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.

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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.

Voices for the Library – now available on Foursquare!

Now, you learn fairly early on when working with me (especially on VftL) that I like to play about with stuff and try out new things.  I’m all for experimenting and trying things out.  My attitude is generally: if it works – great!  And if it doesn’t?  Well, I just keep it to myself and no-one finds out about it.  Well, a few people find out about it but I make them swear on pain of death not to tell anyone anything.  So it was with this spirit I took to exploring the wonder that is Foursquare.

Now, to be clear right from the off, I was very much anti-Foursquare.  I thought it was a complete waste of my time and was nothing more than an opportunity for people to shout about where they are.  I was very reluctant to even give it a try.  Until I discovered that there was a rudimentary facility for adding brands and creating pages.  Now this intrigued me so I signed up and played around to see how it could be used.  After a bit of playing I had some ideas but needed to get a page up and running to see for myself if it would work.  Then, yesterday, the page making facility was markedly improved and I decided to give it a whirl…

Voices for the Library - Foursquare Page

Our new Foursquare Page

So here it is, the Voices for the Library Foursquare page – which just so happens to now be featured on the Foursquare page gallery.  So, what is my thinking about how it will be used?  Well, initially I thought it would be good to highlight libraries that earmarked for closure and suggest making a visit to show support.  If they follow the page and login to Foursquare on their mobile device whilst in the area of the library, the tip should automatically pop up and suggest they make a visit.  Now, I know that this alone won’t save the library in question, but I thought highlighting it would at least be a start.  Every little helps as (another) well known brand might say.

But then I got to thinking, maybe it should be more than just visiting for what is essentially a negative reason (albeit with a positive outcome), why not highlight positive stuff too.  Well, I say I got to thinking, it wasn’t me at all but a tweet from @stephthorpeuk got me thinking…

That’s what a library advocacy Foursquare account should be doing…highlighting the many great and unique things that libraries offer.  The reasons for visiting should not just be about saving the library, they should be about what the library can offer – truly positive reasons for paying a visit.

Of course, all this isn’t without its own problems.  Adding 500 libraries and the appropriate ‘tips’ to Foursquare is not easy, let alone looking up the other 4,000 odd and seeing what makes them unique and special.  So, if you are able to do either of the following it would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  1. If your local library isn’t on Foursquare but you are, please add it.
  2. If there is something special and unique about your local library and you aren’t on Foursquare, email contact@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk and tell us and we’ll add that information onto that library’s Foursquare page.

I have also put in a request for the development of a VftL badge awarded when a certain number of libraries are visited (ideally libraries marked for closure but if not possible then any library).  I’m not sure the badge will actually happen as they seem to be very strict on adding badges, but hopefully they’ll back it.

Of course, what I should have said (and I have forgotten until right at the end!), is that if you are on Foursquare, look us up and follow us!

Librarian day/week in the life…

11.30am - time to send another FoI (image c/o ToniVC on Flickr)

I know I have kinda already written a blog post for the Library Day in the Life project, but I thought why not write a post summarising the week as a whole.  Of course, the fact that my original post appeared to have become more of a personal reflection on my school days rather than a useful post about what I do and what I am doing has some bearing on this.  To be honest, I just didn’t think I had done it justice.  So, here I am, about to over-compensate to the max.  One of these days I will strike the balance just right.  Today, however, is possibly not going to be one of those days.

As you will have noticed from my original post, the bulk of my job is spend dealing with spreadsheets.  Most of the time I am either preparing statistical data, or ensuring that our online holdings are accurate.  I also deal with student queries in relation to our online resources and some general queries about their library access.  This past week I have also been covering for a colleague in ensuring that all of our OPACs and self-issue machines are working correctly.  This week happened to be the week were we had a bit of an issue with a number of our OPACs.  Luckily it was easily resolved and there was a very limited impact on our students.

Away from work, a number of other things have been going on this past week.  As part of my ongoing attempt to find new ways to spread the word about Voices for the Library, I have been looking into a new opportunity that I think could be quite exciting.  One of the joys (and challenges it has to be said) about the campaign is the fact that it is run with a zero budget.  This means that we have to be quite creative with how we spread the word (which is why it started life on social networks).  I’m not convinced that we have fully broken out into the ‘offline’ world and I think we’d be the first to admit there is still work to be done there.  However, I think we have made good use of the resources at our disposal and I am still dead chuffed at the amount of followers we have both on Facebook and Twitter despite lacking a marketing budget.

Anyway, whilst chuffed with our progress online, I am not one to rest on my laurels.  One of the other pleasures I get from VftL is that I can just go and try stuff out (within reason of course!).  I’ve always been a great believer in trying things out and taking risks and so I am always keen to take full advantage of this.  My current ‘risk’ involves the use of Foursquare as a tool to promote libraries.  Up until recently I was adamant I would never sign up for this particular social network as I saw limited value in it.  However, I decided to explore it as part of a project on mobile technologies and spotted an opportunity for VftL to have a presence on the network.  I won’t say too much about it at the moment as I am not sure it will come off in quite the way I hope, but if it does I will be sure to blog about it!

Regular readers will also be aware that I am currently studying a distance Masters at Aberystwyth University in Information and Library Studies.  I am currently in the process of conducting research for my dissertation, due in April 2012.  I have been getting rather panicky about it of late – worrying I wouldn’t get it finished in time.  My progress was not helped by recently moving house and being without internet for two weeks [insert ‘sad face’ emoticon here].  However, this week I scheduled a phone call with my dissertation tutor and, I have to say, having had a chat with them I feel much better about where I am and where I need to be.  In fact, it is fair to say I was buzzing when I put the phone down.  I finally feel like I can see a way forward and get cracking on the next stage.  Whilst I think I need to keep ‘on my toes’, I feel far more confident about completing before the deadline and (finally) getting that Masters.  Phew!

I prefer the metaphorical kind myself. (image c/o Wessex Archaeology on Flickr)

Finally, I have been involved in a bit of digging the past couple of days.  It recently emerged that Wakefield council intends on closing half the libraries in the district.  Annoyed at the councillor’s claim that:

“…since 1992 more than four out of every 10 library users have stopped going into libraries.”

I decided to write to the councillor to ask if he can explain how this figure was arrived at.  I am still waiting for a response.  Not content with questioning the councillor, I also entered a host of Freedom of Information requests to get a little more information about what has been going on in Wakefield.  I am hopeful that I will receive suitable answers to all thirteen (yes, thirteen) questions within the three week time limit.  If anything interesting turns up, you’ll be sure to find out about it.

I have also sent off a series of questions to Dorset County Council who are also considering closures.  After a recent council meeting, councillors narrowly agreed to withdraw funding on nine libraries across West Dorset.  It is good to note, however, that not all councillors take such a relaxed attitude to library closures (you’d think so sometimes when trawling around for the latest library news).  Cllr Ronald Coatsworth deserves a great deal of respect after expressing his outrage:

“We have heard of lies, damn lies and statistics and it seemed to me that here was another case of distorted figures being used as a justification for a particular course of action which had been pre-determined.
“They are discriminatory, treating different groups in different ways and have no place in the Dorset I represent.”

More councillors like this please.

Another bit of digging, this time a bit closer to home, turned up a blank but was referred to by the political editor for the local media group, Paul Francis, on his blog.  A while back it emerged that shocking proposals were put before a recent Conservative group meeting that (it is suggested) included the closure of forty libraries.  No further details emerged so I decided to enter a Freedom of Information request to see what could be uncovered.  Unfortunately my request was rejected (for reasons outlined on Paul’s blog) but not entirely convincingly.  I fully intend on appealing this rejection and hope I will be as success as I was in overturning the DCMS’s rejection of an earlier FoI request.  We will see.

So that was pretty much my week.  I had hoped (believe it or not) to have more things to share from the week, but maybe those things will happen at a later date.

This week was mainly fuelled by If Not Now, When? and, of course, this.

What’s going on with CILIP?

This morning I stumbled across this blog post on the CILIP website about volunteers in libraries. The most interesting (slash disturbing) statement being:

“The Policy Department at CILIP is currently drawing together a position statement about community managed libraries. For us it seems essential that, when set up, they should fall within the statutory provision and be considered an integral part of the public library network – for this they will rely on the continued existence of a professionally led, quality statutory service.”

Hardly the stirring attack on coalition policy that many advocates would have hoped for. Let’s hope that as well as campaigning for libraries, CILIP also leads the way in the fight against privatisation and the coalition’s destructive ideology.

UPDATE

Annie Mauger has subsequently added this statement to the aforementioned blog post:

“The Blog below was written with the intent of contributing to the debate on the use of volunteers and community managed libraries and pointing out some dilemmas that the profession is facing. CILIP’s standpoint remains that only a professionally run library service can fully meet community needs and comply with the statutory requirements.

We sincerely apologise to anybody who thinks otherwise from this blog. I made a speech with the Minister present at the Future of Public libraries event on 20th June reinforcing the value of professional services and why we need them. CILIP will continue to advocate the importance of professionally run services and experienced staff and the contribution they make to communities, families and society.”

Voices for the Library – a call for articles!

Voices for the Library

Hey you!  Yes you!  Are you a librarian, library worker or library user??  Think that there is too much negative coverage of libraries or the people who work in them?  Do you find the continual focus on closures and cuts depressing?  Think librarians and library workers are undervalued?  Want the opportunity to share the fantastic, wonderful, life-changing things that libraries and librarians offer?  Fed up with a long list of questions that are a frankly desperate attempt to build to something spectacular?

Ok, that’s enough of that!  I have noticed on Twitter and on blogs over the past few weeks (probably months to be fair) that a lot of people have commented on both the need to demonstrate why librarians are important and the somewhat defensive tone to some of the library campaigning messages out there.  Well, there is a place you can address this if you wish.  Simply get in touch with Voices for the Library and share either positive stories about libraries or the role of librarians.  Lots of people read it (including lots of people in the media), so it is well worth doing so.  Of course, it won’t change things overnight, but it might help a little bit.  And if nothing else, it will be nice to share some positive stuff to balance out all the bad news stories out there at the moment.  And we’re all for some positivity!

Academic libraries after the Browne Review

The actual M25 (obviously!) - via Bob McCaffrey on Flickr

I should probably have blogged more about CPD25 over the past couple of months since I started getting involved in one of the task groups.  It’s one of those things I keep meaning to blog about, things keep distracting me.  Well, yesterday I delivered my first presentation for many years at a CPD25 event so now is as good a time as any.

CPD25 is, essentially, the training arm for the M25 consortium of academic libraries.  There are a number of task groups which are each responsible for a different aspect of academic libraries.  The group I am involved in, Task Group 3, is concerned with Operational Management – covering a broad range of activities including digitisation, use of social networking and, in the case of yesterday’s event, the impact of the Browne review on academic libraries.

In the lead up to the event, I was asked by one of the organisers if I would like to talk about Voices for the Library.  Normally I leave public speaking at these events to others involved in the campaign (I am far happier pottering around in the background…causing havoc mainly), but I thought this would be a great experience for me and, as I live relatively close to London, I thought I should take on presentation duties for a change.

The event itself was fascinating.  There were speakers from a range of different libraries, including one from a private university, BPP (who, it seems, appear to be embarking on some aggressive expansion).  Having not encountered a private University library before, I was quite interested to hear what their situation was and how they saw the future post-Browne (I fear that phrase will be used a lot in the future).  It seems there are few differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’, it just seems as though they are better prepared for the ‘customer orientated’ future that we are all facing.

We also heard from Goldsmith’s College and in particular how they dealt with the student occupation before Christmas.  Without getting into the politics of the occupation, it was hard not to feel sorry for the staff who had to deal with what must have been a very difficult situation.  It was interesting to see how they relied on social media to keep up to speed with what the students were planning (chalk another one up for social media).  It was certainly interesting to hear how the occupation was handled and what lessons were learnt for next time (and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of student occupations).

After the first two talks there was a break out session which enabled the attendees to discuss what is happening in their universities and what they felt the future held.  The common theme emerging from all these discussions could probably best be summed up by the words ‘uncertain’ and ‘challenging’.  I don’t think we will have a clear idea on what the future holds until a year down the line when, hopefully, things will become clearer.  It was certainly interesting to hear from representatives of various institutions about the kinds of challenges that they were having to face – and I think it proved helpful for those in the process of change to hear about similar challenges in other universities.

After lunch we then heard from two representatives from UEL who talked about their inspiring New Beginnings programme.  The one thing I will take away from this more than any other was the story of a current PhD student who left school with no qualifications, took a chance on the NB scheme at UEL and gained the confidence to obtain a degree at the institution before embarking on their PhD. Really amazing stuff that underlines the importance of the libraries and trained librarians in universities.

The presentation before last was a Prezi on the re-structuring that had taken place at the University of Sussex.  Sometimes I am a bit ‘meh’ about Prezis (there’s a temptation to ‘show off’ what they are capable of, which is a little distracting), but this one was simple and not too ‘showy’.  Yep, all the Prezi lovers are going to have a pop at me for those comments I’m sure.

Finally came my presentation.  I won’t talk about it too much as you can view it yourself below.  I will say, however, that I was glad to have been given the opportunity to talk about the campaign.  I haven’t delivered a presentation or stood in front of an audience since me days on a PGCE programme many, many years ago.  Fortunately I was not presenting before a classroom of teenage boys so, despite some initial reservations, I was fairly confident that the crowd wouldn’t turn nasty (yeah, I used that ‘gag’ at the start of my presentation too…shoot me please).  I was also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to dish out the business cards I had printed out a while back, hopefully a few people will check us out now they know where to find us.  Now I have got one presentation under my belt, maybe I’ll do a few more.  Although maybe I am not quite ready for Prezi just yet.

A copy of the script is also available.