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 clich├ęs 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.