Tag Archives: local councils

What Do Public Library Workers Do?

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

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

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

Interacting With Library Users:

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

Helping People Find Information

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

Helping People With Research

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

Supporting People to Use Technology

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

Organising and Running Events and Activities

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

Working with Schools and Organisations

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

Managing the Library

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

Managing the Library’s Resources

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

Handling Archives and Special Collections

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

Taking Care of Other Council Services Provided Through Libraries

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

Image credit: Arne Halvorsen on Flickr

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.

MMU Lecture

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

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

Read-Ins: A How To

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

– Rudyard Kipling

A few people have asked me what they should do if they want to take part in the national day of action for libraries on 5th February.

Alan Gibbons has given some advice on his blog, so I thought I’d give a little bit of a How To based on what I’ve learnt over the last few months, in Five Ws (and one H) form:

What: A Read-In! I described what they are in this post for Voices for the Library. Basically, they’re family-friendly, peaceful protests.

Why: A few reasons – a) To celebrate public library services, librarians and library staff and the brilliant things they do for people, communities and society. b) To raise awareness of proposed cuts to library services. c) To bring people together to fight against those cuts. d) Show the level of support locally.

When: Any time that works strategically for your library campaign. For the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, that’s 29th January, as soon as we can after the extent of the cuts in Doncaster is announced on 11th January in the Mayor’s budget, and then 5th February, which is the announced national day of action against library cuts. There’s still time for you to organise something for that day, and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise it through national media channels if you send details to him by mid-January. Pick a time to hold the Read-In. It could be a couple of hours long, or last the whole day. Make sure you check the opening times of the library! Saturdays are the best day, obviously, so that more people can get involved.

Where: Wherever there’s a library under threat. You could hold a Read-In at the threatened branch itself, or at the central library of the town it’s in, if the smaller branch itself is hard to reach. An event at the central branch might be more practical and effective. For example, Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, which means that it can be difficult, expensive and take a long time for people to get from one side of the borough to the other, hence the Read-In at the central branch on 29th January, even though the central library itself (as far as we know) isn’t set to close.

How: After you’ve picked a date and time, publicise it.

Police: The first thing it can be helpful to do is let the local police station know that there will be a Read-In. Remember, you have a right to protest and you’re not obliged to let the police know if you’re not organising a march, but it can be helpful. They can give advice about what to avoid (like obstructing public rights of way). Let them know it’s not a militant or violent protest. As soon as you mention libraries, they’ll probably laugh and say “right, so we don’t need to send a riot van then”, which is what I’ve experienced!

Communities: Make phonecalls, send emails, start a Facebook group and set up an event, give out flyers, put up posters in local shops, put an advert in the local paper, spread the word when you’re in the Post Office and ask people to mention it when they’re out and about.

Media: Let local (and national) newspapers and radio stations know. Journalists are more likely to pick up on the event if you send them a press release. There’s advice about how to write one here. Tell unions and anti-cuts organisations like False Economy, UK Uncut, Coalition of Resistance and Unison. Voices for the Library and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise your event.

It’s a good idea to designate a media contact for the event in case journalists want to interview someone beforehand or come to the event and interview someone there. They’re likely to want to know:

  • What cuts are being made
  • Which libraries are under threat
  • How many members of staff are likely to lose their jobs
  • By how much the book budget will be cut
  • Who stands to lose out because of the cuts
  • What impact the cuts will have
  • What new things are being proposed (for example, replacing paid staff with volunteers or self-service machines)
  • Why volunteers can’t and shouldn’t run a library service
  • How the decision-making processes of the council are flawed
  • How cuts to libraries are counter-productive and disproportionate

Gather together as much information as you can and be prepared to answer questions. You can use the information to make flyers with key information on them to give out at the event, too.

You need to think about what you’re going to do with people when they all turn up at the library. Some ideas are:

  • Ask people to sign a petition against proposed cuts and closures. Some councils don’t allow petition-signing to take place on council property (although most do), so it might be best to do it as people go in and out. Or, just make sure you don’t do it inside if you’re asked not to and shown the proof that you’re not allowed to 😉
  • Use the library! Browse the shelves, borrow resources, use the PCs, read the newspapers.
  • Encourage people to join the library if they’re not already members.
  • Get people to talk about what libraries mean to them, and how it will affect them if the library service is cut.
  • Hold readings of favourite books.
  • Get the kids involved – take some costumes, read aloud, get them drawing and writing, dancing and singing.
  • Have a musical interlude.
  • Get people to write to their MP and the council.
  • Maybe walk in and out a few times to really up the footfall statistics 😉

Who: Everybody. The point of public libraries is that they’re there for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation. Libraries are non-judgemental, democratic institutions that are open to all. It’s important for library campaign groups to be non-Political (with a big P) and promote the values of the public library. This means being welcoming to all and not discouraging anyone from taking part. It’s therefore important for publicity like flyers, posters and banners to be free of logos and have an inclusive tone. It may well be that your potentially strongest supporters may well have changed their mind about who they voted for in the first place, and being openly anti-whoever could prevent them from making their voices heard.