One Year In

A very overdue update on what I’ve been up to!

I’ve reached the one year mark in the PhD process and although there’s a very long way to go with a lot of hard work ahead, apparently I’m on track! My research topic’s altered slightly and become more specific, from the role of public libraries in supporting and encouraging democratic engagement, to the ways critical information literacy instruction can enable people to have political agency, which isn’t all that different in the ultimate goal of contributing to a stronger democracy, but is significantly different that I’ve got to connect the dots and make it clear that it does connect to the original proposal somehow.

So, I submitted a written report on my progress so far and where I’m going next, and yesterday I gave a presentation to my supervisors and another member of the department, who made really helpful recommendations and suggestions. It really wasn’t as terrifying or stressful as I was expecting! It was a positive experience and has re-enthused me after a bit of a difficult winter. I have a lot of work to do still, but this is where I am so far:

In terms of presenting on my work and library-related things, I’ve had some great opportunities in the last year, most of which I’ve already written about. Here’s the presentation I gave at the SHARP Conference in Dublin, and updated and gave to some Masters students in the department a couple of weeks ago:

What’s next? My fieldwork starts in April, so I’ve got to get my methodology up to scratch before then, I’d like to make more progress on my literature review and I’ve got a couple of papers to write for the LILAC and Umbrella conferences, both of which I’m really looking forward to. The LILAC paper will focus mainly on my methods/methodology and what I’m aiming towards, and the Umbrella paper is a discussion of professional issues regarding the responsibilities of library and information workers to engage with substantive, political issues in information literacy education. I’ve applied to present at another couple of conferences and I’m going to try for an ESRC internship for the summer/autumn.

LIS DREaM Workshop 3: Edinburgh

Last week I attended the last of three workshops in the LIS DREaM series, in Edinburgh (I’ve also reported on workshops one and two). The sessions were all informative, and some were of particular interest as potential research methods for my PhD.

Repertory Grids

I found the session on repertory grids particularly useful. The repertory grid (RG) is an interviewing technique that enables the researcher to elicit “both the conceptual content embodied in an individual’s mental model and the relationships which exist among these concepts” (Latta and Swigger, 1992). This is something I’m going to investigate further because a lot of the reading I’ve been doing around political behaviour and how people conceptualise politics highlight the issue that politics is a very personal topic. In addition, people’s attitudes and behaviours are not always rational or directly influenced by knowledge, and are often influenced by heuristics or rules of thumb.

I want to talk to teenagers about their attitudes towards politics and participation, and what political issues they think are important to them, rather than assuming that I know what matters to young people. In order to do that properly, and talk about issues that are actually relevant, I need to be able to identify and define those topics. The use of repertory grids as a scoping tool prior to in-depth interviews seems like a good way of doing this. Dr. Turner pointed out that using a method like this with cards and scraps of paper is a very unthreatening way of getting a lot of information out of people, and I think this will be a benefit when talking about such a personal and potentially emotionally-charged issue.

I can also use my findings to identify any possible trends and groupings of concepts when the data from the grids is turned into chart form. Dr. Turner recommended Repgrid for this, but there’s also an open source alternative. OpenRepGrid – this is an add-on to R, which is free statistical computing software. I’d never heard of R until a Researcher’s Digest session in my department a few weeks ago, and I’ve never used statistical software before, so at some point in the future I’m going to have to acquaint myself with it. I imagine bucket-loads of coffee will be required.

This week I’m reading about the use of RGs in Information Science, including the following journal articles:

  • Birdi, B. (2011). ‘Investigating fiction reader characteristics using personal construct theory’. Aslib Proceedings, 63 (2/3), pp.275-294.
  • Crudge, S.E. & Johnson, F.C. (2004). ‘Using the information seeker to elicit construct models for search engine evaluation’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55 (9), pp.794-806. 
  • Latta, G.F. & Swigger, K. (1992). ‘Validation of the Repertory Grid for Use in Modeling Knowledge’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 43 (2), p.115.
  • Madigan, D. et al. (1995). ‘Repertory hypergrids for large-scale hypermedia linking’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, pp.465-481.
  • McKnight, C. (2000). ‘The personal construction of information space’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51 (8), pp.730-733.
  • Mengshoel, O.J. (1995). ‘A reformulation technique and tool for knowledge interchange during knowledge acquisition’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, pp.177-212.
  • Oppenheim, C., Stenson, J. & Wilson, R.M.S. (2003). ‘Studies on Information as an Asset II: Repertory Grid’. Journal of Information Science, 29 (5), pp.419-432.
  • Potthoff, J.K. et al. (2000). ‘An Evaluation of Patron Perceptions of Library Space Using the Role Repertory Grid Procedure’. College and Research Libraries, 61 (3), pp.191-203.
  • Rugg, G. & McGeorge, P. (2005). ‘The sorting techniques: a tutorial paper on card sorts, picture sorts and item sorts’. Expert Systems, 22 (3), pp.94-107.
  • Whyte, G., Bytheway, A. & Edwards, C. (1997). ‘Understanding user perceptions of information systems success’. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 6 (1), pp.35-68.

Discussions about research and practice

Much as the sessions were all interesting introductions to different research methods, I found that the conversations snuck in between talks were also of great value (and wish we’d had time for more). Along with the final session of the day – impact snakes and ladders – I found that some issues I have about the ‘state of the profession’ and current goings on are shared with others. For the final session we were split into groups and asked to answer some questions, then join with another group to share our responses, which roughly lined up with one another. My group, full-time PhD researchers, was paired with the group of public library workers.

The questions we were asked to answer were these:

  1. To what extent do you consider that it is a PhD student’s responsibility to ensure that their PhD study has impact?
  2. What strategies have members of your group developed to ensure that your PhD project is having/has impact?
  3. Are there any particular difficulties with ensuring that your project has impact when you are a PhD student?

And the public librarians were asked these:

LIS researchers would like to complete projects to support librarians in delivering their services.
a) What do researchers need to do to make this happen?
b) Are there any particular difficulties for public librarians in accessing and using LIS research? How could these be addressed?

We were asked to discuss issues of relationships between research and practice and come up with recommendations about how to improve communication and getting research into practice etc. The usual suggestions came up, including ‘continuous discourse’, ‘networking events’ and ‘communicating with each other’. This is all well and good, and I appreciate the value of events such as the LIS DREaM Project and the work that goes into them, but I think the issues we have go far deeper than putting researchers and a few interested practitioners in a room with each other. No amount of that will solve the underlying systemic issues that exist within higher levels of the profession, and stem from a lack of appreciation of the values and principles of public libraries and the point of academic research.

This isn’t something new and is an ongoing problem. A number of our ‘solutions’, ironically, were things that used to exist. And quite frankly, it’s a crime that they don’t any more. Public Library Journal, for example, was the only UK journal that published the kind of research that’s actually useful and potentially implementable by practitioners. And without consultation or notice, CILIP killed it.

We suggested publishing research that promoted improvement and innovation in library services, and demonstrated the value of libraries to society. If only there was some kind of government department that ‘got’ that kind of thing. It could maybe include related services…museums, and archives, perhaps. We could call it the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. What’s that, we had one? Oh, the coalition government got rid of it? Bummer.

A number of us also felt quite strongly that although high-quality research is being conducted in academic departments across the UK, its impact is severely limited if those in control within library services find it inconvenient to listen and respond to the results in a meaningful way. This is if researchers can even get access to library services to research within in the first place, which for various reasons can be incredibly difficult.

Thanks to Hazel and everyone involved in the workshop for another useful and thought-provoking day.

SHARP Conference, Dublin

I’m going to be speaking at the SHARP Conference in Dublin at the end of June, with Professor Claire Squires and my supervisor David McMenemy. In fact, we’re lucky enough (?) to be the very first session on the very first day of the conference. The programme is available here.

Our bit is about this:

The Fight for Libraries: 21st Century Advocacy, Austerity and Alliance

  • David McMenemy (University of Strathclyde) Losing the library faith? The public library ethos in an era of austerity
  • Lauren Smith (University of Strathclyde) Advocating for libraries in an era of cuts
  • Claire Squires (University of Stirling) Uneasy Alliances: Libraries and the UK Book Trade in the 21st Century

I’m really excited to be presenting for the first time as a PhD researcher (although what I’ll be talking about isn’t within the remit of my research and is based on my experiences and what I’ve learnt over the last couple of years as an activist/advocate/interested party) and it looks like a really varied programme with an audience who might not usually be exposed to library and information science research and goings on, which is always a good thing. I’m a bit disappointed that I’ll be missing Alistair Black’s session, which will be happening at the same time as mine, but I’m looking forward to the rest of my time there.

Here’s a bit of blurb about the conference:

The 20th Annual SHARP Conference
The Battle for Books
26-29 June 2012
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

“In a city like Dublin, which has been home to Swift, Wilde and Joyce one
naturally thinks of ‘The Battle for Books’ in terms of censorship,
constraint and restraint. This major international conference will address
these topics but will also consider the concept of ‘the battle for books’ as
broadly as possible.

More than 180 papers will be presented at the conference. Keynote speakers
include Professor Ann Blair (Harvard), Professor Germaine Warkentin (Toronto),
Professor Nicholas Cronk (Oxford), Professor Claire Connolly (Cardiff),
Professor James Raven (Essex), and Sir Peter Stothard, editor of the TLS.

This conference will bring the leading practitioners in the field of ‘book
history’ from around the world to Dublin, a city which has recently been
designed as a UNESCO City of Literature.

If you are interested in books, and the cultural, social and economic
conditions in which books are produced and consumed, you should not miss this
conference.”

AHRC Justice Symposium

I’m going to be submitting a position paper to the AHRC Justice Symposium that’s being held at the University of Stirling on Saturday 28th April. I think it’s a really good opportunity for Computer and Information Science researchers to make contact and share ideas with researchers in  other disciplines, as well as being good practice for presenting in an academic environment, so I thought I’d share the details in case there are other Strathclyde or Stirling students who’d like to get involved.

Any Strathclyde/Stirling students wishing to participate in the event should email  graeme.t.brown@strath.ac.uk by no later than Friday 30th March for a booking form, and ensure that they provide a brief outline of the intended topic and content of the position paper to be presented.

Students and staff from Strathclyde will be able to take advantage of free transport from campus to the symposium and lunch and refreshments will be provided on the day, again free of charge.

The purpose of the event is to bring together researchers and students from Strathclyde and Stirling in intellectual debate and discussion, and to mark the establishment of the Consortium agreement that now exists between our universities.  As you may know, the Consortium has attracted significant financial support in the form of studentships from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

There will be two main elements to the symposium. In the morning, staff and students will gather to hear a keynote address from Chris Mullin, the author, journalist and former MP who served as a minister in three departments of British government and was chairman of the Home Affairs select committee. Chris Mullin’s books include three highly acclaimed volumes of diaries, “A View from the Foothills”, “Decline and Fall”, and “A Walk-On Part”, along with the novel “A Very British Coup”, which was made into an award-winning television series. His “Error of Judgement – the truth about the Birmingham Bombings” led to the correction of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history, and was made into a drama documentary by Granada Television.

After lunch, delegates will be able to attend round-table discussions on the theme of Justice as it relates to their specific subject area, be that History, Literature, Creative Writing, Publishing Studies, Journalism, or Archives and Information Sciences.

The CIS strand of the BGP Consortium Symposium invites staff and students from Strathclyde and Stirling universities, who are working in CIS related areas, to present position papers of no more than 10 minutes on a CIS specific topic that is closely related to the overarching symposium theme of justice. Due to time constraints the number of presentations will be limited to four.

The structure of the CIS specific event is designed to break down into two broad sections. The first section will consist of the position paper presentations. This will be followed by a discussion session that relates the specific topics covered within each of the presentations to broader issues within the justice theme that are relevant to the CIS discipline.

The justice theme of the BGP Consortium symposium is particularly relevant to the CIS discipline and can be approached from multiple perspectives.  It is not the intention here to produce an exhaustive or exclusive list of topics that participants may discuss, but a range of potential topics are offered below that that may or may not be taken up by participants.

Social Justice

  • The public financing of public libraries and information services; the nature and consequences of privatisation of public libraries and information services and the consequences of specific treaties such as GATS.
  • The extent, nature and consequences of neoliberal and neoconservative policies on publicly funded information services.
  • Information poverty and the digital divide(s). This could be related to other broad concepts such as equity of access and information literacy or more specific areas such as the way individuals access healthcare information or political knowledge to engage with democratic processes (or the role information providers play in providing this information).

Censorship and bias

  • An examination of the way information was/is provided under totalitarian regimes: can social media undermine certain aspects of state sponsored censorship?
  • What are the implications of search engines censoring results and in the case of Google, closing certain AdSense accounts?
  • The extent and effects of self-censorship: what were the effects (actual or potential) of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1998, which stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”, on library collection policies.
  • What are the effects of internet filtering software on the ability of public library users to search for information online?

Citizen Involvement

  • What impact is the ‘guerrilla librarian’ movement on social justice having and can the profession learn from it?
  • What role did social media and citizen journalism play in the Arab Spring uprisings?
  • Does unmediated content delivery on the internet constitute a fairer platform for discussion or are the traditional publishing avenues still necessary to ensure provenance and reliability?

Legislation and Privacy

  • Does Freedom of Information legislation make public bodies more accountable and improve social justice?
  • In what way has legislation such as the PATRIOT Act in the United States had an impact upon data mining and data protection?
View over Airthrey Loch, University of Stirling (cc Astacus on flickr)

LIS DREaM Workshop 1: Edinburgh

I was fortunate enough to be granted an AHRC-funded travel bursary to attend three workshops as part of the DREaM Project (Developing Research Excellence and Methods). The first workshop was held in Edinburgh on 25th October. It was a really interesting and informative day, and in terms of timing the whole programme works perfectly for me – I will be starting my PhD in January so haven’t yet developed a methodology.The DREaM project aims to encourage researchers to make better use of well-established social science research approaches, thereby improving the quality of LIS research in the UK and adding variety to the range of research methodologies used by LIS researchers. I’m very much hoping that my research into the role of public libraries in supporting and encouraging democratic engagement will be a meaningful and valuable contribution to LIS research which can be applied in practice.

All three workshops will follow the same format with different content:

  1. a broad research approach;
  2. a specific quantitative research technique;
  3. a specific qualitative research technique;
  4. a research “practicality” (e.g. ethics, improving research impact, influencing policy).
Workshop 1 looked at ethnography, social network analysis, discourse analysis, research ethics and legal issues. All the sessions were led by interesting, enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable researchers and even if I don’t apply the methods we explored, I certainly feel like I’ve gained valuable knowledge about the range of approaches that can be used to produce high-quality research.

Session notes and all the slides and videos used have been put up on the DREaM website, so I won’t duplicate content, but highly recommend them as useful resources.

Thank you to Professor Hazel Hall, Professor Charles Oppenheim and everyone involved in the DREaM project for the opportunity to take part in the workshops and for making the day such a success. I can’t wait for the next one.

National Library Campaign Conference

On Saturday I attended the Library Campaign conference in London, organised by The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. The roundup of the day by Voices is here, along with the full text of the speech that Philip Pullman gave.

At the Library Campaign Conference with a teeny bit of Johanna, Demelza and Philip Pullman (Image c/o Benedicte Page)

This was a really important event, not only because it allowed campaigners to share their experiences and offer support and advice, but also to get a sense of how groups around the country feel about hot topics such as volunteer-run libraries, the likelihood of success in legal challenges and what to do about national campaign activities. I think it helped to put campaigners in touch with information and resources they can benefit from. It’s hard to get the message out to everyone about what we do in Voices for the Library, the resources we have on the site that might be of use, and the network of people with experience of library campaigning that we can put in touch with each other, so the event and subsequent publicity has helped. At the same time, it can be hard to be obvious about our limits to manage expectations – we’re all volunteers working full time jobs, and Voices isn’t a funded organisation. We can’t save libraries all on our own and we need a national network – which is why the day was organised in the first place!

A lot of action points came out of the day, a couple of which are particularly important and pressing:

  • The need for a wiki where people can update everyone about local situations and discuss plans of action etc. Voices, The Library Campaign and some others are going to get cracking on this immediately;
  • The need for a large-scale, national event such as a march or rally to put pressure on the DCMS to intervene in library cuts around the country – Voices have been discussing this for a couple of weeks and it was seen as an important activity to get going. Plans are in the pipeline to make sure that the timing, location and scale of this are as effective as possible – let us know if you can help.
I’m very hopeful that the delegates went away with useful information, and will be able to strengthen their own campaigns as well as contribute to the national network. Working alongside organisations like Voices for the Library, CILIP and Campaign for the Book will make events like National Libraries Day even more successful.

Alan Gibbons’ address to the campaign conference

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

The Three Rs: Reading, wRiting and Rioting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all just seems a bit too deliberate.

Say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.

This Mail article filled me with so much rage that I had to channel it into something that might be useful for people, which is better than spending an hour dissecting the piece on my Facebook wall, right? I’ll just dissect it here.

Libraries too middle class and we’re right to be shutting them says Redwood
Former Tory leadership contender John Redwood said it was right to consider shutting many libraries

Libraries pander too much to the middle classes, John Redwood claimed yesterday.

Yes yes, nothing new here. Roy Clare’s already been there. “Strive to thrive; recognise the width and breadth of the social opportunities and fight hard to nourish change and embrace development that can serve the whole community, not simply the privileged, mainly white, middle class” wrote Clare in January. I don’t have a problem with this. I do have a problem with his false assumption that people fighting for libraries are all white, middle class and conservative (small c) but that’s another issue. The point is, that libraries shouldn’t pander too much to the middle classes. But do they? I’ve never found that to be the case. Should they close if they do? No, don’t be stupid. If something’s not very well, make it better. I have images of him at the vets with his a St. Bernard that saved his life on the Swiss Alps, being told it’s got a cold. “Put it down”, says Redwood, callously.

The former Tory leadership contender said it was right to consider shutting many of them because they did not serve their communities properly.

See above. Local authorities cannot legally shut down a library if it fails to serve its communities properly. In fact, they have a legal duty to ensure that it does serve its community properly. If the local authority fails to do that, the Secretary of State has a legal duty to intervene and make sure they do.

He suggested that universities and secondary schools could open up their libraries to the public instead.

There are many reasons this is a Terrible Idea. Here are three:

1) Universities and secondary schools stock very different materials to public libraries. There is some cross-over, like cds, if the university has a music department, and children’s fiction in a secondary school say. However, you can’t just fling open the doors and assume that all information needs of the public will be met by an academic or school library. I’m not sure Bob the mechanic would be able to find that manual he needs to get his start-up business off the ground at his local secondary comp.

2) Running with the brainwave, though – ok, so we make academic and school libraries open to the public. There are so many security issues with this. If a student wants to use another academic library, they’re able to do so through the incredibly useful SCONUL scheme, where basically, the home institution gives a nod to the other university that this borrower is a good one and doesn’t steal items or bring them back really late and so on. There’s a lot of very expensive stock in academic libraries, which is why for the most part, universities don’t allow any Tom, Dick or Harry in off the street. (They have enough issues with stock theft from their own students…) On the school library front, parents I’ve spoken to have been up in arms about the idea of the public being able to wander in off the street and use the school library. I’m not 100% up on my child safety laws, but I’m pretty sure there are some fairly solid grounds for that not being a possibility.

3) A lot of people who use libraries to learn as adults didn’t perform well at school, which is why they have a need to do something about it now, through improving their literacy, numeracy, ICT skills etc. Removing the only neutral, non-judgemental space they have and telling them that if they want to learn, they’ve got to go back to school, isn’t going to work. I wrote a piece for the National Institute of Continuing Adult Education about public libraries and adult learning, in which I said “For many adult learners, schools are associated with negative learning experiences and do not encourage engagement. Libraries, on the other hand, are more often seen as neutral spaces that are not designed for education at only one age, and as a result, can be seen as more conducive to adult learning.” Making people use a university library has similar issues. There are a lot of emerging readers who have a real issue with higher education, because they didn’t get to go to university, for example. A surprising amount of the public library users I served took issue with me because they (rightly) assumed I was a student – and they hate students. If I’d asked them to start using the university library from now on, I’d have been laughed at – “you want me to go where and be with who?”

Writing on his blog, Mr Redwood rejected the argument that libraries helped disadvantaged people access learning – pointing out that many filled their shelves with fiction.

1) The assumption that reading fiction doesn’t constitute learning demonstrates an ignorance of the learning process and one of the many roles of literature.

2) The assumption that reading for pleasure is of no social/cultural/individual value demonstrates…ignorance.

3) The assumption that ‘disadvantaged people’ have no right to access shelves full of fiction is disgusting.

And we all know what it makes of us to assume, Mr. Redwood.

Mr Redwood said that in a half-hour visit to one he did not see anyone borrow a book.

This is an example of the problem we have when we measure the use and impact of libraries through book borrowing alone. What of the people reading newspapers? Those people using books for reference, not needing to take them home? Those who can’t take items home because the item they’re using is reference only? Those who are too scared to take library books home because they or the books will be damaged if they do? Those who aren’t allowed to join the library because they have no fixed abode so can’t borrow books but can read them in the library? Those using PCs to apply for jobs or read something or look something up? Those little children exploring the space and resources in the library, developing a love of reading and sharing that experience with their carers or other children or librarians or (safe) strangers? Do they not count?

‘I lingered over the non-fiction shelves,’ he said. ‘The books seemed oriented to middle-class hobbies like antiques and foreign travel.

1) I don’t have a problem with books being oriented to the communities the library serves. I assume the library he went into is in a fairly affluent area, because well, he’d not be seen dead somewhere rough, would he?

2) Do working class people not go abroad, now?

3) Even if these hobbies are solely pursued by the middle class (which they’re not), libraries are aspirational places where people can find out about all kinds of things they might like to get involved in but aren’t yet, in the hope that one day they can. Foreign travel might be too expensive for Mrs. X right now, but perhaps she’s thinking about saving up and wants to find out about where she could go. And so on and so on.

‘I guess the book buying had been well judged to cater for the demand of a fairly affluent local community.’

Sure, fine, if the local community is fairly affluent and there’s no mix of people. I think where we’re getting to here is that he also doesn’t think middle class people should have access to a local library, which is wrong. Public libraries are (supposed to be) equitable public spaces where people from all backgrounds can go to access a comprehensive range of resources. That includes people who are financially better off. There are lots of reasons that people who could otherwise afford to buy books might need to use a library:

1) It’s more environmentally friendly to borrow than buy

2) It’s less individualistic to want to share resources that you’ll only use once and other people can use too

3) Not all resources are available on Amazon (e.g. large print, audiobooks, specialist books)

Oh yeah, and if I’m paying up to £20 a year in tax for it, I expect to be able to access the service I’m paying for and have a legal right to. I also expect it to meet the needs of everyone, just as the NHS does.

‘Some defenders of every public library imply they are for a different clientèle. They conjure images of children from homes living on low incomes developing a passion for reading serious books borrowed from the local library.

We imply it because they are. But not exclusively, and we’d never imply that. In fact, we make a serious effort not to. And yes, we conjure these images because they’re true to life. We conjure them up from places like the Voices for the Library blog and stories pages, where people share real-life, contemporary experiences.

‘The library is seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge. I fear that in many case this is no longer true, if it ever was.’

It was, which is why Carnegie set them up. Well, it was also so the poor people would spend less time in the pub, but that counts as self-improvement. And yes, it still is true, albeit in a slightly less paternalistic way. I’d argue that the fact that libraries are seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge is the very reason people like Mr. Redwood get so antsy about them…

Mr Redwood said that, when university and school libraries are included, there may be too many libraries in many communities – meaning that councils could safely cut costs by closures.

This is specious logic. If we went down this route, the House of Lords library and the House of Commons library could be merged, or better yet, closed and we could make the Lords and the MPs go to the local Westminster public library down the road. Fair’s fair.

Edit: Actually, if we follow Redwood’s logic, members of the public should be allowed to use the Houses’ libraries – even better!

My point is, different libraries have different roles, different users and different resources. They’re also funded by different people, or certainly will be now that the government has changed the school system and higher education funding structure. Can you imagine what’d happen if the students paying £9,000 a year were told that the resources they help to pay for were to be opened up to the public? What’s the point of going to university then? Oh wait…

He wrote: ‘Maybe at a time of tighter spending controls, we need to think again about how many libraries we need in each community, where they are best placed, and how the educational libraries can be used by those who do not go to those institutions.

I’m ok with this, really, except the bit about how ‘educational libraries’ can be used by those who don’t go into them. See my point above about those who don’t go into them being the ones who don’t pay for the right to use them. Yes, we need to look at the number of public libraries we have, but we need to look at it without the pressure of ‘tighter spending controls’. If the only reason you’re getting rid of libraries is because you don’t think there’s the money for them, you’re not looking at the issue objectively and you’re not doing it right. There is a very real need for the vast majority of the libraries currently under threat of closure, and local authorities are doing a shocking job of demonstrating that need. Even if they could, they have no choice but to close them because of the huge (ideological and unnecessary) spending cuts being forced upon them at breakneck speed.

‘A system of book transfer, holiday loans and the like might ease any book shortage and cater for those who wish to read well.

Oh I’m so glad we have a libraries expert coming up with these novel and previously unconsidered issues. Thanks John.

Here is my two-penneth's worth.
Strive to thrive; recognise the width and breadth of the social opportunities and fight hard to nourish change and embrace development that can serve the whole community, not simply the privileged, mainly white, middle class.