Do you use libraries? If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance the answer will be yes, but did you know that every week two libraries in the UK close their doors for good?
If you answered no to the first question, is it because you can afford to buy books and pay for a good broadband connection? But what if you couldn’t? As Nick Poole says in a recent Mirror article “It’s hard to understand the impact of these cuts when you’re well-off, have easy access to the internet and can buy the books you want. But for millions of poor families, jobseekers and people with disabilities a library is a lifeline.”
CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) is running a campaign called My Library By Right. Follow the link if you’d like to know more, and please, please sign their petition along with (so far) almost 8000 other people, including famous authors such as Joanna Trollope and Andrew Motion. It relates specifically to English libraries at the moment, but libraries in Scotland are facing cuts too and it’s important that we show our support.
When the Library A to Z Campaign launched in November last year, I sent off a few of their cards to local political figures. I chose Councillor John Letford because I thought he’d be very receptive to the message – he is a librarian himself and we worked in the same library for a short time many years ago. Glasgow is a Labour Council, so John (SNP) is part of the opposition.
Before Christmas, he replied to say how interested he was and to suggest that I pop in to one of his surgeries to discuss it further. I’m ashamed to say I only got round to doing that last night. It was good to see an old colleague (we think it must have been about 17 years ago that we worked together) and John took away more campaign material which he intends to make use of and report back.
So, a very small piece of advocacy but one which might have results. I’ll report back if it does.
I read two really good posts over the weekend on the subject of public libraries and what they do. The first was published on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog in October, but it passed me by at the time. In Public libraries play a central role in providing access to data and ensuring the freedom of digital knowledge, Ben Lee argues that “not only do libraries provide free access to data, but they do so in an environment which is trustworthy and neutral, geared to learning. Access to digital technology increasingly overlaps with access to opportunity and it is important to recognise the role public libraries already play (and have always played) in keeping the gate to knowledge open.”
On A medley of extemporanea, Dawn Finch declares: Libraries – time to get political. She outlines a day in an imaginary library and the sort of questions staff might be expected to answer. Just one example: “A young mother needs helps filling in the forms to apply for school for her children because she has no one at home to help her. She goes to the library and the librarian helps her to find the forms online and fill them in so that her child can go to school.” This, as with most of her examples, does not (necessarily) involve the borrowing of books.
So both posts, in their different ways, make the point that libraries are about more than books – they might have been in the days when information was always on paper, but not any more. Do our political representatives know this? Their haste, in many cases, to close libraries and replace trained staff with volunteers suggest not. However – there’s an election coming! They now want your votes, and those nice people at CILIPS have set up a new resource called Election Watch. I suggest you read all three resources and keep them close by you for when your candidates come to call. I know I shall.
Year 2 of retirement and I’m still enjoying life – even though nothing very much has changed over the last year. That, and the fact that I was slightly better at writing things up as I went along in 2014, makes an “annual reflection” post more difficult to write. I’ve just read over what I wrote this time last year, and it bubbles with joy and enthusiasm. That’s still there – it’s just no longer such a novelty.
So what has stayed the same in my library world?
I’m still volunteering with Glasgow Women’s Library in multiple capacities. What has changed, though, is that I now get paid occasionally for training new volunteers – I’m proud to be a “senior” volunteer!
I’ve done a few more talks / guest posts / articles – I keep a list of these on the “About” page.
What has changed?
I’m really proud to have started 23 Librarians which has proved a valuable resource documenting what librarians actually do, has inspired similar blogs in other parts of the UK and featured recently in CILIP Update. I think this is my major achievement of 2014, and it’s still going strong.
I’m sad to say goodbye to being a chartership mentor, but when the system changed last year I felt I had done enough. I gave my two remaining candidates a deadline – to submit their portfolios by the last possible date under the old regulations or find a new mentor. One submitted on time and we await the results, though I’m quietly confident that I can add her to my tally of four successful charterships and one revalidation.
What’s the plan for 2015?
I intend to keep going with GWL and tweetups (I have three ideas, already one better than last year.) I’m less sure about Library Camp and 23 Librarians – I think the former would benefit from a change of location to another city and the latter will maybe have run its course soon. I’ll keep publishing it as long as people are willing to write for it, but the stream of volunteers is slowing down.
I have one more idea for providing library CPD which I can pursue if some of the other things become less time-consuming.
I’d like to do more to advocate for libraries. The culture of cuts which has been pervasive in England for some time is spreading to Scotland – so far, I’ve responded to several consultations and sent some material from the Library A to Z campaign to politicians, but I need to follow that up. CILIPS’ advocacy pages are a good place to start. (To anyone reading this before 10th January, you could consider responding to Falkirk Council which proposes to cut its School Library Service. Nicola Morgan’s blog post will fill you in on the details.)
My second attempt at editing Scottish Roundup, a weekly summary of the Scottish blogging scene, came out yesterday: Love, loss and libraries. I choose the dates carefully so that I can include something about libraries – last time it was Book Week Scotland, this time National Libraries Day. It’s quite hard work bashing the submissions into a coherent narrative, but I think I got away with it! It’s something I enjoy doing, and if I can thereby bring a little extra attention to libraries that’s a bonus.
I wrote about my horror at Newcastle’s plans to make drastic cuts to its library and arts funding in a previous post and I’ve been meaning to do something about it ever since. I’m a supporter too of Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, which is based in Newcastle and will lose something like 13% of its total funding if the council carries out its proposal to withdraw its entire grant.
Seven Stories has information about the cuts on its site and you can find out more about the libraries campaign from Save Newcastle Libraries. I also like the Let’s talk Libraries page where local authors go out into branches, including Fenham which I used as a child, and talk to the people using them about the difference libraries make to their lives and what they would miss if they closed. There’s a consultation going on until 1st February, email firstname.lastname@example.org to take part, and today I’ve submitted the following letter.
Dear Newcastle City Council,
I am writing in response to your budget consultation proposal to cut 100% of your funding to the independent cultural organisations in Newcastle, including Seven Stories, and to close 10 libraries. Although I no longer live in Newcastle, I grew up there and regularly used Fenham Library, one of those ear-marked for closure. I have also followed the progress of Seven Stories since the very inception of the idea, have visited and am a regular donor. I believe the cuts in both areas to be disproportionate.
Libraries – I credit Fenham Library with a large part in shaping my life. The staff and stock helped kindle my interest in history (which I later studied at University) and in the processes involved in managing a library (my future career). That was four decades ago, but I am interested to read the personal stories at www.letstalklibraries.com which show that Fenham and other Newcastle libraries are still changing people’s lives in similar ways. A healthy network of libraries is necessary to an educated and informed population because:
Not everything is online
Not everyone can afford to be online or to buy their own books
Not every child is lucky enough to come from a home where books and education are important. Many research studies have shown that children who enjoy reading are better equipped to realise their learning and creative potential
Not everyone is fit enough to travel longer distances to libraries, or can afford the transport costs to do so
Seven Stories – The cultural life of Newcastle is the envy of much of the UK and creates jobs and investment by encouraging tourists to visit and businesses to set up in the city. I have read that £1 invested in culture can generate £4 for the local economy, and Seven Stories is a very good example of this. I no longer have family or friends in Newcastle and had not visited for almost two decades, but have been back twice in recent years. Even though I knew the city had changed, I was amazed at the scale of the improvements and would be sad to see this lost. I would definitely come back and have recommended it to other people as a destination with Seven Stories as a must-see for anyone with children and / or interested in children’s books. As well as being a tourist attraction, it:
Brings prestige to Newcastle by recently being named the National Centre for Children’s Books
Holds unique collections and protects our literary heritage for children
Does valuable outreach with local children, working with 85% of Newcastle’s schools. This ties in with my remarks about libraries above
I know the City Council must make cuts because of UK government policy, and I don’t expect the Council’s funding of culture and libraries to be an exception, but the proposals are too much. 100% of a very small portion of your overall budget will save very little anyway, but if you lose these places you will never get them back and Newcastle will cease to be the vibrant, dynamic city it has developed into. I beg you to reconsider.
A few months ago, Twitter alerted me to Scottish Roundup. Published every Sunday around 10am, the sort of time when people are likely to be relaxing with a cup of tea and the papers, it’s a summary of Scottish blogging in the previous week – or at least, posts which have been submitted, or have caught the editor’s eye in some other way. I was pleased to see that occasionally they featured books and libraries – and then one Sunday I spotted myself in it (via my children’s literature blog). I was really chuffed and tweeted to thank them. Back came the reply – perhaps I would like to be the editor myself some week? Then I had my brilliant idea – I could volunteer for the Sunday at the end of Book Week Scotland and use it as a really good opportunity to promote books and reading.
It wasn’t actually as easy as I thought. I had expected the blogosphere to be full of bookish writings, but it wasn’t – maybe everyone was so busy attending events that they didn’t have time to write about them. There were plenty of “official” library posts but the Roundup is meant to be “Citizen Media” so I couldn’t include too many of them. There were also a few submitted posts which had nothing to do with books at all, most of which were extremely sad, but I think I managed to fit them in without being too clunky. Anyway, the result was my very first Scottish Roundup: Book Week Scotland and other stories. Now that I’m no longer working, this is the sort of small opportunity I need to look out for. It’s good for me to keep connected, and it’s good to be able to promote the things I believe in – in terms of cpd23 it obviously ties in with Thing 16 on advocacy. I also enjoyed passing on to others the pleased little thrill of surprise that I got when I was unexpectedly mentioned myself. I’ll certainly volunteer to do this again.
PS Another aspect of BWS was the Reader Portraits competition. I was going to submit the picture below, then looked at the opposition and decided against it. Too many cute kids. This is me, glass in hand, reading the free BWS book. A good book and a gin. What more could any self-respecting librarian wish for?
When I qualified in 1980, the Thatcherite cuts were just beginning to bite. Libraries came under threat – just as now – and LOAF (Libraries Open and Free) was set up, a sort of equivalent, in a very unsophisticated way, to today’s organisations such as Voices for the Library. I still have my badges, see left, but I honestly can’t say I remember much more about it. Of course, we were hampered by the lack of an internet to make it easy to communicate our message, but I don’t think there were any campaigners around with the passion and dedication of those of today, whom I greatly admire. I merely offer this snippet of history to show that I do have a little bit of activism in my past, even though I’m not a person to whom campaigning comes naturally. These days, it is limited to low-key efforts such as writing to MPs and signing petitions, although I did organise an event for National Libraries Day which got onto the STV website (though not, sadly, actually onto the TV.)
However, as the original Thing 16 blog post, and many other contributors have pointed out, advocacy is really something that should be in every librarian’s toolkit. If you don’t advocate your own service, what hope is there for it? You may think of it in different guises – in my days in public libraries (many moons ago) we talked about “outreach activities”: school visits, talking to local groups and so on to promote use of the library.
In academic libraries, you might think there is less need for promotion as you have a “captive audience”, but that’s not really true. Many students don’t see the relevance of the library (the “It’s all on Google” syndrome), or even know how to use it. For example, often they don’t realise that the electronic materials they use are “the library”, even when they are sitting at home. Every user education or enquiry desk session is a chance to combat this and get the message across. I’ve also advocated for the library in other ways, such as through social media, writing for in-house journals and attending meetings in other departments to explain what we do. And of course, it’s also important to advocate within the library for your own section – for resources or more staff perhaps – and beyond to the parent body, whether council, university or whatever. Make sure they realise what the library does, and the value it adds to the institution.
I realise none of this is new or original, and wouldn’t have been even if I wasn’t so far behind and had said it earlier. However, it’s important, and it’s something I hope I have honed, if not to perfection then to a high standard over the years.