract care leavers.

When we piloted a tablet lending scheme in the summer of 2017, we worked with three different groups: refugees, older people and care leavers.

Two care leavers borrowed iPads to prepare for college courses. One of them, aged 18, told us: ‘This is going to help me out. I’m starting a design and illustration course in a few months.

‘Now I’ll be able to download some sketching and lightbox apps and practise some new techniques in the meantime. Plus my sister’s going to be so jealous – she really wants one of these!’

Another care leaver is using the iPad for job searches. She is 19 and owns a smartphone but finds it difficult to look for jobs and fill in application forms on such a small screen.

In 2018 we are hosting the Nick Sharratt exhibition ‘Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants’. A large part of the exhibition focuses on Tracy Beaker. We are inviting care leavers to become volunteer guides.

Reviewing our existing activities to make them more appealing and accessible to care leavers is a sustainable model.

It also helps us to address the issue raised during our consultation that they wanted more opportunities to network and socialise with other young people.

Next steps

Our consultation thus far has taken place though our council contacts rather than third sector organisations. We will expand our engagement with care leavers by working with voluntary groups and organisations.

We also want to develop our offer for care leavers who are young parents. We have a range of events and activities to help new parents feel more comfortable and confident. We will work with care leavers to build on this offer and promote it in the most effective way.


West Sussex success

West Sussex Library Service lends communication aids,
one of very few such services and almost unique in public libraries.

‘Understand me: the communication library’ followed years of increasingly closer working with the county council’s SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities) team.

This began when SEND commissioned some inclusive storytimes for families with disabled children. Over time, it grew into a significant relationship, with many opportunities. The library service became a trusted partner.

In 2014, SEND’s steering group (health, community and voluntary sector partners) decided on a new priority – supporting good communication for children, enabling them to realise their full potential.

Earlier that year at a conference, parent carers had expressed a key concern – no-one seemed willing or able to provide access to low-tech communication aids. A visiting speaker from Essex County Council talked about their service, lending communication aids via libraries.

This inspired the parents to lobby West Sussex for a similar offer. After some months negotiating funding and consulting teachers, speech therapists and parents, it was launched in 2015.

We would offer low-tech devices that parent carers can borrow for free, try out with their child and then – with professional support from teachers and speech therapists – decide if it is worth investing in for long-term use.

Most devices replace speech by recording a series of messages. The user can then press buttons to show a picture or symbol to represent the message. These can be personalised or taken from recognised collections, such as Symbol Stix or Widgit.

Researching devices, the project team found a software package called Matrix Maker Plus (produced by Inclusive Technology). Users can produce customised symbol sheets, either for use with devices, or as stand-alone communication aids that can be used anywhere.

For example, it includes symbols for popular food choices. A sheet can be created for a young person out having lunch with friends, so they can make their own choices alongside their friends.

The library service would procure licences for the software, so it could be used on the existing public computer network. Library staff would introduce parent carers and support staff to this software, and also acquire the skills to produce the materials themselves.

The potential broadened from children and young people. Professionals supporting adults with learning disabilities or dementia became very interested.

We received strong support from library service management, council colleagues, the local NHS teams and the community and voluntary sectors.

The key challenge was internal local authority IT processes. Understandably, these are subject to significant management and governance, protecting systems from malicious attack and safeguarding the immense amounts of data the council holds.

An unintended by-product is that implementing changes, particularly relatively small and targeted changes, can be disproportionately complex and time-consuming.

Although we had backing for the project, we needed to build tangible support for delivery. Statements of support from senior figureheads in our local SEND and health sectors complemented the wide support evidenced from parents, carers and practitioners. This was a genuine IT development need, not just something we wanted to do on a whim.

We also played up

the fact that we were dependent on time-limited external funding. This increased pressure on our
IT colleagues – and in turn our outsourced IT contractor – to act decisively, even if that was to let us know what was not possible so we could adapt our plans.

With mainstream budgets becoming ever tighter, external funding is even more prized. We were able to use this to our advantage.

Finally, we compromised. If we could make the software available on at least some public computers within our network we would be able to reach a good range of users.

Our IT partners worked with us on a ‘plan B’ to make the software available on a small bank of laptops. This made the project more achievable in terms of cost and timescale.

This revision to our plans actually became a positive change. We could now reconsider our workshops and design something much more flexible, able to be delivered in different library spaces for different target groups.

Workshops will be offered to anyone. We will market them via our West Sussex Parent Carers forum (a voluntary sector network), the Alzheimer’s Society and our schools library service.

Each includes a brief overview of accessible library services and the things we offer to support health and wellbeing. This will consolidate some of our currently disparate offers, including: multi-sensory stories and storytimes; reminiscence collections to support dementia; Reading Well book collections.

Library staff deliver a hands-on session introducing the software, then support everyone to have a go at producing communication resources which they can take home.

We also hope the events will be a chance to build some peer support networks as people meet others in similar situations to themselves.

We also want to develop a more flexible ‘self service’ offer, making the laptops available across our library network for people who are skilled in using the software and wish to have time to produce a more comprehensive range of resources. This means we can deliver specialist support in the community, closer to where people are.

The Library Campaign’s Accounts

The Library Campaign (Charity (England & Wales) 1102634)

STATEMENT OF FINANCIAL ACTIVITIES (including income and expenditure account) for the year ended 31 March 2018

2018 2017

£ £

Incoming resources

Members’ subscriptions and pledges 2,444 2,610

Sales and licensing 1,605 200

Donations 55 5,678

Interest 69 113

4,173 8,601

Resources expended

Costs of activities in furtherance of the charity’s objects:

Telecomms 144 144

Travel and subsistence — 283

Postage, stationery and printing 171 189

The Campaigner 1,304 698

Meetings and conferences 396 957

Website 372 387

Advertisements 250 250

Donations 1,000 —

Miscellaneous 181 162

3,818 3,070

Net incoming/ (outgoing) resources for the year 355 5,531

Net movement in funds

Net incoming (outgoing) resources for the year 355 5,531

Balances brought forward at 1 April 2016 37,846 32,315

Balances carried forward at 31 March 2018 38,201 37,846

Balance sheet as at 31 March 2018

2018 2017

£ £


Balances at bank: COIF Charities Deposit Fund 29,434 29,364

HSBC 12,332 9,873

Santander 1,290 621

43,056 39,858

Less creditors 4,855 2,012

Net assets 38,201 37,846

Note: There are 43 life members who have the right to indefinite membership. No attempt has been made to calculate the value of this.


There was a surplus of £355 for the year. Subscriptions were up because the previous year was affected by delays in collection. The reserves stood at a healthy £38,201. Life membership is not now offered, but the Campaign continues to service those taken up in the past. My thanks to all who have supported us during the year.

May 2018

Telling tale

Here’s a treat, from The Guardian* – a hymn in 18 pictures to reading for pleasure, and libraries, and librarians, by two mega-stars.

Backed by master illustrator Chris Riddell, writer Neil Gaiman recalls how librarians welcomed and encouraged him as ‘a wide-eyed little boy’. He spells out how reading fiction expands the mind (as he did in Campaigner no 88).

And he adds: ‘I’m making a plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.’ A very telling message.


We will forward the Standing Order form to your bank, with a membership reference.

MEMBERSHIP QUERIES: 0845 450 5946 or

Please return this form, along with the Standing Order form (if applicable) to:

The Library Campaign, c/o Andrew Coburn, 13 Shrublands Close, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 6LR.

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