Kent refuse to reveal rejected proposals…

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County Hall, Maidstone (image c/o John47kent on Flickr)

During a meeting earlier this year, proposals were put before the 73 Conservative members of Kent County Council regarding the future of libraries across the county.  It is alleged that these proposals included the potential closure of a substantial number of libraries across the county.  The Kent Messenger’s political editor, Paul Francis, wrote at the time:

 

“Precise figures are hard to come by but at least one source has mentioned over 40.”

There are presently over 100 libraries across the county, meaning that the proposals suggested the closure of nearly half of all the libraries in Kent.

Interestingly, not all the councillors were enthusiastic about the proposals:

“Sources say that many county councillors were aghast at the proposals, not least because some of those identified for closure were in Kent’s Conservative heartlands. Others pointed out that they had made various election commitments that local libraries in their areas would be safeguarded.”

Perhaps recognising the strength of many campaigns across the country, one councillor allegedly remarked:

“You can do more or less what you like to any other service and not many will care, but not to libraries.”

Read more at Voices for the Library.

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Create an iPhone icon

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Ok, it's not as cool as this, but still. (image c/o JD Hancock on Flickr)

You know that when you add a website to the home screen on the iPhone and you get one of those nifty little icons?  Ever wondered how to create one?  Turns out it is dead simple.  Hey, if I can do it anyone can!  It only takes a few steps and, having created one myself, they do look rather nifty.  So, here’s what you do :

1) Create a 45×45 pixel PNG (my version of Photoshop doesn’t allow the creation of a PNG file so I saved it as a BMP, opened it in Paint and then saved it as a PNG file).

2) Save the file using the filename apple-touch-icon.png.

3) Drop the file in the root directory of your website.

That’s it done.  Now if you go to your site, add it to your home screen your icon should magically appear on your iPhone. Easy!

Oh, I’m not sharing mine yet as it is all part of my secret project 🙂

5.7 million households do not have an internet connection

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Libraries can help address digital inequality (image c/o splorp on Flickr)

Yesterday the Office of National Statistics released its latest Internet access – households and individuals report.  Once again it demonstrated something that is often overlooked, there is a sizeable proportion of the population that do not have an internet connection.  According to the statistics, although the percentage of households with an internet connection has grown to 77% (up 4% on last year), there are still an amazing 5.7 million households in the UK without internet access.  Other top line statistics from the report:

  • 45 per cent of Internet users used a mobile phone to connect to the Internet
  • 6 million people accessed the Internet over their mobile phone for the first time in the previous 12 months
  • The use of wireless hotspots almost doubled in the last 12 months to 4.9 million users
  • 21 per cent of Internet users did not believe their skills were sufficient to protect their personal data
  • 77 per cent of households had Internet access
  • 50% of those without internet say they do not need it
  • 40% say that the equipment is too expensive or they do not believe they have the skills required

…many children are being left behind

The last three points are particularly crucial.  Households without internet would mean, in many cases, families without internet connections.  This is particularly concerning as it has been demonstrated that children’s performance at school can be affected by their inability to make use of an internet connection.  Whilst the report doesn’t provide statistics on family households without internet access, it is not beyond reason to conclude that there are a great many families included within that 5.7 million households figure.  And, consequently, a great many children who are potentially being left behind by their ‘connected’ peers.  The consequences of this disparity are fairly clear.

The final two points are also concerning and provide a stark reminder of what damage would be done by large-scale library closures.  Libraries can play a massive role in addressing these issues.  Trained, professional library staff can help to support inexperienced users to find their way around the internet and gain the confidence to take full advantage of what it offers.  It has been demonstrated in repeated studies that people using the internet are economically better off (££) and, at a time of such economic difficulty, this is more important now than ever.

…public libraries are crucial to reducing digital inequality

Furthermore, the provision of free internet access in public libraries is absolutely crucial to reducing digital inequality and ensuring that a sizeable proportion of the population are not left behind.  Close public libraries and remove the only point of free internet access and you create a society of digitally excluded, those left to flounder as they do not have the finances or skills to keep up with the digitally advanced.  It is not enough to simply provide these people with computers and hope that will resolve the inequality.  Who will provide the support and the training?  Public libraries are still the best way to ensure that the digital revolution does not further isolate the disadvantaged from society and ensure that no-one is left behind.

One further point on this issue that perhaps ought to be made, in terms of libraries/librarians themselves rather than the people who use them.  It is worth noting that neither the Guardian or the BBC made any reference to public libraries offering free internet access, nor did they mention the impact library closures could have on those that are digitally excluded.  You may argue that the point isn’t directly relevant to those particular articles.  Maybe not.  However, it is worth remembering that although there have been plenty of positive shifts in the coverage of libraries in the past year, commentators still do not see libraries as a solution to modern-day problems.  For library advocacy to have any real success, this has to change.  Because if people of influence cannot see the role libraries can and should play in addressing contemporary concerns, there is little hope for the future of the library service and the profession.

Spreading my wings…

As is always the case when I find myself with a bit of time on my hands, I’ve been trying indulging in a little ‘project’.  I’ve finally decided to experiment with my own little space on the internet.  I had been reluctant for some time to go  down the whole domain/hosting route but I thought it was time I stretched myself a little and developed some new skills.  Much as I like the option to use a WordPress.com site, I thought it was time to try something that got me trying a few new tools (up until now I did not have a clue what an FTP was let alone use one!).

I have to say I have learnt a heck of a lot already.  Whilst I had some knowledge of HTML from my days using Blogger as my platform of choice, I was a little rusty and only really knew the basics.  I’m hoping that my creating this little space I will continue to develop and learn new skills – which I think in the current climate is very much a good thing.  So anyway, what about the site itself?

Well, after a bit of thought about what to call the website, I went for Infoism.  I was keen to avoid a domain that used either my name or my Twitter username and plumped for a ‘word’ that I think reflects my interests (information and politics).  I plan to use the site to cover a wide range of topics from libraries to information in general (perhaps with a particular focus on the information divide – which is one of my pet interests).  I was also keen to avoid creating a blog that provides hints/tips/useful tools for those in the profession. There are more than enough of those, all of which are far more eloquent than anything I could contribute.  Instead, I wanted to create something that is more focused on general issues facing the information society (I say that now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that intention goes by the wayside!).  I suspect I’ll still use this blog from time to time, perhaps to share my continued experiences on my course or to post random stuff, but my new blog will become my main home.

Anyway, at present my home page is a little basic (don’t forget I am teaching myself HTML here – I perhaps should have used some HTML software!) but I have created a mobile version (woo!) and even a cool little icon when you bookmark it on your iPhone/iPad/iPod thing.  I suspect once I have access to Photoshop again I’ll create a more appealing, less texty front page…but it will do for now.  Oh, and I have also posted my first blog post here.  Be gentle with me, I’m still learning!

Advocacy etc

I must be mad, but I thought I’d give my perspective on the whole advocacy discussion that blew up today. I should be chilling but the discussion was fascinating on so many levels I couldn’t help myself. This will, no doubt, be less eloquent than other blog posts on the topic but, of course, I ain’t gonna let that stop me!

To be honest, I was a bit surprised by how things blew up. As far as I could see, most of the people who were upset about the discussion do advocate. For me, advocacy can mean going out and telling your users what a great service you provide (marketing) or it can be simply providing the best service your users could ask for (which requires a certain amount of activity on your part – in the sense of seeking to find out what your user wants). In terms of the latter, the old maxim often used in retail applies: a dissatisfied customer will tell 8-10 people of their bad experience (that’s a drum that is pounded loud and clear in retail). It therefore follows that, should you provide good service, those customers will act as proxy advocates for you – telling other people about the great service you provided. So, you may not have engaged in advocacy per se, but you have sewn a very powerful seed.

Let’s face it, corporations gave up a long time ago in simply shouting slogans at people and thinking that was enough to ‘advocate’ their products. Things have become much more sophisticated. Top companies know that the peer groups are the most powerful advocates you can have. It is one reason why a lot of current business thinking has moved away from top-down authoritarian structures and developed nice cosy environments that keep the employees happy and, subsequently, speak positively about their employer when they are with family and friends. The change in management culture is not due to a sense of entitlement towards employees, it is one part of a carefully constructed marketing strategy.

In the age of social media, this ‘casual’ advocacy has become more important. People tweet about products and things they are doing and that has a much bigger impact on people than an advert on the TV. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone in your peer group, but you can be assured that your message will influence someone. Essentially, almost every public act is an act of advocacy (because you are doing it ‘publicly’ and we are simple creatures, easily influenced!). One might argue that buying a certain brand in the supermarket counts as ‘advocacy’ (the act of buying being, after all, an endorsement or support for a particular brand). Therefore the creation of proxy advocates is, in my view, very much central to any marketing strategy.

And I guess this is where I find difficulty with those who are up in arms about the recent discussions. As far as I can see, if you are committed to excellent standards of service in your library, you are an advocate (creating proxies). If you have ‘librarian’ on your Twitter bio and have ever tweeted about libraries, librarians or related issues, you are an advocate. If you tell your friend with an e-reader “hey, did you know you can get free ebooks at the library?”, you are an advocate. If you work in a private library and make your colleagues’ jobs easier by providing an effectively (and efficiently – it is the private sector after all!) run library, you are an advocate for that service (you are justifying its existence by making the company more efficient). Essentially, pretty much everyone on Twitter who works in a library is an advocate.

Activism is something I engage in (in a rather lazy fashion to be fair). It means writing to the council, chucking in FoI’s, writing about the problems facing libraries, trying to drum up support in the local community by highlighting the cuts and the impact they will have. Now, that is not for everyone and only a fool would suggest that everyone should engage in it. It’s hard work and saps away your free time. I wish everyone was an activist (that is the nature of my own political views) but hey, we live in the UK and us Brits aren’t known for it! But much as I would like everyone to do it, I know some can’t or unable to. I don’t hold it against them (I hold it against our society in general…kidding!). We make our own choices in this life and it is not for me to tell people whether they should act or not. If you feel you cannot be an activist, fine. If you don’t want to give up your spare time fighting councillors and local politicians, fine. But advocacy? Well, keep on doing what you are doing!

Additional

I should add that the Code of Professional Practice for Library and Information Professionals states the following:

C: Responsibilities to Colleagues and the Information Community

The personal conduct of information professionals at work should promote the profession in the best possible manner at all times. Members should therefore:

1. Act in ways that promote the profession positively, both to their colleagues and to the public at large.

A change is on the horizon…

As always when I have a bit of spare time on the horizon, I have a little project up my sleeves. I’m quite excited about it (someone has to be!) and if nothing else I have already learnt a heck of lot (I’m all for developing new skills and stretching yourself). I won’t say anymore at the moment, but expect to see a change in the offing sometime soon.

Turning blogs into apps

There’s been a lot of interesting chatter on the interwebs the past couple of days about a new application for the iPhone that enables you to create an app for your website. Seeing as Ned has already provided an outline of what it does, I won’t writing something detailing the ins and outs.  However, if you are intrigued to know more, Ned summarises it as follows (it is a handy post if you do want to give it a whirl):

The way Bloapp works is that you download the Bloapp app, and then subscribe to blogs within it that have been ‘apped’. (That’s not a real word, I just invented it; I mean registered with bloapp, basically). A bit like the Stitcher radio app works. So, you can download the Bloapp app from iTunes here, and then you can subscribe to this blog either by searching for thewikiman or, more excitingly, scanning this QR code within the app itself! (By the way, if you scan this QR code outside of the app itself, it just takes you to the normal mobile version of this blog).

As someone who plays around with a lot of web tools for Voices for the Library (and someone who is keen to encourage the whole ‘go on, give it a try’ ethos), I always have a bit of interest in the latest developments and try to find ways to use them to the campaign’s advantage, so naturally I was intrigued.

However, whilst I think this is an interesting tool, I’m not sure it really adds anything.  Admittedly, I do use a variety of website type apps on my iPhone (the BBC and Guardian apps to name two) and whilst they are quite good, they are not really satisfactory for seeking out news stories.  The free version of the Guardian app doesn’t allow search which is a real pain in the backside (guess I should upgrade really!) and you can’t even search the BBC app whatsoever (I really don’t like the BBC app, it could be so much better).  And that’s before we get into the whole closed web nature of apps *shiver* (although I guess this issue isn’t really relevant to this particular development to be fair).  Perhaps there is a search functionality on the app so I guess these are kinda moot points.  But, in general, whilst I sometimes use apps as my first point of call, I usually use the browser to poke around (old skool).

That said, I’m not sure of the other advantages.  I’ve bookmarked my blog on  my phone so I can access it quickly and easily.  The mobile version of my blog is also in-keeping with the style of my website so I don’t feel I am missing out on anything there either:

Mobile version of my blog

I can also share blog posts on Twitter/Facebook etc from the site so that’s not really an issue either (but then I think most mobile sites allow that don’t they??).  I know the pointed has been made about the decline in RSS, so I guess this is something where it may have some strengths.  But, well, I am in the unconvinced camp…

This does not mean, however, that I am against libraries making use of apps, quite the opposite (and as I have said before I am all for experimentation – I work on a ‘give it a try if it doesn’t work learn from it’ perspective).  In fact, I am in the process of putting together an event which touches on how apps can be used by libraries (more on that at a later date when things are finalised).  For me, apps should take full advantage of a smartphones capabilities.  As Chad at Hidden Peanuts points out:

Apps only make sense when they provide something above and beyond what a webapp can do. Do you need to use a device’s camera or accelerometer? Do you need offline access? Then an app is your thing. A blog doesn’t benefit from any of those doodads.

That quote is worth including alone for the use of the word ‘doodads’.

I will definitely keep an eye on developments and, should it emerge that there is something I have overlooked or there are some interesting developments, I may well give it a try and Bloapp the Voices website.  Until then, much as it pains me to say it, the jury is out.