From Across the Pond, Ctd.

From the Guardian UK:

Without libraries, another campaigner predicts, many of the uneducated, unemployed and otherwise forgotten former users will end up needing much costlier help, further down the line, inside job centres, doctors’ surgeries, advice centres, housing offices. But a more pressing problem is that "community-run" can only, where it is divorced from the prevailing library service, be a euphemism for permanently trashed.

Supposing every devolved library were to be taken over by a group which was, by chance, composed of kindly, discreet book-lovers with no family commitments, willing to travel and with a gift for incessant fundraising and building maintenance, there would still be no way customers – or beneficiaries – could depend upon it. How do users complain when the library is shut during advertised opening hours?

While I don’t know all of the nuances when it comes to British politics and their political scene, it’s a shame that over two hundred and fifty libraries are earmarked for closure. I’m really hoping one of my UK peers can shed some light on this commentary and give it the proper perspective. It sounds like the decision for closing is going to be regional, there is something about volunteers taking over, and it sounds like non-responsive politicians.

At any rate, take a look at the commentary and then scan the comments. Does every library funding article have the same kind of comments, or is it just me?

(h/t: Neil Gaiman)

7 thoughts on “From Across the Pond, Ctd.

  1. Basically the Tories are going to shut loads of libraries, because they’re a soft and easy target. (And the Tories cater for the rich, and it’s often the poor who need libraries – particularly in a recession.)

    The volunteers thing is an idea from a report by KPMG – they produced an unreferenced report for the Government earlier this year, which said that libraries in the US are run by volunteers, so why not do the same in the UK. (See slides 13, 14 and 15 of this http://slidesha.re/gH6Oa3 – clearly, libraries in the US are NOT run by volunteers, as you know.) It’s all deeply annoying, and symptomatic of how the library media narrative is not being written by those who have libraries’ best interests at heart.

  2. Yup, pretty much what Ned said! Although I’d also add that although it’s easy (and fun!) to blame the Tories for all the public sector cuts, I really don’t think Labour (traditionally the left-wing party, although that’s open to debate) would have done much better.

    And yes, Andy, you’re right in saying that this will be decided on a regional basis. Each local authority in the UK has is having to cut their spending, and most are planning to make a lot of these savings by cutting their library services. I’m actually curious to see if this will lead to any legal challenges down the line, as local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a public library service, so if they cut back too far there may be potential for them to be found in breach of their duties. Could be an interesting test case (that’s the law librarian in me speaking!). I have to admit I don’t know that much about what is actually specified under the Public Libraries Act – anyone know how little councils could actually get away with providing, and still claim to be meeting their obligations under the Act?

  3. Writing a long posting on this, which will take a while. I keep getting confused messages from US folks, perhaps now aware that we don’t sit around drinking tea and being nice to each other here :-) about what’s going on.

    In a nutshell on your points, councils make the decisions, so yes, regional. They are essentially blaming funding cuts from the government. The government says it’s up to the councils to manage their resources more efficiently, and for people to become more ‘involved’ (code for volunteers to run things that taxpayers used to fund) but it’ll all be okay as we have a royal wedding soon to enjoy/endure.

    Re: the comments. Yes, the same generally. It’s a hobby of some to jump into a comment box as soon as it appears – the same names keep cropping up as soon as a Guardian article appears online. With others, a combination of “I don’t use it so why should I fund it?”, utter misinformation (some deliberate) e.g. “Everything is online and free” and hatred of less fortunate people e.g. “Jobless people are just scroungers” and everything non-British e.g. the European Union. It’s not far away from the US Tea Party ideology, except they act as angry individuals here.

    (I’m not sure it’s worth arguing with them most of the time. The foaming-at-the-mouth people are unconvertable, even when given 100% fact-based information that shows they are wrong. It just makes them more angry.)

    Mixed in with some politicing. Organisations such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and all the major political parties, send out missives pointing out to some members where online debates are that would be good to drop comments. The TPA (and other) organisations don’t like libraries, or for that matter just about anything that money is spent on; libertarianism in a suit and with a posh accent.

    There are also threads of anti-education and anti-information, knowledge, that run through our society. Part of this is a hangover from the post-war class structure (my uncle had a book he received for a present when a kid burnt by his parents, as “we don’t do that kind of thing [have books in the house]“) and knowing “your place”, and part is a dislike/fear of people who are “more” educated.

    Mixed in with an element of confrontation and arguing being not just socially acceptable but subtly encouraged. Our top viewed prime time soap is something called Eastenders, which is mainly 30 minutes of people shouting, threatening and hitting each other. More than a few people take it as a role model guide.

    Yeah, post on all that soon with some references. Anyway, selling one house this week, then when I offload the other one (alas that’ll take a while) I’m outta here for good.

  4. Mixed in with all of the above you must include awareness about key benchmark reports available on the MLA site http://www.mla.gov.uk/ These reports point out some of the long standing challenges faced by librariies in the UK. Quite a mix of poor local funding, poor updating of bookstock and maintaining traditions. At the national level there has been tremendous policy direction but an obvious lack of uptake at the local level because of funding issues. The policy initiatives of MLA over the last ten years have been excellent but faltered. The UK had many exciting pilot project innovatations that are in limbo (ie; Idea Centres).
    Nothing is simple in a world of financial crisis. When there really is no money it doesn’t matter how important you think you are.
    Look to Ireland as the newest casualty of the global financial crisis. 25% of public servants let go, 23% sales tax.
    We move on to doing what we can (anywhere in the world) to keep libraries from becoming part of history.

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