Editorial

There are now two councils, Northamptonshire and East Sussex, who have announced that they aim to provide a “legal minimum” level of service. This is due to deep (nearly 50%) cuts in government funding since 2010 and, at least in the case of Northants, fairly gross financial incompetence. It’s suspected that more will be added to the list. So, that’s bad news for libraries. The sector has “statutory” protection but that is overseen by the DCMS minister who has resolutely failed to effectively uphold any standards in the past and has yet to intervene despite some fairly (75%+ I believe) cuts in some council library services. And it’s not even like English public libraries have any standards to begin with, although they once did. I like the “libraries change lives” motto but when councils are aiming for a “We’ll try not to be directly responsible for killing anybody” level of service, merely life-changing may not be enough.

Changes

Ideas

“The public librarian is your high priestess”: Secrecy, Obscurity and Esoterica: How To Use A Public Library Like A Witch by Joanne Fitzpatrick

I hear other library professionals speaking often of how if the idea of public libraries were conceived of today, then they wouldn’t exist. The very concept of them doesn’t fit at all into this late capitalist society we live in, and free books, free entry and completely neutral, uncensored spaces would likely be dismissed as being too costly, too much like yet another handout and too socialist. Luckily for us, they already have happened, and their existence is enshrined in law, and libraries remain institutions that promote social justice, access to information and equality. 

Joanne Fitzpatrick, library manager, student and … witch

Joanne Fitzpatrick, library manager, student and … high priestess?

In this post, I’ll highlight the importance of the library space as somewhere where communities are given easy access to information and resources. Drawing on my experience as a public library manager, and linking this to my dissertation for my Masters in Information Science at Northumbria University, which focuses on how Pagans and witches access and use information in their practice, I can reach some conclusions as to the importance of information relevant to a community being easily and readily accessible. This is arguably one of the more essential roles of the public library today, in a climate that is composed of increased inequality, faster paced change and growing misinformation. 

If I imagine a typical day in the life of a public librarian, rather than the extremely varied, sometimes bizarre days that I usually experience, I can immediately summarise many ways in which public libraries provide information to communities. Initially, we deal with reference queries, and are fortunate enough to have Google take the majority of the standard questions, leaving us with the interesting, the complex and the downright difficult to answer.  

In addition, librarians advise on the process of making reference queries, which can sometimes be as involved as making formal requests under the freedom of information act, or accessing subscription only websites, or visiting archives. Without the librarian as guide, members of a community would likely abandon these queries that they do not have the skills to answer. Even Pagan seekers, expressing interest in learning oath-bound, hidden information only available by passing through initiation and experiencing the thing that which you enquire about for yourself, require a sponsor, who acts as a friend throughout the process. The public librarian is your spirit guide. 

Furthermore, the public library is there to serve the community that it sits within, having after all been paid for with that community’s taxes, and as such that includes all people within that community. Few institutions will offer such a level playing field and equality of access, and part of the public librarian’s role is to ensure that all parts of that particular community are acknowledged, encouraged and provided with resources and materials to empower themselves with.  

Similarly, paganism notoriously resists any kind of formal organisation, and is an umbrella term describing people who follow many different paths, so anyone who serves that community has to take this into account. Both of these are very difficult positions to be in, and require much mediation and building of relationships. The librarian is your council of elders. 

Finally, in a world composed of ‘echo chambers’ facilitated by online communities and fake news, a public librarian will never show you information that they want you to see, they will merely show you what is there and what is reliable. Censorship is something that librarians avoid, and advising on the authenticity of an information source is getting increasingly difficult for someone without specialist skills. In the same way, a leader of a coven of witches will not train new followers who rely on her power, she will train new witches who are able to wield power for themselves. A public librarian will not have you rely on information they provide, they will show you how to judge reliability for yourself. The public librarian is your high priestess. 

Joanne Fitzpatrick,  @joannefitz 

National news

Axiell Selflib
International news

  • Australia – NSW libraries in strife as funding reaches ‘crisis’ – New Daily. “Dallas Tout, president of the NSW Public Libraries Association, said funding had diminished from a 25 per cent contribution in 1980 to just 7 per cent last year, leaving local governments to find the rest.” … “About 35 million people visited NSW libraries last year, up from 27 million in 2000″ … “Cr Tout said libraries have reached the point where they will need to start reducing hours, staff and activities.”
  • USA – Get a literary-themed tattoo at the Denver Public Library on Sunday – Know. “The Denver Public Library Friends Foundation is partnering with Certified Tattoo Studios to raise money for the library with library and literary-themed tattoos. From 1-5 p.m. Sunday, at the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library, patrons can purchase a tattoo for between $50 and $200, with funds supporting the library, according to a news release.”
  • USA – There’s an Amazon-like corporation trying to take over public libraries – Medium. “With 82 branches across six states, Library Systems & Services (LS&S) is the country’s third-largest library system, smaller than only Chicago and New York City. It pitches itself to towns and counties by making many of the same arguments in the op-ed. That libraries aren’t “innovative” enough without the corporation’s management and “social entrepreneurship.” That it can help libraries become a “third place” between work and home — as if they weren’t already just that for many poor and working people.” see also Privatized libraries; public backlash – Journal Gazette. “Public Interest, an advocacy group supporting democratic control of public goods and services, argues that what Library Systems & Services has done at the 82 libraries it manages has been to “slash employee pay and benefits to turn a profit while shrouding its dealings in secrecy.”

Local news by authority

“local charities warned that further cuts to children’s services in the county would heighten the risk that the council would be unable protect vulnerable youngsters. “Ultimately, the funding for children’s services is insufficient to provide a safe service,” a report by the charities concludes.”