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.

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