Monday, 24 November 2008

The Meadows Community School in Chesterfield has suddently found itself in the spotlight after the headteacher decided that its librarian was surplus to requirements. It was even reported in a French Language website!
The Guardian
Daily Telegraph
Reported in France

This case was firt picked up by Alan Gibbons whoes blog I have mentioned before. Then Philip Pullman added his support, warning that the school would become a 'byword for philistinism and ignorance' and it was this that caused the quality papers to be interested. I can almost feel sorry for Lynn Asquith, the headteacher of the school. I am sure that many secondary schools have got rid of their librarian without being exposed to this sort of publicity - but the campaign for rela libraries has been growing in strength recently.

I also hope that the support from Pullman, Gibbons et al, welcome though it is, does not mean that school libraries and librarians become a sacred cow. Their role does need to be questioned and changes are probably desirable. The defence offered by the school was:

"This reflects reduced student numbers, decreasing use of the traditional library facility and a move towards the relocation and redistribution of non-fiction and fiction resources in the light of new developments in Virtual Learning Environment and interactive learning. The post of librarian will therefore no longer be required from January 2009... After reviewing this we feel that we are not removing a library from the school but changing the way it operates so that curriculum leaders will manage the resources from the internet. This is a model being adopted by many other schools and moves towards the best practice that is adopted in further and higher education institutions."

VLEs have been used in universities and colleges for some time and their introduction into schools is to be welcomed, but the idea that a VLE is about managing the resources from the internet is just wrong. VLEs manage carefully selected resources on an intranet. Some of these may be internet resources which have been carefully evaluated by the academics and information professionals but much of it will be electronic resources purchased by the library/learning centre. The VLE will also signpost print resources where relevant.

Young people have moved away from using books as their primary resource for schoolwork. The challenge facing schools and school librarians is to develop their information skills in the new environment and to encourage them to read as a rewarding activity in its own right.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Information Commons wins award

This is taken from the University of Sheffield's web site.

The University of Sheffield's striking Information Commons building has taken the top prize at the Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) Yorkshire White Rose Awards. The building, designed by architects RMJM, scooped the `Yorkshire Building of the Year´ award at a prestigious ceremony at Leeds Town Hall, hosted by Barnsley poet Ian McMillan.
Recognised as one of the best examples of architecture in the region, the six-storey Information Commons provides a state-of-the art learning environment for students. It combines print and digital library services with the latest IT resources, including over 500 PCs, wireless networking and IT equipped classrooms. It has well-equipped spaces for teaching, learning and study, along with a 70-seat café.The building, which also won the gold White Rose Award for Architecture, has a distinctive copper exterior and makes excellent use of natural light, as well as providing a range of study environments. It has already won a national RIBA award and two construction innovation and sustainability awards for its complex structural flooring system.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

More from Doncaster

A piece from the Star reporting on the latest developments at Doncaster Libraries.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

All change at Doncaster Libraries

There have been major staff changes at Doncaster Libraries as a result of restructuring. Several people have taken the opportunity to retire after what has been a difficult year in Doncaster.
John Mellor, Dave Butler, Don McQuade, Mary Harrington and Gill Goodman have now left. Lisa Broadest (Principal Archivist) left in March, Sheila Ireland left last year, as did two other Library Managers, Chris Fitt (Children's Librarian) and Rebecca Väänänen, the Library Manager for Operations. Carol Hill, Local Studies Librarian, and Mike Dobbing, Reference Librarian leave at the end of this month. Some of these posts will be filled but we are sorry to loose so many experienced colleagues.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Public Libraries - what is the point?

At one level it is a debate about whether libraries should be "silent and serious" or "noisy and fun". At a deeper level it is a debate about what public libraries are there for.

The latest round in this debate began with a piece in the Times about Camden Libraries which met with a quick riposte, then a leader in the Times and now letters to the editor. Well at least people are bothered.

This debate is being reflected in the ongoing campaign in Doncaster .

Meanwhile Gordon Brown has announced a plan for vouchers so every school child will have access to a PC with broadband. Yes, but... Isn't it like saying that every household should have a fully equipped operating theatre so we can all get medical treatment without having to go to hospital? Would the money be better spent on improving access in school and public libraries where it can be integrated with a full information environment?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Inter-library loans

Document delivery no longer forms a major part of the activities of SINTO but this long standing service is still a valuable service for many of our member libraries and their users. The ILL Scheme is managed by the SINTO ILL group. Every year Gilly Pearce of SINTO analyses the statistics of usage and produces a report.

In 2007-8 13 libraries received an average of 38.5 books each through the SINTO ILL scheme last year. These 501 books were supplied by 8 libraries. In addition, 601 photocopies were supplied from 3 libraries.

These figures represent a large decline from the 1950s when SINTO members would interchange around 2,500 items per year. The development of national and regional document delivery services and the decline in the number of small business and technical libraries was the reason for this. Over the past few years there has been a slight decline in the volume of ILL traffic between SINTO members as users increasingly access information electronically for themselves over the Internet. However the service is still valued by our members. As Gilly says in her report "Despite all the well known pressures on the Scheme, it would seem that there is still potential for it to be of benefit to the local area."

SINTO will continue to provide a local ILL Scheme for as long as our members find it of value.

Friday, 22 August 2008


There has been a debate going on about charging fines for overdue books (mainly for public libraries) on the lis-pub-libs mailing list and the letter pages of Update. The main issues are does charging fines for returning books late put people off from using libraries and does it create the wrong image for libraries? Others argue that you need a incentive to get people to return books and that libraries depend on the income raised.

SINTO publishes the annual survey Fines & Charges in Public Libraries in England & Wales, and the following figures may be of interest.

Fines for overdue adult books appear to be universal with no authority reporting that they do not charge for overdue books. Fines range from 7p to 25p per day. The median is 14p and the mode is 15p. (Some authorities charge per week and the lowest rate is 30p per week). Maximum total fines charged range from £2 to £20 (Median and mode £5) with a single outlier of 75p, but many authorities have not provided a maximum charge figure. The authorities with the lowest daily charge are St Helens, Methyr Tydfil and Hartlepool, while Rhondda Cynon Taff and Vale of Glamorgan charge 30p per week. The highest charges are levied by Westminster City and Lambeth. All authorities have exemptions or reductions for various.

I think that we shouldn't represent these charges as "fines" for breaking the library rules but rather as the fee for borrowing books which we generously waive if the book is returned within a set period. This is a much better marketing ploy but of course it contadicts the basic principle of a free library service - even if we are not making any actual change in what we charge.

The figures also show that we don't have a national library service. The amount you could be asked to pay for an overdue item could vary by 2000% depending on where you live - a post-code lottery!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Libraries and social engagement

A recent article in FUMSI - Secret Leeds: Share Your Secrets, Share Your City
by James Hill, Senior Arts Project Officer, Leeds City Council and Duncan Scobie, Marketing Executive, Marketing Leeds - looks at a community website developed as part of the Celebrate Leeds 2007 festival, the 800th anniversary of the signing of the town's first charter in 1207. The website is a public discussion forum, ‘a site dedicated to investigating quirky, unusual or mysterious aspects of the built environment of the city of Leeds, both past and present'. There is no editorial content, just contributions from members of the public. An example is given of a thread on the forum about locating two stone skulls which used to be on the wall of a pub in the city centre. A group gathered together at the Central Library and read articles from old Leeds newspapers that proved the skulls had been there in the 1960s, but had been moved, when that area of the city centre began to fall into disrepair. Eventually the skulls were found and will be displayed when the area is regenerated.

The authors make the point that Secret Leeds has become "an excellent example of how participatory, socially engaged practice via the internet can play a strong role in regeneration and community cohesion... Not only has the website allowed people to find others who share what they might previously have thought to be a very narrow interest (across the world as well as across the city), but it has also been the catalyst for the kind of ‘meaningful interaction' and ‘engagement with heritage' that are seen as being central drivers in the promotion of community cohesion".

Most authorities want to develop community engagement in this way. The Sheffield City Cultural Services Plan for example has the mission statement "More people, more culturally active, more often". Libraries have to be able to show that they are contributing to these plans so we might expect that they would show a great interest in and engagement with local community forums on the web. Most areas do have some sort of local internet forum. In South Yorkshire we have the Sheffield Forum; Rotherham, the Unofficial Website; Donny Online and Barnsley Links. In addition social network sites such as Facebook often have groups for towns and cities along the lines of "Rotherham might be shite, but it's still home!" ( but you have to be a member of Facebook).

I'm sure that most libraries would be able to direct users towards these sites if they were asked but the evidence from library websites I have looked at does not suggest that there is any special engagement by libraries with these sites. Although most libraries have sections on their websites for web links to local community groups I could not find any direct links from the four South Yorkshire libraries, or from Leeds Libraries, to their relevant community forum websites. I suggest that libraries should not just be signposting these sites but should be actively involved with them by providing information in response to queries raised on the forums. By doing this libraries would not only be promoting their services but would be demonstrating their role in community engagement.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Doncaster and CILIP

In his comment on my last post, Mark Clowes makes a point about the involvement of CILIP at the Doncaster demonstration - but this does need to be considered in more depth. The idea that "CILIP" is a powerful but remote body which should have intervened directly in the Doncaster demonstration and sorted things out for local library staff and the public is misleading. CILIP is not "them" it is "us". Professional librarians in Doncaster should be drawing on the resources and support of their professional organisation in this campaign and not just complain that "they" have not done anything.
Some questions for professional librarians in Doncaster:
1. Have you informed CILIP HQ what is happening in Doncaster? At the very least someone should have contacted the Update editorial team with a news report. Then there are members of the CILIP staff dealing with policy and advocacy who can help.

2. Have you started a dialogue with CILIP Council members? They are the governing body of CILIP rather than roving trouble-shooters available to sort out our problems, but they do want to be involved. As Judy Broady-Preston, Leader of CILIP Council said "We are YOUR representatives and rely on YOUR feedback and YOUR views as to what you think are important issues to make sure that the new Council truly represents ALL of you".

3. Have you used the resources on the CILIP website to support the campaign? I admit that they are not very well signposted but by applying your information skills you can find the CLIP statement "Local people deserve a professional service"; "CILIP Policy Statement on Libraries & Learning" and "Intellectual freedom". The Conway report is very relevant and the associated CILIP press release is another useful resource. Finally on CILIP Communities there is a useful thread on "Saving Libraries" under Advocacy.

4. Are you working with the CILIP Branch? Again, this is not a case of "Why hasn't the CILIP branch sorted out all our problems?" The Branch is a community within which you can work and which may be able to offer support.

5. Have you asked yourself what it really is that you want CILIP to do? What is the role of CILIP as a professional body? Is waving a banner at a demonstration really the best thing for CILIP to do?

So to answer Mark's question "Where were CILIP?" They should have been there in the shape of individual CILIP members taking an active role. We are not victims!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Doncaster demonstation

Alan Gibbons' continues to report on the fight for Doncater Libraries in his blog. As well as reporting on the demonstation held on Saturday he has other contributions. Helena Pielichaty has contributed an amusing Doncaster Playlet showing what happens when you rely on a supermarket to supply information. Lynne Coppendale writes a response to Mayor Winter and there is an article from the THES about school libraries from Tara Brabazon.

Any comments on this campaign would be welcome.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Can you play the saxophone? I don't know, I've never tried.

A few months ago the report Information behaviour of the researcher of the future looked at the information skills of young people - the so called Google generation. A recent report looks at these skills in an older generation. Mind the Skills Gap: Information-handling Training for Researchers was commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN). It points out that the last decade has brought fundamental change in how researchers discover and gain access to information resources relevant to their research. Many researchers have become highly-skilled in exploiting the opportunities that new technologies and services provide but others lack the understanding and skills to make full use of the new technologies; and a widespread view – at least among library and information specialists – is that even those researchers who regard themselves as competent often show alarming deficits in their skills. Training of academic staff is therefore very important and many HE libraries are offering this, but the report points out that this is hampered by a lack of co-ordination and strategic management of information training provision, both at UK and at institutional levels. Most HEIs in practice adopt a piecemeal approach to information skills and competencies. The role that institutions expect libraries and their staff to play in research training is particularly unclear, as are the strategies and expectations about libraries’ roles in the support of research more generally. Most HEI central training teams seem to share the view that developing information skills for researchers is a matter largely of training in information seeking. A small but noteworthy group of HEIs are moving towards a more integrated approach covering not only information seeking, but other areas such as management of research information, critical appraisal of research findings, and even report writing. In terms of delivery, they involve joint planning (by central training teams, independent trainers, faculty staff, other specialists such as ICT and library staff); joint design and preparation of e-learning materials; and joint assessment of outcomes.

This raises challenges for library staff. The role of subject and liaison librarians has changed significantly in recent years, and some lack the confidence to provide intensive support to researchers. Libraries need to ensure that they have the capability and capacity to offer high quality training for researchers, including knowledge and understanding of the research process. Such moves would in many cases require “a step-change in provision and skills enhancement for library staff”, and perhaps redeployment of library staff into research settings rather than the library building. It is interesting to note that some librarians, had to point out that that “enhancing of staff skills runs counter to the recent tendency towards de-skilling of staff”.

The failure of HEIs to recognise the importance of information skills and the contribution of librarians to this is mirrored by the comments I reported in my last post about Doncaster Public Libraries “What is the point in buying new books? Tescos sell them cheaply and everything you need to know is on the Internet.” There is a level of ignorance so profound that you don't know you are ignorant. Until you learn something about the skills needed to play a saxophone then you don't know that you can't do it. Researchers may not know enough about information skills to know what they lack. Senior managers of Universities or Local Authorities may not know enough about libraries and information to realise how much there is to understand. And whose fault is this? Librarians need to sell the benefits of information and information skills and we have ourselves to blame if we fail to do this.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Doncaster Libraries

After the screening of The Hollywood Librarian I was approached by someone about the situation in Doncaster Libraries. I have been receiving quite a lot of feedback about recent developments with the reorganisation of Doncaster Libraries and deep concern that the council is proposing cuts to the library service.

Corporate Director of Customer Services ,Stuart Hall, was reported as saying “What is the point in buying new books? Tescos sell them cheaply and everything you need to know is on the Internet.”

Further information on the public campaign to save Doncaster Libraries can be found in The Star.

The latest news is that there will be a public demonstration in Doncaster on Saturday 12th July to "Save our Libraries"

Friday, 20 June 2008

The Hollywood Librarian

Last week saw the screening of The Hollywood Librarian in Sheffield. Nearly 100 librarians and friends of libraries attended the event.

The film was in many ways better than some reviews in the professional press had suggested. It was a paean in celebration of books, libraries and librarians and although at times it might have gone OTT and sometimes sounded a bit desperate it was largely well meant and inspiring.

I had expected from the initial publicity that it would spend a bit more time on the old movie clips and look in more detail about how librarians were portrayed in them. In fact the extracts were usually very brief and served mainly to provide a quick laugh or a groan. Two interesting points were touched upon briefly. The symbolism of a decaying or destroyed library has been used in many films to represent the breakdown of liberal society. Zardoz, Cleopatra and Fahrenheit 451 were given as examples of this.

Looking at how female librarians were portrayed by Hollywood the film mentioned the paradox of their role - a safe job for the spinster/virgin on the one hand and the gatekeeper of all human knowledge on the other. It was suggested that the Dewey Decimal Classification was intended to remove the need for a "scholar librarian" with a detailed knowledge of the stock, and replace him with a system that could be run by clerical assistant - a suitable job for a woman. It is the same sort of disintermediarisation that we are now facing with Google.

A recent review described the real librarians who were featured in the film as "...a string of lady librarians, aged 50+, exhibiting severe haircuts, a passion for square-shouldered trouser suits and a tendency to speak in desiccated tones about values and modes of thinking that... are of little relevance to the communities they serve." This is unfair. Although they were largely of a type they spoke with enthusiasm and sincerity about their role and they were shown to be serving culturally diverse communities. Many of the public librarians had to provide for the disadvantaged in their community while at the same time reaching out to the more affluent sectors of the community that actually fund the library service through local taxation and charitable donations. It is easy to be cynical about some of the people featured and the views that they expressed but on the whole we need more, not less of this sort of passion about our profession.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Getting research into practice

Last week SINTO held its annual Members' Day and AGM at Sheffield Hallam University. I will pass quickly over the AGM (where I had to report a large deficit on the SINTO accounts for the past year) and move instead to the members' day itself.
The theme was "Getting research into practice" and we looked at how research carried out both by LIS academics and by practitioners can be used by librarians.

Our first keynote speaker was Dr Ian Rowlands whose report on Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future has attracted a lot of attention. Ian has explored the reality behind the idea of the "Google generation" i.e. the belief that there is a new generation of people with very different information seeking behaviour based on the use of the Internet and who are turning away from libraries. He suggested that the real situation was more complicated and that we may be seeing the rise of "digital dissidents" - young people who are moving away from the Internet. Dr Rowlands pointed out that librarians have to ensure that their services remain relevant to the needs of students, researchers and the public.

Liz Brewster gave a presentation about her dissertation at the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, on bibliotherapy and the public library. This work won her the SINTO Bob Usherwood prize and is a good example of how student dissertations can be a useful source of information for practitioners. Information on tracing student dissertations from the DIS can be found here.

Matt Borg and Deborah Harrop from Sheffield Hallam University Learning Centre then reported on work they had carried out on information skills training. There keyword was "Inspiration" and they pointed out that information is a mechanism not the outcome and that we need to be learner focused. They also showed that information skills training could produce results.

Our second keynote speaker, Juliet Eve from the University of Brighton gave a paper "Academics are from Mars, practitioners are from Venus" which looked at the gap between the two groups. She has outlined her argument in her own blog on this event.

The discussion that followed was fairly low key despite Bob Usherwood's attempts to stimulate debate. Briony Birdi explained the DIS's commitment to making research available to the wider community and their interest in working with practitioners. Some practitioners explained that although they were interested in using research they had limited time to keep up-to-date with everything that was produced and that if they did carry out their own research they had no time to publish it themselves.

Bob Usherwood mentioned Edward Dudley's column in Update to the effect that librarians don't spend enough time thinking about or discussing professional issues. The members' day was an opportunity to do this and I hope the members found it to be a useful interlude.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Best Practice at Heart of New Dawn for MLA

The above headline appears at the top of the MLA press release announcing the new structure of MLA following the reorganisation. It deserves careful analysis and informed comment... but for now it will just get this :-)

Can you have an "old dawn"? Aren't all dawns new by definition? And does a dawn have a heart? And as for "best practice", best for who or what. Does best practice mean practice that is best for the needs of the individual library authority or are we looking at standardised practice across the country?

OK - the headline is not as important as the content of the press release. The new MLA may be able to achieve things that the old MLA didn't. Roy Clare says “The result will be a leaner, fitter MLA, uniquely positioned to work collaboratively to challenge and invigorate our sector, embrace the future, and work for standards right across the country that measure up to the best.” I hope he is right as these are outcomes devoutly to be wished - but I don't think that the breathless bumph at the top of this press release strikes the right note.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Teaching and Training Tips for Librarians

I am happy to respond to a request from the CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside Branch and Career Development Group Yorkshire & Humberside to promote one of their forthcoming events. If you are interested in this please contact Andrew Walsh and not the SINTO office.

Teaching and Training Tips for Librarians

Wednesday 23 July 2008, University of Huddersfield. 9:15-16:30

CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside Branch and Career Development Group Yorkshire & Humberside invite you to attend this one day workshop, aimed at those involved in teaching within a library setting in all sectors. An excellent opportunity to learn new skills and share ideas and experiences.

Programme Overview
9:15-9:30 Registration/Tea,Coffee.
9:30-9:40 Welcome and Introduction
9:40-10:40 Crosswords, library bingo and quizzes: getting more active learning into our teaching.
10:40-11:00 Refreshments
11:00-12:00 Creativity in Teaching
12:00-13:00 Enquiry Based Learning
13:00-13:45 Lunch
13:45-14:15 Lesson Planning
14:15-15:30 Group Activity (includes refreshments)
15:30-16:15 Poster Promenade
16:15-16:30 Question & Answer session/close

£50 +VAT (£58.75) per delegate for CILIP Members
£70 +VAT (£82.25) per delegate for Non-CILIP Members
Places are limited to 25, advanced booking is essential. A booking form must be completed to ensure a place.

For a booking form contact Andrew Walsh University of Huddersfield, Computing & Library Services, CSB, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH. Tel. 01484 472052

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Flamboyant librarians

The screening of the Hollywood Librarian on the 19th June has attracted bookings from over 100 librarians and friends of librarians. There is no official collective noun for information professionals but a stack of librarians seems to fit the bill.

Most of the audience appears to be library staff who are interested in seeing how the profession is represented on the big screen. I had hoped that some heads of service would take the opportunity of inviting their senior management or elected members along to the film as a way of promoting the service but I have no indication that this is happening. We don't often get the opportunity to promote the value of libraries and it would be a pity if this was not grasped with both hands.

On the tickets for this screening I have said that the dress code is "flamboyant librarian". This is not to be take too seriously - I know that most people will be coming directly from work and will not have an opportunity to dress up - but it would be nice if people could use the Hollywood theme to chalenge the usual image of librarians, even if it just among ourselves. There will be a small prize for the most flamboyant librarian on the night.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Skills - new and old.

At the Library and Information Show, Roy Clare and John Dolan of MLA both made the point that public libraries needed to be fully engaged with the digital environment and Web 2.0.

Some forthcoming events from SINTO will help library and information services in our region to respond to this challenge.

The SINTO Members' Day on the 12th June asks "Why do we do what we do?" Do we have the evidence that proves that what we do is meeting the needs of our users or is the most effective use of our resources? This day will look at how research can inform professional practice. Keynote speakers are Dr Ian Rowlands, author of Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future and Juliet Eve of the University of Brighton with a presentation Academics are from Mars, practitioners are from Venus.

Advanced Internet searching led by Stephanie Taylor on the 17th June will cover what is a core skill for all information professionals. This course will examine techniques that will enable staff to find relevant and authoritative information efficiently. Stephanie Taylor will take delegates through the latest search tools and techniques. Each person will have their own PC for hands-on practice. This is the Google Generation but information professionals need to be ahead of the field.. We must be better at finding information tham our users.

And just because we have to embrace the new does not mean we abandon the old. A Brief Introduction to Cataloguing and Classification on the 3rd June covers another core skill in information handling.

Contact the SINTO office for more information.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Hollywood Librarian comes to Sheffield

SINTO has organised a screening of The Hollywood Librarian for Thursday 19th June at 6.15pm

The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians through Film is the first full-length documentary film to focus on the work and lives of librarians. Using the entertaining and appealing context of American movies, the film contains hundreds of examples of librarians and libraries on screen -- some positive, some negative, some laughable and some dead wrong. Films such as Sophie's Choice, Philadelphia and It's a Wonderful Life show librarians as negative stereotypes. The librarians in Lorenzo's Oil, Desk Set and The Shawshank Redemption, on the other hand, are competent and professional. Dozens of interviews of real librarians are interwoven with movie clips of cinematic librarians and serve as transitions between the themes of censorship, intellectual freedom, children and librarians, pay equity and funding issues, and the value of reading.

The Hollywood Librarian is a unique and charming blend of film clips, humour and critical analysis of the popular image of librarians. It creates a new-found empathy for the profession by revealing the diversity of individual librarians and the importance of what they do.

The screening will take place in the Pennine lecture theatre at Sheffield Hallam University. Doors open at 6pm. Admission will be by ticket only. There is no charge but we are asking for a donation of about £5. Some of the proceeds will go to the film's director Ann Seidl, who has not charged for screenings but is collecting money to fund a DVD release. The remainder will go to SINTO to cover our costs and to the Library Campaign charity.

This should be an entertaining and inspiring event for library staff but I also hope that libraries will take the opportunity of inviting "friends of libraries" - and those who should be a bit more friendly towards libraries.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Laura Tolley

The following message is from Sheffield Hallam University.

It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that Laura Tolley, Senior Information Adviser (Acquisitions), died on Friday 25 April. We last saw her at work only a week or so before this date, so there is a great sense of shock amongst those of us who worked closely with her. Laura was a long serving member of staff who will be known to many, both in LITS and across the University. Our deep sympathy goes to her family and especially to Paul and the children.
Laura's funeral will take place on Friday, 2nd May at 2.30pm at Hutcliffe Wood Crematorium, Periwood Lane, Sheffield S8 0HN.
The family have requested no flowers but have asked that any donations in Laura's name should be made to Nightingale House Hospice in Wrexham.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Local librarians in the news

The recent Education Guardian supplement Libraries Unleashed contained a couple of references to local LIS celebrities! In the item Information alert Wendy Wallace introduces Sheila Webber as follows:

"In real life, Sheila Webber is a senior lecturer in information studies at Sheffield University. In Second Life, she is Sheila Yoshikawa, blue-haired babe and cultivator of a Japanese garden - Webber's avatar in the online virtual world populated by millions. 'I see her as a digital extension of me. I do some teaching, some professional networking and some shopping. I have a huge wardrobe and I'm much thinner.'"

Wendy interviews Sheila about Dr Ian Rowlands report on the 'Google generation'. The report, Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, found users "power-browsing" or skimming material, using "horizontal" (shallow) research. Most spent only a few minutes looking at academic journal articles and few returned to them. "It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense," said the report authors. Dr Rowlands is one of the key-note speakers at the SINTO Members' Day on June 12th.

"Students of all ages need to learn to make independent assessments of the quality of material by looking at the authors' experience, funders, use of sources, and where published. 'They have to be taught these skills explicitly,' says Sheila Webber. 'Some academics recognise its importance but don't see it as their job to teach it. University librarians do see it as their responsibility - but there aren't enough of them to do it. Academics must join in.'"

Elsewhere in the supplement Martin Lewis, director of library services at the University of Sheffield is interviewed about how technology has changed his role. "Users can carry out more routine transactions themselves while we provide more time offering learning support to students. As teachers of information literacy, we can give students critical appraisal skills so they can use the internet."

Monday, 21 April 2008

SINTO Foundation Agreement

From left to right. Ann Betterton (Sheffield Hallam University), Janice Maskort (Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information) and Martin Lewis (University of Sheffield).

This photograph shows the signing of the SINTO Foundation agreement last week. This might strike you as odd as SINTO has existed since 1932!

In fact, SINTO in its present form, as a forum for strategic planning and partnership (rather than an inter-library loan organisation), was established in 1993 by Sheffield Public Libraries, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. The three partners agreed on how the new organisation would operate but for various reasons a formal foundation agreement was not signed. Over the next few years several attempts were made to draft an agreement but these all fell through.

A few years ago this caused a particular problem for SINTO when Sheffield City Council announced that it would be absorbing the funds held for SINTO by the City Council in order to cover a deficit in the city's finances. The lack of an agreed foundation document meant that the status of SINTO was uncertain. When this particular problem was resolved it was decided that a foundation agreement was essential and this was signed at the SINTO Executive meeting on the 15th April 2008.

The signing of the agreement should have little impact on SINTO members. We will continue to operate as we have been doing in the past. But it is worth asking, if SINTO did not exist would we want to invent it? The principles that SINTO stands for - partnership, co-operation, information planning - are important and as valid today as they were in 1993 or 1932. As it says in the agreement, SINTO was established "as a means of achieving more effective and efficient library services and thus contribute to the economic, educational and social infrastructure of Sheffield, South Yorkshire and the surrounding area."

Friday, 11 April 2008


The 2008-9 edition of the SINTO Members' Directories are now being distributed to all SINTO member organisations. The Directories are distributed in electronic format which of course means that an area the size of Wales in the Amazon rain forest will not now have to be chopped down to produce paper, while the saving in CO2 emissions from the fleet of lorries that would otherwise be needed to deliver them will preserve the polar ice caps and save thousands of polar bears and penguins - not to mention those gorgeous baby seal pups.

However, the Green benefits of the SINTO Directories don't just stop there, oh no! Using the directories opens up a whole world of resource sharing which is essential to a sustainable lifestyle.

The General Networking directory lists all SINTO members, including many separate site libraries, and provides all the contact details you need. Exactly how you make use of this is up to you but the possibilities are endless. The green mantra is "think globally, act locally" and the directory helps you to do this. There are many ways in which you can improve your library services and save resources by working in partnership. A small example is the list of Library Management Systems used by SINTO libraries. If you want to see how a particular system works you can visit a local library - and use public transport as well!

The Inter Library Loan Scheme directory takes this even further. Here is all the information you need to contact those libraries that take part in the SINTO ILL scheme. Again, sourcing things locally should be a central theme of your environmental policy (you do have one, don't you!).

And don't forget that SINTO training events are all run locally - and we serve Fairtrade coffee!

All this Green stuff does get confusing but just remember that using SINTO will save all those polar bears in the Amazon rain forest.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

University of Sheffield Information Commons on YouTube

Don't miss Martin's comments on my posting about the Leicester University Toilets! He draws attention to a pop video on YouTube that was shot inside the Information Commons.. The correct link to the video is here.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Business Information in Yorkshire

There have been some significant changes in the provision of business information in the Yorkshire region.

As from April 2008 the Business Link services in the Yorkshire and Humberside area have been delivered by a new provider. Y&H IDB has been selected by Yorkshire Forward as the contractor for the new regional Business Link. Y&H IDB has been set up by Examplas (which runs the east of England Business Link) and Reed in Partnership (which delivers New Deal and Train to Gain programmes in Yorkshire.

The main change is that the four regional Business Links have been replaced by the single Business Link Yorkshire based in Barnsley. It offers a "fast, friendly and practical business information from our experienced team of Information Advisers". The range of business information on offer is vast, backed by a broad network of library and technological resources. Information Adviser will help new start ups or established companies obtain the most appropriate package of support.

At the same time the South Yorkshire Euro Information Service has closed and been replaced by the new Enterprise Europe Yorkshire based in Bradford. Enterprise Europe Yorkshire is part of a Europe wide network with over 500 partners. Supported by the European Commission and Yorkshire Forward, they provide a comprehensive enquiry service on EU related matters for local businesses.

The development of these Yorkshire wide agencies for business information highlights the issues raised by SINTO in the Libraries are Good for Business project. This showed the difficulty of providing a comprehensive business information service for Yorkshire through 15 separate public library authorities. Despite their being no central planning or co-ordination, a structure has emerged with two libraries (Leeds and Sheffield) providing a regional service, others providing a specialised local service and a few which do not attempt to duplicate provision but refer specialist enquiries to other sources.

The project also demonstrated the difficulty of co-operation between Business Link and the public libraries with a lack of a strategic approach to co-operation and partnership working. Business Links have seldom regarded public library business information services as significant - but while Business Links serve the needs of businesses, business information is important to a much wider audience including consumers, trade unionists and business students. Public libraries also act as an access point for small businesses, start-ups and pre-start-ups. It would be nice to think that the development of a single Business Link would make dialogue and partnership easier, but with the demise of MLA Yorkshire there is no longer a single voice for libraries in the region.

One recommendation in Libraries are Good for Business was that public libraries (through the Society of Chief Librarians Yorkshire) and Yorkshire Forward should develop their role in the Better Deal for Business framework beginning with libraries signing up to this framework. SCL Yorkshire was not able to take this basic step and in most authorities business information services are being cut back. The contrast between a single Business Link and EIC on the one hand and a fractured public library provision on the other is stark and the profession seems unable to respond, as it has done in the past, by working together.

SINTO, meanwhile, produces a directory of business information services in Yorkshire to enable resource sharing, networking and referral; and runs a business information group. for more information contact the SINTO office.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Leicester University Library Toilets

This picture is taken from the Facebook group Leicester University Library Toilets Appreciation Society ( here but you have to be registered with Facebook).
The Group was set up to celebrate the toilets in the new David Wilson university library. It probably only confirms suspicions that Facebook (and Social Computing in general) is about trivia - but the library itself does have a Facebook page. As far as I know the University of Sheffield Information Commons isn't on Facebook. Are they missing out on a marketing opportunity or just being sensible?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Interview with Roy Clare, MLA

On Wednesday I had a telephone interview with Roy Clare, Chief Executive of MLA, to explore the implications of the restructuring of MLA and the probable demise of MLA Yorkshire.

Roy began by stating that everything that he was doing was customer focused and that his concern was with the users and audiences, not with the structures. He said that there was a need to do more joining up, not only between libraries, museums and archives but between the MLA, the Arts Council and the Sport England. There must be an end to compartmentalism between these different Government bodies.

A growing trend in Government policy was the increasing importance of local government and the role of regional non-departmental public bodies. These bodies are competing with each other for the ear of local authorities and regional development agencies, and there needed to be a fundamental change in how things were done. It was the intention to have more collaboration and a Director of Programme in each region.

Roy pointed out that the old MLA structure had been complex and that the available funding had to be split into a number of separate pots to support the regional MLAs. However, he insisted that MLA is not walking away from the regions and that it will maintain a strong leadership through three areas:

  1. A focus on connecting with local authorities. This will include ensuring that culture is reflected in all Local Area Agreements.

  2. Connecting with the Regional Development Agencies. Working jointly with other agencies MLA will promote the core role of culture, art and sport for regional regeneration and development.

  3. Promoting learning society capacity in the regions. The concept of the learning society for promoting learning and skills development was central to regional development and the new MLA will be working on this.

Roy explained how MLA would operate in the regions. A Regional Transition Working Group has been set up which will be led by Sam Bestwick of MLA East Midlands to oversee the transition and Roy did not want to speculate on the final structure. Roy expects to have high calibre people in the regions. They would not operate autonomously but would consult with an advisory group that would work with other non-departmental public bodies. The reduction in the overall MLA headcount would mean that more funding would be available in the future for organisations to bid for to support projects.

I asked Roy if the MLA would be looking to work with consortia of libraries, museums and archives in each region. He said that the Yorkshire Regional Museums Hub was a good model of the type of organisation that was needed and that he was keen to encourage closer collaboration within and across domains. The staff of the new MLA would not be domain specialists and libraries, museums and archives should work together. Roy identified two upcoming events; the new comprehensive spending review and the next general election. For both of these it was essential that culture was high on the agenda and that we all had to stand together to achieve this.

Finally Roy said that we owe a great debt to Annie Mauger, John Tarrant and all the staff of MLA Yorkshire for their work. The architecture has now changed and bodies like MLA need to change because of this.

Roy Claire has offered an explanation and justification of the changes at MLA. Few will disagree with his message that the cultural sector as a whole needs to get its act together and promote itself as a force for regional regeneration. This will require people of exceptionally high calibre who can lobby the decision makers. They will need to understand the particular characteristics and needs of each domain and at the same time be able to meld this into a vision of what we can offer the population of our region. His support for regional consortia as partners in this process is to be welcomed and it is significant that he has highlighted the Yorkshire Hubs from the museums domain as a model of good practice.

What is missing in Yorkshire is any framework for libraries to work together and with other domains. Clearly the Yorkshire Hubs model needs to be replicated for the libraries domain. The role of MLA Yorkshire was limited but it did achieve some things. The Libraries are Good for Business project which looked at business information provision across the region is a good example. This research could only have been commissioned by a regional body and it demonstrated the difficulties of delivering a regional service through separate library services. MLAY did a good job of promoting the value of libraries with Yorkshire Forward, but at the end of the day we were unable to offer the region an integrated business information service or even a robust model for co-operation at a regional level. (This example also shows that although libraries and culture overlap there is not an exact fit). Roy sees MLA working with the Arts Council and Sport England to promote our role with the regional development agencies but the RDAs will be asking how we can deliver a co-ordinated service and that will prove difficult without a regional framework.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Training events from SINTO.

A picture for you to think about while I tell you about some training events.
Today we ran the repeat of the Deaf Awareness course with Richard Stacey and I am pleased to say we had a good number of people on this course. For more information see the SINTO wiki.

We have what I think is a very strong programme of events coming with a wide range of events which show how SINTO can respond quickly to the training needs of local LIS staff.

In April we are running the Effective Enquiry Desk Work event which we have run twice before. Tim Buckley Owen gets to the heart of what it takes to be a success at the enquiry desk.

Later in April we have our annual trip to the Library & Information Show in Birmingham. Now in its 19th year this is a major showcase for products (with over 120 exhibitors) and a places to meet suppliers and colleagues.

Inter Library Loans have always been at the heart of library services and SINTO was set up as an ILL agency between libraries in Sheffield. But what is happening now that many libraries have gone digital? Users still need access to material that you don't have on your (virtual) shelves but how can you locate and obtain e-books and journals? Stephanie Taylor will help us explore this new environment in May.

If e-books are the near future then is cataloguing & classification the distant past? I don't think so and there is still a need for library staff to understand the basic principles. Keith Tricky presents a Brief Introduction to Cat & Class in June.

The SINTO Members' Day and AGM on the 12th June is an opportunity for the SINTO community to get together. This year we are looking at the link between research and practice. How can academic research and research in the workplace help us provide a better library service? The keynote speaker is Ian Rowlands who will be talking about his research on the information behaviour of students and academics.

Then in June Stephanie Taylor returns to give a workshop on Advanced Internet Searching.

And what about that photograph? Well it shows a picture drawn by pavement artist Julian Beever. The bottle and ladder are drawn on the pavement but with a perspective that makes it look like a 3-d object. The artist is kneeling at the end of the picture in the middle distance while the lady with the glass is much closer to the camera. Strange but true! Have a good weekend.

The most modern (public) library in the world.

Also well worth sharing is this blog from the Shifted Librarian about the public library in Delft, Holland. It really is an amazing looking building and it is hard to imagine that any British Library Authority today could even begin to think of providing a library at this level.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Ig Noble Awards (The)

I just had to share this press release from the Society of Indexers.

Sword swallower meets The Indexer
The brainchild of Guardian journalist and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, Marc Abrahams, the Ig Nobel awards celebrate research that 'first makes people laugh, and then makes them think'.
Australian indexer Glenda Browne received this accolade last October for her article on the humble word 'the' and why it causes so much trouble for people trying to put things into alphabetical order. She shared the stage with, amongst others, Dan Meyer, fellow Ig Nobel winner for research into the injurious effects of sword-swallowing.
Dan (aka 'Cap'n Cutless, Swashbucklin' Saber Swallower') was back on stage recently (and giving a practical demonstration of his skills!), as part of the 2008 Ig Nobel Road show touring the UK during Science and Engineering Week. This time he was sharing the platform with Maureen MacGlashan, editor of The Indexer, the journal in which Glenda's article was first published and which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.
Joining the motley crowd of Ig Nobel award winners (whose research ranged from 'Scrotal asymmetry in man and in ancient sculpture' and 'The effect of country music on suicide' to 'Homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck' and assembling the world's first periodic
(four-legged) table) were fifteen members of the Society of Indexers, who entered into the spirit of the event by holding up letters that read 'INDEXERS UNITE'. 'We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to get across the idea that indexing is a serious business and that there are people who do it for a living,' said Maureen. 'Most importantly, we showed that we can laugh at ourselves for what we do and how we do it'.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Black Swans in the antilibrary.

In his book "The Black Swan" Nassim Taleb begins with an account of Umberto Eco's library. This library contains 30,000 books and the significance of this collection is not that Eco has read them all but that it is a research tool for future reading. "Read books are far less valuable than unread ones.... Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary"
I don't think that a librarian would ever make this distinction but the idea of the importance of unread books - of unknowns - is central to The Black Swan.

Taleb's idea is that our lives are dominated by Black Swan events; that is events which are extremely rare but have very high impact. These events can not be predicted in advance because they are completely different to anything that has happened before. Afterwards, these events are subject to intense scrutiny and explanations are developed which appear to show how they could have been predicted, but this does not prepare us for the next Black Swan. He seems to suggest that none of the unread books in the antilibrary would enable us to predict these events although some of the books (including presumably his own) can help us to deal with the effects of Black Swans on society.

Taleb also claims that information is bad for knowledge. More knowledge does not mean that you make better choices, only that you are more confident in the choices you have made. This echoes Eliot's line about "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

So a mixed message for libraries! What you don't know is more relevant than what you do know so libraries are important. However the events that will have most impact are unknowable and providing people with more information does not necessarily help.

The profession is faced with its own Black Swan in the shape of the Internet. The development over a few years of a system which (potentially) offers every individual the ability to find any information they want instantly from their home or office (or mobile device) could not have been anticipated and is having a massive impact - modified only by the fact that the potential and the reality are very different. So how do we cope?

In the announcement of the Skills Exchange milestone (last posting) Stephanie Taylor makes the point that the Skills Exchange concept is very different from that of an email list:
"The Skills Exchange is all about creating a sense of community, which of course an email list is not. The email list does not really lend itself to discussion, which is why many descend into little more than announcements of events. They also tend to be narrowly focused. So if your interests are broadly based, you end up with little more than a cluttered inbox, adding to information overload! If you remain so narrowly focused, you miss the big picture of trends and developments in the sector. Again with The Skills Exchange, the idea is that all the debates can take place in one place, making it easy to monitor sector developments."

This is fundamental to dealing with Black Swans - and even grey cygnets, their less traumatic offspring. You don't need more information. You need to step back and think, and the best way of doing that is to talk to other people. Librarians are very good at doing things right but we need to focus on doing the right thing. Forums such as the Skills Exchange, CILIP communities and the SINTO wiki are an ideal tool for this. Librarians claim that they have less time to get out of the library and network. They don't even have time to spend an hour or so on the computer networking. However they are making a grave error if they think that keeping their noses to the grindstone is helping their users or their employers in the long term. Stop what you are doing and look for Black Swan in your organisation. Help your manager, and your manager's manager to look for Black Swans. That is your job - after all you are the custodian of the unread books.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Skills Exchange

I mentioned the Skills Exchange on-line forum previously and it is now celebrating passing a milestone .

The new online community where librarians and information workers can meet to exchange ideas now has over 100 registered users - well over actually - 121 at the latest count, and growing all the time. This should now be a user-base that can be of genuine use to each other in the exchange of knowledge and experience in the LIS sector.

It is cross-sectoral in its make-up, with representatives from the academic, public and commercial sector. This can become a valuable feature of The Skills Exchange, as a fresh perspective on tackling similar issues can often lead to new and innovative thinking.

I wish the Skills Exchange all the best in the future and recommend it to all librarians in the region.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

What will happen when MLA Yorkshire disappears?

I have posted on the demise of the regional MLA bodies and how disappointing this is. Roy Clare was apparently very cross with the response of MLA Yorkshire and the comments by John Tarrant, preferring it would seem that MLAY should just roll over and play dead and not rock the boat. I e-mailed Roy (or the Admiral as Perkins likes to call him) asking for his comments but he has not bothered to reply.

The question now is what will happen post-MLAY? It is not the role of MLAY to set up a successor body to take over from them although Annie Mauger (Chief Executive) has said that she is prepared to facilitate any discussions. It is up to the library services in our region to decide what they want and how they want to achieve it. The wants list would certainly include a body that could represent and lobby on behalf of libraries with the regional and national decision making bodies such as Yorkshire Forward; strategic planning; promoting and supporting library and information services; co-operating with the museums and archives sectors; and supporting and delivering regional training and CPD activities. What is needed is some sort of regional development agency for libraries along the lines of LLDA in London. or Libraries and Information East Midlands.

There are a number of bodies already in existence that could play a part in this. The Society of Chief Librarians in Yorkshire is a forum for public libraries. Yorkshire Libraries and Information is the Regional Library System for Yorkshire and Humber (although if you visit their home page you will see it was last updated in November 2003). The CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside Branch represents CILIP members in the region and organises some CPD events.

Then there is SINTO. We have grown from a Sheffield based partnership to one covering South Yorkshire (and north Derbyshire), and now have members in West Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. There is no reason why we should not extend our remit to cover all of Yorkshire and the Humber. This would require a major expansion of the SINTO office, but I don't see this expansion in terms of SINTO recruiting more members. Instead, the libraries in the region need to decide if they want to set up a development agency and then build on the existing structures, including SINTO, to achieve this.

All this needs to be discussed by the SINTO Executive and the existing members. It is possible that they will decide they don't want SINTO to change and grow. One of our USPs is that SINTO is a local consortium for local libraries and expansion might damage this. However, the opportunity is there to build on the ashes of MLA Yorkshire.

Friday, 7 March 2008


I used the above picture in a posting some time ago. It's a piece of sculpture I spotted when walking around Barcelona last summer and I suppose it just tickled my fancy. Later I began to wonder what the piece is called and who the artist is, but a search on Google images failed to find it. Then I heard (through Phil Bradley's excellent blog) about a service called Picanswers. You post photographs to this site with a question and see if anyone replies. I posted my Cheeky Sculpture picture and a few days later I received a detailed reply giving full information. Here is part of the reply:

"The sculpture in your picture is located in the Park of Carles I along the Avenida Icaria, in the district of Sant Martí in Barcelona. It was made by Eduardo Úrculo in 1999 and is a homage to Santiago Roldán, president of the Olympic Holding from 1989 to 1993 (so it says at the base of the sculpture)."

There were also links to other photographs and a Youtube video clip. It just goes to show the power of social computing.

I'm still not sure if this blog has much power or influence but I checked recently and it is getting an average of 12 hits a day. If we ignore the weekends, when my intended audience should have better things to do, that's almost 17 per day. It peaked on the 5th February this year when it had 33 hits. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Assistive Technology for Libraries

Affinity Supreme electronic magnifier
This week SINTO ran a half-day seminar on Assistive Technology for libraries. In this event we looked at technical fixes - hardware and software - that could be used in libraries to help deaf people and people with visual impairments to access library materials.

Emma Arnold from JISC TechDis gave a presentation on the TechDis Accessibility Essentials series of publications. The first of these - making Electronic Documents More Readable - gives practical information about how the appearance of a document on the screen can be changed to suit the needs of the person reading it. It covered Microsoft Word documents, PDF documents in Adobe Acrobat Reader and webpages in Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. We picked up many useful hints - for example I did not realise that the Adobe Acrobat Reader can convert text into spoken words.

Next Tony Shrubb of Force Ten Co demonstrated software that can be installed on PCs to improve accessibility and displayed the latest in text magnifiers and text readers.

During the seminar there was a discussion about how well libraries are meeting the needs of people who have problems in accessing standard text. Most libraries do make provision e.g. providing large text and audiobooks and in providing specialist equipment. However it was conceded that awareness and training of front line staff could be a problem and that a user with special needs might not always get access to the services that would help them. Examples were given of library staff who were not aware of what assistive technology was available or how to make best use of it. It was pointed out that training of all staff was expensive in money and time and, as use of these services was often low, it was difficult to maintain staff skills at a high level. On the other hand, the low level of use might be a result of the poor service offered.

I drew attention to a survey of the experiences of blind and visually impaired people using electronic information services in public libraries which supports this view; saying that these access technologies may attract very little use in libraries without significant investment in staff training.

The trouble is that this is only one of many areas where more investment is needed in equipment and staff training. Training events like this one organised by SINTO help to improve the skills and understanding of library staff at the operational level. They also raise awareness of the demand for these services and the technologies that are available to meet this demand. This awareness needs to be disseminated to the users of our services on one side and the decision makers and funders of our services on the other. The expectations of users should be increased and the funders should be challenged to provide for this need.

SINTO is very happy to provide training for library staff but I often wish that SINTO member organisations would work with SINTO to promote this awareness to those people who can make a difference.
More information about access can be found on the SINTO wiki.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Equity & excellence in the Public Library

Library professionals inevitably spend a great deal of their time focusing on the day-to-day issues of running library services but occasionally we debate the principles that underpin what we do. One such debate is currently taking place in the pages of our professional journals and librarians from our area are taking a leading role in this debate.

This debate was sparked by Bob Usherwood, Emeritus Professor of Librarianship, University of Sheffield and Chair of SINTO. His new book Equity and Excellence in the Public Libraries: why ignorance is not our heritage, was published last year by Ashgate. Prof Usherwood summarised his views in an Opinion piece in Update 6(12) December 2007 p22.

His argument is that too many public librarians steer clear of making value judgments when choosing stock and as a result are "failing to counteract the ignorance and prejudice engendered by a society that cultivates celebrity, cash and trash." It is a cause of concern for Bob that so many librarians "appear unable or unwilling to make a judgement about the quality of books or other material." He further suggests that libraries should focus on services to encourage and support people with learning difficulties and others who do not deliberately embrace ignorance rather than "larger louts, chavs and other imposters masquerading as [the] true working class" (Usherwood quoting Knightley). "Such groups" claims Bob "are not by any means genuine representatives of the disadvantaged, and public librarians have to be very wary of the siren voices of those policy makers and others who mistakenly seek to promote their interests on the name of inclusion and equity."

Helen Buckley Woods of Sheffield Hallam University took issue with this in a letter to the January/February Update. She argued that it was not the either/or situation that Bob seemed to suggest and that most librarians would have "[a] steadfast commitment to provide a broad range of materials and services for all parts of the community, endeavouring to offer an excellent service to every user, no matter who they are...".

John Pateman (Head of Libraries, Lincolnshire) wrote to Update to support Helen's views that we should not separate the 'underclass' from the 'true working class' but argued that "...we should be mindful of the balance between social classes in our communities and ensure that resources are allocated accordingly. He also said that Helen was right to point out that there need not be a tension between equity and excellence in public libraries. However in a later piece in the Library & Information Gazette headlined "Equity not excellence" John says "My view is that we should not put our focus on excellence in terms of bookstock, but on equity with regard to social inclusion." He continues "Surely it is better to compromise on high professional standards so that libraries can truly be open to all?" John concludes by saying "In the modern public library service, excellence has its place - as a secondary consideration. But it has not served public libraries well in the past. Equity must be the watchword for the future."

On the face of it this is a clear conflict between the supporters of Excellence on the one hand and Equity on the other. However, Bob's definition of Excellence is about the quality of the material that we select and the need to provide knowledge and enlightenment. John chooses to interpret this as support for "high and elitist culture" which panders to a "predominantly middle-class, female, white and middle-aged" minority. Bob's comments about the "perils of populism" may justify this interpretation. The OED definition of populism is support for or representation of ordinary people or their views; speech, action, writing, etc., intended to have general appeal and a rejection of this inevitably suggests an elitist approach which may not be what Bob intended. The word quality has many definitions (including the archaic people of high social standing) but in the sense of excellence or superiority it is not an antonym of popular.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Small earthquake in Sheffield

Like many other people I was suddenly woken last night by an earthquake. There does not seem to have been much damage but someone in Barnsley was hurt when a chimney collapsed. Does anyone have any information about damage caused to libraries in our area? Has anyone lost any books from their shelves? Or has anyone put on a quick display of books about earthquakes?

If there are any local history librarians out there you might be interested in the Earthquake thread on the Sheffield Forum. It's a snapshot of how people reacted to the event as it happened.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

MLA Yorkshire to end operations

MLA Yorkshire has announced today that it will be ceasing to operate at the end of 2008. This is because of funding cuts by its main funder, the MLA Board which are a result of Government cuts to funding for the MLA. The Board itself is being restructured and moved to Birmingham while small regional teams will replace the regional agencies.

Chair of MLA Yorkshire, Professor John Tarrant, said: "This is not just a sad day for museums, libraries and archives but also a sad day for Yorkshire. The staff of MLA Yorkshire have done an excellent job providing a strong voice for museums, libraries and archives in the region. They have championed the work that supports our communities and helped the cultural sector play a leading role in the revitalising of our region's economy.

"Closing MLA Yorkshire will impact on local authorities that have looked to us for guidance, small organisations we have supported such as voluntary museums and the public who have benefited from our work to improve the sector for users.

"Every museum, library and archive in our region will lose as a result of this decision. They will have less of a voice in Yorkshire and the Humber than they would have in the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

MLA Chairman Mark Wood said: "The Board has taken the decision that only radical reorganisation will sustain a stronger, more focused MLA working nationally and regionally, and making better use of public money. We believe that the costs of nine independent agencies, concentrating only on museums, libraries and archives, are unsustainable. "

MLA’s Chief Executive Roy Clare said: "This is a tremendously challenging programme of change. We will continue to work closely with the nine independently-constituted agencies and with local government and regional development agencies to plan for a unified MLA. We aim to introduce substantial improvements, while making savings quickly within the looming financial year. We will retain flexibility to ensure that the MLA's emerging shape and capacities are compatible with the results of the ongoing DCMS review of the regions."

This is deeply disapointing news for the sector in Yorkshire. MLA nationally has been seen by many as having lost the plot and failing to speak up effectively for libraries. The regional agencies had their problems but they did retain their contact with the musuums, libraries and archives domains while at the same time being an advocate and support at a regional level. We are a diverse and fragmented profession and a single regional agency was of benefit. It was also the only evidence of central Government support for the infrastructure that is meant to support the Information Society. We are entitled to feel that we have been left in the lurch by a Government Greport highlighted the problems of a lack of understanding of what information was all about in our schools, colleges and workplaces but it seems that should be extended to Downing Street as well.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

With love to librarians

Here is a Valentine's Day greeting from SINTO to all librarians and friends of libraries wherever you are. These images are from

The first one intrigued me. At first I thought it was a case of an aberrant apostrophe. It should be "Everyone loves a librarian" which is true, but is neither short for "love is" nor possesive and so does not need the apostrophe. Perhaps it should be "Everyones love's a librarian"? But then I remembered Lynne Truss who points out that until recently an apostrophe appeared in the plural of abbreviations (e.g. MP's) and that this convention still applies in America. If the heart symbol is an abbreviation of "love" does the third person singular form of the verb take an apostrophe - I heart; you heart; he/she heart's? I simply don't know.
But that isn't the point! Librarians are lovable. In the US they have a National Librarian Day on April 16th. Should we have the same here? Perhaps it could coincide with the Library & Information Show or the CILIP Umbrella conference. Whenever - let's celebrate being librarians!
STOP PRESS The Hollywood Librarian, subtitled a look at librarians through film, is the first full-length documentary film to focus on the work and lives of librarians and to compare their portrayal in films such as Sophie's Choice, Philadelphia, It's a Wonderful Life, Lorenzo's Oil, Desk Set and The Shawshank Redemption with the realities of the modern information profession.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Culture, creativity and research

Dame Lynne Brindley of the British Library came to Sheffield yesterday to deliver the Firth Lecture at the Univerity of Sheffield.

The title of her talk was Culture, Creativity and Research and she looked at how the British Library as a publicly funded cultural institution supports the creative industries.

Lynne began by outlining the importance of creative industries to the British economy. They employ 1.1 million people and contribute £60 billion to the UK economy - and these figures are likely to rise. She explored the concept of Knowledge Transfer as it applies to the creative industries, pointing out that there were differences from the science & technology model. Creative industries require a social architecture or a cultural ecology within which they can operate and draw on for information and inspiration. The BL has three core role; a resource for research; to underpin business and enterprise through the Business and Intelectual Property centre and as a cultural institution. Web 2.0 developments in particular have enabled the BL to provide a different Knowledge Transfer model for the creative industries which is social not linear and combines these three roles. Writers, artists, designers and other creative people have used the BL to support the creative process and to turn this creativity into business success.

Lynne then moved on to copyright stressing that there needed to be a balance between the protection given to the creative industries and the need for fair use exceptions to allow people to access and make use of this material.

The talk was a powerful argument for the importance and value of a publicly funded national library and it seems to me that with a few changes it could stand as an argument for public libraries in general. I am sure that the knowledge transfer model that Lynne described operates in our major public libraries as well. I suspect that the other roles of public libraries - e.g. lending books for general reading and as access points to the Internet via the Peoples Network - although valuable in themselves, do tend to mask and dilute this role so that the economic contribution of public libraries is harder to quantify and therefore not recognised by the funders and decision makers. Public libraries have always suffered from the lack of a champion who can speak on their behalf. Where is the public library "chief executive" who can speak on behalf of all libraries with the authority of a Lynne Brindley?

University of Sheffield Library

The University of Sheffield Library News February 2008 is available here. This includes news of the move of the law collection from Crooksmoor to the Western Bank Library, building work at the Western Bank Library and the National Fairground Archive.

I am always happy to pass on news from any other SINTO member libraries if you send it to me.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Sheffield Libraries

Roy Hattersley penned a heartfelt tribute to public libraries in general and Hilsborough Library in Sheffield in particular, in a Daily Mail piece on 7th January 2008 headlined Why closing local libraries is a tragedy for us all. He wrote "They still provide essential information, informal education and, most important of all, hours of pure pleasure.... Yet 40 [libraries] closed last year. What happens in Hillsborough shows what a tragedy that is."

I mentioned the Oxford Online Library Champions Award when they were launched last year and I am very pleased to see that Sheffield Libraries were joint winners (with Plymouth) of the Best Website Promotion of Oxford Online Resources category. The judges were impressed by the number of ways people could find out about the service on the Sheffield Libraries’ website. ‘The overall aim has been to ensure high visibility of the OUP packages for 24/7 use, to maximize awareness of them at as many entry points on the web pages as possible, to ensure easy access to the packages and maximize their use by as diverse a customer base as possible,’ says Karen Wallace of Sheffield Libraries.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Social Networking for librarians

Librarians have on the whole been slow to adopt social networks as a means of professional development but it seems to be taking off. The CILIP Communities website provides a number of forums where members can have lively discussions on a range of issues. Critical Eye Communications have recently launched The Skills Exchange, described as a place for librarians and information workers to meet and exchange ideas. It also has a number of forums on topics such as the role of the modern library, web 2.0 tools & applications, copyright and repositories. CILIP Yorkshire & Humber Branch has been very innovative in setting up a Facebook page and its own wiki. And of course SINTO has a wiki.

The idea behind all these is similar. Sharing ideas and discussing professional issues with librarians from other organisations is an important tool for professional development. Opportunities to do this have traditionally been limited. We read the professional press and attend the occasional meeting or conference but most of the time we are working on our own. Social networking provides the opportunity to keep in touch with a community of interest from your workplace or home. As with many new developments the critical thing is not mastering the technology but changing our behaviour to take advantage of the new opportunities. Many people would take a half -or full-day, or more, off work to attend a meeting or training event but would find it difficult to spend a few hours a week to sit down in front of a computer and take part in on-line professional discussions. I wonder how many heads of service or training officers encourage their staff to do this during work time as part of their CPD activities.

It is perhaps dissapointing that there are now so many different social networking sites on offer - but there has always been a number of different professional journals available, each with its own remit and coverage. These things grow organically and we can not expect them to conform to a central plan. What is important is that individual professionals and LIS organisations seize the opportunity that is being offered and join in with these networks.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Next Generation

No, not the Star Trek spinoff. It is not quite "to boldly go where no one has gone before" but many professional librarians feel that they are facing a final frontier when they are faced with managerial responsibilities in their job. "I came into this job to do librarianship, not to manage" is a common complaint but the two are entwined and an effective library service depends on high quality management skills.

For several years Museums Libraries and Archives Yorkshire (MLAY) have been running the Next Generation Management development programme and this year SINTO is taking over the administration. The programme is aimed at staff who are just starting in, or aspiring to, their first management post - or as can happen, are in a management post but have never received training. It consists of a number of workshops on various key topics with the aim of developing skills and confidence.

The programme will be developed in consultation with the course participants but subjects covered will include managing your staff, your manager and yourself; project and financial management; creative thinking; influencing & persuading and presentation skills. Seminars will be held at various locations in Yorkshire. Participants will be encouraged to make use of an on-line community of interest. The programme will start in April and run for one year. The cost will be in the region of £450 for ten workshops.

Next Generation has a high standing in the museums sector and this year we hope to attract more librarians. A feature of the programme will be the sharing of experience with people from different backgrounds.

More information is available on the SINTO website or contact me at

Monday, 21 January 2008

Earn up to £100,000

Do you want to earn up to £100,000? A useful way to top up your salary or perhaps you could donate it to your bookfund? Well here is how to do it.

Copywatch, the enforcement arm of the Copyright Licencing Agency, is offering rewards of up to £100,000 to anyone who provides information on illegal copying. There is even a special section of their website for reporting local authorities and they say that research has established that local authorities "copy significantly".

It shouldn't be too difficult to spot illegal copying going on, then all you need to do is send a message to Copywatch. "No one" says Copywatch "will divulge your identity."

An alternative course of action is to sign up for the SINTO training event on Advanced Copyright. Graham Cornish will explain the copyright legislation and how if effects library. Armed with this information you can avoid infringing copyright law and advise your users and colleagues to do the same.

Of course you won't get the £100,000.

Friday, 18 January 2008


Elizabeth Brewster
Last year SINTO set up the SINTO Bob Usherwood Prize to be awarded to a student of the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield. The prize will be awarded to the postgraduate dissertation that makes a significant contribution to improving professional practice or understanding related to co-operation and partnership working across sectors in the SINTO area. The aim of the prize is twofold. First it will to encourage students to explore research topics that would be of value to local professional practice. Second it will encourage practitioners to take more interest in library research in general and the work produced by students from our local "library school" in particular. We wanted to avoid being parochial with this prize so although it will be given to a dissertation that is relevant to practitioners in our area that does not mean that it has to be about our area. This is demonstrated in our first award to Elizabeth Brewster for her dissertation Medicine for the Soul: bibliotherapy and the public library.
Bibliotherapy is using either fiction or non-fiction advisory texts to help people understand and deal with mental and physical health problems, primarily mild mental health difficulties including mild to moderate depression. The research revealed that the scheme Books on Prescription has been widely utilised by libraries as a form of bibliotherapy using self-help books. Librarians often feel that they provide informal bibliotherapy via reader development and readers’ groups. Research was carried out in a number of library authorities including several in our area. The study investigates the experience of bibliotherapy in the public library from the staff perspective. The impact of creative and self-help bibliotherapy are examined, and significant conclusions about the views of public librarians on partnership working, mental health, social inclusion and reader development are presented. The importance of partnership working is highlighted. The health service does not always recognise that the library service has assistance to offer within the sphere of treatment, and so wider publicity and advocacy may be necessary to improve perceptions and relationships. Careful consideration needs to be given to the suitability of potential partners and the timing of projects to ensure that relationships are successful, and are not undermined by external forces, such as the reorganisation of Primary Care Trusts.
Many public library staff felt that bibliotherapy schemes were of great benefit both to patrons of the library, and to the library itself. It was thought that bibliotherapy helps to reduce the stigma connected with mental health problems, as well as contributing to the social inclusion and healthy communities agendas.
Elizabeth concludes that: "Whether it is the pragmatic approach of self-help bibliotherapy, teaching people to cope with emotions and problems, or the journey of self-discovery that can be found within a fiction book recommended by a creative bibliotherapist, libraries have a role in providing the staff, services and structure that can benefit the population. Public library work has always reflected the desire to address the social responsibility inherent in their function, and bibliotherapy schemes have the potential to make a real difference in this respect, providing ‘medicine for the soul’ in diverse and accessible ways to the whole community". The dissertation will be of interest both to those authorities which run a Books on Prescription service and those which don't but are thinking of introducing one.It will also be of interest to anyone involved in partnership working with external agencies on any project. SINTO congratulates Elizabeth on winning the first SINTO Bob Usherwood prize.
For information about other dissertations from the Department of Information Studies go to their Publications database.
The Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society web page has a list of PhD Theses and Students' masters Dissertations relevant to the theme of public libraries and information in society. Many of these are available in full text on-line.