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.   

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:
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:
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:

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
Amy Jones is the associate editor of the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at
- See more at:

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.