Tag Archives: big society

What Do Public Library Workers Do?

I’ve written, with suggestions from contributors, a list of activities and tasks, some obvious and some not so obvious, that are often the responsibility of public librarians and library staff. These are all things that we know people working in public libraries are expected to do, whether or not we think they should be, and include all levels of work including some basic day to day tasks and some things that would best be done by trained and qualified members of staff. These are things that paid staff are able to do that volunteers might struggle with, need training for or be unwilling to do (for reasons like it’s against their beliefs, or simply because they’re working for nothing. Below is the still-evolving list. Please feel free to comment and I’ll add any other relevant suggestions.

This post was originally written as a response to a comment by the (ex)Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, claiming that running a library and being a librarian isn’t hard and doesn’t involve anything other than stamping books, and that anyone would find it easy to volunteer to run a library. This really isn’t the case, but there aren’t very many resources to argue the case with solid examples of reasons why we need trained and qualified staff with abilities and skills that need and deserve to be paid for.

Council leaders, the DCMS, Arts Council England and other organisations with responsibilities for public libraries in the UK don’t have a clear idea about what paid library workers do on a day-to-day basis, or if they do, they’re not telling people who are being asked to volunteer to run libraries instead of local councils. As a result, people don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for and the inevitable result of this will be that libraries close anyway, it just takes a little longer and does a different kind of damage to communities. People who are considering volunteering need to be fully informed about the tasks that might be expected of them, or at least what library staff do that make libraries successful and useful to people, beyond just lending books.

Interacting With Library Users:

  1. Suggesting a book for anyone from an 8 year old boy who never reads to a 70 year old woman who has read everything;
  2. Being unfazed by complex enquiries which could be of a sensitive nature;
  3. Understanding how to help people with computers who have zero confidence/experience and believe they can’t use them;
  4. Dealing with abusive visitors;
  5. Dealing with young people behaving badly – police have been called to library branches when young people have been climbing on bookshelves, causing problems, refusing to leave premises etc;
  6. Dealing sensitively with people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities and may be challenging to help properly;
  7. Keeping user information confidential;
  8. Huge training requirement around legal/ethical issues;
  9. Understanding the issues around safeguarding children and the elderly;
  10. Providing a safe, friendly space that welcomes everyone;
  11. Directing homeless people to the nearest shelter;
  12. Helping people with little or no English to use the library service by translating, using translation services or taking special care and attention to ensure people understand information;
  13. Collecting knives and guns;
  14. Sensitively working with people who are distressed and may have mental health issues to find out their information needs and make phone calls on their behalf if appropriate.

Helping People Find Information

  1. Information literacy i.e. teaching people how to research, study and helping people develop lifelong learning skills essential for an informed citizenship;
  2. Understanding what users need and how they go about finding it (and working out where the problems are);
  3. Teaching people how to search effectively;
  4. Helping people organise information effectively;
  5. Helping people assess which information is reliable, for example the NHS expect patients to use online sources to find out about healthcare, but a lot of information on the internet is not reliable and can misinform people;
  6. Showing people how to find information about legal issues;
  7. Helping businesses find business information;
  8. Helping people research their family history or local history;
  9. Unearthing the needed information from the mounded heaps of print and electronic, free and subscription services, efficiently and accurately;
  10. Ensuring that less easy-to-find materials are available for particular groups – community langs, LGBT, people with/ disabilities etc;
  11. Being able to interpret research requests – working out what people want when they’re not sure how to explain
  12. Providing pointers on free and paid resources;
  13. Knowing how to do proper subject searches and suggest unthought of sources of information;
  14. Signposting to a huge range of services &say what they can offer: advice/help on immigration, debt, tax, legal, benefits, housing;
  15. Providing specialist information i.e. market research/patents/EU/law/health;
  16. Helping people if the library doesn’t have what they need;
  17. Understanding the need for access and negotiating access to information that may be blocked by council filters;
  18. Subscribing to information sources such as WHICH reports to help people make informed choices before purchasing goods and services.

Helping People With Research

  1. Teaching people how to research effectively;
  2. Current awareness services, all types of research;
  3. Personal training sessions on resources;
  4. Filtering materials for relevance.

Supporting People to Use Technology

  1. Teaching people to use the internet;
  2. Helping people set up email accounts;
  3. Showing people how to use online job boards;
  4. Showing people how to use online council & government services;
  5. Teaching people to use online resources e.g. e-books, e-journals;
  6. Giving people login details for library computers and helping them when they have problems/forget passwords etc.;
  7. Providing technical support on systems and tools (i.e. loading ebooks from something like Overdrive on to a ereader);
  8. Helping people use the photocopier/printer/fax machine;
  9. Showing people how to integrate emerging technologies into their daily lives;
  10. Helping people with online council housing lists;
  11. Explaining how wifi works;
  12. Helping people structure and write CVs using word processing software and online forms;
  13. Providing IT classes.

Organising and Running Events and Activities

  1. Organising/promoting events for kids/teens/adults that promote a love of reading;
  2. Rhyme time and story time sessions, increasing childhood literacy and promoting reading;
  3. Children’s activities;
  4. Visiting authors and poets;
  5. Book festivals;
  6. Gigs (such as Get It Loud In Libraries);
  7. Helping with homework and school projects;
  8. Running and supporting book groups for children and adults which includes activities, discussions and ordering/tracking down multiple copies of books.
  9. Doing the risk assessments needed to make sure everyone is safe and secure at events;
  10. Dressing the library for events, making it look attractive and impressive (professional);
  11. Organising school visits;
  12. Providing Bag Books (stories with props) sessions for adults and children with complex needs;
  13. Running a Home Delivery Service.

Working with Schools and Organisations

  1. A working and up to date knowledge and understanding of the curriculum and the way schools function;
  2. Working with teachers to improve reading skills;
  3. Working with schools & other community groups to promote the library and showcase all it has to offer;
  4. Visiting schools, talking to parents to promoting a lifelong love of reading with parents and children;
  5. Giving talks on request from teachers on referencing and the importance of bibliographies for GCSEs/A levels;
  6. Working with U3A and other community groups to help public with online information;
  7. Working in partnership with other organisations to bid for funding to offer additional services;
  8. Working with Adult Social Care to give feedback on standards in residential homes and sheltered housing.

Managing the Library

  1. Understanding how libraries work together, dealing with interlibrary loans and the British Library;
  2. Making sure that data protection rules are being adhered to;
  3. Reporting on library use and user needs;
  4. Using statistics to identify trends and assess levels of use;
  5. Managing electronic resources;
  6. Paying invoices;
  7. Making sure that the library is getting value for money via professional management, organization and promotion of resources;
  8. Promoting and marketing the libraries, including using social media to promote the library service;
  9. Attending training and events to make sure that the library service is keeping up with developments;
  10. Dealing with legislation including reproduction and attendant copyright law: photocopying/scanning for personal use, hi-res resources for publication/TV;
  11. Maintaining and building technical solutions for users’ needs;
  12. Maintaining a safe, interesting quiet environment;
  13. Being a premises controller: be responsible for a large public bldg, know what to do when heating breaks down, roof leaks etc;
  14. Training for fire marshals etc;
  15. Reporting to local Councillors, showing how libraries meet the wider council aims;
  16. Managing budgets and staffing, liaising with those who provide the funds;
  17. Managing a ‘community toilet’ because it is the only public toilet available, often requiring library staff to be in charge of giving out a key and/or cleaning the facilities. Some libraries require staff to escort people to the staff toilets for security reasons if there is not a public toilet.
  18. Doing market research to identify and understand customer groups, in order to serve them better. (Includes doing surveys, focus groups, and larger studies.)
  19. Writing strategic plans, marketing plans, communication plans;
  20. Keeping current on new technologies so you can choose the ones to buy, implement, and maintain;
  21. Fundraising;
  22. Interacting with other professionals around the globe to share best practices, implement innovations, and move the industry forward;
  23. Building and maintaining websites, blogs, and social media presence to promote the service;
  24. Reading and writing professional articles to publicise the work of the library and library staff so that other libraries can develop too;
  25. Participating in local, regional, and national associations in order to continuously learn and teach peers;
  26. Decorating the library – displays, posters and book stands, and seasonal decorating;
  27. Rearranging furniture and shelf stacks. Preparing for refurbishment (packing up stock etc.)

Managing the Library’s Resources

  1. Ordering database and journal subscriptions;
  2. Promoting/displaying/ weeding/ordering stock;
  3. Making sure the books and other items in the library are ones that users want/need/will benefit from;
  4. Reader and community development – encouraging people to read more widely and helping communities build knowledge and skills – matching resources to people’s needs;
  5. Describing/cataloguing/arranging physical or digital material in useful ways so that people can find it;
  6. Chasing and collecting books back and enforcing fines;
  7. Matching stock held with local community group(s) needs;
  8. Dealing with stock management / complaints etc. in accordance with international agreements on intellectual freedom.

Handling Archives and Special Collections

  1. Digitisation and digital preservation, making sure information will be accessible in future;
  2. Storing and conserving media (including old/rare books);
  3. Making sure the collections are stored safely and are not damaged.

Taking Care of Other Council Services Provided Through Libraries

  1. Dealing with people paying council tax and parking fines;
  2. Giving out condoms and bin bags;
  3. Issuing firearms certificates;
  4. Selling charity Christmas cards;
  5. Selling food recycling waste bags and garden waste stickers;
  6. Issuing blue badges;
  7. Issuing over 60s bus passes;
  8. Loaning electricity monitors.

Image credit: Arne Halvorsen on Flickr

Big Society Capital Funds

An emerging way in which local authorities are trying to keep libraries going are through allocations of one-off capital funds. For example, Warwickshire County Council has set aside £100,000 for people to set up community-run libraries. whatsinKenilworth”>The offer includes:

  • Warwickshire County Council  is setting aside a one-off capital fund of £100,000 to support communities in the setting up their community library
  • Where the Council accepts a community library business case, and the library building is owned by the Council, it is prepared in principle to lease the premises to a Community Group at a peppercorn rent for an initial period of one year
  • After that, subject to annual review of the services being provided, the lease may continue at a peppercorn rent, or at less than market value, for a period of up to 5 years in total.
  • At the end of the 5 year period, a full market rent will be payable
  • The tenant will be responsible for all repairs from the outset
  • Buildings offered at a peppercorn rent for the first year and then reviewed every year for the first 5 years after which the building would have to be paid for at the market rate.
  • Current book stock will be available

You can listen to me talking about whether this is a good idea, here. My main points were:

  • We need to be critical about the offer. It’s not necessarily a good compromise
  • It’s important for councils to meet their statutory obligations and they need to provide a comprehensive and efficient service. Giving communities £100,000 doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing that
  • The system and funding needs to be sustainable – communities need to know where the money will come from in future
  • Libraries are complex systems – local and national government don’t seem to appreciate this. It requires more management skills to run libraries than community groups who’ve done it already first anticipated.
  • Libraries are about more than books – they’re about getting right information to right people
  • Not all good information is on the internet, and not all information on the internet is good
  • There is a need to keep expertise in the library, but this comes at a cost – councils have been charging communities for professional support
  • We live in an information society – we need libraries more than ever. Councils should be investing in libraries to help citizens find and negotiate information
  • Statistics about a decline in library use aren’t accurate
  • The majority of children use libraries and this has a demonstrable impact on literacy levels
  • People need libraries more than ever – for education, employment and information. We need professionals who can help us with this
  • The government can’t shirk its legal responsibilities

What I didn’t mention is that £100,000 really isn’t a lot when you divide it up between the 16 libraries under threat (£6,250 each). I don’t know how much it costs to keep each branch library in Warwickshire running at the moment, but I can give a rough and ready example for Doncaster. Bessacarr Library costs £22,000 a year to run as it is currently. This is our very smallest and cheapest library, in a portacabin. Even if you took out the cost of staff and ran the place with volunteers, took out the rates and charged peppercorn rent, took out the costs of transport (which includes stock deliveries and receiving stock from other branches) – it would still cost about £6,140 per year to run (so that’s the generous council gift of £6,250 pretty much blown). More, if the council refuses to provide access to the council ICT network, and that’s realistically going to be the case because of information security issues. If you want to put in a self-issue machine it may cost £2,000 and then £600-800 a year to maintain. Where’s the rest of the money coming from? Communities? Because I tell you now, people can’t afford it, especially under the coming nightmare situation that’s being inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people. Even setting aside all the issues of equitable access to free, impartial, reputable sources of information provided by trained, professional staff – it’s just not a sustainable model.

I keep coming back to the thought – £18 a year in council tax is more than worth it for the service provided to society through the public library service. 25% of electors in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, even voted for an increase in council tax in order to keep their library running as it is now.