Cruising for a bruising…….

Voices made it into The Observer last week. Pling!

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?

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8 thoughts on “Cruising for a bruising…….

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Cruising for a bruising……. | thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian… -- Topsy.com

  2. While I think I understand the sentiments behind this blog post I am a little unsure who you are aiming it at – as a public librarian I am well aware that my job could be at threat but it’s not helpful to be told that I need to fight as if my life depended on it – I know that already.

    However I think you need to understand that it is not always easy to take a more active role in campaigning – it may look as though some public librarians are just sittimg on their hands grumbling on the sidelines but could it be that they are afraid of speaking out because it may conflict with their obligations to their employers and put their jobs at risk, even put their redundancy benefits at risk (should the worst happen). That maybe the reason why people aren’t always able to live up to your example and speak out at every opportunity. I certainly haven’t been able to take a more active role in “Voices for the Library” for these very reasons I’ve just mentioned, and I thought you understood this. I’m sorry, but reading this blog post it is not clear that you do.

  3. There is some to what Chris says. But there are also different ways and styles of fighting the case that may be useful to people who feel they’re in exposed or vulnerable positions.

    One of the problems we’re faced with in the public library sector is that we’ve had a generation of complacent librarians who thought that the Public Library Act shielded them against all danger and the need to defend their services and their staff or even to justify the existence of their service. While some brave exceptions made adult, intelligent and successful arguments that have led to important developments like The People’s Network too much of the publicly-available discourse has been saying: “they’ll never close libraries” and “I worked jolly hard for my degree, I don’t see why I should change the way I do things.” This has been changing over the past decade and The Profession has been regaining its professionalism but a lot of the damage has already been done and the job of defending what is left is made the more difficult as a consequence. While politicians hate closing libraries because of the fuss made by articulate and politically-active voters over the decades they have been presented with relatively little argument against salami-slicing the non-book resources available to service the libraries. That’s staff, skills and systems (not necessarily computer systems!) – the stuff that makes a library not just a building with some books in it.

    So what can people do?

    Well, for one thing: make sure that your statistics are working in your favour:

    * Make sure that you and your staff actually use your library! Make sure that everybody is an active member. Instruct them (yes! instruct them!) to borrow at least one book a month. If they don’t know what the goods are like, how are they going to ‘sell’ them to your customers? And make sure that they renew their loans before they’re overdue so that both the stock usage and your renewal statistics are ticking over.
    * Use your statistics. Does the man on the local omnibus know that you issue more than a million books a year? If not, why not?
    * Did you know that your online library catalogue is your council’s single biggest generator of customer-driven digital government transactions? That gets you a seat at the table in the discussions on Channel Shift. Use it.
    * You have granularity and depth in your statistics. Tell your customers – and your local health authority! – how many items (not just books) on health and well-being you’ve loaned in the past year.
    * How many people are using your internet facilities? Instead of only seeing this as x% of the total population in your area, what is that figure in proportion to the number of people who voted in the last local election; the attendance at your local football ground; or the readership of your local paper.

    Investigate the returns on the investment in your service. What do all those children borrowing story books mean in terms of literacy levels in your area? What’s the quality of life impact of your large print book collections? How is your local authority expecting to make all those huge savings by moving to customer-mediated online service delivery when the people most likely to need access to council services are those most likely not to have easy access to the internet?

    These are just a few examples. But please, please make sure that, whatever else you do, the world and his dog knows what you’re doing in your libraries. Tell them once then tell them often. And make sure that your library service’s story is always in the face of somebody somewhere; don’t wait for them to have to come and find you to ask you what the impact of proposed cuts may be.

    • Thanks Steven…I think you are spot on btw. This is no time for complacency. Also, as you say, there are many ways and means that can be used to fight the case. Statistics are vital to demonstrating the importance of local library services. As the recent FoI request on Leeds libraries demonstrated, sometimes councillors will only look at them at a very superficial level……if you dig deeper you find all sorts of buried treasure 🙂 It’s definitely time to tool up!

  4. Yes, these are very useful comments. I understand (after exchanging a few emails with Ian) that his blog post wasn’t aimed at any particular individuals but merely general comments to generate a debate, so I am happy to modify my earlier remarks. And thinking about it, I’ve also found from my involvement with CILIP and UNISON that often it seems to be down to a handful of individuals to get things done, so I agree we probably all can do more…..and I shouldn’t have taken it personally.

    These are good comments Steven about library staff making use of their own services and ensuring that statistics reflect the quality and depth of your services rather than just “x number of books loaned”. In my authority I feel we are moving towards making better use of our statistics thanks to our involvement with various partnership projects (e.g. Health, Literacy initiatives) and helping to improve the quality of people’s lives. If libraries are closed or cut the effects on this will be catastrophic.

    • Thanks Chris. Although it would have been good to have that exchange here as I’m sure others would have felt the same way when they first read this – although maybe you wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so publicly, which is fine 🙂

      As you say, everyone needs to do their bit, it’s no good leaving it to the small handful who always speak out or always take on the responsibility. Strength in numbers.

  5. “This means academic librarians, public librarians, school librarians, systems officers, shambrarians, whatever name you like to give yourself…”

    Also don’t forget all those ‘other’ information professionals out there – those working in law libraries or in ‘business information centres’ in banks, consultancies, property firms, and in ‘knowledge centres’ or other even more outlandishly titled departments in retail, FMCG, oil & gas and other areas of commerce & industry – and also the records managers, intranet content managers, etc, etc.

    They all have a stake in the profession, many have LIS or KM or RM masters qualifications, and collectively would have an even stronger voice in defence of what ‘info pros’ do to collect, collate, organise, distribute information where and when needed.

    • Definitely. Everyone has to speak up. To abuse a famous quote:

      They came first for the public librarians,
      and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a public librarian.

      Then they came for the school librarians,
      and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a school librarian.

      Then they came for the academic librarians,
      and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an academic librarian.

      Then they came for me
      and by that time no one was left to speak up.

      (with apologies to Niemoller)

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