Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The picture today is of Chateau Sinto - the headquarters of the Sinto empire. To be exact, the Sinto staff - Gilly Pearce and myself, occupy two rooms on the first floor of this building which is part of the Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Campus. The rest of the building is used for classrooms. Sinto is a truely co-operative venture. We are employed by Sheffield City Council and administered as part of Libraries, Archives and Information but our accommodation is provided by SHU. The University of Sheffield provides other services such as the SULOS (Sheffield Union List of periodicals) database.

If you have a photo of your own place of work please e-mail it to me and I can feature it in the blog.

To update a previous posting, Weston Park Museum did not win the Gulbenkian prize - it went to Pallant House Gallery instead. A shame but well done for getting on the short list.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Sheffield Central Library

A picture of the Sheffield Central Library in Surrey Street. It is impressive, monumental even. When you walk through a door of this scale you know that you have arrived somewhere special! It gives a clear message about the status of the institution that you are entering.

At the same time it can be off putting. Access of course is a problem (there is an alternative entrance for wheel chair & push chair users which is clearly signed) but also the very formality of the entrance must put some people off. Today, shops and public buildings tend to have large glass windows so you can see what is inside and to entice the passer-by into the building.

The building is due (long overdue) for internal restructuring and there have been proposals in the past for a new central library, none of which have come to anything. For a city that has created a new image for itself on the back of public building projects (Millennium Gallery, Winter Gardens, Peace Gardens) it seems a shame that the public library has been neglected.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

SINTO wiki

I have to confess that I can't claim that this image is relevant to librarianship in South Yorkshire! It is a piece of sculpture in a quarry on the coast of Jersey.
We ran a repeat of the Social Computing course yesterday and I was inspired to try including some pictures on my blog. Sheila Webber in her Information Literacy blog always includes photos of flowers so I thought I would try the same.
The SINTO wiki continues to be developed. I have updated the page for Social Computing and added a page about library blogs. I have also created a page for School Librarians. With these and the other wiki pages I hope that people will add their own material.
Since the wiki was set up in March there has been an average of 28 visitors every week. Anyone can post a comment on the wiki (as with this blog) but users are also invited to register with the site. You can then become a Registered User or a Writer which gives you the ability to add new pages and edit existing pages. This of course is the whol point of a wiki - it is a community web site to which any member of the community can contribute.
This may be a difficult concept for librarians to accept! It's not just that the technology is new. A role of librarians is to preserve documents, whether they are books or websites. We don't like it when users add comments or make changes in library books and we are suspicious of Wikipedia where there is no permanence or authority for entries. The idea that a website can be changed and rewritten by anyone ( at least anyone in a defined community) goes against our instincts.
The benefits I hope are obvious. Expertise is spread throughout the SINTO community and it should be shared. I would like you all to see yourselves as part of a community that extends outside your own library. I hope you will contribute and will encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Gulbenkian Prize

Weston Park Museum, Sheffield is one of four museums shortlisted for the Gulbenkian prize which will be announced tomorrow. The prize of £100,000 is awarded to a museum that has demonstrated "imagination, innovation and excellence".
A piece in the Education Guardian yesterday describes the hands-on, multi-sensory education programme that is run in the museum by Anne Clayton (no relation) head of learning programmes. She says "A lot of the less academically able children don't necessarily learn by reading. The museum is all about objects, so is far more open to them for getting information,".
I wish Weston Park Museum the best of luck tomorrow and even if they don't walk off with the prize, being short listed is recognition for what they have achieved. I was a bit critical of the museum in my 16th April posting when I lamented the lack of detailed contextual information. I totally agree with Anne's sentiments about less academically able children not learning by reading but there are also more academically able adults who need to be catered for as well.
In the Times Joanna Moorhead, one of the Gulbenkian judges, also looks at the issue of "dumbing down" i.e. is it OK to give visitors pointers as to what they might think and feel about a picture or an exhibit – or should they simply be presented with objects and paintings and left to make up their own minds about what they feel about them?
She concludes
"The commonsense truth is that, if you know little about a subject, you need some basic information: if you’re an aficionado, you need less. But the aficionados can’t expect to hold back appreciation of their art by denying the rest of us mere mortals a bit of a peep into their world: that’s elitism, and the arts world could do with a lot less of it."
However, my point was that if you are interested in or inspired by an object in a museum you may want to learn more about it and that museums are not always very good at providing the signposting that would lead you to other resources. If you are lucky there will be a good bookshop but can you get a reading list? I fully support the education programme for children but I would like to think that adults can be engaged too in an appropriate way.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Social Computing

Today, SINTO is running a repeat of the course Social Computing - wikis, blogs and RSS feeds. If you have logged on to this blog as part of that course then hello!
Remember that we would like your comments on the SINTO wiki

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Future of Public Libraries

Nice to see some comments to my recent postings and please do join in if you want to. Tim Coates is not the only person with views on the future of public libraries.

Ruth Rikowski gives a report on the talk given by Tony Benn at the CILIP Members' Day last October in Managing Information May 2007. Mr Benn talked about freedom of information in general and answered questions about charging for library use and the World Trade Organisation General Agreement on Trade in Services which poses a threat to state-funded libraries. A fuller report of this talk is available at the Flow of Ideas web site

The Library Campaign was set up in 1984 to support public libraries through the activities of friends and users groups. The Campaign User Handbook is a valuable resource.

Information for Social Change is "an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers. It is committed to promoting alternatives to the dominant paradigms of library and information work and publishes its own journal, Information for Social Change."

Here is a challenge. If you wanted a hard-hitting, authoritative statement about the value of public libraries today where would you find it? Can anyone direct me to such a document?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Forthcoming events

On the 12 June SINTO is running a seminar on Supervisory skills. When we were planning this course it was pointed out that librarians sometimes find that they are in a supervisory role not because they have applied for a more senior job but because internal reorganisation has thrust them into this role. Whatever the reason, having to lead and motivate a team is a big challenge. Supervisory skills are transferable but this event is designed for library and information staff. It will give you a thorough grounding in the skills you need and confidence to put them into practice. The course is delivered by Stephanie Taylor of Critical Eye Communications. Attendees will receive a course handbook containing a summary and checklist for each section of the course, a follow-up session and useful online and offline resources.

On the 27th June Ronnie Young delivers a course on assertiveness. This event is about understanding and developing assertive behaviour in the workplace: how to be, not passive..., not agressive..., but assertive.

We all have to deal with other people - our customers, colleagues and bosses. Yet sometimes we may feel we are being ignored, manipulated or intimidated. Do we back-away from confrontation or let the anger bubble up - or is there a better way?

Led by Ronnie Young, this course will help you understand assertive behaviour and apply it in everyday situations. It will teach you to become more confident in yourself and in dealing with other people. This course is aimed at staff at all levels from libraries, archives and museums who have to deal with other people. It will be of value to front-line staff dealing with users, and to supervisors and managers dealing with other staff.

Go to the SINTO web site for further details and booking forms.

Future of public libraries

Those debating the future of public libraries agrees that they are facing challenging times or serious problems. There is little agreement about the causes and therefore the solutions. Tim Coates sees the problem as the failure of library managers to do an efficient job and also the fact that they have abandoned a basic principle of libraries - a commitment to the book. Others put the blame on the fragmentation of the library service and the lack of clear management and funding at a national level.

Froud and Gent (see previous post) mention the political environment in which public libraries operate. They say that "the most successful services have positioned themselves at the centre of their local authorities, and are demonstrating every day the value of a service that can reach into the heart of every local community. By implication, the less successful services are failing to do this. They go on to warn however that "Even successful services are not immune to the pressures affecting the rest of government, and it is naive to ignore the impact of the local government funding regime"

This of course is the reality that public libraries face. We don't have a future unless we can convince our local authority - the elected members and the chief executive - that libraries have a value as well as a cost.

A recent report "Inspiring our ambitions through sports, art, culture and place" published by the Solace Foundation Imprint is significant in this endeavour. The SFI aims to commission and publish reports on public service improvements and excellence. It taps into the perspective of chief executives and senior managers on the issue of the future of local government.

The report itself looks at how cultural activities can bring real and tangible benefits to local communities and why these activities must be supported when faced with competition from the statutory duties of local authorities. The report mentions a wide range of anecdotal evidence about the benefits that accrue from cultural activities and libraries feature in this evidence:

  • A creative writing project run through the Housebound Library service in South Tyneside which helps older people to remain mentally active
  • Intervention with refugee library users in Leicester to encourage social cohesion
  • A craft workshop project in Leicester which enables libraries to remove organisational barriers that lead to under use by hard-to-reach groups.
  • The role of libraries in nurturing cultural capital and creating a sense of place in Winchester
  • Liverpool libraries achieving beacon status as part of the city's bid for European Capital of Culture 2008.

The role of libraries as cultural agencies can be overlooked. Reading or literature is a major cultural activity probably involving more people than theatre, sport, the arts etc, but it is a very individual activity and does not attract the profile of social cultural events. The role of libraries in supporting culture, sports and arts through providing information and lifelong learning opportunities can also be overlooked. Librarians therefore need to promote the concept that culture brings real benefits to the community and promote the role of libraries as cultural agencies. Incidentally, how good are public libraries at providing an information service for their own authority rather than to the public? Have you made sure that your Chief Executive has been notified of this report and provided with a one-side A4 summary of its contents? Your authority might have an internal information service that is separate from the library service but you can not afford to ignore the information needs of our managers and funders.

The Inspiring our ambitions report does contain a warning. Derrick Anderson, chief executive of Lambeth Council recounts how the failure of his authority in relation to the indicators in the library section of the cultural block of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment led to downgrading of the authority from 2 to 1 stars and headlines about the "worst council in London". He is aggrieved that this happened because of "an Audit Commission rule around a handful of indicators" and contrasts this with positive developments in other cultural areas that were not recognised in the indicators. Library performance indicators are important and library provision is a statutory requirement but in the long term we can not afford to alienate those who are promoting the role of culture.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Two cultures

Yesterday I mentioned the professional debate that is going on around Tim Coates's views on where public libraries are going wrong. I then mentioned that Robert Gent of Derbyshire libraries had joined this debate in the pages of the Gazette.

On the 3rd May I mentioned Sheila Webber's discussion of the "Two cultures" in librarianship - the split between those who communicate via the web and those who rely on traditional methods. The Coates debate illustrates this point.

Robert was using the traditional media to reply to Tim Coates. That is not to say that Robert is a "web sceptic" but his audience for this piece would be those librarians who use print journals to keep themselves informed of professional issues.

Another local librarian is also very active in this debate. Pete Smith is Curriculum Learning Resource Specialist at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology. He has a personal blog where he discusses professional issues including the views of Mr Coates. Pete has made a number of postings on this issue on the CILIP Communities website in the Advocacy thread. He has also posted comments on Tim Coates own blog, often taking issue with Tim's assertions. Finally he has just posted a comment on Sintoblog. Pete is clearly part of the "webbed" community.

Sheila was asking if these are two separate communities and if they are growing together or growing apart? I suspect that the major fault line is between those librarians who are interested in discussing professional issues and those who are not. However, the division between "webbed" and "web-sceptics" is real and people in both camps should think about making more links.

Monday, 14 May 2007

The debate continues

In my last post I commented on the debate that Tim Coates's views had initiated. That debate continues in the latest issue (4th-17th May) of Library & Information Gazette. On page 6 Tim Coates is interviewed by Tim Buckley Owen while on the facing page our very own Robert Gent (Derbyshire Libraries and member of the SINTO Executive) and Rob Froud (Somerset) respond. The two Robs make the point that Tim Coates understands the retail environment but does not understand the ethos of public service. They make some good points about equality of access and social inclusion which Tim Coates underplays. Their point about the "complex, multi-layered local government environment in which public libraries operate" is valid but Tim and our customers would probably respond that they are not interested in our problems, just our results.

I believe that almost all librarians are providing a good service in difficult circumstances (see below) but that should not give us a "Get out of jail free" card when it comes to receiving criticism. We must overcome our initial discomfort at being criticised and look in depth at the points that are being made. If we think that they don't "understand" our position is this because we are trapped inside the box and they have a fresh perspective? Perhaps our values are valid but there is no harm in putting them to the test.

Tough love for public libraries

The MLA has launched the Love Libraries Award which will recognise and reward libraries that show innovation in services for teenagers and young people up to 25. The winner will receive a Trophy and £2000. Nomination forms and details are available from here.

Awards like this deserve to be supported by the profession. Not only do they provide recognition and support for librarians who are putting time and effort into developing innovative services but the publicity that is generated can benefit all library services. The target group of teenagers and young people is one that public libraries have found hard to reach and the award should provide some case studies for everyone to consider.

However, there is always the suspicion that such things are mere flim-flam - jolly PR exercises which might be fun for those involved but have no real lasting benefits and fail to address the serious underlying problems. I suspect that the failure of most public libraries to attract teenage and young users is not a failure to come up with innovative ideas but instead deep rooted problems of funding.

The press release from MLA about the Love Libraries Award arrived in my in-box at about the same time as a press release from the Laser Foundation. LASER - the London and South East Library Region was set up in 1928 as an inter-library loan scheme (pre-dating SINTO by four years). In 2000 it was dissolved as a company and its assets transferred to a charity - the Laser Foundation. Its funds were used for grants to support public library services and in particular it supported some important research work. These assets are now exhausted and the Laser Foundation will shortly cease to exist.

For its swan song it has produced its final report Public Libraries What Next? This looks at two reports in particular Overdue: how to create a modern public library service by Charles Leadbeater (the Sleepwalking report) and Who's in charge?: responsibilities for the public library service by Tim Coates. Both were critical of public library management with the Tim Coates report in particular causing much controversy and debate. Both reports identified failings at all levels and the Leadbeater report identifies fragmentation of the public library service as a problem:

“There are149 library authorities, each with its own agenda. They are funded by a clutch of central government departments and other agencies such as the National Lottery, which are poorly coordinated”. He noted that DCMS was responsible for library policy, but had no money; the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was the major funder, but set no goals; the Department for Education and Skills and the National Lottery financed programmes but had little influence over the national network.

In the light of this it is clear that a trophy and award of £2000 does not go very far in addressing the underlying problem. I don't want to knock the MLA Love Libraries Award - like the CILIP Libraries Change Lives award it is good to celebrate success - but is either body addressing the real question. The Laser Foundation is pessimistic.

"During its lifetime [the Laser Foundation] has been the only independent, and independently minded, grant giving body and its demise leaves a serious gap in the public library world which, at the moment, there is no prospect of filling.

The present situation has existed for decades, an in all of that time it has been as inefficient as it is now. There seems little chance, therefore, that a wish to talk about reform - and even less the will to fight for reform - will come from the centre. In this respect the future looks bleak."

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the eventual winner of the Love Libraries Award will use it as a platform to call for action from the centre.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Forthcoming events

The Social Computing event on the 22nd May is filling up rapidly so if you are interested please get your booking in.

There are still plenty of places left on the Deaf Awareness course on the 6th June. I think that this will be a very useful course for all types of libraries. Deaf people may have a low profile as library users as generally they can use our services with fewer problems than say Visually Impaired People or people with mobility problems. There are communication problems which need to be addressed but also this course will show that the Deaf community is a group with its own needs. Social exclusion often arises because of a lack of awareness of the needs of a group. I do hope that libraries in our area will recognise this and will encourage staff to attend this event.

Researchers' Use of Academic Libraries

I suspect that the academic librarians who would be most interested in this research report from the Research Information Network and the Consortium of Research Libraries will already be aware of this publication. I want to look at its significance for other sectors.

This study was designed to provide an up-to-date and forward-looking view of how researchers interact with academic libraries in the UK. As such it does focus on academic libraries. When it talks of researchers it means academic researchers, those who have an affiliation with a HE institution, and does not consider researchers in the more general sense of those who want to do research but are not attached to a university. (See my posting of 23 February).

What may be of interest to other sectors is the discussion of view of their future role of librarians. The report surveyed the views of researchers, library staff and heads of service. What it didn't do was to ask the university administrators the same question.

The results indicate that the core roles librarians currently undertake will still be core roles in five years time. These include administration, negotiating the purchase and executing the delivery of information resources, serving as custodians of archives and special collections, offering subject-based expertise, and teaching information literacy and related skills. More directors than library staff believe subject-based expertise offered in the library will be a core role for librarians in five years time. Librarians and researchers differ significantly in four key areas. Thus the great majority of librarians see teaching information literacy and offering subject-based expertise as core roles for them, and central to what they do; researchers are generally supportive, but more equivocal about whether these are core as distinct from ancillary roles for librarians’. There are also some differences of view as to whether managing metadata issues and facilitating e-learning should be core roles for librarians: relatively few researchers think this should be so compared with the figures for librarians. Is there a similar divergence between how public librarians and library users see their future role?

The report also points out that researchers who access information services from their desk top do not always appreciate the role of the library in providing theses service. As public libraries develop their on-line services they will face the same problem.

If you are not aware that the branch you are sitting on is connected to the trunk of the tree then you might happily saw through it and not be aware of the consequences! Users and decision makers must be kept aware of what we are doing.

Put your hand up if you can't hear me!

Webbed or Web Sceptic? In a new guest blog on the UK Web Focus Blog, Sheila Webber of the University of Sheffield raises an interesting point:

I thought I’d write about the division that seems to be growing up
a) those information professionals who mostly gather and disseminate information to their peers in a webly fashion (I shall call these people the Webbed), and

b) those for whom all this faffing around on the web seems (frankly)a waste of time (I shall call these Web Sceptics).

She argues that the information profession, which is already fragmented into a number of more or less isolated groups, is being further split between those who get their information from, and network on, the internet and those who rely on traditional methods (e.g. print, face-to-face networking). Sheila asks

Is this not a potential split at all, just a phase? Am I wrong to think that the Webbed and Web Sceptics are developing different information-world–views - it’s more than just reading things in different media? Am I right in thinking that in
some ways it is getting more challenging for a Web Sceptic to start to become Webbed?

I found this interesting because I set up this blog as I felt that there are a growing number of informational professionals who are relying on Web 2.0 applications and we could not afford to ignore them. On the other hand many others simply do not use this channel of communication. I don't think it is just a case of being sceptical about the web. If you have looked at what is on offer and decided that it is not for you then that is your choice. The problem I think is

  • many librarians are still not aware of how fast this new online community is growing and what they are missing.
  • many librarians do not have easy access to a PC at work and are excluded from this new forum.
  • many librarians simply do not have the time to spend on professional development activities at work

If you are webbed then you can join in with this debate. If you are not then you probably don't even know that this issue is being debated! If you can't hear me put your hand up.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Information Fluency

Yesterday I mentioned the concept of "Information Fluency". Neologisms should be used with care - why invent a new word when an existing one will do? But sometimes it can be useful to indicate a change in thinking. Information Literacy has been around for some time but it can be used in a very limited sense with an emphasis on IT skills. Information Fluency (IF) extends the remit of this term. For students it means being conscious of the research process and applying critical thinking to each step. It means a lot more than typing a few words into Google!

Much of the work on Information Literacy and Information Fluency has been done in an academic setting but it is important in the outside world as well. I suspect that when students take up jobs in the real world they breath a sigh of relief that they no longer have to bother with proper citations and the other information literacy stuff - they can just find the information they need when they need it - but this can create problems. The first point in the SCONUL Seven Pillars model of information literacy is the ability to recognise and articulate a need for information. One of the criticisms made of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, over his handling of the war in Lebanon was that he "made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel". I am sure that many bad decisions in business are a result of a similar failing to recognise the need for information.

The third stage is the ability to construct a strategy for locating information while the fourth is the ability to locate and access information. Again, how many information workers in business skip three and go straight to four - and probably don't do that very well?

If using a new term helps us to get this concept over then it will be worthwhile.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

SINTO Objectives

As I have said before, this is not a personal blog, but I don't want it to be a blog "about" SINTO either. I don't think that you want to know how I run SINTO - you want to know about the benefits you or your library can get from SINTO.

Last week we had meetings of the SINTO Executive Board and the Members' Forum. The Executive Board manages SINTO and so is very important in directing exactly what we do but I don't think that most people want to know the details. However, in the spirit of freedom of information, I will be putting up notes on the SINTO wiki.

The Members' Forum exists so that the views of SINTO members can be heard and matters of general professional interest can be debated. This ensures that SINTO is responding to the needs of its members (assuming that they articulate their needs). All SINTO member organisations can send a representative along to the meetings. At the last meeting we discussed a marketing strategy for SINTO. The results of this discussion are on the wiki. One outcome was to come up with a revised statement of the objectives of SINTO:
SINTO exists to develop library and information services in our
region through co-operation, workforce development and planning; and to promote
information fluency and investment in information.
We wanted to mention information literacy as a goal because of Sheila Corrall's presentation at the Library and Information Show. Someone suggested that "information fluency" was a better term for what we had in mind (e.g. see the leaflet from St Martin's College).
This statement may need some more work but I think it does indicate what we are all about and the benefits that you can expect from joining in.