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.