Tag Archives: librarians

Radical Librarians Collective (Part Four): Libraries and Youth

Part Four of a series of posts on the Radical Librarians’ Collective event that took place on 10th May 2014 at the London Action Resource Centre in Whitechapel, London.

This post is about the Libraries and Youth session pitched by Erin.

This is the mindmap for the session (click on the image for full size), which was really interesting and I found very useful for getting an insight into how youth work can contribute to an understanding of the role of libraries and library workers in relation to young people.

libraries and youth mindmap

Are youths using libraries?

One of the first things we talked about was whether or not young people are making use of libraries. The answer, of course, is not simple. Some are, some aren’t. Some do a lot of the time, some only when they have assignments. Some only visit the library in the school holidays. Some borrow books, but a lot only use the computers. Some don’t use it for work at all and use it as a social space. Some of the main questions raised in relation to this were:

  • How do we address the ‘drop-off’ that happens when children reach a certain age? Is it a habit we can get them to form?
  • Do we need to address it, and should we? Do libraries have anything to offer that they don’t already get elsewhere?
  • How do we reflect usage in statistics if they aren’t borrowing books?

Why aren’t they using libraries?

Young people don’t use libraries for a lot of reasons, and some of them relate to library practice. It’s important to acknowledge that young people aren’t a homogeneous group, but have different desires and needs, and there are intersectional issues such as disability which need to be considered. There are also tensions between groups in communities which can discourage library use. We talked about the ways use by young people is discouraged in our practice; there are often no dedicated children’s or young people’s librarians within library services. Another big problem identified was floor-walking – the staff hate it and the users hate it. There are particular issues relating to young people, such as potential embarrassment about being approached by a member of staff, especially if they’re looking for materials about something they might not want anyone to know about, such as sexual health information, resources about sexuality, or other information relating to sensitive areas of their everyday life.

‘Problem behaviour’

We also talked about dealing with the antagonistic relationship young people and libraries/library workers often have, including ‘problem behaviour’ and how to establish relationships with younger users so we can challenge it. We talked about how authoritarian librarians can and should be, how this can create resistance from young people, and how it’s difficult to work out relationships when staff don’t have experience of developing pastoral skills. There are some serious issues to consider, such as aggressive behaviour (and the possession of weapons) which can be very scary for staff to deal with.

What is the role of libraries/librarians?

Another topic we discussed was the tension between libraries as a public space (which are of value for young people to use because they are often the only place available where people aren’t expected to spend money) and the ways in which libraries may be expected to fill in gaps in welfare which may only serve to mask problems such as a lack of public resources.

How can we encourage use?

Some really good ideas came out of the discussion about how we can encourage library use on a practical level. For example, although it’s hard to establish and maintain the right lines of rules and regulations, it can be effective to make sure when you have to enforce rules (like ‘no sitting on each others’ laps!) to tell whoever it is doing something wrong that “I like you and you’re welcome here BUT…this is not acceptable”. We also talked about relaxing rules wherever possible, including internet filtering, which is rubbish and ineffective anyway. The idea of makerspaces was also brought up, which ties into the ideas about working out what the role of libraries actually is and whether diversification/over-diversification is an opportunity or a terrible mistake…

What’s youth work got to do with it?

I found Erin’s insights from youth work really valuable, particularly ideas about the voluntary principle and how it has to be the young person’s choice to engage with an activity or a youth worker. A suggestion about how to encourage young people to use the libraries was for local authorities to hire a dedicated youth worker to bring groups into the library and work with the library to run events, programmes and generally help young people to get an idea about how libraries can be really useful for study and leisure. Another idea was to develop youth steering groups, which as well as helping libraries to develop their services to be geared towards young people in ways they’d actually want to engage with, also provides those involved with an example of the democratic process and experience of engaging with local civic activities. Being brought into libraries through a youth work context can also help young people to establish and think about appropriate boundaries in different contexts and build relationships.

 

 

 

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Radical Librarians Collective (Part One)

Part One of a series of posts on the Radical Librarians’ Collective event that took place on 10th May 2014 at the London Action Resource Centre in Whitechapel, London.

This post discusses what RLC is, where it was held and what sessions happened. I’ll be writing more posts about the sessions I attended soon!

What’s the Radical Librarians Collective?

It’s both an online and physical space, where people who are starting off from the general point of view that there are some problems in the way that libraries and information services of various kinds function in society, can discuss those issues. It covers all sorts – how we catalogue resources, how we do outreach, how library management is structured, how education is viewed in society, how publicly-funded research is often not accessible…

“Radical Librarians Collective aims to offer a space to challenge, to provoke, to improve and develop the communications between like-minded radicals, to galvanise our collective solidarity against the marketisation of libraries and the removal of our agency to our working worlds and beyond.”

Last year the first RLC event was held in Bradford, and this time round it was held in London. They’ve taken the form of ‘unconferences’, where there’s a general structure to the day but it’s far less formal and planned. I had the pleasure of being involved in the organising and running of the RLC event this time round, and can very much recommend getting involved in whatever capacity you can if this is the kind of thing you’re interested in. I found both events especially positive for lots of reasons.

Attendees were starting on the same page despite the wide variety of industry and work backgrounds they came from and it wasn’t necessary to spend a long time getting past the fundamentals, like the radical notion that access to information is a good thing, or that claiming libraries are democratic needs to be backed up in their actions. At other events I’ve often felt like there’s too much of a leap between the normative and uncritical point the event takes off from to get to the critical and challenging stuff, and it’s great to be able to miss the middle bit and head straight to the meaty stuff.

The question of “what do we do about it?” was very much in focus throughout, and people were happy to share practical examples and suggestions about how they can improve situations. So many ideas were being thrown around and the day ended with a plenary session where we shared what things we can do as individuals and groups to improve the things we want to improve. Mega-positive. Even discussions where I was able to share a negative feeling about something and have someone else not be able to fix it, but say “yeah that’s a thing and it sucks, it’s not just you”, I found really helped me feel less isolated and far more resilient. It sounds obvious but I think I’d forgotten that there’s such power in finding out you’re not alone. However, that certainly wasn’t the main content of the day and productivity far outweighed any sense of hopelessness.

There was a real emphasis on the non-hierarchical nature of the events, and it very much felt like although attendees definitely varied in levels of experience and different backgrounds, everyone’s input was respected and valued. I’m aware that different people have different levels of comfort about participating in discussions, but of all the events I’ve been to, this felt like one where there was a very non-judgemental environment and there was plenty of space for anyone to say pretty much whatever they liked (within the safe spaces policy) without fear of reproach. I was on both sides of discussions that started with things like “oh god I was so intimidated by you but you’re like, a normal person” and “I’m so sorry if I offended you, I was just disagreeing” and it was a complete breath of fresh air to be able to actually disagree with people and them be okay with it and stand up for what they thought and work out where there were differences and commonalities to work from and to just feel comfortable with a bunch of totally awesome people. I really hope that was everyone else’s experience and if not I’d really like to know how I can be part of making things better next time round if anyone did feel uncomfortable. (I harbour fears of coming across as a complete jerk, rightly or wrongly, and being anxious about not being told if I’m a jerk is the suckiest thing.)

All of the things I’ve talked about above are issues that RLC have been very aware of since the beginning and served as part of the motivation for getting started in the first place, so I’m really glad that it seems to have happened in action.

What’s LARC?

The London Action Resource Centre (LARC) is a collectively run building providing space and resources for people and groups working on self-organised, non-hierarchical projects for radical social change. The resources of the building include:

  • a main hall area with chairs and couches, a small kitchenette with tea making facilities, used for meetings or small gatherings
  • an office space with chairs, desks and internet facilities
  • a rooftop garden
  • a radical reference library that overlooks the main hall area
  • a banner-making and tool space in the basement

I was so impressed with this space. The people involved in LARC were so helpful and generous during the planning process and it served our needs really well. I think RLC-folk in London intend to use the space again, and I think that’s a really great idea. The only problem I can think of would be that it’s not an especially accessible building, so that would need to be taken into consideration for any future events. However, it was easy to get to, the wifi held up, there was plenty of space and the rooms were great. For fear of tooting a horn I shouldn’t be, I think the organisers did a grand job of overcoming some of the obstacles that needed sorting before and on the day (chairs! cups! coffee!)

a photo collage from radliblon

What happened on the day?

The structure of the day went a bit like this:

Registration and pitches (10-10:25)

Turn up, get your name ticked off, make a name badge, have a cuppa, listen to some session pitches and maybe pitch a session yourself. Some people had added their suggested sessions to the wiki beforehand so we had an idea about how many people wanted to ‘run’ or facilitate a session, but some people (like me!) just suggested something on the day. There was a real emphasis on the fact that if you were interested in a topic, you should pitch it and see if anyone else was interested in talking about it, and preparation was not an issue (in fact, positively discouraged!)

For the sessions, we used three rooms and three sessions ran at the same time. People were welcome to wander in and out of them as they fancied, but I think for the most part people stuck around.

First round of sessions (10:30-11:25)

  • Neoliberal Education: In the context of an ’employer-led’ education system, and amidst increasing marketisation and penetration of neo-conservative ideology, what can the college or school library do to promote free-thinking and wider reading? Where is the dividing line between promoting open-mindedness and pushing your own beliefs, and are there any professional risks to going ‘off-message’ in a college library service?
  • Censorship: Is it okay for librarians to promote the signing of a petition to ban The Sun from libraries? Spoilers: no – but why and why do some of them think it is? What can we do about it? How can we prevent censorship in general? (I pitched this and will be writing about it later)
  • Libraries as a feminist issue: A discussion about inequality within and without LIS structures. Or, indeed, possible solutions/opportunities for change.

Second round of sessions (11:30-12:25)

  • Public Service Mutuals: The coalition government wants to see public services ‘spun out’ into staff-led mutuals and co-ops as part of their vision for ‘open public services’. York Libraries and Archives have already gone down this route with Birmingham Libraries following closely behind. The implications are that public libraries will have to become more business-like, how does this fit with our ethos? Do SocEnts, trusts and co-operative councils pose the same threats? Is this part of a genuine desire to maintain strong public services, empower workers/users/communities and improve service quality or an ideologically driven desire to shrink the state and cut public spending?
  • Information as Commodity: challenges and implications for libraries and information workers. Using Marx’s analysis of money-commodities cycle in Capital vol. 1 as a starting point.
  • Radicalising the Professional Routes: (Ian won’t mind me saying that the pitch didn’t really reflect the reality of the discussion so I’ll describe what was discussed!) Problems with professional qualifications, vocational vs. theoretical focus and benefits/drawbacks, preparation for the workplace, opportunities for discussion, employer support, how to fix the problems (I went to this session and will be writing about it later)

Lunch! (12:30 – 1:25)

A delicious vegan spread catered by Shambhu’s. I have to say, one of the most valuable things I learned on the day was that cucumber and fresh coriander are a heavenly combination.

After lunch we had a second round of pitching, because we’d deliberately left some space in the afternoon for more sessions that might come out of discussions in the morning.

Third round of sessions (1:30 – 2:25)

  • Critical Theory in LIS: Should employers be training employees and academic courses be encouraging those undertaking LIS studies to be producing and developing critically-founded knowledge? Libraries have a steeped history in social politics and the neutrality that emanates from the contemporary sphere appears to continue a wider narrative of passivity from individuals that have lost agency in the political domain: Is the often assumed objective, neutral position of the profession is a flawed limitation, and is there a lack of critical foundation within the field of LIS? Has this contributed to a depoliticisation (or political apathy) across the field? Without critically aware staff, how can the library and information professions be said to be informing, enhancing, assisting, teaching or training information skills to their patrons? Can we locate and provide relevant information and sources of information without critically evaluating at subjective and intra-subjective levels? (I was involved in this session and will be writing about it later)
  • Surveillance: Discussion about the abuse of digital assets, governments and third parties collecting data and the importance of knowing our digital rights.
  • What is a ‘Professional’?: Discussing issues and problems with the divisions created between ‘professional’ and ‘non-professional’ staff. What does ‘professional’ even mean?

Fourth round of sessions (2:30 – 3:25)

  • Libraries and Youth: Discussion about how insights from youth work can help us get youths using libraries and more. Do youths need to be using libraries? What does effective outreach look like?
  • How do we put these discussions into practice in the workplace and how can we deal with problems in the workplace?
  • How can we do things as citizens and get more people involved? The little and big things we can do to try to make a difference.
Plenary (3:30-4:30)

Round-up of the key things that had come out of the sessions, working out what to do next. The organisers of this event would very much like to just be able to attend the next one, and really don’t want to create the sense that it’s a small group of ‘usual’ organisers who are in charge of anything. This belongs to everyone and it’s someone else’s go to do it next! It’d also be great to get smaller, more regular little meet-ups going on a regional basis, and the @RadicalLibs twitter account can help put people in touch with others in their area. There’s going to be a delegate list where people can add their regional and contact details on the wiki. If anyone needs help with using a wiki, @RadicalLibs can help there too.

And then we had a lovely time having some drinks and playing some music and talking about skate videos of the 1990s.

 There’ll be plenty more written about what happened on the day (not just by me!) so do let us know if you’ve written something so we can put a link to it on the wiki.

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.”

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. I’m afraid I can’t commit to updating the list, but please feel free to keep adding ideas in the comments.

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

On Cliques

Caveat prima: LONG AND RANTY POST AHEAD.

Caveat secunda: I don’t consider myself to belong to a clique. Heck, I haven’t even read the LIS NPN forum post about all this.

As part of my CPD23 stuff, I mentioned the fact that I tend to lurk around blogs rather than commenting on them, a bad habit I’ve once again found myself guilty of. As I mentioned in my reasons for not tending to comment, it’s usually because I’m not interested enough, don’t have anything insightful to say or am Too Darned Angry to say anything sensible.

The reason I haven’t commented on blogs about this so far is definitely within the latter category, but I feel something of a duty to write about it because Rachel’s post on the topic is largely based on things I said, and the term I believe I coined (correct me if I’m wrong), much to my shame – #cliquegate – now seems to be the hashtag du jour. I have too much to say for it to be a comment on her blog – there’s nothing I like less than an essay-length comment – so I hope she’ll forgive me for putting it here instead.

Yes, yes, I do use old twitter. No, I am not sorry.

So. Here’s my two-penneth’s worth, for what it’s worth.

Over the last couple of days a few people have written about Rachel’s findings for her New Professionals Conference paper that one respondent to her survey (out of 35 respondents) said they do not “identify with the current clique”.

My first concern here is that the survey was about ‘non-new professionals’ and how they perceive ‘new professionals’. Not about the online librarian community, not about the twitter librarian community, not about the blogging librarian community, not even about the LIS New Professionals Network librarian community. However, it seems to have been automatically assumed that this one respondent meant the entire online community of new professional librarians. I find this in itself bothersome for a couple of reasons:

1) They never mentioned the internet (did they?) so I think worrying about an online community might be worrying our little heads over something that isn’t an issue, not even for one person in the entire profession.

2) (Even if they did specifically mean the online new professional community) There are literally, like, a gazillion new professional librarians on the internet. Seriously. The internet, I don’t know if you’ve heard, is kind of big. And librarians, I don’t know if you know, are down with that kind of thing, so they all kind of have a go on it, all over the shop. They’re everywhere. For my reasoning here I shall now refer to my usual recourse in all matters rhetorical, the Oxford English Dictionary:

clique, n.

1. A small and exclusive party or set, a narrow coterie or circle: a term of reproach or contempt, applied generally to such as are considered to associate for unworthy or selfish ends, or to small and select bodies who arrogate supreme authority in matters of social status, literature, etc.

 

“Small.” “Narrow coterie or circle.” Not huge great whopping number of people in the same profession who happen to use a wide range of social networking tools to keep in touch with fellow professionals around the world.

My second concern is a small but important one. Cliques are “exclusive”. New professionals aren’t. Except for that bit where someone labelled everyone who’s been in the profession for less than five years as a ‘new professional’. Which I hate. I didn’t make it up. Who did? Shoot them. Anyway, it’s not the fault of some poor LIS graduate that they’ve been termed a new professional and are thereby automatically part of some sort of ‘set’ that they might not even want to belong to or identify with.

My third concern is about the aforementioned identification. What Rachel’s respondent said was that they don’t “identify” with a group. That’s surely ok, right? Not everybody has everything in common with everyone. I’m aware of a lot of groups in my day to day life that I don’t identify with. It doesn’t mean I don’t accept them as valid and valuable groups. It just means that I, personally, don’t see a need and/or don’t have a desire to be involved. It doesn’t mean I want a cuddle and an invitation to become vegan/existentialist/join the LGBTQ community. I demand the right to not identify! Rather than the respondent complaining about a “clique that they cannot infiltrate” as Rachel interpreted this, I’d suggest that maybe they just don’t want to. And even if this person kind of does want to (I don’t know), it’s not to say that everyone who doesn’t consider themselves involved wants to.

Fourth, the term ‘clique’ is one of “reproach or contempt”, i.e. it’s something applied to a group by an external body in order to make out that there’s a degree of disapproval. To that I say: “I don’t need your approval!” I made a flippant comment on twitter about my imagined reaction to being accused of being in a clique. It involved 1) telling the person they’re an idiot 2) flicking them the bird and 3) bitching about my peers so how can I even be in a clique anyway. I guess this paragraph is 1) and 2). This entire blog post appears to be 3). Whoops.

Fifth, I feel one of my arguments has been misrepresented. Rachel said “The argument that there is no room in the profession for someone who lacks confidence and feels unable to get involved has been made”. If it wasn’t just me who said something along these lines, then hurray. If it was, then that wasn’t what I said. What I said was “Mostly I am of the “they need to man up” school of playground politics” (call me a cow, but know this: I certainly wasn’t ever one of the cool kids and it didn’t do me any harm to not belong) and “This profession no longer belongs to the meek and mild”. I stand by that. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the profession is kind of falling in around our ears in many ways. This ain’t no time for navel-gazing. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dusty. Besides, we’ve got too many LIS graduates and not enough jobs. It’s a dog eat dog world, guys… (ooooh that one’s going to get me into trouble…)

Sixth is something that’s hit a nerve, I guess. This one’s about what the heck this clique/these cliques might be and who’s in them. I covered the fact that it’s spectacularly ridiculous to suggest that all librarians with any kind of internet presence are in a clique by virtue of sheer scale up in my first issue. All those hours ago… But also, Steve, Rachel’s boyfriend (that’s a clique in itself right? I think we should all demand to be invited in 😉 ) blogged about the topic too. I happen to know them both personally – I did my graduate traineeship alongside Rachel and did my MA with them both. If you’re screaming “CLIQUE!” right now, I’ve got something in my pocket for you. Aherm. So. Yes, I know Stevelin. He’s a lovely chap. And I was sad to see that he used #UKpling as an example of something that is in its nature “exclusive”. For those not in the know (there is irony dripping from my pores), #UKpling means ‘UK public libraries in need group’. I know, I know, it’s a bit lame. What can I say? It was a late night. I think we were all having a bad day. I suppose Steve’s right – at the beginning, it was exclusive. That was kind of the point – it was set up to discuss a specific topic – but that’s how twitter works. The hashtag grew – and before we’d had a chance to pick something slightly less lame and more obviously meaningful, it was incredibly popular and it was too late to change the account to something like VftL – believe me, we agonised over it. The hashtag grew, and then #savelibraries came along. Everybody pretty much went over there and used that instead, because #UKpling was a small thing for organising stuff between a small group of acquaintances. #savelibraries is the big, public-facing, outreaching hashtag. And although yes, Voices does have a core membership, we need to. We’re a campaigning body and have to have some sort of semblance of organised-ness. We’re not a professional network and involvement is absolutely not something people should be seeking as something to put on their CV to demonstrate that they’re professionally active. I mean, it does mean you are, but lawks, there are less stressful things to do if that’s all you’re after. I guess what I’m saying is that folksonomy doesn’t equal clique. I suppose it has to mean exclusive, because, well, you’re librarians, figure it out.

In conclusion, despite this giant rant, I still don’t think there’s much cause for concern. I think it’s a topic that nice people worry about because nobody wants to be a meanie pie. Librarians, on the whole, are nice people. Which is why the clique thing isn’t an issue. If people want to get involved, it’s ridiculously easy to get involved. If they refuse to engage, it’s their loss. I don’t know what exactly Rachel intends to do as part of her “contribution to library advocacy” – Hair stroking? Hand holding? Personally visiting each and every person in the library profession who expresses some kind of insecurity about their sense of belonging to make them feel better? Forgive my cynicism, I’m just really unconvinced that there’s much to be done.

In conclusion conclusion, what I said in my first tweet-response still holds true. I think it’s BS and I think it’s about how members of the new professional community conduct themselves that is important, and none that I know are exclusive in the slightest. I’m also acutely aware that my very…passionate?…response to this and my belief that it’s a fairly BS-filled topic make it fairly likely that I alienate some people. Probably new professionals. Thereby either 1) exacerbating the problem or more likely 2) excluding myself from any perceived clique that people might perceive me to belong to. Hey guys I exploded the clique! Problem solved! We can talk about something else now!

 

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.

MMU Lecture

I thought I’d put up the slides I used in a guest lecture I gave to MMU students today. It was broadly about library advocacy, Voices for the Library, UK public library cuts, politics, the role of libraries and librarians and how we can fight for our public library service.

There’s no script, so if you want to know what the heck it’s about, you’ll have to buy me a wine and get me rambling 🙂