Welcome to our newsletter round up of March’s UK libraries news!
Following its ‘bankruptcy’ and Government imposed Commissioners, Birmingham City Council’s proposed cuts to service include the closure of 25 libraries, leaving only 11 plus the central Library of Birmingham. Campaigns are being run to keep them open, notably those by UNISON (the union that represents most library workers) and the city arm of the People’s Assembly. There have been ‘read-ins’ and petitions to support the libraries, and campaigners have reached out for advice and support to The Library Campaign, and other groups which have resisted closures such as Save Our Libraries Essex.

The Library Campaign has fired off a letter to the City Council (and copied in DCMS – the ministry responsible) warning that the loss of 25 libraries cannot fail to breach the legal duty to run a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service. We cannot do any more until their formal consultation finishes and they have made a decision on the responses.

There are other campaigns in the City including some which seek to make the libraries listed for closure into Community Assets and have then run by volunteers.
Those groups might take note of what is happening in Kirklees (Huddersfield) where the Council is suggesting that eight libraries should move to this model. Friends Groups were meeting to discuss this and the meeting organisers are strongly opposed:“We don’t have the skills, experience or time to manage the library. But it’s not just about Mirfield, it’s about all the other libraries:

“We just need to see exactly what their proposal is. If their proposal is a consultation around the feasibility of Mirfield becoming community-managed, then we are quite happy to talk to the council about the feasibility because it’s not feasible and we have got loads of reasons why.“

But if it’s a conversation about Mirfield Library is going to be community-managed, then we don’t want to talk to them about that because it’s impossible.”
As we predicted, library services are increasingly turning to cutting opening hours to save money. Conwy is now consulting on a proposal to cut them by 25%, having already cut them by 20% in 2013. Local people are protesting.

Elsewhere in Wales, we think we’ve spotted a new phenomenon – a genteel version of protection money. It’s not unknown for town or parish councils to chip in to support libraries. But Pembrokeshire has told those connected to four of its libraries to just pay up – or lose hours.Two (Fishguard and Tenby) decided this was an offer they couldn’t refuse. The other two are condemned to lose hours and staff.
In April, the Library Campaign and UNISON library activist Alan Wylie will have a chance to discuss these and other stories when we have a meeting with Lilian Greenwood, Labour’s shadow spokesperson on culture – and coincidentally MP for Nottingham, where libraries are under threat…
On our good news radar this month we’ve picked up that one of Manchester’s oldest libraries, Chorlton library, is to undergo a major refurbishment. The library, a grade II listed building, was one of the many libraries gifted to the UK by the Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.

The revamp will mean its historic and original dome, which remained covered for years, will be revealed to the public again. As a result of the works, the library, which is one of the busiest in the city, will be open for longer hours. The works also include installing new electrical systems, with the aim of lowering the library’s carbon footprint, and the creation of additional meeting rooms. Currently, the library is offering a reduced service before reopening its doors to the public on 8th April. Councillor John Hacking, Executive Member for Skills, Employment and Leisure said:

“Chorlton Library is one of the last of our libraries to benefit as part of our library renewal programme. It is a unique building, a great asset to the city and one ofour oldest libraries. It is a much-loved library and continues to be at the heart of theChorlton community as it has been for the last 100 years.” 

We’re encouraged by this investment as part of the Renewal Programme, and would be delighted to see this level of enthusiasm for funding and refurbishment to be extended to more libraries across the UK. 
Self-service machines march on. They are usually hailed as great ways to increase access to services, as if the staff were not a core part of that service. In some places, they are at least added to the staffed hours. That’s the case in Surrey. ‘Super Access’ is now in three libraries, with nine more to come this year.

One drawback: to get this access, users have to get a special membership and go through an ‘introduction’ session. Elsewhere, things don’t look so good. As we reported in the last newsletter, Croydon is struggling with dire finances – and a 2022 ‘transformation’ that bombed. Self-service was one aspect. It cost more than expected (‘building adjustments’), they had to hire security guards, and users weren’t keen (only 4% used self-service between May and October 2023 at one library). Usage is improving now, but users still have ‘a strong preference for face to face services from library staff’…
Finally, Worcs County Council is rolling out its ‘Libraries Unlocked’ brand. The sharp-eyed Hands Off Redditch Library campaigners point out that this covers a reduction in staffed hours. At St John’s Library, the new hours chart (top picture) is dauntingly confusing, but if you count the red and white squares you find fewer staffed hours compared to the former service (bottom image.)
Finally, Worcs County Council is rolling out its ‘Libraries Unlocked’ brand. The sharp-eyed Hands Off Redditch Library campaigners point out that this covers a reduction in staffed hours. At St John’s Library the new hours chart (top picture) is dauntingly confusing, but if you count the red and white squares you find fewer staffed hours compared to the former service (bottom image.)
A new feature in our newsletter – each month we will give a short round up with relevant links to some of the newsfeed highlights from one of the many library Friends groups that we follow on Facebook.  Friends of Birmingham’s Erdington Library have shared that they have had a chance to express, at the Eddington Ward forum, their views regarding the threat to their library.

They continue to build their case to take forward to Birmingham City Council.. Friends of Sea Mills library in Bristol are hoping to gather interested volunteers to help them celebrate their library’s 90th birthday and more. They are seeking people to assist them in kick-starting their Friends group back into action from March this year.

Friends of Hornsey Library group have reminded people that services for adults are still available despite the adult services part of the physical library remaining closed. Staff are still available for support and the children’s space is now active again. 

Meanwhile, Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) have been highlighting the current threats to 25 of Birmingham’s libraries. They quoted Roger Wood, Chair of the Roade Junction Community Group as saying: “Ultimately charity shop libraries are not sustainable. Volunteers can do a great job, but libraries need to be run and managed by professional staff.”Please be in touch if you would like us to feature your Friends group next month or if you have a story that you’d like to see an extended piece on.

CILIP is to revive its Libraries Change Lives slogan. This was once an effective lobbying tool. CILIP collected stories about library projects, awarded prizes at an event and got some good press cover (including in TLC’s Campaigner magazine). Then it was dropped. Now, it’s back, but it’s apparently not a competition, it’s a ‘summer advocacy week’.

Not to be confused with Libraries Week, which is in October. Apart from the date – 24-30 June – it’s hard to know quite what it all means. CILIP says it will be a pre-election slot for UK libraries… ‘to work together and deliver a strong message to politicians from all parties that “Libraries Change Lives” ‘.

At this stage it is asking for stories about how libraries have changed lives of users ‘through an activity, an event, an initiative or an amazing member of staff’. There seems no reason why a Friends group could not offer something. And you can sign up for further news here.
Please get in touch with us if your local library is under threat, you have a friends group that you wish to promote or you would like advice about how to start a Friends Group for your local library – currently under threat or not – and feel free to ask any questions about what friends groups get up to – a topic featured in this very newsletter this month ( see above). 

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