Monday, 31 January 2011

I click therefore I am

In my last post I copied a press release issued by the Sheffield based group Library Workers for a Brighter Future. They had invited the poet Ian McMillan to an event at Hillsborough library as part of Save our Libraries day. It appears that Sheffield City Council banned this event because it was "political"- but since when have Local Authorities had the right to stop their citizens being "political"? In any case, this event was about democratic engagement and public libraries have to be central to that.

Sheffield City Council, like many other councils, is suggesting cuts to the library service budget along with cuts to other council services, because the Government has reduced its grant. The democratically elected members on the Council will have to consider these proposed cuts and make a decision. That is how it should be. But does this mean that the Council has the right to supress any dissent, let alone discussion of this decision? There is a debate about public libraries taking place on the Sheffield Forum web site. Many people are very supportive of libraries but others say they must take their share of the cuts. That is what political debate is all about. The Council however wants to put a stop to debate.

The Leader of the Council, Paul Scriven, is well known locally for featuring in a music video promotion for  Mercure Hotel. It might have been nice instead if he could have produced a music video promoting Sheffield Libraries with his refain of "You just keep me coming back". (When you have seen the video you might think it's a good idea that he didn't!). But why does he think it is right to promote a hotel and then stop the libraries promoting themselves?
The council probably thinks that it can get away with this sort of censorship because librarians and library users are quiet, timid people who won't make a fuss. We hope to show that they are wrong with our Shh4sheflib event on Saturday. I don't suppose they will be too keen on that either but so far they haven't said they are going to ban it. I hope that the people of Sheffield will turn out in force to demonstrate that we will not be told what we can do by the Council. We are promoting this event through social media sites and it might demonstrate to the Council - as with many oppresive governments worldwide - that you can't stop people with bans and censorship.

I will finish with a poem by the banned Ian McMillan

Before, when you got mail,

It was a chap in a cap with a sack packed full;

Before, when you researched

You sat and sweated in a library that was just this side of dull;

And when you booked your holidays

You stood there in a queue

Behind a family of five and a pensioner or two

And life seemed so much slower, somehow;

There was acres of last week and just half a glimpse of now;

Today you click

On a mouse

And you can shop till you drop without leaving the house

And now you send

Your blogs

Right across the globe and the photos of your dogs

Can appear on your site in the twinkling of an eye

And in a tick you get a picture back of Grandma saying Hi!

Framed against the backdrop of a California sky…

And it’s been fifteen years from before to this

And now we’re living in a universe of constant cyber bliss!

And like the first fire in the cave

Or the first turning of The Wheel

The internet is changing how we think and speak and feel

And in the next fifteen years the net will turn and twist again

And go down murky sidestreets far beyond this Barnsley brain

And one thing’s certain: the net is here forever,

Constant as taxes, unpredictable as weather…

And before I’m dragged right under in a growing tide of spam

I’ve time for just this one last post: I click therefore I am!

© Ian McMillan, for BBC R4 Today, 7.8.06

Sheffield Council bans Ian McMillan

Sheffield City Council have informed Library Workers For A Brighter Future that a planned event at Upperthorpe Library, a children's creative writing workshop to be run by poet, broadcaster & comedian, Ian McMillan, will not be allowed to go ahead due to concerns over possible 'political comments'. The event, conceived as a fun and creative way of highlighting the value of public libraries, appears to have caused great concern for the council, with the decision over whether it should be allowed to go ahead passed all the way up to members of the senior management. We view this as a misguided and heavy-handed attempt to silence those of us who want to stand up for our library service and oppose the potentially devastating public sector cuts.
'Libraries are a vital and irreplaceable part of a cultured and civilised society, and one of the few public places left where you don't have to pay to get in...' Ian McMillan
In Sheffield it is being proposed that the present library budget of £8.5m should be cut by £2.5m by 2013/14, i.e. by £1.4m in 2011/12 and £550k in 2012/13 and 2013/14. There are no current plans to close libraries but cuts on this scale will inevitably have a major impact on the quality of the library service. As a campaigning organisation we are keen to work with the council wherever possible to highlight the good work that libraries do in our communities. This lack of cooperation on even such a simple thing as a children's creative writing workshop leaves us with little option but to pursue other ideas.
Saturday 5th of February is the national day of action for libraries and Library Workers For A Brighter Future would like to invite everybody to a mass 'Shhhh!'-in at 11am in the Sheffield Central Lending Library on Surrey Street.

Shhh-In rules...

Finger to lips.

At 11am say 'Shhhhh!'

Finish off with three cheers for the library!

Finally, borrow lots of books – lets empty those shelves. You're allowed up to 15 out on your library card, so bring a big bag!

 We will be using the Twitter hashtag #shh4sheflib.
Library Workers For A Brighter Future



Follow us on Twitter:

Or call on: 07891442887

Thursday, 27 January 2011

More with less

A free seminar from Credo Reference

How to do more with less (or even nothing!)
Wednesday 23 February, 2.00 – 4.30-ish

Sheffield Central Library

Free of charge
Invitation open to non subscribers, too

In this climate of cuts and closures, it’s vital that libraries make the most of their online resources. Pete Ciuffetti, Credo’s Director of Library Solutions, will talk about some of Credo’s radical new ideas to help all libraries - his plans will benefit public libraries, schools, colleges and universities, too, whether Credo subscribers or not. Most of it is very down to earth, but he’ll also be talking about open source and cloud computing, so you might want to bring a technical colleague along (if you’re as non-technical as I am). And he wants to hear what you all need!

Thanks to Karen Wallace at Sheffield Libraries who has kindly offered to host this seminar.

Can you please RSVP to me, if you’d like to come along, and who you’d like to bring, or if you have any questions?

If 23rd Feb doesn’t suit, there’s another seminar in Oldham on 22nd Feb so contact me for details.

Pete’s also running a series of online seminars; please visit
Credo Reference is proud to sponsor Voices for the Library

Pancakes & Mash

Hello Carl,

You may have already spotted this on the wires... we're running a Mashed Library technology 'un-conference' in Lincoln on the 8th of March.

I'd be more than happy to waive the £12 admin fee for any SINTO members who would like to attend but who might have problems securing funding from their employer.


Announcing Mashed Library "Pancakes and Mash", a library technology 'un-conference' taking place at the University of Lincoln on 8 March 2011 (Shrove Tuesday). Booking is now open, costing only £12.

"Mashed Library is about 'bringing together interested people and doing interesting stuff with libraries and technology' - feel free to join if you have an interest in libraries, technology, or both." ~ taken from:

Pancakes and Mash will run between 10.00 - 16.30 in and around the EMMTEC building on the University of Lincoln's Brayford Pool campus in the centre of Lincoln. There will be social events the night before (and possibly the night after) the conference. A first draft of the programme - plus details of available options for travel and accommodation in Lincoln - will follow shortly.

Booking is now open to all, via:

There's a £12.00 (£10.00+VAT) administration charge for each booking.

If you have any questions, please email me.

I look forward to seeing you there,

Paul Stainthorp MSc
Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Lincoln
GCW University Library
Brayford Pool

Friday, 21 January 2011

Library displays. Old-fashioned or the new Twitter?

"'Public libraries' is a trusted and well loved brand but poor marketing means awareness of the offer is low."

"There is strong support for libraries to do more promotion and advertising about what they do."

What do the public want from libraries? MLA, 2010

That's easy then! Just increase your marketing budget and…..

… and that's the problem. Libraries have seldom had enough money to spend on marketing in the best of times. And now is not the best of times. We have to think carefully about our "marketing portfolio" and how to stretch our budget even further.

Marketing on Twitter, social networking sites and websites is a good way of reaching some sectors but we know that it does not get to everyone. Advertising in the local media or using posters can be effective but is expensive. So perhaps we should look at a traditional activity that has been neglected recently.

Displays on table tops, walls or in windows - either in the library or at external locations - might be regarded as old-fashioned but it is cheap, effective and is used by retail outlets. If it is done professionally it can be an important part of your marketing strategy (and you DO have a marketing strategy don't you!).

SINTO is offering a one day course designed to ensure that individual members of staff can achieve visually exciting, professional looking displays in minutes, with a minimum of pre-installation preparation and using a range of cheap and readily available material. The presenter, Pauline Carr, is a professional window dresser and since the 1990s she has been involved in training with libraries, public service organisations and the education sector.

Now, more than ever, we have to sell ourselves and our services. Full information at

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Save Libraries is trending

The news that the 'savelibraries' hash tag trended on Twitter may be gobbledygook to many people. Even if you understand that it means that the number of messages posted on the popular microblogging site which used the subject tag #savelibraries reached such a level recently that it featured on the Twitter list of most popular trends then you might not be very impressed. After all, if celebrity obsessed air-heads who have nothing better to do with their time then sending tweets suddenly become interested in saving libraries - so what?

That would be an unfair conclusion to reach. OK, Twitter is not the real world and should not be confused with stuff that is important but it is an indication that the sort of people who use Twitter are interested in libraries and that the sort of people who use libraries are interested in Twitter, and both of those statements should be of interest to librarians.

And it's not just Twitter. The bookseller reported that "Library campaigns are on the rise", the Independent on Sunday leader proclaimed "Overdue! The fight to save our libraries begins" and the Guardian has carried a series of articles and reports. But it is in the local press and radio that you can hear the real voice of people fighting to protect their local public libraries.

So what does this outburst of support for libraries mean for librarians? Most of us will be heartened by this confirmation that people love libraries. The library profession as a whole welcomes what is happening. But at the same time there are areas of disagreement and conflict. Being a supporter of libraries is not necessarily the same as being a supporter of those who run libraries (1).

This is illustrated by recent controversy around comments made by Roy Clare, Chief Executive of MLA (2).

Roy Clare is not a librarian or a library manager but his organisation exists to support local authorities in the running of public libraries and his comments reflect the views of many heads of library services.

"Public libraries will not be preserved by wishful thinking and aspic. Strive to thrive; recognise the width and breadth of the social opportunities and fight hard to nourish change and embrace development that can serve the whole community, not simply the privileged, mainly white, middle class. These are perspectives that too few commentators – whether journalists or campaigners – care to hear about, still less to understand."

Many have complained that Clare was dismissing library campaigners as "the privileged, mainly white, middle class" as a way of rubbishing their arguments - an accusation that he strongly refutes. Instead, like many librarians, he is warning against a too narrow vision of what libraries can and should be doing.

Campaigners have also objected to statements made by Clare that appear to show support for the decision of some library authorities to close branch libraries, e.g.

"… future services should be modelled around objective measures of local needs, where necessary adapting to trends (including changes in demographics, new housing, High Street re-development etc).

In some places (and there is no uniform template) that means some closures; some changes in style and approach; some new ways of thinking; and some thought to using alternatives to existing provision (for example, exploring the opportunities presented by other community spaces nearby, and considering the implications of new technologies); and focusing especially on maintaining or enabling access for a range of cultures and languages (in cities and many towns) and on the particular needs of rural communities, where too many people still have no library service at all and some innovation is needed (including hook-ups with supermarket delivery services, as some Councils are considering)."

These comments reflect a long standing view of many librarians that the library service as it exists now needs to be re-engineered to face the challenges we are facing. With additional cuts of around 30% to library budgets being proposed library managers have to consider the best way of maintaining a quality library service with less money. For many the answer is to focus on developing a quality service and then explore cost effective methods of making this service available to the community. Maintaining a large number of small library buildings with very limited opening hours is not always the most cost effective solution. The alternative of making cuts on this scale without closing branches is just death by a thousand cuts for the service as a whole.

Inevitably and understandably, campaigners see things in a different light. They reject or ignore the need for cuts. They argue that their local library service is essential for them and they are not responsible for the needs of the service as a whole. In most cases they are happy to campaign for the preservation of a local status quo rather than seeking to meet unmet needs elsewhere. None of this is necessarily wrong. Indeed it is supported by recent trends away from the "big state" towards localism. We live in a market economy and the views of the individual customer are supposed to be paramount.

All this leaves those who manage public libraries - especially the professional librarians - in a dilemma. They believe that cuts to library services are wrong but they have a choice of either resigning in protest or continuing to manage the service as best they can within the new budget. They might decide not to close branches to deflect the anger this would cause, but are aware that this might cause more damage to the service as a whole. They may be tempted to placate the articulate library users at the expense of excluded groups with less of a voice. Above all they feel that a gap is opening up between them and their users whose support they value and need. As one local librarian put it:

[Library campaigners] seem to be focusing on bricks and mortar and equating a library service only with a building. This negates a lot of good discussion about what a library service is … [and is] fundamental if you are actually trying to offer better value for money to the majority of your users and better access rather than seeing everything as a budget cut.

The SINTO executive briefing Library campaigns - Are we all inside the tent? (4) provides an opportunity to reflect on these issues. It will bring together various speakers to present the views of campaigners and the library profession with the opportunity for dialogue. The briefing itself may not provide a solution to the dilemma it will be an opportunity to gain more information and understanding of the issues.

(1) Libraries are run by senior professional librarians but they report to senior council officers and are ultimately responsible to the elected members.

(2) Much of this debate was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail. The MLA has made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission that the Daily Mail piece was an "inaccurate, misleading, distorted and defamatory account of the views of Mr Clare". I will focus on what he actually said.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Libraries and the media

Yesterday (10th January) Lauren Smith was interviewed in Radio York by Elly Fiorentini about proposed cuts to library services in North Yorkshire. (7 mins 5 seconds in.)

Lauren, a qualified librarian, has been closely involved with the Save Doncaster Libraries Campaign and is spokesperson for Voices for the Library.

Whenever someone puts themselves forward to be interviewed by the media on library issues they take on a large burden of responsibility. Get it wrong and at best you have missed an opportunity to get the message across; at worse you could damage the case for libraries and loose support. Good intentions are not enough. If you are a spokesperson you do have to perform well. Lauren as far as I know has not had formal training in dealing with the media but she has had experience and she is excellent in this role. It could be argued that media interviews on behalf of the library profession should only be given by trained and media-savvy experts - a library spin-doctor if you like. The problem is that there people do not exist. Even CILIP does not have such a person and has in the past struggled when asked to put forward a spokesperson by the national media. Further it could be argued that, especially when dealing with the local media, you don't want someone who is too slick and polished. A real person, albeit with rough edges, can be more convincing.

Lauren as I said, came over very well. Her voice is young and engaging and her style is relaxed but authoritative. I suspect that she felt less confident than she sounded but she has clearly prepared herself well for this role and she is to be congratulated.

What about the specific questions she was asked? These are the sort of things that library campaigners might be asked by other local media so it worth looking at the questions and answered.

Elly Fiorentini began by asking why Voices for the Library was so concerned about the situation in North Yorkshire, which is the local angle that the local media would want to focus on. Lauren made the strong point that North Yorkshire is the largest local authority so there was the danger that communities would be isolated by the closure of branches. We need to identify a local angle even if many of the issues are common to the whole country.

Lauren was then asked a leading question about the cuts not being just about libraries loaning books and was able to come back with comments on digital inclusion, literacy and other community services. The only problem with this sort of question is that a short concise answer is needed and we have a whole range of things we could talk about. We need to select a brief list. The interviewer then asked if a local pub couldn't do the same thing. In some ways this is an easy question and Lauren was able to mention things that a librarian can do that a pub landlord can't! However we must recognise that many people's perception of a library is a few shelves of books with a friendly person stamping them out.

Next came the killer question. "Now we know that North Yorkshire County Council has got to save £20m and every service has to take its fair share of that. Surely it's a question of prioritising services - people might rather loose their library than see adult care suffer?"

It is inevitable that we will get this "what would you cut instead?" question and we have to have a good answer. We could take the line that the government has got it wrong and that cuts in public expenditure are not the answer ( However this moves the debate away from public libraries and into a more complex economic debate. We could argue that Eric Pickles has told councils that cuts should not be made to frontline services but it might not be a good idea to rely on Eric as an ally in this debate and some campaigners feel that libraries are guilty on spending too much money on staff and administration and savings could be achieved here. Lauren's response was to point out that libraries are being asked to make a disproportionately large percentage cut in their budget and that branches closures are unlikely to be reversed when the economy improves. A good case can be made that the amount that can be saved by cutting libraries is relatively small compared with the damage caused and that the need for libraries is greater at a time of economic cuts. Libraries help people in care, and there carers, and are part of the solution - not the problem.

Elly Fiorentini then returned to the issue of the local community taking over library services. Again Lauren stressed the quality of service that could be provided. We do have to be careful when arguing that only librarians can be trusted to run libraries in case we sound arrogant and elitist - or come over as only interested in protecting our own jobs. We must not alienate library supporters who may feel that more community involvement is a good thing. However the quality of service argument is a good one to stress.

Finally Elly again asked Lauren "What is your solution then? It's very difficult because give the cuts they have got to happen somewhere". Of course, library campaigners must avoid the temptation to suggest cuts in other areas. There does need to be a debate about how we achieve a more cost effective library service with less emphasis on the bricks and mortar of traditional branch libraries and more on the delivery of services to communities through a range of access points but this does not make for a good sound bite. Lauren's point about the unfairness of the percentage cut applied to libraries was probably the best answer.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Librarians as teachers

I'm forwarding this information on behalf of Andrew Walsh at Huddersfield University.

We’re holding a Librarian “TeachMeet” (idea from in Huddersfield on 9th Feb 2011.

This will be a really informal opportunity for librarians who teach to get together to share tips and experiences.

If you come, be prepared to give a short (5 min at most) talk to share an aspect of your teaching. There will be “speed dating” to share tips and a lucky dip of teaching goodies to rummage through for inspiration.

The free event will be held at the University of Huddersfield from 14:00 to 16:30 on Wednesday 9th Feb. More details will appear on and as we decide them.

Please email if you’d like to attend. Places are limited, so book now to avoid disappointment.



Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Training budgets are so 2010

There has been a great deal of speculation about what effect cuts to library services will have on training budgets. Many people think that it will range from bad to catastrophic - but I see no point in being so optimistic.

The point is that training budgets are so last year darling! The idea that there is a certain sum of money set aside by libraries to provide for the training needs of staff is not only outmoded it is positively dangerous.

For too many librarians, training is seen as part of something called Continuing Professional Development. The idea is that each year you have an appraisal interview with your staff so see how they are doing. As part of this you ask them to identify their training needs - hat they would like to do to develop their skills and knowledge. You then make a list of these needs and see how much can be covered from the training budget. You then go shopping to see which of these needs can be met from the programmes offered by training providers.

The trouble now is that library budgets are being slashed and anything left in a "training budget" is likely to be minute. However, this misses the point. Training budgets are a waste of time. They should be abolished and the money moved to a central library budget. CPD is dead.

What libraries need to do is to ask themselves what their core role is. They need to decide what it is they should be doing and how they can deliver this. In many cases this will involve doing different things, doing them in different ways and doing them with different people.

To achieve this libraries must ensure that they have in place staff with the skills that are needed to deliver these new things. Replacing old staff who don't have the required skills with new staff who do have these skills is one option - but not a very cost effective one. A better approach is workforce development - ensuring that your staff are given the skills and knowledge that you as a library service need. This is not about providing training from a separate training budget it is about providing core skills from the core library budget. After all there is no point in spending any money at all on books, buildings or equipment if your workforce does not have the skills to deliver the service.

Of course, the skills you want to provide your workforce with might be exactly the skills that they want to gain as part of their own CPD - but that is beside the point.

A final point is that you can no longer afford to go shopping for courses that are being offered by training providers. You have to work with providers to deliver exactly the skills that you need. Its a buyer's market by the way. Squeeze them on price as much as you like but remember if they starve to death then you won't have a provider at all.