Putney Debates

October 29, 2007

One thing before I go…

This year is the 340th anniversary of the 1647 Putney Debates; the remarkable experiment in open political debate conducted by the Army. BBC History magazine had some articles devoted to it, but otherwise it’s gone largely unnoticed.

A new exhibition has opened in the church where the debates took place- see the link above. Something I hope to go and see.

The most famous words from the debates are prominently displayed:-

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he” 

Would you get such clear, impassioned political debate today?


“The internet is easier than books”

October 17, 2007

A quote there from a discussion I had with some students on their use of the Learning Centres.

They don’t use books because they find them difficult to navigate. They don’t have the rapid response they expect from using the Internet. They appreciate that the net is ‘full of crap’ but it is still their first port of call.

What does this mean for us? Well, for one we need to get some sessions done on how to use books effectively- we need to demystify the book. Books will remain a key part of our resources, not just as ‘legacy’ but as an important part of communication in the fields we deal with.

That said we will need to look at the place of books in our information provision generally- do we need to shift to a wider range of online materials?

These are commonplaces now, but it was interesting to hear the point made. The tutor and I wondered if it is a generational thing- and if so what to do? In some schools I know that librarians are working on helping students to develop the skills needed to handle all kinds of materials, and more power to them.

The library as a space

October 16, 2007

Online access will become increasingly routine and accessible (it is to be hoped.) More and more materials are routinely available online, and so people increasingly use that medium for, e.g., encyclopedia lookups.

Since at least the 1964 Act, and for some time before, the provision of materials other than books has been recognised as part of the library’s role. So it should not be an issue that libraries provide, for example, online reference materials and other ‘remote access’ items.

As this trend of remote access increases, what value would the library have as a public space? And how would it be defined as a space- indeed as a library?

The sense of libraries as a space has been predicated on the existence of book/print materials. These items said ‘library’ to people. As these items are shifted, how can the library define itself as a unique space, and not just as a computer access point?

The persistence of books as fiction and as a ‘backup’/complement to online access is one area.

The provision of expertise via staff is another- this particularly in making online material easily accessible. Also the provision of as wide a range of material as possible. The very existence of committed and educated staff is a key factor.

The mediation of materials via well designed and ‘branded’ websites is another.

My concern about ‘mission creep’ is that libraries can easily define themselves out of a role, even as we speak of them as a ‘public space.’

Edit– last night I was thinking this over. Is a library like a pub? After all you can get alchohol for home consumption, yet people still drink out. Why? The other things a pub can provide. Sociability, a wide range of drinks you may not be able to get elsewhere, expertise… Perhaps this is the way forward for libraries as they become more electronic- services to complement resource access. /edit


October 15, 2007

Walt Crawford  makes a good point clearly.

Other than part of point 1- UK public libraries are not perceived as safe by many people- I wholeheartedly agree.

Some clarifiers first here:

  • I am not anti technology- I’m blogging here and as a service, I do a lot of work with our VLE etc
  • I am not change phobic- I  do distrust change which is introduced for the sake of it
  • I appreciate that in time books will not be the main information/literature vehicle- but that is still some way off
  • Games, music- all good, but they are not what libraries ultimately are for; they have a place, but it is complementary to the core role
  • Providing well organised and timely community information has always been part of a library’s role and if that can be done more effectively then all to the good- so products such as Talis Exchange are to be welcomed

So…all that said I still believe that right now, and for some time to come, libraries are about reading ( for fun, information, guidance etc) via books/print matter generally.

IT provision is needed to complement and extend this role- book groups, community information, sharing stories- but it is not the correct focus for public libraries.

Nor are broad one stop shop initiatives. Having a library near a council information point is one thing, having it in one is quite another.

Use of library spaces for other activities- gaming, music- is to be welcomed so long as it does not impact negatively on this focus.

My public library colleague Michael Stead said in Panlibus (he was talking about a new community information portal) that

“The library isn’t “just” about books, or even about computers: it’s about real life…”

I agree with that too, but would like a clearer sense of how the public library delivers on it and where it leaves well alone. Mission creep is a damaging thing. The library may not ‘just’ be about books, but that can be the start of a slope whereby it isn’t about books at all. edit or, indeed, information/entertainment- but policy drives, targets and the like /edit

Public library uniforms

October 11, 2007

Private Eye reported the anger of some residents that a local authority had spent £34K on uniforms, asking why that money could not have been spent on books.

Hillingdon is to introduce uniforms, spending some of the vaunted savings from their restructuring on it. This will cost at least £30k and probably a lot more. This is part of an overall ‘rebranding’ which no doubt has cost a fair bit.

Why can’t that money be spent on books?

CILIP and training

October 8, 2007

As reported elsewhere, CILIP is once again revising its Framework of Qualifications.

It’s not so long ago that the FoQ was revamped, with ACLIP joining MCLIP and new routes to Chartership being introduced.

The value of Chartership is a frequent matter of discussion. Some sectors value it, others patchily. It is a necessity for higher pay grades in some areas, not heard of in others. Whether it truly represents development, or is just an exercise in paper filling.

It is this that needs to be addressed. How can Chartership meaningfully be called a gold standard when it’s not a standard at all? And can CILIP afford, literally and metaphorically, consultant led navel gazing?

Already in HE, membership of the HE Academy is seen as a more worthwhile choice than Chartership. In the public libraries debate there are those who question CILIP’s role in setting qualifications standards.

CILIP needs to make more of a case for a system of library training and education before it tinkers with the FoQ. Involving other interested parties- university, employer and council bodies- could be a useful start. This would make library courses, and the Chartership process, more responsive to needs whilst maintaining a ‘long view’ flexibility.

Slow Reading needs your help!

October 2, 2007

John Midiema posts about the Slow Reading entry on Wikipedia. If you feel you can add anything, please do.

Slow Reading represents an attempt to get us to think about how we engage with what we read. I see it as part of a turn against seeing everything as mere ‘information’ to be processed as quickly as possible. It is a reminder that efficiency is not all in ‘savings.’