Thursday, 28 July 2011

SINTO Members' Day

We had a very successful AGM and Members' Day yesterday. Papers from the AGM will be circulated soon. I will also circulate a report on the presentations at the Members' Day including Ronan O'Beirne's paper on From Lending to Learning, the presentation by the two SINTO Bob Usherwood prizewinners on reminiscence work and outreach to homeless people and my reports on the Measuing the Impact of Public Libraries workshop and the Arts Council round table.

The Power Point presentations are available on Slideshare.

Here is short version of Ronan's paper.
From Lending to Learning: the development and extension of public libraries.
Libraries offer a range of services that have evolved in a haphazard way. This is not to say that there is poor quality of service, simply a lack of consistent strategy. The question is "Who looks after public library services in this country?" Is it central government, regional bodies, local government or quangos, and is it all held together by the short term thinking of hands-off politicians and civil servants?

There is a conflict between the professional role of librarians and their role as managers within the local authority structure. Many senior library managers are limited to a planning and overseeing role. Leadership qualities are not required and may not exist. Examples of leadership skills would include motivating staff in difficult times and convincing elected members of the relevance of library services to the community. There is a schism between national government policy for public libraries and local authority provision with library leaders caught in the middle. Library leadership is often reduced to an exercise of dismantling a service piece by piece in a way that delivers savings yet maintains the appearance of an acceptable library service. It is rare to find a library service that is led by a professional librarian and not by the local authority bureaucracy.

Informal learning
This is a very powerful concept. People use libraries to improve themselves and achieve self fulfilment through self-directed learning. The library provides a body of knowledge arranged so as to be accessible. Our focus should be on the content of the book - the information and learning they contain - and not on the physical books. We have not capitalised on this enough. We should consider the architecture of learning space in the community unifying academic and public libraries. In Bradford Public Libraries Ronan developed engagement with learning both within and outside the library. Many people trust the neutrality of libraries where they don't trust educational organisations. The current Big Society agenda means there is a need for a revival of the Community Librarianship approach of the 1970s and 80s.

Information literacy.

This is an important concept that has not been fully recognised in public libraries. The implementation of the People's Network was very successful but the training was based on the European Computer Driving Licence and this was too shallow. On the whole users were not interested in word processing and spreadsheets but in using the Internet for information and communication. front line staff weren't trained in this. In Bradford Ronan developed the Pop-i project using online virtual learning to train public library staff in information literacy. It increased job satisfaction by enabling them to help library users. An attempt was made to involve MLA in distributing the package to all public libraries but they were not interested.

In the UK the information literacy agenda is biased towards the needs of academic libraries with an emphasis on plagiarism. In the USA recently there was an Information Literacy Month supported by Barak Obama to help people understand the implication of the information that they are exposed to. Technology has failed to remove the barriers of social exclusion in libraries and the promise of free access for all has not been met.

Ronan finished with three key messages
1. Library leaders need to be political with a small p. This is against our own sense of being professional but we need to get inside the chambers of local authorities and say "This is what we do". The next generation of professional staff need to take this on board.

2. Learning is happening in public libraries. It is informal and hard to measure, but it happens.

3. Digital literacy is the territory of librarians and we need to move into this.

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