Community involvement in public libraries

September 21, 2007

The government is keen on increasing community involvement in public services. Some libararians are too.

How could this work in practice?

Friends groups could be broadened.

New community library committee/boards could be formed. These could be constructed on the lines of SACREs, the community bodies responsible for RE syllabi. Essentially this would mean drawing up a schedule of membership to ensure that all groups are represented- ethnic, age, gender, users, staff and the council.

What would the role of such a body be? Legally the council is responsible for libraries. They might be able to devolve such a role to a Board, so long as a council member was part of said board.  Or, more likely, the board could act as an oversight body, keeping both staff and councils honest.

Such a body would have a potential cost, mostly admin, and this would need to be balanced against the potential benefits. These would include (one would hope) long term vision, engagement and a real user focus.

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The sound of silence

September 14, 2007

Why is it that the views of Hillingdon staff have not been heard?

Because they are not allowed to comment on the plans. Many haven’t even seen them.

Why should they be, Pete? As public servants shouldn’t they just do as they’re told?

Well, no. As adults and citizens they should be as free as  anyone involved to publicly discuss the plans and their impact. edit Council confidentiality is one thing. Of course things should be discussed within the council first.  But, not sharing plans with those they will impact, and not allowing them to comment on them is quite another thing; it robs them of any chance to meaningfully engage with the changes./edit

This is not people being resistant to change, or just trying to protect their jobs at the expense of ‘the taxpayer’*-rather people being concerned about the service they deliver and how it is being represented, and how it will be affected by the proposed changes.

* They are taxpayers too, as are their families. Me too for that matter. When someone meets “The Taxpayer”, can they let me know- I’d love to talk to them.


Hillingdon baristas

September 11, 2007

Library staff will work in the Starbucks franchises, serving “coffee” whilst answering queries. So join a library become a barista!

Franchises note- so if it doesn’t work, *$ get their cash anyway and they and the council can blame the staff for not running a good enough “coffee” shop.

Private enterprise, the guaranteed trouble free way to balance your books and get the most out of your staff…

As Suzanne says in the comments, if people want the best and most committed staff serving the public how can you square this with making them into baristas? It’ s one thing asking people to shift focus in a job, another to add a totally unrelated activity.

We will keep our eyes on the whole project. For the sake of the people of Hillingdon- not Tim Coates, who is unaccountable, not Councillor Higgins, who could well be gone before the results are seen – I hope it works out ok.

 Update, 18/10/2007– the opening (in Ruislip Manor) seems to have been a success, with the first of the restructured libraries getting a lot of visitors and custom. Let’s hope that trend continues and any teething troubles are sorted out, and that staff are ok too. Yeah the public pay their wages,  and public service comes first, but I don’t think it’s a bad management practice to to think of staff too.


Why librarians?

September 10, 2007

Librarians make collections live.

Or we should.

A building full of books is not a library. A building full of books and people issuing them over the counter is not a library- no matter how nice the building, or the people, or the coffee. If all a library is is a collection of books and a means to hand them out, there is no need of any people.

A library is a collection managed, promoted and cared about by people. It is also the services that make that collection meaningful and useful to the people who come into the library.

Right now that collection is rightly dominated by books, but no service can assume that now is forever; so we need to explore other areas such as online materials and digital collections, and the services that go with them.

Too much of the current library debate seems to want either to move libraries back to cosy book-collection-from-home for the genteel ‘who wish to make use of it’ without having to worry about those who might want to make use of it but don’t know how; or into a book free gaming and technoheaven for a notional youth. Neither extreme is a library; one is a limited and limiting anachronism, the other preserving a name without the meaning to go with it.

A wise man once said ‘a library is a growing organism.’ And as it grows it needs people to care for it, guide its growth; to make it live. That is why librarians.


Rotherham public libraries

September 10, 2007

Tim Coates asked me to stop praising Rotherham libraries.

I pointed out that I was talking only about my own experiences, and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, I felt I should look at the broader picture. So I have looked into some basic facts about the library service- from the report on the council site.

It’s a mixed bag. Resident satisfaction levels are too low, and the number of active borrowers is very low- yet user satisfaction is high.  Stock is at the low threshhold, in terms of number of books per 1000 residents, but the service exceeds the standard for adding to stock. The cost per visit is very high.

No real context is given for these figures, so poor as some are I’d like a little more background.

So, whilst my experience has- and continues- to be good, as a whole the service could do better. I have been in correspondence with the new service manager, and will continue that correspondence; as well as my work with the Friends committee.


Slow reading

September 5, 2007

An interesting new blog on Slow Reading has been launched.

It is interesting to see slow reading defined as part of a resistance to the hectic pace of modern life. This is something I can see the sense of.

We all need to slow down at times, for true appreciation to take place. And books do offer the haptic dimensions that make slow reading more likely.

What is also encouraging about this blog is that it does not deride electronic books, rather it seeks to find their place in our range of information/entertainment sources.


A visit to my local library

September 3, 2007

I did not encounter banks of PCs. I was not surrounded by bare shelves.  The collection reflected the area served by the library. The staff did not ignore me.

I found a book I had been thinking of buying- Gombrich’s history- so borrow it to see if it’s worth buying. I also find a book in a series I enjoy, the “Far Flung Adventures.” 

The shelves were full, with a wide range of classic and modern literature. A family was there, getting library cards for the children.  People were at the tables reading books, papers… people were using the library. Edit In Rotherham user numbers are up but loans down.  That I cannot explain. Perhaps some of the increased visits are down to computer use.

This sort of thing is rarerly noted by library commentators. But it should be. In the majority of libraries edit that I have used edit, a good job is being done by good people. edit I can only speak to what I know. edit

This is not to say that there is nothing to be improved. But I am tired of the often self-serving rhetoric from commentators who cannot see what is good, or patronisingly dismiss it before moving on to what they would do. Very British- no, English. That last struck out; it’s intemperate and unfair. People commentating on libraries obviously care about them.