Well, it has been quite a hectic few days. First of all, The Guardian‘s local Leeds edition published an article (thanks to @walkyouhome‘s press release) referring back to a recent statement on Leeds’ libraries that I had been doing some work on for Voices for the Library. This statement came about after sending in a Freedom of Information request to Leeds city council requesting library usage statistics for the past five years (including visits, issues and computer bookings). What I was interested in was trends in usage and where exactly these libraries were situated. Trends because I wondered if although some libraries had poor usage, were they seeing an increase (perhaps due to the economic situation). It turns out that in many of the performance indicators mentioned above, they were seeing increased usage. Ten libraries in particular saw growth in library visits. Some of these libraries were also in areas of high unemployment (@ggnewed dug those out). It was quite interesting to see, particularly as these libraries are also in an area of the country that has some of the lowest Internet connectivity in the country. Anyway, you can read more about it on the Voices website.
Then came Catherine Bennett’s excellent article in The Guardian about the destruction of libraries and how this reflects on a civilised society. This story was all the more fantastic for having mentioned Voices for the Library (thanks to @walkyouhome and @jo_bo_anderson). Of course the comments below were filled with their normal garbage (“you can find anything you need on the Internet” type rubbish). And coming on the back of the article referred to below, it was clear that there is still a battle to be waged. Which is where my title comes in……..
One thing that seems fairly obvious to me, from all of these articles, is that librarians and library staff need to fight. They need to fight as if their lives depend on it (certainly, in mnay cases, their jobs do). When articles are published that challenge our line of work and its value to society, they should be challenged on it. They should be engaged with, debated with and persuaded to see the other side of the debate. It’s no good now to just stand on the sidelines and grumble about some ill-informed comments that are being made about a subject that we are all experts in. And it really isn’t hard to disprove some of the myths that are out there. A quick look at the article referred to in my previous post will show you quite how flawed these arguments are. These are not arguments based on facts, they are based on beliefs, beliefs that are highly individualistic (in the worst possible way) and not reflective of the needs of society as a whole. We understand these needs, they do not. We need to remind them at every opportunity what we do, from ebooks to children’s services and from local studies to supporting the public in accessing the Internet. We need to remind them that library usage is growing. We need to remind them that although they have an Internet connection, 9 million people do not. On blogs and other forums these 9 million people do not have a voice. We should be their voice.
Of course this is not easy. One has to develop a thick skin when facing the onslaught that comes with the territory. But who cares about being insulted by a stranger? We should be prepared to defend our users and our service in the face of petty name calling. And what is the alternative? Sitting on the sidelines watching the debate run away from us? Watching helplessly as the ill-informed assault an institution that benefits everyone in society? These are not options. That is the road to ruin. And at this point I would just like to point out that yes, I am aware that I am starting to sound like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Sorry about that.
For this to work however, it needs everyone in the profession to get involved and be prepared to argue and debate. Strength in numbers can make a very real difference. This means academic librarians, public librarians, school librarians, systems officers, shambrarians, whatever name you like to give yourself, everyone needs to stand up and challenge these outdated notions of what a library is. For me, this is part of how we can win back the narrative. Sure we can get our articles published and make use of as many forums as possible, we can only truly be successful, however, if we challenge the beliefs that are unfortunately so prevalent. So my message? Get a thick skin, get arguing and, if need be, go cruising for a bruising. You never know, you might find you are one of those strange people who get a kick out of it………What do you say?