Internet Access and Public Libraries

There’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter about Barking Library (run by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham) introducing annual fees for internet access:

It’s not gone down very well. The main arguments are that charging for internet access prevents those on low incomes (the people who need it the most) from accessing the service, that there’s a clear divide between the haves and have nots of Barking (wifi appears to be free for those with their own devices) and that it undermines the public library ethos and the spirit in which the People’s Network was set up.

Barking aren’t the first library to start charging for access, but from my memories of collecting information for the national Fines and Charges database, and the information I’ve been able to find online, there aren’t many that don’t at least offer an hour or so free for all users per day – in 2010, 79 per cent of library services in English Local Authorities did not charge for internet access at all and a further 12 per cent did not make any charge for the first hour (The Information Daily). I have issues with any charging for internet access after a certain time limit, so needless to say that I completely disagree with charging outright. Phil Bradley sums it up excellently, as does Leanne.

I have some other half-formed thoughts that I wanted to get down in blog form very quickly, so this isn’t by any means fully thought through, but what strikes me is that there are serious issues about equity of access to information here. By introducing a financial barrier, library services are directly preventing people from having equal access to information resources. Along the lines of Gorman’s Eight Central Values of Librarianship, I really do think that librarians and library services should be resources to level the playing field when it comes to access to electronic resources of all kinds. (As an aside, the digital divide isn’t just about economically poor vs. rich, it’s about information poverty too, which can affect anyone, and is why libraries need to offer information support and educational resources for everyone.) There are issues about ensuring that everyone has access to information in order to be able to participate fully in the democratic process (whether or not they want to or intend to is another matter, but there’s a duty to make sure that people can at least inform themselves), and issues about people who don’t have home access to the internet being able to conduct financial and governmental transactions and processes that are (or will be) online only.

This is something that needs to be taken seriously, and that libraries and local authorities should be prepared to convincingly justify if they decide to charge. Whether or not you agree that access to the internet should be a human right, it already is in several countries. The UN declaration stated that access to the internet enables “individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life”. I’m not sure I want to live in a country that doesn’t fully endorse that view and ensure that its social policies and public resources reflect it.

Libraries and Vinyl

I’m giving a talk on public library cuts and closures at an art exhibition held by Golau Glau on Saturday 12th November at Test Space in Leeds.

Golau Glau are an anonymous collective of artists, photographers and musicians, with particular interests in social history, not-silences & environments under threat – both urban and natural. Their body of work to date has examined themes of domestic, social and sexual politics; popular culture; scandal; folk  history and Anglican and pagan rituals.

Thursday 10th – Exhibition launch with live sounds from Hookworms and DJ sets from Runners and A Negative Narrative

Saturday 12th – Vinyl only DJ set from Sonic Router and Lauren Smith from Voices for the Library giving a talk about public library cuts and closures”

It’s a bit of a departure from what I’m used to, which is scary and exciting at the same time. I’m planning on connecting what’s happening to the public library service to some of the themes that the collective deal with – for example the politics of knowledge, and public libraries as some of the last remaining non-commercial spaces we have. I’m hoping to reach a wider audience than I would at a library-specific event, and hopefully get people thinking about the value of libraries in ways they might not have before.

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

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.

Windows on the World: Keeping Them Open

I’ve been invited to speak at a free public event in Leeds next month, which I really hope people will come along to. It should be very interesting and will tie together some themes that I think are very important but are often overlooked. I’m going to get cracking on my paper soon – yep, actually writing a script for this one!

Windows on the World: Keeping Them Open. The prospects for public service broadcasting, libraries and arts

Saturday 16 July, 2011 at 2pm at The Congreve Room, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds LS2 7UP

Public meeting, all welcome, admission free

Refreshments from 1.45pm

Since the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review of October 2010 the future looks uncertain for publicly funded forms of cultural expression, information and entertainment. Libraries, theatres, radio and TV offer us a series of windows on the world, a means of connecting with others and a space for debate. Are these spaces and resources now at risk?

Chair: Judith Stamper, Deputy Head, Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, BBC Journalist and former Presenter BBC Look North;

Lauren Smith, Founding member of the national libraries advocacy group Voices for the Library and co-ordinator of the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign;

Sheena Wrigley, General Director and Joint Chief Executive, West Yorkshire Playhouse;

Garry Lyons has written extensively for theatre as well as for radio and television, with his BBC2 drama-documentary Britain’s first suicide bombers attracting a Prix Europa nomination in 2007;

Sylvia Harvey, Visiting Professor in Broadcasting Policy, University of Leeds, Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics, Trustee, Voice of the Listener.

Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV) is an independent, not-for-profit association working for quality, diversity and editorial independence in broadcasting. It has no political, commercial or sectarian affiliations, and is the only national organization speaking for listeners, viewers and new media users on the full range of broadcasting issues. Further information can be found at: http://www.vlv.org.uk/

The event is also supported by the Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds

For further information please contact: Sylvia Harvey (Mob): 0788-155-4126 or Bob Usherwood 0114-236-8356.

Libraries and the WI

Yesterday I went to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes AGM in Liverpool, to support CILIP CEO Annie Mauger who gave an address in support of the WI’s resolution:

This meeting urges H.M. Government to maintain support for libraries, as an essential local education and information resource.

Like many other librarians and library campaigners around the country, I gave a talk at a local WI meeting – mine was in Pudsey near Leeds. I talked about Voices for the Library, the current situation, how libraries are managed and structured, why libraries need support from the WI and why the decisions being made about library services by the government and local councils are deeply damaging to society in the wider context. It’s so important that people all over the country did the same thing and I’m so proud that we’ve managed to get this through. I’m sure there can’t have been that many WI members who started out in opposition to the resolution, but one of the important things about giving talks was to help people to understand what’s really going on – why volunteering and pub/supermarket libraries aren’t solutions, for example.

At the AGM the support for the resolution was overwhelming; not just because of the brilliant 97.79% of members who expressed their views through voting for the resolution, but also because of the conversations I had with people throughout the day about libraries – starting with the taxi driver who told me about the threatened closure of one of Liverpool’s libraries which will have a huge impact on his neighbourhood, and how he uses the library as an important source of data for his hobby – charting the odds on football games! – going on to chats with ladies sitting around me in the arena who all told me how important libraries are to them and their families – to lunchtime conversations with members of the Real Bread Campaign and Unlock Democracy who, if they didn’t understand the social relevance of libraries and the benefits they bring to the economy, individual wellbeing and wider society, I sure hope they do now!

Everything the speakers in support of the resolution said was so relevant, and surprisingly, so varied. I thought I’d have heard every argument in support of public libraries by now (and every flawed argument about their irrelevancy/failure/inevitable demise), but yesterday’s debate brought more and more evidence for the need for high quality, professionally run, local libraries.

The full text of Annie’s speech is available here. Even though I’d had a sneaky peak at it before the event, and helped in a tiny way to put one or two pieces of it together, I have to admit, I welled up and dripped big soggy librarian-activist tears all over my mobile phone round about here:

“Librarians are not just custodians of books, they are people who help you to understand the incredible new world of information that is out there, to help young people to understand that not everything is true just because you see it on a computer screen and that actually, if you can’t read, how can you go online?

“The people who work in libraries are brokers, supporters, helpers and friends. They need your support.

“The Women’s Institute has a special kind of power. You have influence. You can make change happen. You campaign for the things you believe in. Whether it is the environment, food labelling or women’s rights, the root of your campaigning is always the same, driving out ignorance and changing people’s minds through education, information and better understanding.”

There’s more information about what CILIP will be doing to support the WI in their commitment to fight to prevent library closures and to advocate the value library services bring to communities. Voices for the Library will be supporting in whatever ways we can too – I’m especially pleased because my Campaign BFF, Original VftLer and WI Member Jo‘s going to be our liaison person.

Huge thanks to Annie and CILIP’s Mark Taylor for making it possible for me to attend.

The Value of Public Libraries (and the measurement and demonstration thereof)

My campaigning colleague Ian has written about the Failure Narrative that seems to be surrounding the politics and media coverage of public libraries at the moment. He makes the excellent point that councils seem to be justifying closures, cuts and alternative models of governance by using the rhetoric that “bad stuff’s happening and it can’t be done effectively by us”. He’s also written about how the government and the media do like to focus on the negative rather than the positive, which is all part of trying to perpetuate the myth that libraries aren’t relevant anymore etc. and we shouldn’t be too bothered about them.

It got me thinking (again) about how we all know that libraries are brilliant. It’s a no-brainer. The more enlightened among us even know that libraries are about more than just books, a shiny building and longer opening hours (Phil Bradley covers that all extremely well in this post). They’re about lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups. They’re about the public good, equitable access for all members of society to public domain information of all kinds and in all formats, an appropriate balance within the law between demands from information users, and the need to respect confidentiality. They’re about a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge.

This isn’t airy-fairy-bunkum or crazy-lefty-ideology (sorry, Mayor Davies) – this is about the fundamentals of society. Libraries are cultural, educational and civic hubs. They always have been, and they always should be. Information and information needs are changing, but information’s not going away, and nor are people! What isn’t clear, though, is how we can prove this to the bean-counters of the world (because sadly, they’re not going away either).

An awful lot of qualitative data has been pouring into the Voices for the Library inbox for several months now. We’ve been presenting it in different ways – stories, guest blog posts, a Mashup challenge, a Wordle about “what libraries mean to you“…

We’ve even had some offers of support from academic departments keen to do something with all the information we’ve been gathering. Hopefully there’ll be time at some point soon to take them up on the offer!

The link between public libraries and academia is very important and shouldn’t be undermined. The issues faced in public librarianship are Big and Serious, no matter how many times people say that you don’t need experts, specialists or professionals to run a library service well, it’s not going to become true. My friend Liz Chapman wrote a fantastic piece about the need for Masters qualifications for VFTL, and David McMenemy wrote an excellent post for us about it, in which he said:

“Too many of several generations of professional librarians have been apathetic about the collective responsibility we all have to advocate the mission of public libraries. Taking our eye off the ball in this has been an unforgiveable dereliction of our duty to society. For many professionals educated since the early 1980s they have no way of thinking outside of a consumerist box which accentuated the basest of motives for public services.”

This may or may not be the case; I’ve not been around long enough to know. What I do know, though, is that we’ve got a big problem and we’ve got to do something about it. I’m very happy to say with confidence that there are an awful lot of brilliant librarians out there, working with CILIP and other organisations to provide fantastic library services.  I know, because I talk to them and read about it every day. The Edge Conference was (again) an excellent insight into how libraries are engaging with communities and technology. CILIP are working their bums off to advocate for public libraries, engage in meaningful discussion about the future of the profession, and tell ignorant Mayors off when they’re being stupid (*cough* BoJo and Pete *cough*). The LISNPN Crew have launched an advocacy competition, which is offering a free place at the Umbrella Conference and the CILIP New Professionals Conference. Librarians are Getting Stuff Done!

On that topic – in a couple of weeks I will be taking part in a workshop entitled Measuring the Value of Public Libraries: The fallacy of footfall and issues as measures of the value of public  libraries. I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope that it will be a step away from the simplistic and inaccurate measurement of footfall (the number of people who walk through the doors, and occasionally the people who click on the council’s ‘library’ website) and issue statistics (book/cd/dvd lending), and towards more effective systems of measurement.

The event has been organised by Professor Edward Halpin, Associate Dean of Research, Partnerships and Consultancy at Leeds Metropolitan University. He said:

“The event is designed as a starting point for debate and an opportunity to construct meaningful measurement tools for valuing our public libraries, which at this time of great change is both pertinent and important to us all.”

As well as newbies like me, participants include: Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP; Dr. Adam Cooper, Department of Culture Media and Sport, Head of Research, and Programme Manager for CASE; Carolynn Rankin, Researcher and Senior Lecturer, Leeds Metropolitan University; Roy Clare, Chief Executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council. It’s a really diverse mix of people with different expertise. Hopefully the outcomes will be something that we can use to satisfy the aforementioned bean-counters!

Public Libraries and Adult Learning

Earlier this month I wrote an article for Adults Learning, a journal published by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). They’ve kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.

Resources of hope

Across the country, public libraries are under threat of closure and with them vital community spaces in which adults can take their first steps back into learning. The impact of these cuts will be devastating, says Lauren Smith.

Since their inception, free public libraries have been a source of information, knowledge and culture for all. They are spaces where anyone can go, for as long as they like, without feeling pressure to buy anything, and without feeling judged for what items they want to read. For these reasons, library services are crucial to adults who wish to engage in learning at whatever level, be it to improve their literacy or embark on a research project, through formal schemes or simply for the pleasure of learning something new.

Through the public library network, any individual can borrow any item they need, at no (or very little) immediate cost. This is an increasingly important service, which has been demonstrated by an increase in library usage over the past few years. Many people rely on public libraries for expensive textbooks and other resources such as language cds and technical manuals. As the economic situation worsens, people will have less disposable income and learning resources will be less affordable. Furthermore, with the introduction of increased levels of tuition fees, fewer people will be able to afford to enrol on higher education courses.

Libraries are crucial for functioning democracies. The public need (and have a statutory right to) equitable access to independent, authoritative sources in order to make informed choices. Libraries provide these resources, and importantly, qualified staff who provide impartial support and advice to enable people to develop critical thinking skills. Library staff also offer support with using computers, the internet and emerging technologies, which play an increasing role in learning for people of all ages. A survey for the Times Educational Supplement found that children who do not have access to the internet are at a severe disadvantage in education, and with more and more courses for adults making the most of online resources and virtual learning environments, it is safe to assume that adult learners are at a similar disadvantage.

In many ways, libraries are naturally suited to support adult learning in ways which schools are not – the Victorian idea of ‘self-improvement’ is a value which continues to permeate through library services. 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.

It has been on the horizon for some time, and now the reality of the cuts is staring the UK’s public libraries in the face. On the day of writing, 426 static library branches and 59 mobile library service are under threat of closure or have already been closed. The loss of so many important community learning spaces will have a devastating impact on adult learning, because library branches are often the only places available for community use. However, library closures are not the only manifestation of the disproportionate cuts to library services. Huge cuts are being made to local studies, archives and family history resources, for example, which will have a knock-on effect on both formal and informal adult learning. Thousands of qualified and trained members of staff face redundancy, which will have a detrimental impact on the level of support available to adult learners. Concerns about the ability of volunteers to offer expert advice in encouraging ways have been voiced – just how many volunteers will have the level of skill and ability needed to run an effective library service and support all library users with literacy, technology and information-seeking? It becomes more apparent day by day that the government has not thought its Big Society vision through.

On Saturday 5th February, campaign groups and members of the public up and down the country took part in a national day of action against library cuts and closures, supported by organisations such as Campaign for the Book and the national public libraries advocacy group Voices for the Library. Although this had a great impact and raised public awareness of the value of library services and the threats to them, the government still refuse to intervene on a national level, stating that library services are a local issue and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Local campaign groups continue to raise awareness of the cuts in their areas and many are considering legal challenges because they believe the cuts will mean the library services are in breach of their statutory duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service.

Alan Gibbons has penned an open letter to government calling for a moratorium on library closures and the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has issued a clear set of actions for Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt. There are also calls for an independent public library service inquiry to consider the “likely detrimental impact that the conduct of flawed and rushed local library review processes will have on our communities and culture”. 20 councils have already announced that they will not be closing libraries in the 2011 financial year. Some of these councils also appear to have considered sensible efficiency savings, rather than hiding damaging cuts in “back office” services away from public view and anger. There is a long way to go, but it is hoped that councils across the UK will reassess their hasty decisions to hit the “soft targets” of library services disproportionately. Pressure is being put on elected representatives to consider their actions more wisely and represent the views and needs of their citizens. People are asking what their councillors, portfolio holders and MPs are doing to save libraries – and it is hoped that this will have an impact on the decisions that are being made.

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 🙂