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 CafĂ©’”. 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..