Monday, 19 December 2011

Last post

I began this blog almost 5 years and 317 posts ago. This is my last full day in the office before taking up my new job with the Arts Council, so this is my last blog. I won't go all retrospective on you. A big thank you to all my readers. I hope you found my musings on matters professional useful and/or interesting. Perhaps a new blog will arise for libraries in Yorkshire - who knows?

For now it's goodbye and all the best in the future.

Carl Clayton

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Cessation of the Sheffield Union List of Serials
Over the past year SINTO has conducted a review of SULOS in order to establish the value it offers within the context of today's enriched and developing resource discovery landscape. Opinion was sought from the wider SINTO community and this process culminated in a workshop focussing on resource discovery held in August 2011.

After the consultation process, SINTO has decided that SULOS no longer meets the community’s changing needs and that the value added by a physical union catalogue is not commensurate with the costs of maintaining and updating it.

SINTO members can now however access the new SINTO resource discovery landing page hosted by the University of Sheffield.

In particular, this provides details of serials holdings via SUNCAT, monograph information via COPAC & details of walk-in access to electronic journals.

The SINTO ILL scheme will continue to act as a cost effective means of obtaining documents from local libraries & the SYALL agreement continues to provide users with access to libraries in the region for reference & study.

For further information see the SINTO Resource Discovery guide.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Close to home

An important document of relevance to Public Libraries was published recently. It is the Equality and Human Rights Commission report; Close to home: an enquiry into older people and human rights in home care.

The report contains no mention of libraries and there is absolutely no reason why it should. It is not about libraries at all; and yet it is very relevant to the whole debate about the role and future of libraries.

Some librarians and library campaigners might even think that the report damages the case for libraries and provides ammunition for those who want to cut local authority library budgets. One argument that has been used by the leaders of local councils is that much as they would like to maintain funding for libraries they are forced to make decisions about priorities. The cost of providing support for the growing population of elderly people is a major and increasing part of the local authority budget and therefore they have no choice but to cut back on other, non-essential areas such as libraries. Libraries, they argue, are nice and may have widespread support, but the priority has to be looking after vulnerable people in the community.

This report makes it clear that there are many failing in the quality of home care for elderly people. The inquiry revealed many examples of older people’s human rights being breached, including physical or financial abuse, disregarding their privacy and dignity, failing to support them with eating or drinking, treating them as if they were invisible, and paying little attention to what they want. The inevitable and immediate conclusion is that more money should be spent on home care and that to find this extra money library budgets have to be cut. There is little doubt that many politicians, council officers and commentators will take this line.

Does this mean that librarians, and those who campaign in support of libraries, should ignore this report, or dismiss it as not relevant? I think the answer is no. We should pay attention to this report and think about what it means. For those whose job is to run public library services, or who believe in the value of libraries, we must not bury our head in the sand. This report demonstrates an important reality about the situation facing local authorities; a reality that we cannot ignore.

But I am not conceding that this report means that it is futile to fight for libraries. I believe that we need to develop library services that meet the needs of our communities and advocate for the value of libraries, and both of these can only be done with a full understanding of the reality of the situation facing local authorities. I don't think that we deserve to be listened to if we can't show that we fully appreciate the challenge facing our authority's social services department. Above all I believe that this reality strengthens our case.

By this I don't just mean that there are aspects of the library service that can benefit those receiving home care. There is a bigger and more fundamental issue.

This key message of this report is that it is essential that care services respect people's basic human rights. Councils need to take a holistic approach. It is not enough to provide care workers to wash and feed elderly people in their homes. They have to consider their needs as people and to recognize that they have basic human rights. Public authorities also have ‘positive obligations’ to promote and protect human rights. The underlying causes of bad practices are largely due to systemic problems rather than the fault of individual care workers and are caused by a failure to apply a human rights approach to home care provision. The report states;

"Whilst financial restraint is an inescapable reality, our evidence shows that some local authorities are still successfully finding innovative ways of doing things differently, rather than doing less of the same".

The report also highlights a clear need for supportive senior leadership on the central importance of quality, including respect for human rights principles such as dignity and personal autonomy, in the services commissioned. It warns that commissioning care should not be focused only on price.

I believe that this person-centred approach to decision making will highlight the value of library services as an essential and integral part of supporting the dignity and human rights of elderly people. It shows that cutting library services in order to fund social services not only does not produce a significant amount of cash but also contradicts the core goal of the local authority. Libraries are central to human rights and civilisation. You cannot have a human rights focus to care and not take account of libraries.

As I said above, this is the big message to be found in this report, but I will finish by enumerating some of the specific ways in which the public library service can contribute to the human rights of elderly people receiving care.

• Care is about quality of life. For many people reading is a key element of this.

• Isolation and loneliness. For some people reading can help reduce the sense of isolation. A visit from a home library service can be an opportunity for social contact. Getting out of the house is a major problem but if this can be overcome the local library could be a place to visit.

• Information. The report says that older people and their families need to have access to better information when making choices about care provision. The library can provide a range of information.

• The report goes on to say:

"Even when the information is available, it is often not easy to find, or easy to access. For instance, it is often online, although nearly 6 million people aged 65 and over have never used the internet: 42 per cent of those aged 65-74 and 76 per cent of people aged 75 and over. We were also told of information that is inconsistent, out of date or incorrect."

The role of the public library in overcoming the digital divide has been clearly demonstrated e.g. Brighton & Hove libraries winning the Guardian Public Service innovation & progress: transformation award for 2011.
• Support for care workers. The low pay and status of care workers is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed directly. However the training and development of staff is important. Libraries should be an integral part of the councils' staff development programme and can contribute by developing empathy with elderly people through fiction and non fiction.

Mattie's Poem

What do you see, nursie, what do you see,

what are you thinking when you're looking at me?

A crabby old woman, not very wise,

uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply

when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try?"

Who seems not to notice the things that you do,

and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will

with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.

Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,

as I use at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,

brothers and sisters, who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,

dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.

A bride soon at twenty-my heart gives a leap,

remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, I have young of my own

who need me to guide and a secure happy home.

A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,

bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,

but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.

At fifty once more babies play round my knee,

again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;

I look at the future, I shudder with dread.....

For my young are all rearing young of their own,

and I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel;

'tis jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,

there is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,

and now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain,

and I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years; all too few, gone too fast,

and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nursie, open and see,

not a crabby old woman; look closer - see ME!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A fable for our times.

A chief librarian is interested in commercial partnerships as a proactive and innovative way of responding to the economic challenges facing his service. One day he is contacted by a frozen food manufactures who say that they have a proposition for him, so he agrees to meet them.
A smartly dressed business man duly turns up at his office with an offer. They will provide a donation of £10,000 in return for product placement in a library book.
“What exactly do you have in mind?” asks the librarian.
“Well take Moby-Dick for example” says the businessmen. For £10,000 all you have to do is change the name of the main character to Captain Birdseye.”
“I can’t do that” says the librarian “it goes against all my professional ethics.”
“How about £20,000 plus a 10% fee for you?” offers the businessman.
“But Moby Dick is a classic – it’s part of the Western Cannon!”
“You drive a hard bargain - £50,000 plus a 20% fee”
I really don’t think I can...”
“How about we throw in a life supply of fish fingers?”
“Well, OK then, but I will have to win over my senior management team”
They shake hands on the agreement and the business man leaves.

The next day the chief librarian calls a meeting of his senior management team – professional librarians with a lifetime of service in libraries.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news” he begins. “The good news is that Birdseye have offered us £40,000 for product placement in Moby-Dick”
“And what’s the bad news?”
“We have to lose the contract with Starbucks”

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Business critical

I recently received an e-mail from the librarian responsible for training in a local public library authority saying that although she had booked four places on our Introduction to training skills course she would probably have to change this to 2 places. She explained:

"I'm really sorry but we have a spending embargo in place now and I can only authorise £250 - was £10,000. Anything over £250 now has to be authorised by our Deputy Director - and has to be deemed business critical."

Of course this is not unusual. The cuts are beginning to bite and whatever we think about the cuts we must all agree that if savings are to be made they should be in areas that are not essential. But how does this Deputy Director decide what is "business critical". Is training staff to acquire training skills critical to the core business of a library service today? When the DD makes this decision in a rational and logical manner (which is how all decisions in Local Government are made), what evidence will they use to inform that decision?

A starting point may well be the recent report from the Future Libraries programme - Change, options and how to get there. The clue is in the title. There will be change in libraries and they need to have the ingredients for generating change. One of these ingredients is the internal capacity to support change. As the report states "Human resource support is also vital …" (p21). Obviously, training skills are a central element of this.

Then the DD could look at the Arts Council strategic document Culture, Knowledge and Understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone - paying particular attention to goal 3 Museums and libraries are sustainable, resilient and innovative and goal 4 The leadership and workforce are diverse and highly skilled. They will note the emphasis on change and innovation, and the need of libraries to adapt to this. The DD will almost certainly highlight the sentence "We will encourage skills development, collaborative working and knowledge sharing, seeking to ensure that mainstream funding responds to the training needs of museums and libraries" and may well scribble "Training skills will help achieve this" in the margin.

Finally they may observe that Training Skills are included under Generic and transferable skills in CILIP’s Body of Professional Knowledge (BPK).

Of course, all these documents are external to this local authority and so may not indicate what is "business critical" to the organisation itself. For this the DD may turn to some internal documents. The library's own document on lifelong learning quotes David Blunket as saying

“Learning is the key to prosperity - for each of us as individuals, as well as for the nation as a whole. Investment in human capital will be the foundation of success in the knowledge-based global economy of the twenty-first century.”

It goes on to say:

"Both national and local Government objectives include creating a learning society where everyone is able to learn and improve their skills via lifelong learning. Learning is at the heart of the local community and fundamental to academic, social, economic and cultural development".

The DD will of course recognise that learning is facilitated by training and instruction.

Finally the DD will turn to the vision, mission and values of their own authority displayed prominently on the office wall which proclaims one of the council's goals to be:

"Striving for Continuous Improvement. This will mean the community would receive better care and their quality of life would improve. Employees will focus on efficiency and improvement and have a can-do attitude."

The DD will know that this is not just an aspirational statement! It means that any activity that contributes to continuous improvement - such as developing staff training skills - is business critical. So the application to send four members of staff on a training skills workshop will be approved.

On the other hand the DD might just think that saving £200 is a good idea.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

YLI Music and Drama Service

Yorkshire Libraries & Information has decided in principle to close the YLI Music and Drama collection and service as it currently exists. The press release says that "The reduced demand for the service across all 12 Authorities and the consequent fall in use and income has meant that the service is no longer financially viable in its current form."

The collection, based at Wakefield, comprises over 500,000 items of music and 90,000 copies of plays, making it one of the largest collections of performing sets in the UK. It is used by individuals, schools and music & drama groups in Yorkshire and Humberside, and also by organisations and groups outside the region on a pay per use basis.

YLI has set up a review team to investigate ways in which the collection could remain available to the public from April 2012.

Making Music - the organisation that supports and champions voluntary and amateur music groups and amateur musicians - has launched a campaign to stop closure of the service, Making Music is strongly opposed to this, as it will mean the closure of one of the most important public collections of music in the country. They say "We appeal to YLI to consider ways to maintain this vital community and cultural service, and welcome the opportunity to work together to ensure its protection for the benefit of the public".

Monday, 24 October 2011

In praise of the Big Library

: has Philip Pullman got it wrong?

Few librarians could fail to be inspired by Philip Pullman's address to the Library Campaign's conference. His passionate support for libraries and librarians expressed in such his speech "Consider the context" will surely rank as a key text for the library profession and we hope for society at large. It points out that there is a context to all this talk of "Save our libraries". Saving libraries, argues Pullman, is not about saving libraries - it is about saving society.

The speech was especially welcome coming as it did shortly after publication of a comment piece in The Telegraph by John McTernan. This questioned the need for libraries in a modern society; suggesting that rather like horse troughs they had served a useful function in the past, for which we should all be grateful, but were not needed today.

But despite that - or possibly because of that - we should not take everything that Pullman said uncritically. The bit that I want to take issue with is his statement "It would be far more sensible to close the big libraries and open even more small ones" I don't want to suggest he was entirely wrong to say this but to point out that we need to examine that idea in more detail.

First, in deference to the title of the talk, we must examine the context. The full paragraph reads:

This is why Brent and the other local authorities who want to close lots of small libraries in favour of fewer much bigger ones are wrong. It's a bad policy. It would be far more sensible to close the big libraries and open even more small ones. If Kensal Rise Library is still open, if Blackbird Leys in Oxford still has a library within walking distance of the people who live there, if hundreds of other libraries all over the country are kept open and properly staffed, then readers can reach pretty well any book they want to with the help of the inter-library loan system

To some extent the line about closing big libraries is a rhetorical riposte to the plan to close small libraries. It is based on the idea that many people need convenient local access to libraries if they are going to be able to use them. Pullman is also aware (as so many commentators on libraries are not) of the interconnectedness of libraries through the Inter Library Loan system).

The point I want to make is that there should be two elements. First there has to be a good library service and this is a function of size. There has to be a range and a depth of book stock. There has to be a sufficient number of library professionals with a range of specialisms. We need to offer a full range of activities and services to meet the diverse needs of our users. The service is not the same as an individual library building. It is not even the same as a library authority. As Pullman points out individual libraries and library authorities do work together to provide a service.

The second element is how to deliver this service to the people who desire to make use of it. As Pullman makes clear, many people, especially families with young children, will be unable to use the service if local small libraries are closed. On the other hand there are also many people (and John McTernan is probably an example of this group) who are unable to use the library not because of physical access but because the quality of the provision is not what they need. If the library does not offer the full range and depth of materials and services then they are just as excluded as the young child or family who can't afford the bus fares.

Pullman's point is that the network of small libraries is an access point to the larger service and so it should be - but as professional librarians we know this is not always the case. A dozen small libraries are likely to duplicate a fairly limited range of books and even a functioning ILL system does not completely overcome this. The user will not be exposed to the full range of titles on the shelves, there will be a delay in obtaining items and in some cases the user will have to pay a charge for obtaining books from outside the library service - undermining the concept of a free public library.

Large, modern central libraries can provide an in-depth book stock, specialist information services (e.g. business, science & technology, health etc.), a wide range of literature in English and other languages, specialist journals, archives, a range of activities, professional library staff and extended opening hours seven days a week. People who want and need these services will make a special journey to access the library. We are right to be concerned about those people who find physical access is difficult but I do not believe that we are doing ourselves or our customers any favours by not having these centres of excellence. Our communities deserve excellence as well as access and it is our responsibility to deliver both.

I believe in the concept of a big library. I believe that there is a synergy in a single large library that you do not get with a network of smaller libraries. Yes, I know that in theory you can go into the small local library and find what you want on the catalogue or with the help of professional staff, but it is just not the same.

Of course, what we want is both and I genuinely believe that the benefit to a community of such a library system far exceeds the cost. However, we all know that many library managers are being faced with the reality of having to deliver a quality library services with inadequate funding. I believe that as professionals we do need to come up with a realistic way of maintaining a service in the face of unreasonable cuts and that keeping a large number of small libraries open is not of itself better than a smaller number of bigger libraries. First develop the service, then deliver it as appropriate.