Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Community engagement

I recently blogged about community engagement and a course that SINTO is planning to run on this subject. I pointed out that community engagement is one of the "ingredients for change" that are listed in the recent Future libraries report. Most of the debate on this report has, understandably, focused on the "four models of reform"  but the ten ingredients for change were identified as important success factors in developing, planning and implementing change. While politicians, heads of library service and the profession and public at large are debating the pros and cons of the models, it will be job of senior library managers to look at the list of ingredients and consider how they can be embedded within their library services. It doesn't grab the headlines but it is an essential part of delivering a library service.

The response so far to the SINTO course has been 'interesting'. One library authority wants to run the course in-house for their staff as they see it as an important part of what they are trying to achieve and want as many staff as possible to attend. I have been happy to help arrange this.

Apart from that I have had only one booking. Does this mean that the topic is not relevant to most authorities? But in that case why is it relevant to two? Is it that senior library managers want to send people on the course but cannot afford it? Or is it the case that over the summer librarians are focusing on their holidays? To be fair, perhaps they are focusing on keeping the service running with reduced staffing levels as other people are on holiday!

I have talked in the past about workforce development. In theory, libraries decide what it is they want to do (e.g engage with their communities), identify the skills that they will need to achieve this and then identify the training provision that will give their staff those skills. In practice it does not always work out like that!  Perhaps the e-mails, flyers, blogs and Tweets I have sent out about this course have got lost in the clutter on people's desk, or in-boxes or brains. It happens! See Current Awareness, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the "Mark All As Read" Button by Woodsiegirl and Phil Bradley on filter failure.

I have to remain relaxed about all this. I put this course in the SINTO programme because I thought it was important for the current workforce development needs of our members. If  I am wrong then I will postpone or cancel it. But perhaps, when we get to the end of this long hot summer (as if), people will rediscover the messages under all the clutter and will book places. Let me know soon - I am taking a late break myself!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Arts Council England announces commitment to library development

[This is the text of a press release from the Arts Council England, Yorkshire]

On 5 August 2011, we signalled our commitment to the continuation of the Future Libraries programme, in partnership with the Local Government Group (LGG) and the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

The first phase of the Future Libraries Programme has now concluded, with the Local Government Group and MLA publishing the lessons learned on Saturday 6th August. The Arts Council will build on the achievements of this first phase and continue with the partnership approach for Future Libraries 2, a two-stage programme that will run from autumn 2011 to the end of March 2013.

The first stage of Future Libraries 2 will be delivered by the Local Government Group, and will share ideas, learning and best practice from the original programme through seminars and the development of expert guidance. The Arts Council will deliver the second stage of Future Libraries 2, which will focus on long-term goals, strengthening the sector encouraging partnerships and innovation at a local level. We will announce further details in September.

While the Arts Council will not be responsible for providing or funding library services, we will play a significant role in supporting and developing the libraries sector. We see our role as developing the cultural richness and potential of libraries. We would like to facilitate the formation of new partnerships and develop innovative approaches, to enable a stronger 21st century library service for communities across England.

Continuing discussions with the libraries sector, new in-house expertise and a national overview will enable the Arts Council to draw an accurate picture of the challenges and opportunities for libraries, and be in a unique position to help drive national cultural policy.

We will work with partners to promote reading, encouraging people of all ages to experience and enjoy it through festivals, reading challenges and groups, author events, and other initiatives. Digital technology will be harnessed, enabling many more people and communities to access and appreciate reading and create the content themselves.

This is a challenging time for libraries, as it is for many different kinds of cultural institutions across the country. Through working collaboratively with museums and arts we believe exciting opportunities will open up for libraries to build on the important role they play in our communities.

Relationship Manager, Libraries
The position of Relationship Manager, Libraries, in the Yorkshire Office is currently being advertised on our website, with a closing date of 22 August 2011. Further information can be found here:
Please feel free to disseminate details of the vacancy to any relevant networks.

Companion to Achieving Great Art for Everyone
In September the Arts Council will also publish a companion document to Achieving Great Art for Everyone, our 10 year framework for the arts, on how we will interpret our strategic goals for museums and libraries between 2012 and 2015. This will also outline the benefits and opportunities we believe exist for all our stakeholders as a result of our wider cultural role. This will build upon the publication of Estelle Morris’ review on how the Arts Council could best approach our extended remit.

We have further work to do ahead of taking on these functions and will continue to engage with you and the wider museums and libraries sector as we look to adjust the Arts Council’s goals to reflect their needs and priorities. An informal consultation on the longer term focus beyond 2015 will be launched in the autumn to ensure a wide range of views are heard about how best to reflect the long-term ambitions of all the sectors that the Arts Council now represents.

I hope that you find this information useful, please do not hesitate to contact Cluny or myself if you have any other queries.

Kind regards,

Abi Cattley
Assistant to the Regional Director
Arts Council England, Yorkshire
Email: abigail.cattley@artscouncil.org.uk
Direct line: 01924 486225
Fax: 01924 466522
Textphone: 01924 438 585

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Politics, pragmatism, principles.

In my recent blogs I talked about the call for librarians to be "political with a small p". But what exactly do we mean by that.
One answer can be found in a paper by Ann Curry published in Journal of Librarianship and Information Sciences 1994 (1). This paper explores the relationship between the chief librarians of public libraries and members of their local authority and was based in part on Bob Usherwood's investigation of public library politics and governance (2).
The paper shows that chief librarians were concerned that elected members might try to influence policy, especially library selection policy, because this might introduce political bias. There was particular concern about "special-interest lobbying groups" and both councillors and librarians felt that they had a better insight into the needs of the community than the other. The councillors felt that they were representing legitimate concerns of minority groups while the librarians complained that members were too ready to respond to unrepresentative pressure groups.

Many UK librarians (in contrast to Canadian librarians) deliberately avoided introducing a stock selection policy on the ground that it would have to go to a library committee and that would encourage a political debate that might not be to the benefit of the library. This sort of pragmatism was also reflected in policy on library displays. The aim of the chief librarian was to avoid conflict. "You have to be reasonably pragmatic. If a councillor says that you must do this, then it is no skin off anybody's nose to move or remove a book. There is no point in having a blazing row over something that is not important in the broader picture". Similarly "Exhibiting material which challenges council policies was considered by officers to be foolhardy and futile, like 'shooting yourself in the foot' according to one respondent." Examples of such taboo subjects included race, sexuality land development, education, taxation, labour relations, nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons. Librarians were particularly keen to avoid controversial media stories. They observed with 'cynical resignation' that "The political careers of the councillors would certainly come before any beliefs in the freedom to read".

This shows a high level of political awareness and skill in avoiding anything that might upset the elected members. The justification was that retaining the good-will and support of elected members was of more benefit to the library service in the long term than having arguments over individual matters of principle.

That was 1994 and seventeen years is a long time in politics. Much has changed including I suspect a distancing of councillors from any involvement in the details of library policy. The community is more empowered and I think would be less tolerant of councillors deciding what books to buy or display. On the other hand pressure groups might want to have a direct say over library policy, so the librarian is faced with a similar need to be pragmatic and avoid controversy.

But is this all that we mean by being political? For some the term means awareness of and involvement in public policy debate. An example of this is social exclusion. The report Open to All? The Public Library and Social Exclusion (3) contains statements such as "Public libraries, as institutions of the capitalist state, are thus configured like many other agencies, in favour of the middle class, who consume public goods to a disproportionate extent". This is a long way from a desire not to upset elected members. The report draws attention to the accelerating problem of exclusion in the United Kingdom, and the widening gap between rich and poor. "This is of concern to the Government because it has implications for both the economy and for social stability".

No one, least of all the authors of this report, would suggest that investing in libraries and promoting social inclusion through libraries could, of itself, prevent a breakdown of social stability. Libraries are a part, and a very small part, of any solution. But they are a part. As I have said before, the Darien statement that "the purpose of the library is to preserve the integrity of civilisation" is overblown and probably pretentious. But there is currently a debate on how we can preserve the integrity of civilisation. Some look to water cannons, plastic bullets and more police on the streets. Others are looking at underlying causes. Libraries are not the answer but they definitely have a part to play in giving individuals and communities some hope of a better future. As Bob Usherwood points out we must not allow councils to play off one part of public service against another. I'm sure that some will say that we can't afford to spend money on public libraries when we have to tackle the real problem of disaffected youth and a 'sick' society, but they are wrong. We should argue for the role of libraries in a political context.

So we have two concepts of what being political means. Heads of service have to work within the system and be pragmatic. They cannot damage the service as a whole for the sake of every 'principle' that comes along. Perhaps this is a function of age and experience. To paraphrase - if a librarian is not an idealist at twenty they have no heart, if a librarian is not a pragmatist at forty they have no brain.

But there is a principle at the core of what we do and we should understand what that is, explain it to our 'Power people' and seek to defend it. Without that core of principle the profession is an empty husk and does not deserve respect. We have to decide for ourselves on the right balance between pragmatism and idealism - and that choice is a political act.

1.Curry, Ann. The chief officer / councillor relationship in British Public Libraries. JLIS 1994 26:211
2. Usherwood, Bob. Public library politics: the role of the elected member: Library Association Publishing, 1993.
3. Open to All? The Public Library and Social Exclusion. Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, 2000

Monday, 8 August 2011

Communities - empowered or engaged

What is the difference between community engagement and community empowerment? A good basic explanation is given by the Local Government Group. Community engagement is about talking and listening to local groups. The Group suggests that "Residents can be sceptical about consultation. They often believe that it is a phoney 'box ticking' process and that the council had already decided what it wants to do". Perhaps this is a result of consultation on the lines of "Which branch library would you like us to close?" or "Should we shut the library on Monday or Friday?"

Community empowerment  is defined as the outcome of engagement. "Power, influence and responsibility is shifted away from existing centres of power and into the hands of communities and individual citizens".

Both terms are used in the report Future libraries: change, options and how to get there. Learning from the Future Libraries Programme Phase 1 published by the Local Government Group and MLA. "Empowering communities to do things their way" is one of the four "models of reform" presented in the report. This includes transfering library assets or management to a trust or community forum and the increased use of volunteers to run libraries. This has not proved popular with many campaigning groups such as Voices for the Library.

This is followed in the section "The ingredients for generating change" with a section on user and community engagement. This talks about the need for early engagement and the difference between engagement and consultation. "The dynamics of the [engagement] processes are entirely different and produce significantly different outcomes".

The question is has there really been widespread community engagement about libraries and has it really produced the outcome of a desire by communities for empowerment along the lines suggested in the report? Were they really demanding the transfer of library assetts and an increased use of volunteers? I suspect (and tell me if I am wrong) that most library authorities have not progressed far beyond consultation and into engagement, let alone uncovered a demand from communities to run their libraries. A quote from Hertfordshire and Shropshire councils on page 27 of the report ends "However, the engagement also highlighted the need to have 'professional' support and backing through the local authority".

Engagement is essential for public libraries. It can strengthen our case on the value of libraries. It can teach us important lessons about how we should deliver services. It might make us face up to an uncomfortable truth that communities would prefer community run libraries using volunteers to no library service at all. If that is the case we need to do some serious thinking about how we deliver that within the context of a professional library service.

True engagement with a community is not easy. It requires more than good intentions. SINTO is offering a training programme on Achieving Community Engagement through Action Learning. It takes an innovative approach to the subject which may be challenging but which I believe is worthwhile. So far no one has signed up to this. This event is not 'about' training. It is 'about' the future of libraries - change, options and how to get there. Public libraries need to engage with their own future as well as engage with their communities. They need to empower themselves as much as empower their communities.
[At the time of writing I could not find a working link to the Future libraries report. I will review this later.]
Link now added.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Library leadership

There has been a running theme in my recent blogs, and the SINTO AGM & Members' Day, about Library Leadership and the question of whether librarians should be 'political'. Both terms need to be defined. Library leaders can either mean the senior professional librarians who manage the service or the elected members and senior officers who have ultimate responsibility and control of finances. In this context we are talking about the professional leaders.

Politics also needs to be defined. It can mean the broad view a person has about how society should be organised and governed e.g. "If a man is not a socialist in his youth, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 30 he has no head". However it can be used in the phrase 'playing politics' to mean the horse-trading, wheeler-dealing, and compromise that takes place in order to reach a decision.

On the whole I define politics as the art of the achievable. To achieve the goal of providing a good library service you have to engage with the decision making process in your organisation. There is no point in assuming that the Power people will automatically know what you are doing or appreciate the value of your service. They are faced with many conflicting demands and their goal is to make choices that in their eyes generate the greatest benefits for the smallest cost. They are subject to all sorts of pressures and most of those pressures will direct resources away from the library. Library leaders need to be inside the chamber where the decisions are being made and they need to understand what motivates the decision makers. (One is reminded of the observation that Michael Heseltine was able to find the clitoris of the Tory party!).

That is never easy! There are formal channels of input to the decision making process but there are also I suspect informal channels. In the good old days Chief Librarians probably influenced decision makers by being members of "the club" - in some cases, literally, of the golf club or even, I suspect, the local Masonic Lodge. Today it is in theory all above board and professional but I suspect that library leaders find themselves on the fringes of the real decision making process. However, we must seek out, recognise and seize upon any opportunity we can. We must have the appropriate performance and impact indicators at our fingertips. We must have our "elevator pitches" ready and waiting - and recognise that it could be worthwhile riding the elevator up and down all day waiting for the opportunity! We must collect the stories that will appeal directly to the hearts of the most dedicated bean-counter. We must have a clear policy for advocacy and the confidence to put it into practice.

I have discussed the ethical issues about library staff campaigning against cuts elsewhere. Library leaders need to bear this in mind but they do have a right, indeed an obligation, to make a strong case for libraries.

SINTO is running workshops to help librarians make this case. Two workshops on advocacy will give you the basic and advanced skills for raising the profile of your library. The workshop on community engagement will help root your service in the needs of your community which in turn greatly strengthens your hand when dealing with the decision makers. Leaders, as much as those they lead, need to develop their knowledge and skills. The SINTO training programme will help you achieve this.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Trust me. I'm a librarian.

Today I am featuring a guest blogger - Prof Bob Usherwood. Bob has been chair of SINTO for the past 9 years and has helped us to be an effective organisation with a firm focus on professionalism. This blog is based on his summing up the presentations at the SINTO Members' Day last week which I have transcribed so it is not in the polished style of writing that Bob usually employs. Bob, in common with many library professionals, is not a blogger or Tweeter but it behoves (lovely word that) those of us who do inhabit the blogosphere to remember that challenging and radical ideas can exist elsewhere.

Bob's Blog!
I would like to pick up on some of the themes in today's presentations.
First of all the idea that librarians are political. Some of us have been saying this for a number of years and one of my heroes, E A Savage (1942), wrote a book about the librarian and his committee in which he examined this relationship. Two recent books; Libraries and Social Justice by Pateman and Vincent (2010) and the Holts (2010) in the US also stress the importance of politics to libraries. We need to grasp and learn about the importance of lobbying, how to get on with politicians and so forth.

Another major theme was how we evaluate and demonstrate the value and impact of libraries. This goes back to the debate about qualitative and quantitative research and the fact that politicians tend to look only at the numbers of bums on seats or book issues. As Einstein said "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted".

Then there is the whole idea of the role of print in the digital age. Among the older generation 25% do not have access to computers.

One thing that came through but was not stated, and annoys me, is how politicians these days are trying to set library services against other public services. I remember the Mayor of Doncaster and the Council Leader in Oxfordshire saying "Well I hope those people who are protesting against library cuts will talk about the old people who won't be served; or the young people who won't be served; or people with dementia." I only wish they had seen the kind of thing that Carla and Becky have done on services to the homeless and dementia patients to show that library services are an integral part of such services. It is wrong to pitch one part of local government services against another.

The whole idea of professional leadership has come up in different ways. Leadership from CILIP; the relationship between librarians and elected members. I think it was Becky who mentioned the importance of trust and that is something we should sell harder. I remember when I was doing some work on library public relations a colleague in a marketing agency said "trust is marketing's magic ingredient". At a time when the Murdoch's of this world are polluting the information area, trust is one thing that libraries can demonstrate.

Holt, Leslie E & Holt. Glen E. (2010) Public Library Services for the Poor: Doing All We Can. Chicago: American Library Association 158pp £45. 50 ISBN 978-0-8389-1050-4.

Pateman, John and Vincent, John (2010) Public Libraries and Social Justice
Farnham: Ashgate 199pp £40 ISBN 978-0-7546-7714-7

Savage, Ernest A, (1942) The Librarian and his Committee London Grafton

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Resource discovery in the SINTO area

SINTO is holding a meeting to discuss local resource discovery on the 15th August.
A definition of resource delivery is the location and retrieval of specific information for library users from a network of collections. In many ways it is the same thing as cataloguing but it is applied to finding items from a number of collections rather than in a single library.
Today the term is generally used for finding information on the World Wide Web but in this meeting we will be looking at local resource discovery - how we can find books and journal articles for our users within the SINTO area. However we cannot ignore the fact that much information is available in electronic form via the Internet.

When looking for something the first step is to check our own library catalogues to see if we have the item in stock. If it is not available we need to explore resources outside our own library. Either we can locate the item and bring it into the library for the user or we can send the user to another library where they can use it.
This is what SINTO was originally set up to do. The scheme has grown and developed since then but the world of information has also changed. The time has come not just to review what we do but to ask why we are doing the things we do.

There are two paths to resource discovery in the SINTO area:
• Inter-library loan scheme. SINTO members can sign up to the local ILL scheme and agree to lend books and supply copies of articles to other members free of charge (except to cover direct costs).
• South Yorkshire Access to Libraries for Learning scheme (SYALL). SYALL members agree to allow the public access to their libraries for reference and study.

SINTO provides various tools to help with local resource discovery:
• The SINTO Directories. The SINTO ILL Directory provides contact details for ILL staff in all SINTO member libraries that take part in the ILL scheme. It also provides details of the online catalogues for libraries in the scheme.
• Learners' Guide to Libraries in South Yorkshire. This annual publication gives contact details for all libraries participating in the SYALL scheme
• Libraryfinder website. This is the online guide to libraries participating in the SYALL scheme. It can be searched by region, organisation and by broad subject headings.
• Sheffield Union List of Serials (SULOS). Many SINTO members list their periodical holdings on the periodicals catalogue of the University of Sheffield. A search of this catalogue will give locations not only for the University of Sheffield's libraries but of other libraries in the region.

Questions for the meeting.
1. What is the need for local resource discovery?
a. Do users still expect libraries to provide them with specific books and journal articles?
b. Is this still part of what your library service offers to its users?
2. What alternatives are there to local resource discovery?
a. Everything is available on the Internet - isn't it?
b. The British Library can provide any item - but what about costs?
c. There are other schemes such as the Unity System.
3. How useful is the current system of local resource discovery?
a. Is SULOS up to date?
b. Are library staff aware of the SINTO tools and do they use them?
c. Does the local ILL system work? Does it deliver access to items in a timely manner?
4. Are there alternative ways of providing a local document discovery service?
a. E.g. Instead of a network could requests be sent to a central hub which then passes them on to other libraries?
5. How should a local document discovery scheme be marketed?
a. I.e. how should the product be developed to meet customer needs and promoted?

The discussion will take place in a relaxed World Café format. If you are interested in attending please contact me sintoenquiry@shu.ac.uk