Welcome to our newsletter round up of October’s UK libraries news!
CILIP – KNOW YOUR RIGHTSCILIP, the professional association for librarians, has published a useful guide called Know Your Rights for its members and others facing cutbacks to library services. It is brief and covers the most important issues that might be faced. It urges courtesy in dealing with Councillors (and officers of Councils) who are implementing proposals to cut, but also highlights areas to concentrate on, such as the Equality duty and the consultation process. It may be helpful to use it in conjunction with The Library Campaign’s website under What Friends Can Do. This includes, for example, detailed information on consultation and the 1964 Act, tips on how to do Freedom of Information requests, how to write a press release and how Councils work – even employees of Councils may not be familiar with some of that if they have not had to deal with it in the day job.

Birmingham’s woes continue. As a massive sort-out begins, it’s important to remember that the council has legal duties to provide essential services. One such duty is our old friend the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act. The library service has to be “comprehensive and efficient”. But often neglected is the wording that follows – “for all persons desiring to make use thereof”.  We have been contacted by a local student, a wheelchair user, who can’t get to the upper floor of her local library (Northfields). The chair lift is broken – and has been for over a year. We are taking up the case. Local services and basic maintenance are every bit as important as the dramatic big issues.
The Government has unveiled changes to the way the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme works. Established in the 1980s, PLR gives authors some recompense for their books being borrowed from public libraries. As an aside, The Library Campaign was founded on Paul Foot’s donation of his first PLR payment.Hitherto the British Library (which now administers the scheme) has collated data from a sample of 30 public library services each year – the libraries in the sample change every few years. Now they will collect from all library authorities each year which should give a more accurate picture of the loans.

Arguably this change is long overdue. Since all authorities would have been in the sample at some stage in the last few years, the technology clearly exists to take all the data. Still, better late than never.
The scheme will also be changed to simplify the process for those who have inherited rights to a book from a deceased author, removing unnecessary, bureaucratic processes like the requirement to involve legal professionals.

The Society of Authors has called for the scheme to be extended to community managed (volunteer-run) libraries. This highlights one of the issues with that type of library in that they are not usually regarded as part of the statutory service and may not have the technology to support data collection. So authors can lose any payment for books loaned via CMLs.

(Note – The Library Campaign does not stigmatise people who come together to  keep their library open by running it with volunteers – we want the libraries back in the statutory sector.)
UNISON has produced new research showing that local councils will be short by £3.5billion. The union submitted Freedom of Information requests on current predicted funding gaps in local authorities by the end of the financial year 2024/25. You can see the responses from councils in your area on UNISON’s Council cuts map and the dire finances of other councils – including the already bankrupt Birmingham council, after years of Tory government cuts to councils’ funding. 

All councils are legally bound to balance their budget by the end of each financial year. To add to this, the vast majority of councils are facing growing levels of funding shortfalls for the financial year 2025/26 and potentially beyond.

UNISON’s research has uncovered a funding gap of just over £3.5 billion for 2024/25 in local government. It predicts a cumulative shortfall of £7 billion by 2025/26 . This is only going to get worse unless more central government funding is provided.Our local councils must be properly funded. You can email your MP, to tell them you care about council cuts and that you want them to support local services.

As in England, the situation is pretty dire for libraries in Wales. But at least it’s being taken seriously. In July, the Senedd’s Local Government & Housing Committee produced a report on libraries and leisure services.The government has now responded – quite fast, as these things go. And then there was a debate in the Senedd.The committee was quite clear that “the major value that leisure and library services provide to their communities cannot be overstated”.
For libraries in particular, it was “concerned to hear that… the social value they create may sometimes be overlooked by the Welsh government” – which needs to understand “what they can deliver and their benefit to wider services such as health and education”. They pay back far more than they cost.  
Yet, it heard, libraries have received the third largest cut of all council spending at 39% (leisure has fared even worse). “Immediate support” is needed. And far more work is needed to clarify their social value – both at local and national level.

The report puts a welcome emphasis on examining two trends that have been blithely advocated as easy answers – in Wales, as in England. One is outsourcing in various ways. This is far more prevalent in leisure services – only four authorities have handed their libraries to other agencies. But the section on outsourcing is a useful read, putting forward all the arguments pro and con.The committee takes no strong view either way: no one model fits all, and the important thing is quality (never pure cost saving).

The other trend is co-location with other services. Again, pros and cons are set out. The committee sees its value in a largely rural country where people can’t easily travel here and there. But librarians’ expertise must not be diluted, and libraries given a prominent place.

Also refreshing is the section on the future – “decarbonisation”. Serious money is needed “as a matter of urgency”, within a long-term strategy. Little sign this is being looked at in England.
Wales has the same 1964 Act as England. But, the committee notes, “it has not prevented the erosion of funding or prevented closures” (as in England). Perhaps it should be strengthened. The Welsh national library standards aren’t in practice clearly tied to the duties in the Act. But they are something we sorely lack in England. They are due for an update, taking in recent developments – and this is also needed urgently.

The government response says yes to some things and no to others – especially the call for lots more funding, of course. But it does undertake to “explore” strengthening the 1964 Act!
Farcical but not funny – a recent book sale by Friends of Batley Library. Disinformation on Facebook seems to have attracted “book lovers” who filled their bags from the library shelves, not the sales table. (For your interest, most popular were children’s, adult fiction, graphic novels and cookery. People do still value books).

Some may also have been misled by gossip that “the library is closing anyway”. And it’s true that the service is in danger of being moved from its splendid listed Carnegie building, to save money. Kirklees is yet another council now in serious financial trouble. This is extra-sad because, as a library authority, Kirklees has been among the best.

A little good news: the library has now had plenty of extra publicity. And it has been inundated by offers from local people to buy replacement books. The Friends hope this support can be converted into help with saving the building.
As we approach the end of Black History Month, it was inspiring to read what 2022 Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, whose first Saturday job was at West Hill Library in Wandsworth, followed by a stint in The British Library as an undergraduate, had to say.

Speaking in support of both public libraries and Black History Month simultaneously he told The Guardian in a recent interview: “I was in a library the other day in Wales… It’s the heart of community, it’s people coming together.” Adding “Black History Month is about highlighting elements in black history that haven’t necessarily been taught before,”
Another recent article highlighted the fact that Black people who have had a significant impact on our past and present are still widely unknown in the UK and most are not household names. Black History Month displays and events happening in libraries can play a role in broadening people’s interest in and access to learning and discovering more about black people through history, along with the structural changes that clearly need to happen alongside this such as education reforms and further legislation against discrimination of all ethnic minorities.  You can find resources and a list of library events from Black History Month website.

In the spirit of this year’s theme of ‘Saluting Our Sisters’ that website also includes a tab of resources and info about inspirational women which can be viewed here
Many major UK publishers have created resource packs on Black History Month 2023 and the British Library held a series of talks whilst bringing home the fact that “All year round we host a wide range of events reflecting the history, lives and contributions of people of African and Caribbean descent.” And in doing so may inspire other UK libraries to do the same.

Please tell us what your local library or your local friends group did for Black History Month 2023 and what you would like to do for Black History Month 2024. Email thelibrarycampaign@gmail.com or respond to this newsletter.  

A titbit from the latest online drop-in with the LibraryON team – the folks slowly developing a much-needed website for England’s libraries. The name itself (some don’t like it) could have been different. Past ideas, it seems, have included Libravate, Onlinebrary, Discoverarium, and… er, Gilgamesh. The first was dreamed up by ChatGPT. The others by “creative agencies”. So be grateful for the name we’ve got. To join LibraryON’s mailing list, email: hello@libraryon.org  
Thanks so much – all of us at The Library Campaign – please get in touch any time with questions or feedback and don’t forget to follow us across our social media below
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