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

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