Has the publishing industry fallen out of love with libraries?

Librarians love books!

Not my view of course, but we’ll come back to that later shall we?  Let’s get the positive out-of-the-way first (I like to start on a happy note)…

One of the great things about using Twitter at conferences is the ability for the audience and presenter to communicate after the event, expanding the conversation and developing ideas.  It has been good to see a number of those involved in last week’s discussion at Bethnal Green library engaging with those that were in attendance after the event.  I personally feel it added a great deal to the evening and has really helped to develop some of the ideas that were discussed.  As a result of these discussions something really exciting has emerged.  Both Dan Thompson (one of the presenters at the event) and Adrienne Cooper have got together to crowdsource a library – really cool stuff.  They have put the word out on Twitter for books on the theme of ‘Order and Chaos’ and are requesting that contributions/suggestions are tweeted with the hashtag #chaoslibrary…so you know what to do!  It’s a great idea and an interesting way for both librarians and non-librarians to come together over a shared love of books.  It was really cool to watch this develop over the course of the day and I hope it proves a massive success (I’m sure it will!).

However, this excitement about librarians and non-librarians coming together to create an innovative project around book collections was tempered somewhat by a rather bizarre blog post by the deputy editor (and presumably professional provocateur) of The Bookseller.  Headlined ‘Have librarians fallen out of love with books?‘ (and published at 4.37pm – after the idea referred to in the previous paragraph was already up and running), Jones makes a series of bizarre statements that are a little divorced from reality and really ought to be put straight (not least because there is a little attack on me).  Yep, given #chaoslibrary, the timing could only have been worse if thousands of librarians had been murdered by a renegade book. It could happen.

Philip Jones writes in reference to my earlier blog post:

The comments on the blog, kicked off by library campaigner Tim Coates are also worth reading, as they further emphasize the split between those librarians on the thread who want to move beyond books, and those who want libraries to be about books. Bizarrely Ian even threatens to block Tim for his use of CIPFA statistics.

Now, previously this made mention to the fact that I was a librarian (which I often and clearly state here and on my Twitter page that I am not – not least because I don’t want to upset the librarians I work with), but, after requesting that this is corrected, I am pleased to see that this has been changed (although it has rather ruined a joke I was going to make…ah well…).  That said, I should point out that the context has been missed a little in suggesting that I ‘threatened to block Tim for his use of CIPFA statistics’.  Have a look through my blog.  Do I look like I am likely to ban someone for quoting statistics?  How many posts relating to statistics can you find on this blog?  How many times have I been asked to go through some statistics on behalf of others to spot trends and identify strengths and weaknesses?  Quite a few.  Blimey, my job involves processing statistical data to aid purchasing decisions!  My objection was not with the use of statistics.  Allow me to explain, I’ll try not to get too statty in the process :)

I stated quite clearly that book issues over the past two years have been higher than they were in 2007/8 (look it up on here it’s true).  If you were to take into account the number of library closures over that period, one could even argue that there has been quite a marked rise.  My statement referred specifically to the official CIPFA statistics for book issues.  What Tim did was claim that book issues were in decline by producing the figures for loans per adult and charmingly added that “if you call that going up, then I wouldn’t want a ride in your lift.” Nice.  He went on to add in a further comment (when asked for the statistics for book issues) ‘those are the figures in book issues‘.  It was this that I took an exception to.  They are not the figures in book issues and were not what I was referring to (as Tim well knew). I’m sorry, but this kind of thing I cannot tolerate.  I am all for challenging ‘trolls’ but when people start claiming that the sky is green I have to draw the line.  It does no-one any favours, least of all the person making such claims.  Tim’s figures are, of course, the figures provided by CIPFA and therefore factually accurate.  However, that does not mean to say they are a useful measure.  Whilst the statistics for book issues are not reliable in giving an overall picture of the state of libraries, neither are the loans per adult stats.  In fact these are even less reliable as there are too many variables at play to draw anything meaningful from them.  So, to suggest I was going to block someone for using CIPFA stats is a little misleading.

As for the rest of the post, Jones seems to paint it as one of a hostile audience giving all the speakers hell.  So, was it?  Well, no.  On the evening itself I approached two presenters to tell them that I enjoyed their presentations very much (Kirsten and Trenton).  I have also stated on this very blog that I enjoyed the presentations by Dan, Peter and Rachel.  That’s five presentations. Five out of nine.  By my calculations I enjoyed the majority (55.55% recurring apparently).  You wouldn’t think that reading Jones’ post though would you?  I bet you thought I only liked one if any didn’t you? Go on, admit it.  Well, I can’t blame you, even I thought that I must have hated it that much if Jones says so.  Then I remembered what I had written about the event:

I’m not sure if a fully formed vision emerged from it (if that was even the ultimate goal) but there were certainly plenty of ideas thrown around and lots to think about.  Above all, it was great to see so many people discuss libraries so passionately and argue in defence of such a great and vital institution.  People actually care about libraries and care enough to present a vision for the future, that alone was an encouraging sign.

No, doesn’t sound like he really read my post does it? Well, it was quite long to be fair.

Which brings me to my earlier poser…have the publishing industry fallen out of love with libraries? They’ve certainly been keen to stick the knife in of late.  Maybe they’re broadening their attack to take in the people who work in them too.  Not my view, obviously.

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3 thoughts on “Has the publishing industry fallen out of love with libraries?

  1. Great post, Ian! Thank you for mentioning the #chaoslibrary. It was great to see so much passion about saving public libraries, but it was becoming antagonistic. I hope the connections made that day will inspire other positive and collaborative outcomes.

    • No problem, Adrienne! Really good to see some collaborative working coming out of the evening. Although it is disappointing that some choose to focus on the negative rather than the positive. Librarian students working with the public to create a book collection? What would the anti-librarian brigade say? ;)

  2. Well, it makes me sad when books are considered different from other information media. Books are useful as well as aesthetic objects. I’d also say that about Apple products, but I’m crazy about Dieter Rams-esque design!

    I hope the project will be mutually beneficial. To promote the work and principles behind cataloguing and classification, and to explore possible new directions for the discipline. Essentially how we can get readers to books, and books to readers. And grow a collection from that point. Hope to make Ranganathan proud!

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