This is the end

December 11, 2007

Well, my portfolio is pretty much done. It’ll be sent off soon.

This blog was started as part of the chartership process. Now it is nearly at an end, I think it’s time to put an end to the blog. I have said all I want to say on the issues I have covered.

As a summary:-

  • Above all libraries are places for a purpose, and care should be taken not to shoehorn in anything and everything.
  • Public libraries represent a commitment to openness, to reading, to learning and increasingly to access to materials online. They are a place to make connections, with what you read and the place in which you read and the people you share the space with
  • Whilst public libraries are about books and reading, that is not the end. It should be the beginning and a guide, but not the only thing. Access to expertise, to community information, to groups- all should be part of a public library’s services. Otherwise public libraries fail to deliver their full potential.
  • Public libraries are a vital part of communities, and as such should not be subject to  cuts or closures unless absolutely necessary, and the case needs to be made publicly and subject to debate
  • Efficiencies are important and to be sought where possible. However, they should not impact on the overall service
  • Enterprise is to be encouraged, as are strategic partnerships. The involvement of private money is not in itself a problem, but where possible it  should come from local groups and firms, to strengthen ties to the community
  • Qualified librarians are still important. Specialist librarians, covering particular areas in public libraries add to the delivery of services and so should be kept. Workflows can be altered to enable them to deliver more frontline work as well as specialised services
  • The routes to qualification should be expanded and courses made more relevant to sector needs where possible
  • Right now, good bookstocks and welcoming spaces are the key to building use. Where possible, the use of emerging technologies should be used to complement these services- see the Dublin City Public Library pageflakes as an example. A well run service can deliver exciting bookstocks, inspiring events and value adding web services
  • Times change. People change. So services also need to change- but incrementally, based on need. It’s getting easier to ‘just do it,’ but we should always have a good reason why.

This is not necessarily an end to me blogging, but should I return to it I’ll have a different focus. It is  certainly not an end to me reading and commenting on other blogs. 

“Library Too” has served its purpose. Thanks to all for reading and commenting.

Note: inspired by this post at Slow Reading.


Dolly’s in town

December 5, 2007

BBC News report on Dolly’s visit to promote the Imagination Library. Apparently some councillors are angry that a council meeting has been put back an hour.

No mention from them of questions about the scheme…

 Update: according to the BBC’s Politics Show, the local Chamber of Commerce will fund the books.

Training for librarianship

December 5, 2007

EDIT I still believe in librarianship as a profession, an organised body of knowledge and practice, with a body representing and developing that body of knowledge. For posts in leadership positions, for sole librarians, for posts with serious technical or managerial aspects, a rigorous and demanding qualification structure is needed. And any qualification structure needs to be differentiated. Not to pepetuate hierarchy, but to recognise the different roles in libraries AND the different needs and interests of those who work in them. Now read on…

Leaving aside the vexed issue of professional/non-professional divides

Too many Masters programs lack rigour. Too many fail to prepare for actual work. Few if any involve placements or other practice.

Librarianship is above all vocational. This does not in any way rule out reflective practice, research etc- indeed it makes them more important.

Training for work in libraries needs to mix a core of ‘academic’ disciplines- research, information organisation, technological awareness and management, including budgeting- with a flexible range of sector training- curriculum studies, local studies, business information etc etc.

The Library Schools seem unable to deliver this, as there is not a wide enough coverage of these areas.

What to do?

Perhaps all library training should be job based, with the academic side handled by distance learning and the practical side by accredited units relevant to the work done. This would enable people to train in a specific area, but not limit them as they could develop a range of skills in each job should they so wish.

The outcome of this training regime may not be a Masters- or any form of degree. It would be open to all, but all who wanted to work in libraries would need to undertake it. It could be differentiated to allow for progression into management, and for specialisms such as cataloguing, elearning, school librarianship etc.

The need is for a flexible system which does not merely train people to serve the system as it is, but does equip them to work within the systems. One which would open librarianship to people, without abandoning a structure of training and CPD. Perhaps Chartership could thus become the gold standard, where people doing appropriate level work can attain that qualification.

For we still need qualifications- to reward and foster commitment and as part of ensuring standards of service.

Getting people to read to their children in Rotherham

December 4, 2007

Dolly Parton is in Rotherham tomorrow. She is here as part of her Imagination Library project, which Rotherham council is interested in.

Now, the scheme sounds good- free books sent every month to children between birth and age 5. Anything that gets books into homes must be good, right?

Partly, yes. But without an equal effort in getting parents to read these books to/with their children, the danger is the books don’t get used. The mere presence of books isn’t a magical route to reading. There has to be a commitment in the home- and in schools it must be said- to reading.

Also the long term cost for the council has yet to be discussed; the Foundation pays for postage and other admin, but the local authority has to stump up too.

Such monies- or at the least, some of such monies- would be more effectively spent on improving the range of books in libraries, improving school libraries, extending the opening hours for pulic libraries and providing support in reading for adults.

Still, the Leader of the Council gets to meet Dolly Parton.

Update: according to the BBC’s Politics Show, the local Chamber of Commerce will fund the books.

The fate of books… and libraries

December 3, 2007

A piece on the disappearance of 250k+ books from Walthamstow, and on the fate of books and libraries more generally.

Firstly, it is a scandal that so many books were disposed of, with no apparent thought for alternatives. That some books need to be weeded is accepted by most people. But there should always be a robust policy in place to make sure that where possible books make their way to a new use, be that other libraries or through sales to locals. And when books are sold, they should get the best prices.

Secondly, those weeding policies should aim at minimising removals where possible. The length of time between loans is important, but should be generous. Repair of damaged books should be looked at. When planning libraries, room for bookstock is primary (hello, Library of Birmingham planners…)

Thirdly, rare and/or valuable books should not be weeded but used as promotional materials. A colleague of mine did so at one of our centres, with beautiful but not often borrowed art books being made into a new Special Collection.

Fourthly, where there is a Reserve Stock/ Stack it needs to be promoted and monitored.

Finally, it is interesting to see how many people in the debate over Walthamstow link the decline in professional posts to the book losses. The lack of any oversight in the weeding and cataloguing do seem to have had an impact. The policies of the councillors seems to have done the rest.

As for the eulogy to libraries of old, I am not so sure. Certainly we need to promote the value and power of reading, but it doesn’t follow that we need the reverent mystique around reading that is talked of.

Lots of books, nicely displayed, well chosen and enthusiastically promoted is the key. And that can all be done in a good Children’s Library and still leave room for the quiet and reflective Library, to which in good time those children who want it can move. And both can live alongside computer (and future multimedia) spaces.

If only councillors and architects- and librarians- had the imagination to build such a place.