Friday, 28 November 2014

Speak Up for Libraries

Last Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at just after 5.30 am to catch an early train to London. It doesn't take very long to get to London, but I booked my tickets in August in a rush of enthusiasm when the days were long, light and warm! So I arrived nearly 2 hours before the start of the Speak up for Libraries Conference 2014 in the damp, cold and dullness. I amused myself nicely with a Beano Annual illustration exhibition in St Pancras, a walk in Regent's Park and standing at the foot of the Post Office Tower (yes, I know it isn't called that any more) marvelling at 1960's technology.



I was so pleased that I did manage to drag myself out of bed, however, because the conference was really interesting and felt that it had a purpose to it. I was surprised at the number of Unison reps that were there, especially the number of librarians that are also Unison reps. When I worked in Derby City Libraries, the Union reps were not from libraries, and didn't have the same passion as the ones I saw last Saturday. A sign of the change of times, I think, I left Derby City Libraries just before all the cuts happened. Librarians have become activists. I was also pleased to meet a number of people, some of them quite elderly, who were simply library users, passionate about their library with some of them actively resisting library pending library closure. One gentleman said to me that libraries are "the poor man's university": the place where anyone can learn irrespective of their class or income. Of course the words there are the phraseology of another generation, we don't talk about "The poor" in the same way, and he was using the term "man" to mean universal humanity, but coming from the South Wales Valleys myself, I knew exactly what he meant. The library was, and still is, a place where you can learn despite not going to school or not understanding your school work. On the Reading Rocket, at a few stops, we had random individual children coming along and enjoying themselves with books, who we knew should have been in school. We had the attitude that they were at least doing something constructive with their time, and learning what they wanted to learn.

Sorry, this has diverted me from my main theme today, the Speak Up for Libraries Conference. It was  well organised with workshops in the morning to discuss questions to put to politicians prior to the forthcoming general election, to work out ways to activate library campaigners on the ground during the pre-election time and polarise what the Speak Up coalition (SUFL) can do. These workshops also served as a vehicle for people's frustrations at what was happening in their area, good to unload their feelings before the politicians joined us in the afternoon. The group that I was in came up with the following:

To politicians: "What would your elevator (lift) pitch be for libraries?"
                        "Will there be a postcode lottery for library services in the future"
We also felt that having library standards for local councils were necessary, and were interested in their viewpoint of volunteer run libraries.

For local campaigners:
                         Give all local councillors library cards
                         Educate local councillors in what libraries really do
                         Get councillors to justify library cuts
                         Attend council meetings when libraries being discussed
                         Send postcards to residents naming councillors who want to close libraries

The SUFL coalition should:
                         Aid  national co-ordination of friends of libraries groups
                         Collate information.
                         Be honest, and state positives as well as the negatives about libraries closing or being                          taken over

In the afternoon, three politicians, Green, Conservative and Labour, spoke about their party's position on libraries. UKIP had not been invited. Lib Dems had, but could not find a representative.

Martin Francis of the Green party spoke passionately about libraries being a neutral, social space which could enhance and change peoples lives. He stated that the Green Party considers libraries a public service not something that needs to have financial returns.

Helen Goodman MP and shadow secretary for Culture, Media and Sport (Labour), talked about statistics of closed and at risk libraries, suggested the government underspend of faster broadband put towards supporting libraries. She stated that Labour does not approve of putting out libraries “entirely” to voluntary sector. Believes in professional libraries.

Justin Tomlinson MP  Conservative, was chair of parliamentary library group. He also quoted statistics and said that libraries should be run by core professional staff, However, libraries need upgrading, should open longer hours and library numbers should be published. He did not appear to be very well informed about what libraries are actually doing.

The discussion included Digital Inclusion, which was supported by Green and Labour, but Justin said that libraries workers shouldn't be IT workers, they should have time to do their proper jobs. There was gasps and stuff from the floor, IT is so much part of librarianship these days. As for Secretary of State intervention to prevent library closure, Labour and Greens agreed that they should, and Conservative think that they should not interfere with local decisions. As for volunteers running libraries, Labour thought they may be a current necessary evil, Green was not clear on the situation and Conservatives thought that they add useful extra skills, but should not be the core of library function. One has to remember that they are politicians speaking to about 100 people passionate about libraries, they were not going to say anything contentious.  

The second part of the afternoon was devoted to the latest library reviews,Welsh Libraries and the Seighart Review of English public libraries. Clare Creaser gave a useful summary of the Welsh Libraries, which have library standards and the intention that a Minister of State can and will intervene to prevent library closure,


Sue Chateris gave an indication of what may be in the Seighart Review when it is published and Alan Gibbons gave a very socialist and impassioned speech about the power of libraries which made me realise that he is now much more a library campaigner than a children's author these days.

The day finished with drinks and some food at a nearby pub where I got to know Barbara Band, the current President of CILIP who appears to be a very dedicated School Librarian, so we already had a bond and Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News, a website that spreads reported news about UK public libraries which puts this blog to shame.

http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com   



This is a long blogpost to reflect a long day. I got home at around 11pm. I was pleased that I was there to take part in the debate, and I hope I now have the resolve to ask all politicians that knock on my door in the next few months "What are you going to do about libraries?". Please do the same thing.




Friday, 21 November 2014

What IS a Librarian? Yet More from Library Camp 2014

What IS a Librarian? I asked at the session which I facilitated at Library Camp 2014. Of course, being a librarian I knew what I was, and the jobs that I did, and the various roles and activities that other librarians do. My reason for asking was to try to find the refined essence of librarianship, the one thing that can be explained to people to show the special skill that a librarian has to have. Like a builder constructs buildings, a medical doctor treats ailments, an accountant looks after finances. There are many nuances to their jobs, but that is their raison d'etre, their reason for being, so what is a librarian's definitive description?

I hoped by the end of the session that we would come up with a sentence or short paragraph that can the define the main quality of librarianship that can be used on websites, campaigns, in literature, letters to MPs, anywhere that the real job of a librarian needs to be explained. In the end we came up with the thought that maybe one snappy definition was not necessarily enough, the phrasing needed to be suitable for the intended audience, but we only had a scant 45 minutes to pursue a basically philosophical argument. We did come up with a number of ideas that certainly identified the threads that make up the tapestry of librarianship, and some good sentences.

I did not do a statistical survey of the jobs of the 15 or so people that came along to the session, so I can't scientifically say that they were a randomised sample of library staff, but I do know that some were qualified librarians, others were not. Some worked in public libraries and others in academic libraries, but they all agreed about the following aspects of librarianship.
  • Librarians are a conduit of Knowledge
  • Librarians support and facilitate Knowledge creation in the community
  • Librarians engender empowerment
Those three statements on their own are powerful thoughts. They demonstrate that librarians deal with the flow of  knowledge from one individual to another. We all thought that there was an educational aspect to librarianship: a librarian doesn't know all the answers, but knows where to find them and can teach other people to do the same thing (information literacy). We realised that there is a spiral of knowledge creation, where a librarian is a key component: a librarian helps someone discover knowledge, the individual gains understanding and then can impart that knowledge, which is collected and distributed by a librarian. This bit really could do with a diagram, I need to think about this.

Meanwhile, here are some of the statements that were constructed:

"Our business is helping people access information"

"A librarian serves and empowers users and communities by sharing, facilitating and supporting access to knowledge and information"

"A librarian is a conduit of information who supports his/her users, and through sharing and facilitating this knowledge, thus empowers them"

"A librarian is a facilitator who supports the user and shares knowledge with information to empower and server their appropriate audience"

Well, I think there is enough there to show that a librarian is a Knowledge Broker. It is not all about books.


It's about anything that can contain knowledge: people, computers, images, maps, data, objects and artefacts, anything.


I promised the people who came to my Library Camp session that I would blog about the session and perhaps write something about it, so I am sorry that it has taken me a while to get around to it, but now I have I am inspired to go into more depth, and write that article.

Friday, 14 November 2014

An assemblage of reflections about Bookmobiles


"Bookmobile" is the very descriptive word that is used in America (and other countries) for a library vehicle that takes books and other library services around their countryside, towns and cities. Here are some links to articles where people reflect about their experiences, albeit some are brief, about book mobiles and what they are doing.

The first is a blog post that has stimulated a few answers:
http://www.thepassivevoice.com/10/2013/to-the-bookmobile-the-library-on-wheels-of-yesteryear/
I particularly like Rene's comment about her working experience in a bookmobile, and the short one by Edwin Mason. Perhaps he has now found one.

The second is from the Chemung County Library District blog:
http://ccldblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/the-ccld-bookmobile/
I love their nickname for this bookmobile and the fact that "you can't fail to notice it"

The third URL is rather more tricky to access, you have to go through a consumer survey before you are allowed to read the page, so I have copied and pasted the relevant article in case you don't want to do that. The article has interesting snippets of information about libraries in America. To make sure that the correct attribution is given, here is the URL:
http://www.shelbycountyreporter.com/2013/10/22/bookmobile-rolls-into-county/

Bookmobile rolls into county

Published 11:15am Tuesday, October 22, 2013
  
By AMY JONES / Associate Editor
It might surprise some of you to learn that the United States has more libraries than it does McDonald’s locations.
Or that 1.1 billion people go to the library every year, compared to the 204 million tickets sold to sporting events.
I consider myself a major bookworm — most of the time, I’d rather read a book than watch a movie or TV — so I know the lure of a great library, but those facts surprised even me. I learned those when I was touring the Digital Bookmobile, which rolled into Hoover to visit Spain Park High School and Hoover High School Oct. 17-18.
Both schools have their own digital library databases that students can access at any time with personal computers, tablets, smart phones or other electronic devices. Spain Park librarian Marnie Utz said when Spain Park launched its digital library last year, most students were immediately comfortable using e-books and audiobooks via their school-provided iPads, and were able to seamlessly go back and forth between the brick-and-mortar school library and the digital library to get whatever they needed.
As a Hoover Public Library card holder, I have really enjoyed diving into the digital world via e-books. I love having books with me wherever I go just by downloading them onto my iPhone — as much as I enjoy the feel of a book’s pages between my fingers, it is very nice not to have to lug those books around in my bag.
I’m sure Spain Park students also enjoy the lighter backpacks they get as a result of using iPads and digital books.
Bailey Hotujac with OverDrive, which distributes the digital books used by Spain Park in its library, said she sees the Bookmobile as just another chance to get kids excited about reading in all its different forms.
“Anything that gets kids reading, I’m a fan,” she said.
I totally agree. There are so many forms of entertainment jostling for kids’ attention these days — video games, TV, movies, the Internet, social media, etc. — that I fully support any method of getting kids to read, even if it includes a screen.
For more information on the Digital Bookmobile, check out Digitalbookmobile.com.
Amy Jones is the associate editor of the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at amy.jones@shelbycountyreporter.com.
- See more at: http://www.shelbycountyreporter.com/2013/10/22/bookmobile-rolls-into-county/#sthash.vkonENXo.dpuf

Friday, 7 November 2014

It being Friday ...

Well, despite my great resolve that Friday would be blogging day, I have managed to miss at least three Fridays in succession but I feel I had good reasons for each of those times. Last Friday was half term and because the other half teaches, I decided to have a "holiday" as well. In actual fact, on Friday he had to do the marking he hadn't got round to, so I consoled myself with moving the books around in my personal Library. I have a study where we keep most of out book collections and a couple of years ago I decided to "Dewey" it. not intensely or accurately, but separate the fiction and non fiction and put things into rough Dewey groups. Because of the configuration of the book cases, the Dewey was not in the correct order and more than one set of shelves had fiction and non fiction. I bought and constructed another set of shelves, and have sorted it all out into order. Well, not to the exact 000.00, but in the right groups of the classification, The 300 are social science, the 600's technology, etc. I wonder whether that can count towards an exercise for Chartership?

The previous Friday, I was having fun in Cambridge with the Grandchild, doing autumnal things, sticking leaves on paper, doing a magic wand making trail in the Botanical Gardens, playing on the swings IN THE DARK!, carving a pumpkin and making pumpkin cake. We put raisins in the cake which was good:

Grandchild to my picky eater daughter: "We made a cake, mummy"
Daughter: "Ohh that looks nice, what sort of a cake is it?"
Grandchild: "Raisin cake"

The Friday before that, however, was a much more solemn occasion, I attended a memorial service at Loughborough University for Dr Ann O'Brien, who was one of the lectures there in the previously named Department of Information Science. The department got swallowed up by the School of Business and Economics, which is where Ann continued teaching. However, her death was particularly sudden and traumatic for the school because she experienced a fatal heart attack while working late in her office one evening.

I had come across Ann right at the start of my PhD work, I wanted teaching experience and she needed an assistant to help with tutorials, so I worked with her to teach small groups of students about meta-data and mark their resulting essays. The lessons were meticulously planned, and she was always happy to share her study with me on teaching days. She passionately felt that students needed pastoral care, and to learn effectively you really needed a system of small tutorials where not only you could talk to students, but they could feel more comfortable talking to you. I still can hear her voice telling me "Oh Marianne, you're doing a grand job". She was so grounded and homely.

She told me that she had been an academic librarian in Ireland and as part of her work, taught students. Her evident skills at teaching and relating to graduates were spotted and she was asked to work as a lecturer. I did not know that she had also spent time in America as part of an exchange programme, had conducted and published a ton of research, taught Ted Nelson about meta data and with another Loughborough lecturer had sorted out the joint library management systems for the Oxford colleges. I have a book she "lent" me, I will always treasure it to remember her.

Friday, 10 October 2014

More about Library Camp 2014

To get some sort of order into my #notcurrentlyinafulltimejob life I have decided to adopt my work schedule of Friday being blog day. Which means that I can shift some of the blog lag that I mentioned last week and here is a fuller account of one of the Library Camp sessions. It was about the possibilities of Public Libraries breaking away from their council and becoming some sort of community interest library. I went to the session because for some months now I have considered that a local council in my area appears to be running down children's library services. There used to be a large team of children's librarians which has dwindled to just a few people trying to cope with lots of little suburban libraries as well as one main city library. I know that they are lucky to have children's specialists, as I found out in the PhD research many library services do not have any children's specialists at all, and my research proved that generally, services with children's specialists achieved a much better service for their under 18's than those who did not. However, I have thought that I could, with a group of children's librarian friends, make a far superior children's library service to the area. The problem with that is two fold, convincing my friends to start a business, and how to find the right sort of business structure to provide enough income not to make a loss. I think I have found out how to do it.

The Library Camp 2014 session was lead by Andy Sinnot about the way that the City of York Libraries split away from the council to become an Industrial Provident Society (like the Co-op) to become Explore York. I got really enthusiastic about what they had achieved and as you can see below I took copious notes, which I now have to interpret into some sort of sense to show my friends. (I realise now why I never managed to type up my lecture notes when I was a student. I think I have a very unique take on Mind Mapping!)

So, making sense of the notes below, York Libraries knew that something had to change and a senior manager supported the decision to become a basically different sort of organisation. The ethos of Explore York is that the library service is not pushed onto volunteers having to fulfil roles, if there is a job to be done, then that is a paid post. Volunteers are used as they should be, as icing on the cake, adding the extra special bits. The IPS (Industrial Provident Society) is owned by the staff (one third of the business) and individual members. It is run by a board of trustees, through a CEO, and there are staff representatives on the board. They have not entirely split away from the council, they have a somewhat symbiotic relationship at the moment. They library buildings are rented from the council, services such as HR and IT are bought back from the council (although that may change in the future). The library sells services back to the council, such as Adult Education classes. But, because they are an independent business they have discovered that their costs have dropped considerably because companies charge them less for things like buying a small bit of carpet. They are also eligible for applying for more funding and as a sort of charity they will be able to reclaim tax expenditure.

All this could not have been achieved without the support of the council, the enthusiasm of the senior manager, important legal advice and most importantly getting the backing of library staff. It will be interesting to watch how the service develops. I am seeing my friends next week, I wonder what they will think about my idea?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Blog Lag: Library Camp 2014 and FLA

Oh dear, this not having a full time job problem seems to be making me very lazy. A few years ago if I attended a conference I would blog about it straight away before I forgot anything, but now I seem to put off the blogging until I have done other tasks on my list list. My excuse for not blogging library camp 2012 straight away is that I had to go to Nottingham early on the following morning (early for a Sunday that is) and talk to librarians of Women's and Feminist Libraries at their regular gathering (FLA). My reason for not blogging about FLA is that I had to finish writing a paper to take to my ex supervisor/colleague/co-author in Loughborough University, and while I was there I managed to pick up some teaching work, then I have had to do some planning, and so on and so on. So, or I really should say Therefore, there were a lots of "so"s in that last sentence, to catch up quickly I am doing a brief blog about both, and I may well do some longer blogs about some individual sessions that I attended in Library Camp 2014.

This year Library Camp went to the distant climes of the north east, Newcastle, (upon Tyne) and it seemed that many of the plucky people from down South couldn't find the pluck to venture on such a hazardous journey, (my apologies to the person who got up at some unearthly hour of the morning to get there, at least you had the pluck) because numbers were distinctly down. However, the delegates that did attend were definitely from the brightest and best because an interesting and stimulating time was had, yet again. The conference format ensures that each year it is different and manges to produce session facilitators who are passionate and interested about the topics they suggest.

I went to one about an initiative called "Common Libraries" which are dedicated spaces that have the actives wanted by local people taught by the local people. The trade is in Knowledge, facilities and resources are provided for someone to teach a craft or skill and share it by writing down what how to make something putting a "maker kit" in a "maker box" which is borrowed by someone wanting that knowledge. The prototype is happening in Colchester. Then I found out about Community Interest Companies and Industrial Provident Societies (IPS) because York Library service has split with the city council and has become an IPS. This was very illuminating and shows how a library service can fight back, and the problems that councils have being run as councils (the quotes for supplying new carpet went down significantly after the library was not part of the council). I ran a session myself, trying to define what a librarian is and what a librarian does, so that will be blogged about separately. Finally, I attended a rather un unconferency presentation of "Dawn of the Unread". This is a fascinating concept being done in Nottingham to try to engage children with more reading. It is currently a series of one off online graphic novels about Nottinghamshire literary characters (Such as Byron Clough and DH Lawrence, Vampire Hunter) which have embedded links to other interesting stuff.

Other good things about Library Camp is meeting people who you would otherwise not meet, getting to see familiar faces again and above all the discussion with like minded people, and the hope that libraries will again struggle through the silly imposed cuts.

The FLA meeting was altogether different, just 12 of us, with two ladies from Japan. I was there to talk about Wikipedia Editing and the representation of women on Wikipedia. Women's and Feminist Librarians are very keen to make sure that notable women take their rightful place in history and that more women should edit English Wikipedia, as it appears to be flooded with young white American males (according to the Wikipedia Foundation). I found the gathering very illuminating, I have visited a Women's library, but I did not know about Feminist libraries. Feminist libraries are trying to document the history and development of the Feminist movement, with collections of music, books, images and oral histories.

All in all that was a busy but rewarding weekend, something to record in more depth for my Chartership portfolio. But now the other half is home from work, so I have to leave my trusty laptop and make his dinner! (actually, I am more of a feminist that that, and so is he!)

Friday, 22 August 2014

More about Wikimania 2014, London

Photo
Lakeside at the Barbican



I am squashing two days of Wikimania into this blog post, because by this time the events and experiences have merged and blurred because there were so many of them. It was also the weekend, and  being awake, up and about, talking to people, exercising my brain and learning before 11am was quite challenging to the constitution.

Saturday started well with a session of learning to edit. I am not a very proficient Wikipedia editor and the few little articles I have written have been produced with technical help from people better at it than me. Time for me to get this sorted, I decided, so I joined the workshop being run by user Rexx. He was very good, and now I actually have a user page and some more confidence to write something entirely under my own steam. Because I am a librarian, not to mention an author of an academic paper or two, I thought it best to find out more about the latest version of Creative Commons licensing (4.0). I heard two talks on that, both from "The horses mouth", people actively involved in the development and writing the licenses. CC 4.0 is more eclectic, it encompasses the laws of many countries and the wording has become clearer. It is also easier to make attributions to licensed work.

I managed to catch most of Jack Andraka's presentation, I missed the start because I was deep in conversation with a member of the public at the Wikimedia UK stall. Jack is the young man that had an idea of how to develop a test for pancreatic cancer because he had read some science articles that were available for any member of the public to read  through Open Access. Jack was a very engaging young man and a very confident speaker. The surprising thing about him, though, was that he considered himself very ordinary and that young people in America are engaged in inventing new things. He looks up to friend of his who has built a nuclear reactor in his parent's garage. This made me think that there is something very wrong in the British educational system. perhaps we do not have enough faith in the intelligence and creativity of young people?

The high point of Saturday, however, came in the evening when there was a mini version of the Edinburgh Fringe, but in London, with a Wikipedia themed comedy night. The performers were not just excellent comedians, but academics, including Dan Schreiber, a QI writer, Simon Singh, writer and mathematician, Dr Steve Cross of University College London and  others so funny that I have forgotten their names. I found this entertainment particularly interesting because the other half and I attended a stand up comedy workshop earlier in the year, when I started writing a few stand up minutes about being an information scientist. Steve Cross set up academic stand up comedy (called Bright Club), to help spread public engagement with science.
The "Sculpture Court", a peaceful courtyard in the middle of the Barbican just right for blogging

Sunday started with the media, Bill Thompson of the BBC talking about the rise of social media and citizen journalism, although he started with a phrase suitable for the Wikipedia themed comedy night "Freedom's just another word for something left to edit". Bill explained that professional journalists used to be the people who wrote the first draft of history, but now people using social media, twitter, blogs, etc, have taken their place. This means that professional journalist now have to be in advance of the bloggers, making the 0th draft of history, A new model of journalism is emerging, a sort of collaborative joint account of the world's events. He compared the concepts and premise of the BBC as being similar to Wikipedia, there is no advertising and education is a major remit of both. Both serve the public interest and he stated that he considers the BBC archive of broadcast programmes being part of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) community. The speech seemed to flow from one concept to another, but I think Bill's overall meaning was that the BBC is concerned with the free and open flow of knowledge, be it journalistic reporting over events, or of more educative and cultural programmes; science documentaries, well scripted drama's, promenade concerts, etc. and this is what Wikipedia is also concerned with.

The final  talk that I attended on Sunday was one about the worth of  face to face editing sessions. This was a panel discussion that appeared to be lead by a Wikimedia Foundation researcher who had found a great deal of difficulty getting Wikipedia editing trainers to report the sessions that they gave and to evaluate the impact of the sessions. Money is being spent on these sessions and it seems that most of the people who attend these sessions do not go on to becoming an editor, so is it worth doing? Some of the trained trainers in the room made the point that at least some more articles had been written or improved, which is always a bonus, that at least people know how to edit, and gaining more long term editors is not necessarily the point of doing the training. Other individuals said that they often show people how to edit Wikipedia in a less formal surroundings, because someone has noticed what they are doing on their laptops and want to know what to do. I used the analogy that the discussion was like educated people in the 6th century saying that they do not know why they bother to train boys to use quills and vellum to write and illustrate because few of them end up being monks and writing a decent illustrated manuscript. Meaning that it is the stimulation of literacy is important and that knowing how to do something does not mean that someone wants to do it all the time, or to a high degree of proficiency.

So, what I think about the conference as whole? I thought that the community village was a great opportunity to find out what is going on in different parts of the world, with Wikipedia chapters and with open access organisations as a whole. I thought the discussions interesting and thought provoking, and being the sort of person who considers that information and knowledge should be as free as the air that we breathe I felt inspired by the people who are fighting hard to make it that way. I also found it exciting that it was a gathering of people from all over the world who had come together peacefully with a common interest and made me hope that even in troubled times World Peace may just be a possibility.