So that’s that then. The narrative has been set – libraries are in decline. Never mind that the argument has been framed around a deeply flawed survey that in no way reflects actual library usage. Never mind that loans were actually up last year. Never mind the evidence that library use is changing. It’s just a blessed relief that there were so many voices out there prepared to speak up for the service and underline their importance to society. Not only the wonderful Phil Bradley and brilliantly passionate Lauren Smith, but also a range of people young and old who rely on their local library service to deliver services that meet their needs. Indeed it was a pleasure to hear many older users accepting that there is a place for computers in libraries and that the library service has to adapt. If only the narrative of ‘libraries in decline’ more accurately reflected the views of the communities that are so passionate about their service.
One of the critical factors behind this narrative is the belief that libraries are about books on shelves, nothing else. Not housebound borrowers, not information access, not online services, not local studies materials….in short only a small proportion of the service is worthy of discussion. That this has been led by campaigners who fail to even question the report, makes this even more depressing. No wonder pubs and supermarkets are suggested as alternatives…if it’s just about issuing book stock why bother with expertise in other areas? Clearly that is a waste of resources that can be ploughed into more book stock. More book stock in a commercial environment, subject to the whims and, dare I say, censorship policies stock selection of corporations. It could make a grown man weep.
The question is, what to do next. Those who follow me on Twitter know that I am quite keen on setting up a blog that can act as a rival (if you want to call it that) to the Good Library Blog – something that can share positive experiences of libraries, campaigns across the UK, examples of the things libraries do aside from book provision all the stuff that is missing from the debate as framed by the usual suspects. Ideally it would be a place where librarians, library staff, users and advocates can blog about the great things libraries do and highlight threats to the service (such as closures etc). This is a lot for one person to take on though, so I’d really appreciate ideas, suggestions, blog titles, hosting options, design ideas and volunteers to help set up and administer. Maybe I’ve not thought this through and I won’t have the time to commit as much as I’d like, but it’s got to be worth a try right? I’d really appreciate any thoughts/suggestions on this below. It would be great to take this forward and challenge the so-called ‘decline’ that is currently being propagated.