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Monday, 20 October 2014

Physical and Other Kinds of Book Loans

A comment on this post asks about why I interested in loans outside physical libraries.  The primary reason is that a lot of the misunderstanding of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project came from the idea that cutting the number of libraries must mean a reduction in usage.  In fact, the opposite turned out to be the case. 

I think key to understanding why this is, is understanding that (1) at least in an urban authority like Brent, travelling to different libraries is actually quite easy (2) library activities such as book loans have become divorced (at least to some extent from actually physically visiting the libraries.

This is obvious when you consider a lot of online actitivities.  If you have a Brent library card you can now look books up in a catalogue, read periodicals, communicate with other library uers and boorrow ebooks without actually setting foot in a library.

However, my post centred on book loans, so lets look at those specifically.

Ebooks, a small but fast growing sector (94% in the last half year) can be totally divorced from a physical visit to a library, as the commentator recognises.

Home Library services were an area we chose to prioritise during the Transformation.  That was a choice based on protecting vulnerable people.  There is no statutory duty to do that. Bristol has been reported as considering closing that service altogether.  Brent went the opposite way, and has massively increased usage.  This is not only not linked to having physical libraries, but pushing resources towards maintaining buildings inevitably means cuts elsewhere, and cuts to the home library service would be one politically easier way to achieve them. 

Outreach Services: I have seen some very snooty comments about outreach services as no more than a "book swop".  In fact, they can be a very valued part of the service.  I think of Brent examples such as at Preston primary school, St Raphael's Childrens Centre or the outreach activities at Kilburn Library during its refurbishment.  Again, Brent chose to emphasise this service and saw usage shoot up as a consequence.  This was a choice that would probably not have happened had Brent chosen to pour its resources into buildings.

Online Renewals:  Online renewals I would accept have a relation to physical loans, although I think it is a fairly loose one.  Nonetheless, making online renewals as easy as possible is important to making book lending easier for the users, which I think should be a central aim for all services.

Phone Renewals: Again these are loosely related to physical loans from buildings, although I suspect they often cannibalise online renewals to some extent.

My overall point is that concentrating on buildings rather than services is the wrong set of priorities.  It is, however, the line that most authorities are taking as they look for budget cuts.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Willesden Green Library Centre and Brent Civic Centre

Yesterday's post about Willesden Green Library Centre reminds me that I meant to do something on its relation to Brent Civic Centre.  An aspect that hasn't come into the debate is that the two are related for emergency planning purposes. 

Were there to be some kind of freak accident making the usual parts of the Civic Centre unusable, there would need to be a Council office from which the Council could still operate its emergency roles.  This would have to be physically separate from the Civic Centre, in case the accident was something like a plane crashing on the Centre.  Willesden Library Centre (in the Council offices bit) can fulfil this role.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Willesden Green Library Centre Detailed Design

I see an opportunity to contribute to the detailed design of Willesden Library Centre has been advertised for 27 October.  I hope it won't be hijacked by people who are just trying to wreck the whole scheme, as it has in the past.  There is little rational point in continuing to try to drag down a project that is now so near to completion.  Willesden Library should help the regeneration of Willesden High Road, and the success of the Libraries Transformation Project, and it is time to accept that. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Looking Beyond Physical Library Buildings

Just to re-emphasise the point I have made before, a large proportion (27.3%) of book loans in Brent are not actually from a physical building at all.  Here are the non-building loans for the half year of 2014.

And here is the table with the actual figures:

Loans As %
Home Library 13.7%
Outreach 34.4%
Online Renewal 37.6%
Phone Renewal 9.1%
Ebook 5.2%
Total 100.0%

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Social Justice and Libraries

Leon's Library blog has a characteristically thoughtful piece on social justice and libraries.  Essentially, it highlights the problems of potentially hollowing out the libraries service.  I think Brent's Libraries Transformation Project helped us to avoid this, but as the austerity regime continues into the distant future, it becomes more of a possibility.

At the moment, Brent Libraries provide a range of services _ Homework Clubs, English conversation groups, language classes, materials in different languages, the Six Book Challenge, training in useful skills like IT and so on.  I think it fair to say that Brent Libraries treat all this as a core part of what libraries do.  The temptation for budget makers will be to whittle away at these activities, especially as many of the users are less politically articulate than the better organised lobby groups. This will be all the more likely without a clear budget strategy

During the numerous conversations that I had with some of the campaigns during the library litigation, some of them were extraordinarily scornful of this kind of thing.  Suggestions were made that deprivation data should be ignored, libraries simply run for existing users.  One of the grounds of challenge to the Council decision was that we included Equalities as part of our assessment criteria of the various bids to run the former library buildings.  Some resented having such a criterion.  Other resented not so much the criterion as the idea that they might be expected to realise this would be a concern.  It is not hard to imagine such critics dismissing such activities as not really what libraries do. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Smoking in Brent Parks

Someone in Boris Johnson'd office thinks it smart to ban smoking in London parks.  In fact Boris Johnson only controls a small number of parks.  Most of them are under Borough control.  For example, Brent has about 85 parks ranging from huge ones like Fryent Country Park to pocket parks like Challenge Close or Tubbs Road.  The only public park in Brent not under Borough control is Queens Park, which is under the City of London.  So the real question is: what will each of the Boroughs do?

Charging for PCs in Public Libraries

Havering is the latest Borough to be threatening deep cuts to its library service, roughly half the staff in fact.  I was interested to see that one of their proposals is to introduce charging for PC use:

"A 50p charge for one hours use of a library computer is also proposed. The machines are used by members of the community to apply for jobs, and by residents who do not have computers at home. Cllr Wallace said: “50p for an hour, what’s a fizzy drink price? It’s the same price as a fizzy drink.”"

If I am right about the changes in the statutory definition of library services, this may be unlawful.  Just as it is illegal to charge for books, if the PC use becomes part of the statutory service (as I think the Lincolnshire judgement says), I think it may be unlawful to charge for PCs.