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http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/the-future-of-the-library.html

We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now (most of the time), the insight and leverage is going to come from being fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.

Seth Godin recently posted a (mostly sensible) post about the future of libraries, and on the whole, his assessment was reasonable, and well thought out.  However, one thing struck me, and I have quoted the sentence that concerned me above.  One thing I really love, as a library user, is the ability to take stuff home with me.  I don’t want to sit in a library looking at a computer, and I know how to find information.  I’m quite open to the idea of e-books (I don’t have a reader yet, but when I upgrade my phone…).  But right now, my best value item from the library is a language course.  I pay a small fee to hire a course in Swedish from the library.  It has all I need – tapes (yes, some of us still use those relics of the eighties), books and most importantly, I can use it in the places that suit me – my car and the staff room at work.  I know this could be done digitally, but…

1) I’d have to make sure my MP3 playing device was compatible with the library’s chosen system.  I then have to transfer all the data onto it, and because I like listening to lots of music too, I never have much disk space, so this needs doing every few days as I work through the lessons.

2) I’d have to download the books onto a device and hope the battery life, as I am a fan of an all-in-one type device such as a smart phone, is long enough to cope with both the reading and the listening.

3) I’ve not yet seen an e-reading piece of software that is actually nice to use for reference.  Linear reading, sure, but flipping backwards and forwards between the index, the grammar reference and the lesson notes?  Well, I don’t think e-books are really made for that yet.  Maybe one day, but I’d be impressed.  Essentially, e-book readers are limited by the fact they present one screen – it’s not unusual for me to read this type of book (and this goes for any book with a reference section) with my fingers between the pages, flicking back and forth.

I absolutely agree with Seth Godin about the quick reference, finding information side of his argument – that has been largely replaced by online information, which is easier and in many cases better that the print version.  But I am concerned that it misses some of the advantages of physical materials for more in depth learning – language learning being an obvious example.  Lifelong learning is not, as I see it, about how quickly you can find facts, but a much more flexible and enriching process.  Sometimes an online resource is the best place to access that learning, but I am not at all sure that it works for everything.  Certainly in the case of Swedish, I love being able to supplement the course with conversation – over the internet – with a friend.  But I think it’s this blend of resources, and the understanding professional librarians develop about appropriate formats, that makes libraries such valuable resources in the community.

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Wiltshire Libraries have been rather slower than some authorities to announce cuts.  They’ve taken an approach of rationalising their management structure before tackling the frontline services.  As I understand it, some levels of management have been removed, and this will represent part of their savings.

Last week they made their proposals public.  Helpfully, their press release went on the website on Friday, giving you a grand total of one working day (today) to peruse the documents (library report p.46-73)  before they are discussed by cabinet tomorrow.

They are proposing:

  • To install RFID for book issues to reduce staff time in processing books
  • Rationalising opening hours (seemingly to make them consistent across the county, although the impact on my local library will mean that the time I visit every week would be cut.  Unless I volunteered to staff it.)
  • To support 10 community partnership libraries (i.e. volunteer run).  This is not the worst council proposal I’ve seen, as there is evidence that these would be supported by central professional staff and a volunteer coordinator.
  • To maintain the 21 largest libraries.

On the whole, this could have been a lot worse.  There seems to be a commitment to supporting services across the county.  But it makes me nervous that they are cutting evening services, and while one or two of the smallest libraries might work well (in the Buckinghamshire vein), there are a couple (Lyneham springs to mind) which are not taking into account the local situation.

No doubt this will kill my weekly routine if they close at 7pm (I’m not always home in time to go any earlier), and I have already expressed my concerns about volunteer run libraries.  But overall, they seem to have taken the most pragmatic route available with the current ideology-led cut frenzy the coalition are inflicting on our public services.  Let’s hope the council approves the RFID investment.

With large budget cuts for public services imminent, a lot of discussions have been taking place across the web about the value of public services, including libraries.

Personally, I love my local library and use it weekly, with my family.  But when I come to defend the library service, it always seems rather wishy-washy (“It’s really important to me”).  I can think of examples of good things, but essentially, I am a reader, and can’t afford to support my book habit on my own.  I don’t have enough space or money.  So, I thought I’d see if I could work out exactly what value for money I get from my local public library.

My library service has a function which tells you which books you’ve borrowed recently (previous six months).  So, I copied the list, and researched the list prices of the books (I realise there are often discounts, but it can’t be guaranteed).  I deleted the books I didn’t actually read (a little less nagging from my toddler would have resulted in more browsing time at the library to eliminate titles I wasn’t so interested in), and added up the total.

All in all, I have read or used £698.50 worth of books from the library.

Half a year’s council tax (for the council that provides my library service) is £475.39.  So, I have had an extra £223.11 worth of reading materials, and my rubbish collected into the bargain.  Not to mention that my family have also borrowed books on their cards.

Even better, anybody else could have used the library service and derived similar value from it.  It is not a service which can easily be monopolised by a few users!

A while ago, a Career Development Group West Country Division committee colleague asked me if I was going to the New Professionals Conference.  I replied that I wasn’t, because I find it weird to think of myself as a ‘New Professional’.  A short discussion about anyone being welcome accompanied this chat, but it got me thinking about why I don’t class myself as a New Professional, despite meeting the criteria.

(A new professional is defined as someone who has entered the profession through work or study in the past five years.)

I started my library career in 1999, with many good intentions of applying for a Masters once I had my experience.  However, Real Life kept popping up and interrupting, so when CILIP introduced Certification (ACLIP) in 2005, I took the opportunity to get closer to Chartership.  So, I achieved my Chartership in 2008, and have since started my MSc by distance learning.  All of which means my career has been a bit topsy turvy.  I’ve created a timeline:

Career Timeline

(timeline created using the template cited at the bottom of this article)

As is obvious, my career has certainly been busier of late, but new it is not.  Even though, technically, I am at library school.  I think this one of the things I often find with the “entered the profession” part of the definition is that having taken the ACLIP route, it’s really hard to pinpoint when I actually moved from paraprofessional to professional.  Is it when I received my ACLIP?  If so, I am not in the New Professional bracket any more.  Is it when I started actively pursuing Chartership?  If so, I am in the NP bracket for a year or so more.  Is it when I Chartered?  If so, I am firmly in the NP category.

All in all, I just don’t feel all that new – I’ve worked in several sectors, and generally feel I have something to give back when newer colleagues ask for advice.  So I’ve joined the LISNPN, but still not sure if I fit the bill.

Wittwer, J.W., “How to Create a Timeline in Excel” from Vertex42.com, Sep 2, 2005, http://www.vertex42.com/ExcelArticles/create-a-timeline.html

So, recently there have been a number of discussions about how CILIP should be involved with the media.  I thought it was about time I said something about why I value CILIP, and what it means to me.

(I should disclose that I did, for a few months in 1999-2000, work for the previous Library Association)

CILIP is not without its flaws.  For one thing, the name doesn’t help – it’s really not obvious to anyone outside the profession what we do.  Also, I think it seems quite internally focussed a lot of the time, when perhaps a more external remit would be useful.  But on the whole, I feel my CILIP membership is really good value for money.

I did lapse in membership during 2004.  The reason was simple – paraprofessional membership of CILIP did nothing for me with my employer at the time, and without the funds to undertake the master’s degree, I felt unable to justify spending money on it.  However, with the introduction of a new route to Chartership in 2005, I immediately re-joined and gained my ACLIP.

Since then, CILIP has gone on to develop a huge number of services that keep me interested in paying my fees:

1) Special Interest Groups.  Over my years of membership I have at various times been a member of eleven different groups, reflecting changing interests over time.  I love that you can become part of these groups, and the networks they can generate if you involve yourself in them.  They are exceptional value for money (less than a pound a month to add extra ones).

2) Access to online journals.  Quite recent, but something I use most weeks if I want to know about research in a particular area.  Despite having access to two academic library collections, this is still a great resource and ensures I have access to experience and research in relevant areas.

3) Support from CILIP HQ.  Whether it is a general alert of discussions on Twitter (e.g. @CILIPInfo), responses to queries about qualifications, I have always found CILIP staff to be encouraging and helpful.  Useful articles in Gazette / Update and information in salary guides/job descriptions are also valuable tools for my career development.

4) Communities.  I don’t use this often enough, but occasionally I do manage to get online to access the communities section.  And every time I do, I wonder why I don’t use it more often.

5) Chartership.  I still feel proud of my achievement of becoming a Chartered Librarian.  Chartership as a concept is widely understood – people recognise that a chartered professional will have achieved a certain standard.

I think to remain relevant for us members in the future, the key thing that CILIP should be doing is convincing employers they need qualified library professionals and paraprofessionals.  When membership of CILIP is important to your employer, it becomes important to you – if employers see CILIP as optional, then chances are their employees will too.

KPMG Report P.19

Today, it has been highlighted by several people on Twitter that the above report has made some shockingly naïve assertions about public library services.  Now, whilst some of the points are not without merit in terms of libraries aiming to be vibrant places at the heart of the community (and succeeding in many, many places), their assertions about how this could be achieved are laughable at best.

1)  “they are more discretionary than other services”

I think you’ll find that providing a public library service is a statutory requirement.  And most library services far exceed these requirements – my local public library was a lifeline when at home with a new baby by providing jiggle and rhyme sessions for babies and toddlers.

2) “charity shops often have waiting lists of volunteers wanting to help them with book sales”

Of course.  A couple of hours a week, helping to organise three or four bays of shelves?  Nice.  Even a mobile library will have a stock of three or four times this size.  And stock management isn’t just a case of whether a book is in suitable physical condition.  Is it current (or is the medical information in it so far out of date it is now considered dangerous)?  Should a worn out copy be replaced, or should the money be spent on new stock?  What should be bought?  Of course no stock selection policy is perfect, and there will always be mistakes of judgement – that’s life.  But people who are chartered information professionals will also be ensuring they are reading the professional information and keeping up to date with trends – could a volunteer make this commitment?  Perhaps, but it would not be common.

3)  “much of the public space in a library is badly used storing infrequently used books”

See point 2.  This problem (which is not, by any means, universal) is exacerbated by using untrained staff.  Information professionals are familiar with criteria for selection and editing of stock, but also have experience in deciding how to proceed with a particular title.  Should it be kept to ensure the stock meets a broad range of needs and interests?  Should it be sent to a central store as a request-only title?  Could it be displayed more attractively?  Is it correctly filed, or does it need re-classifying?

4)  “The level of community resistance to closing a library is usually disproportionate to the level of local usage”

This is, in my experience, quite true.  However, when libraries are targeted for closure, they are seen as a wider range of public service cuts in smaller towns and villages.  It’s not just the library, but “they closed our post office”, “they closed our school” etc.  Librarians looking at options for improving the services in these areas can be drowned out by protestors unwilling to engage in consultation processes, and by councillors unwilling to risk failing to be re-elected by making an unpopular decision.

Many smaller libraries have very limited opening hours, and only provide the basic level of library service.  Recruiting volunteers to run these libraries run the risk of further reducing opening hours (no incentive to turn up at all), lacking the training and experience to seize opportunities to keep the library at the centre of the community and ensure its stock is suitable.  Not to mention that libraries have become the kinds of places where every member of the community is welcome, making them a lifeline for some of the most excluded sections of society.

I’m not against volunteers in libraries, on the contrary, I believe they add value by providing extra facilities and services which might not otherwise be possible.  I think training volunteers to work in specific areas can bring a library to life e.g. supporting children’s activities, contributing to stock displays, delivering books to users unable to visit in person, giving talks, organising book groups (or any other kind of group), and many more ideas!  But entrusting the running of a statutory service to volunteers will only result in the further degradation of problem areas and an inconsistent, unreliable and ultimately futile service.  And that would be a real shame.

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