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 with anything you’d like to share.

Hay Festival and the Travelling Suitcase Library

I’m off to Hay next weekend to spread the word about Voices for the Library, the threat to public libraries around the UK (and beyond) and bring a little library love to everybody there. And flog some badges.


Excitingly, the brilliant Jess of Travelling Suitcase Library fame has kindly allowed Voices to franchise her book-baby (keeping to the rules of the TSL manifesto), so we’re asking for people who are going to Hay to bring some books to swap. I’ll be stocking up, but can’t guarantee what I’ll be able to scavenge from charity shops (see? This is why libraries are better than charity shop bookshelves – more reliable, higher quality and free!) so we need as many people as we can to get involved and bring some books.

Cor, look at this, we’ve even got our own bit of the Hay website. We’ll be there from Saturday 28th May to Sunday 5th June. If any Voices supporters are there, please come and say hello, it’d be lovely to meet you. If anybody would like to relieve us of stand duties for a little bit so we can go for a wander, that’d be welcome too!

Voices for the Library

A group of dedicated librarians and information professionals have set up Voices for the Library, a campaigning website to share positive stories from public libraries and librarians, provide factual information about library usage in the UK and draw together the fragmented responses to the many attacks on UK public library services. It is high time for library professionals to be the voices for libraries. This campaign is an opportunity for people to discuss why libraries and librarians are so important, and why it is vital that they are run well and serve their communities effectively.

Libraries have recently had a high profile in the media, as a result of the threat of drastic cuts to library services across the UK. It is surprising that the majority of people speaking in the media about the future of libraries are not library users or library professionals and do not have the necessary knowledge and understanding of what libraries are for and the value they have. This site provides spokespeople for the media with a range of professional expertise.

I wrote that so I don’t feel bad about shamelessly cutting and pasting it. 😉

Although I’ve been doing my bit in terms of talking to news programmes, radio shows, newspapers and the like, trying to explain why libraries are important, why libraries need librarians, and that kind of thing, the majority of people commenting on libraries don’t seem to use libraries or know what they’re there for.


Some Twitter-folk and I have set up a campaign website. It’s called Voices for the Library. These voices aren’t just those of librarians, but those of library users who love, are entitled to, and indeed need free, unbiased public library services.

We’re all Voices for the Library, innit. So do send me a comment, or write me an email about why YOU value YOUR library/librarians.