Friday, 17 December 2010

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year?

Photo. Sheffield Botanic Gardens in the snow by Jean Morton. I would like to wish all SINTO members and other friends of SINTO a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. The first part of this objective is achievable. It's the holiday season and I hope that most of you have a good time. The second part is more problematic and I suspect that few librarians are anticipating a prosperous or particularly happy time in 2011 especially in the public library sector.

As it is Xmas, let's open some presents. This Dickensian pastiche A Library Christmas Carol from the Wikiman is amusing with an optimistic message - "The only way to predict the future is to make it happen, Scrooge".

A less welcome present is the Public Library News blog - a survey of public libraries under threat in the UK compiled by Ian Anstice. It may not be what you want to find in your stocking but we have to have the big picture and stay connected.

My third present is newly elected CILIP Vice President Phil Bradley. Again, he may not be what you want to find under the tree on Christmas morning but read his blog Librarians: a thought experiment. This gives a vision of a professional body that fights for libraries and librarians but (like the Wikimans's story) warns against adopting a "victim mentality". It is all about librarians doing something positive for themselves.

And my final gift is SINTO itself. Let's make it clear, I am not suggesting that SINTO can solve your problems. The only person who can do that is you, together with your colleagues. What SINTO can do is to bring you all together and give you the skills and knowledge to deal with the challenges we will all face.

To welcome you into the New Year the SINTO gift pack contains the following events:
  • Sources of health information. Key information skills to enable your library service meet the information needs of your community
  • Display techniques for libraries. Selling your services with eye-catching displays
  • Delivering a proactive library service. Get staff out from behind the desk to interact with users.
  • Library Campaigns. An executive briefing taking a realistic look at our relationship with campaigners.
  • Next Generation 12. A year long management development course for only £500.

I don't know if 2011 will be a happy year for SINTO. We will have to share the pain experienced by our membership but while we survive we will fight.

With warmest regards

Carl Clayton
Director SINTO

Monday, 6 December 2010

Fighting cuts in your own library

With more and more cuts in public library services being announced Save our Libraries campaigns are springing up. In this blog I want to look at practical and ethical issues around the question of whether it is right for librarians to actively campaign against cuts to the library services which employs them. I am not looking at librarians fighting directly to protect their own job (which they are entitled to do) but campaigning to protect library services in general. Please note that I am not an expert on employment law - nor on professional ethics for the matter. These are notes for discussion.

The main practical issue is whether your contract of employments restricts your ability to campaign against the policies of your employer. The ethical issues are a) whether it is right for 'professionals' to act against the policies of your employer and b) whether a professional librarian is empowered by the CILIP Code of Ethics to campaign against library cuts.

Most people working for a local authority will have a code of conduct which sets out the minimum standards of behaviour expected of Council employees and which forms part of your contract of employment. Aspects of this code may affect you if you are planning to campaign against any aspect of Council policy. For example:
· Restrictions on using Council property for official council business only.
· Limitations on contacting the media
· Not wearing badges etc to indicate support for a political party or pressure group.

As well as these specific restrictions there will probably be a general statement on the line of "Your duty as an employee and any interest outside your job must not conflict". Does this mean that the code can be used by your employer to prevent you taking part in campaigns against council policy?

The first response is that the code only applies while you are at work and not when you are off duty. However although this may be true of things like wearing badges, the code of conduct as a whole does regulate your private life as well because this is exactly where conflicts of interest can arise. Membership of certain organisations such as the Masons may be regulated by the code on the grounds that it creates a potential conflict of interest. It is hard to draw a clear line and a Council may try to use such a code to restrict campaigning by their staff but this does not mean they would be justified in doing so in all cases. One can argue that as long as your private activities are not harming the interests of the people that the Council serves, then you are entitled to express your own views in your own time. Taking action in work time would be in breach of your contract - although you may still choose to do this as a form of industrial action.

But is it ethical to campaign against your Council's policies? If you were head of library services and you were instructed to reduce your budget then you have a choice of carrying out your instructions or resigning. If you decide to continue you may well propose closing some branches in order to protect the overall quality of the service. In this situation it can be argued that you have a responsibility to your employer not to campaign against these cuts, even when off duty. Does this extend to the other library staff? Is there a general ethical responsibility to support the policy of your employer if you don't agree with it? Most people would regard a generalized loyalty to an employer as rather sinister - we are not corporate clones! But local authorities are democratically accountable bodies and they act in the interest of their communities. Many people choose to work in the public rather than the private sector because they believe in the idea of public services. Shouldn't this involve a sense of loyalty to the Council even if you disagree with a specific policy? The argument here is likely to be that the interests of the Council are not always the same as the interests of the community. Council policy may reflect narrow political interests rather than wider public benefits.

In most cases don't we all expect a certain level of corporate loyalty? If as library managers we introduce a new procedure, such as self-issue or an improvement to social inclusion, and explain the reasons behind it to our staff, we would expect that they would do their best to implement and even promote it to library users. Wouldn't we feel aggrieved if we discovered that one of them was actively undermining the new policy with users and stirring up complaints? The issue here is whether your staff have been fully consulted and given the opportunity to express their views. Corporate loyalty is a valid concept but it depends on a level of involvement that is not always extended to staff.

A final consideration is the CILIP Code of professional conduct. CILIP states that "One of the hallmarks of a profession is the framework of values that underpin the work of practitioners in the sector". To this end it has published a Code of professional practice. Section D (Responsibilities to society) states:

"One of the distinguishing features of professions is that their knowledge and skills are at the service of society at large, and do not simply serve the interests of the immediate customer. Members should therefore: 1. Consider the public good, both in general and as it refers to particular vulnerable groups, as well as the immediate claims arising from their employment and their professional duties…"

Section E (Responsibilities as Employees) states:
"Members who are employed have duties that go beyond the immediate terms of their employment contract. On occasion these may conflict with the immediate demands of their employer but be in the broader interest of the public and possibly the employer themselves."

A footnote to this last paragraph says:
"It is recognised that sometimes Members, acting as a representative of employers, have to make decisions that may impact adversely on levels of service or the employment of staff. This is not in itself unethical behaviour but there might be circumstances in which it could be – the lawfulness of the action or the way it is managed, for instance".

Both of these extracts suggest that there is a professional duty on librarians to act in the interests of society at large even if this conflicts with the interests of their employers. You could argue that your duty to your profession balances or even overrides your duty to your employer.

You must not expect your employer to accept the validity of this argument. If your employer insisted on Chartered status for its professional library staff you might argue that the CILIP code of practice was an implied part of your contract - but this is seldom the case today. In principle this code applies to all librarians and not just members of CILIP but I can't imagine any employer taking any reference to the code seriously if you were not a member and in any case they would argue that it is not binding as they have not signed up to it. However if you were seeking to justify your actions in campaigning against library cuts on ethical grounds then this code could form part of your case. Just because the local councils is your employer does not remove your professional responsibility to act in the interests of your users and society in general. If library cuts are against the public interest than as a librarian your duty is to campaign against them.

Ultimately you have to make up your own mind about campaigning against library cuts and accept the consequences of your decision. Using the staff photocopier to print "Save our Library" posters may be a short-cut to disciplinary action but if you feel you are right to speak out don't let anyone bully you into keeping quiet.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Twitter elections

Is this the first Twitter CILIP election?
The campaign to elect the next Vice-president of CILIP (who will automatically become President the following year) is underway with two candidates - Phil Bradley and Edwina Smart. 5 candidates are also competing for 4 places on CILIP Council.
To my knowledge this is the first time that social media has played an important part in the hustings. Social media - in particular CILIP Communities but also independent blogs and Twitter - have emerged as a forum for members to question the candidates and for candidates to explain their views and plans for CILIP. But there is more to it than that. Social media has become a hot topic of debate in itself. The view has been expressed that CILIP is too London-centric and inward looking. Social media is seen as a way of overcoming this, of taking CILIP out to the wider membership. There is even a suggestion that users of social media are a new generation of library professionals in contrast to the traditional old guard and that the adoption of social media by CILIP will change the way in which the professional body operates.
One of the presidential candidates Phil Bradley, has criticised the fact that the CILIP AGM was not live streamed and that it was not in a venue where people could send tweets. Another blogger has started a lively debate about CILIP being a London clique with an anti-technology bias.

But is this a new wave of connected librarians or simply a different clique. Is it a small gang of techies in an echo chamber talking to themselves and to no one else? How large and representative is this library social media community? One proxy measure is the number of Twitter followers for library organisations and leading librarians. CILIPinfo has 1700 followers. The CILIP Chief Executive Annie Mauger has 333 followers. CILIP President Biddy Fisher has 447. Many of the librarians I follow have around 300-400 followers. I would put the number of library Tweeters at no more than 1000 maximum. Other librarians may use social networking tools other than Twitter but clearly this is a very small percentage of library professionals. Those who argue that CILIP should use these tools to communicate with members and to deliver training are ignoring the fact the vast majority of the profession does not use these tools. Overreliance on social networking at this point in time would not make CILIP more responsive to its membership.

That is not to say that CILIP should turn its back on social networking- far from it. Use of these tools is growing and in particular is popular with new professionals. If CILIP were to make more use of these tools for communicating with members then more members would use them and discover the wider benefits. CILIP has to lead by example and out new Chief Executive and soon to be elected president in waiting are in a strong position to do that.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Library Alliance

Tim Coates, Burlington House, Oct 14 2010
Conference: “Libraries in the Digital Age”

In this speech I am going to announce the formation of a new ‘not-for-profit’, non-governmental body which is being launched specifically with the aim of helping to bring improvement to the public library service. If you will allow me to explain some of my own views about the state of the service then I shall describe what the new body is intended to do.
We are often asked to imagine what public libraries will be like in the future. Sometimes, as today, when the topic is about libraries in the digital age, changes in technical methods are under discussion, sometimes it is just the march of time and the changing nature of our society. Often, at the moment, we are asked whether libraries can survive in a time of public austerity.
I think that the right way to address these questions is to understand the different reasons why people use public libraries and try to look at each of them separately. In doing that we begin to see how extraordinarily important libraries are and how change can be used to improve them and keep them up to date and how priorities can be identified that make it possible to do that.
Changing technology is not the only influence that will make a difference. The economy, education, the increasingly fascinating international origin of our population are all key, but so, too are changing standards of design and people’s expectation and more than anything what is being written and being published and is available to read.
Of course public libraries are not just about providing current fiction or non fiction, of the kind that grabs headlines when editions are printed as ebooks. That is a small part of the role they play. Families with small children not only borrow books, but for them the buildings, their design and their accessibility, their collections of stories and picture books are essential issues. So are the story times and playtime readings. These are not matters of electronics.
For schoolchildren who have nowhere to go when they come out of school, the library is an essential place to do homework and to work with books and with friends. The issue here is not about digital provision but about opening hours, space and basic dignity, cleanliness and privacy, all of which are just as important as any technical advances. They are matters of high standards of interior design.
For older people who read voraciously all those books for which their working life left insufficient time, it is not only the stock, but also the proximity and neighbourliness of a library that means they do not have to make a bus or car trip to the shopping centre. For them, location, opening hours and comfort are essential ingredients, many of which need improving.
The stock of back list fiction and non fiction and of reference and local history mean that a project to digitise and offer ebooks in public libraries has to encompass a vast service of reproducing the writing that is already sitting on library shelves, or, less satisfactorily, in stacks hidden away from the public. If digitisation only covers a small percentage of what is to be read, it will have been a waste of time and money.
So when the headline in the national paper is that ‘ebooks are the future’, I am more likely to find myself worrying about whether libraries are spending enough on the window cleaning budget. I sometimes feel that the technical advance that has made leather sofas ubiquitous in coffee shops is more important than 24 hour internet access to public libraries and that the question about whether libraries should participate in the digital age, is only the same as asking whether libraries should have installed electricity in the 1920’s. Of course they should and of course these things are important. But they are not overwhelming and do not mean either that we should change everything or that the nature of a library is something different because we have learned how to scan and that we can see digital copies of printed pages. That kind of change, the introduction of the internet, the improvement of library web services, are, for me, no more than the adoption of obvious improvement, they are just part of what we do. A lot of the time libraries will be quite fine if they just copy what other people do. There will be no shame in waiting to see how the progress of digitisation all develops in the commercial world.
Libraries are buildings with things to read. Things that people have written. That is the service we should always be constantly trying to improve, for all the different groups of people, the individual people, who use libraries. Making the service better, providing better access, is that for which we should obviously constantly strive. Increasing opening hours and having bright clean light fittings are just as important as having PC’s that are fast and that work and that connect to essential works of reference. Some things are less glamorous or intellectual, but they are just as necessary. So my answer to the question posed is that libraries in the digital age will be better than in a previous age, if and only if that new technology is used to provide access to more material and also if the libraries themselves are actively and visibly improved
Don’t be obsessed with digitisation
I am saying these things because it is the failure to make obvious improvement that has drawn the attention of critics to the library service. With regret one has to observe what the market research constantly says and newspaper commentators frequently observe, which is that people who don’t use libraries say that it is because they are in out of date buildings, they are not open when needed and they don’t have what people want to read.
For decades we have known that these problems exist and for some reason we are unable to solve them. At the same time we know that money is not and, up until now, has not been the problem. The library service has been criticised endlessly for its inefficiencies and its inability to tackle fundamental structural operational problems in which money is needlessly and wastefully spent on out of date methods- which all seem to be problems of a kind that ought to be and are easily put right.

I recognise that there are those who believe that the public library service has no problems and the good work which is done far outweighs any criticisms, but even to those people, with whom I disagree, I would say that we should nevertheless seek constant improvement as effectively as we can. That is an obligation any public service has to the public who pay for it. If technology does anything, it should improve efficiency and managers should make sure that is true. In the past ten years there have been at least thirty government initiatives for improvement most of which have made little impact that the public would notice and that alone is cause for concern.
That is what the library service doesn’t do – it doesn’t do what the public ask of it, as well as they would like.
On the other hand what the public library does do – and proudly – is to endeavour to make a contribution to the social agenda of local government. It addresses questions of health care; it provides accommodation for job centres; it attempts to make its libraries youth and community centres, not by its provision of reading material, but by going out of its way to offer other entertainments that it perceives might be more attractive. It participates actively in immigrant wellbeing programmes. How well it does all these things is for the various audiences and the audience development officers to assess, but that it does them at all allows the service to claim that it plays a role in the priorities of local government and from the impact that these things make it justifies its role and its funding. Whether actual use of the service goes up or down, or whether books are borrowed and read, is said to be irrelevant if one only could measure the impact the service has on the economy and the well being of the local community and the councils local area agenda.
I don’t deny that a local council is entitled to set priorities for what it must do; of course it must; but I do disagree with the idea that all the public services it offers have to contribute actively to those priorities if they are not particularly relevant. Just because you want to care for single parents doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mend the roads. I disagree with those who give resource and priority to social agendas for libraries if what is needed to make those public libraries better requires other priorities and actions. A council may reasonably seek to improve health care in its area – but I think that the role of the library in such a cause is to be a good library to the people, not to be a place that offers health advice, as many libraries currently claim to do. A council may reasonably seek to care for the young unemployed, but that does not mean turning the library into a youth job centre that may easily make the library less attractive and even actually frightening to other library users. Use of the library building for any purpose is not the same as making it into a really good library. Diverting management attention onto outreach schemes of this kind, means that there is insufficient time and money to devote to the core of the service
Co-location of public libraries with other services, which is at present much applauded by government agencies and professional bodies, will not on its own make a library a better library – any more than putting a library into job centre will make it a better job centre. Putting a library in a council one stop shop saves nothing because librarians are no better at answering difficult questions about care of an elderly relative than council workers are able to recommend the reading age of the Gruffalo. What makes a library better are improved stock, better designed buildings, longer hours, or more helpful and knowledgeable staff. Large modern futuristic central libraries are not necessarily more useful than small community libraries. If efficiency is measured in terms of the cost of travelling by individual people (as supermarket chains have now realised it should be) then large and urban may well be less efficient than a library which small and neighbourly.
These views I am expressing are quite controversial in government circles, in fact they are almost treasonable, but to an ordinary member of the public they are obvious. They are so clearly the reasons that people protest when small libraries are threatened with closure one wonders why officials find it hard to understand them. But the reason is that government departments are so big and intertwined that they get themselves fixed on agendas which become remote from what the public actually want—that is a problem of the big government we have. It becomes impossible for middle managers to argue common sense.
A good library makes an enormous contribution to the community in which it stands by virtue of what it does for each individual and what they need, rather than by acting as a social service. What we need are better libraries- measured against the requirements that the public has –rather than by assessing their contribution to council priorities. Those are two very different things.
The danger in our society that I have seen is that those who work in government circles, as I call them, have come to believe that only they can devise the agenda for what people should do or how they should care. They believe that it is their right to determine the role of a public library- and I say they should not. What makes a public library good, is its own essence and what it does for individual people- not whether it adds or claims to contribute to employment, wellbeing or a reduction in crime or its social impact in any sense. It will do those things in its own way by making us all more civilised and educated.
The library service would be miles better and more useful to us all if it was not linked to government priorities, because we understand that it is writing, and reading what has been written, actually, that makes us civilised and not a library service without books.
I want today therefore to suggest a radical way forward . I want to suggest that the whole landscape within which the public library service operates is changed and not only that I want to propose a new structure and to tell of what I and others have done to put one in place. I am calling for a new order for public libraries and have taken the steps to set it up
Everything I say and propose is within not only the words but also the intentions and meaning of the 1964 Public Libraries Act. I believe that what has been done in the last 20 years has moved us away from what the writers of that document wanted to achieve. I want to return to the meaning of the Act. It is neither out of date nor irrelevant.
In fact I have always been surprised at the extent to which those who run the library service have attempted to avoid the responsibilities of the 1964 Act and, for example, the recommendations of the Kaufman Select Committee of 2005. There was an outcry last year from local government when the Inquiry into the Wirral library service reminded councillors and council officers of what their duties are. That was astonishing, but it is obvious those people feel able and entitled to disregard the law and parliament if they disagree with it. And that is simply wrong – whoever they are and whatever positions they occupy.
Councillors are the key. For the past few years, in each council there is a senior councillor who carries the responsibility for the library service. When they are put in that post they generally come with their own instincts and experience and are surrounded by the advice of officers in the council to whom they must listen and upon whom they depend. This could be a good arrangement but at present it doesn’t work properly. You wouldn’t appoint an executive Chair of a large company (and these are quite large operations) with so little experience and with so little understanding of his shareholders and the market in which he is operating. Nor should or would you allow a structure in which there is no independent accounting for how his management team perform – and only their own say so for how good they are. If councillors are to be in charge they need serious training for the job which is important, rewarding and fascinating... but running public services is an onerous responsibility for which one needs preparation. We need library councillors who are ambitious for improvement, not for closing things or getting away with the minimum they can

For example, in a council where the annual library budget is £5.6 m and there is currently a proposal to close half the libraries for financial reasons the council have said the saving will be just £300,000 per annum. Given that that statement simply cannot make sense, a resident wrote and asked how the current budget of £5.6m for the 12 existing libraries was spent. After some weeks the answer came back on one sheet which had five headings that did indeed add up to £5.6m. The heading were for staff costs, without distinguishing how much went on each library, property , stock and other miscellaneous items. However the final item in the column said ‘Uncontrollable expenditure £1.3m’ Management and management information like that being given to the taxpayers and to the councillors, so far into a plan to close half the service down, demonstrates the woeful state of financial management in the library service and makes one fearful. In my experience that kind of misinformation is totally normal and common. What was meant was that the overhead cost in the council recharged for other services, is £1.3m. No properly managed body can report that nearly a quarter of its expenditure cannot be controlled. None of it can be controlled by the public, all of it must be controlled by the council- by someone- but whoever compiled that sheet to send to electors did not know what that money was spent on and did not see the responsibility to find out.

As Sir Philip Green has said this week- no one should or could run a business like operation with confusion like that, and no one should tolerate it. Councils wonder why well informed citizens get cross with them and as the digital age means citizens are better informed than ever before, councils need to address these inefficiencies or accept that their citizens will get crosser still.
Not only are the simplest management budgeting procedures unclear, but the link from public to councillor is also lacking and ill informed. Councillors, if they are to be responsible need to know much more about the public need and the mechanisms of good practice for public libraries than they have.
Running good libraries is actually not very difficult, but we have made it too complicated. Somebody should have seen through that – that is the great missing leadership of which people write at length
One is surprised at the waves of ill advised initiatives which sweep across the service. At the moment every council seems to think that outsourcing services to contracted suppliers operating trusts is the universal answer. The truth is that there is no evidence and they are wrong and mad to be fooled by such fashions. In the same way the idea that the library service can be staffed by untrained, unmanaged volunteers is poor thinking that needs to be challenged.
The second important change to make is that if we are going to make local councillors responsible, as the law says that they are, then we should stop all the national attempts to run the service and determine its policies. Instead we should only be trying to help those councillors manage better for the benefit of the only stakeholder that matters - the public.
Before I come finally to the proposals I want to make I need to talk more about funding of the public library service.
Libraries in England cost us £1,000m each year. We have 150 management structures each of which places a burden of cost upon and removes the opportunity for high aspiration for quality in the actual libraries themselves. There is too much management and too much expenditure on activity not directly related to the simple library service that the public want to receive. If you go back to my original wish list for libraries of books, for different age groups, for learning and reading, in buildings which are smart clean and open - then the expenditure on other activities that are not these, is vast. I have never seen a council in which a third of the cost could not be removed and no one would notice. The arrangement is one that allows little and aspiration for energy and excellence.
So in these times of public spending cuts, what I say is that, in terms of the library service, they should have happened a long time ago. There is no reason why the service should not take a swingeing cut in its budget and still provide a wonderful library service – with proper management and good buying it really is possible to get more for less.
To be able to take the necessary decisions councillors need to be better informed about their customers and how libraries can be run- and the information needs to come to them not through their own officers, but through a neutral reliable independent source acting on behalf of the public, if one can be found. At the moment there is a gap in the provision of the proper information.
As a start in filling this gap earlier this year a number of library users came together and drafted a Charter which expresses simply the need for more books, longer hours and better buildings and called for a reduction in management structures to save money and liberate individual library managers from the burden of bureaucracy and authority that libraries carry. But we need more than that.
There is, I believe a need for a ‘Consumers Association’ for public libraries which researches, publishes, disseminates information about the use of libraries and actively shares and explains it to councillors and the public. Of course there is a role in that for the professional managers of the service to participate—but the professional role is in helping councillors and the public provide what the public need. I am known for my belief that the so-called library profession, for public libraries, is not sufficiently responsive to the public and too committed to the state. Their role needs to change and it should be to carry out policy not to create it.
This new body which has been formed in the past few months, which I am announcing today is indeed a Consumers’ Association for libraries. This ‘Library Alliance’, as I anticipate it will be called, is an independent not-for-profit body funded by charitable donation and it will be launched publicly shortly. It will be led by experienced national figures and I hope to play a supporting role. It will take the Charter published earlier this year as its basic belief and then It will conduct research and offer its information service freely to the public and to councils and councillors and its overall and sole aim will be to inform, support and improve the public library service throughout the country from the public point of view. It will do that by improving understanding and the efficiency and effectiveness of library management. It will offer councils the opportunity to participate in major transformation programmes which will reduce cost and improve service and it will help to set these up.
For example I foresee that one of the first projects this body undertakes will be a research into the library needs and provision in a region such as SE London. The researchers will be asked to identify by market research, the different kinds of needs for public libraries for people living and studying in that area and then to research how effectively the 100 or so libraries that are there now actually meet the requirement. It will be able to identify the strengths and the weaknesses of current provision and share that information in full detail both with the public and with the councillors in the London boroughs who are responsible. It will be entirely neutral in the sense that it will have no other interest to proclaim what libraries are achieving apart from what the public wants them to do. It will hold the mirror up to the service plainly and obviously. There will be none of this ‘well the public doesn‘t understand what libraries do these days’ of the kind we hear constantly at present. It will be a force for improvement.
This is, I believe, exactly what is meant by The Big Society, as the Government calls it. It will be an open, transparently funded, endeavour of people who use a public service to identify the ways that it can be improved and encourage them to take place. It will not in any sense be part of Government- but a responsible, properly informed body, borne out of the public need, acting in the general interest in an absolutely essential national service. It will open up the closed channels of communication between those who need libraries and those who operate them. Its success will be measured in the strength of the service in the long term future, whether that be digital or of any other kind.
Senior people in Government and officials in local Government often say that ‘Libraries are Changing’ and they cite electronic and digital developments as means by which those changes have and will come about. But my friends who are library campaigners sharply point to that expression as the dividing line. They say that it has allowed those to abdicate their much more important responsibility to make libraries improve. We want to see a regime in which libraries are not changing but improving.
Today is the first time that I have been able to talk openly about this project which is making good progress and I am grateful to Martyn and to you all for giving me the opportunity to make the news public. Thank you

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


SINTO is running a seminar on personal and professional development in November. It is aimed at front line library staff. But what exactly do we mean by "professional" in this context and why is it relevant to libraries?

Tim Coates in his Good Library Blog takes issue with the MLA over the following statement:

"Change to the library service has to be part of a broader agenda of change and the service has to be seen as part of the whole – integral to delivering the wider ambitions of the (local) authority"

Coates (or his cat Perkins) says that "this is in contradiction to the law which says that 'public libraries are for the benefit of those people who wish to use them' - not for the benefit of the agenda or ambitions of local councils, which are, quite naturally, entirely different to those people who simply want to use libraries". He continues:

"The constant, but silly and illogical, attempts to shoe-horn public libraries into the social service agendas of both local and national government have been what has reduced its qualities to a low level".

The idea that 'public libraries are for the benefit of those people who wish to use them' needs to be treated with care as it might suggest that libraries should focus on the type of person who already uses libraries rather than trying to reach out to excluded groups. However I agree that public libraries should have their own agenda and that this is not just about delivering the aims of local councils. As Bob Usherwood makes clear, this agenda should include developing people's potential through education and the promotion of good literature. It would be hard to imagine that this could be in opposition to the wider ambitions of the council but it is not necessarily integral to its agenda.

I understand why senior library managers want to promote the role of libraries in delivering the council's agenda. For a start they are employees of the council and their job description probably makes specific reference to this role. Also "he who pays the piper calls the tune". When chief librarians are fighting with other departmental heads for limited funds the game rules make clear that the goal is to contribute directly to the councils agenda. There is no National Information Policy or overarching idea that librarians can cite to promote an independent mission for libraries. I don't think that many chief librarians (sorry, Assistant Deputy Directors, Culture and Communities (Library & Information Services)), would stand up in a departmental budget meeting and proclaim that "The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization" as a way of getting a bigger share of the budget.

Finally we know that libraries can contribute to all these other aspects of the council's agenda - but there has to be more to it than that.

One aspect of this is the way in which front line library staff are seen by the council, library managers and themselves. They are often perceived as "customer care officers" or some such term and not as librarians. Of course there have always been library assistants (sometimes called paraprofessionals or even non-professionals) but they used to work under the direction of professional staff. Today few libraries require or even expect professional qualifications for their staff and many people working in libraries do not accept that membership of a professional body or even qualifications in librarianship are essential. Many librarians (and very good librarians at that) question the relevance of professionalism.

I believe that there is a concept of professionalism that is of value in libraries (of value to the individual, to the library users and to the organisation). This concept does not depend on qualifications or membership of a professional body (although both are ways of achieving professionalism). Rather it is an understanding of what libraries are about and a commitment to personal and professional development in order to deliver this. "What libraries are about" is of course the key issue and one that must be constantly reviewed. It must be approached from a core of understanding and values. Customer care does not provide that core - professionalism does.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Save our libraries campaigns

Here are some links to groups that can help with local library campaigns.

Library campaign
CILIP In particular the campaign toolkit
Voices for the library
Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society
Save Doncaster Libraries campaign

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Future of Business Support

Business information and advice: back to the library

I recently produced a report for SINTO on business information provision in Yorkshire. It is a review of the current landscape and a vision of what might be. Now it appears that the whole landscape may change.

According to Real Business, small business minister Mark Prisk (Minister of State for Business and Enterprise) has announced that the Business Link Network is to be closed down. This follows on from the news that the Regional Development Agencies are to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships. This news is not confirmed on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website so it is not clear how reliable this is but it may be a leak to gauge public opinion on the matter.
It appears that Prisk is influenced by a report Small Business and Government produced a couple of years ago by Doug Richard for the then Conservative Shadow Cabinet . Richard claimed that the current system was overly complex, ineffective and undirected. He was particularly scathing about Business Links.

Richard went on to propose:

  • business support policy needs to clearly reflect the difference between providing information and expert advice or support.
  • the whole regional business support apparatus of RDAs and Business Links should be replaced by a single, web-based Business Information Service.
  • The in-depth information system behind the BIS should be modelled on the successful British Library Business and IP Centre, which is a substantive service provided by an institution with proven competence. Similar centres should be rolled out across the country, delivered by major libraries and leading universities: they are accessible organisations that have the proven competence to deliver expert information services, providing depth behind the web-based service.

Prisk has certainly seized on the last of these suggestions. Speaking at the launch of the "Inventing the 21st century" exhibition at the British Library he announced that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between Newcastle City Library, the British Library and NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) to investigate the feasibility of a Business and IP Centre Newcastle as a pilot for rolling out a new business support service.

Richard's ideas for a web-based Business Information Service sound very close to the idea put forward in the JISC Grant Funding invitation 1/10 Access to Resources and Open Innovation (which in turn followed on from the Business Information Resources: Landscape & Feasibility Study (BIR) written by Nigel Spencer of the British Library) for a one-stop-shop portal which would provide access to free and priced information. JISC is currently funding eight projects around the country which are piloting this concept.

Richard's separation between information and expert advice is interesting. In his report he said:

"… we believe that a Conservative Government should focus its efforts on enabling the provision of information, not advice. There is no need for Government advisors to try and compete with private and third sector agencies. Government should instead work through business experts, existing institutions and current programmes that could be reinforced rather than being reinvented".

Information is not just data, it can include "how to" texts which offer advice and help on setting up and running a business - the sort of thing that most public libraries and Business Link web sites provide. Richard argues that this is different to expert business advice delivered on a one-to-one basis. The later can be provided by independent paid for advisors operating in a free market and evaluated through web-based customer rating services similar to e-bay.

This model of business support is closer to the core purpose of library services. So far so good but there are obvious gaps. Who is running this national Business Information Service and how will it be funded. And who is funding the local B&IP centres. The "major libraries and leading universities" that are "accessible organisations that have the proven competence to deliver expert information services, providing depth behind the web-based service" need some incentive and support to take on this role. If Business Links are abolished will some of their funding be directed towards public libraries? One problem is that the "proven competence" of public libraries is being rapidly eroded at the present and so far there has been little evidence of the Government wanting to reverse this. It is ironic for Mark Prisk to be promoting a dynamic role for public libraries while his colleagues are handing the service over to volunteers.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A crime against learning

"Shutting libraries is a crime against learning" said the Mirror in a short but sweet editorial. "Jeanette Winterson hits out at threats to libraries" said the Guardian.

There was however a significant difference between the two. The Mirror editorial was an attack on Government policy. Ms Winterson's comments in part were an attack on libraries. She warned that libraries which replace classic literature with DVDs risk failing the children of today.

"[I would] start at A and read Jane Austen and move to B and read the Brontës and go on from there," she told her audience, but on a recent visit to her old library she found that DVDs had replaced many of the books, which led her to become concerned about the formative reading experiences of children with little other access to books than through a library.

"What worries me is that a load of shite has been talked about digitisation as being the new Gutenberg, but the fact is that Gutenberg led to books being put in shelves, and digitisation is taking books off shelves," said Winterson.
"If you start taking books off shelves then you are only going to find what you are looking for, which does not help those who do not know what they are looking for."

Meanwhile our very own (until she left!) Lauren Smith has Comment is Free piece on Doncaster library cuts published in the Guardian. As usual this has attracted a large number of on-line comments and many of these are very supportive of libraries. However two of the first postings were:

"Most libraries are now book free zones. Utterly dumbed-down centres of political correctness - a cafe & creche with a dvd browsing service tagged on."

"If they hadn't tried so hard to compete with internet cafes then they might be in a stronger position. Looking at my local library it would seem those using the computers are a generation or so younger than the book or music borrowers. Libraries would again be in a stronger position if they could alter the demographics of lending."

This is very much what Bob Usherwood was warning us about in his book Equity and Excellence in the Public Library; why ignorance is not our heritage. We have to defend public libraries and ask the public to defend them - but we also have to think hard about what libraries should be. In an attempt to keep issue and usage figures up; to make libraries popular, accessible and "non-elitist" have we gone too far? Have we dumbed-down and lost sight of the role of libraries as providers of quality reading and education? Should we be more aspirational on behalf of our communities? Should our motto be that we won't give people what they want because they deserve better than that?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Where the debate is

In my last blog I looked at how social networking had the potential of changing the relationship between librarians and their professional body. I will now look at how social networking is affecting the relationship between the public at large and the library profession.

Debates about libraries on social networking sites are quite common and I have mentioned some in the past. Two recent examples are of interest.

The Government launched their Spending Challenge website asking people to post suggestions on "how we can re-think government to deliver more for less" The site was unmoderated and soon attracted some very offensive comments but it also had a number of posts relating to libraries. Many of these suggested getting rid of libraries:
  • Using the Library as a source of knowledge is outdated. The internet has taken over. They are outdated institutions. Why should the state fund peoples reading habits. The usually occupy prime city/town locations and must cost a fortune to run and staff just so that a small minority of die hards can borrow books at the states expense.

Others suggested introducing charges, using volunteers and other cost-saving suggestions. A few argued for expanding the role of libraries.

On 13th July the Guardian published a piece in its Comment is Free column by Ian Clark, a university librarian. "We still need libraries in the digital age" argued that Public libraries have a vital role bridging the digital divide and teaching people how to get reliable information from the internet. The online version of this article had attracted over 100 comments by this morning. These responses were from "typical Guardian readers" and included several from librarians. They too ranged from getting rid of libraries because the Internet has made them obsolete to passionate support.

  • Libraries are a bit like the Gurkhas - the public goes a bit mushy and woolly headed over them. So doubtless we'll continue to see councils blowing our taxes on large buildings full of books that no one reads....
  • Libraries, like post offices, served a valuable function in the past. That past valuable function is fast expiring and the vested interests in both are casting around for new reasons to justify their existence. We should be looking for the most economical ways to phase both out.
  • Free access to information whether it be the net or good old fashioned books is a mark of a civilized nation. Long may libraries continue.
  • Libraries have never been perfect, but there is proportionately more 'wisdom' that can be sourced from within them. Sadly few people ever trouble to seek out 'wisdom' nor even 'knowledge'. However, via the media they are fed a lot of 'information' that contributes to their confusion.
  • So for me, I still use my various laptops, iPad, BB etc to find information and for general reading. Maybe it's time to focus libraries on the young and leave the rest of us to our own devices
  • Perhaps those scoffing at libraries, in their well paid jobs from the comfort of their homes, should consider this. Even if they do not use libraries there are many of us who see them as lifelines and this should be protected.

We shouldn't go overboard in our response to these views, especially the anti-libraries ones, but at the same time we need to be aware that some people hold these views and the profession should be responding. I was alerted to both discussions by posts on Twitter but there is a digital divide in the profession and I wonder how many senior librarians have picked up on these discussions while they are going on. Several librarians did respond in the Guardian thread but from what I saw the only response from a head of service was from Canada. I know many might say that it is not worth getting involved in this type of debate, and it often does descend to the level of trading insults, but I think it is dangerous to turn our back on a discussion like this. A final comment from the Guardian thread shows that even friends of libraries sometimes despair of our response.

  • Fact is, you are doing a very bad job of explaining yourself here. If libraries are set up by people like you as glorified 'information'-harvesting points they will close, pretty swiftly. My advice, for what it is worth, is that you might try focusing on the glories of a free public space - a physical space as opposed to the privatised non-space offered by the web - offering free access to pretty much any book ever published, and a bit of other good stuff on the side - DVDs, CDs, information technology. Hell, you could even try promoting the experience of reading books to a generation increasingly unfamiliar with them. All this, free at the point of use in a public space which is also often a community hub. Sounds pretty good to me. You could also try speaking about this with passion, like a person, rather than a consultant who uses dead and depressing phrases like 'facilitating access to information technology' and 'delivers on aspects of its core services.' It might not work, but I reckon it would be worth a try.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Social networking and CILIP

Biddy Fisher is speaking to SINTO tomorrow on the subject of Our Professional Journey. She will be speaking about CILIP and its future - indeed the future of the profession as a whole - and the Defining our professional future programme.

This will be a traditional face to face meeting. People will take time off, travel to a fixed location, and gather in a room with other librarians to hear directly what Biddy has to say and ask her questions. Such meetings are I believe, of value and enable participants to interact with the speaker in a way no other format can match. However it is for many an old-fashioned format. Why get together in person when you can achieve the same results in a virtual world.

For many people the Defining our professional future debate has been carried on through the medium of social networking.
An interesting example of this is the short podcast on the blog of Nicola McNee in which she gives 5 ideas on the future of CILIP. Now Nicola strikes me as the sort of person who is not seduced by technology for technology's sake. She is not interested in the latest gadget or gimmick just as something new. She uses social networking tools such as blogs and podcasts because she finds them to be useful for professional development and discussion.

What interests me is how CILIP in particular and the profession at large is responding to these new tools. In his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Clay Shirky argues that just as the printing press transformed society, the internet has 'removed the barrier to universal participation and revealed that human beings would rather be creating and sharing than passively consuming what a privileged elite think they should watch. Instead of lamenting the silliness of a lot of social online media, we should be thrilled by the spontaneous collective campaigns and social activism also emerging.'

How does this impact on CILIP? Does the fact that librarians such as Nicola and many others are now comfortable with social media mean that the whole structure and process of CILIP can and should change? Should decisions be made not by a Council but by the direct input of individuals? Can we envisage a Wikiorganisation?

These are not rhetorical questions. Perhaps the answers should be no! What would the profession loose if we moved to a new model? Would the old privileged elite be replaced by a new privileged elite. What about the digital divide in the profession? Will the professional silliness of a lot of professional social media swamp the voices of reason and intelligence? If we replace face-to-face debate with a babble of individual voices speaking in isolation don't we loose something of value?

These issues have to be considered. The recent speech by the Culture Minister Ed Vaisy on Re-modelling public libraries was made available by DCMS on the Write-to-reply website with an invitation for public comments. Is this a forum that CILIP and the profession should be using to get their message across to the Government or is it just for uninformed chit-chat? There may be other and better ways of lobbying the Government that CILIP can use. Could individual comments by librarians on Write-to-reply actually harm our case or is this the model for the future?

I seem to have used a lot of question marks! My point is that social media is not just a new way of communicating. It has the potential to change the way in which organisations operate and we need to be aware of that.

Friday, 18 June 2010

A light when all others fail

Sheffield is reeling today from the news that three major projects have been cancelled by the Government.

Although Paul Scriven has pointed out that these cuts do not in themselves cause any job losses the view of many in Sheffield is that the city has been let down by the Government.

We are facing hard times and many people will be hit by unemployment. It is at times like this that public libraries should be seen as a light when all others have failed. They provide information and support for those looking for work. They support small business start-ups. They are a welcoming and inclusive community centre. They provide free Internet access. They support learning. They provide access to books for leisure reading. A community like Sheffield needs its libraries. The trouble is that libraries themselves are threatened by cuts. Next Friday Rachel Cooke is speaking at the SINTO Members' Day on The Threat to Our Libraries - and What We Can Do To Save Them. It is an event that should be supported by librarians in our region.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Bad times just around the corner

My inspiration for my annual report to SINTO this year will be Noel Coward:

There are bad times just around the corner
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky.
And it's no good whining
About a silver lining
For we know from experience that they won't roll by.

As he says (and you really must try to do the voice as you read this):
From Colwyn Bay to Kettering
They're sobbing themselves to sleep
The shrieks and wails
In the Yorkshire dales
Have even depressed the sheep

One thing we must face up to as a profession is that there are people who think that cuts to library funding are not only inevitable they are desirable. Many genuinely believe that libraries no longer have a function in today's world.

Not enough library services and librarians have adopted Web 2.0 technology and therefore they don't understand the true nature of the change that has happened - either the positive or the negative aspects. The profession as a whole also has difficulty in articulating its own case succinctly or forcefully.

Two SINTO events are designed to give librarians the chance to step back from crisis management and take a longer term view. At the SINTO Members' Day on Friday 25th June Observer journalist Rachel Cooke is giving the keynote speech The Threat to Our Libraries - And What We Can Do To Save Them. This is an "outsiders" view - albeit a friendly outsider - and it will be valuable to hear her analysis of the problems we face.

Then on the 7th July Biddy Fisher, CILIP President is giving a talk on Our Professional Journey. Biddy is heading up CILIP's Defining Our Professional Future programme. Many librarians will be turning to CILIP for support in the coming months - and many will also use them as a scapegoat. This is an opportunity to hear what she has to say.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Trading cards

Bored with World Cup trading cards! Try the new craze that is sweeping libraryland - librarian trading cards are here! Collect the full set of series 1 (academic librarians) and series 2 (public librarians) and stick them in the special albums available from SINTO. Swop them with your friends and play exciting games like Librarian Top Trumps!

Look out for rare editions and printing errors being traded on E-bay - such as the Martin Lewis inverted.

Start collecting today - available at all good libraries.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Leadership development

Leadership development into practice - the Apprentice for librarians!

Do you have staff who have the potential to be the senior managers and leaders of tomorrow?
Do you want to develop their skills and confidence to prepare them for this role in the future?
Would you like to develop a framework to improve customer service?

Elenore Fisher (Rotherham Library Museums & Arts) and I have developed an innovative proposal to help library services achieve these goals. Using elements of "The Apprentice" (but without Sir Allen), this project will develop planning, team working and leadership skills through participation in a practical project.

Libraries would be invited to nominate staff members to take part in a cross-SINTO project group. The group would be set the task of producing a workable "mystery shopper" programme for libraries. This could incorporate a number of elements, from setting the remit/outcomes of the project, to working on specifications for mystery shopping templates, training of staff to take part, organising and evaluating the "visits" and coming up with proposals for actions.

Project members would attend a series of meetings and set up on-line facilities for communication and project development. They would be given a deadline to produce a final report.
This is a development exercise and project members would be encouraged to use self-evaluation and reflective learning techniques. At the same time their work would be monitored by an external observer. Feedback and mentoring would be provided during and after the exercise.

This project is currently in development but I am inviting expressions of interest from SINTO member organisations. Let me know if:
a) You are interested in the project as described
b) You are not interested in mystery shopping but would like to use this format for another project.

Depending on the feedback we will work this proposal up into a project that could be run early next year.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Challenges for libraries in difficult economic times

The slim booklet Challenges for academic libraries in difficult economic times published by the Research Information Network in March 2010 has probably been read and digested by senior managers in university libraries. It is, unfortunately, likely to be of equal relevance to librarians in other sectors.

Over the last 10 years UK universities' net expenditure on libraries has grown from £322m to £550m, although as a percentage of total university expenditure it has fallen from 3.0% to 2.1%. Universities have also expanded the volume and range of their services and made efficiency savings in this period. Now, 52% of university librarians are expecting budget cuts of around 10% in the next two years.

The scope for further efficiency savings is small so universities have to think strategically about:

  • The balance between expenditure on information resources and staffing
  • A greater focus on user-facing functions
  • A move to E-books to save costs on core texts combined with negotiating better deals with publishers
  • A major renegotiation with publishers over the price of electronic journal subscription deals.
  • Income generation

Other aspects include the need to find ways to demonstrate and communicate the value of library services in achieving institutional goals. Deeper co-operation with libraries across the sector is also being investigated. All this is set against the background of the continuing digital revolution and the growing power of students as consumers.

Most of this will be familiar to public librarians and to those in the commercial sector. The need for strategic thinking, reengineering of services and successful change management is common to all. The RIN report concludes:

"Co-operation and partnership - with other libraries; with other information service providers; and with the staff, students and senior managers of their host universities - will be watchwords for libraries as they develop their strategies for the future."

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Managing Change

Yesterday SINTO ran a seminar on Managing Change. The course looked at the nature of change and how people react to it, definitions of change management and the skills required to manage change, models and theories of change in organisations, tools for planning the process of change, understanding how people respond to change and how to decrease resistance to change.
The fifteen delegates from libraries of all types across the SINTO region gave a very high rating to the course and the trainer Peter Lumley. But the information received was only part of the benefit of the course. For almost all the delegates this was not an academic learning exercise. They were faced by real change that they were having to manage. The course gave them knowledge and tools but it also provided an opportunity away from the workplace to think about the issues. One delegates described this as "headspace". It also gave them the opportunity to meet librarians from other organisations who were dealing with similar issues.
What impressed me about the delegates was the very professional way in which they as middle managers were dealing with a difficult situation. Most of the change they are facing results from an underlying financial imperative - they have to make "efficiency savings" or cuts by another name. The changes that arise from this may have real benefits for their users but because of this context front line staff are likely to be very cynical of claims that this change is a good thing and therefore very resistant to it. The middle managers may well share this cynicism but they are the filling in the sandwich. They are responsible to their senior managers for implementing the change and have a responsibility to their staff to convince them that the change is beneficial. All the delegates wanted to do the best for their users, their libraries and their staff while at the same time fighting against the cuts.
I am always interested in what happens when the delegates get back to their workplaces. Most organisations have a formal report back for staff who have been on a course as part of their CPD process but does the line manager take time to discuss the issues raised on the course? Is the organisation prepared to learn any lessons itself? Somehow I doubt it!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Three of a kind

You wait ages for a document about libraries to arrive… and then three turn up at once (with another one on the horizon)!
Today I have been looking at three reports relevant to libraries in different sectors:

The Library and Information Manifesto: 6 priorities for the next government is presented as a document for using with candidates in the next election as a way of influencing the next Government. How achievable this is in terms of the realities of an election campaign is debatable but CILIP intends that the document can be used as an agenda for discussion at local level as well. The focus on six specific priorities means that many librarians may well disagree with what is and is not included (I personally lobbied for a reference to the needs of businesses for focused information provision) but this should not prevent everyone using this as a useful tool. What is significant is that CILIP has upped its game in providing guidance to the profession on how the manifesto can be used effectively. From the YouTube video of Peter Beauchamp to the Use the Manifesto page on the website there are clear guidelines on how we can get the maximum impact from this. Librarians can often be heard complaining that CILIP "is not doing enough" but now the ball is clearly in our court and we must show what we can do.

Sharper Investment begins with the assertion that “Cuts to museums, libraries and other cultural services are unpalatable – we must resist them in favour of imaginative alternative solutions. Our call, to government and councils, is to recognise that cultural services can help communities recover from the impact of the recession." It then calls for calls for more creative planning to ensure the public get the most out of the £2bn-plus that national and local government invest in museums, libraries and archives.
It proposes solutions, based on long-term partnership between local government, central government, and museums, libraries and archives themselves, each responsible for their side of a bargain. Museums, libraries and archives are asked to make a wider public impact concentrating "less on sustaining costly buildings and storing unseen objects, and more on opening up fantastic collections of books, records and iconic artefacts for learning and enjoyment". Local government is asked to utilise the value of museum, library and archive services for wider purposes and central government is asked to ensure the longer term funding and statutory framework in which councils, museums, libraries and archives can have the freedom, flexibility and stability to plan for far reaching change.

The report concludes "In this economic climate, no change is not an option. If we do nothing, change will happen, but through closures and reductions. The public will notice reduced service, worse service and poorer, less accessible collections. Through the suggestions in this prospectus, we hope for cleverer investment in museums, libraries and archives that will get the most out of them, and deliver long term benefits for all".

Challenges for academic libraries in difficult economic times is described as a guide for senior institutional managers and policy managers. It has four core messages:

  1. HE librarians are expecting budget cuts over the next three years.
  2. The scale of the cuts means that libraries must rethink the kinds and levels of service they provide in support of their universities’ missions. The scope for further simple efficiency savings is small, and so librarians are having to think more strategically.
  3. Library directors from across the sector are keen to use the current financial difficulties as an opportunity to rethink what the library does, and to do things differently. But they have as yet few concrete proposals that will transform services or yield large-scale savings.
  4. Libraries and their directors have a critical role to play, but they cannot do it all themselves. Leadership and partnership with champions from across the HE and information sectors will be critical to sustaining the outstanding position of UK universities.

The CILIP Manifesto is intended to be used by all librarians to influence election candidates and local policy makers. The other two documents are aimed at heads of services to use as an agenda in discussions with senior managers. However all three should be promoted within the relevant libraries to library staff at all levels for the following reasons:

  1. All library staff should be aware of and committed to the strategic goals of the library. This means more than the ability to parrot the library's mission statement. It means being aware of what the library is trying to achieve and the problems it is facing.
  2. Change management is not just about convincing staff to accept change when it is being forced upon them. It should be about raising awareness of what change may happen and why.
  3. Library staff should be advocates for the library service both within and outside the workplace. The idea that library staff should be neutral and not speak up in support of their own library service is wrong - as long as they are not party political.
  4. The front line staff of today are the library managers of tomorrow. They must be given an understanding of the big strategic issues that the profession is facing.

These documents should not be hidden on a shelf in the chief librarians office. They must be made avilable and promoted to all library staff.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Two futures

Yesterday I studied two pieces on the future of libraries. The first was an article in The New Republic magazine Towards a New Alexandria: imagining the future of libraries by Lisbet Rausing. The second was the Newsnight report on public libraries.

In many ways these two pieces are looking at entirely different things. Rausing's article looks at the potential offered by digitalization and the rise of the universal electronic library. Referring to the Swedish term "folkbildningsidealet, that profoundly democratic vision of universal learning and education.", she speculates on the impact of not only digitalizing the contents of our great national and academic libraries but also of including grey literature and ephemera. "What do we do" she asks "when we have not only the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptures and Architects but also Vasari's blog, wiki, twitter, texts, emails, chatroom, Facebook, radio interviews, TV appearances and electronic notebooks?

Rausing then warns of the dangers involved - how the migration into electronic formats can restrict access to information. She points out that some intermediaries - publishers, academics and [academic] librarians - are preventing free, universal access to material because of "Cultural agoraphobia" - fear of open networks. "… obstacles are imagined—and created. University libraries are closed shops, JSTOR remains blocked, theses are inaccessible, and academic monographs are available, if at all, only on paper and at prohibitive prices". She makes the possibly naïf but valid point that "… the public has set itself the task to rewrite knowledge for the public domain through Wikipedia and the like. Should not these sites be hyperlinked with JSTOR? By excluding the public from their scholarly literature, academics make it impossible for amateurs to use sound research methodologies, critically examining evidence by cross-referencing and source analysis. Scholars then critique the public’s output for not being sufficiently academic".

All this seems a long way from the debate on Newsnight. That was all about declining borrowing and visit figures for public libraries. A comparison was made between public baths and libraries. When most people did not have running water in the house they needed a public place to have a bath. Now most people have plumbing we don’t need municipal washhouses. Now most people have the Internet and can get books from Amazon and information from Google so why do we need public libraries? What the defenders of libraries failed to get over was than Internet access in the home does not deliver folkbildningsidealet. Much of the discussion was about public libraries as social spaces and the need to make them more attractive to attract more users. That is undoubtedly true but we must maintain this link between the friendly branch library as a place to choose some books and meet friends and the wider world of information and learning with the librarian as a positive intermediary. My local bank is little more than a room full of cash dispensers, but it does have a free telephone link to central office. Sometimes when I visit branch libraries I feel I am in a cul-de-sac; very pleasant and welcoming but with little sense that I am at a portal to something larger. That is our USP and we must hold on to it.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Declining bookstock.

Tim Coates' Good Library Blog has posted a list of library authorities that have reduced the stock of books available for lending over the past 10 years - based on the CIPFA statistics.
He (or rather Perkins the cat) claims that nationally the stock of books available for lending has fallen by 17million.
In his list of shame no SINTO authorities are mentioned. Indeed Sheffield and Derbyshire appear in a shorter list of libraries that have increased their stock of lending books in this period.
It's probably a case of lies, damn lies and statistics. If you don't throw out any old books and add a small number of new titles then you total stock will increase but the quality of the collection has decreased. A smaller number of new titles (with duplicates of the most popular titles) would probably increase issue figures - but is that a better service or not?
It sometimes seems that our critics are better at using statistics to make a point than we are.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Access to Business Information 2

I recently blogged about the Business Information Resources Report funded by JISC as part of its Business and Community Engagement programme.

I mentioned that JISC has issued a call for projects which will demonstrate good practice in access to information resources for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, and also other individuals and organisations.

One concern I have is that the Business Information Resources report by Nigel Spencer points out that "The business information landscape is confusing and it is not clear where a business can find information." Public Libraries and business support agencies are already important sources of information and although I welcome the efforts of JISC to improve services to SMEs from higher education bodies I was worried that this might just increase the fragmentation. Simon Whittemore, Programme Manager, Business and Community Engagement at JISC has reassured me on this point. Pointing out that JISC of course can only directly fund HE/FE institutions he says:

'[W]e wouldn't have invested in this had we not believed that there are wider benefits in HE having a leading - or better termed 'facilitating' role in this joined up provision'

He continues:
"As you will have noted, the Access to Resources bids need to be collaborative, and need to put forward credible functional balanced partnerships which will deliver defined info and knowledge services in a controlled context. So we do expect public libraries and business support agencies to be strongly reflected in these partnerships, and certainly in the actual provision (potentially a 3 level model along the lines the Report suggested.)"

In our region we are fortunate that we have a local partnership in place that can respond to this sort of initiative. I have been in touch with the three Founding members of SINTO, (Sheffield Libraries, the University of Sheffield Library and Sheffield Hallam University Learning Centre) - and also the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield, to suggest that we consider putting in a bid under this call. Obviously SINTO already exists but I think there is great scope for expanding what we do and presenting this as an exemplar project. I have not had a response yet but I do feel we are in a strong position to develop a service locally that could act as a guide nationally.

If any other SINTO members are also interested in this call please contact me.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The library as a concept album

When I am in the car with my step-son and I put on a CD (which has to be something he is prepared to tolerate), I am always slightly annoyed by the way he will skip some tracks and only listen to the ones he really likes - or in some cases only the parts of tracks he likes. As an oldie who can remember Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band being released in 1967 I regard the album, as a collection of tracks played in a set order, as being more than the sum of its individual parts. In particular I think you can develop a liking for tracks on repeated listening even if they don't appeal on the first play.
My step-son of course is more use to listening to individual tracks on his i-pod and I think the concept of an album as whole is disappearing.

The same applies to library collections. Today libraries are seen as, at best, an access point to a world of resources, most of which are available electronically. The idea that a collection of items on the shelves can have a value greater than the sum of its parts is being lost.

The library collection at the Department of Children, Schools and Families here in Sheffield is closing down. Most of it is moving to London but apparently they do not want the historical collection. This collection documents the development of theories and practice of education from the 17th Century to the present day. It includes works by Joseph Priestley (An essay on a course of liberal education…), Erasmus Darwin, Jeremy Bentham (Chrestomathia), George Bernard Shaw and the delightful pseudonym Prudentia Homespun (Jane West).
None of these items are of monetary value or particularly rare. Apparently the collection has been offered to national libraries and second-hand book dealers with no interest. It is now being offered to any library in the SINTO region. Although the individual items are not unique I feel that the collection as a whole must have value. Not only does it present a picture of the development of theories and practice of education in the UK over time but it also indicates what the Government department responsible for education felt was important. It would be a great shame if this collection were split up or even worse ended up as landfill!

If any library is interested in this collection please contact the SINTO office.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Access to Business Information

From its very earliest days SINTO has been involved with the information needs of industry and business. In the 1930s SINTO was a partnership between Sheffield Libraries and the specialist library and information services of local steel and engineering companies enabling the loan of books and journals. Since then much has changed, but not always for the better. Small and medium enterprises today often face barriers in obtaining the information they need.

In 2000 SINTO produced an Objective 1 funding proposal for a South Yorkshire Business Information Library but it was not taken up. SINTO was involved in the Yorkshire MLA project Libraries are Good for Business which mapped business information provision in our region and looked at how it could be improved. I recently wrote to CILIP Update about the report Access by UK small and medium-sized enterprises to professional and academic information pointing out that public libraries were less able to provide for the needs of SMEs today than they were in the 1930s. This month I Tweeted on the report Business Information Resources: Landscape & Feasibility by Nigel Spencer which pointed out the fragmented nature of the information landscape This report stated that many obstacles exist to prevent businesses from finding and using business information and cited a lack of understanding of business needs by staff providing services. The report went on to identify key roles for public libraries, Business Links and the higher education institutions and recommended the creation of a national integrated service for information provision.

I was very interested therefore in the funding call from JISC to universities for projects that will demonstrate good practice in access to information resources for external parties, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, but also other individuals and organisations. The call is part of the JISC Business and Community Engagement (BCE) programme designed to encourage partnerships between universities and the wider community to share knowledge and expertise for mutual benefit. Funds are available to support demonstrator projects in which higher or further education institutions take a leading role in facilitating an integrated information and knowledge service model, in partnership with other key agencies such as public libraries, publishers and business support agencies. The vision behind the business information resources work was for institutions to offer business information resources coupled with tailored advice and guidance from institutional experts. This would be provided both on-site and via remote access, by regional hubs in partnership with public libraries, with the support of local and regional bodies such as Regional Development Agencies. The intention now is that the resources are broadened beyond business information to include serviceable knowledge (i.e. institutional knowledge which is applied to solve external problems or create opportunities) and joined-up services.

Funding of £450,000 for up to 5 projects is available under the access to resources theme. The deadline for application is the 19th April 2010.
This project is to be welcomed as information provision for this sector has been neglected. My only reservation is that the current fragmented nature of the information landscape arose because over the years different organisations have been given a lead role in providing business information. It used to be the public libraries in our larger cities. Then Business Links were formed. The British Library Business and IP Centre was set up. Now universities are being encouraged to take on the role. I understand that collaboration and partnership are at the heart of this call but I wish there could be even more joined up thinking at the start.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Legal information

"A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again."

Librarians tend to be aware of the importance of these lines by Pope. We may not know a lot about the subjects we deal with but we do know that there is a lot to know. That's one reason why we tend to be cynical about about tools such as Wikipedia. It's not that it is wrong, it's just that it is a very shallow draught.

This applies especially to subjects such as medicine and law. It could be dangerous (or at least expensive) to become intoxicated by a shallow understanding of these subjects. As a result librarians tend to be wary about providing this information. On the other hand there is clearly an obligation on public libraries to provide users with access to good quality sources of information. Citizens have a right to the information they need to make informed decisions.

In an article in Legal Information Management in 2007 (1) I pointed out that that although there is no shortage of on-line legal information resources it can still be difficult for many people to get access to the information they need through public libraries. This is the topic that will be addressed by the SINTO training day Sources of legal information and advice for a general reference library. Librarians from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University will be providing a guide to sources of information with a focus on free and on-line resources. The day will begin with an introduction to the English legal system so that delegates can understand the context and will finish with a presentation from the Sheffield Law Centre about legal advice services. The day will also be useful to librarians in academic and other specialist libraries who want a general introduction to the subject. More information can be fond here.

Reference librarians in public libraries have always needed to be generalists but they do need to have specialist knowlege as well. This SINTO course will enable them to drink deep from the Pierian spring.

1. Clayton, C. Too much information... nor any drop to drink. Legal Information Management 7(2007) pp101-103 Link

Friday, 12 February 2010

Training in Leeds

A few years ago there existed a group called the Consortium which was organised by Sally Gibbs, then of Leeds Metropolitan University. It organised training events for library staff. Sally left Leeds Met and the Consortium ceased to operate.
I am keen to resurect the Consortium under the aegis of SINTO. The idea is that librarians in Leeds should get together and plan training events which would then be administered by SINTO. What I need from Leeds librarians is:
  1. Ideas for events to meet the needs of librarians in Leeds
  2. Help with providing venues
  3. Help in identifying speakers, especially local experts

SINTO would book the rooms and speakers, circulate publicity and take the bookings.

I have written to my contacts at Leeds University, Leeds Metropolitan University and Leeds Public Libraries and am looking forward to their response. If there is anyone else in the Leeds area who would like to get involved, get in touch.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Grading of SINTO staff

I have always used the SINTO Blog to write about maters of general professional interest or for news of what SINTO is doing. This blog is on a personal issue but does raise issues that will be of concern to SINTO members.

SINTO is an independent body set up and run by its members. It is administered by Sheffield City Council, and the SINTO staff - myself as Director and the SINTO Assistant - are employed by SCC. However all the costs of SINTO, including staff costs, are covered by the income raised by SINTO from subscriptions, donations and charges for events.

Last year SCC carried out a Pay and Grading review (later renamed the Equal Pay Review). This proposed that the grades of the SINTO Director and SINTO Assistant should be reduced. I am facing a reduction of c£1,500 pa and the Assistant post 0f c£910 pa (FTE).

So far I have regarded this as an internal matter. I have discussed it with the SINTO Executive Board and have been preparing an appeal against the regrading. However the review process has been delayed and I feel that the issue should be brought to the attention of SINTO members. To explain my position I am reproducing the text of an e-mail I have sent to Cllr Sylvia Dunkerly who is the SCC cabinet member with responsibility for libraries.

Dear Sylvia
I should apologise for the timing of my lobbying you over the Pay and Gradings review. Yesterday's evening at the Central Library was a celebration of the library service and your speech was very well received. However I do not apologise for what I said and I believe that this is an urgent issue that Sheffield City Council needs to deal with and that members should be aware of how staff feel.I believe that the review has become a debacle. My anger is mainly because of the delays in the appeal procedure. I am of course aggrieved by the decision to downgrade my post as SINTO Director and the post of SINTO Assistant. SINTO as you know is an independent organisation administered by Sheffield City Council. It is self-funding and the income I generate covers all our costs including staff costs. There will be no cost saving to SCC from the downgrading. The Council claims that the downgrading is not to save costs but reflects the duties and responsibilities of the post. I reject this argument and do not believe that the Council has any evidence to justify this decision. In my post as Director of SINTO, which I have held for 12 years, I am directly responsible to our member organisations - library and information services throughout the region. If I did not provide the level of service that these organisations require I would have been dismissed from my post by the SINTO Executive or the libraries would have withdrawn from SINTO membership. They are clearly satisfied with my performance at the salary that was originally decided by SINTO. What grounds does the Council have for overturning the decision of the SINTO members?

Having said that, I accept that the Council was entitled to go through this process and make a decision as long as it enabled an equitable review process. We were promised in a letter of 19th November 2009 that a review meeting "will be arranged and the date confirmed to you in writing within 4 weeks of the final date for receipt of all Appeal Request Forms. This will be in January 2010". It is now February. No further correspondence has been received about the reviews. The latest update on the SCC intranet is dated 7 December.Justice delayed is justice denied. My strong sense of grievance about the original decision has been exacerbated by the delay in holding the appeal meetings. The inability of the Council to organise the process on time undermines my confidence in its fairness. As I said to you yesterday, if I ran SINTO as badly as Sheffield City Council is running the Pay and Grading review I would expect to be sacked!