Category Archives: Libraries

Sieghart’s Independent Library Report for England

Libraryland and the media are abuzz with the newly (finally) released Independent Library Report for England. The recommendations from the report can be broadly summed up as:

  • build a ‘national digital resource’
  • write a strategic framework for libraries in England (Wales have already done this and Scotland are working on one right now)
  • have national strategic leadership (led by councils)
  • appeal to everyone
  • get wifi in all libraries
  • improve library spaces so they’re up to “retail standard”
  • share best practice through guidelines for volunteers and community-led libraries
  • remember libraries are about learning and literacy
  • support digital literacy
  • use central government funding allocations for related services
  • (perhaps) national library cards
  • get copyright law changed so that public libraries can lend ebooks better than they can now (remote loans)
  • strengthen the workforce especially through new recruits and graduates

Unsurprisingly I’ve got some thoughts about this, some of which I’ll be talking about in various radio interviews in the coming days, but a quick and dirty summary:

The talk about a digital network for libraries is grand, and I’m pleased there’s also an emphasis that this should not be to the detriment of physical stock.

None of this is new. Being more like retail outlets, encouraging community involvement etc. are all recommendations that have come out of previous reports and things that librarians have been talking about for years. Some local authorities responded to the recommendations from the last umpteen reports, but some of them had already experienced such budget cuts that it was impossible to actually do the things they wanted and knew they needed to do. How will it be different now, with the next round of cuts coming up? I don’t see a big pot of money emerging from anywhere for doing things that don’t obviously contribute to the current administration’s neolibprivatisationcitizenconsumerbigsociety agenda, so I expect the majority of libraries – that will probably have to compete with each other to get the necessarily limited funding, which somewhat contradicts the ‘we’re all in this together let’s have a standard level of service nationally’ – will only be able to get wifi, redecorate, put a coffee bar in and get self service machines if they don’t already have them. Money won’t as easily be made available to invest in the qualified staff trained in supporting information and digital literacy, digital fluency, whatever different stakeholders are calling essentially the same thing. As a result, emphasis is going to be made on the how libraries contribute to employability agenda rather than the concept of libraries as an intrinsic public good. And that’ll be disappointing, and probably not help with the goal of articulating the value of public libraries that Sieghart talks about. Spending a bunch of cash on helping libraries deliver services associated with the digital by default agenda of government doesn’t really help libraries, it just helps government deliver services unrelated to libraries, through libraries. It might force a few more people to enter the library building against their will, but it’s not going to get them invested in the notion of the public library.

WiFi. Yes, god, yes. It blows my mind that all public libraries don’t already have WiFi, but it’s for two reasons: 1) there’s no money 2) local authorities make it an absolute nightmare for libraries to install it. I’d like to see a whole bunch of money for it, and I’d like to see the government write a standard document for councils to use as a policy for installing wifi, and one standardised document that can serve as an Acceptable Use Policy for all of the library services to ask users of the computers and library WiFi. Scotland’s already working on this, I recommend England get on board. Similarly, elending as it stands is a complete shambles so I can only support efforts to make DRM less restricting and make ebooks through libraries fit for purpose, which they currently categorically are not.

The development of a library taskforce will in many ways be duplicating various other fragmented groups and communities of practice that already exist, but fine, whatever. My main concern with this is the recommendation that it be led by councils, who, in my experience, are possibly the least informed, least knowledgeable and least engaged stakeholders in the whole shebang. The representatives from councils usually haven’t set foot in a library in the last 30 years, if ever, know little about the ethos of public services let alone the specifics of public library ethics, and aren’t motivated to connect the strategic aims of the council’s wider services and duties to public libraries. When you have to spend half your time explaining to the council members that public libraries are a statutory duty, how they’re about more than just books and how they contribute to literacy, community, and the general public good, you’re on to a loser. If the council members involved in the taskforce are the ones who’ve already been converted or have always been on ‘our team’, then fine, but I’m not sure how the message is going to be communicated to the council members who’ve never given a hoot. If the DCMS doesn’t mandate a national set of standards and actually hold councils to those standards, nothing’s going to change in those authorities that are running poor services. (I get the impression from the report that trying to compel the DCMS to do its job was decided to be a bad move politically – Vaizey’s thrown his toys out of the pram before and libraries are a sore spot.)

I’m also concerned about the idea that working “in partnership with others interested in the sector” – if these interested parties have the same amount of power and influence as those in the taskforce who actually spent time learning about libraries, and use experience, research and evidence to inform their opinions and approaches, rather than principles from retail or some kind of profit motivation – then that’s going to be a problem. Support from other areas will be of benefit, no doubt, but it’s the voice of the profession that needs to have the ultimate say, not individuals and groups with ulterior motives and less knowledge. I don’t have (much of) an issue with the organisations listed (apart from the LGA who still don’t acknowledge that libraries are a statutory service and don’t understand the first thing about libraries), it’s the “amongst others” that concerns me.

If you want greater cross government recognition you need to fund research to produce evidence about the educational role of libraries, for example. You also need researchers who can do this. We’re losing our library schools in universities, and the researchers who work in them. The two aren’t especially compatible.

If you want your 21st century librarian to have digital and commercial expertise you already have those, but there aren’t any jobs for them. You also, by the way, need to teach them about how commercial principles can only be applied so far in public services where there isn’t a profit motive, and that kind of critical engagement isn’t done enough on librarianship courses (although some places do and that’s great)*. If you want these wonderful impresarios to work for a service, you need to pay them properly. Public librarians get paid very low wages. You need to pay them for their expertise.

What exactly is it that makes people in positions of power think communities could or should be responsible for the management of public services? Fine, get opinions and make sure consultations are actually meaningful, don’t ask for opinions if you’re not prepared to actually act on the feedback if it’s strongly for or against something. Fine, get communities involved in making decisions about colour schemes for decorating or new book stock, but the ultimate decisions need to be made by people who’ve actually learnt about what colour schemes aren’t going to work with the principles of universal design, and what book stock should or shouldn’t be included in a collection because not stocking it for political or religious reasons would be censorship, or stocking it would be harmful to individuals and groups within a community. This is stuff communities mostly won’t know or think about, and do you know, I don’t necessarily think they should have to. I think that’s what taxes are for – paying for public services that are run by people who know stuff about how to do it properly, in the public interest.

Encouraging community involvement in library management “through a variety of models” surely just adds to the inconsistencies across England (and the UK more widely) in terms of library management. They already sit in several different directorates across different local authorities, there’s already a mishmash of different service structures that are the result of differing approaches to salami-slicing cuts for the last twenty-odd years. Asking for different models of management at the same time as asking for increased consistency is a contradiction.

There is hardly any attention given to the role of libraries in supporting literacy and learning, be that for school-aged children or older learners. Schools are mentioned three times – once to do with how TeachFirst has been good, once to mention that school libraries exist, and once to mention in passing that partnerships with schools and public libraries would be good. The fact that there’s so weak a relationship between the education system and libraries is something that continues to baffle me, but I think it’s probably linked to the lack of research and evidence for something that ought to be a given.

So yes, that’s my initial take on it, but I may well change my mind on things the more it’s discussed!

* Pedronicus has written a post on the precarious position of librarianship education in the UK which is well worth a read.

Featured image CC by interactivesomerville

Challenging Censorship in Scottish Libraries

Just a brief post to plug an event being run by my supervisor David McMenemy at the end of April. Although its focus is on Scottish libraries, the talks will be of interest and relevance to a UK-wide audience and we’re hoping that there’ll be some good discussions.

Challenging Censorship in Scottish Libraries
Towards a Collaborative Solution

Tuesday, 30th April 2013 (5:30 pm – 8:30 pm)
Venue: SIPBS Hamnett Wing
Room: 112-114

Research by the University of Strathclyde has highlighted issues around censorship in public and school libraries in Scotland that affect provision of both paper and digital services.  Evidence suggests that an over-riding factor is the lack of a coordinated national policy approach to censorship issues in libraries.

This event will present the evidence, consider professional ethical codes and practitioner experiences, and aims to propose workable solutions to take forward collaboratively after the session.

Who should attend?

  • Library and information professionals
  • Authors
  • Publishing professionals
  • Students and researchers in library and information science or freedom of expression 

Benefits of attending

  • Open a debate in the sector on this hot topic
  • Build relationships with University of Strathclyde researchers
  • Build relationships with future funding partners
  • Promote collaboration between practitioners
  • Promote freedom of expression

Contact

T: +44 (0)141 548 3045

The event is free to attend and you can register online through the event page.

Library Politics and Agenda-Setting

I don’t want to alarm anyone…but there’s an elephant in the room.

Elephant in the room

It’s a very political elephant, which is a touchy subject in libraryland, especially in the UK. So I’m mentioning the elephant. I’m going to state, that I have…and I know it might come as a surprise…some views about libraries. I believe that librarians have a crucial role to play in effecting social change, in all sectors. I think they have a role as educators in critical information literacy. I think that public libraries are vital public spaces that need to see people as citizens, not consumers. I think libraries should be accessible. These are political positions. Lots of people, I’m sure, share these views, but there isn’t much substantive debate or discussion about these issues and the barriers we face, and I think in part that’s due to the political naïvety of the library and information profession.

This naïvety is, in many ways, responsible for the giant mess we’re in. Agendas have been set and we haven’t acknowledged how political in nature they are. Librarians and information professionals don’t control the discourse around library and information issues. We haven’t made it clear what values we’re espousing, because a lot of the time we aren’t savvy enough to know. We’ve courted private companies and governments whose values directly undermine the values of librarianship, like free expression of thought, privacy, and equity of access. Many aspects of LIS seek to establish and maintain certain boundaries and espouse certain political values without consciously or explicitly acknowledging that this is what they’re doing.

Playing the Game (Badly)

The political elephant is being ignored across the board, and this is causing serious problems. Attempts have been made to measure value and express it in ways that politicians and purse-holders will understand. Different methods, such as contingent valuation and cost benefit analysis are used to try to demonstrate that services make economic sense1. Library school curricula are influenced by hegemonic forces. Professional bodies are driven by the need for paying members and are directed by the power of corporate influence from stakeholders. They are limited  by their status as charities and are therefore prevented from taking political positions, even when it’s in the interests of their members and the public they serve, to do so. Library services adopt corporate language to appeal to councils and adopt marketing techniques to mimic bookshops. It all seems fairly innocuous and after all, its aim is to protect and promote libraries, so it’s for a good cause.

But playing the game is dangerous. The way librarians refer to the value of the services they provide influences how we’re perceived by society. The values libraries promote in the way they are run and what they do can and do rub off on library users. Power dynamics and the way staff relate to users (and how we refer to people who use library services – customer? patron?) do influence people’s relationships with public services. The way councils value or fail to value public space does send a message to citizens about what’s worth paying taxes for and what’s not. The language used by local and national government to discuss public spending in the popular press does determine the set of beliefs and values that become the dominant thoughts being expressed by the media, by politicians and members of the public.

Sad game piece

The Library Profession

For a long time, there’s been a fight to establish and maintain the professional status librarianship and information work. The promise of “prestige, higher salaries, and an elite employment niche” was a compelling reason for librarianship to fight for recognition as a profession2, but professional bodies are now having a difficult time articulating their policy positions on the replacement of paid staff with volunteers (although the Society of Chief Librarians has now clearly stated that it accepts direct substitution of paid members of staff by volunteers3), and it seems like a lot of the problem stems from hazy distinctions between professional and paraprofessional staff and what counts as professional practice4. Chartership is very much centred around recruitment, becoming “more employable” and “transfer[ring] up through the ranks”5, without much thought about the politics and ethics of librarianship and information work or a clear sense of what it means to be a professional librarian. It feels as if it’s just another professional development box to tick post-qualification. This is a problem because it becomes difficult to articulate why paid, professional staff are a necessity and beneficial to democratic society, and doesn’t help to safeguard the public interest. Not all library workers are members of unions, and unions themselves are focusing on keeping libraries open, and the pay and conditions of workers. Few with loud voices are expressing the issues about the standard of service being lost and the ways this detrimentally affects our society.

Higher Education and Library School Curricula

Failure to engage with social and political issues is also evident in higher education and within departments providing Library and Information Science (LIS) education. Students find themselves under an “economic model of subservience”6, which prevents engagement with social issues:

“there is no future for young people, there is no time to talk about advancing social justice, addressing social problems, promoting critical thinking, cultivating social responsibility, or engaging non-commodified values that might challenge the neoliberal world view.”

Defining the library and information discipline as scientific is positivistic and confers non-political and value-free status upon it, which is both impossible and counter-productive. The LIS curriculum tends to shy away from social issues, leaving graduates ignorant about key political issues. Christine Pawley writes:

“…the deepening division of society between information haves and have-nots is widely discussed in the general press. Does the LIS curriculum participate in this debate, or does it rather contribute to the information apparatus’s aim of avoiding social criticism?

Where are the courses on information politics? On the production and distribution of information? On the ownership of information? On the stratification of information? Such courses do exist in some schools, but, for the most part, curricular consideration of these questions lurks in what are sometimes stigmatized as “airhead” or “philosophical” (that is, nontechnical) areas: courses in LIS foundations service to or aimed at low-status populations such as children or the elderly or taught from a feminist or multicultural perspective.

From a class perspective, this failure of LIS education to confront societal questions is itself a sign of the power of the dominant class to exercise hegemony. Traditionally, LIS studies both the institution of libraries and the broad phenomenon of information largely through pluralist and managerial lenses as questions of service delivery, technical efficiency, and managerial effectiveness. One result is a politically naive profession.” 6

Library Conferences and Events

Conferences and events organised by professional organisations and other groups often instil certain values in those who attend them, especially if they don’t think critically about their experiences and the information they’re exposed to, and aren’t conscious of the impact and influence aspects of the middle-class professional agenda:

“For example, when professional people attend conferences and publish scholarly papers, they are taking part in this ongoing process of establishing and maintaining the boundaries of middle-class conduct and values.” 7

Events such as LibraryCamp say that they aim to provide a “politically neutral arena for debate”8, but take inevitably political stances on censorship and make political choices about corporate sponsors, who have their own agendas when it comes to influencing policies and services9. It’s simply contradictory to claim to be non-political but explicitly state that an event aims to save libraries and return them to mass public use. Access to and use of public libraries is political. Wanting to keep them is political. Making a conscious effort to make the event accessible for people with disabilities is a political choice. These aims are valuable, and it’s more than just important, it’s imperative, that the inherent, unavoidable, political values being promoted are acknowledged. These are good things and we shouldn’t be scared to talk about them. We need a vocabulary to discuss the substantive issues, through the language of public discourse10. We don’t currently have it and we desperately need to develop it.

Doing this, however, makes it difficult to be seen as legitimate by those in power – you immediately face being branded as a troublemaker, a tub-thumper, or at the very least, someone who challenges the status quo and oughtn’t be listened to. It places some kind of social responsibility on you as an individual to seek to effect change, and think about the impact of the decisions you make and the messages you send through the actions you take and the things you say, and that’s hard work. Although sold as an arena to facilitate debate, it’s questionable how authentic that debate can be when most of the attendees all know each other on twitter, and the majority of them are qualified or soon to be qualified, and female. Even if there was a more mixed group of attendees, there’s the spiral of silence to contend with11, especially when there’s the strong chance that corporate sponsors (who as far as I’m concerned have had their thoughts heard quite enough, through the various avenues they already have open to them, thanks) will be running sessions, immediately creating an environment where discussion becomes led, rather than shared, by the members who have more experience in selling and influencing. When you start thinking about all that, it stops being a nice day out with friends and tea and cake. Which is all it’s meant to be, I’m sure, and that’s fine in and of itself. I do think events like this have some value, and I respect anyone who’s gone to the hard work of organising something. I don’t want to be a cake-smashing party pooper.

Smashed cake

But, we need to be conscious of the language we use and the messages we send to attendees, the library profession, and the outside world. I haven’t got a shovel big enough to clear up the mess that our elephant’s making. I don’t have a solution to get people to acknowledge it’s there or work out how to deal with it. I just know that we have to acknowledge it, and not pretend it isn’t there and that isn’t causing an almighty great stink.

———————————————————————————————–

1) Walker, C., Halpin, E., Rankin, C., and Chapman, E. (2011) “Measuring the Value of Public Libraries: The fallacy of footfall and issues as measures of the value of Public Libraries – Summary Report”. Available from: http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.199926!/file/Measuringthevalueofpubliclibraries.pdf

2) O’Connor, L. (2009) “Information literacy as professional legitimation: The quest for professional jurisdiction”. Library Review, 58 (4), pp.272-289. Available from: <http://www.emeraldinsight.com/10.1108/00242530910952828>

3) http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/2012/08/the-scl-spells-it-out.html

4) Pawley, C. (1998) “Hegemony’s Handmaid? The Library and Information Studies Curriculum from a Class Perspective”. The Library Quarterly, 68 (2), pp.123-144. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309200

5) http://www.cilip.org.uk/jobs-careers/qualifications/accreditation/pages/default.aspx

6) Giroux, H. (2011) “The Politics of Ignorance: Casino Capitalism and Higher Education”. Counterpunch. Available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/31/casino-capitalism-and-higher-education/

7) Pawley, C. (1998) p.132

8) Pawley, C. (1998) p.129

9) http://libcamp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-co-operative-bank-grant-application.html

10) http://www.libcamp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/librarycamp-session-proposal-15.html

11) Giroux, H. (2011)

11) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence

Images:

The elephant in the room CC licensed John Mallon Iphoneography on Flickr
Lost CC licensed by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr
Cake Aftermath CC licensed by jasonsisk on Flickr

Internet Access and Public Libraries

There’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter about Barking Library (run by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham) introducing annual fees for internet access:

It’s not gone down very well. The main arguments are that charging for internet access prevents those on low incomes (the people who need it the most) from accessing the service, that there’s a clear divide between the haves and have nots of Barking (wifi appears to be free for those with their own devices) and that it undermines the public library ethos and the spirit in which the People’s Network was set up.

Barking aren’t the first library to start charging for access, but from my memories of collecting information for the national Fines and Charges database, and the information I’ve been able to find online, there aren’t many that don’t at least offer an hour or so free for all users per day – in 2010, 79 per cent of library services in English Local Authorities did not charge for internet access at all and a further 12 per cent did not make any charge for the first hour (The Information Daily). I have issues with any charging for internet access after a certain time limit, so needless to say that I completely disagree with charging outright. Phil Bradley sums it up excellently, as does Leanne.

I have some other half-formed thoughts that I wanted to get down in blog form very quickly, so this isn’t by any means fully thought through, but what strikes me is that there are serious issues about equity of access to information here. By introducing a financial barrier, library services are directly preventing people from having equal access to information resources. Along the lines of Gorman’s Eight Central Values of Librarianship, I really do think that librarians and library services should be resources to level the playing field when it comes to access to electronic resources of all kinds. (As an aside, the digital divide isn’t just about economically poor vs. rich, it’s about information poverty too, which can affect anyone, and is why libraries need to offer information support and educational resources for everyone.) There are issues about ensuring that everyone has access to information in order to be able to participate fully in the democratic process (whether or not they want to or intend to is another matter, but there’s a duty to make sure that people can at least inform themselves), and issues about people who don’t have home access to the internet being able to conduct financial and governmental transactions and processes that are (or will be) online only.

This is something that needs to be taken seriously, and that libraries and local authorities should be prepared to convincingly justify if they decide to charge. Whether or not you agree that access to the internet should be a human right, it already is in several countries. The UN declaration stated that access to the internet enables “individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life”. I’m not sure I want to live in a country that doesn’t fully endorse that view and ensure that its social policies and public resources reflect it.

Online Information 2011 – Day One

What an overwhelming day! I was asked to be an official twitter moderator at the conference, so led on one of the sessions and acted as backup for another – and, inevitably, tweeted heavily throughout!

The conference lasts three days but I could unfortunately only make it to today because of work commitments. The full programme is here. I attended:

Opening Keynote AddressEffective Social Media: Past, Present and Future
Speaker: Craig NewmarkFounder, craigslist and craigconnects, USA

Morning Session: Google+

Google+: Is it a plus or a minus for librarians?

Speaker: Phil BradleyInternet Consultant, UK

Google+: What is it? Who needs it?

Speaker: Brit StakstonAuthor and Social Media Strategist, JMW, Sweden

Afternoon Session: Social Media Strategies

How Westminster Abbey created world-wide audience engagement around the Royal Wedding with online and social media

Speaker: Imogen LevyOnline Editor, Westminster Abbey, UK

The European Union’s Regional Policy, Social Media and Online Collaboration

Speaker: Tony LockettHead of Web Communication, DG for Regional Policy, European Commission, Belgium

If you want to read the tweets for all the sessions have a look at the #online11 tweets. They’re separated by the rooms the events took place in (#aud, #cfrm1 and #cfrm2). I just wanted to note down here some recurring themes and important points made by speakers today:
  • We need to go to where our users/audience want to be and take our content to them (and it’s not that much of an effort to do so using a few different platforms);
  • We need to be brave and take risks with social media and communicating with our users online;
  • It can be very worthwhile to set something up and then ask for permission and forgiveness later! (Heck, if Westminster Abbey and the EU are going to take this kind of risk, then surely libraries can too);
  • It might be worth spending less time being concerned about a ‘brand image’ and more worthwhile  focus limited energy and resources on being useful for our users;
  • Social media is a legitimate and effective method of communicating with users and getting them engaged in learning/discussion/debate/collaboration
  • We need to make sure that our social media presences are interactive – more than just something used to pump out information and updates
  • It’s a good thing for social media accounts to have personality and be fun;
  • This of course needs to be balanced with whatever requirements are placed on the organisation;
  • Responsive Design is the way to go to save a bunch of time and effort rewriting code for different devices;
  • If you’re doing something new and exciting, be prepared for regular tweaks;
  • If you’re doing something new and exciting, don’t muck it up too badly when you launch because you risk losing users;
  • Librarians/Information Professionals have the opportunity to position ourselves as experts in the field of information retrieval, fact-checking and democratisation of information. We need to make ourselves useful, sell ourselves and gain recognition for this.

And the final thing to take home from the day was the reaffirmation that librarians are awesome, knowledgeable and keen to learn how they can improve their services. I have the pleasure of working with some particularly fantastic ones – huge congratulations to my Voices colleague Ian Anstice for winning the IWR Information Professional of the Year Award for his work on Public Libraries News. It’s great to see people who work so hard to protect library services being recognised for the work they do, and Ian certainly puts in the hours!

CC Phil Bradley on Flickr

The Three Rs: Reading, wRiting and Rioting

I wanted to throw a few thoughts together about the role of libraries and librarians during times of civil unrest. It’s not fully formulated and I’m certainly not suggesting that if you chuck a few library buildings into places where people are looting and burning, that suddenly you’ve solved all of society’s problems, but I do think that libraries and librarians have a role to play as part of a much bigger picture. It’s a bit meandery, but here are some thoughts.

“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.” Audre Lorde

It’s well-documented (and a bit of a no-brainer) that people who can read well are far more likely to be able to get out of cycles of disadvantage, and that good libraries help people to read well. As well as that fundamental role of access to reading and learning resources and support though, librarians and libraries have an important role to play in enabling people to develop literacy skills that go beyond the ability to read well.

Library-related readers will probably be familiar with the concept of information literacy: “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner”. Transliteracy might be a slightly less familiar term, and is “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks”, and I think that the events of the past few days are an example of how important it is for people to be able to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable sources of information. There’s a lot of information about libraries and transliteracy over here.

There’s a real problem with levels of transliteracy in the UK and I think it’s a major cause of problems like people making snap judgements about the reasons for the rioting, the kind of people involved and what should be done with them (a lot of people are all for water cannons and rubber bullets because they see them as harmless, for example, but don’t seem to have looked into the damage and fatalities they can cause). There are problems with people believing everything the media tells them, and spewing forth opinions they haven’t really thought about and don’t understand the nuances of. Education is an important part of this, but it’s got to be done well, consciously and neutrally. A lot of it, I think, needs to come about through self-education, but that involves having a desire to learn in the first place and knowing where and how to get hold of reliable sources of information. Citizenship education is under threat, democratic engagement is low and people feel far less a part of the society and communities in which they live than they used to. They don’t know how to get involved in the democratic process or why it’s even important for them to do so. They don’t know how to articulate the opinions they have about the world around them. Libraries can help with that.

Twitter has been a major source of information and misinformation about the riots – the NewT Bham Group wrote about it in this blog post and said that it’s clear “we need to teach our young people how to evaluate information and how to use it appropriately in this modern age (the tweets imply that many just believe, repeat and then spread anything they read).” I saw a blog post (and now can’t find it, sorry!) that was talking about how twitter would benefit from some truth-arbiters, as it were, people you could rely on to help distinguish between fact and rumour during events such as riots and protests. I think library and info pros would be good people do this – or at the very least to help people develop the skills to do it themselves. I’ve seen a few librarians on twitter mention this, and some have even gone as far as to point out that it’s very unhelpful to tweet about things if you don’t definitely know they’re true.

Social media has been blamed for being a cause of the riots, which is, frankly, idiotic. Sterling Prentice says a similar thing over on Drop the Reference Bomb:

“Sure, you can blame Facebook or Blackberry, but limiting these services will hardly stop the effect. Egypt is a good example of how this doesn’t work. Scapegoating is often used a quick fix for deeply seeded social problems, but it is not necessarily the best long-term response to over-boiling social issues.”

Social media and mobile devices aren’t going away – so it’s really important for people to know how to a) use them effectively and b) not see them as some kind of force for evil, and in turn demonise them. Librarians can help with that.

An interesting aside: here and here are a couple of posts about the relationship between deprivation and the riots using google fusion tables and deprivation indices data. The government is having a drive to make its data more open and accessible, but not that many people know how to manipulate it into a meaningful form. Open data alone is not enough to make a difference. There’s a problem with the digital divide and a potential problem with a data divide – and librarians can help with that, too.

The problem is…libraries are under threat. School libraries are being closed, and not built at all in new schools. Between 400 and 600 public libraries in the UK will close over the next couple of years (not to mention the cuts to professional/paid/qualified staff who can offer support that volunteers can’t). Areas will be stripped of their assets and become more deprived. People will have less access to information and education resources. People will find it harder to apply for jobs because they don’t have computers at home and their library’s closed, or now charges a membership fee or for use of the internet, or they don’t like going in there because it’s in the police station or church hall. The cycle will continue.

“You can’t just lecture the poor that they shouldn’t riot or go to extremes. You have to make the means of legal redress available.” Harold H. Greene

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a blog post about cuts to legal aid and the impact it’s likely to have on legal challenges launched by people trying to stop cuts to library services. It’s fairly simple – it’ll mean that it’s harder to get legal aid, fewer cases will go to court because a two day judicial review costs about £30,000 and people in general don’t tend to have that kind of money lying around, let alone people in the deprived areas that are being particularly hard-hit by library cuts; their libraries are more likely to close than anywhere else, because they don’t have the kind of communities and people in them who are able to set up or sustain a volunteer-run library system. Of course legal aid cuts won’t just harm those trying to save libraries, it will harm all kinds of people in need of access to legal support, including for employment cases.

It all just seems a bit too deliberate.