Thursday, 20 December 2007

Business informatiom

This will be my final posting for 2007 so Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I started this blog in February and my hit counter statistics indicate that I get about 10 views on average every day during the working week. This is not overwhelming but does indicate a moderate level of interest. If you do find the blog of interest, please spread the word.

But this is a working blog so let's get down to business - the SINTO Business Information Newsletter to be exact. I have just published issue 30 for December 2007 and distributed it to my mailing list. here are some of the "highlights".

A free online advice service aimed at small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs, has been launched recently. The new service, funded by the UK government, aims to improve the success rate of British businesses.
The site will offer impartial, expert advice to businesses and provide access to a comprehensive library of resources, including an online community for businesses and entrepreneurs to network and share knowledge.
The online panel will include former dragon in the BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ and Chairman of Library House, Doug Richard and Al Gosling, founder and CEO of The Extreme Group.

Business Information Blog
ADSET Business Information Blog (no relation to the Adsetts Learning Centre) is aimed at small businesses and carries regular postings about a range of business related news stories. It seems particularly good on news about new legislation.

Translation on-line
Barbara Verble provided a list of online translation services in Freepint.

* Omniglot
* FreeTranslation
* WorldLingo

See you next year.
Carl Clayton

Thursday, 13 December 2007

SINTO and you

This week I have been involved with two events. On Tuesday we ran the first of two Promoting Reading courses with Anne Harding. This attracted children's librarians from public libraries and school librarians. Then on Wednesday the Career Development Group Y&H ran Your Guide to Chartership at Sheffield Hallam.

At both events I was able to say a few words about how SINTO could be of help to individual librarians. SINTO is of course a co-operative of library services and much of what we do is aimed at organisations - but I do like to remind people that SINTO can help them as individuals with their own Continuing Professional Development. This applies to staff who are on the CILIP Certification or Chartership route and also to anyone who is revalidating or generally wants to develop their professional skills.

There are two main areas where SINTO can help. First there is the programme of training and CPD events. We run events that are related to the training needs of librarians (as identified by our Training Group), are reasonably priced and are local. Information is available on our website.

Some concern has been expressed about SINTO marketing courses directly to individuals rather than through the libraries. There is an understandable concern that SINTO might raise expectations which the library is not able to afford and that individuals might ask to go on courses that do not fit in with the training needs of the organisation. However, all professional staff should have their own Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP) and be using this to identify their training & development needs. They should be activley looking out for seminars and events (as well as other training opportunities) and discussing this with their training officer or line manager. There is not an open ended commitment for your employer to meet all your needs especially if these relate to your future career progression rather than the immediate needs of your job, but there should be a dialogue. In addition many individuals accept that they should invest in their own CPD and may want to purchase training for themselves.

The second area where SINTO can help is in the use of Web 2.0 tools to develop a community of practice. The value of the SINTO wiki and blog is that they provide a wider view of the profession. In the Chartership seminar several speakers stressed that Chartership candidates needed to show a breadth of professional knowledge and understanding of the wider professional context. A common reason for failure was that candidates appeared to be too parochial and not aware of what was happening beyond their own library. And this applies to more senior professional staff as well. Everyone should be aware of what is happening in other sectors and at a regional or national level. The SINTO wiki provides a forum for librarians to share information and engage with others while in my blog I try to provide a local perspective on general professional issues.

Individuals are very welcome to use these tools. Contributing to these sites can be used as evidence of professional commitment. You don't have to speak on behalf of your library service; although you should always be acting in a professional manner in anything you do say. Make it your New Year's resolution to get involved with your local community.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Look here, upon this picture and on this...

I am always looking out for contributions by local librarians in the national media and today I have discovered two very contrasting examples which illustrate the complex issues that are facing our profession.

In Information World Review Issue 241 December 2007 there is an article Is virtual a virtue in scholarship? by Daniel Griffin. This looks at information literacy and in particular the work of Sheila Webber of the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield. Sheila talks about using Second Life as a learning environment and how the University now has a Second Life island where she (or her avatar Sheila Yoshikawa) can run conferences and workshops. She also describes the new University of Sheffield Information Commons building as a "great resource".

Meanwhile in the Independent on the 6th December, Gill Johnson, former head of service at Doncaster Libraries, has written a powerful letter highlighting the problems facing public libraries. She write:

The situation Hermione Eyre describes in her piece on public libraries (1 December) is happening all over the country as public library services come under ever more extreme pressure in terms of resources. The role of professional librarians is being downgraded and in some places staff are no longer allowed to have that title, being subsumed instead into generic "managers".
The new libraries are being marketed like bookshops, and that most important role for a public library, of holding a backstock of out-of-print and less popular items to respond to readers' requests, is being sacrificed as space is given over to coffee shop franchises etc. Book funds for new purchases are an easy target when a local authority is looking for savings.

So we have academic librarians expanding into new real and virtual accommodation while public librarians are facing cuts. It is easy to say that academic libraries have always been better funded but the point is that universities fund their libraries/resource centres because they recognise that they are central to what the university is trying to achieve. They support the teaching/learning goal of the university and they are a marketing tool for attracting students in a very competitive environment. Local authorities, and society in general, tend to see public libraries as being 'nice' but not essential.

Perhaps it is a case of academic librarians being successful in making their case while public librarians have failed - but it has to be a two way dialogue and I suspect that the fault lies with the decision making process as it operates in local authorities. Local councilors might recognise the importance of promoting reading to pre-school children (at least when a busty blond celeb is involved) but they find it difficult to champion or even understand the holistic role of libraries and information in their communities. Combined with the absence of any top-level support from DCMS or MLA, as Gill Johnson points out, it is no wonder that this sector is struggling.

My opinion is that the whole structure of public library provision needs to change. Local authorities should provide bright and attractive services points with coffee shops, internet access and a limited range of books. These should be supported by regional libraries that hold a collection of out-of-print books but also act as an access point for electronic resources - together with the information professionals providing an enquiry service. These regional libraries could develop close links with local university libraries and might even be co-located. They could also have a virtual presence (in Second Life or whatever) so that people could access them from the local service points or from home.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Dolly Parton

Photograph from The Star

In a desperate attempt to get more people to read my blog I decided to illustrate it with a picture of the photogenic country and western star Dolly Parton. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be relevant to the topic of librarianship in South Yorkshire!

Ms Parton (we are not on first name terms) visited Rotherham to promote her charitable Imagination Library project. The scheme involves posting a book every month to all pre-school children. I don't know very much about the scheme but apparently the local community is responsible for purchasing the books and postage costs. The Dollywood Foundation then takes over responsibility for sending them out.

Dolly Parton's visit gathered a great deal of publicity - far more than literacy promotion scheme generally get. Rotherham deserves credit for this publicity coup but it will be interesting to see what happens next. Is this just a celebrity-led flash-in-the-pan or will it be integrated into the reading promotion work that libraries are already involved with? Meanwhile rumours that Dolly will be appearing at the forthcoming SINTO training events on promoting reading to teenagers are exaggerated.
There is a bit more information available on the Rotherham website and I hope to have more next week.

Science Learning Centres Resource Bank

Last week I attended the CILIP Y&H member's day at the National Science Learning Centre, York. While I was there Emma Jones gave me a quick introduction to their Resource Bank and she has kindly provided the following information.

Science Learning Centres Resource Bank

The Science Learning Centres Resource Bank was quietly added to the Science Learning Centres portal last year and can be accessed from the ‘
Resources’ link on our homepage.

It has been populated with a broad selection of resources: from a large array of examples of how science stories are reported in leading newspapers, websites with useful teaching resources such as: Atmosphere, Climate & Environment: Information and teaching resource (includes practical information sheets and related fun games and puzzles), through to details on a group of Wellcome Trust funded projects titled ‘Creative Encounters’, that have found innovative ways to communicate about science with young people.

A number of collections form the Resource Bank:
The Agenda: policy and white papers related to the Science Education community and professional organisations
The Exchange: resources created by and for teachers that can be edited or reused
Science Links: web sites and pages of interest selected by Science Learning Centre staff and our users
New collections will be available over the coming year for Controversial Issues and Creative Encounters

Browse for resources by Subject, Age range, Audience type, Collection or any combination of these. Keywords can also be used to help you locate a resource quickly. A full text search option finds keywords when used within a resource (on a webpage or in a PowerPoint for example).

If you have a favourite site or resource you have created and would like to share it, all registered users can contribute resources to both ‘The Exchange’ and ‘Science Link’ collections.

All contributed resources under go a Quality Assurance process, before being added to the Resource Bank and are tagged with learndirect and Curriculum Online vocabularies to enhance their ‘findability’.

Creative Commons Licences can be assigned to user contributed resources – the licenses (copyright statements) let others know how you as the contributor would prefer the resource to be re-used and distributed.

Once your resource has been published you can view a list of all your contributions and share the link to this page with your colleagues.

We are looking at ways we can improve the Resource Bank to make it more accessible and useful to our users. New developments coming online over the next year include: improved page layout for search results and resource details; opportunities to share your thoughts on resources with a commenting feature; a ‘bookmarking’ tool: find resources on the Internet and quickly add them to your Science Learning Centre’s Portal personal area and choose whether to share them with others through the Resource Bank.

Find the Resource Bank at:
A short online guide describing how to contribute is available at:

More on Creative Commons at:

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

eep - the educational evidence portal

Julia Reed of the Department for Children, Schools and Families has sent me details of an online resource dedicated to and for educational professionals. The educational evidence portal, eep, aims to provide practical evidence and research materials to underpin practice and policymaking. Documents from leading education organisations have been collated in one, easily accessible, searchable site making information and evidence on a wide and ever-growing range of topics freely available.

This will be an important resource for libraries providing information about education but should also be a resource for many librarians as our work overlaps with and is influenced by education. I did a quick search using the keywords 'promoting', 'reading' and 'libraries' and found a number of interesting documents. This included the text of a speech launching the National Year of Reading although the document contained no details of who had delivered the speech, when or where. Still, evidence based practice is the name of the game and this site should prove useful.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Guest Blog. Barney Mynott, MLA Yorkshire

This weeks guest blog is from Barney Mynott, Head of external relations, MLA Yorkshire. Barney addresses the important issue of advocacy.

The recent good news from the Comprehensive Spending Review that Renaissance, the programme to make major regional museums fit for the 21st Century, will continue to receive funding in line with inflation tends to overshadow other important work of MLA Yorkshire.

Just a few weeks ago the Big Lottery Community Programme for Libraries funding was announced. This programme was developed jointly by MLA, SCL and Big Lottery. In this region over £8.3m was awarded to successful library services. This compares to the £3.5 million that Yorkshire museums got from Renaissance in this financial year. Yet Renaissance hogs the headlines.

So why is there this seeming imbalance between museums and libraries? Is it because of the Political clout of major national museums, is it because museums offer better visual images for the media or is it a result of libraries being part of a local government structure whilst museums are run in a variety of weird and wonderful ways.

Maybe most importantly for us, how do libraries move up the political agenda alongside museums?

If we are to engage with politicians we must talk their language and their priorities. We know politicians from all parties are interested in getting greater use from the network of local libraries. This is the territory where we can engage them.

At this point there is always a debate about whether we should follow political agendas or lead public debate. At MLA Yorkshire we take the view that this argument is missing the point, the main fact is that to justify public expenditure we must be delivering what the public values – as reflected by politicians.

We use the politician’s interest to engage them in our work on libraries & business and libraries & health. We can then move them into other areas where libraries are delivering value such as skills and literacy. The Year of Reading is another major opportunity for us to show politicians the value of libraries.

All of this will also help with another major piece of work MLA Yorkshire are engaged in, by raising libraries profile we put ourselves in a stronger position to get libraries properly recognised in Local Area Agreements.

Barney Mynott
Head of External relations, MLA Yorkshire

Facebook Group for CILIP Y&H

At the recent SINTO course on social computing we covered the popular social networking site Facebook. As a result I signed up and created my own Facebook page to see what value it might have for librarians.

Most of what happens on Facebook is about personal networking which is great fun for those involved but not really relevant to the work environment. It is easy to see why many employers ban staff from using it at work.

A search of facebook groups with the keyword "librarians" produces over 500 hits. Many of these are trivial but there are a number of serious groups aimed at librarians e.g.:
  • Library 2.0 Interest group
  • Librarians and Facebook
  • Libraries and Librarians

Looking at these I found them of some interest but not focused enough to be a useful CPD tool. Most of the members are from the US - nothing wrong with that in itself but their experiences are not always relevant to the UK.

There is a CILIP group that has been set up by members rather than Ridgmount Street. And recently Andrew Walsh has set up a Group for the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch of CILIP.

I'm not sure if the library profession is quite ready to make use of social computing tools. Many librarians lack easy access to a PC at work and lack the time to devote to networkingat work. (And the inclination to devote time to it at home). We also lack the culture of using such tools for networking and professional development. We are not very 'clubable' and many of us expect CPD to be done to us in a formal setting rather than seeking out learning opportunities.

However, things change. I wish the CILIP Y&H Facebook Group well and hope that it is successful.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

2008 Training Events from SINTO

The SINTO office together with the SINTO Training Group (and input from the other Groups) has put together a programme for the first part of next year. Here is what we have on offer:

Advanced Copyright with Graham Cornish (19th February). What can your users copy? What can you copy for other libraries? What can you copy from the Internet? How can you protect your own copyright? What has changed since you last went on a course? If anyone can make copyright understandable (and dare one say enjoyable?) then it's Graham Cornish.

Assistive Technology for Libraries (4th March). There are a range of technologies and tools designed to make life easier for people with disabilities and remove barriers to access. This halfday workshop will look at ways of improving access to library materials for your users. It will cover ways of making pages and documents on computers more readable and devices to help people with visual or hearing difficulties.

The Deaf Community; Awareness Raising (25th March). Presented by Richard Stacey, Deaf Awareness Consultant (who is himself deaf) this course will improve effective communication with deaf adults and show the way in which they live in a Deaf world and how this may affect their interaction with others. When this course was run last year it was not very well attended but all the participants found it very useful and were keen that it should be offered again.

Effective Enquiry Desk Work (18th April). The ability to successfully answer reference enquiries from users is one of the key skills for librarians and this cours will provide practical help for improving this skill. Tim Buckley-Owen has delivered two previous SINTO seminars on this subject which were fully booked.

For further details and to book places go to the SINTO website.

Dancing with wolves

This is a bit of self-plagiarism. The following piece was published in the City Business Magazine Dec/Jan 2005/6 issue. This magazine is circulated free to SMEs in South Yorkshire.

This is a tale from North America. A young Native American boy wants to put his courage to the test so he asks his grandfather to take him into the wild forest. They enter the forest and the old man leads his grandson deep into its heart. They come to the edge of a clearing and peering through the leaves the boy sees that resting in the clearing is a pack of wolves. These creatures are notorious for their size, fierceness and cunning. His courage seeps away and the boy trembles in fear, but when he turns to his grandfather he sees that the old man is calm and relaxed.

Then something disturbs the pack. They get to their feet and slink off into the undergrowth without a sound. The clearing is now empty and peaceful. The boy regains his courage and turns to his grandfather with a smile on his face - only to see his grandfather shivering with fear...

The moral of this story is that in life - or business - the real dangers that threaten us are not the things we know about but the things we don't know about. More information can help reduce these "unknowns" but we inevitably concentrate on the "known unknowns" and forget about the "unknown unknowns" - the wolves that we don't know are there.

One solution is to conduct an environmental review - to examine the environment in which your business operates in and look out for the wolves. A memory aid for this used to be PEST = Political, Economic, Social and Technological, but this has now been inflated to SEPTEMBER - Social, Economic, Political, Technological, Environmental, Marketing, Buying groups, Equilibrium of power and Regulatory.

Whatever acronym we use we should sit back every so often and scan the environment. And if we don't see any wolves we should ask ourselves "where are they hiding?"

Monday, 26 November 2007

CILIP YH Members' Event

Dave Pattern

On Friday I attended the CILIP Yorkshire & Humber Branch Members' day at the National Science Learning Centre, York University. The programme kicked off with a presentation by Dave Pattern, Library Systems manager who gave a barnstorming presentation on Web 2.0 - it's OK to play. In this he gave a taster of the wide range of sites and services that are available in the wonderful world that is Web 2.0 and provided the links to encourage the audience to go out there and try them out.

It was a comprehensive (if at times overwhelming) introduction to the subject and an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to know "what is this Web 2.0 thing all about?" At the end of it all the audience may have been asking "what is the point of it all?" but that is another issue.

Dave has provided a listing of links and a link to his presentation on his blog.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Bob Usherwood guest blog

I am very pleased to present the second of my guest blogs.

Bob Usherwood is Chair of SINTO and Emeritus Professor of Librarianship, The University of Sheffield. He was President of the Library Association in 1998. His new book, Equity and Excellence in the Public Library: Why ignorance is not our heritage, is published by Ashgate.

A prior engagement prevents me from attending next Monday’s meeting of the CILIP Reading Group where people are to use Michael Gorman’s excellent text, Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century, as starting point for a discussion on professional values. If recent events are anything to go there is a need to reassert these in British librarianship. Some quite senior members of our profession have been doing some rather foolish things. For example, a board member of the MLA, the person responsible for leisure provision in a county that once had a much admired library service has publicly questioned the need for fiction in public libraries. A MLA official, the Head of Library Policy no less, later told politicians and others attending the PLA Conference that requirements for professional qualifications “stands in the way of public library development.” Meanwhile some academic librarians are disposing of books at such a rate that academics at one university suggested that the library should be renamed “the ‘Al-Nite Ready-Text Café’”. At the same time, several public library services are planning to stuff their books with advertising leaflets.

This is an advertising initiative thought up by an outfit called Howse Jackson Marketing and is presumably the kind of thing that one of the newly announced Top 10 New Librarians was thinking about when she suggested that librarians should learn from the commercial world. Some others among these new faces enthused over running karaoke sessions and organizing “a live gig”. These are not activities that are in short supply and rather than simply replicating such events, these obviously enthusiastic and committed new professionals might consider what else they could do to promulgate their ideals. It might be a truer reflection of our enduring values to ‘spare a though for the adolescent…who nurtures a passion for Mahler rather than Manu, for Austen rather than Austin Powers’ (Williams 2000). Such people, and their older counterparts, are less often served by commercial providers and in meeting their needs librarians provide a unique service to the individuals themselves and to the wider society. There is a great deal for the CILIP Reading Group, and you to consider. Your comments will be welcome!

Williams, A. (2000) The dumbing down of the young consumer. In Mosley, I Ed. Dumbing Down: Culture, Politics and the Mass Media Thorverton Academic 253-255

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Roy Clare guest blog

In a new development for Sintoblog I am pleased to introduce a guest blog by Roy Clare CBE, Chief Executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Roy was previously director of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Formerly a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy he commanded the Aircraft Carrier Invincible and the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

After hearing him speak at the MLA Yorkshire Big Day event I asked Roy if he would share a few thoughts with members of SINTO:

Of all the activities that the MLA Partnership will be undertaking in the coming year, our work on public libraries will be uppermost. The Year of Reading, 2008 affords an opportunity to raise the profile of public library services. Stimulated by the new environment surrounding local government, the MLA Partnership will be taking forward its action plan and will communicate aspects of it in the very near future. In this context, we foresee a need to engage the public in conversations about the vital future role for public library services. Together with a wide range of professional and funding partners we can show how these services already help to engage and strengthen local communities, stimulate enjoyable learning for all ages and encourage informal participation by the young. The need for efficient and effective library services appears to be growing, not abating, with demographic changes bringing new users and fresh demands. We should invite the public - users and non-users - to contribute to the debate, so that the views of those who consume public library services and participate in their programmes are heard clearly and can help to shape the future. The MLA Partnership will also contribute to research to identify good practice, innovative ideas and new skills and, in turn, we will collaborate with sector skills councils and others on ways to build the capacity of the workforce. This is a dynamic agenda and one that the MLA Partnership looks forward to sharing, not least with the library profession, library users and other colleagues and stakeholders."

Your comments on this are very welcome.

Friday, 9 November 2007


... to libraries in Yorkshire for winning funding from the Big Lottery Community Libraries Fund.

Sheffield has got over £1.4m to help create a new community library and learning centre in Parsons Cross. The centre will accommodate a range of community organisations and provide classrooms, informal teaching space, IT facilities, meeting rooms and flexible activity and performance space for community use.

The current Mowbray Gardens Library in Rotherham will be remodelled and extended with an award of over £1.1 million to include an inspirational space designed and managed in partnership with children and young people. The project will improve and increase the range of library services and improve the capacity to offer opportunities for learning.
Rotherham has launched a community project to help design the new library.

In Leeds, Garforth Library will use a £1.4 million grant to build a state of the art extension creating a new exciting library and information hub. With the extra space the library will offer a wider range of services and learning opportunities and develop partnerships including a One Stop Centre and Credit Union. A mobile exhibition trailer will also be purchased to take collections of books for basic skills, English language learning materials for speakers of other languages, health collections and local interest materials out into the community.

Awards also went to Bradford, North Yorkshire and Calderdale.

MLA Yorkshire Big Day

Yesterday I attended the MLA Yorkshire annual gathering at the National Media Museum, Bradford. The theme of Big day 5 was "making a difference" - how museums, libraries and archives make a difference in our region and how MLA Yorkshire and the MLA Partnership can help.

Professor John Tarrant, Chair of MLA Yorkshire and speaker at the SINTO Members' Day began by pointing that that we had to be able to show that we were making a difference - to provide evidence. he pointed out that libraries, for example, were no longer the self-evident sole source for resources. Instead our role is as mediators between users and resources - but we have to be able to show that this is so.

The meeting then looked at how the sectors could contribute to the London 2012 Olympic Games and the Cultural Olympiad.Tessa Gordziejko is the Creative programmer for Yorkshire and outlined the three core values of Welcoming, Youth and Legacy. Isobel Siddons, Policy Adviser, 2012 programme at MLA introduced the Setting the Pace programme. This has 5 themes, International Exhibitions (Stories of the World); The People's Record (capturing life stories of people's engagement with the Cultural Olympiad and games); The Record (developing an archive of the Games); Literature and Storytelling (to inspire young people by celebrating London and the UK) and Information Hubs (showcasing the cultural wealth of London and the regions through engagement with non-accredited media).

Roy Clare, the recently appointed Chief Executive of the MLA spoke on the future of the (MLA) Partnership and partnership in general. He highlighted the need to show the impact of what we do and stressed the need for innovation, sustainability and knowledge & skills development.

Other presentations were given by speakers from Arts Council England, Key Fund Yorkshire and Yorkshire Forward. Caroline Flint MP, Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber spoke about the importance of culture in making a difference to Yorkshire.

The Open Forum returned to the issue of providing evidence for what we do. Echoing the theme of an earlier posting on this blog it was argued that we needed both hard evidence, that could be compared across time and with other areas, and anecdotal evidence that provided stories of what people can achieve through museums, libraries and archives.

So does the MLA Partnership make a difference to what we do as librarians? Someone commented to me that the emphasis on partnership begged the question of why all these organisations were separate in the first place and had no formal mechanisms to bring them together. A warning was given about working in silos and there is a feeling that after many years we are still trying to get our voices heard and our contribution recognised at a regional level. Nothing, however, will be achieved just by complaining about it. The Big Day does provide a forum that brings significant players together and provides an opportunity for librarians to network and lobby. It was perhaps a pity that there were not more heads of service from our region present.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Social Computing Two

We ran our Social Computing Two course yesterday with Stephanie Taylor. In my introduction I mentioned a headline in CILIP Update to the effect that anyone who does not engage with Web/Library 2.0 should resign from the profession. I said that was a bit OTT, but any library service that does not get involved with this is in danger of falling by the wayside.

Stephanie introduced the small but keen audience to social networks, social bookmarking and tagging. She presented examples of these and explored how they could be used by libraries and librarians. There was plenty of opportunity to explore these applications at first hand. Staephanie also set four case studies as exercises. These looked at supporting a public library book group, supporting a group of psychiatric nurses, supporting a library enquiry desk and some problems that might arise from use of social computing. A fuller write up of the course will be provided on the SINTO wiki and everyone interested in this topic is welcome to use this page as a community of interest.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Customer feedback and social inclusion

Anecdotal evidence of what people think about libraries has to be treated with care. As a performance indicator it would be much better to have a figure for the percentage of users who rate the library as "satisfactory" or whatever and then compare the trend for this over several years and with other libraries. Figures could be compared for different age groups or ethnic backgrounds and from this hard management data can be obtained to inform the planning of services.

Anecdotal evidence on the other hand is "soft". It can provide instant feedback and produce a "feel-good" or "feel-bad" response but it is more difficult to extract data that can be used by managers. However its impact should not be underestimated. Good feedback can inspire and motivate staff and it can be a powerful tool to alter the perception of a service among decision makers. Bad feedback can cause alarm bells to ring much more effectively than a slight drop in a percentage figure.

Sheffield Libraries has published more customer feedback from a recent 'Post-it notes' exercise "What does your library mean to you? Comments include:

  • Centre of the community

  • My children and I have made friends

  • Fulfils my curiosity and desire to learn. Without libraries life would be pointless and dull.

  • I wouldn't have achieved these results in my studies without the valuable assistance of librarians.

  • Helped me rebuild my confidence after a nervous breakdown.

These comments show how libraries contribute to wider "quality of life" issues that are important to local authorities but hard to achieve.

On the down side, I mentioned in my previous post comments I had received about libraries and the Deaf Community. My corespondent has provided further information:

"While I am Deaf, I am very highly literate and so able to use the library fully. I saw for myself the difficulties and barriers Deaf people face for themselves while going into libraries, one says to me - "The library is not for me - it is for hearing people - what's there for me?" - this is just one comment being made to me. I could go on but that will do for now!"

Librarians might respond that libraries provide books and that books can be used by deaf people so what's the problem? The key however is the word Deaf with a capital D. The word deaf indicates lack of hearing while Deaf refers to the Deaf Community - a minority group with its own language (British Sign Language) and culture. See the SINTO wiki page for more details. I think that the complaint here is about a lack of material in libraries in this particular minority language or about this culture.

It may be that the complaint is that libraries are not sufficiently socially inclusive of the Deaf Community - but that brings up a subtle point highlighted recently by Kevin Carey in the October issue of Managing Information. Kevin criticises A Blueprint for Excellence by John Dolan for promoting a social inclusion agenda. His argument is that libraries shouldn't promote any government agenda. Instead they should be completely neutral. He suggests that if libraries promote social inclusion, we might in the future be expected to line up with government policy that was not so liberal. He says that the role of libraries is "giving customers the materials to encourage them to be rampant individualists and leaders of the anti government awkward squad".

I think that Kevin's mistake is to see social inclusion as only a government policy. Some librarians have been promoting social inclusion, often using different terminology, for many years. This is because they have recognised that the quality-of-life benefits that libraries provide are often restricted to certain sections of society and exclude other groups. Social inclusion in libraries is not about promoting the interests of certain groups - that is government policy - but about removing barriers so that everyone can become 'rampant individualists'.

(Photo. Tree in grounds of Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent. Carl Clayton)

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Community of practice

I have had a rush of comments to my blog recently - well three to be exact!

Mark Clowes of Sheffield Hallam University picked up my posting about the radio programme on Dewey. He says
"if you're interested in the tension between formal classification systems like Dewey and the new folksonomies of Web 2.0 I highly recommend you read David Weinberger's excellent book "Everything Is Miscellaneous - the power of the new digital disorder". This is a useful reminder as I have been meaning to read this book for some time. If you check out Mark's profile you will see that he contributes to a number of specialised SHU blogs.

S Gibson posted a comment to an old posting about libraries and the Deaf community. He says" At the moment, for me and for many members of the Deaf community, the library is not Deaf friendly and hence many Deaf people do not go to libraries at all. This needs to be addressed". Mr Gibson publishes e-books for Deaf people in English and British Sign Language. SINTO is planning to repeat the Deaf community awareness raising course in the new year.

Finally Sheila Webber commented on the photograph I used in my posting Bottom of the league, saying it made her smile. This is praise indeed as Sheila's blog on Information Literacy which was recently featured in Information World Review (October 2007) is well known for its pictures. Today's picture is of the Amazon rain forest - or possibly the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.

Feedback is nice and I also hope that it indicates that my blog and the SINTO wiki are developing a local Community of Practice for SINTO members. I think that is possible to define a SINTO community that links together librarians from different organisations and sectors united by their common geographical location. Of course, in today's virtual world people can take part in communities of interest with others anywhere in the world and a community based on geography might appear to be old-fashioned. However I believe that a local community is of value. Our users are, on the whole, located in this region and it would be a pity if we had close links with professional colleagues on the other side of the world yet none with colleagues in the same city. A local community can also encourage serendipity. We may unexpectedly encounter a new idea by networking with colleagues from different library backgrounds which we would not get from subject specialised communities.

In other words, whoever you are, all your comments are very welcome..

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A Dewey Decimal

I listened today to a Radio 4 documentary about the Dewey Decimal system. It looked at the basic structure of the system and how it reflects the world view of its inventor Melville Dewey. It then contrasted this with the networked and more flexible approach of the Internet. On the whole it was a disappointing effort - not least because sections were linked together with a shushing sound and the noise of a date stamp! We are promised that the BBC cuts will result in fewer but better quality programmes. This sort of filler for the morning schedules will not be missed.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Social Computing Two

Stephanie Taylor, an independent trainer, has run two courses for SINTO on Social Computing. These have been introductions to wikis, blogs and RSS feeds and have proved to be very successful.

On the 6th November Stephanie is running Social Computing Two which takes the study of Social Computing (or Web 2.0 if you prefer) further. In this course she will be looking at tagging, bookmarks and social networks. These are tools and techniques that people use to organise information, and information professionals need to be familiar with these. Stephanie provides a very user-friendly introduction to this subject which is useful for anyone who feels that they are being left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

An important part of Stephanie's courses is that participants don't just get the one day of training. You also get an on-line follow up session and access to a social computing wiki page about the course. This wiki page will also be set up before the course so that you can find out more about the course and indicate what it is that you want to learn before you get there. You will find this page here.

If you want further information and to book for this event please contact the SINTO office (0114 225 5739) or go to our web page.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Bottom of the league

Tim Coates has been publishing league tables of public libraries based on the average number of loans per resident. He is using the 2005-6 CIPFA statistics.

His choice of this statistic is itself at the heart of Tim's polemic about what libraries should be all about and many librarians reject this as the central indicator of our achievements. However, it can't be an insignificant indicator of how well we are doing and the news for our are is not good.

For the Metropolitan authorities in our area the results are:

Sheffield 4.8 17th
Doncaster 4.6 21st
Leeds 4.1 28th
Rotherham 4.0 29th
Wakefield 3.6 33rd
Barnsley 3.4 36th

Rankings are out of 36.

For the Counties
Lincolnshire 5.7 22nd
Derbyshire 5.6 28th

Rankings out of 34.

For comparison, the top three ranking authorities are Shetland (8.8), Orkney (8.7) and Southend (8.1). The bottom four are Camden, Stoke on Trent and Inverclyde all on 3.0 and Lambeth on 2.7.

So not very good for our area when compared with what other libraries can achieve. Sheffield just makes it into the top half of the table, everyone else is firmly in the bottom half if not the bottom quarter of their table. There are probably a host of very "good" reasons for this poor showing and most of them will be outside the control of the library staff but the fact remains that a lot of other library authorities do better than us on this particular indicator. The positive customer feedback they I commented on before is very encouraging but are people's expectations of the service too low?

Friday, 5 October 2007

Bits & pieces for Friday

Gaudi's Casa Batllo, Barcelona.

I have mentioned before how Youtube is a source of unflattering images of librarians so it's only fair to draw attention to a more positive video. Experimentarium for Children from Aarhus Public Library is a video about a consultation with children on the design for a new library. It's a very well produced programme combining animation with live footage. The soundtrack is Danish with English subtitles. It is hard to imagine that many of the ideas put forward by the children could be put into practice. One wants a combined bookcase and climbing frame while another wants the library to include a pond and a bonfire! Still it's nice to see young people thinking of a library as an exciting place to be.

Unfortunately Derbyshire did not win the 2007 Love Libraries Award - it went to Lancaster's Get it loud in libraries project.

I hate to think what the "red top" media might make of it but I was interested to see that Sheffield Hallam University Learning centre has recently been developing a collection of video games and an Interactive Media Resources Room (IMRR) in the Adsetts Centre to support students studying courses in game design, animation and development. Yes - students are sitting there playing video games as part of their course! The video games industry is an important employer and video games deserve to be considered as creative works of art as much as films. I don't know if SHU is planning to build up an archive of out-of-print games for historical research. Perhaps they will want my collection of games for the Dragon 32?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

More of what they say

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has produced a pocket book to disseminate the key findings from the families love libraries campaign. Why families value libraries is a postcard-size format booklet with bullet-points, quotes from users and "cute" children's illustrations.
The findings are hardly surprising. What families love about libraries are
  • friendly and welcoming staff
  • free activities and events
  • access to fast computers, books, DVDs, story tapes and information
  • opportunities to meet other families in a local, trusted, community space

The point is that this publication is not meant for librarians. Its intention is clearly to send a strong message to decision makers about the value of public libraries to families with young children. No doubt, MLA has sent copies out to various organisations. Hopefully, heads of service have also obtained copies and have sent them to the elected members, senior managers and community leaders. As a profession we often complain about the lack of good quality advocacy of libraries and here is something that we can make use of.

What I would like to see is library staff being encourages to take a more evangelical approach to promoting libraries by using this sort of thing. It's a bit like those people who thrust religious tracts at you in the street or on your doorstep. Library staff could give copies of this booklet, or something similar, to friends, neighbours and relatives who have children. Anything that maintains a high profile for libraries must be good.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

What they say about us

It's always interesting to see ourselves through the eyes of others. When it comes to how outsiders see libraries ans librarians this can be uncomfortable - especially when outdated or unflattering stereotypes are used. Youtube is always a good source of deeply unflattering representations of librarians. A recent example is The Librarian Dialogues which features a staff meeting in a US public library where four "librarians" bicker about the minutia of running a library. As far as I can see, it is completely pointless, not very funny, not satirical, not even a training aid. Someone has created some two-dimensional caricatures and is trying to raise a laugh by making fun of them.

That is not to say that humour can't be found in the portrayal of the peculiarities of the library world. Stuart Maconie is a broadcaster and journalist well known for his work on Radio 2 and other stations. he has recently published Pies and prejudice: in search of the North - an exploration of the landscape and people of the north of England. Stuart admits to a love of libraries:

"I love libraries. As a kid I practically lived in Powell Street Library in Wigan, devouring everything from Norse myths to football reference books to Richmal Crompton's William stories to books about Romania, a country I was strangely fascinated by...

"Public libraries in the afternoon attract a certain kind of melancholic misfit whom life, it seems, has somehow passed by. I don't know if this is a good description of me but I do like a nice public library of an afternoon."

Later he visits Oldham Library and Art Gallery, as described in previous postings.

"Gallery Oldham turns out to be pretty marvellous. A classy bit of modernist steel and glass in the midst of tat and run-down Victoriana. It's the only library I've ever come across which seems to have a nightclub inside. It was taking deliveries of crates of those flavoured vodka drinks (for people who don't like alcohol but want to get utterly trashed) and seemed to be called Rude or possibly 365. A large banner proclaimed 'IT''S ALL ABOUT HOUSE MUSIC'...

"Inside, pretty much all of the actual galleries are closed but I'm starting to get used to this kind of minor disappointment. The girl who politely explains that I can't use my wireless laptop link because I'm not a library member has an accent that's broad 'Lanky' with an exotic descant melody in Francophone, a pretty winning combination, I have to tell you. I begin to ask increasingly redundant queries just to listen to her voice. Nearby, an elderly lady is asking about a local history book on an Oldham factory: 'I do hope you have it. Both my grandfathers worked there.' Sadly they don't but she reserves it for 80p. 'Can it go to Lees library? I live there, you see.' In the Local Studies section a loud cheery man seeks help in his quest to investigate his Irish roots. 'My grandfather was born in 1818. But that's all I know. Would you do the research for me?" With unfailing courtesy the librarian points out that he has to do the actual research himself but that two nice ladies from 'the Society' come in every Wednesday from two till four. Also, she gently advises that the marriage certificate he's brought with him is in fact a death certificate. 'Green one's marriage, love, black is death.' As I travelled around the north, I saw hundreds of these small everyday acts of kindness and they never failed to cheer the spirit and make me quietly proud. Some of the clichés about us are true. We are friendlier and more helpful. And if you don't agree, we might glass you, of course."

Sheffield Libraries, Archives & Information have just issues a special edition of their Staff News to mark National Customer Service Week. This features some of the nice things that have been said about the service recently:

"Sometimes services in our city do not get the thanks and acknowledgement they deserve - one such service is Sheffield Libraries... we have found the staff to be exceptional in their kindness and helpfulness, nothing has been too much trouble for them, so would you, on our behalf make sure they are aware of our gratitude"

"Sheffield libraries are brilliant, so are the staff. Much better than in ..... where I come from"

"Using the books and Internet in this library helped me pass my exams. Thank you"

"I am 72 and have just learned to use a computer. Thank you so much for your patience and help. Marvellous"

"This must be one of the most helpful places in Sheffield. It's always a joy to come here"

"Libraries can always help where others fail"

None of this must blind us to some of the serious problems that we must deal with. Nor must we ignore the "silent majority" who don't use of library services - perhaps because they have had a bad experience in the past. But we can celebrate our successes. If anyone else has similar feedback from other library services in our area please let me know.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Business Information

For some time now I have been producing a Business Information Newsletter. This comes out roughly every month and contains snippets about sources of information that may be of interest to businesses or business information services. I produces it as a Word document and e-mail it out to a mailing list of subscribers. It is free of charge to existing SINTO members and anyone can be added to the mailing list on request.

This newsletter is in effect a blog and I have been thinking of merging the two but for the moment I will continue to produce it in its present format. However I will include some extracts in this blog.

The current issue (No 29 October) has a theme of business information about other countries:
  • Onkosh is a search engine portal which specialises in finding anything in Arabic or Arabic-related in English or French.
  • Freepint recently had an article on sources of information about China.
  • The International Monetary Fund produces a bi-annual World Economic Outlook database containing macroeconomic data for individual countries.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Workforce development

Workforce development is not an exciting topic and as far as I can see no other library bloggers are spending much time on this . It can be defined as the process by which organisations recruit and develop the workforce that they will need to deliver services to their users/customers. I attempted to provide an introduction to this topic back in February.

The problem is that it is a long term and strategic process of concern to the directors of organisations and not seemingly relevant to the day-to-day concerns of staff at the coal-face. However I feel that the decisions that are being made now could have a fundamental effect on the whole nature of librarianship in the future and at the very least we should be aware of what is happening.

Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) is developing a Sector Skills Agreement and as part of this process has produced a discussion document - Developing Solutions which contains 10 proposed solutions to the skills needs of the lifelong learning workforce.

The first thing to note is that the libraries. archives and information services workforce (LAIS) has been grouped with community learning and development, further education, higher education and work based learning into a Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council. So are librarians part of a lifelong learning profession? The concept sits easily enough with HE and FE librarians. Information professionals in business may not initially see themselves as being involved in lifelong learning but it does fit in with the idea of a 'learning organisation' and alongside work based learning practitioners. Public librarians can also see themselves as being involved with lifelong learning and public libraries as 'street corner universities'. However in most local authorities, libraries are grouped with cultural services and staff from other cultural services will come under the Creative Culture Sector Skills Council. Is this split helpful?

When we look at some of the proposed solutions a pattern emerges:
  • 1 Explore the options for 'professionalising' all parts of the lifelong learning workforce
  • 2 Development of an integrated CPD framework and model for the lifelong learning sector where appropriate
  • 3 Develop a 'skills for learning professionals' qualification framework
  • 6 Develop sector wide career pathways

This could suggest that in the future new entrants will not be librarians but lifelong learning professionals and that their careers might span teaching and librarianship. The report does begin by pointing out that "Although these 10 solutions are proposed for the whole sector and are UK-wide, their implementation will vary according to the nation and/or constituency group". However, as Angela Abell points out in the current CILIP Update (October p9) "While some organisations are obvious employers of the LAIS workforce, many members of that workforce are employed by organisations where they form a minority. The employer representative would not automatically consider their needs when engaging in 'demand-led' activities." In other words the future of the LAIS workforce is being decided by people with little interest in or understanding of our profession.

Other solutions proposed do reflect the needs of the library profession:

  • 7 Develop a knowledge bank for IAG professionals [career advisers]
  • 8 Recruitment programmes to address specific shortages in the lifelong learning sector
  • 9 develop a UK wide Leadership and management strategy
  • 10 Develop the business case and resources to support the use of technology in the sector, particularly relating to information learning technology (ILT).

Another piece in Update reported that library sector employers had expressed concern about current shortcomings in the customer service competencies of some staff with traditional academic training and that the demand for staff with these skills might have to be met from outside the core LAIS workforce. In other words, library staff are just not nice enough to their customers! Perhaps the LLUK aproach will not only develop better customer service skills but will also shift the emphasis away from a service centered approach (we are librarians and this is what we can do for you) to a customer centered approach (you are a lifelong learner, what can we do for you?). See my previous post.

Opening of the Information Commons

Drummers at the official opening of the Information Commons.

The University of Sheffield's Information Commons was closed this morning for its official opening and I attended along with an assortment of the great and the good. Whenever you have this sort of ceremony someone has to decide who will cut the ribbon (or in this case, unfurl the wall hanging). A feature of this opening was that the University eshewed a celebrity or even someone who just looked like a celebrity but chose instead Mr Harsh Srivastav, one of their 2007 graduates and an ex-president of the Students Union. The reason for this was to emphasise how central students were to the Information Commons and the University in general. Admittedly this line runs well on the recruitment video but it does represent a real shift in perspective.

Harsh repayed the compliment by lauding the University and the library service for their student centred approach and praising the Information Commons building as a great success. Someone commented that he could be a future Prime Minister (of India or Britain).

Librarians sometimes find it difficult to promote the role of the library and of the information professional within their organisation. A user centred approach can help. In academic institutions like universities, colleges or schools; the library should be seen as a central element and the librarian as one of the key players. Industrial/commercial information services are usually seen as a support service but if the concept of a learning organisation is developed then the information professional becomes central. Local authorities may see their public library service as a small and not particularly vital part of their portfolio of services but from the users point of view the library is often the most popular part of what the council does. As Oldham library demonstrates, a modern, well stocked library is not only a popular service but can help with regeneration and community development. Any council that ignores this does so at its peril.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

CPD Events from SINTO

It's time to have another look at some forthcoming training events from SINTO.

On Monday 8th October at 2pm Paul Clarke of the European Information Association is giving a half day Introduction to European Information. Paul will cover the development of the European Union and how it works. he will then look at the most important websites for EU information and how to keep up to date. Delegates will have the opportunity for a hands-on practice session. The EU has an impact on many aspect of people's lives and it is important to be able to separate fact from fiction. This event will be a valuable introduction or refresher for staff from all types of library.

Mission Critical is another half-day event on Wednesday 24th October, this time in the morning. Barbara Sen of the Department of Information Studies University of Sheffield will lead a workshop on Critical Success Factors. This is a business technique for identifying what is really important to an organisation. Barbara will look at the history of this concept and how CSFs can be used to help you and your organisation focus on priorities. Barbara is piloting this workshop with SINTO as part of the course she is offering at the DIS and we are able to offer this at the low price of £10 plus VAT.

Unfortunately the first event we were offering this year, on financial management, had to be cancelled due to lack of take up. By contrast an event we are running at the end of the year has booked up so fast that we are planning to repeat it. Promoting Reading to Young People in Libraries is presented by Anne Harding and will look at how school and public libraries can raise the profile and appeal for young people aged eleven and above. It will be run on Tuesday 11th December but because of the high level of demand we are planning to run it again on the 29th January 2008. Places are available for both dates at present but book fast.

Oldham Public Library again

There are more pictures of Oldham Public Library on the SINTO Wiki.
With the new building Oldham is providing a library service of high quality that is meeting the needs of the local community. The library is well stocked with what appears to be a good selection of new books. I don't know if Tim Coates has run his critical eyes over the library but it appears to provide a good selection of fiction and non-fiction as well as 90 PCs for public use. The building has good access for people with disabilities and appears to be well used by all sections of Oldhams diverse population. No doubt Tim and others would argue that the money spent on the building should have been spent on more books but libraries are more than a storage space for books. Communities deserve high quality public spaces and a building like this draws more people into contact with the books and other resources.

In an article in Managing Information Adrian Olsen and Frances Hendrix (formerly of the Laser Foundation) ask where should public libraries go next? (MI Sept 2007 p32-3). Oldham could well provide part of the answer. Olsen and Hendrix propose four themes that should form the basis of a national strategy for public libraries.
  1. A re-organisation of the governance and finance of libraries at a government and possibly also at a local level. Responsibility for libraries is split and public libraries are at the mercy of individual council political priorities and financial pressure. Oldham shows what can be achieved but it also highlights inadequate provision in many other areas. The authors propose taking public libraries out of local authority control into some kind of regional organisation or even a National Public Library Service.
  2. A system is needed to ensure that the best in public libraries automatically becomes the norm across the whole service. Again, this requires a National Development Agency.
  3. There must be a national, co-ordinated campaign of publicity and awareness raising to inform people about what is available in their libraries and to challenge the traditional view of libraries. Publicising flagship libraries like Oldham could be a part of this. There is nothing like making people jelous of their neigbours to create pressure for change.
  4. PR and advocacy must be aimed at the 'movers and shakers'- the power brokers and decision makers.

New and refurbished libraries such as the Information Commons and Oldham Library can shift perceptions of what libraries are all about and as a profession we should study these examples and publicise them to a wider audience.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Oldham Public Library

On Thursday SINTO organised a mini-bus trip to Oldham to see their new public library.

Opened in April 2006 it provides more than double the space of the old library. Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre has been shortlisted for the 2007 Prime Minister's Better Public Buildings Award.

Bringing together children’s, adult and reference libraries, as well as a performance space, IT-intensive teaching rooms, art rooms and a crèche, it is the second phase of the new cultural quarter in Oldham, breathing new life into a previously neglected part of the town.

The building relies predominantly on natural ventilation and light, minimising energy consumption. Rainwater from the green roof is collected, treated, stored in tanks in the basement area and used to flush toilets throughout the building which significantly reduces mains water usage.

The impressive entrance to the building, shared with Gallery Oldham, features a glass exterior wall and attractive modern sculpture. From the lobby ccstomers pass through to the library and lifelong learning area. The latter consists of a number of IT equiped classrooms and work spaces which house a wide range of day or evening classes which can be booked at the reception desk. The library itself is on two floors which are well lit by natural light and the overall impression is modern, light and uncluttered. The architecture features strong lines and large windows which provide spectacular views of the surrounding moors.

The building cost £12m as was built under the Private Finance Initiative. This means that the library service is effectively a tennant in the building and the library staff described the benefits and drawbacks of this arrangement. During the design stage the library had to provide an "output specification" which was then interpreted by the architect.

The library has been a success in terms of customer feedbackand in greatly increased visitor numbers. The staff were open about some problems with the building but on the whole they felt that it worked well.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Rotherham Libraries

I have mentioned the Library Too blog before. It is written by Pete Smith of Rotherham College and he blogs about library issues in general with occasional references to the service he experiences at Rotherham libraries. In a recent post he says that Tim Coates asked him to stop praising Rotherham Libraries and in response Pete gives a balanced appraisal of Rotherham's library service.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

New library buildings

Its the beginning of a new academic term and as students head of to university and college I was reflecting on how the experience of further and higher education has changes and what this means for academic libraries.

The traditional view of higher education was of a small elite of bright young people going off to university where their inquisitive minds would be introduced to the heritage of recorded scholarship as contained in books and journals, guided by the wisdom of their professors.

A modern view is that it is all a giant conveyor belt where paying customers arrive expecting to be fed pre-digested extracts of information which they then 'cut and paste' into assignments with the sole aim of gaining the required qualifications.

The reality lies somewhere in between. The first few years of an undergraduate course have always relied on a high level of pre-packaged information being presented to students, formerly as textbooks and study packs; today as e-books and through virtual learning environments (VLEs). The idea that students today may not need to open a book or journal because everything they need is available electronically may horrify some purists but it has not fundamentally altered the student experience.

At the later stages of an undergraduate course there will be a greater need for students to read around a subject and to consult primary sources. This requires them to develop information literacy (or even fluency) and as much of this material still only available in print format they will need to seek out 'books on the shelves".

For the academic library this means that the emphasis has changed from a repository of printed material - or even an access point for electronic material - to a space where learning can take place. This is reflected in the objectives for the two Sheffield University libraries.

"To create high quality spaces with a variety of study environments including individual desks, group tables and study rooms, informal seating and classrooms". (Information Commons. University of Sheffield).

"The internal layout and design of the building is focused on its use as a learning space, accommodating a wide range of learning styles, and new technologies, rather than just as a resource centre". (Learning Centre. Sheffield Hallam University).

Of course this role has to be combined with the traditional role of the library as a repository for printed material and a resource centre as these will continue to be important.

The criticism that academic libraries are spending on buildings not books is therefore completely wrong. But what about public libraries? Should they be following this "learning centre" model? There is no doubt that new and better public library buildings would boost public library usage but there are important differences. First, for the universities, investment in learning centres promises an immediate payback. High quality facilities attracts students and more students mean more income. For local authorities, while investing in new library buildings would increase library usage this does not translate into higher income. This simple economic fact makes a big difference.

Second, public libraries can never be as central to the general public as academic libraries are to students. They are always seen as a good thing but they are not in a broad sense essential to our lives.

Third, public libraries are primarily a resource centre rather than a learning centre. They are a place were people go to get books and information but on the whole people take this away with them. Perhaps this is something that could and should change. If the barriers between public libraries and schools, colleges and museums could be broken down libraries could function as community learning centres for a range of formal and informal learning activities. At the same time we should be on our guard against the temptation of investing in a high status building without ensuring that the stock is first class.

This week I am leading a SINTO visit to the new Oldham Public Library. It will be interesting to see how this compares with the Information Commons in both form and function.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Information Commons: University of Sheffield

On Friday I attended an Open Day for the new Information Commons at the University of Sheffield. To quote from the introductory booklet:

"Since the Middle Ages, the word 'commons' has described a shared resource and expressed the idea of community. So the Information Commons is a shared environment where the University's academic community can come together to access a wide variety of information and learning resources."

It is a very impressive building. Of course all new library buildings have an initial impact but I think this one will remain impressive even when the initial gloss has worn off. From the outside the building is distinctive and well proportioned. The blue-green of the prepatinated copper with the grey of the terracotta makes this a landmark building that is not flamboyant but has an unique identity.

The entrance loby is spacious, uncluttered and remarkably understated. It has the air of an airport departure lounge when all flights have been cancelled. There are then four main levels and a smaller extension of two further levels. Each level has its own identifying colour and this is indicated by the colour of the soft furniture, video display panels and space dividers. Within each level there is a variety of different spaces of varied shape and form. These include areas for individual study , group study, soft seating and study rooms. There are 1,300-plus study spaces with over 500 PCs.

There are distinctive architectural features with internal voids and imaginitive use of materials. Works of art are used to good effect and there are spectacular views from the windows.

Video display panels throughout the building provide information about opening times and services. There is an enquiry desk on the ground floor while members of staff rove the building and can be summoned by telephones located on each floor.

Further details and photographs will be provided on the SINTO wiki. All photographs are by Carl Clayton

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Do we need libraries?

Back to work after my summer vacation which included a short break in Barcelona. It's a fascinating city and my partner and I enjoyed exploring its tourist sights, beaches and backstreets.
When I got back I discovered that a lively debate about public libraries had been going on in the Guardian Unlimited Arts blog. Starting with a posting by Louise Tucker "Do 'most people' really need libraries any more?" the blog demonstrates yet again that many people do still feel passionately about libraries. People get very angry when libraries are closed or the importance of the book stock is reduced. Unfortunately many of the comments reflect a traditional or even reactionary view of the role of libraries. Some people object to attempts to make libraries more accessible to the whole community or to provide access to electronic resources. Tim Coates makes a contribution but with the exception of Councillor Ken Thornber on behalf of Hampshire Libraries (which has been criticised on the basis of reported comments by Yinnon Ezra) I could see no contributions from chief librarians, MLA or CILIP putting forward the view of the library profession. It does seem a pity that we don't make use of this sort of forum to get our message over.

During the discussion Louise Tucker made the following comment:

"What is wrong with the word 'library'? Did your council pay a fortune for this rebranding? It reminds me of the University of Sheffield which has renamed its new library (yet more money spent on buildings not books) the 'Information Commons'. Apparently they called it this because 'commons' implied a shared resource; however, in what I think is a relatively unusual step, they have determined that only staff and students of the University can use it, and that temporary staff and visiting researchers cannot... (PEYE 1185). Orwell would really turn in his grave wouldn't he?"

Again it is perhaps a pity that the University did not defend itself against this comment. Through the SYALL scheme the University has been committed to public access to their library service for many years. The decision that the Information Commons should be restricted to undergraduates while external users are directed to the Western Bank library is a reasonable arrangement and puts no-one at a disadvantage.

I will be attending the Information Commons HEI Open Day tomorrow - my first opportunity to see inside the building - and I will report on my impressions.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Promoting reading to young people.

Fiction promotion in Thomas Rotherham College

The MLA Love Libraries award celebrates the work libraries do with young people. The winner of the award will receive a Trophy and £2,000 towards the project. I posted about this award back in May.

One of the five projects short listed for the award is from a SINTO member organisation - Derbyshire Libraries.
Derbyshire Libraries Book Pushers are teenage reading advocates trained by library staff to spread their love of reading among young people. They give presentations in schools and libraries; influence the selection of library books; produce creative displays of their recommended reads; deliver training for library staff to help improve services and encourage more people to discover all the great things libraries have to offer. Jaci Brumwell, Deputy Director Cultural and Community Services, Derbyshire County Council said: “The Book Pushers are enthusiastic advocates promoting both the love of books and reading and the use of libraries. The young people involved have grown in confidence, developed new skills and encouraged many others to experiment with their reading.”

The five finalists face a public vote to select the winner. Voting starts on Monday 13th August and closes on Friday 14th September with the winner being announced at an awards ceremony in London on Wednesday 3rd October.
You can vote on the Love Libraries website .

I wouldn't want to encourage unthinking regionalism of course but this is a great opportunity for SINTO members to show their support for this local project.

And while on the subject of promoting reading, SINTO is running a seminar on this subject in December. The seminar is delivered by Anne Harding and is on the 11th December. Further information is on the SINTO website.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

New head of service for Rotherham

News of new appointments at Rotherham Library and Information Services. Elenore Fisher has got the job of Manager Cultural Services in place of Guy Kilminster who has moved to Cheshire and Bernard Murphy has been promoted to the post of Libraries and Information Services Manager in place of Elenore. Congratulations to everyone.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

DEL Information Unit, Sheffield.

Sheffield City Council has decided to close the Development, Environment & Leisure (DEL) Information Unit (Technical Library) which was based at Carbrook and Howden House. This was a specialised information service covering urban design, architecture, construction, highway maintenance and design etc., mainly used by the staff of DEL. It was a member of SINTO.
The press release says that "Following an extensive consultation and business review that found that colleagues are increasingly able to satisfy the majority of their own information needs using the intranet or Internet, the DEL Information Unit (Technical Library) will be closing on the 9th August."
If this is the case then I cannot argue with the decision but one is left wondering how fully staff are able to meet their own information needs in this specialist area from the intranet and Internet. Assuming that Sheffield City Council does not expect the information needs for, say, highway maintenance to be met by looking things up on Wikipedia, I assume that staff will have access to specialist information resources through the intranet and Internet. But who is now responsible for providing access to these resources for staff? One of the library's staff members is taking up a new "communications and information role in the Strategy Team and the press release says that "questions regarding future technical information provision should be addressed to line managers". This should mean that a new structure will be in place so that staff will have access to the information they need whether it is in print or electronic format. Given the importance of urban design etc to the development of Sheffield I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Battle lines

One of the issues in this debate concerns the quality of information that is available with Web 2.0 in general and Wikipedia in particular. Michael Gorman in a posting titled Jabberwiki, is blunt:
"Let us ... concentrate on the central proposition that one can gain useful knowledge from texts written by any Tom, Dick, or Sally with time on his or her hands. Do we entrust the education of children to self-selected “experts” without any known authority or credentials? Would any sane person pay fees to take university courses that are taught by people who may or may not be qualified to teach such a course? "

Gorman cites Andrew Keen and his new book The Cult of the Amateur which makes similar complaints. Keen claims that "Wikipedia ... is almost single-handedly killing the traditional information business." (p127-8). and "Since Wikipedia's birth, more than fifteen thousand contributors have created nearly three million entries in over a hundred different languages—none of them edited or vetted for accuracy."(p4).

Many people defend Wikipedia. Some claim that unlike Britannica, Wikipedia’s credentials don’t come from its editors but from references and sources cited at the end of articles. However not all articles include citations and citations don't guarantee that the research is comprehensive and balanced.

Others have argued that Wilipedia articles are edited and vetted for accuracy by other Wikipedia contributors. Helen Nicols in her blog The Business of Knowing argues that regulation by a community of on-line users as with Wikipedia is equivalent to the academic peer review process as ways of establishing authority.

Wikipedians like to point out that traditional resources such as Encyclopedia Britannica contain errors which have been corrected by the on-line community.
Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia

Gorman and Keen would argue that the on-line community is just as likely to introduce errors into an authoritative article as it is to correct errors. There have been cases of individuals submitting corrections to their own biography on Wikipedia only to have other contributors deleting these corrections so as to maintain the "authority" of the original article.

Another argument used by defenders of Wikipedia is that traditional resources present a single world view that may be influenced by cultural norms while Wikipedia allows debate and the presentation of alternative views. As an illustration here is an extract from the 11th edition of Encyclopadia Britannica (1911).

For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test. Given suitable training, the negro is capable of becoming a craftsman of considerable skill, particularly in metal work, carpentry and carving."

With hindsight we now see that Britannica reflected the prevailing social views and prejudices of the time. Is it not likely that today's "authoratitive" works are also biased? On the other hand there is a danger of falling into the trap of relativism - the doctrine that no absolute truth exists, but that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as language or culture. Surely most facts (the date of the battle of Hastings; the atomic weight of Hydrogen) are facts and a reference source can get them either right or wrong

Further discussion can be found in the Wikipedia entry Reliability of Wikipedia and the entry in the LIS Wiki Librarians' claims and opinions regarding Wikipedia.

I think that the TS Eliot quote is relevant:
"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

There is a lot of information available from Wikipedia and the like but this is not the same as knowledge. At the very least we need to heed the advice of the Bellman "What I tell you three times is true" - and not take any information on trust until we have checked with several sources. We also need the wisdom to understand that any information can be inaccurate, incomplete or biased in some way and we should make allowances for that fact.