Tag Archives: librarianship

A Good American

Surveillance, Self-Censorship and Social Justice

This week I took part in a panel discussion and Q&A following the screening of the film A Good American, which tells the story of individuals involved in the development of the ThinThread surveillance programme in the USA and how it was killed off by the NSA in favour of the more expensive, intrusive and ineffective Trailblazer programme. The film was incredibly interesting and educational, and I’d seriously recommend giving it a watch if you can. As someone relatively new to issues around mass surveillance, I thought the film provided a really easy to follow and engaging history and insight into the technology of why and how mass surveillance functions, and the implications for people’s privacy.

We were also honoured to be joined by Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders, as well as Bill Binney, a former NSA Technical Director, and Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA Senior Analyst. Bill and Kirk featured heavily in the film itself and were two of the key individuals behind the ThinThread programme. Being able to ask them questions and hear their views on the UK and the implications of the Investigatory Powers Act was a real privilege, albeit in a very worrying context.

I was asked to talk about the implications of mass surveillance on freedom of expression and access to information, as well as the role of libraries and librarians in helping people protect their privacy. For once, I wrote a rough script! I’ve posted it below.

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David McMenemy and I are currently working with Nik and Scottish PEN on a study of Scottish writers’ conceptions of surveillance and its potential impact on freedom of expression. This is a follow-up study to a survey conducted by American PEN and PEN International in other countries. PEN American Center (2013) says:

We know—historically, from writers and intellectuals in the Soviet Bloc, and contemporaneously from writers, thinkers, and artists in China, Iran, and elsewhere—that aggressive surveillance regimes limit discourse and distort the flow of information and ideas. But what about the new democratic surveillance states?

PEN’s original study gave participants the chance to discuss their concerns around surveillance, and the significant themes included writers’ self-censorship and fear that their communications would bring harm to themselves, their friends, and their sources.

They found that writers are self-censoring their work and their online activity due to their fears that commenting on, researching, or writing about certain issues will cause them harm. For example, writers reported self-censoring on subjects including military affairs, the Middle East North Africa region, mass incarceration, drug policies, pornography, the Occupy movement, the study of certain languages, and criticism of the U.S. government.

The fear of surveillance—and doubt over the way in which the government intends to use the data it gathers — has prompted writers to change their behaviour in numerous ways that curtail their freedom of expression and restrict the free flow of information.

For example, significant numbers have:

  • Curtailed or avoided social media activities,
  • Deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations,
  • Avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic,
  • Refrained from conducting internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be considered controversial or suspicious,
  • Taken extra steps to disguise or cover their digital footprints, or
  • Declined opportunities to meet or speak to people who might be deemed security threats by the government.

We have replicated this study in the Scottish context, and an initial look at the results shows very similar findings. We are seeing that writers are following news stories about government surveillance efforts within the UK, are worried about current levels of government surveillance of Britons, and have concerns about corporate and government surveillance.

The behaviour being described by writers, about the steps they are taking to protect themselves from becoming victims of the surveillance state, in many cases takes the form of self-censorship. They are simply not engaging with areas of intellectual and public life that they otherwise would do.

Implications of self-censorship

One troubling aspect of self-censorship is that it is impossible to know what contributions to society are being lost because of it. PEN (2013) raises the important issue that “we will never know what books or articles may have been written that would have shaped the world’s thinking on a particular topic if they are not written because potential authors are afraid that their work would invite retribution”. We know that many writers, academics and members of society more widely, are hesitant to communicate their thoughts because of rational concerns around surveillance.

This has implications not only for culture, but for social justice and human rights.

Social justice and human rights

From a social justice perspective, surveillance creates a panoptical environment in which people’s sense of being watched affects their everyday lives. People respond differently to these circumstances; some feeling more secure and safe, and others much less so. We simply do not know enough about the psychological impacts of living under highly surveilled circumstances to anticipate what impact it will have on people throughout the course of their lives. We do know that members of minority groups are more likely to be surveilled (Renderos 2016), thereby adding to the existing conditions of relative disadvantage and increased systemic violence and oppression. As Malkia Cyril states, “lawful democratic activism is being monitored illegally without a warrant” and encryption technologies offer vulnerable groups such as people of colour, immigrants, welfare recipients and political activists who challenge the status quo, the ability to more safely exercise their democratic rights (Renderos 2016).

Resistance

Avoiding mass surveillance is not a simple case of opting out of using certain resources. Even people using the most secure tools that offer protection against surveillance of content (what is being said) cannot protect themselves fully from being surveilled at the level of metadata (when/where/to whom it is being said – which in itself provides a lot of detail about what may have been said). Additionally, many people feel like they can’t avoid engaging with insecure means of communication that the majority of their networks and wider society are engaging with, if they want to avoid marginalisation. However, many people simply do not comprehend the extent of surveillance made possible by these technologies – they do not know the extent of the surveillance they are subject to. Whereas many of the participants in our self-censorship and surveillance survey described their awareness and the steps they have taken to increase their security, writers are largely a relatively privileged group. Members of society more widely do not have the benefits and knowledge that many of us do have.

I think we therefore need to teach the public about surveillance – both to help raise awareness of the fallacy that “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” (Coustick-Deal 2015) and help people to resist it, through challenging policies and laws as well as equipping themselves with the skills and resources to protect their privacy. There is an increasing interest in this work from librarians who want to help their users protect their online security in terms of both corporate and state surveillance. Scottish PEN has been working with the US-based Library Freedom Project to develop a toolkit for libraries so they can advise users on the software and practices they can employ to protect themselves. Libraries and groups like the Open Rights Group and Radical Librarians Collective have held cryptoparties to help people with their ‘privacy checklists’ around encryption and other actions they can take.

We need to do more than this, however. As educators, librarians need to resist policies and interventions such as the Prevent initiative, which asks university and school staff to watch out for the ‘potential radicalisation’ of the students in their institutions. The Government has implemented training on how to spot ‘radical ideologies’ (including Islamic extremism and anti-capitalist agendas) and legally binds them to report these to the authorities who then have the right to question their friends and family, seize any and all academic work by the suspected student, and investigate other aspects of their public and private lives. For example, a student at Staffordshire University on their Terrorism, Crime and Global Security course was questioned by university security after being reported by library staff for being seen reading a book about terrorism, in the library. He subsequently withdrew from his course. This is one of many accounts of actions that Ali Milani (2016) describes as “creating and propagating a narrative of suspicion around an entire community”.

With the rise of the surveillance state, these events are going to become more common, and have more of an impact on people’s rights to education, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Even without the explicit removal of these rights, the oppressive systems of surveillance we are increasingly encountering will have extremely negative impacts on the universal rights of those who most need them.

References

Coustick-Deal, R. (2015). Responding to “Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear”. https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2015/responding-to-nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-fear

Milani, A. (2016). Dear Owen Smith – Backing the Racist Prevent Strategy Won’t Win You This Election, It’ll Lose Labour Votes. Huffington Post Blog, 12th August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ali-milani/owen-smith-prevent-strategy_b_11468406.html

PEN American Center (2013). Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor.  https://pen.org/sites/default/files/Chilling%20Effects_PEN%20American.pdf

Renderos, S. (2016). To the next POTUS: For communities of colour, encryption is a civil right. TechCrunch, 6th May 2016. https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/06/to-the-next-potus-for-communities-of-color-encryption-is-a-civil-right/?utm_content=bufferc64aa&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Tucker, I. Ellis, D. and Harper, D. (2016) Experiencing the ‘surveillance society’. The psychologist, 29, pp.682-685. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-29/september/experiencing-surveillance-society

[Image: Still from A Good American, Slingshot Films]

Radical Research

This post is about a discussion that was had at the Radical Librarians Collective gathering 2015 in Huddersfield, on the potential for small-scale research into ‘radical’ issues in library and information work.

I suggested this session with the hope that people would have some ideas about what kinds of topics might be valuable to the ‘profession’ and society (and enjoyable personally) to explore and writing about, and to consider what practical and theoretical issues need to be considered when embarking on research without working under the banner of an academic organisation.

One of the (many!) reasons I suggested discussing this topic was that some people involved with RLC have been working on a Freedom of Information Request based study into filtering software on PCs in libraries. I won’t go into too much detail about why filtering is problematic, but people like Louise Cooke have written and researched around the issues and I’d recommend Filtering the Net as a good article that covers some of they key concerns:

“Filtering software in public libraries seems,” she wrote, “To have ‘crept in through the back door’ with little more than a murmur on the part of librarians.”

So, this project is starting with academic and public libraries and potentially expanding further into other sectors, including schools and FE colleges. The requests are being made through What Do They Know (which is an incredibly useful website through which you can make FoI requests really transparent), the data is being entered into a google spreadsheet, tidied up, and then will be made available on figshare (an online repository) in a format that will hopefully be useful for other people.

The aim is to identify trends across libraries in terms of what filtering software is used, how much is being spent on it, what categories of website are blocked, what policies are in place for when users want to access blocked sites, how often users make requests to have sites unblocked and what happens if and when they do. We’re planning to write up our findings for the RLC site as well as for potential publication in an academic journal, because this kind of data isn’t readily available and is potentially pretty useful. Personally, I’d like to see it be used to argue the case that filtering isn’t helpful but is costly, both financially and in terms of the relationship it builds (or destroys) with potential users.

This kind of work is something I think has the potential to raise awareness of what practices are actually taking place in library spaces, and connected to writing around the theoretical issues about why these practices can be harmful or regressive I think the empirical data may offer a compelling case for change at policy level. And if it doesn’t, at least the information is out there, and in the future hopefully it can be used to document what went wrong and why!

Although the topic of filtering is something that does get researched within LIS departments at academic institutions, there are lots of more ‘radical’ topics that are under-researched as well as more mainstream topics that don’t often get looked at from a ‘radical’ angle. One suggestion in the session was to make a list of possible topics for Masters students who might be looking for an interesting dissertation topic, which I think is a great idea – please do comment here or contact RLC if you’ve got any suggestions.

Other concerns raised included how to balance the issue that really ideally this kind of thing would be publicly funded and done by people for a living, against the issue that realistically this is unlikely to happen and seeking to influence policy (for example) in whatever way you can might be worth it. Another concern was the extent to which this is at all realistic and if the focus should be on exploring topics out of interest and enjoyment rather than the hope of (directly) changing anything at all. The Freedom of Information Act, although not the only method of gathering information, is also under threat. This poses challenges because it’s one of the most useful and least challenging methods of collecting data for use in work like this. It’s also already limited in scope in terms of what kinds of organisations are obliged to respond to FoI requests.

We talked about other methodological approaches too, and about how through even writing reports or case studies on radical libraries themselves might help share examples of ways to put ideas and goals into practice.

To my shame I’d completely forgotten that the #critlib research matchmaking form exists. This is a resource for people who are interested in doing LIS research from a critical perspective, and you can send information about what you’re interested in looking at with the hopes of being matched up with people to collaborate with.

As far as I remember it came out of similar discussions within a (predominantly) US context through the twitter #critlib community. When I was reminded of this I got a bit over-excited about the potential for inter-continental research collaboration, and now the more I think about it the more I think it might also have the potential to help with the barrier of lack of affiliation to an academic institution with robust research ethics requirements (and many other things), which was an issue discussed in the session at RLC.

Collaborative research also offers the opportunity for people affiliated with LIS departments and academic institutions to work with people in other sectors to explore issues in those sectors that otherwise might be more difficult to research and write about, or work out how to approach on your own.

This is the kind of thing I love the most about RLC events and discussions – actual things to have a go at to make things better. So yeah! If you’ve got any suggestions about topics of interest then we’d love to hear them. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the discussion on the day and I’m looking forward to whatever might come out of it.

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Edited to add:

The notes from the session are available here and the flip charts that were used to make suggestions about research areas are here. The ideas for possible research and methods mentioned in the session and afterwards were:

  • Conceptions around what is taught at library school – what isn’t on the syllabus and why, what alternative practices exist that could be studied, how courses could be adapted, and what kinds fof things students want to learn about;
  • Radical libraries as a phenomenon – what they are, how they can be studied (ethnographically etc.), who might be interested in radical practices, opportunities for small grant funding for research projects (such as EFF), getting in touch with non-library people doing research in radical groups to help flesh out ideas and collaborate on work;
  • Policies of exclusion:
    – what groups are being excluded from library spaces (offline and online) e.g. non-digital citizens, homeless people in Manchester.
    – Are there bylaws and policies which exclude people and are these readily available to use as a source of research data?
    – How do we provide evidence of exclusion? Gather policy documents that explicitly or implicitly exclude. Quantify services that aren’t available offline and find out who that effects.
  • What kind of impact would be sought from research and what audiences would be interested:
    – policy changes e.g. membership requirements
    – ways of communicating with communities

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.

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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

CPD23 Thing 16

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

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

Advocacy and speaking up for the profession

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

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

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

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


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

Getting published

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

Library Love by justgrimes on Flickr

Things to Do

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

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

Warwickshire Libraries – BBC Midlands Today

Hello! For your viewing pleasure (for the next week), here I am with my best Deer in the Headlights Face, doing a bad job of constructing sentences in a grammatically correct or coherent manner.

(Caption competition…click to link through to video)

Inevitably I didn’t manage to mention any of the stuff I’d swatted up on or talk about how volunteer-run libraries would struggle to be sustainable and meet the needs of communities, eventually closing anyway because the council looks to be set to charge community groups an awful lot of money for the privilege of struggling away with minimal council support for a few months to a year or so, resulting in reduced footfall and issue figures so the council can justify closing the branches with less attention from ever-more-disenfranchised communities and the media. Next time eh.

Edinburgh Has The Edge (2010): Day One

I don’t want to write too much about The Edge 2010 conference, because I’m going to be submitting a piece to the Public Library Journal, but I do want to get a bit down about it, because it really was a brilliant two days. Here are a few highlights.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle, the conference venue

Susan Benton is the President and CEO of American Urban Libraries Committee and gave a fantastic keynote speech about the value of the work of public libraries. She emphasised the need for leadership, partnerships and publicity to send this message loudly and clearly to local authorities, national governments and communities. As well as the need for leadership in terms of promoting and advocating our services, public libraries could act as physical examples of sustainability in the community; working out of green buildings and being actively involved in recycling, etc. as well as offering involvement opportunities for local businesses and educational establishments would enable libraries to take the lead in an increasingly important area. Susan also expressed the thought that public libraries are trusted by communities and are often the first place people go to for information, advice and support. This is something that libraries need to be aware of and use to their benefit in serving their communities.

Nicky Parker and Councillor Mike Amesbury from Manchester City Council presented the plans and developments for Manchester Library and Information Services, which are considered an important political priority in the area. The libraries were given a poor report six years ago, which prompted action to improve their services drastically with an investment of £255 million, being spent on, amongst other things, 2 new buildings, widespread renovation and a virtual library. The challenge in Manchester was to decide which buildings to rebuid and which to adapt; this has been met innovatively with the decision to never build a standalone library again, instead to co-locate with other services such as adult learning centres. Strategically locating libraries in the heart of communities alongside other public services, near transport links, schools and homes, will hopefully make the library service more a part of the community.

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library (CC by harshilshah100 at Flickr)

Mancester Library and Information Services are also investing in new technology such as RFID, automated storage and retrieval, self service and return and book vending machines. I hope that the introduction of these will make the service more widely used and not discourage people from using the Central and City libraries. Although the automated storage system is meant to make access to books easier and because of the current layout of the Central Library does not reduce the amount of open shelving, I am concerned that in public libraries, automated storage may not be as suited as it is in the British Library. Much of the book lending in public libraries seems to take place after time spent browsing the shelves and coming across something they were not deliberately seeking – I worry that taking this away will reduce the chances of someone serendipitously borrowing something wonderful and unexpected. A benefit of the self service borrowing system, though, is the ability to borrow books anonymously – this may have the opposite effect and encourage more people to borrow the items they want or need but are too embarrassed to take to the counter. I would be interested to see the results of any studies conducted!

I particularly enjoyed the speech from The Leader of Newcastle Council, Councillor John Shipley. His conviction that public libraries with their add-on services have become an essential public service that people should pay taxes for other people to borrow books and use libraries was inspiring. Libraries are cheap for the services they provide, efficient and effective – and if they are accused of being high cost – they should be proud, because it means that a valuable service is being provided. Bravo! There’s more about what he had to say on Ewan McIntosh’s blog. As he says, it truly was profound.

Edinburgh’s new virtual library, Your Library, was introduced by Liz McGettigan, Head of Edinburgh Libraries & Information Service and Jim Thompson, Quality Development Manager. Although 97% of Edinburgh’s population live within walking distance of a library, 97% of the population choose not to visit a library. The new Virtual Library is not designed to replace physical libraries, but to work alongside it and serve those who cannot or do not want to make the trip down the road, offering a Talis OPAC, image database, e-newsletter, community organisations database, full text ebooks and audiobooks. Citizens will be able to become members of the library online, and the website features Browsealoud support for the visually impaired, making the service more accessible.

This is by no means everything I found interesting, but I have too much uni work to be doing to be able to write a longer post, and as I say, I’ll be writing a big thing later.