Thursday, 22 January 2009

SINTO Bob Usherwood Prize

The SINTO Bob Usherwood prize for a dissertation by a student from the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, has been announced. The winner is Peter Field for a piece of research on the role of prison libraries in the provision and evaluation of adult literacy materials and schemes in English prisons.

There has always been a debate as to whether prisons exist to punish criminals or to rehabilitate them. Studies have shown that effective rehabilitation programmes reduce the rate of reoffending. One factor that contributes to criminal behaviour is illiteracy so adult literacy programmes should be a part of rehabilitation and the role of the prison library could be central to this.

Peter faced a number of practical problems with his research to do with access to prisons but he was able to send a questionnaire to a number of prison librarians and interview a few. What he found was many examples of good practice with most libraries providing and promoting literacy materials and engaging in reader development activities such as Storybook Dads. This is a project where prisoners are encouraged to record stories for their children. This not only develops family links but also helps many prisoners improve their literacy skills.

Peter also found that each prison is different and that the provision of library services is affected by local conditions such as the quality of collaboration with partners and managers in the prison.

This research provides useful findings for anyone involved with prison library services but it can may have wider interest. It illustrates a problem common to many librarians in that they are answerable to someone who is not a librarian and may have different priorities:

“Its very difficult because all the prisons are really, really run very differently, they’re like their own little kingdoms, and it really can be to do with if you’ve got a good governor or if you’ve got a good HOLS [Head of Learning]... You can have a HOLS who is only interested in the returns to the LSC (Learning and Skills Council) and bums on seats and less about quality... I have worked in adult literacy and I wouldn’t want to do it now because of the sheer pressure to show progress and it’s really taking away from the qualitative things that you do.” (Participant A).

It also shows that reading, which is a central concern of librarians, is generally disregarded by the educational establishment as is shown by this definition:

"‘Purposeful activity’ is a Key Performance Indicator of an establishment. It is measured in hours per week and the target is weighted according to the prison’s population. Purposeful activity occupies time spent out of the cell and covers education leading to accreditation, physical education, work, involvement in resettlement programmes and voluntary work schemes. It does not explicitly include time spent in the library or reading. (HMPS, 2006)."

SINTO congratulates Peter on winning this prize. A copy of the dissertation can be found on the SINTO website.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Libraries on the brink?

Recent economic developments mean that we all feel that we are standing at the edge of an abyss and public librarians in particular can be forgiven for fearing that disaster may be just around the corner. Most of the indicators are bleak. Book issues continue to fall. Library visits have increased over the past five years but are only just back to the levels of ten years ago. The People's Network is now nine years old and has lacked the investment needed to keep it up-to-date. Many librarians fear that the current recession will result in serious cuts in local authority expenditure. We seem to be unable to convince our funders and policy makers that libraries are part of the solution for the problems they face and as a result face short-sighted cuts. Doncaster and the Wirral are only the latest examples of this. Our supporters criticise us either for not modernising the image of libraries or for abandoning our traditional role.

Two reviews of public libraries are underway, one from the DCMS and the other from the All-Parliamentary Group on Libraries chaired by Lyn Brown MP. Meanwhile UNISON has published its own review Taking stock: the future of our public library services. Laura Swaffield from CILIP Update gives this report a positive review but sounds a warning:

"In other words, it's a well-timed pre-emptive strike against what we all know is going to happen. The government will say libraries are lovely, but they will be cut to ribbons anyway. Lyn Brown will say the system is a shambles, with too many entities involved in libraries & nobody to take the lead, and they will be cut to ribbons anyway."

What we have to avoid is sinking into despair and cynicism. The film The Hollywood Librarian, for all its faults, does give an inspiring message about the value of libraries and librarians. We need to hold on to that vision and fight to defend what we believe in. CILIP (for all its faults) has produced a Campaigning toolkit to help create an effective grassroots action plan to demonstrate our value as library and information professionals. We should be using this toolkit now - not waiting until further cuts and restructurings are proposed.

Perhaps SINTO should have a "Save our libraries" group like our other professional interest groups? I think this would be a legitimate role for SINTO and I would be happy to facilitate such a group if the SINTO members wanted to support the idea. What do you think?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

New CPD events from SINTO

SINTO is starting the new year with a strong programme of training and CPD events to meet a wide range of needs.

Equity and excellence debate with Bob Usherwood and John Pateman. Thursday 29th January. 6.30pm. Bob's book Equity and excellence in the public libraries: why ignorance is not our heritage argued that librarians should use their professional judgement to select good quality library stock. John suggested that this might conflict with the need to increase social inclusion. This debate will allow both parties to state their views and invite comments from the audience.

Customer service and marketing. Tuesday 10th February. 9.30am. Librarians have been good at meeting the needs of their users but how well do they market those services to users and other stakeholders? If your library service is moving towards a marketing orientation (and can you afford not to?) then this seminar provides essentail development for your workforce.

John Dove, Credo. Thursday 26th February.
John is the President of the on-line reference source Credo. This talk will explore developments in web based information provision and the role of the librarian.

Effective enquiry desk work. Tuesday 3rd March. 1.30pm.
How to provide a successful result every time.

Promoting reading to young people. Friday 24th April. 9.30am.
Ann Harding is back by popular demand with her workshop on encoraging young people to read.

Advanced Internet searching. Tuesday 12th May. 9.30am.
How to find quality information on the Internet.

Web 2.0 and social computing. Thursday 2nd July. 9.30am.
Get up to speed with the latest developments.

For further information see the SINTO website.