No Furniture So Charming – The Future for Libraries

Bethnal Green Library - home to the evening's discussion

Yes, it may be a nice day outside but what better way to pass the time than to write-up yesterday’s library debate at Bethnal Green library?  Let’s face it, sunshine is overrated.  Mind you, that may have something to do with being fair-skinned and prone to burning.  Anyway, I’m not here to share my dermatological issues, this post is supposed to be all about last night’s fascinating discussion about the future for public libraries as part of the London Word Festival.  An interesting and, dare I say, lively event which gave me much to ponder and left me trying to work out how on earth I was going to put it all together into a coherent blog post – you may have guessed already I was struggling to think of how to open this post.  And now I have drawn attention to it I have only made things worse. Damn.  So, where to start?  How about the beginning?  Or maybe some Tarantino-esque narrative messing?  No, let’s go conventional.

It was with a certain amount of fortune that I was able to attend last night’s discussion.  A few days back, the author Alex Butterworth (he of the excellent The World That Never Was – read it!) tweeted that he had a ticket available as he was no longer able to attend.  Seeing as I was off on Thursday afternoon I decided I should definitely make the most of the opportunity and asked if I could have the ticket.  DMs were exchanged and, although I had no official confirmation, I was assured that my name was down on the list and surly bouncers would not turn me away.  Pleased that I had managed to secure tickets for the event, I then moved onto stage two of my cunning plan: get some fellow Tweeters to come so I have company and get the chance to meet people that I have only ever encountered virtually.  Lucky for me, Sphericalfruit, usernametaken10 and the more conventionally named PhilBradley, were all also intending on going to the conference.  This meant only one thing: a touch of pubbage beforehand (well, a pint anyway) – a fine way to start the proceedings.

We’ll skip the pubbage bit, not that anything untoward occurred of course…suffice it to say, however, that the Salmon and Ball pub makes an interesting contrast to Bethnal Green library…

So, on to the event itself – which is, after all, the reason why I am writing this post.  The event was hosted by Travis Elborough, writer and occasional reviewer for The Guardian.  The panel consisted of:

In terms of the format, the presentations were split into groups of three with a break between each session to enable the panel and the audience to reflect on the ideas that the presenters had each put forward.  There was also a short interval after the second group of sessions to enable people to get a drink and talk to other attendees (and, in my case, do a little Voices for the Library promotion).  So, on to the presentations…

…but before we move onto that, there were a couple of annoyances that kicked the evening off.  First, the event started with Travis ‘shushing’ and then we were told that the presenters’ would be informed that they had reached their five minute time limit by the sound of a book being stamped.  If they proceeded for a further thirty seconds then the audience were to collectively ‘shhh’ until they stop.  I’m sure this was all meant as an amusing way to manage the presentations, but it did strike me as ill-advised.  At an event such as this it is not advisable to alienate a proportion of the audience so early in the proceedings.  As we all know, there’s nothing librarians hate more than the stereotypical book-stamping, shushing, over zealous librarian.  Well, apart from those that perpetuate that stereotype perhaps.  So, next time, skip the shushing please 🙂

Taken shortly before the shushing announced the start of the discussion.

The first session of the evening included presentations by Tom Armitage (game designer and technologist), Kirsten Campbell (writer and educational games designer) and Rachel Coldicutt (creative producer).  There seemed to be a running theme through these opening presentations: libraries as places to explore and transform.  Tom had an interesting idea about using the date label as a space to provide intriguing information about the book in question.  He argued that ‘books are their own souvenirs’ and should include information about the book’s own story (is it new, well travelled, always out on loan?) to intrigue people into exploring the book itself.  Kirsten referred to her love of her mobile library (her father was a mobile library driver) and how libraries should be a space to inspire children and act as transformative spaces.  She also shared her illustrated version of the mobile library – complete with cocktail bar (!).  Thankfully, it also included a computer and underlined the importance of the library as a vital resource for those without Internet connections (not all presentations reflected this need).  I’m not sure if her vision of a mobile library complete with cocktail bar would get off the ground, but I’d certainly use it!  Finally, Rachel argued that the kind of library we know now is probably coming to an end.  And, luckily, she has now posted her presentation online so, instead of making sense of my notes, I can simply quote her:

In my experience, all the best libraries make it as hard as possible to find things. They disguise them with esoteric filing systems, hide them in book stacks, or behind book request form, or they just don’t have the books you want.

I’m a big fan of limited choice. When there aren’t many things to choose from, the difficult choice is a lot easier. And when you don’t have the luxury of “people who liked this also liked”, you have to find your own way.

So I would ask that the library of the future is a place that enables limited, arbitrary choice. A place that makes you concentrate. And a place that makes you improve yourself, because you don’t have any other choice.

An interesting, slightly quirky presentation: libraries as places where you can’t find what you want.  Would that work?

After Rachel’s presentation we moved onto the panel’s reflections on what had been discussed.  Before we moved onto the next round of presentations by Ruth Beale (artist and ‘pamphlet librarian’), Nicky Kirk (architect at Amenity Space Architects) and Peter Law (digital producer for Hide and Seek).  Ruth argued that libraries do not have a clear identity compared to books.  She suggested that libraries represent:

  • A classic hallowed place
  • Communal space
  • Something personal
  • Something digital

She shared images of the book block at the recent protests in London and the mass book withdrawal at Stony Stratford library, as well as noting the many cultural references to libraries in film, such as Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow etc.  It was interesting to note that books do have a clearer sense of identity than libraries.  Perhaps that is because libraries represent abstract ideas and notions that cannot easily be symbolised.

The next presentation by Nicky Kirk unfortunately referred to libraries as ‘monastic spaces’.  Yes, you can guess where this is leading.  Libraries should be a place for peaceful study and should be a reaction against the digital world.  They should be filled with intimate private spaces, sound-proofed to ensure quiet reflection and study can take place.  Quite where children (who make up a massive proportion of library users) would fit into this I am not really sure, let alone those without Internet connections at home.

The final presentation in this session was delivered by Peter Law and argued that libraries should have revamped tech, better websites and should be a playful space for things beyond books (although, as Peter kept reminding us, libraries should be about books too).  Also suggested that libraries should be a space to use for theatre productions (like that idea) as well as for bands to perform (which some libraries have already taken advantage of).  I think out of all the presentations I liked this one the most.  Peter acknowledged that books are central to the library, but that they could and should offer so much more.  Surely this is what the future library should look like?

The London Word Festival - including a lovely badge!

We then had another break for a discussion amongst the panel and points from the audience.  It was at this point that a couple of us (one more forcefully than the other!) raised the issue of the strong book bias in a lot of the presentations as well as the event in general.  The shushing and book stamping were raised as issues of concern in terms of stereotyping and there was a certain disappointment with the lack of really innovative thinking in terms of what the future library would actually look like.  I added that I felt access to information was a crucial component of the library service, and that the format in which it comes in is not important, whether it be ebooks or the Internet, libraries should provide a space for free access to information in all its forms.  To be fair, I think some of the panelists and presenters did reflect this, but there had been a high number of depressing ‘books and silence’ type presentations.  Certainly few of the presentations reflected my vision of the library of the future.

After a heated exchange and short break we moved onto the final round of presentations (and consequently the end of this long post!).  The final presentations were delivered by Dan Thompson (Empty Shops Network), Trenton Oldfield (This Is Not A Gateway) and finally Jon Stone and Kirsty Irving (Sidekick Books/Fuselit).  Dan started off with the controversial statement that he ‘doesn’t like libraries’ and finds them ‘dull and uninspiring’ – good start!  What followed, however, was an interesting presentation on creating portable book cases containing your favourite books which can be shared with people to inspire them.  Dan argued that we all have books that we would happily pass onto others (I’m a bit of a hoarder so not sure I would!), and this would be a great way of sharing the books that inspired you with the people you know (or even those you don’t).  He also argued that councils are not the best institutions to provide a library service and, instead, people should take over empty shops and convert them into library spaces.  I kinda liked the idea of having one less commercial outfit on the high street and replacing it with a space for books and information – although I am not sure how this would work practically.  I think it is fair to say Dan was a little concerned about how his presentation would come across after earlier criticisms, but it was well received by the audience, even the loud ones at the back ;).

Next up was Trenton Oldfield who opened by talking about his romantic connection to libraries before expressing his view on the politics of the future library.  He argued that they should be held onto no matter what, even if underused by the local community.  Trenton very much appeared to believe in the importance of libraries as social spaces which was an nice change from some of the ‘bookish’ presentations that had gone before (not that there was anything wrong with those).  To finish he put forward six propositions:

  1. Defend the exisiting library
  2. Make the houses of the wealthy the library…open up the places where people have a wide collection of materials
  3. Split the coalition (!)
  4. Create a rite of passage whereby everyone can publish a book (aided by the library?)
  5. Encourage serendipity
  6. Promote libraries as a 21st century social space.

I may have paraphrased those slightly as I was rather focused on listening as opposed to note taking at this stage!

Finally came Jon Stone and Kirsty Irving who came up with an interesting comparison of libraries as being like old computer games that should evolve in the same way.  Their piece was amusingly illustrated by playing an old RPG text based game with a library as the setpiece.  Ultimately they argued that the future of the library is virtual rather than the traditional form that we are used to.

Wow, that was a long blog post!  In summary, it was a very interesting event with some innovative (as well as traditional) visions of the future of libraries.  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 defeatism here, just more food for thought for those that wish to see them destroyed (if they are even prepared to taste what is on offer).  Yes, there was a little shoutiness and a little disagreement and debate, but that is a good thing.  Without debate and discussion there is no drive to defend libraries.  By arguing and debating we can come to a much stronger vision for the future of libraries, one that is shared by a wide-range of people.  I sincerely hope there will be many other such debates in the future.  My favourite line from the evening?  ‘Libraries should cost more and be paid for through an increase in general taxation’.  Amen to that.

As for the company I kept, it was great to finally meet up with some people I have been following on Twitter for some time.  Special thanks must go to both Sphericalfruit and usernametaken10 for distributing Voices for the Library flyers whilst I was trying to pluck up the courage to do so.  Many thanks 🙂   It was also good to hear positive feedback about Voices from members of the audience – things like that keep you going!

Chris Meade has also written a blog post on the future for libraries and a collection of photos from the event have also been posted on Flickr.  Thanks to the London Word Festival for putting on an interesting and lively debate, I hope that similar debates will be planned for next year.

Now, let’s see if I can go and enjoy the sun a little before it gets dark…


33 thoughts on “No Furniture So Charming – The Future for Libraries

  1. But most people do associate libraries with books and the silence that is needed for work or reading or study. ‘Information’ isn’t, for most of the public what libraries are particularly expert at. There are lots of other expert sources. All the research carried out among library users and non users emphasises the importance of the book collections.

    It is the constant denial by librarians of the connection with books that has not only led to libraries having less books, but to the public finding libraries to be less useful, and thence to them being closed. This is a real problem and we need to face it, otherwise this tension will destroy the public library service completely and quickly.

    Libraries cannot be run so they suit what librarians want, they have to be what the public wants.

    • Tim – I’m a librarian who likes books – so much so that I like them to be bought as part of a planned collection according to principles other than market forces, and properly catalogued and organised so that I can account for them, find them and use them to their full potential, and I can’t understand why you espouse the cause of books so enthusiastically while belittling just about everything to do with looking after them in public libraries! Libraries are of course about books, but they are not only warehouses for books, nor can books be the only source of information in the 21st century. My public library career included several years in a London reference library : the principles of organising information and making it available were long-established even in those pre-Internet days. The tools may have changed but the principles are the same. (Incidentally I hated it when the book fund was diverted at short notice – usually to pay consultancy fees – and I can’t remember ever meeting a librarian who was anything other than protective of his/her book fund).

  2. “It is the constant denial by librarians of the connection with books that has not only led to libraries having less books…”

    I have not yet come across a single librarian who denies the importance of books to the public library service. Every one I have ever met has expressed dismay at the cutting of book budgets. If you can provide examples of librarians denying the connection between libraries and books, I would be very interested to hear of them.

    “Libraries cannot be run so they suit what librarians want, they have to be what the public wants.”

    I couldn’t agree more. That is all I am interested in, what the public wants. From ebooks to free Internet to a wide-ranging book stock to activities for children, libraries are there to provide the service that the public demands of them.

  3. Ian — it’s this …. “We then had another break for a discussion amongst the panel and points from the audience. It was at this point that a couple of us (one more forcefully than the other!) raised the issue of the strong book bias in a lot of the presentations as well as the event in general. The shushing and book stamping were raised as issues of concern in terms of stereotyping and there was a certain disappointment with the lack of really innovative thinking in terms of what the future library would actually look like. “… and almost anything that Phil Bradley writes.. that present librarians in the way that is hard to undersand. What can possibly be wrong with ‘a strong book bias’ – book bias is not a stereotype, it is a virtue. Shushing is good – if it means that people who want to read and work in peace are not disturbed.

    It is the desire not to do what the public wants librarians to do, that I mean when I say they should be run at the desire of the public, not the librarians. The public demand more books and more silence, not less.

    • Yes, I think you mis-understand. It is not that books shouldn’t be central to the library service, it is that there are a number of other services that, though less important perhaps, are also important to consider when developing a sustainable library service. Again, I have not seen anything to suggest that librarians don’t want what the public wants. In fact, stories such as this one from the Voices for the Library website demonstrate that for some members of the public there are a variety of services that they value and demand from their library service:

      Don’t you think that the services Rachel values are important too?

  4. Of course the little girl in the story needs and wants the library- but it won’t be much use to her if the book collections are poor. That was the experience of my children – the library was a nice idea, but hopeless because it couldn’t be depended upon for what they wanted to read, or even, generally, to be open. They lost interest because the library just doesn’t function- and we lived, then, in an area of London, where the library service always claims to be excellent even though it is actually very poor. There are lots of places to use computers- but none others where there should be an extensive freely accessible collection of books and where you can work.

    The point is that it was you and your friend who said ‘there is a book bias’ – and you, as you say, are a librarian. I just cannot conceive that any member of the public would talk like this – it is only librarians who think that way- the public would never call for less emphasis on books, they always ask for more. And I do go to lots of public meetings about libraries. It is like a badge that librarians wear. I wish they would stop.

    Ian, we disagree, let’s leave it. Tim

  5. There may be lots of places in London but not round these parts. The only places with computers here are libraries. The same is true for many towns in my county.

    By the way, I’m not a librarian.

  6. Tim,
    Where are these places one can access computers please? By the way, I am a librarian, and I have certainly never said libraries should not have excellent book collections alongside the other services they offer and I am definitely not in a minority in the profession. That is not a badge we wear. Although is ( and note the prominence of the word BOOKS) probably is.

  7. Katy.

    I’m not saying that public libraries shouldn’t have computers- of course they should. If you look at the libraries in Hillingdon, there are masses, and they are very good ones, too. And people have access to computers through their families, friends, colleges, work, school and even internet cafes- if they don’t have one and want it . Of course I know there are some people who would like to use computers who don’t have them.

    What I am questoning is this idea that books and silence are stereotypical of libraries of the past – they aren’t. They are the essentials by which the public recognise a library to be useful. And I have been saying for years, as I have watched the number of books in libraries available for lending go down and down – by 20 million- that I wished the library profession would fight harder to keep the book funds up. Up to now overall library budgets have more or less risen every year for the past 20 years (CIPFA actuals) – but the percentage of money spent on books has gone down and down. The public say that books are the main reason for visiting- so it is not hard to deduce that the main reason for declining physical visits is the decline in quality of the book stock.

    Anyhow it’s too late now. The profession has spent so long arguing that ‘it’s more than about books’ , that now its time to put the lights out.

    • “The public say that books are the main reason for visiting- so it is not hard to deduce that the main reason for declining physical visits is the decline in quality of the book stock.”

      But that’s not actually true is it? Book issues were higher in the last two years than they were in 2007/8, despite a decline in the number of libraries. It is a little more complex than that. Besides, the switch to using online methods to access the library (reservations, renewals, ILLs) which previously would have required a visit also accounts for a proportion of the decline. I’m aware of libraries that have had an increase in bookfunds to counter a decline in visits and issues, to no avail. Increasing the bookfund is one piece of the jigsaw (and one that librarians have long argued for, I have yet to encounter one that doesn’t), there are a whole range of issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the library service.

      Maybe you should engage with public librarians a bit more and then you would see that they consider the protection, if not the increase, of the book fund as a crucial component in ensuring the future of public libraries. It is all I ever hear. Certainly, in my work for Voices for the Library, the bookfund is always one of the first statistics we request from local authorities when they announce library closures.

  8. Ian. Do you think I haven’t spent the last 12 years engaging with public librarians?

    Let’s take the case in detail of Somerset- shall we – where the book fund has fallen to extraordinary low levels but the library management don’t know and haven’t known for years what to do about it, and Kensington, and Richmond, Westminster and Oxfordshire where we persuaded the chief librarians not only that they should increase the book fund, but how they can do it. And Hampshire, where the chief librarian said that he thought DVD’s were more important than books and his boss who said that libraries had no need to stock fiction any more. Do you really think I make all things up? – or perhaps that you haven’t seen them for yourself.

    If you think that protection of the book fund is important then why have they failed so miserably to do it. And if you think book issues have gone up why do the loans per adult in the UK (according to CIPFA) read

    2002/3 = 4.6
    2003/4 = 4.3
    2004/5 = 4.0
    2005/6 = 3.9
    2006/7 = 3.7
    2007/8 = 3.6
    2008/9 = 3.5
    2009/10 = 3.4

    If you call that going up, then I wouldn’t want a ride in your lift. If you want to see how much evidence I have go and read the evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee in 2005. Not only did I present the only figure based evidence of any substance, but I still have more than any other person or body. Read not jujstmy evidence there, but also that offered by Westminster City Council

    And – as any professional marketing person will tell you in a jiff, visits to websites are not comparable with physical visits. In fact you don’t need an expert, it’s obvious even to my cat

    • Tim – What are the figures for the same period in book issues? I said book issues had increased did I not?

      I do think you fail to grasp web visits to libraries, but I’ll ignore that for now.

      • No Tim, they are not. Please don’t play games on here otherwise you may find yourself blocked. I said book issues were up on 2 years ago, you implied I was wrong by providing statistics that are not CIPFA’s figures for total loans (which is what I referred to). If you have access to them then you can provide them. If not, then please don’t waste my time.

  9. For reference, book issues were as follows:

    2007/8 -307,571,240

    2008/9 – 310,776,757

    2009/10 – 309,350,755

    (Stats provided by CIPFA)

    As I said, book issues were higher in the past 2 years than in 2007/8.

  10. Hey Tim, just one quick point that you seem to have overlooked. You weren’t at the meeting. You don’t know what was said, how it was said, or what the context was. Still, that’s never stopped you before, so let me try and enlighten you a little. One presenter was describing her vision of mobile libraries, which was to include a cocktail bar and ‘wizards’. Another presenter, while talking about future libraries was talking about libraries in his youth, while an architect was discussing libraries without shelving, pyramid shapes and silence. The evening was billed as libraries of the future, but what was being referred to was books. Now, there will obviously be books in the future – no-one is disagreeing with that, but there was no discussion on how to serve a community, no mention of the value of computers, no mention of the role of the librarian. No reference to anything other than books – and you yourself have pointed out the value of computers etc. Hence my comment regarding the book bias.

    Now, may I politely suggest that in future, unless you’re actually *at* an event you may choose to be slightly more circumspect with your comments, because otherwise you look just a bit clueless.

    • Oh dear Phil. I did talk about a lot of what you wanted to hear. I spoke about serving communities (I didn’t say ‘communities’ though) and I was trying to describe a particular community of people like me who *have* been attracted to books and *will* be attracted to whatever books become. I made the point too that librarians were fundamental to what I wanted. I also said I was talking about the near future, and I don’t think libraries will lose their books, or books lost their meaning as units, in the next five years. It was my vision of what I found important too. Its a shame you didn’t want to run with that; it sounds like you’re thinking about an average user who likes everything on offer rather than just a few important bits.

      Please do run with it! I agreed with some of what you said on the night.

  11. Tim, I was very disconcerted when I read your opening comment:
    “But most people do associate libraries with books and the silence that is needed for work or reading or study. ‘Information’ isn’t, for most of the public what libraries are particularly expert at. There are lots of other expert sources”
    Your dichotomy between books and ‘information’ is false; books communicate information typographically. Whether that information is fictional, factual or false is another matter entirely. To divorce books from their function is a grave mistake; one which feeds into the notion they are charming objects, but not deserving of taxpayers’ money. How else would research and work via books be possible? Or, indeed, why engaging with literature – and literacy – is a worthwhile pursuit?

    Secondly, information is exactly that with which libraries are associated. Librarians are information professionals. It’s why they’re trained and hired to play a crucial part in the running of hospitals, schools, government, charities, businesses, law firms and universities. They can access and navigate information resources. I’d be interested to see how much similar guidance one would get from an intellectual property rights lawyer, an IT tutor, a careers advisor, an English tutor, a genealogist, a local historian or a business consultant for free as you can from a public librarian.

    Indeed, I’d like to know where in London one can get totally free access to the internet and/or a word processor. My library service is in South East London, and the computers in my local libraries are always busy. Children and adults need free access to computers for many things: to type school assignments, apply for jobs, access council services, check up to date reference material, get tourist information, and to do genealogical research. Even, yes, to read and write emails, tweets and Facebook messages to family and friends – is social communication a luxury only for those who can afford international calls, landlines and broadbrand connections? I have yet to come across another place that offers these services for free or at a cost that everyone can afford.

    The cutting of book budgets in libraries currently is a huge worry in all sectors. Especially if we aspire to be a society that engages with the international information economy. It represents the devaluing of information per se. Having worked and volunteered in academic, public and school libraries, I think the badge librarians wear is: access to information our users want and need in the most suitable format. Sadly, it’s curbed only by how much money we’re deemed worthy to receive.

  12. Pingback: Arguing with fools and drunks | sarahcchilds

  13. Ian – your figures and mine come from exactly the same place, which is the CIPFA data. As anyone would quickly say how the figures are presented can make a big difference to what they imply. However what I was trying to suggest is that, while it is true that, for the last 3 years, the total number of UK book issues has remained more or less constant, we have a significant increase in those issues which are to children, and there is a trend of increasing population. Consequently these figures do show that the issues to adults have continued to decline. My figures above are as correct as yours. That is the problem to which I was trying to draw attention

    And to Sarah – I would be happy to meet and ‘look you in the eye’ at any time. I think it is unfair to characterise me as an unpleasant person intruding on a private conversation. The matter of public libraries is not one for private conversation among people who work in it or who are librarians – it affects us all. Please believe that I have worked and do work as hard as anyone to try and save the public library service. My work is well publicised and believe me it is hard. There is a real crisis- the current round of budgets and cuts is, in my view and experience, only the first of several years which could quickly lead to the decimation of the whole service.

    I have said for many years that this could and sometime will happen- and one of the things for which I have pleaded is that those who manage the service pay more attention to the core of the offer and not diversify in the way that they have. Public libraries could offer any service- we could give free telephones and televisions, in the name of ‘information’ – but the core has to be more closely defined and defended. In order to be worthwhile it has to be excellent in a way that sometimes it is not.

    I know I say this a lot and people get cross, but I am not the only person to say it. I always cite both the Select Committee of 2005 – which is Gerald Kaufman’s report and the old Audit Commission report of 2004 (Building Better Libraries) which both laid stress on the same thing. Both the Audit Commission and I (Who’s in Charge, 2004) predicted that if we didn’t tackle this problem the service wouldn’t survive to 2020- and we haven’t and it won’t. We are rolling down the hill and weep as we may, it is going to be difficult to stop.

    This is not a private argument in a pub – it really is central to the future of the service. I came to Ian’s discussion because Ian Anstice had quoted it on his blog. His blog is read by the national journalists and politicians who follow this – it is at the heart of the debate.

    I hate to spell it out- but the object is to save libraries, not to save the library profession.

  14. Hi Tim, I have just left a comment on my blog apologising to you if you thought I was personally insulting you. Like you, I am very passionate about saving libraries, but I do think a part of that is to be positive about what librarians are doing, and in my own blog I was simply saying that as librarians we should be positive about our job in order to help advocate for libraries more generally.

    I told the story about what happened to me in the pub as an attempt to discuss this. Again if you felt that I “characterise[d] … [you] as an unpleasant person intruding on a private conversation,” I should state again publicly for anyone reading this that it was not my intention to do so. Although I may disagree with some of your ideas, this is not how I perceive you.

    Hopefully I have made myself clear here and on my own blog we can draw a line under this. Let’s both go back to doing what we believe is so important – saving libraries 🙂

    • Phil, I get what your try to say, and more-or-less sympathetic, though not sure your example of surgeons is such a good one?

      Surgeons aren’t a given. As you will know, many conditions no longer require surgery, thus no longer need surgeons and/or operating rooms. And before the British Medical Association and empire, many cultures that didn’t use surgery/surgeons at all, having long histories of other medicines. Some even let people die of their condition.

  15. It’s interesting reading these comments. I was at the event. Very much so; when one of the organisers put out a public call for people interested in the future of libraries I got in touch and agreed to put a short presentation together. I had already done some thinking about how libraries and empty shops could come together (I run the Empty Shops Network), which was why I was interested; I developed ideas further for the event, and travelled from the South Coast to be there to speak.

    I put together a presentation that was about the ideas I’m interested in; citizen as librarian, curation of small specialist collections to serve niche communities, temporary pop-up libraries which reach new audiences and the library as a place for yes books, but mainly ideas and inspiration. I also gave an example of trying to influence my local library, and how the librarians hadn’t listened then.

    I was there. I was one of the nine members of the public who got up in front of a bunch of librarians to say what we thought about the future of libraries. So the comments in this stream about librarians listening to the public? There wasn’t much evidence they were listening at No Furniture So Charming, and that lack of listening seems to be continuing here. I think that’s why libraries are in trouble.

  16. Hi Dan,

    I was one of the librarians at the event and I quite liked the ideas in your presentation actually. I would have liked to find out more about it on the night too but I think you had to leave early to catch your train so I didn’t get a chance.

    Perhaps you could explain a little more about it here, or provide a link to where I and others might be able to find out more instead.

    Oh and I think the empty shops network is a great idea too by the way 🙂

  17. One aspect of this debate on the future of libraries has been covered by Ronan O’Beirne in his challenging book “From Lending to Learning: the development and extension of public libraries”.
    Ronan has probably incurred Tim’s wrath as he says “My conclusion … is that the role [of libraries] has less to do with books and more to do with literacies, people, the human condition and social justice – and … much to do with learning.” He also says “… to equate the iconic significance of the book with the public library leads to misunderstandings. It bestows upon the public library a reverence it rarely deserves based solely on the books it stores.” However I believe that this is not a denial of the connection with books but instead an argument that libraries are about more than books, they are about how and why people use and value books – and that is for learning.
    Some bibliophiles treasured books with uncut pages – the ultimate expression of the book as a fetish object entirely removed from its purpose . Librarians value books but see them as a means to an end; not just objects to be loaned out in order to generate better issue figures but as a way of achieving individual learning and personal development. I recommend “From Lending to Learning” to anyone interested in the future of public libraries.

  18. Thanks Richard. I’m going to create a webpage as I think the project is worth pursuing – it’s certainly got a response! Basically, the idea is for communities to create small, specialist libraries which could be portable or could be housed in empty shops. These can house the more specialist books that libraries may not be able to stock, and manage them in more agile ways.

    Yes, I’d traveled up from Worthing so had to dash at the end.

  19. Pingback: Has the publishing industry fallen out of love with libraries? | thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian…

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  22. I surely agree with “katy on April 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm” when she says libraries should be much more then just a cozy place with a nice collection of books. There have to be more services and much more amenities so that people realize that a library is not that cold place it used to be centuries ago. Let’s get people to culture using all the possible ways available.

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