Editorial

I remember when Wikipedia was first heard of in public libraries. It was dismissed as something irrelevant or misleading: after all, anyone could add anything to it so how trustworthy, or useful, could it be? I even occasionally hear librarians today questioning its usefulness.  Well, it’s probably the main source of information and answers in the Western World now, having displaced the Encyclopaedia Britannica (and, whisper it, libraries) with many people years ago, so perhaps its time to go with it a little. I know from personal experience how quickly fake information is deleted (my “Great Chocolate Teapot Massacre of 1826″ lasted barely two seconds when I tried) and how carefully new information was checked. When I added details of a little-known Cheshire prophet to the site, I got contacted to prove my sources: thankfully, I could, but the article still has warnings all over it.  After that, I had no doubt as to Wikipedia’s utility and I’m as likely to use it as any other information source, although – as with any other source, printed material included – my falsehood detectors are always on. I am a librarian after all.

Nowadays, public librarians need to learn how best to use Wikipedia, not how to discredit it. I’m therefore delighted to have a guest post below from Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales.  He’s got a lot of useful points to make and there’s a few things there – like the thousands of free images and texts and the ability to use it for local purposes  – that will be directly handy and not universally known about.  So, it’s time to embrace Wikipedia. Because it’s a  good resource and public libraries should, like millions of people, learn how best to use it for our purposes. And, if you don’t believe me, it’s always worth trying to add that entry on the chocolate teapots.

Changes

Wikipedia – Benefits to Public Libraries – By Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence, National Library of Wales

Wikipedia is a giant online encyclopaedia like no other.  All 39 million articles in 288 languages were written entirely by volunteers. It’s fair to say that Wikipedia has come in for some stick over the years with the issue of reliability a recurring topic. In recent years, though, big institutions in the culture sector have embraced Wikipedia as a means of sharing knowledge, digital media and information from their collections with Wiki’s massive global audience. Even Universities are increasing using Wikipedia as a teaching tool and publishing platform. After all, this is the 6th largest website in the world, with an average of 18 billion hits every month.

However public libraries don’t generally have masses of digital content to share openly with the world, so what has Wikipedia got to offer them? And what, in return can they offer Wikipedia? To begin it is worth highlighting the open nature of Wikipedia content. Text from Wikipedia can be reused under a Creative Commons licence (CC-BY-SA) for just about any purpose and almost all images you see on Wikipedia are sourced from a sister project called Wikimedia Commons, where you will find more than 30 million openly licensed media items.  This provides public libraries and their users with a wealth of information and images which can be reused to suit their needs, within or outside of the Wikipedia platform.

Another Wikimedia project which may benefit public libraries is Wiki Source, a free online library of 330,000 copyright free texts. Like all ‘Wiki’ projects anyone can make use of, and contribute to, this growing ‘open’ library. It’s just one of the resources being developed to help keep Wikipedia accurate, with reliable, viewable references.

In order to highlight further potential benefits of collaboration we may look to the Catalonia region of Spain where all public librarians receive training on editing Wikipedia in a bid to better understand the mechanics of Wikipedia. The scheme is based around the concept that public libraries provide a physical access point for knowledge, whilst Wikipedia provides the online access point. It would seem reasonable then that these two resources should interact and work together. Librarians who understand the inner workings of Wikipedia can help users use it responsibly, and can teach others how to contribute to it. Improving Wikipedia is now part of the Catalan Public Library Network’s overarching strategy for preserving local heritage and knowledge.

So with a little knowledge of Wikipedia librarians are able to work with their users to improve Wikipedia content. For example users might like to improve Wikipedia content about their local area, and the multilingual nature of Wikipedia means that this content can also be improved in minority languages. Such an exercise would engage library users with library content and the process of editing content gives users the opportunity to improve a range of skills from computer literacy to language skills and critical thinking. In other words, Wikipedia is an effective platform for community engagement projects.

Wikipedia then, has plenty to offer public libraries such as free texts and images, but also provides libraries with a free tool for community outreach programmes, and any contribution to Wikipedia benefits everyone, from the local community to the billions of curios Wikipedia users all over the world.

National news

  • CryptoParty Newcastle and user privacy in libraries – Informed. “A cryptoparty is an informal gathering of individuals where people discuss, learn and share their knowledge of tools and systems to protect their privacy and electronic communications. It’s called “crypto” because of cryptography and encryption” … “There were 6 people on the organising team and about a dozen participants turned up” … “Your best resource (in English) is probably going to be the amazing Library Freedom Project based in the US. You can learn from their digital privacy education session slides or use their toolkit on running a Tor exit node in your library, among other things”
  • Duffy, Straus and Basford recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours – BookSeller. “Duffy has also been active in the ongoing campaign against Lambeth Council’s closure of local libraries, writing an open letter in April backing the Carnegie Library occupiers, which gained signatures from David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Cathy Cassidy, Nick Hornby and David Nicholls, among other authors. Duffy is also the founder and co-director of Fun Palaces, a locally-led campaign promoting greater access to arts and sciences, and also a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party. After receiving her OBE, Duffy said she hoped that the “unexpected honour” would help to “push open some doors” and encourage more people to become involved in creative arts.” see also Hornchurch woman honoured by the Queen after improving library services for millions – Romford Recorder. A look at Ann Rennie and her work for the London Libraries Consortium.
  • How are library services developing their work with reading groups? – Gov.uk / Libraries Taskforce. “We learnt about the wide variety of reading groups increasingly on offer, including staff reading groups, multi-cultural groups, father and son groups, thematic reading groups and young mothers’ groups. We also documented the work that libraries do to support reading groups behind the scenes, as well as facilitating groups and setting up new groups in response to local needs.” … “The library managers we talked to emphasised strongly how important it was to build partnerships of different kinds with local community groups, colleges, arts organisations, charitable groups, etc. in order to sustain and extend what libraries could do alone.”
  • More than 12 million UK adults lack basic digital knowhow, MPs say – Guardian. “Systemic problems with computer training costs economy £63bn a year in lost income, Commons committee says” … “The committee highlighted what it said was a digital divide, with as many as 12.6 million adults in the UK lacking basic skills and an estimated 5.8 million having never used the internet at all. It found the skills gap was evident at all stages of education and training, from the classroom to the workplace.” [It’s unclear how public libraries impact on digital knowhow: it is unclear to me if any research has been done on this – Ed.]
  • Of the People: why we still need public libraries – Mondays Are Read. “Libraries have always been connected with democracy and republican ideas – res publica simply means a thing or matter of and for the people. In Britain, the 19th-century Chartist movement fought for universal male suffrage, and the abolition of laws requiring men to own property in order to stand for parliament. The Chartists set up cooperative lending libraries which, unlike the existing civil subscription libraries, charged no fee. Philosopher John Stuart Mill approved: “by greater access to information, all people could be trained in reason’s principles”. Offering free education would create better citizens.” … “So, please, if you didn’t need a library growing up, if protests against library closures seem to you like the bourgeois left in delusional denial about the need to cut something and suffering irrational paranoia about class war, then think instead of someone who did need a library – whether it’s me, the working-class Victorian denied the vote because he was thought too uneducated to participate in politics, or Maya Angelou and other great writers from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
  • UK Public Library Members Quiz – Oxford University Press. “The theme for the June-July 2016 Public Library Members Quiz is ‘Authors and Artists’.”

International news

  • Australia – Free access to Australian standards no longer available in public libraries – Sydney Morning Herald. “Australian standards, which govern everything from the handling of food to safety regulations in the home building industry, will no longer be available in public libraries after a breakdown in publishing negotiations.”
  • Canada – CUPE ads decry library closures – Telegram. “The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is using the ads to pressure the provincial government to reverse its recent decision to close 54 facilities in order to save about $1 million”
  • USA – Amid Tragedy, Libraries Can Offer Help and Hope – American Libraries. “The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table has been working closely with ALA in response to this tragedy, and it is of paramount concern to ALA that its members and conference attendees are safe. ALA is working with our conference venue to ensure the safety and security of those who attend. We have also been working with Conference Services and other ALA units to provide programs in response to this tragedy. We are investigating holding a blood drive and are asking ALA members to participate. Many people do not know that most gay men are prohibited from donating under FDA guidelines, which is a stinging rebuke when your community has been so severely affected.” see also Defiant’ ALA Responds to Orlando Attack – Publisher’s Weekly. “This is the second year in a row that a hate-fueled mass shooting has hung over the ALA conference. Last year’s event in San Francisco came just days after the mass shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., where a public librarian, Cynthia Hurd, was among the dead. In response, The ALA council passed a resolution at the 2015 meeting vowing to “support sensible and effective and national gun control laws” and to “oppose ‘gun friendly’ state legislation, in particular any legislation that permits the carrying of guns in or near libraries and schools.””
  • USA – Modern Public Libraries Can Help Bridge the Digital Divide – Next City. ” Kim came to the library. There, she discovered free classes, study guides and legal advice that help hundreds of immigrants pursue U.S. citizenship every year. With the support of her son, who quizzed her nightly on American history, and after participating in an 11-week workshop at Central Library, Kim became a naturalized citizen on Oct. 14, 2015. It was one of the best days of her life” … “, she will visit the White House on June 1 to help Brooklyn Public Library accept the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for libraries. It will be Kim’s first visit to the nation’s capital, and she will gather beneath those stately marble columns with library supporters and patrons — her fellow citizens — from all over the country.”
  • Zimbabwe – Hatfield Library reopens – Harare News. “After shutting down for five years due to vandalism and break-ins, the Hatfield library on Elgin Road finally re-opened in May. Funding for repairs was provided by the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Money is still being sought to carry out the extensive repairs needed to re-open the Greendale library branch which was closed at the end of 2014 due to a damaged roof.”

Local news by authority

  • Barnet – Six libraries closed due to industrial action – North London Today. “More than 70 staff members from libraries across the borough of Barnet are out on strike today over cuts to library services.”
  • Bedford – Bedford Borough libraries under threat as council releases proposed strategy – Bedfordshire News. “More than 3,000 people shared their views on which services should be prioritised, which are the most popular and how libraries could best be run with a reduced budget during the first stage.”
  • Blaenau Gwent – A revamped Ebbw Vale Library will open soon and here’s how it will look – Wales Online. “The refurbishment is expected to transform service delivery at Ebbw Vale , enabling greater community involvement, improved IT facilities and providing an opportunity to increase partnership work with a wide range of organisations” … “The project has been funded by a Welsh Government Museums and Libraries grant and a contribution from the Welsh European Funding Office Convergence Programme. The fully refurbished library will provide a valuable, multipurpose community space which the council say is relevant to the community today and caters for everyone.”
  • Brighton – Specialist book sale at Jubilee Library – Brighton and Hove Libraries Blog. “A great opportunity has come up for lovers and collectors of specialist books to expand their collections!  Jubilee Library is holding an ex-stock sale from 23rd-26th June, focusing on Art and Design, Music, Vintage/Historical Periodicals, Architecture and much more.  Pre-sale viewings and offers welcome”
  • Central Bedfordshire – Sandy and Potton libraries could be set for longer opening hours if Central Bedfordshire Council plan approved – Comet. “The unitary authority is proposing to shorten the opening hours at nine of its 12 libraries in a bid to save money, but its changes would actually see Sandy and Potton’s libraries open for an increase of two and a half hours and two hours respectively each week”
  • Fife – Councillor’s concern over Fife mobile library review – Courier. “Fife Cultural Trust is currently consulting on proposed new routes and is seeking feedback from the public before Friday’s closing date. But Glenrothes West and Kinglassie councillor Julie Ford has voiced her concern that Kinglassie is conspicuous by its absence on the planned new schedule.”
  • Gloucestershire – A Prize for Gloucestershire Libraries – Honourable Company of Gloucestershire. “The prize will be for an initiative by a library that demonstrates the power of reading, leading to more borrowing, reading and discussion of books. It should also encourage community support and volunteers in the libraries. The panel of independent judges will consider submissions in order to select a short list of up to four libraries. The judges will be looking principally for initiatives that have resulted in more reading by people of all ages, from children to the elderly. They will also take into account the relative size of the libraries, the role of volunteers and community support, and the libraries will be visited before the winner is determined.”
  • Herefordshire – Video takes a satirical look at Herefordshire library cuts – Herefordshire Live. “Frustrated by the authority attitude to libraries – a public service famously described as “not a luxury but one of the necessities of life” – Leominster art student Trish Marsh has produced a video. It’s not big budget and it probably won’t go viral, but it’s an important (and sardonic) 9-minute long look at where library cuts might lead.”
  • Lambeth – Concern for missing Upper Norwood library campaigner – Croydon Guardian.
  • Lancashire – More views sought on plans to close libraries and children’s centres – Champion. “The authority has already received around 1,000 responses since the launch of a public consultation on May 18. The consultation, running for 12-and-a-half weeks, seeks residents views on plans to save millions of pounds by reducing the number of buildings the council owns and rents.” … “We’ve made hard copies of the consultation document available as well and unfortunately one of the consultation questions was omitted in error from the localised versions. This has been quickly rectified so few people will have completed one of these, but we’d like everyone who has done so to be aware of it and to feel free to complete the extra question if they have anything else to add to the comments they’ve already made.””
  • Lancashire – Property strategy consultation 2016 – Lancashire County Council.  Lists all properties, shows what services will continue to be provided or, far more often, what will stop altogether. Invites views.
  • North Somerset – Weston-super-Mare Library’s ‘amazing’ success – Mercury. “The number of people using Weston Library has doubled since 2010, leading one councillor to hail the relocation of the facility as a ‘great success’ for the town.”
  • Torfaen – Torfaen kids come out in force for national literature week – South Wales Argus. “More than 40 youngsters attended the sessions as part of National Bookstart Week, which celebrates the benefits of reading every day and sharing stories, books and rhymes with young children. “
  • West Berkshire – Council’s libraries assessment is underway – Newbury Today. “independent assessment of West Berkshire Council’s library service started last month. The council was told by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that it must carry out a Needs Assessment before closing any of its libraries. The aim of the assessment is to inform how the service should be developed in the future. The Needs Assessment will be based on a wide range of information including data on how it is currently used, the demographics of communities and the responses to the public consultation held earlier this year. The assessment will take around three months to complete with a report expected to be provided to the council by the end of August.”
  • West Berkshire – Legality of council’s library proposals remains unclear – Newbury Today. “West Berkshire Council has refused to release details of what was discussed at an internal board meeting about its proposals to close eight of the district’s nine libraries. It is also remaining tight-lipped over what legal advice it was given regarding the controversial plans. However, following a Freedom of Information request from a campaigner, the council has released some of the correspondence between itself and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), though some emails have not been made available and key pieces of information are blacked out in several others. While the email exchanges do provide some transparency, it does little to answer questions as to whether the council’s original proposals were legal”
  • York – Concerns raised over charity model for York libraries – BookSeller. “We are in our third year of independence now,” Williams said. “It’s been a hard slog, but we have received a lot of good news recently as a result of our hard work. Getting charitable status is crucial to financial plans for the organisation as it can now look into things like Gift Aid and payroll giving to encourage people to support the libraries financially”. However, some library campaigners have expressed concerns about the charity model of library ownership. Elizabeth Ash, trustee of the Library Campaign, told The Bookseller: “The accountability to the local taxpayers is likely affected[…], with the charity not under the same obligation to report to local communities as the council would have been when the libraries were in direct council control. Charitable status will allow York Explore to boost funds by accepting gift aid on donations, but should local people really be donating to keep a library service running that the local council has an obligation to provide in any case”. Also includes statements by Nick Poole and Tim Coates [and me – Ed.]