Category Archives: Advocacy

Library A to Z

Just a quick plug for the advocacy toolkit Library A to Z, created by librarians Andrew Walsh, Gary Green and illustrator Josh Filhol, which was launched yesterday.

The Library A to Z is a campaign that highlights the breadth of services, resources and facilities available from libraries, and celebrates their continued importance, value and relevance.

This summer a crowd-funding project was set up to help produce a range of promotional and advocacy materials, centred around a visual alphabet of 27 full colour illustrations. These materials include editable posters, greetings cards and a fully illustrated book. There’s a chapter in the book which I helped to write, about the importance of libraries, and you can read it here.

All of the materials including the original illustrations, are available for free download from the Library A to Z site, and most can be reproduced and re-used by anyone within the terms of the creative commons license shown on the site.

Andy even kindly made me my own P is for Political Literacy badge 😀

Screenshot 2014-11-18 11.45.29

I’m going to pop down to my local library to show it to them and see if we can make a display of some kind. If you’ve got any imaginative ideas about how to make use of the resources, leave me a comment! 🙂

2011 in Perspective

I hadn’t intended to write a post summing up what had happened this year or making resolutions for the future (and still don’t!) but then I saw this story in the Independent and thought it was too good a springboard to not use for a little bit of end of year reflection.

A comment that’s sometimes thrown my way when I talk about fighting library cuts and closures is that perhaps I need to get a sense of perspective. It’s only a few books, what am I getting so het up about? Shouldn’t I take my incandescence and direct it at something  worthier, bigger, more ‘important’? In our crazy, messed up world, what’s the point of someone like me spending so much time and energy on library advocacy and activism?

Unsurprisingly, I don’t struggle to construct a fairly comprehensive response about the utter wrongheadedness of that kind of suggestion, which I won’t bore the already converted with here! But now I have this to add to my arsenal. The Independent have named library closures as one of the 12 biggest news stories of 2011:

Library closures: Colin Dexter, 71, author

Libraries became the unexpected social flashpoint of 2011 when the Government cut funding to local authorities and councils responded by proposing library closures.

Local communities, allied with a host of literary stars including Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse, rapidly mobilised to defend them. Judicial reviews challenging the closures were launched across England and Wales. In Scotland, MSPs were petitioned. Private US library service providers moved in for the kill, and many battles are still being fought up and down the land.

“As an older person who has seen libraries through the years, the events of this year are deeply depressing. What has worried me most about the calls for a ‘big society’ solution to the library problem in the past 12 months is the idea that you can cut library services and employ amateurs instead. Librarians have taken years to train up and can tell you what you should and shouldn’t read. Some of the processes are very complicated indeed.

“I think the Government has been surprised by the scale of the response; their actions were taken on the assumption that people would just sit back and let the consultations pave the way for closure. Instead, you saw the people gather and revolt and take their case to the courts instead.

“I would rather turn off every light on the motorway than close our libraries. What we have seen this year will invariably lead to further cultural deprivation.”

I rarely get the sense that what I do is a waste of time. In the darker moments when I get the feeling that everything sucks and The Man is just too big and how can little me and the people I work alongside possibly win this, I always come to the conclusion that I’ve got to do it anyway and try my best and that’s all there is to be done. But knowing that the work that’s been done to get the media aware of the situation and the social and cultural implications of public library cuts has actually had an impact and is listed alongside stories like the fall of Gaddafi, the death of Bin Laden, the NHS reforms and the riots, proves to me that this is the big deal I think it is and that over the last year and a bit, we’ve really managed to get out of the echo chamber and show the world that too. I’m very happy to be part of it and am incredibly proud of the people I work with for everything they’ve achieved.

Edit: It was also announced today that Voices for the Library has been named an Independent voice of 2011. You can see the full Peer Index rankings here. Another achievement for the team to be proud of!

CC tomroper on Flickr

I’m also happy about the fact that issues about power (and abuses thereof), democracy, access to knowledge and freedom of information are being put together and are starting to have a more prominent position in public discussion. More of this please (not least because it’ll really help with my PhD research…)!

via interoccupy.org

When I think about the things that have happened this year I get a bit dizzy. It’s certainly been a big year and it’s had its fair share of bad as well as good. As for 2012…I can’t even begin to think about that without getting a little bit overwhelmed. I can’t wait to get started on my PhD. I’m looking forward to becoming CILIP VP and doing a lot of work to support the organisation and its members as well as help to make it a stronger and louder advocate for the profession. I’m anxious about what’s going to happen with the local and national public library situation and will be doing everything I can to try and get it to go it in the right direction. It’s National Libraries Day on 4th February, so that’s the first big milestone to work towards next year.

I owe a huge thank you to the people who’ve helped me get through this year without being (too much of) a wreck. Thanks guys, you’re awesome, I’m incredibly fortunate to know you and without the support I’ve had this year I’m pretty sure I’d not be coming back for round two in 2012. As it stands though…

via catmacros.wordpress.com

Just Another Liberal Whinger?

I was disappointed to read this article this morning (warning: Telegraph). It might be because it was before my first cup of tea, but it made me really very cross. Which is, of course, what it was supposed to do. Instead of getting madder and madder about it, here’s why John McTernan is completely and utterly wrong. Same as with The Mail Redwood Monstrosity, the article’s in green and my responses are in black. It should be fairly obvious which is which…

When did you last go to a public library? No, really, when? It’s probably a good few years – and if so, you’re not alone. From one year to the next, nearly 60 per cent of us don’t go to libraries at all. In fact, fewer than one in five adults in England go more than once a month.

A couple of weeks ago, since you ask. Far less often than when I was a child and went on a weekly basis. I relied on the library for books that were more challenging than the ones available to me at primary school and to allow me to read wider than my secondary school library allowed me to – they only had one Gabriel García Márquez book, for example – the library had far more. But children still need libraries. Far less than when I wasn’t a student or working in a university and was fortunate enough to have access to academic libraries. People who can’t access academic libraries can benefit from public libraries – and far fewer people will be able to go to university now. And far less than my grandparents and the elderly people I know, who rely on them for large print books that they can’t buy at the supermarket, and can’t afford in the numbers they get through. The elderly rely on services like libraries to keep them engaged and active. We’ve got an ageing population. 

Nearly 60% of us don’t go to public libraries? 40% seems to a pretty good proportion of the population to make a service valid. I wonder what proportion of the population uses schools each year? And the emergency services? I think more people should be using libraries, absolutely – but because there is a very real need for them. People who aren’t using them now could benefit from them – the children whose parents don’t encourage them to read, the old people who can’t get out and about enough to get to the library and might not have access to a home delivery service, the unemployed young people who can’t go to university or college but want to train and can use the books and online resources available through the library. Heck, the middle class white males who might be able to save a few quid now that they’ve been made redundant but still want to be able to go for a hike using the OS maps they can borrow, or use the car manuals, or some other terribly gender-stereotyped example I could provide.

The news that councils are closing libraries has prompted sickly and sentimental pleas from all corners of the nation: a long and star-studded campaign to stop Brent Council closing six of them is now set to go to the Court of Appeal. No less a figure than Brian Blessed recently described such closures as the “act of Philistines… atavistic nonsense… the nemesis of our country”.

John, you’re right. Some of the responses from celebrities have been horribly sentimental. Many very dramatic. Is this surprising? It’s what they do for a living. Librarians and information professionals are providing less dramatic and more evidence-based reasons that library cuts are stupid. You can’t just dismiss celebrity condemnation because it’s dramatic, or because they themselves might not use libraries. In with all the hyperbole they also make important points, that you seem to be ignoring: “Not every family has a computer. Many of them are quite poor. The only way they can keep up with their classmates and have access to a computer and books as well is at the library.” These things are true, there is statistical evidence.

In one sense, this is a phenomenon familiar to anyone who’s ever had to cut public services: people will fight to the death to protect things they never use. But there’s something bigger going on here. This is a fight by middle-class liberals to keep libraries open not for themselves, but for the less fortunate. This is partly out of condescension, and partly guilt – because the protesters don’t use libraries either, and feel they may have precipitated the closures by their neglect.

People will also fight to the death to protect things they appreciate are of real value to society. I haven’t had to use the NHS for a year or so. But I’m glad it’s there. It’s such a specious argument to claim that if you don’t use a service you have no right to defend it. This is aside from the fact that it categorically isn’t just middle class liberals defending library services, and across the country people from all walks of life and all political persuasion are up in arms about disproportionate and counter-productive cuts to a service which is seen by politicians as anachronistic, complicated and not worth their time or (our) money.

What this debate needs is some honesty. Yes, public libraries have been of huge benefit in helping us educate ourselves over the past 150 years. It’s an honourable tradition – but it’s over. Their defence depends on a deficit model, the argument that they fill a unique gap. But that’s simply no longer true.

Thing is, John, it is still true. I know it’d be nice to think that everyone has access to all the education they need through schools and universities, but they don’t. Many children go to schools without libraries, because they aren’t statutory (but absolutely should be). Many people didn’t succeed at school but want to improve their level of education and standard of life now. Many adult learners rely on public library services. And society as a whole benefits from full participation in a democratic society, access to excellent writing and trusted and accurate information. Tell me modern society doesn’t need those things, I dare you. Oh, you’re about to? Sugar.

Take reference services, once the core of the public library’s educational role. Access to information has been transformed by the internet. Google a subject and you can become ridiculously well-informed ridiculously quickly. Engrossing lectures from the planet’s best minds are freely available on university websites, from the TED conference series, or on BBC iPlayer. Channels such as BBC Four or Sky Arts provide a wide range of high-quality documentaries across a multitude of subjects. We live in an information-rich society – so we should celebrate its availability, not yearn for a time when you had to go to the central library for it.

Where to start?

  1. Google a subject and you can be come ridiculously well-informed ridiculously quickly, if you have an appropriate level of information literacy and the skills to find what you need and work out what’s reliable and what isn’t. Maybe that Masters in Librarianship helps you find what you need to ridiculously quickly. Other people need a bit more help. Without the level of ability, it’s easy to Google a subject and become ridiculously mis-informed ridiculously quickly.
  2. Not everything is available on the internet. Honest.
  3. Not everything is televised. Sorry.
  4. Not everyone can afford a tv and/or satellite tv – no, seriously. And not everyone wants one either.
  5. We live in an information-rich society – so we should ensure that everyone has access to information and make it more available, not yearn for a time when there were places people could access information, in the good old days when people gave a toss about other people and wanted a successful society with good levels of literacy, employment and engagement.

In recent years, libraries sought to reinvent themselves as information hubs. Hundreds of millions were spent to provide them with computers. What happened? Technology advanced, and soon the library computers were too old and too slow. That led to a demand for more investment. But why? Fast, cheap computing had spread to most homes, and to our whizzy new mobile phones. Where on earth is the gap that libraries are meant to plug?

Yep, libraries got computers. And rightly so – after all, libraries provide information, and as you rightly say, a lot of information is available on the internet. This was probably around the time you stopped working in libraries, John, so I can forgive your ignorance about anything that’s happened since. But it might have been a good idea for you to keep schtum about stuff you have no idea about. Or done some research for your piece on your whizzy new mobile phone.

Here is where we’re at: there is a problem with the standards of library computers, and issues with blocked sites on council networks. They aren’t as up to scratch as they desperately need to be – yes, desperately need to be – because guess what? They’ve never been in such high demand. Up and down the UK, people who don’t have a computer, or a smartphone, are using libraries to access PCs and the internet. Here are some figures:

This is a big social problem, and it’s known as the digital divide. There’s even a national campaign.

Then there’s the argument that your local library is the gateway to a national and international network of literature and education. So it is – but so is your computer. Time was, to get hold of a particular book, you would have to go to a library and ask. Now, with Abebooks and Alibris, almost all the second-hand bookshops in the world are available to search. This is as true for new books as for old: more than 130,000 titles were published in the UK in 2009, and 330 million new books were purchased.

I think I covered this bit with the whole “this only works if you’ve got a computer and millions of people haven’t” argument. Time still is, to get hold of a particular book, you have to go to a library and ask. This is also ignoring all the other things that libraries do – help people get hold of books they didn’t know how to ask for other than “it’s got a red cover and the story goes a bit like this”; help people learn how to use computers and new technologies; help people find information about their local area and how to get involved in local and national democracy; a million other things. Online book stores are brilliant, but they don’t meet every information need, and a lot of people can’t use them. A significant number of people don’t even have a bank account, so that’s online transactions out the window.

The final defence of the public library is that it is a place for the pupil who has nowhere else to study and revise. Once again, this is the 21st century. Virtually every kid has a desk at home – even if it often has a games console on it. And libraries at secondary schools are, in my experience, uniformly good and open places for young people.

Spend some time in a public library near a school or residential area after school hours, or in the holidays. You’ll soon realise this point is completely inaccurate. Recent research suggests that 52% of young people use libraries. Although public libraries do not disproportionately attract young people from more or less affluent backgrounds, 47.8% of the children in the National Literacy Trust study received free school meals, which is a crude indicator of socio-economic background. Of the children who receive free school meals (and a lot of those entitled to do not), a lot of them will be living in poverty. Newsflash, John: the UK has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world. Nearly 4 million children are living in poverty in the UK. So forgive me when I continue to argue that libraries are needed by children who don’t have a desk at home, or a space in which they can work without fear, in peace and quiet, somewhere that they feel valued, and worth something, and like there might be a way out of the situation they’re in.

Edit: Lizzie Poulton has done some digging and has this information from The National Literacy Trust. In 2010 they asked over 18,000 children whether they had a desk of their own. “The statistic from the 2010 omnibus survey is that only 52.8% of young kids say that they have a desk of their own, which is down considerably from 2005 (72.3%). Particularly children who get FSM are less likely to say that they have a desk of their own compared to their more privileged peers (43.2% vs 55.2%)”

                                              By daveograve on flickr

Libraries at secondary schools are often great places, but as I’ve mentioned, a lot of schools don’t have a library. A lot of pupils also refuse to use school libraries but will use public libraries instead, for a number of reasons, including stigma, or practical reasons such as having to go home straight away after school because of travel arrangements.

Few institutions are timeless. Most reflect the period when they were created, and have to change as society changes if they are to survive. The crisis in our libraries is not because of the “cuts” – it’s because they are needed less.

Libraries do have to change as society changes – and in many ways have (see: online catalogues, electronic resources, computers and so on). The crisis in our libraries is only partly because of the cuts (though why you felt the need to put cuts in speech marks is beyond me – they’re very real), and partly because councils have failed for a number of years to adequately invest in and promote their library services. There’s been a lack of leadership and a lot of mismanagement. But that does not mean that libraries are no longer needed. They’re needed now more than ever.

Keith Michael Fiels from the American Library Association sums it up brilliantly:

“Sure, the library is an old fashioned concept. So is democracy. So is equal opportunity. So is getting your facts right.”

CPD23 Thing 16

I was asked to write a Thing for the CPD23 project that I’m also taking part in. I’ve reproduced it below and it was originally posted here. It’d be great to get people talking about the topic of advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published, so even if you’re not doing CPD23, please do blog about this one 🙂

—————————————————————————————————

Apologies in advance to international CPD23-ers; this is a fairly UK-centric post, but I hope that those from countries where advocacy has more of a history will be able to provide some useful thoughts and resources to the rest of us!

Advocacy and speaking up for the profession

Advocacy for libraries has probably been around for as long as libraries have, but recently it’s taken a big step-up in the UK. During These Economic Times it’s increasingly important for people working in library and information roles to be able to explain and express the value of their service – what it does that benefits users, how it can help non-users, how it can add value to the organisation it’s in, and so on, in order to serve as many people as possible, meet their needs as well as possible and crucially, to ensure that we’ve got enough of a budget to do all the things we need to do. Stakeholders need to understand exactly what it is we do and why what we do is important – they’re the ones holding the purse-strings.

Perhaps the highest profile advocacy taking place at the moment is public libraries campaigning; there’s a busy #savelibraries hashtag on twitter and organisations like Voices for the Library, CILIP, Campaign for the Book, Unison and the Women’s Institute are all fighting drastic cuts to public library services across the UK. Unfortunately it’s very hard for public library staff to campaign for their own sector without risking their jobs, so it’s very important for people outside of public libraries (and within, where possible) to shout about the role of public libraries and talk about why they’re more relevant than ever.

Annie Mauger's address to the WI by ijclark on Flickr

A lot of the advocacy for public libraries has involved activities that not all of us would be comfortable doing: banner-waving; shouting; marching on parliament; speaking to local and national politicians; giving interviews for tv, radio and newspapers; helping lawyers put together arguments for legal challenges…it’s certainly not part of any job description for a librarian I’ve come across! However, this kind of thing is far more along the lines of activism than advocacy, and shouldn’t put people off getting involved with advocacy. If promoting/advocating for your own service isn’t in job descriptions yet, it a) blinking well should be and b) probably will be soon…! CILIP have put together some advocacy resources for different sectors including special library and information services, schools and further education. There’s also a campaigning toolkit on their website. The American Library Association has absolutely tons of advocacy resources that I recommend having a scout around. Some fantastic advocacy came out of the LIS New Professionals Network Advocacy Challenge including jigaws, knitting patterns, and the That’s Not Online! Project. It’d be great to see more of that kind of thing. The Lib Code is an advocacy campaign from the Philippines I stumbled across on Tumblr when I was looking for images for this post – they’ve only very recently had a soft launch, and I think it’ll be worth keeping an eye on what they’re doing.


The Lib Code [2011] from UP LISSA on Vimeo.

Getting published

In addition to all the skills you pick up when engaging in advocacy (public speaking, constructing arguments, communicating with different stakeholders, using social media effectively, designing online and print materials etc.), there is the opportunity to write and get published. Keeping a blog about your work lets people know that you’re active and people will think of you if they need information, or someone to write an article. For example, the posts I’ve written for the Voices site and things I’ve published on my own blog have led to requests for articles from places such as False Economy, Living Streets and Public Library Journal. It’s also worth pitching article ideas to places like The Guardian’s Comment is Free – they’re keen to hear from people who specialise in particular subjects, and have commissioned pieces by me, Ian Clark and Simon Barron when we’ve approached them. Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood approached Guardian Careers, who published their piece on what it takes to be a 21st century librarian. Publishing within library-related publications helps to keep library and information people up to date with what’s going on, and publishing outside of library publications helps to get your message out of the accursed echo-chamber. Both can be very useful, and help to boost your skills and experience.

Library Love by justgrimes on Flickr

Things to Do

There’s plenty you can do to incorporate advocacy into your day-to-day life; the hardest part is working out how. For this Thing:

  • Consider why it’s important to advocate for the section of library and information sector that you work for or want to work in.
  • Have a think about what advocacy you’ve been involved in. Give examples so we can pool resources and inspire others to do the same. Or, give an example of some advocacy that you think has been particularly effective – library-related or otherwise.
  • If you haven’t been involved in advocacy, reflect on what your skills are (or which you want to develop), what you’re most passionate about and think about what you might be able to do.
  • If you’re passionate about public libraries and want to help – let Voices for the Library know! We’re keen to get more people involved with things like asking organisations and well-known figures for supporting statements, securing sponsorship, liaising with other campaigning bodies and representing us at events.
  • If you’ve got any potential content for That’s Not Online! let Jacqueline know.
  • Think about where advocacy fits in with professionalism – maybe comment on Johanna’s blog post about Activism, Advocacy and Professional Identity or if you can get hold of any, look at some job descriptions and identify where you think the advocacy might fit within the requirements of the roles.
  • Publication challenge! A prize for anyone who gets a piece of library advocacy published.

A Bit of Reflection

I’ve already written about some of what I got up to at Umbrella, but the most valuable aspect of attending the conference was the opportunity to talk to CILIP members and other attendees about what we’ve all been up to, how we think things are going with libraries and CILIP, and what the future might hold. Consider this a practical application of Thing 5, as well as a bit of an announcement…

Over the past year I’ve done a lot of work in public library advocacy, which has been an incredible insight into how the media works. Doing the work I’ve been doing (public speaking, writing articles, giving media interviews, attending conferences and events as a representative of Voices for the Library, helping local campaigns get up and running) – especially during a period of unprecedented threats to libraries – has made me realise even more that libraries of all kinds are important – fundamental to a successful society, in fact – and more relevant than ever before. We need to keep advocating and campaigning, wherever possible, to as many people as possible. We need to raise the profile of libraries, which I believe Voices for the Library has and continues to do successfully, to the public, policy-makers and stakeholders.

As a profession, we’ve got a lot more work to do. Every so often I hear or read someone say that it’s not just public libraries under threat. And they’re right. But public libraries are the first to face the cuts and challenges. Public library staff are the first facing redundancy, cuts to pay and working hours, changes to their employment rights and working conditions. Public library users are the first to face having to fight for their access to vital information and cultural services. The whole profession has a lot to learn from the work that’s already underway and the issues that have already been raised, and all libraries have a lot to learn from each other, the skills of their staff and the needs of their users.

With the benefit of being a sprightly young thing, I’ve been able to devote a lot of energy to the cause. I’d love more newcomers to the profession to consider what they can do in a way that fits with their lifestyles, skills and personalities, find out how they can get involved and play an active role in protecting and developing library and information services. I’ve been involved at a level that I certainly didn’t expect to be able to be a part of at so early a stage in my career. I hope this sends the message that it’s possible, valuable and of a significant degree of impact to get out there and do something, anything, to advocate for and promote the profession and the services we provide.

The work we’ve done so far has been time-consuming, complex and, to be honest, at times gut-wrenching. But I love it. I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone I meet that I love it with a (healthy!) passion. I very much intend to continue to be involved, and when I start my PhD in January I’ll be able to do so in a more flexible way. I’d also like to be more involved in CILIP. I could do this by getting involved with a new branch or getting more involved with the groups I’m already part of, but I wouldn’t be able to carry on being vocal at a national level and the impact of my involvement would be limited.

So. With all that in mind, I’ve decided what I’m going to do about it.

I’m going to stand for election as the Vice-President of CILIP.

The nominations will open at the beginning of September and close at the beginning of October. Ballot papers will be sent out on 13th October and the voting ends on 30th November. If I were to be successful, I’d be Vice-President for 2012 and President for 2013. I want to be able to represent members at a national level, so even though it’s a few months away I thought I’d write about it now because in the next few months I’ll be doing a lot of talking and thinking about my position on things in order to write a nomination statement. The discussion starts here! Let me know your thoughts.

Umbrellas, Windows and Voices

I was given the opportunity to go to a day of the Umbrella conference thanks to sponsorship from Credo Reference for Voices for the Library. I had a fantastic time and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, catching up with people, making new acquaintances and finally meeting people I really should have met in person before now! I found some sessions particularly valuable, most notably Christine Rooney-Browne’s talk on measuring the value of libraries (there are some really useful links that she shared on the Voices site). Some of the themes that emerged from discussions in John Pateman and John Vincent’s session about the Big Society, social justice and public libraries were thought-provoking, such as the concept of ’empowerment’ from above, accountability, accessibility and engaging core, passive and non-users. My focus was inevitably on public libraries, with my Voices hat on, but I also found the talk by David Hunter, the Strategy and Performance Manager at the National Library of Scotland very interesting too. He discussed the bibliometric evaluation method that the NLS has been experimenting with, to try and discern the ways in which library users benefit from the library’s resources. There’s much work to be done, but I’m excited about its potential.

So much of what Gerald Leitner, EBLIDA President and Secretary General of the Austrian Library Association, the keynote speaker on Tuesday morning, had to say about the need for library and information professionals to take control of emerging digital copyright issues and negotiate with publishers made a lot of sense. I agree with his assertion that now is the time for LIS professionals to work together, cross-sector and internationally, to develop a unified library policy. Libraries provide access to culture, resources for lifelong learning and methods to counteract the most demoralising aspects of current economic and social crises. Gerald pointed out that the problem of legislators not understanding the value of library and information services and their lack of understanding about the difference between print and electronic copyright issues is not just a UK issue, it’s Europe-(if not world)wide. This needs to be addressed and it’s important for librarians to set it high on policymakers’ agendas. An issue he raised that was particularly relevant to my research interests was that a high proportion of children and young people in Europe are illiterate, which means that they can no longer be reached with written information. They are therefore more likely to become (or continue to be) marginalised and unengaged and vulnerable to radicalisation. This is something that libraries are in a key position to tackle.

The focus of the conference this year was on six themes, (skills and professionalism, promotion and advocacy, technologies and access, libraries in the Big Society, digital inclusion and social change, tools and techniques) the majority of which are relevant to the advocacy, campaigning and media work that I do. Tomorrow at the Windows on the World event at the West Yorkshire Playhouse I’ll be talking about the risk to UK public libraries, current legal challenges, what councils are doing in order to implement the cuts imposed on them and the implications these changes have in relation to access, universality, digital inclusion, education and social change.

It was lovely to meet so many people at the conference who knew about Voices for the Library, what we’re doing and why it’s not just important for the public library sector, but for the whole profession. I’m so grateful for the support that we have from so many people within the profession as well as members of the public, authors and other campaign groups. As Ian’s mentioned, we’d really like to get some more contributions from people, whether they’re working in libraries or just using them, to spread the message about the great work that public libraries do. It’s always been one of our key aims, but with all the campaigning against things that needs doing it’s hard to keep up the advocacy message for things. Please write to us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk with anything you’d like to share.

Libraries and the WI

Yesterday I went to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes AGM in Liverpool, to support CILIP CEO Annie Mauger who gave an address in support of the WI’s resolution:

This meeting urges H.M. Government to maintain support for libraries, as an essential local education and information resource.

Like many other librarians and library campaigners around the country, I gave a talk at a local WI meeting – mine was in Pudsey near Leeds. I talked about Voices for the Library, the current situation, how libraries are managed and structured, why libraries need support from the WI and why the decisions being made about library services by the government and local councils are deeply damaging to society in the wider context. It’s so important that people all over the country did the same thing and I’m so proud that we’ve managed to get this through. I’m sure there can’t have been that many WI members who started out in opposition to the resolution, but one of the important things about giving talks was to help people to understand what’s really going on – why volunteering and pub/supermarket libraries aren’t solutions, for example.

At the AGM the support for the resolution was overwhelming; not just because of the brilliant 97.79% of members who expressed their views through voting for the resolution, but also because of the conversations I had with people throughout the day about libraries – starting with the taxi driver who told me about the threatened closure of one of Liverpool’s libraries which will have a huge impact on his neighbourhood, and how he uses the library as an important source of data for his hobby – charting the odds on football games! – going on to chats with ladies sitting around me in the arena who all told me how important libraries are to them and their families – to lunchtime conversations with members of the Real Bread Campaign and Unlock Democracy who, if they didn’t understand the social relevance of libraries and the benefits they bring to the economy, individual wellbeing and wider society, I sure hope they do now!

Everything the speakers in support of the resolution said was so relevant, and surprisingly, so varied. I thought I’d have heard every argument in support of public libraries by now (and every flawed argument about their irrelevancy/failure/inevitable demise), but yesterday’s debate brought more and more evidence for the need for high quality, professionally run, local libraries.

The full text of Annie’s speech is available here. Even though I’d had a sneaky peak at it before the event, and helped in a tiny way to put one or two pieces of it together, I have to admit, I welled up and dripped big soggy librarian-activist tears all over my mobile phone round about here:

“Librarians are not just custodians of books, they are people who help you to understand the incredible new world of information that is out there, to help young people to understand that not everything is true just because you see it on a computer screen and that actually, if you can’t read, how can you go online?

“The people who work in libraries are brokers, supporters, helpers and friends. They need your support.

“The Women’s Institute has a special kind of power. You have influence. You can make change happen. You campaign for the things you believe in. Whether it is the environment, food labelling or women’s rights, the root of your campaigning is always the same, driving out ignorance and changing people’s minds through education, information and better understanding.”

There’s more information about what CILIP will be doing to support the WI in their commitment to fight to prevent library closures and to advocate the value library services bring to communities. Voices for the Library will be supporting in whatever ways we can too – I’m especially pleased because my Campaign BFF, Original VftLer and WI Member Jo‘s going to be our liaison person.

Huge thanks to Annie and CILIP’s Mark Taylor for making it possible for me to attend.