Tuesday, 22 February 2011

SINTO Library Campaigns event

The SINTO Executive Board is concerned that CILIP should have taken it upon itself to announce the decision to cancel the SINTO Briefing “Library Campaigns. Are we all inside the tent?" without consulting the SINTO staff or Board. We are particularly disturbed by the tone of the statement and by the decision by CILIP to distribute it in the form of a news release. We accept that the speakers, who had originally agreed to take part, were entitled to change their mind about participating but do not agree that this, as suggested by the CILIP statement, was caused by any aspect of SINTO’s organisation or promotion of the event.

SINTO arranged this briefing with the aim of increasing understanding and exploring areas of agreement between the various groups involved and continues to believe that it would have been a useful and worthwhile occasion. It was concerned with an issue with which the library profession and library campaigners needed to engage and aimed at professional librarians and library campaigners with an interest in working together. Tim Coates, Annie Mauger and Lauren Smith, with Alan Gibbons as Chair, were invited to make separate presentations on library campaigning. There was no intention of staging a debate or confrontation between the speakers. The audience would then have been invited to contribute to the discussion. All participants in the event were asked to abide by the CILIP Code of Professional Practice section 3C:

"Refer to colleagues in a professional manner and not discredit or criticise their work unreasonably or inappropriately."

The three speakers agreed to participate on this basis. At no time were any concerns raised by them or the chair with the SINTO Director, regarding the way in which the event was being organised and promoted, until on Wednesday 16th February Annie Mauger contacted Carl Clayton to announce that the speakers had decided to withdraw. The CILIP news release was issued the following day.

Carl Clayton, Director, SINTO
Professor Bob Usherwood, Chair, SINTO Executive Board.

Please note that I do not intend to publish any comments received regarding this posting. Enquiries can be emailed to Carl Clayton.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Library campaign briefing

This event has been cancelled. At present I am unable to make any further comment.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Tim Coates watch

In his recent blog Phil Bradley attacks the website Tim Coates watch and the associated Twitter feed. The core of Phil's argument is:

"The purpose of these accounts is to make direct attacks on a library campaigner, Tim Coates. It's no secret that I don't particularly like him, and I'm pretty sure that he doesn't like me either. I don't like his opinions or his attitude towards librarians. However, he has EVERY right to hold them, and although I think his attempts to save libraries are not focussed in the way that I would like them to be, that's beside the point. Tim would probably use exactly the same words about me.

"If we're to debate and discuss issues, then let us do so. Ad hominem attacks do no good, and in fact draw attention away from challenging his methods and approach. "

I agree with Phil. The annonymous writer of the blog claims to be using satire to poke fun at Mr Coates and his views but appealing to the spirit of Jonathan Swift (or even Viz) does not justify the style and content of this unpleasent blog. As a small illustration the blog's strapline is "The deeds and misdeeds of Tim Coates, bookseller turned self-styled library campaigner". How can you accuse anyone of being a "self-styled" library campaigner? There is no official body which accredits library campaigners so surely everyone who regards themselves as a library campaigner is self styled! This is a minor point but I don't want to give more publicity to the abusive comments the blog regularly employs.

The reason I think that this is important is that I have invited Tim Coates to speak at a SINTO briefing. Now many librarians strongly disagree with Tim's arguments and also in the style in which he presents those arguments. Like Phil they want to argue against them in a professional way but it is difficult when some librarians are resorting to such purile comments. Of course lots of people agree with some of the things that Tim says and many librarians share his criticisms of CILIP and senior professionals. Tim's latest onslaught against CILIP is hard to take because of what could be seen as an insulting and disrespectful comments about our professional association and the concept of professionalism. But is Tim's use of the title SYRUP in reference to CILIP any worse than the suggestion by John Kirriemuir "That CILIP shall henceforth be known as 'CLIPCLOP' as the former is both silly and pretentious, but the latter is merely silly and is therefore an improvement."

Librarianship is not above criticism - being self critical and open to outside criticism is a mark of professionalism. We can respond to criticism but as a profession we should not tollerate the likes of Coates Watch.


Monday, 7 February 2011

The cruel futility of hope?

I'm feeling a bit Monday morningish today. Perhaps it's because the Pittsburgh Steelers were beaten in the Superbowl last night (well you've got to support the Steelers if you live in Sheffield) but mainly it's a dip following the euphoria of Save our Libraries Day and the Shush-In for Sheffield Libraries. The event on Saturday was really amazing and although we obviously staged managed some aspects of the event, the response to my "let the wild rumpus begin" call was spontaneous and enthusiastic. You can see the full video of the event made by the Green Party here or highlights of the Shush-In here . Coverage in the local paper is here.

But it is the morning after the night before so we have to take a sober look at what happened. Of course the Steelers should have run more on first-down but to return to libraries I think that most of us know that the demonstrations, read-ins, shush-ins and passionate arguments from readers and authors will not in themselves make the decision-makers change their minds about library cuts. However, what we have done in Sheffield and elsewhere is to put libraries into the media and raised their profile. We must never forget that many people, especially those with overall responsibility for the financing of libraries, generally pay little or no attention to them. What the national day of action has done is to create a window of opportunity while libraries are in the headlines to get our message across.

What is that message? The core message is that expressed by so many library users, writers, librarians and a scattering of celebrities on the value and importance of libraries to both individual, communities and civilisation as a whole. However we also have to be quite cynical in framing arguments that will appeal to the decision makers in local government. I suggest that the following arguments would hit home.

1. Libraries do not cost much to run. The budget for Sheffield Libraries is less than 1% of the total city budgets so cutting libraries does not help other service avoid cuts,

2. Libraries are one of the most popular (if not the most popular) services provided by local authorities. Many elected members already feel that they have been made the scapegoat for the Government's cuts policy so why court even further pain for so little gain?

3. It might be the case that cuts are inevitable and that everyone must share in the pain but this should be based on outcomes and not inputs. In other words it is not a case of looking at a spreadsheet and saying that the column headed "Libraries" must take the same percentage cut as the columns headed "elderly", "learning disabled" or "pot-holes". Authorities should consider the outcome on the people affected. The cuts will hurt the elderly, people with special needs and those who are losing their jobs - and it is precisely these people who need library services the most. Libraries are often their last remaining hope, a light when all others have failed. It might be just as a source of entertainment and escapism (and why not! We want bread and roses too!). It might be a source for information (including health information) when other services have closed. It might be for lifelong learning, training or help to set up in business as ways of escaping from unemployment. Above all libraries provide ideas, inspiration and hope. We could be very cynical and say that the last thing people need today is hope because they are bound to be disappointed, but I don't believe that local councillors want to take hope away from their communities.Or do they?

Keith Mitchell, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, has said that calls to exempt libraries from cuts were "a call to heap more cuts on care of the elderly, learning disabled and those with mental health problems. Have they thought through the impact of their messianic message about literature on the most vulnerable in our society?"

The answer Mr Mitchell is Yes! We have thought about the impact of our message on the most vulnerable in our society and that is precisely why we believe that libraries should be exempt from cuts. Have you thought about the impact of denying your community hope of a better future?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Save our Libraries

This is the text of my introduction to the SINTO course "Sources of health and wellbeing information for the public" which is running on Friday.

Welcome to this SINTO training event on sources of health and wellbeing information. As you may know, tomorrow is Save Our Libraries day when people all over the country will be showing their support for public libraries. Now I probably shouldn't have said that. It's possible now that someone from Sheffield City Council will turn up and tell us we can't hold this event because it is too political!

The reason I mention it is that there is a big debate going on about the value and importance of libraries - and one argument you often hear is "Well we don't need libraries any more because it's all on the Internet."

Now this course is going to look at the resources that are available on the internet among other things but even if "it is all on the Internet" (and we know that is not the case), that does not mean that libraries and librarians are obsolete.

I decided to do a search on Google yesterday for Alzheimer (it had been a bad day). I typed it in and Google came up with 20 million hits! Now isn't that marvellous! What more could I possibly want? Being experienced in this sort of thing I knew that in that list would be something like 100 hits that would be exactly what I wanted. Up-to-date, accurate, authoritative and designed to meet my exact requirements. Unfortunately that leaves 1 million, nine hundred and ninety thousand, and nine hundred hits that are not relevant - and the problem of sorting out which are which.

That is why we need libraries and that is why you are here today.