Monday, 29 October 2012

Bright Star Mobile Library: an example of a little vehicle

I have recently come across people who have a narrow concept of a Mobile Library, thinking that they are all large, expensive vehicles, but that is not the case. Here is an example of small, but perfectly formed, and very effective mobile libraries

Bright Star Mobile Library – Give2Asia

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Librarycamp12: Yet another conference (or unconference to be precise)

I really wasn't sure if I wanted to go to Librarycamp this year. I had enjoyed the first one last year, and indeed the regional one in Manchester. But I was apprehensive this time, because so much has happened to libraries this year, with public libraries closing, funding being withdrawn, everyone tightening their belts and I could see no positive outcomes that had happened as a result of the first Librarycamp. I was also a bit dismal about the lack of response to my job applications, or the responses of "We have had so many candidates of a high quality..." I know that there are a lot of librarians out there looking for a very few jobs. I thought that the atmosphere would be all doom and gloom. I was very wrong.

I returned home that night, very tired but also in a much cheerful mood. The sessions that I attended were positive and provided their own immediate outcome. The subjects discussed were all different from last year, with different facilitators (at least the ones that I went to were, there may have been duplications). Everyone there was in a good mood and contributed to the discussions in a positive way. My only complaint was that the day started at 9am, and for reasons that can't be revealed in this place, I found it very difficult to get there so early on a Saturday morning. I will just say that it had something to do with airports and collecting someone late night/early morning. I therefore missed the first set of sessions, and didn't pitch for one myself (I managed to hi-jack a few later though).

My first session was the one about the happiness index and libraries. I have an interest in the subject because one of my talks, or workshops, is about "How libraries can make you happy". Unfortunately I didn't glean very much from that session, the discussion did not flow, and we never managed to settle how libraries could monitor their effect and show benefit from measuring happiness. It is a very subjective and abstract idea, especially as  the happiness survey is a quantitative online survey based on few questions. Perhaps it was a hard topic to tackle.

The second session I attended was about the problems associated with opening research collections to the public. Over the past two decades or so, while I have been studying or studying and working, I have thought that it would be really useful if I could access academic libraries more freely. Also, while standing in the library for my University I have thought "This could be a wonderful resource for the Town, why don't they open it to the public?" It seems that Universities and research intuitions now realise that they are getting tax payers money, and maybe those tax payers would like to see what they are paying for, and they mean more that just digitising their collection and putting it on the web. Initiatives that are already happening include a travelling archival display that is touring Wales, various co-operative schemes between academic and public libraries, and the Ultimate in Co-operation, the Hive in Worcester, which is not only a building that contains many council facilities, but also has integrated the public library and the academic library, both collections being shelved together and one ticket for all users. What I also found inspiring is that the Hive contains a large display area that exhibits materials and expertise from the libraries, archive and archaeological sectors to a three monthly changing theme.

My next session was collaborative. It was about storytelling in Libraries and most of the people who came to that session are practitioners. The idea of the facilitator was to share experiences and we did. I talked about storysacks, we sang some songs, talked about most requested Rhymes, and then realised that one amongst us had come along because she thought we would be talking about storytelling from a knowledge management point of view, She stayed because she was enjoying herself. That session was fun, and practical, I have come away with more ideas to use in story sessions. There was just the glimps of a suggestion that perhaps there should be a storytelling camp. Perhaps it could be arranged.

The following session was about repairing books, which wasn't quite a practical demonstration, but almost. I would love to go an a book restoration course and there were many helpful suggestions of places that run courses, demonstrations on youtube and a shop that sells supplies. There was a little discussion about the worth of repairing a book as opposed to buying a new one, which of course would depend on the cost of the book in the first place, and how easy it is to get a replacement  We deviated slightly into the use of old and discarded books into art objects, and were informed about the "library of lost books" which is a project for artists to use the books that have been discarded from Birmingham Library because of its rehousing. I realised that I could practise on my own collection, I have a lot of old books and I collect things such as ladybird books and Victorian children's novels. Definitely a positive outcome from that session.

The final session was really inspiring, it was like a call to arms for all librarians, to go outward into the world with all their skills and be librarians in every situation. I found out about the American Librarians that call themselves Radical References, who started by supplying information to protesters at a Republican party conference in 2004. They have gone global, with Chapters in various parts of America, the Boston Chapter supplying information to Occupy Boston. Another enterprising Librarian takes leaflets and information on planes, being the "Inflight Librarian". The facilitator of the session is herself an "itinerant librarian", taking poetry into clubs in the early hours of the morning. She believes in "Going where people are". One of the group worked with scientists and he told us of plans to do "Science Busking": demonstration of experiments in a shopping centre. the whole idea is that a librarian doesn't have to be attached to a place with walls, the collection could be information on a USB stick, or a bag full of books or leaflets to come out at the right time. My conclusion to this is maybe I should go around with a selection of storybooks, or take gardening books down the allotment (actually, taking them to Gardening Club may be a better idea).

The best bit of the day was being with like minded people, and the chance to meet them in the between sessions time. I look forward to next year's National Librarycamp and the surprises that it will bring.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Thoughts on a Good Book

It is perhaps ironic that I am having thoughts about books on National Poetry Day, but then poems are published in books, so maybe it it a relevant sort of post to do. (This was started yesterday, but finished today). I was recently invited for a job interview, which makes a bit of a change, most of my job applications are resulting in nothing except a curt "Sorry, we have too many applicants and we are not shortlisting you" sort of reply. Sadly, I didn't get the job, but I suspect that I was not the sort of person that they were looking for. For instance, the first question I was asked was "Is there such a thing as a Bad Book", and I have been thinking over that concept ever since the interview. I suspect that although the question was open, allowing the interviewers find out more about each applicant, they were looking for someone who would tell them what was a bad book. 

As a trained librarian, a teacher of children with Special Educational Needs, and further more as a Doctor of Philosophy, I had to answer that "no, there is no such thing as a bad book". I went on the explain that even the Argos catalogue may inspire some children to make the first steps in reading, in order to decipher the strange symbols to which some people add sounds. Any book is good if it can prompt literate behaviour. When I came home I thought about what I really should have said (and the alternative reply certainly wouldn't have got me the job anyway).

A book is an inanimate object and can neither be good, nor bad, because it does not have a sense of morality. A book just is. You can say that a book is written badly, or contains concepts that are considered immoral (bad) by a certain society, but that is the fault of the author, not the book. A book may be interpreted in a certain way and cause a bad effect. One that springs to mind is Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. On the other hand, a book can have a positive influence on people, for example The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel, which  described the injustices done to the working classes. It appears to have been a book that inspired many a socialist politician. Of course, if you are not socialist, then you many have a different point of view about the book.

Which leads nicely to the thought that books are simple objects that hold a quantity of words. The words were put there from the mind of a person (or if co-authored, the minds of persons!) who used the words to describe the ideas that their imagination produced. these ideas are someway linked to the author's experiences, either real or researched for the book. The reader, however, interprets the words in their own way, according to what ever experience they may have.  A close friend of mine, who we will call Edith, relates a tale about a book the she bought for her sister.  Edith bought it because she had read it and had enjoyed the story of the relationships of the main characters. The sister read the book and passed it to their mother who also read it. When the three of them got together, and talked about the characters they found out that they each had a different idea of the what the characters looked like and the nature of the relationships. Edith commented "IT was like we had read completely different books". The act of reading a book engenders feelings inside the reader which they interpret as "bad" or "good"; the book itself is neutral.

Other aspects can influence the readers opinion. The print is too small to read easily, not enough pictures, too many pictures. It may be too large to hold or too small and fiddly to turn pages. The smell may be objectionable, it may have come from the home of a smoker, and smell appallingly of cigarette smoke to a non-smoker. Some people do not like handling a well used second hand book, because they think that it is dirty. A crisp new volume may smell and feel delightful. A book, after all is tactile and sensory experience and all humans differ in the sensory experiences that they like or dislike. In other words, for any book as an object, there will be people who describe it as good, or bad.

So, I have just had a thought, maybe the interview question should have been interpreted as my personal opinion of a bad book, and I should have listed the points that I do not like in a book. this would have given the interview panel an idea of my personality. However, I am a trained librarian, and teacher and a Doctor of Philosophy, therefore I know that my petty prejudices about a certain book or author does not give me the right to dictate those feelings to other people and censor their reading. It is for those others to decide for themselves. Whatever are the feelings, a book is merely a book and words are just words, quality and morality is supplied by readers.