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!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Potentially dangerous waffle

Bob Usherwood (Chair of SINTO, but writing in a personal capacity) has given his views of the Empower, Inform, Enrich report in a letter to Library & Information Update (Jan/Feb 2010 p29).

Bob was not impressed. Describing it as potentially dangerour waffle he says "For the product of a government that advocates 'evidence based policy' the collection of 'essays'... contains precious little by way of evidence". Asking if the professional librarians involved might now regret that they contributed to this report he warns that "... there is a fear that they reflect a profession that no longer challenges the establishment and is afraid to argue against the conventional wisdom".

He points out that past research using contingent valuation and social auditing has demonstrated the value of libraries to individuals and communities, but that the government has ignored this work, allowing those such as Cllr Foulkes to argue that the only people who support libraries are those with a direct self interest.

Bob then makes a strong defence of the statutory basis of the library service.

We may get a policy statement from Margaret Hodge "in the spring". No doubt it will form a central plank of Gordon Brown's election manifesto (insert sarcasm mark here). It is probable that the battle ground for the future of public libraries will be at local rather than national level as local authorities seek to implement cuts. Evidence of the value of libraries to their communities will be a central weapon and the ability of professional librarians to articulate their arguments to the likes of Cllr Foulkes will be critical.